Thursday, June 30, 2016

Outliers: The Story of Success

Outliers: The Story of SuccessOutliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I teach at an advanced/gifted charter school. This book is in a classroom set in the history (social studies) class. I'd heard several people talk about the book and decided to read it. The book of course is about "outliers. "What is an outlier?" I'll give you the definition that Gladwell gives:

outlier (1) something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main or related body. (2) a statistical observation that is markedly different in value from the others of the sample.

Here are a few of the questions answered in the book:

Why a surprising number of the most powerful (outliers) and successful corporate lawyers in New York City have almost the exact same biography (Jewish men, born in the Bronx or Brooklyn in the mid-1930s to immigrant parents who worked in the garment industry.

Why are there a hugely disproportionate number of professional hockey (outliers) and soccer players (outliers) born in January, February, March?

Why are most successful software entrepreneurs(outliers) born in the same year?

Why are most of the richest people (outliers) ever born within nine years of each other?

Why are most of the pilots involved in plane crashes (outliers) all from the same culture?

Now to some quotes from the book. As you read the quotes please note that our Savior is the only one that can determine most if not all of the facts about outliers. I truly believe He allows us to be born at the appointed time, to the appointed parents, to the appointed culture, etc. Enjoy and I trust this will motivate you to read the book!

They had to appreciate the idea that the values of the world we inhabit and the people we surround ourselves with have a profound effect on who we are. (This statement is about the people of Roseto Valfortore, Italy. Several of these people left Italy in 1882 and later and eventually settled in Bangor, PA. It was discovered that these people had very little if any heart disease. This was a time when most deaths was attributed to heart attacks. They also found out there was no suicide, no alcoholism, no drug addiction, and very little crime. They didn't have anyone on welfare. No peptic ulcers. These people were dying of old age. What Wolf (the main researcher) discovered that the secret of Roseto wasn't diet or excretes or genes or location. It had to be Roseto itself. As he walked around the town, he figured out why.They looked at how the Rosetans visited one another, stopping to chat in Italian on the street, say, or cooking for one another in their backyards. He learned about the extended family clans that underlay the town's social structure. They saw how many homes had three generations living under one roof, and how much respect grandparents commanded. He went to mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel and saw the unifying and calming effect of the church. They counted twenty-two separate civic organizations in town of just under two thousand people. They picked up on the particular egalitarian ethos of the community, which discouraged the wealthy from flaunting their success and helped the unsuccessful obscure their failures. The Rosetans were healthy because of where they were from, because of the world they had created for themselves in their tiny little town in the hills.

The people who stand before kings may look like they did it all by themselves. But in fact they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot. It makes a difference where and when we grew up. The culture we belong to and the legacies passed down by our forebears shape the patterns of our achievement in ways we cannot begin to imagine. It's not enough to ask what successful people are like, in other words. It is only by asking where they are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn't.

Biologists often talk about the "ecology" of an organism: the tallest oak in the forest is the tallest not just because it grew from the hardest acorn; it is the tallest also because no other trees blocked its sunlight, the soil around it was deep and rich, no rabbit chewed through its bark as a sapling, no lumberjack cut it down before it matured. We all know that successful people come from hardy seeds. But do we know enough about the sunlight that warmed them, the soil in which they put down the roots, and the rabbits and lumberjacks they were lucky enough to avoid? This is not a book about tall trees. It's a book about forests.

Their research suggests that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That's it. And what's more, the people at the very top don't work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.

“The emerging picture from such studies is ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert – in anything,” writes neurologist Daniel Levitin. “In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again. Oh course, this doesn’t address why some people get more out of their practice sessions than others do. But no one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.”

He’d (Chris Langan) had to make his way alone, and no one - not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and even geniuses – ever makes it alone.

Instead, what started out as adversity ended up being an opportunity.

The sense of possibility so necessary for success comes not just from inside us or from our parents. It comes from our time: from the particular opportunities that our particular place in history presents us with. For a young would-be lawyer, being born in the early 1930s was a magic time, just as being born in 1955 was for a software programmer, ar being born in 1835 was for an entrepreneur.

Everything we have learned in Outliers says that success follows a predictable course. It is not the brightest who succeed. If it were, Chris Langan would be up there with Einstein. Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is, rather, a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities – and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them. For the hockey and soccer players born in January, it’s a better shot at making the all-star team. For the Beatles, it was Hamburg. For Bill Gates, the lucky break was being born at the right time and getting the gift of a computer terminal in junior high. Joe Flom and the founders of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen, and Katz got multiple breaks. They were born at the right time with the right parents and the right ethnicity, which allowed them to practice takeover law for twenty years before the rest of the legal world caught on. Again what Korean Air did, when it finally turned its operations around, was give its pilots the opportunity to escape the constraints of their cultural legacy (has to do with the (PDI – Power Distance Index – the Koreans were afraid to speak up to the superiors).

This was a very interesting book and I would recommend it to everyone!

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The MacArthur New testament Commentary: James

James (MacArthur New Testament Commentary)James by John F. MacArthur Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the main commentary I used to teach the book of James to my Sunday School class. It is an excellent commentary. As MacArthur always does he goes into great details. It took me over 6 months to teach the book of James with most of my notes coming from Mac Arthur's book. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in learning more about the book of James.

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Be Mature (James): Growing Up in Christ

Be Mature (James): Growing Up in ChristBe Mature (James): Growing Up in Christ by Warren W. Wiersbe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A great "little" commentary on the book of James.

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Thru The Bible Commentary Series: The Epistles: JAMES

Thru The Bible Commentary Series: The Epistles: JAMESThru The Bible Commentary Series: The Epistles: JAMES by J. Vernon McGee

A great "little" commentary of the book of James.

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Thru The Bible Commentary Series: The Epistles: JAMES

Thru The Bible Commentary Series: The Epistles: JAMESThru The Bible Commentary Series: The Epistles: JAMES by J. Vernon McGee

A great "little" commentary of the book of James.

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Friday, June 17, 2016

The Four Doors

The Four DoorsThe Four Doors by Richard Paul Evans

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of my favorite authors is Richard Paul Evans. In this book The Four Doors he shares his thoughts from talks he has given around the world mostly to school aged children. The book is divided into five parts: the first part is the foundation and the over four are the doors. I have labeled them such in the quotes below. He has included quotes from several of the books he has written. I trust the quotes below will challenge you!

The most important story we will ever write in life is our own – not with ink, but with our choices. ~Richard Paul Evans (from The Gift)

Everything can be taken from man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. ~Dr. Viktor E. Frankl, Holocaust survivor.

We are not an accident of God or nature. The universe is demonstrably purposeful, and there’s a purpose for our being here on earth. The experiences we have have come to us for our spiritual growth and evolution. Simply stated, earth is a school – a divine educational process custom-fit to each of us. ~Richard Paul Evans

We are all in motion. Always. Those who are not climbing toward something are descending toward nothing. ~Richard Paul Evans (from Miles to Go)

We grow or diminish spiritually as we move closer to light or darkness, love or hate, forgiveness or resentment, peace or anguish. The fact that we are changing is a given. How we change is in direct correlation to our choices and the power and exercise of our free will. ~Richard Paul Evans

Every revolution was first a thought in one man’s mind. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions. ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

Door One
: Believe There’s A Reason You Were Born
Almost without exception, history’s greatest achievers held a highly developed sense of personal mission. Nearly every one of them believed that their life had a purpose – that they had something of importance to share with the world. ~Richard Paul Evans

There are specific moments in each life given us to influence our life paths – a cosmic pull of a lever that switches the tracks beneath us. History abounds in such “accidents.” If such providence is evident in the lives of the great, then why not the rest of us? ~Richard Paul Evans

If you figure out your purpose, figure out your passion. For your passion will lead you right into your purpose. ~ T.D. Jakes

None of us will ever accomplish anything excellent or commanding except when he listens to this whisper, which is heard by him alone. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for. ~Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Door Two
: Free Yourself From Limitation
Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand. ~Albert Einstein

The success of our lives is more determined by our imagination than our circumstances. ~ Richard Paul Evans (from The Road to Grace)

We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better. ~J.K. Rowling

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world … We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. ~Marianne Williamson

Fame and greatness are not the same thing. There are great people in this world – people of great accomplishment and service to humanity – who are not famous. There are scores of famous people who are not great. In most cases, true greatness is a silent and lonely affair, unaccompanied by the trumpeted fanfare of acclaim. ~ Richard Paul Evans

To be of value to others is a far greater ambition than the vain hope for the world’s fleeting applause and fickle admiration. ~ Richard Paul Evans

We can spend our days bemoaning our losses, or we can grow from them. Ultimately, the choice is ours. We can be victims of circumstances or masters of our own fate, but make no mistake … we cannot be both. ~ Richard Paul Evans (from The Walk)

Life’s greatest gifts often come wrapped in adversity. ~ Richard Paul Evans (from Finding Noel)

In many cases, we do not succeed in spite of our challenges and difficulties, but precisely because of them. ~ Richard Paul Evans

During our time in Italy, I became friends with a local winemaker. On one occasion, I said to him, “Chianti must have very fertile soil to produce such famous grapes.” His reply surprised me. “No,” he said. “We have terrible soil. Good grapes do not grow in good soil.”

I did some research on this. It turns out that grapes are lazy. If the soil they grow in is too fertile, the grapes do not need to extend their roots deeply, which results in mediocre grapes that are used to make cheap table wine.

Because the soil in Chianti is poor, the grapevines develop large, intricate root systems that stretch deep into the ground, extracting not only what they need to survive but many other nutrients and minerals as well. The result is a sweet, delicious grape.

The metaphor is obvious and thought-provoking. A biologist once said to me, “I have noticed that in nature things with easy lives tend to die young.” ~ Richard Paul Evans

“We (Richard Paul Evans’s physician and other doctors) have been conducting a rather interesting study. We’ve surveyed more than a thousand people struggling with different handicaps. We asked them this question, ‘If I had a pill that could take away your handicap, but will make you lose everything you have gained from your adversity, would you take the pill?’” He looked me in the eyes. “Guess how many people would have taken the pill?”

I was thinking of a number in the ninety percent range but answered, “Seventy-five percent?” He shook his head. “Let me ask you this: Would you take the pill?” [Richard has Tourette’s]

I thought a moment, then said, “No.”

He smiled. “Neither would anyone else. No one has taken the pill.” ~Richard Paul Evans

Always, always remember that adversity is not a detour. It is part of the path.

You will encounter obstacles. You will make mistakes. Be grateful for both. Your obstacles and mistakes will be your greatest teachers. And the only way to not make mistakes in this life is to do nothing, which is the biggest mistake of all.

Your challenges, if you let them, will become your greatest allies. Mountains can crush or raise you, depending on which side of the mountain you choose to stand on. All history bears out that the great, those who have changed the world, have all suffered great challenges. And, more times than not, it’s precisely those challenges that, in God’s time, lead to triumph.

Abhor victimhood. Denounce entitlement. Neither are gifts, rather cages to damn the soul. Everyone who has walked this earth is a victim of injustice. Everyone.

Most of all, do not be too quick to denounce your sufferings. The difficult road you are called to walk may, in fact, be your only path to success. ~Richard Paul Evans (from A Winter Dream)

Everyone has problems. It’s how we choose to deal with our problems that matters. Some people choose to be whiners – some choose to be winners. Some choose to be victims – some choose to be victors. ~Richard Paul Evans

The greatest shackles we wear in this life are those forged of our own fears. ~Richard Paul Evans (from The Looking Glass)

When the media criticized him for his failure to create the incandescent lightbulb by the deadline he had publicly announced, Edison responded, “I have no failed. I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.” ~Richard Paul Evans

Thomas J. Watson, the chairman and CEO of IBM, said, “Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really, Double your rate of failure.” ~Richard Paul Evans

Scottish author Samuel Smiles said, “It is a mistake to suppose that men succeed through success; they much oftener succeed through failures. Precept, study, advice, and example could never have taught them so well as failure has done.” ~Richard Paul Evans

Door Three
: Magnify Your Life
Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure. ~Helen Keller

You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take. ~Wayne Gretzky

We rarely regret our failed attempts, but we nearly always regret the ones we don’t take. ~Richard Paul Evans

To work hard is to work with directed passion toward accomplishing an objective, not just punching a clock. It means to give and do more than is expected of you. ~Richard Paul Evans

Thomas Jefferson said, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.” ~Richard Paul Evans

I know you’ve heard it a thousand times before. But it’s true – hard work pays off. If you want to be good, you have to practice, practice, practice. If you don’t love something, then don’t do it. ~Ray Bradbury

Without passion we are doomed to mediocrity. ~Richard Paul Evans (from The Locket)

Door Four
Develop a Love-Centered Map
Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. ~Viktor E. Frankl

Without love, infants die. Emotionally, so do adults. With love, our health improves, both physically and emotionally. ~Richard Paul Evans

I will greet this day with love in my heart. For this is the greatest secret of success in all ventures. ~Og Mandino

Service is love made visible. ~Stephen Colbert

Love is what love does. ~Richard Paul Evans

We love those whom we serve. ~Richard Paul Evans

Love, for the sake of love, will always be enough. And if our lives are but a single flash in the dark hollow of eternity, then, if, but for the briefest of moments, we shine – then how brilliantly our light has burned. And as the starlight knows no boundary of space or time, so, too, our illumination will shine forth throughout all eternity, for darkness has no power to quell such light. And this is a lesson we must all learn and take to heart – that all light is eternal and all love is light. And it must forever be so. ~Richard Paul Evans (from The Letter)

I recommend this book to everyone who like to be motivated to do their best!

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Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times

Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough TimesLincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times by Donald T. Phillips

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lincoln is my far not my favorite President, but this little book about his leadership is excellent. It has some reminders for me and also gave me a few new things to think about. I trust the quotes below will me as helpful to you as they were to me.

He (President Lincoln) is, in fact, the only U. S. president to hold a patent (for a method to make grounded boats more buoyant).

Lincoln stood six feet, four inches, our tallest president.

The first Republican president, elected by a minority of the popular vote, he was a Washington outsider.

His cardinal mistake is that he isolates himself, and allows nobody to see him; and about which he does not know what is going on in the very matter he is dealing with. – – Lincoln’s reason for relieving Gen. John C. Fremont from his command in Missouri (September 9, 1861)

During his four years as president Abraham Lincoln spent most of his time among the troops.

Leading is primarily paying attention.

If subordinates, or people in general, know that they genuinely have easy access to their leader, they’ll tend to view the leader in a more positive, trustworthy light.

All leaders must seek and require access to reliable and up-to-date information.

By entering your subordinate’s environment – – by establishing frequent human contact – – you create a sense of commitment, collaboration, and community. You also gain access to vital information necessary to make effective decisions.

Simply spending time together and getting to know one’s subordinates can overcome mountains of personal differences and hard feelings.

If you stay in touch with the people who comprise the foundation, you’re more likely to gain an advantage that helps you to win the war against stiff competition. It’s the people who are closest to the consumer and the product who know how to win. And, almost always, they will want to offer their ideas.

Delegate responsibility and authority by empowering people to act on their own.

On issues that affect your entire organization, conduct full and frequent consultations with the heads of your various departments.

A good leader avoids issuing orders, preferring to request, imply, or make suggestions.

The architecture of leadership, all the theories and guidelines, falls apart without honesty and integrity. It’s the keystone that holds an organization together. Tom Peters reported in his research that the best, most aggressive, and successful organizations were the ones that stressed integrity and trust. “Managers do things right. Leaders do the right thing,” wrote Bennis and Nanus.

Trust, honesty, and integrity are exceedingly important qualities because they so strongly affect followers. Most individuals need to trust others, especially their boss. Subordinates must perceive their leader as a consistently fair person if they’re to engage in the kind of innovative risk-taking that brings a company rewards.

Followers in virtually every organization respond better to you, and will more easily be led by, a leader who consistently displays kindness and empathy than one who is associated with vindictiveness or animosity.

Business associates or subordinates, realize that a leader is not given to spite and pettiness, they will be more willing to openly seek him out. This will, in turn, makes the leader more effective.

Always keep in mind that once a subordinate is destroyed he ceases to contribute to the organization.

It would not hurt you much if, once in a while, you could manage to let things slip, unbeknownst- like.

Remember that truth is generally the best vindication against slander.

Do the very best you know how – – the very best you can – – and keep doing so until the end.

Corporate leaders of the future will have to provide employee security while also encouraging an environment for risk taking. At times it will seem like walking a delicate tightrope. But, in reality, it is nothing more than the simple understanding that each person, and each situation, is different it should be handled uniquely, in some cases with completely opposite styles. In many ways, mastering paradox is nothing more than having good common sense.

The best, most decisive leaders are those who have a set purpose and self-confidence to accomplish that objective.

An entire organization is never wisely sacrificed to avoid losing one or two small parts.

Frequently, getting people together can avoid distracted thinking that tends to build on people’s misgivings and apprehensions about others and their departments.

Always give credit where credit was due and, conversely, to accept responsibility when things went wrong.

If leaders of this - if they praise good work and encourage more of the same - then eventually they will be able to relax and let their subordinates do most of the work. And all the leader will have to do is guide them in the proper direction.

Let disputing parties work out their differences by bringing them together and guiding their dialogue.

Always let your subordinates know that the honor will be all theirs if they succeed and the blame will be yours if they fail.

Write letters to your subordinates making the personal acknowledgment that they were right and you were wrong.

When your subordinates come up with good ideas, let them go ahead and try. But monitor their progress.

The greatest credit should be given to those in your organization who rendered the hardest work.

Establishing goals and gaining their acceptance from subordinates is crucial for effective leadership. Goals unify people, motivate them, and focus their talent and energy.

Recent studies in leadership have noted that effective leaders are "reliable and tirelessly persistent" and that they are "the most results oriented people in the world."

Set specific short-term goals that can be focused on with intent and immediacy by subordinates.

Leave nothing for tomorrow, which can be done today.

Choose as your chief subordinates those people who crave responsibility and take risks.

Give your follow worse all the support you can, and act on the presumption that they will do the best they can with what you give them.

Coach and counsel a new executive so that he or she may get off on the right foot. Remember you want him to succeed.

An often overlooked component of leadership is this ability to learn from people and experiences, from successes and failures. The best leaders never stop learning. They possess a special capacity to be taught by those with whom they come into contact. In essence, this ongoing accumulation of knowledge prepares the organization for change.

A leader’s ability to develop innovative ideas and ask for people’s help in implementing them may seem to be obvious keys to success. But the sad fact is that too many of today’s leaders resign themselves to the limits imposed on them by flawed systems rather than rethinking those systems. This seems especially true in America as opposed to Japan, where innovation is a way of life.

Don't lose confidence in your people when they fail.

If you never try, you’ll never succeed.

Remember that the best leaders never stop learning.

Surround your self with people who really know their business and avoid “yes” men.

Remember that there will be times when you should simply not speak. Say to your listeners: “Kindly let me be silent.”

Try not to make mistakes when you speak publicly. Everything you say is intently heard. If you make a mistake it doesn't merely affect you but the organization as well.

Every leader must realize that the power to motivate followers resides almost solely in the ability to communicate effectively. In most business organizations, private conversation is much more important than public speaking.

When you meet with an individual, try not to part with any unpleasant impression on either side.

Speak in simple and familiar strains with people, without any pretension of superiority. Leave people with the feeling that they’ve known you all their lives.

Don't forget that humor is a major component of your ability to persuade people.

Effective visions and organizational mission statement can't be forced upon the masses. Rather, they must be set in motion by means of persuasion.

Moreover, truly accepted visions foster innovation, risk-taking, empowerment, and delegation. If the working troops understand what is expected of them, what the organization is trying to accomplish, then it becomes possible to make important decisions on lower levels, thereby creating a climate in which results in progress continually occur.

All leaders should remind subordinates why their organization was formed in the first place. Lincoln called on the past, related it to the present, and then used them both to provide a link to the future.

Provide a clear, concise statement of the direction of your organization, and justify the actions you take.

Everywhere you go, and every conceivable opportunity, reaffirm, reassert, and remind everyone of the basic principles upon which your organization was founded.

When effecting renewal, call on the past, relate it to the present, and then use them both to provide a link to the future.

I recommend this book to anyone who is a leader!

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Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Prince Warriors

The Prince Warriors (The Prince Warriors #1)The Prince Warriors by Priscilla Shirer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was sent to me by the publisher to review. It is a book written for preteens/teens. It is written in a format similiar to <1>Chronicles of Narnia. The author, Priscilla Shirer is an exc ellen writer and speaker. She is well known for acting in the movie War Room, speaking at Woman rallies, speaking about prayer, and being Tony Evans daughter. I've have read a couple of her books on prayer and they are excellent. This book is no different. Even though it is written for preteen/teen boys everyone can take away Biblical truths from the book. The focus of the book is on the Armor of God! on the book of the book is the following "... the first book in Priscilla Shirer's epic new fiction trilogy, brings to life the invisible struggle ensuing in the spiritual realm. Filled with heart-stopping adventure, captivating humor, and intriguing mystery, this book promises to be an action-packed page turner that you won't want to end." could not agree more.

I teach at an advanced/gifted school and know the types of books my students read. This is one of those types of books. If you have a young person that likes to read this is an excellent book for him!

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The Question That Never Goes Away

The Question That Never Goes AwayThe Question That Never Goes Away by Philip Yancey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book by one of my favorite authors is excellent. If you have ever suffered or you are in the midst of suffering I highly recommend this book. It will challenge you and bring comfort to your heart. I trust you will enjoy the quotes below.

Faith, I’ve concluded, means believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.

Virtually every passage on suffering in the New Testament deflects the emphasis from cause to response. Although we cannot grasp the master plan of the universe, which allows for so much evil in pain (the Why? question), we can nevertheless respond in two important ways. First, we can find meaning in the midst of suffering. Second, we can offer real and practical help to those in need. In his book The Problem of Pain C. S. Lewis wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” I hesitate to disagree with Lewis, yet that image makes me uncomfortable. It calls to mind a football coach on the sideline yelling at his players through a bullhorn, and some readers may infer from the metaphor that God dishes out something to get our attention. I don’t think Lewis intended such an inference, and for that reason I would change the image from megaphone to hearing aid. When suffering strikes, it gives us, the afflicted ones, an opportunity to turn up the volume and attend to crucial messages that we might otherwise ignore.

Were it possible, we might look beyond the reach of our knowing… Then perhaps we would endure our griefs with even greater trust than our joys. For they are the moments when something new has entered into us, something unfamiliar. … Everything within us steps back; a silence ensues, and something new … stands in the center and is silent. ~Rainer Maria Rilke

"Despair is suffering without meaning," he wrote; and "everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – – to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances." – Victor Frankl

A University researching pain recruited volunteers to test how long they could keep their feet in buckets of freezing water. They observed that when a companion was allowed in the room, the volunteer could endure the cold twice as long as those who suffered alone. “The presence of another caring person doubles the amount of pain person can endure,” the researchers concluded. All too often our pain-denying, death-denying culture does just the opposite: we put suffering people in hospitals and nursing homes, isolating them from normal human contact. Two out of three people die in such institutions, often alone. Every survey shows that a person who is connected with a caring community heals faster and better. Known “enemies of recovery” such as stress, guilt, anger, anxiety, and loneliness are best defeated by a compassionate community.

For whatever reason, God has chosen to respond to the human predicament not by waving a magic wand to make evil and suffering disappear but by absorbing it in person. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” wrote John in the prologue to his Gospel. In the face of suffering, words do not suffice. We need something more: the Word made flesh, actual living proof that God has not abandoned us. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, “Only a suffering God can help.”

Eugene Peterson’s The Message translates the verse in John as “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” What kind of neighborhood to Jesus move into? To answer that question requires a brief history lesson. A succession of great empires tramp through the territory of Israel as if wiping their feet on the vaunted promised land. After the Syrians and Babylonians came the Persians, who were in turn defeated by Alexander the Great. When Alexander died, a series of successors carved up his territory, the most infamous being Antiochus IV Epiphanies, the Jews iconic villain until Hitler.

Frustrated by military defeats elsewhere, Antiochus began waging war against the Jewish religion. He transformed the temple of God into a worship center for Zeus and proclaimed himself God incarnate. He forced young boys to undergo reverse circumcision operations and flogged an aged priest to death for refusing to eat pork. In one of his most notorious acts, he sacrifice and unclean pig on the altar in the Most Holy Place, smearing its blood around the temple sanctuary.

Antiochus’s actions so incensed the Jews that they rose up in an armed revolt led by the Maccabean’s, a triumph commemorated in the Jewish holiday Hanukkah. Their victory was short-lived. Before long, Roman legions marched into Palestine to quash the rebellion and appointed Herod their "King of the Jews." After the Roman conquest, nearly the entire land lay in ruins. Herod was sickly and approaching seventy when he heard rumors of a new king born in Bethlehem, and soon howls of grief from the families of slain infants drowned out the angels’ stirring chorus of “Glory to God... and on earth peace.”

This, then, was the neighborhood Jesus moved into: a sinister place with a somber past and a fearful future.

“When God seems absent, sometimes it’s up to us to show his presence,” he told me. Often the world only knows the truth of Immanuel, “God with us,” because of his followers.

“People said they grew more during seasons of loss, pain, and crisis then they did at any other time.” We discover the value of suffering only by suffering – – not as part of God’s original or ultimate plan for us, but as a redemptive transformation takes place in the midst of trial.

“This is not the worst thing to ever happen! Cancer is so limited. It cannot cripple love, shatter hope, corrode faith, eat away peace, destroy confidence, kill friendship, shut out memories, silence courage, quench the Spirit or lessen in the power of Jesus.” ~Margaret, a Scottish woman suffering with throat cancer

"Affliction is the best book in my library," said Martin Luther. … pain redeemed impresses me more than pain removed. We are concerned with how things turn out; God seems more concerned with how we turn out.

“You can protest against the evil in the world only if you believe in a Good God," Volf also said. “Otherwise the protest doesn’t make sense.”

“I believe that God can and will generate good out of everything, even out of the worst evil. For that, he needs people who allow that everything that happens fits into a pattern for good.

I believe that God will give us each state of emergency as much power of resistance as we need. But he will not give in advance, so that we do not rely on ourselves but on Him alone. Through such faith all anxiety concerning the future should be overcome.

I believe that even our mistakes and failings are not in vain, and that it is not more difficult for God to cope with these as with our assumed good deeds.

I believe that God is not a timeless fate, but that he waits for and responds to honest prayers and responsible action." ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Death, said Bonhoeffer, is the supreme festival on the road to freedom.

… that the issue is not whether I agree with someone but rather how I treat someone with whom I profoundly disagree. We Christians are called to use the “weapons of grace,” which means treating even our opponents with love and respect.

I yearn for the church to compete just as hard in conveying what Paul calls the “incomparable riches” of God’s grace. Often, it seems, we’re perceived more as guilt dispensers than as grace dispensers.

God, help me to see others not as my enemies or as ungodly but rather as thirsty people. And give me the courage and compassion to offer your Living Water, which alone quenches deep thirst. ~Henri Nouwen

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The Family

The Family
Braves Game 2012