Thursday, December 31, 2009

Little moments - Big memories

The Baxter family just got back from a wonderful vacation with family at the beach. It was a great time of relaxing, celebrating Christmas, and making some memories. Playing pool, the hot tub, dinners together, Wii golf classic, board games, sneaking off for a date with my wife, and staying up late talking. I like vacations like that; not grand moments but time spent together, where running off to the beach at midnight and staring at the stars opens up sharing from the heart. And yet... one of the biggest 'little moment' of the trip was on the long and arduous ride to get there.

We were headed into a huge snow storm but it was smooth sailing until Charleston, WV. We pressed on, but at a toll both were told to turn around, as all the roads into Virginia were closed. (What??!)  There was no alternate route, just told to go back and find a hotel room. We drove back West, but nothing was open. No room at the Inn :)  At Charleston they laughed when we asked for a room and told to go another hour West. It was getting late, we hadn't eaten, and had a long trip yet ahead. The kids asked what was wrong. "None of the hotels have a room." "Can we pray that one would have a room for us?" asked Justin. "Sure!" He did, and the three other kids did likewise. Dawn made one more phone call and asked if they had a room. The receptionist said she didn't know. The power had been out all day and had just come back on - she would know when the computer finished rebooting. "Where are you?" asked Dawn. "Exit 48". We just past exit 47. "We'll be right there to see!" After getting off I-64 we couldn't find it, but took a wrong turn up a huge hill from which we could see the Sleep Inn. A couple of people decided to leave when the power went off and so they had a room! Restaurants and stores were all shut down, but Dawn found a movie theater and got us popcorn and Oreos for dinner, to go with a huge cup of Ramen noodles. Yummy! To celebrate, I made sure the boys jumped on the bed.

I'm thankful that God taught them something about prayer (repeatedly actually with some other answered prayer on the road). Did God miraculously turn on power for 80,000 people just because four children prayed? Which is more wonderful, if He answered directly at the moment, or if He chose to act well in advance? Guiding us to a wise decision to delay one day? Using a pottie break to put us within one mile of the only open hotel in a 50 mile radius at precisely the right time? Guiding us to pick up that particular hotel guide at a previous rest stop with the needed phone number? Helping us via a 'wrong turn' to get to a vantage where we could actually see the Sleep Inn? Or simply reaching out to Justin to call us to prayer at the exact time power was about to be restored? All of the above? I imagine that often answers to prayer come by means of natural causes, but God can and does guide us and act through other people. He's not constrained by time, after all. Regardless of the how, I'm thankful for God and His provisions, and for the deep sense my kids have that He loves them. Happy New Year all!!!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Review - Glo Bible for a Digital World

In addition to "The Search for God and Guinness" Amazon sent me a review copy of a powerful new software package - "Glo. The Bible for a Digital World".  Glo is a new way to interact with the Bible that brings it life with HD video, maps, photos, 360-degree virtual tours, and a ton of other information and media. It comes on DVD-ROM and runs on Windows XP/Vista/7. It's really quite an amazing product, by Immersion Digital and published by Zondervan in October 2009.

Glo has five "lenses" through which you can view all this material. There's the most common "Bible" lens, featuring the popular NIV translation (and the KJV) with related resources and media. The "Atlas" view cover the geography and landmarks of the Holy Land, with quite a bit of video and special photos. The "Timeline" considers the Bible from a chronological perspective with a zoomable interface. The "Topical" lens covers verses and material for thousands of subjects, from a variety of scholars and experts. Finally the "Media" lens lets you browse biblical content according the media type of interest.

The installation and computer requirements are not for the timid however! You'll need over 18 GB of hard drive space, 1-2 GB of RAM, a dual core processor, and a better than average video graphics card with DirectX 9 support (!)  The installation took hours, and the whole time I was waiting for some error or problem or series of reboots. Thankfully, none of those appeared, and it went uneventfully. At this point I was thinking "This better be good" but expectations were pretty low, given the sad state of many other 'reference' or 'study tools' I've seen.

So what did I think after running it? I was immediately blown away. The amount of material on here is simply enormous. One of the first rabbit trails I explored was a 360-virtual tour of Capernaum, a fishing village on the Sea of Galilee and home to several of the apostles. Not only could you "walk through" the streets of Capernaum and explore the multilayered house of St. Peter, but you could see the town in both modern time and in biblical times. The resolution and detail was amazing. Some other pluses: the timeline, maps, videos, and the overall ease of exploring cross-references. You can find something under one lens and go explore elsewhere if you find something interesting. Also, there's new information that is added all the time (says their web site). One other thing I thought was great: it's licensed for legal installation on THREE of your own computers, e.g. on your home desktop, laptop, and that user's computer at work.

Some things that might be a problem for some users: the help system is fairly sparse, installation (and uninstallation) are non-trivial, and it's a huge install, weighing in far larger than the operating system! The reason for this is that it unpacks everything off the DVD, and makes use of a well-designed updating system to make sure that the application and materials remain up to date.

Bottom line? A fascinating approach to Bible study that will be a big hit to visually-oriented people with a relatively powerful computer. If you're the type of person who likes to surf around the web, goes to the Wikipedia to look up one thing and ends up reading about a half-dozen, you'll really like Glo. It's hard to describe the details or interface, but fortunately there is extensive information on the Glo website including a number of demo and tutorial videos, and a one-page summary sheet. If you're at all interested, definitely check out the Glo video walkthrough. Glo is available at Amazon and other retailers.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Review - Primal

A new book is coming out next week - "Primal: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity" by Mark Batterson. Mark is the lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC, a highly innovative church that now has multiple sites including movie theatres and a coffeehouse. He's also written "In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day" and "Wild Goose Chase: Reclaim the Adventure of Pursuing God." I'm part of a blogger's "book tour" with publisher WaterBrook Multnomah, reviewing the book right before it's released on Dec 22nd.

"Primal" a heartfelt cry that invites us to return to a more basic Christianity, something more ancient and primal, that centers around loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. The call is not just personal, it's for a reformation - not in creeds but in loving deeds. The book centers around exploration of four key elements of Great Commandment Christianity: compassion, wonder, curiousity and power. The goal is to help us live in light of what matters most and (re)discover what it means to love God; to reignite a primal faith.

Primal is a seriously challenging book! Despite being a very smart guy, Mark is extremely down-to-earth and passionate. You feel like he's sitting down at Ebeneezer's coffeehouse talking to you. But it's not a dry casual talk, it's an engaging plea to see your life transformed, and to return to your first love. He recognizes the fact that God has made us differently and we each have a unique love language, but that we must cultivate the other expressions of love to more fully live out the life God has called us to.

The main strength and main drawback to the book are flip sides of the very same coin - the intenstity and passion of Batterson's style and his plea for the reader to join him in a new reformation as we experience this wild adventure called life. If you liked his other books, if you're a fan of authors like John Eldredge (Wild at Heart), or feel like you're missing out on the warmth of your initial walk with God, you will very much like Primal. If you're looking for something more informative, something of a how-to on spiritual growth, then you may not enjoy it as much as other readers.

The publisher's website has a link to read the first chapter of the book if you would like to check it out. Primal can be ordered at Amazon or other retailers. It's definitely a fine choice to be the first (primal) book you read in the New Year.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Review - The Search for God and Guinness

November and the first half of December have been really hectic month at work, but things are starting to quiet down coming into the second half of December. I'm finally getting back into a more normal reading routine, and was thankful that the Vine program at Amazon could supply me with another book to review - "The Search for God and Guinness: A biography of the beer that changed the world" by Stephen Mansfield. The title intrigued me, to say the least.

Mansfield is an author who has written several books on the fringe of politics or business and faith, including "The Faith of Barrack Obama" and "The Faith of George W. Bush". In The Search for God and Guinness, Mansfield looks at the history of Guinness - a famous brand of beer, looking at the amazing generosity and innovation of a great Irish family. If the connection between the two seems odd to us now, it sure wasn't back in the 1700's in Ireland. Water was often undrinkable at the time, and the common alternatives of gin and whiskey were devastating civil society. Beer was actually brewed by Christians like Arthur Guinness, as well as monks, as a healthy alternative. Almost 250 years later, Guinness is an internationally famous brand. I can tell you from my visit to Ireland as a college student, it's held in very high regard in the land of my grandparents!

Overall, the book was a very interesting approach to the history of beer, to the need for corporate responsibility and involvement in the community, and a fair bit of philosophy. I would say the book was good, but not great. I could tell the author had become a huge fan of the history of Guinness, but the prose was not quite as compelling as the title. The search for God aspect was significantly weaker than the historical narrative, which started to drag over its 304 pages. The big highlight of the book for me was a discussion of 'calling' in Chapter 5 - "whether work that is not specifically religious can be work done for the glory of God. Another equally important question is whether God calls men to trades and vocations in the world as part of his unfolding plan...' The author makes a strong case that the Guinness family  had "absorbed the great Reformation ideal that everything a man did was to be done for God and that his calling and vocation were usually the same thing... A brewer can serve as valuable role in the Kingdom of God as a missionary, a priest or a pope."

I would go on but frankly, I'm more than a little thirsty. If you want to chat about this, we can meet at Nine Irish Brothers in town. And if you've been burned by a church or people misguided about what it means to serve God and love people, the first round is on me! :)