Posted in book reviews, From soup to nuts

An inspiration for all achievers

Myan Subrayan -Unbelievable! - HRYou may not be a swimmer, but if you’re an achiever in any area of life, you’ll enjoy Unbelievable: A Book About Family, Values, and Perseverance (Penguin, 2014; Amazon Kindle edition). Author Myan Subrayan had done an excellent job introducing us to one of South Africa’s sports heroes, 2012 Olympic swimming gold medalist, Chad le Clos.

Mr le Clos surprised many when he bested the legendary Michael Phelps in the men’s 200 m butterfly in London. What has been equally impressive since that high moment is Chad’s down-to-earth way of handling success. Thanks largely to his strong family, he has stayed grounded, including throwing himself into a handful of worthy causes. These include the fight against breast cancer, following his mother’s battle with the disease, as well as the campaign to save Africa’s rhinos from extinction.

Unfortunately, on some topics, the book stays in the shallow end of the pool. As a person of faith, I would have appreciated more about Chad’s religion. From time-to-time there was a hint, such as this line : “God has given me talent and opportunities, and I want to use these to make a positive difference wherever I go” (location 1736, Kindle). Hopefully, future bios will confidently swim into deeper waters.

All-in-all, Unbelievable accomplishes what it sets out to do. At a time when some other South African sports heroes have spectacularly imploded, it’s refreshing to see a young man who has already accomplished much yet kept a positive and balanced outlook. Keep up the good work, sir.


Photo credit: Penguin Books (South Africa)

Posted in From soup to nuts

5 unhelpful expressions that should ride into the sunset

artworks-000035838294-00naux-t200x200O.K., I admit it: I spend too much time reading what other people have to say online, usually in responses on comment threads. One lesson I’ve learned is that communication is not just what the transmitter thinks he or she means but what the receiver interprets them to say. With that in mind, here are 5 unhelpful expressions that – like the cowboy at the end of a Western – need to ride into the proverbial sunset:

1) “Let’s just love on our kids.” – In Disney’s “Angels in the Outfield,” one memorable line from radio announcer, Ranch Wilder, is: “Less is more.” When it comes to the sentimental saying, “Let’s just love on our kids” or some variation thereof, Ranch’s “less is more” dictum comes to mind. How about “Let’s just love our kids?” “Loving on” sounds creepy.

2) “It’s all good.” – Context is everything. Usually people are trying to re-assure the other person that something they think they’ve done wrong is not world-ending. But is “It’s all good” merely a polite “cut to the chase” reply, a way of signaling that I don’t have time for this conversation? And by the way, it’s not always all good. Optimist that I am, sometimes it’s just all bad.

3) “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” –  Only reluctantly does this one make my list, since I’ve used it plenty. Though the phrase itself doesn’t appear in Scripture, the idea does, modeled by Jesus’ interaction with the woman caught in adultery  (John 8:1-11). Yet what people often hear in this well-intended line is not love but condescension, not Christlikeness but “holier than thou-ness.” Comedian Mark Lowry had the best come-back:

“Love the sinner, hate the sin? How about: Love the sinner, hate your own sin! I don’t have time to hate your sin. There are too many of you! Hating my sin is a full-time job. How about you hate your sin, I’ll hate my sin and let’s just love each other!”

Mark Lowry
Mark Lowry

4) “Dude” – You know the schtick: “Hey dude, what’s up?” Can we just drive a stake through the heart of this monster? It’s a perfect example of the American (yes, I’m American) tendency to take a bulldozer to all social distinctions, to drag down to our level persons of dignity who merit respect. This faux egalitarianism comes across as juvenile and in many places in the world is about as welcome as a horsefly at a picnic. Call me old-fashioned, but I’d put a “sir” in place of every “dude” and I’d devise a way to say “vous” in English. (See your old high school French 1 notebook for more information).

5) “If it be your will” – Should an attorney want to devise an escape clause in our prayers to God, this would be it! Yet didn’t Jesus pray: “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42)? He did, but the context was Gethsemane. It was a prayer of submission to God’s will, Christ signaling his willingness to go along with God’s plan. Note that it’s a prayer he prayed for himself, not for another. It’s a different animal altogether when we intercede for someone else, for a person who is suffering. But how often do we pray in the presence of sick individuals: “Lord, if it be your will, heal Jane of her cancer.” Don’t send that kind of wishy-washy, escape clause prayer to God on my behalf. When I’m too weak to do it myself, storm the gates of heaven for me! Grab the throne of grace with a firm grip, and plead my cause (Hebrews 4:16). Pray a prayer that lets faith rise within me, don’t anoint me for burial with a half-hearted “If it be your will.”

There’s my list. Now it’s your turn. To what unhelpful sayings would you bid farewell?


Photo credits:

Cowboy – Sound Cloud

Mark Lowry – The Grand Macon


Posted in From soup to nuts

THEODORE BOONE series: Kudos, Mr Grisham

9781444728880Have you visited the youth literature section of a bookstore lately? I did, and was dismayed that 70% of the books were about vampires, fallen angels, or paranormal activities. Seriously?

I have no clue whether John Grisham noticed the same unhealthy trend, but he is serving up a wholesome alternative with his Theodore Boone legal fiction series for young readers. Good on him.

Theo is not your typical protagonist. He’s no sports hero , but he has a good head on his shoulders, and his parents are lawyers. Theo has a boundless curiosity and the knack for getting mixed up in the thick of mysteries.

For Christmas, I picked up a copy of Theodore Boone: The Accused. In this second book in the series, Theo is framed for a crime he didn’t commit. Can he and his family clear his name before he’s arrested?

Here’s to hoping Mr Grisham makes time for more installments in the Theodore Boone series. As for Theodore Boone: The Accused,  I can’t wait to pass the book along to the teenagers of some family friends.


Image credit: Hachette

Posted in From soup to nuts

On sugar maples, Southern Red Bishops and theology

A Southern Red Bishop rests after feeding on tender grain at the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens in Roodepoort, outside Johannesburg, RSA

My father-in-law, John, is amazing. When I was dating his daughter, Amy (now my wife), I would sometimes visit their home near Auburn, New York. Usually at some point, her dad would proudly take me on a stroll in their park-like back yard,  pointing out the many species of trees, some of which he had planted himself. Looking at the trees, I could identify oaks, elms, and maples. For John, that was child’s play. In his youth, he had studied to be a forest ranger and had spent several years surveying in the Northeast. He knew not only the English names for all the trees, but the Latin ones, too, terms like acer saccharum (sugar maple) and ulmus americana (American elm).

I wish he could travel to South Africa. His health now would never allow the trip. If he came, I’d show him the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens where not only are there many varieties of trees, but also birds. When it comes to birds, I’ll admit that I’m still weak in identifying different species, but little by little, I’m learning. And my favorite so far at Sisulu is the Southern Red Bishop. Riding my bike in our neighborhood the other day, I saw many birds, but instead of thinking “Look at that bird!,” I mused: “I hope that sacred ibis doesn’t decide to dive-bomb me!” My two-wheeled approach startled a pair of laughing doves, chasing them upward. To my right on the freshly mowed grass, a black-masked weaver pecked at a worm.

What applies to species of trees and birds applies to God. There was a time when I was content to just say “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” But with time, I don’t just want to know that I am saved. I want to know how salvation works. So we learn of soteriology, Christology, hamartiology, and the Christus Victor. Some think theologians needlessly complicate things. I beg to differ. The same God who made salvation simple enough for a child to understand made study of Scripture and theology profound enough for minds far greater than my own to spend a lifetime contemplating the mystery of redemption.

So let’s have at it. Let’s unabashedly dive in deep to all areas of knowledge and master each discipline’s vocabulary as an act of worship to our Creator God. And I’ll make you a deal: If you are interested in knowing more about tertium quid, conditional immortality, and the eschaton, I’ll keep plugging away in areas that hold less fascination for me, but where my interest can still be sparked. One day, I hope to shake my head in disbelief that I used to be satisfied with merely saying “tree” and “bird.”

Posted in autobiographical, From soup to nuts, Uncategorized

What are your strengths?

Body_Coach_Dumbbell_set_10_kg_innerLast week, we had a two day seminar on the Strength Finders program by Gallup. Following an extensive questionnaire, Gallup determined that – out of 34 possible strengths – my top 5 are:

1. Achiever

2. Intellection

3. Context

4. Input

5. Learner

Achiever means that I don’t feel good at the end of the day unless I have in some way been productive. It also means that I often have a gnawing sense that I could have done more. This is the ghost of the unanswered e-mails, the pending projects, etc. Achiever has an upside (i.e. several earned degrees), but the “shadow side” for me means finding it hard to relax.

Intellection means processing things mentally. This requires space and time. I’m typing this on a blog, probably a pretty good indicator of intellection!

Context signifies wanting to know the background to a situation before acting. It’s the historian’s gift, and can be very helpful, as long as wanting to know background doesn’t become an excuse not to act.

Input and learner go together. It is collecting and classifying data, as well as hunger to know more about the world. Like context, the shadow side of these strengths might be paralysis, or simply categorizing data rather than using them for some good purpose.

Since we did this activity in a group, each of us wore a name badge listing our top 5. It’s a helpful tool for teams, as we seek mutual understanding and for leaders as they assign tasks to team members in-light of their strengths.

I like how Strengths Finder focuses not on who I am not, but rather on who I am. When I know where I’m strong I can maximize those abilities for the best possible impact.

Are you interested in discovering your strengths? You can check it out on Gallup’s website.


Image: Sport Bay

Posted in From soup to nuts, reflections

Thoughts on the eve of Nazarene General Assembly 2013

I was only 12 years old when I attended my first General Assembly of the Church of the Nazarene in 1976, held in Dallas, Texas. We attended because my older brother, Mark, made the Easter (ENC) regional team representing us at the teen Bible Quiz. On the trip there, we discovered a wonderful up-and-coming hamburger restaurant around Lousiville, Kentucky. You may have heard of them.  They were called Wendy’s.

The other memory from that Assembly involved my two littlest brothers, Jay and Chad, only 6 and 5 years old. Somehow, they slipped away from their mom in the big Saturday crowd milling about the exhibits. Like Mary and Joseph frantically searching for the boy Jesus, we scoured every venue. No, they didn’t turn up in the Temple talking with the teachers of the Law, nor were they chatting with the General Superintendents. But a friend found them gleefully riding the elevator of the famed 18 story Baker Hotel where we were staying.

Now the General Assembly is in Indianapolis. For my brothers’ sake (and for my own enjoyment), Amy and I already rode the glorious glass elevator of the Hyatt Regency all the way to the top. Willie Wonka was nowhere in sight, and the elevator didn’t pop through the roof, but it was still lots of fun. I can’t wait to initiate some of our African delegates to this breathtaking experience.

Who says General Assembly has to be all so serious?

But on the other hand…

I do hunger for a movement of God’s Holy Spirit upon our church! If we can just set aside for a moment all the little things and get a glimpse of His perspective and His plans for us, then this time in Indianapolis will have been worth all the effort.

“Come, Holy Spirit, I need thee!

Come, sweet Spirit, I pray.

Come, in Thy strength and Thy power,

Come, in Thy own gentle way.”

Posted in From soup to nuts

Theologian’s apple crumb cake

Maybe the first word of this blog’s title is a bit of a stretch to make it fit the “Theology in Overalls” theme. Truth be told, there’s nothing original (or sinful) about my cake. You can find the recipe over at Amateur Gourmet.

On second thought, there is something a tad original about it.

I had just put it in the oven to bake for the prescribed 30-35 minutes when (horror of horrors) I realized a small detail: I had forgotten to add the 2 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder. Amy informed me in no uncertain terms that cake needs baking powder to rise. Time to get creative!

Turns out this white stuff is pretty important when baking. Who would have thunk it?
Turns out this white stuff is pretty important when baking. Who wooda thunk it?

Out of the oven came the pan, and I dumped the whole thing (wondrous crumbly/buttery topping and all) into a large mixing bowl. Into the mix went the forgotten white magic from Royal, then back into the fiery furnace.

Thirty minutes later, tuh-dah! Here’s the result:

Crumb cake, sans topping (it's hiding inside)
Crumb cake, sans topping (it’s hiding inside)

Serve with Five Roses tea (milk and sugar, please) and other than the missing topping, not bad, if I say so myself.

Posted in autobiographical, From soup to nuts

Another chance to serve

A new opportunity knocks.

I’m grateful to my Lord Jesus for the chances I’ve had to serve Him across the years, especially through teaching cross-culturally.

Living in Africa means being poised on the cutting edge of Christianity. There’s so much potential theologically on this continent. It’s an exciting place to be, rich with relationships. And best of all, I’m happy to continue the journey with my incredible wife, Amy.

Whoever said Christian faith was boring? Thank you for your prayers for us as we step into God’s newest adventure!



Posted in From soup to nuts

A Publishing House for a Peculiar People

Here’s a taste of an essay I wrote for the NNU Wesley Center, looking back at the Herald of Holiness 100 years ago:

Multiple editorials in the early pages of Vol. 1 No. 25 urged pastors, evangelists, and church members to view theHerald and books that would be produced as an essential way to increase the effectiveness of holiness evangelism.  As a former pastor who has heard many sales pitches at District Assembly from a representative of Nazarene Publishing House, it’s intriguing to see that this approach has a long pedigree!

Read the whole blog here.

Plus ça change…

Posted in Bible, From soup to nuts, reflections

Despising our birthright – Genesis 25:34

Call it temporary insanity. I never should have traded.

For weeks, I’d eaten boxes of a breakfast cereal that wasn’t even my favorite, and for what? All so I could cut off the required number of box tops and send them away for a toy red Ferrari. Every day, I watched as the Post Office Jeep slowly made its way down the street. Every day, I ran out to the mailbox when he’d gone, only to be disappointed. But one day, there it was. at long last. My Ferrari had come!

None of the other ten year-old-boys on the block had anything like it. I showed off my Ferrari with pride. Only one boy didn’t seem so impressed. Ray barely paid it any attention. Using psychology worthy of Tom Sawyer at the white-board fence, he got out his little, beat-up green Corvette, then planted himself on the floor of the garage. He made an obstacle course, and “vroomed!” his way around. Slowly, the enthusiasm convinced me. I had to have that green Corvette! You’ve probably guessed the rest of the story. Ray reluctantly agreed to trade me his “cool” green Corvette for my “lousy” red Ferrari, as a favor to me. If it wasn’t for mom-to-mom intervention, I never would have gotten back the sports car I’d worked for so long.

In Genesis 25:34, a similar scene unfolded. Esau came in from the fields, his stomach churning in ravenous hunger. Jacob had cooked up a tasty dish, but the price would be steep. “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished” demanded Esau (v. 30). Living up to his name, “the deceiver,” Jacob replied: “First, sell me your birthright.” The “birthright” belonged to the eldest son, and included a double-portion of the inheritance, plus the chieftanship (or rule) over the entire extended family. In this case, it also included the future possession of Canaan and the covenant promises that Yahweh had made with Abraham. Foolishly, Esau replied: “I am about to die. Of what use is a birthright to me?” (v. 32). Jacob made Esau take an oath, then served him bread and lentil stew. The trade was done, and the trade was irrevocable.

I got back my red Ferrari, but life isn’t always so forgiving, as Esau learned the hard way. Moments of temporary insanity haunt each of us. God brings incredible blessings our way, yet in a weak moment, we trade them for things that are far inferior.  The apostle Paul observes: “We are not unaware of (Satan’s) schemes” (2 Cor. 2:11b, NIV). Be on the look-out today. Don’t foolishly trade away your birthright.


Reflections based on Scripture for Day 24, Cambridge Daily Reading Bible, 1995