From my mother’s book

My mother has kept a diary since 1934, almost every day for 75 years. She recorded personal thoughts, local events, and national and international events. She kept track of costs for everyday items. I had the privilege of working with her from 2001 to 2006 to compile, enter into a computer, edit, and publish her first book in 2006.

The following story also stuck in my mind, because 20 years later I grew up on that same three mile stretch of country road. The “we” in this passage refers to my mother and her older brother.

Where my mother lived in mid 1930’s.

Where my mother lived in mid 1930’s.

From 1935 on, frequently cars would run or slide into the ditch in our neighborhood. The neighbors sent them to us because Dad had a steel wheeled tractor, which worked well for pulling them out. However, those steel studded wheels wouldn’t be allowed on the roads today. Sometimes the people would be with us only for a few hours while being pulled out, or just to warm up. Sometimes they stayed the night sleeping on the floor to get a start the next morning when it had quit snowing. We often wondered “Who are they?” “Where are they going on such a stormy night?” All sorts of questions like these ran through our minds. Some of the “visitors” were very open telling about themselves. One time it was newly weds with a trunk full of wedding gifts. Other times we had a strange feeling about our visitors. One time a couple had their dead baby in the trunk. Scary! One night there were several people who stayed with us, and we all had an uncomfortable feeling about them. They were anxious to get on their way — and we were glad to see them leave! We found out that earlier in the day they had robbed the Feed Store in Grand Rapids. They were later caught. In 1941 one couple stopped at our place and left a box of candy for Elgin and me. It was one of the couples Dad had helped out of the ditch four years earlier.

from my mother’s autobiography, My Life in the Minnesota Northwoods, by Phyllis Virginia Shields, ©2006.

UltraThin Ref HCSB

Editing Error in HCSB UltraThin Reference Bible

In our family devotion we are reading 1 Corinthians. Two nights ago I discovered a printing error in the references for 1 Corinthians 5:13 (page 1146).

In that text, Paul quotes Deuteronomy 17:7. There are two superscript references w and x both at the end of the quoted material. In the center column, we read:1Cor5,13HCSB

w Dt. 17:7

x Dt. 17:7

So, it appears that in the editing process one of the notes was a duplicate.

It’s an Epidemic

My good friend, Curt Leins, has written an insightful and helpful post, It’s an Epidemic!. He addresses one problem in the Christian Church that has many faces. In the process the Church is hindered, and pastors and people forget the importance and distinctiveness of pastors serving congregations.

Check it out.

Dr. Leins serves as Assistant Presiding Pastor and National Home Mission Developer for The American Association of Lutheran Churches (TAALC)

Reading Greek

Learning Greek

I had taught myself Greek back in 1980 and 1982 (while still in the Navy) prior to going to Seminary. I used Machen’s book and had a copy of UBS 3rd edition. While I could have passed an entrance exam in Greek, I decided to take Greek at the seminary under Dr. Robert Hoerber. Best decision I ever made. He solidified and greatly expanded my understanding of Greek.

Dr. Hoerber encouraged us to keep reading every day. Even a chapter a day would take us through the NT in three years. So, I slowly began working toward that goal. At the same time once I began serving in the congregation(s), the time creep of other responsibilities sometimes found me letting the Greek reading slide for days at a time. I still studied Greek extensively and could read some of the books very well, but Greek reading as its own entity was sadly not consistent.

Reading Greek

Over the years I have used various aids in trying to keep my Greek up to speed and learning more. I have several grammars, lexicons, concordances, etc.—all hard copies. With the advent of the desktop computer revolution, I have most of those resources in the Accordance program.

For daily reading I tried various resources, including Sakae Kubo’s A Reader’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. While it worked for a while, it never quite fit my patterns of reading and study.

I tried other “devotional” books that would include snippets of Greek and Hebrew for each day. While helpful initially, the snippets were not long enough to get a sense of the Greek (and Hebrew) flow, hence true “reading.”

Then I began looking for more substantial help in improving my reading. I didn’t need to look up many words. Just an occasional vocabulary or parsing to refresh my memory. So I purchased the NET/Greek New Testament. This was a step in the right direction. It was not an interlinear (which I think is a handicap to reading and translating). It has facing pages (Greek one side, English on the other).

It also contained the NA-27 textual apparatus at the bottom. So, I could carry it in some situations, and not bring the NA-27 along as well. But it was bulky to take anywhere beyond the office. I tend to travel some for seminary and pastoral work, and this was not usable for such travel.

A reading solution—for me

I had heard about other reading resources but was beginning to be a little gun-shy of them. I needed something that was readable for older eyes; NA-27 edition was originally small and the font while readable was getting smaller every year.

Recently someone mentioned The UBS Greek New Testament: Reader’s Edition with Textual Notes.

UBS Greek NT Readers

It was on sale recently so I purchased it. The font is the right size, the book itself is larger but not cumbersome for travel. There are minimal textual notes, but for reading purposes, I don’t need them—they can be a distraction.

UBS Reader Pg

It has the running dictionary at the bottom with simple parsing and glosses for those words occurring less than 30 times, and those over 30 times are in an appendix.

The best thing, I began reading and could cover two chapters—I still have a congregation. It has sped up my reading and my vocabulary is coming back into shape.

I will be preaching on John’s Gospel between now and Easter, and I have already gotten through the first five chapters. I will occasionally look at the glosses and parsing at the bottom just to quickly verify what I already knew. But it is neither distracting nor inconvenient. Notice, too, that the appendix does not provide a simple gloss.

UBS Reader Appendix

This is exactly the kind of reading aid I have been looking to purchase for years. For me, it is the best solution where I am in my reading of Greek.

Two New HCSB Bibles


During the past two weeks I purchased two more editions of the HCSB translation (both were on sale!). This review is only on the layout, design, workmanship, etc. In a later post I will cover the specifics of the notes and articles as well as references.

UltraThin Reference HCSB

I found this one on sale and thought I would check out the difference between this edition and the UltraThin Bible I had been using. I have had it about two weeks now. And actually prefer to read it to the UltraThin Bible (which I have given to someone else for now).


Typesetting was very different, using a sans serif font, with extremely tight line spacing. I have never been a fan of sans serif fonts for extended reading (even a paragraph). So I was disappointed, thinking that this would never work for me. But I tried it for 3 days (reading about five chapters a day) and found it much more comfortable and usable that I imagined. I am still a fan of serif fonts, but this font worked.

UltraThin HCSB Font

UltraThin HCSB Font

Bleed-through was more noticeable with this Bible as well. But again, not enough to be distracting.


The size of the Bible is good for reading in a chair, but I used it last Sunday for worship and Bible study and found it better than the smaller Thinline Bible.

The cover is Mantova Black Leathertouch. It has a nice feel in the hands. The binding seems weaker than the UltraThin Bible, that is, it feels more like a paperback binding. I have the sense that the binding will break sooner rather than later. The UltraThin never has given that feel (nor the Apologetics Bible, see below).

Page Numbers and Book Titles

Pg UltraThin Ref HCSB

Pg UltraThin Ref HCSB

The UltraThin Reference Bible has a double problem here. The page numbers are at the bottom—inside edge of the page. And the Book title is on also at the bottom on the outside edge of the page. I have never seen a Bible with the Bible book titles at the bottom.

It has been distracting and frustrating. I have used it for two weeks and I still look to the top of the page, as I do with every other Bible I own (about 30 of them). I would like to know the reasoning behind such placement. As it is it seems like it was designed by someone not used to using Bibles in study, devotion and worship.

A far better solution would have been to have the Book title at the top on the outside edge, and the page number at the bottom of the page on the outside edge.


UltraThin Ref Map HCSB

UltraThin Ref Map HCSB

As with all HCSB Bibles the maps do not use the entire page. It seems like extending the margins of the maps would allow the maps to be larger and especially place names more readable. Aside from that, the maps are serviceable.

Despite my frustrations with the page layout, I am now using this as my daily reading Bible, hospital/visitation, and teaching Bible. I gave away my copy of HCSB Chronological Bible—it was too cumbersome for my daily use.

The Apologetics Study Bible HCSB

HCSB Apologetics Duotone

HCSB Apologetics Duotone

I have looked at this Bible in the bookstore since it first came out. But I didn’t really see much need for it (for a variety of reason). However, when it came on sale three weeks ago, I decided to purchase it. I will not be addressing the Apologetics notes in this review.


Of all the HCSB Bibles I have owned, this one finally has the right font in the right size. Although I still prefer single column Bibles, this one combines the font, spacing, and kerning to be an excellent reading Bible.

There are two sets of footnotes. Immediately under the text are the text notes. They are very limited, and I’m not sure that the few that are included are necessary. These footnotes have a sans serif font and much smaller size.

The apologetic footnotes have the same font as the Biblical text but smaller, with appropriate line spacing. These are very readable.

Apologetics Article

Apologetics Article

The Apologetics articles are readable, but the background color (blue-gray) can make reading it more difficult.


While this is a larger Bible it is not cumbersome like other larger Bibles I have and have used.

The cover is Brown Duotone Simulated Leather. It has a nice feel in the hands. The binding is much more solid similar to the UltraThin Bible rather than the UltraThin Reference Bible. Even at its size and weight, it is still a workable Bible for most of my uses (home devotion and study); in the right circumstances I could even use it for teaching. However, this does not refer to the content. It is not helpful for a teaching/preaching environment. An extended reference Bible with the same design would be ideal.

Page Numbers

Finally a Bible that gets it right regarding page numbers and Book titles. The page numbers are placed at the top in the center. The Book titles are placed at the top on the outside margin. This is ideal for every user. All editions of HCSB should follow this pattern!

Maps and Timelines

Apologetics HCSB Timeline

Apologetics HCSB Timeline

As with all HCSB Bibles the maps do not sue the entire page. It seems like extending the margins of the maps would allow the maps to be larger and especially place names more readable. Aside from that, the maps are servicable.

Since this is an apologetics study Bible, the publisher has included 11 color charts and tables of important topics. These are well done except the last two. The color combinations are bright, distracting and make the print barely legible.

Apologetics Chart

Apologetics Chart


Both of these Bibles are excellent and generally very usable. For longer term reading of the text, the Apologetics Study Bible is easier. But I am surprised at the UltraThin Reference Bible and its readability. I think if some of the features noted above could be combined from the two editions, the HCSB result would be close to ideal.

The Dividing Line

The Dividing Line John 1:1-18

A dividing line signifies many things. As a kid I remember drawing a line with my foot in the dirt. That was a dividing line of turf (whether in sport or serious dispute). It divided me from someone else, and helped in establishing identity as well. Sometimes the dividing lines of history are much more forceful. Consider the dividing line known as the Great Wall of China. Or the most disastrous dividing line: the trench front as part of World War I. To move 100 yards might involve 100,000 or more deaths.

But there is also the dividing line of time. Consider three dates and the dividing line that each established in the lives of millions of people.

  • December 7, 1941
  • November 22, 1963
  • September 11, 2001

Each one conjures up images and sounds of the event. Each became a dividing line in time.

In our text John raises the image of three dividing lines:

The dividing line of eternity

In John 1:1-12, we read:JohnIntro

In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was already with God in the beginning. (John 1:1-2 GW)

We don’t understand eternity; we can’t fathom it, even though we write about it and talk about it. For God, who always existed, it means that the triune God (Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit) existed from eternity. In fact, God will exist into eternity unchanging in the future.

Thus, the Son (“the Word”) existed from eternity. But there is a dividing line in the eternity of the past and the eternity of the future. When the Son took on human flesh (incarnation), it marked a line in eternity which changed eternity forever. Instead of the will of sinful humans and the twisted lies of Satan, the future based on that path of destruction.

Eternity was changed by the Light coming in time. “The light shines in the dark, and the dark has never extinguished it” (John 1:5 GW).

The dividing line of history

The Son taking on human flesh marked another dividing line—in history. From Genesis 3, sin had plagued creation. Relationships were destroyed:

  • between God and humans
  • within the human (conscience)
  • between humans
  • between humans and creation

In history the continuing trail of sin leaves damaged people, ruined possibilities, lack of peace and harmony, and the list goes on. God’s intention was not to let sin have the final say, however. His heart’s compassion is to restore people to a relationship with Him and with others.1Timothy2_3-4

This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, Christ Jesus, Himself human, who gave Himself—a ransom for all, a testimony at the proper time. (1 Timothy 2:3-6 HCSB)

When the Son took on flesh it was for this specific purpose to fulfill God’s desire—everyone to be saved. In the flesh Jesus reveals His Father and His glory, which He shared with the Father from eternity.

The Word became flesh and took up residence* among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14-15 HCSB) (*dwelt, lived, tabernacled)

No one has ever seen God. The One and Only Son—the One who is at the Father’s side—He has revealed Him. (John 1:18 HCSB)

In the flesh, the Son fulfilled everything the Father desired. He provided the basis for justification of all flesh (1 John 2:2). His coming to earth was a dividing line in history. In the western world we even use his birth as the basis of our calendar. History was forever changed, far greater than December 7 or September 11.

The dividing line—in your life

John reminds us that there is a third dividing line—in the life of each person.

He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, He gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:11-13 HCSB)

That is, the Son did not come for ephemeral truth or to satisfy philosophic speculation. Rather He came so that each person might receive what God freely gives: forgiveness of sins, restoration, a new life now, and eternal life.

The dividing line in your own personal life comes when God works upon your heart to create faith (Ephesians 2:4-5). The encounter between the righteous, holy, loving God and sinful humans result sin a life changing dividing line. As Paul writesall-things-new

“Whoever is a believer in Christ is a new creation. The old way of living has disappeared. A new way of living has come into existence” (2 Corinthians 5:17 GW).

Bottom line: The Son became flesh for you to restore you to a right relationship with God. That is the dividing line for you.

What color is your Christmas?

One of my favorite secular “Christmas seasonal” songs is by Elvis Presley, “Blue Christmas.” It brings back memories from many decades of my life.

It’s easy to be side tracked with family gatherings, anticipation of presents, fun parties, and maybe even church activities. We can sing “Joy to the World” with hearty voices. We can sing part-harmony to “Away in the manger.” We can reflectively sing “Silent Night.”

But not everyone can. Please, note that I am not disparaging any of that. I, too, have experienced some of that on occasion. Those are all wonderful. The focus today is on another reality of a “blue Christmas.”

Blue Christmas

For some people, this time of year is anything but those things. Rather than joyful singing, presents, and snug family activities, it is a time of slide into depression. The darkness can creep silently into lives. The interaction with people brings a sadness that is often hard to describe. 20091224-depressed

For those of us who battle depression, we don’t want this. We want something light, happy, satisfying. But it doesn’t always happen. What have I done that is bringing this back? And why now? And we are left with an uneasy sense that even the questions makes us more susceptible to depression.

What to do for those who are blue?

I don’t have all the answers. If I did, I would want every person who has or is struggling with depression to take the “super pill.”

But I encourage you to a life of compassion for those who are struggling. If someone seems withdrawn, not open for “holiday spirit,” it may not be a grinch or scrooge, but a person battling the unseen enemy of depression. Extend them the benefit of the doubt. Help when you can. But try not to be offended if it is not accepted.

I guess I am asking for each of us to live the Christian life of being a servant to others. Especially a servant to those struggling. You might be one hand, one smile, one listening ear that is desperately need. No one may ask, no one may open himself or herself for that gesture of love and compassion. But it may be the lifeline needed for exactly this time of year.

For those battling the unseen, I have found over the years some help in the Lament Psalms, yes, especially at Christmas time. For example, Psalm 71: 1-3 (GW)

I have taken refuge in you, O LORD.
Never let me be put to shame.
Rescue me and free me because of your righteousness.
Turn your ear toward me, and save me.
Be a rock on which I may live,
a place where I may always go.
You gave the order to save me!
Indeed, you are my rock and my fortress.

May this be our hope, our comfort, whether it is a White Christmas or a Blue Christmas or any other color.

Pray for Persecuted Christians

Sometimes we lived isolated lives. Despite the internet, cell phones, instant communication, we either ignore or never see what many Christians are facing.

Prayers for Christians in Syria

We have a Syrian (Orthodox Christian) group of people in our area. Recently I have been asking how one of the men how his family is doing. The persecution is increasing dramatically in that region where his family is located.

Today I read this: “Largest Massacre of Christians in Syria” Ignored


It might be easy to classify this in purely human/government terms. But in reality this is first and foremost a spiritual battle. Paul wrote about 1st century Christians and affliction/suffering that they were enduring:

We must always thank God for you, brothers. This is right, since your faith is flourishing and the love each one of you has for one another is increasing. Therefore, we ourselves boast about you among God’s churches—about your endurance and faith in all the persecutions and afflictions you endure. It is a clear evidence of God’s righteous judgment that you will be counted worthy of God’s kingdom, for which you also are suffering (1 Thes. 1:3-5 HCSB)

Prayers for Christians in Ukraine

As such it is appropriate for us to be concerned for our brothers and sisters in Christ, not only in Syria, but in the Ukraine and throughout the world.


Several years ago I found this prayer “While Reading the News” by Martin Franzmann. It seems especially appropriate today.

O God Almighty,

I thank you for this net that sweeps all waters and brings me news of all the daily life of all my neighbors everywhere in the world. Make me compassionate, O God of all mercies, with all my neighbors’ sufferings.

Teach me to know and feel that distant anguish is as aching as my own. Teach me to pray, “Thy kingdom come!” as widely as Your Son has willed it and meant it. Teach me to do what I can and must do for all people. Teach me long-reaching charity.

Give me faith to know, when news is black as ink, that Your hand is guiding all, obscurely and unfathomably but surely, surely toward Your goal; that when the world shakes and Satan triumphs with short certainty, Your Son, Jesus Christ, is Lord of all, that He, the Lamb slain for our sins, is opening the seals of Your book and is working out Your good and holy will.

Remember in Your mercy the gatherers and disseminators of the news. Protect them from all harm. Keep them from cynical and cheap success, from a single taste for disaster, from considered or deliberate distortion of the sad and wondrous face of man.

[From Pray for Joy, by Martin H. Franzmann (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1970)]


Book Review: Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret

Osborne, Larry. Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret: Why Serial Innovators Succeed Where Others Fail (leadership Network Innovation Series). Zondervan, 2013.InnovationLittle Secret

Thanks to Zondervan for providing a preview copy of this book for an unbiased review.

This book provides some good common sense advice for leaders in the corporate and church world. Thus, pastors can learn from this book. But there is a caveat. I write this review as one who served as a former military officer and currently serving as pastor. At times I am uncomfortable with some of the language that is used because it can draw attention away from the true nature of the Church.

There many good sections in this book regarding the “business” end of leading in the church. Thus, most of the ideas are corporate oriented, very practical and useful. From that perspective, Chapters 1 (“Have and Exit Strategy”) and 6 (“Why Vision Matters”) seem to be the most useful for church leaders. The questions at the end of each chapter help focus the reader on critical application of the material.

Observing pastors for many decades I have discovered that sometimes we begin to think that when we plan something, it is obviously the best, maybe even describing it as “God’s will.” But such presumption can not only hinder current plans for the church, it can blind us to faulty logic and dead ends.

The chapter “Have and Exit Strategy” offers a planning alternative to avoid dead ends and cramping future plans in church activity. Perhaps the best advice given is the subsection: “Never Make a Change When You Can Conduct an Experiment.” As the author notes, “Unfortunately, this is a hard concept for many leaders and organizations to grasp” (p. 35).

Another helpful insight comes in the “Igniting Innovation” section, namely the difference between artistic and organizational innovation. “The unfortunate byproduct is confusion: it encourages leaders and organizations to take risks and behave in ways that are perfectly appropriate for artists, but foolhardy for leaders of organizations” (p. 44). Thus, something looks flashy, innovative, challenging may not be the solution for the pastor, church leaders. Good advice for church leaders.

Part 4 (“Sabotaging Innovation”) in the book shows the negative aspects of leadership pitfalls and failure. Sometimes in churches we are blind to the destructive effects of leadership failures. One of the weaknesses of the chapter is that the focus is on failure, but within the Church, there is another critical factor: forgiveness and restoration. This does not excuse or worse encourage leadership failures, but it is the heart of what the Church is. Interestingly in contrast the Part on Breakout Decisions highlights that the “two new keys to reaching the current culture: authenticity and compassion” (p. 125).

I am less enamored with the section on “Champion” mentality. This seems to contradict the notion earlier presented about avoiding the “curse of hype” (pp. 90ff.). As for pastors serving congregations, this book leaves a gap in leadership. In addition to serving as pastor, I teach seminarians and pastors. Hence my recommendation: this is a qualified good read. But…

Behind all the leadership advice and insights, however, is the issue of proclaiming Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). That is the center, motive, and goal of the pastor. The pastor uses the Word and the Sacraments (Baptism and Lord’s Supper), the tools of the Holy Spirit, to lead, strengthen, nourish, and equip the saints for the work of serving (Eph. 4:11-12). This central focus is not the center focus of the book. Administrative skills, “championship leaders,” etc. are all fine, but they must always take a secondary place relative to the proclamation and teaching the Word.

That is, the business side of decision making (even mission statements and vision statements) consumes the the reader’s attention. Much good insights for leaders. So, for the reader, enjoy and learn, but keep that secondary to that which is most important. You will need to supplement this with books that address such issues. Consider theses:

Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work by Eugene Peterson

Grace upon Grace: Spirituality for Today by John Kleinig

Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity by Eugene Peterson

The Preached God: Proclamation in Word and Sacrament by Gerhard Forde

In the Face of God: The Dangers and Delights of Spiritual Intimacy by Michael Horton

Greek Grammar and La Femme?

I am rereading the book Multipurpose Tools for Bible Study, by Frederick W. Danker (Fortress Press, 2003). This is my 3rd or 4th time (having read the original edition of 1960 back 35 years ago).multipurpose-tools-for-bible-study-265x200

Each time I gain knowledge and some tidbit of interesting history and commentary. This one grabbed my attention this morning. After quoting Browning’s “A Grammarian’s Funeral”

So, with the throttling hands of death at strife,
Ground he at grammar;
Still, thro’ the rattle, parts of speech were rife:
While he could stammer
He settled Hoti’s business let it be!
Properly based Oun
Gave us the doctrine of the enclitic De,
Dead from the waist down.

Danker continues:

After quoting part of this dirge, Archibald T. Robertson goes on to assure his readers that grammarians are not such dull creatures after all and that they lead happy, normal lives. He then relates how the professor of Greek at Bonn reacted when he received a copy of the first volume of Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve’s Syntax of Classical Greek. He brought it to the seminar and “clasped and hugged it as though it were a most precious darling (Liebling).” His reaction is understandable for a grammar is like a woman who does not make the cover of La Femme—to appreciate her real charm and beauty requires sensitivity and repeated association. (p. 139)

Danker’s comparison seems apt: a good lesson for those dating and for those who doubt the value of Greek grammars.


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