Friday, April 29, 2011

Book Review of The Greener Grass Conspiracy by Stephen Altrogge

This is a great book that tackles some tough questions head-on. It is a quick read, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to digest. If I had to sum up my thoughts in one sentence it would be something like this: If you’re an American then you need to read this book. I say that because it seems that most Americans (including myself) think we deserve so much. We have become spoiled and for some reason taken on this great sense of entitlement. If this is you then this book will definitely challenge you.

Altrogge does a great job handling the issue of contentment from a biblical perspective. One thing that has bothered me for the past several years are those pastors who tell us that God’s blessing includes good health and lots of money. Have they never read the Bible? Now that this book is out there those guys have no more excuses for leading people down that path.

If you’re at a place where you feel like getting your hands on one more material possession, or that “perfect job,” or the right boyfriend or girlfriend, or whatever, will make everything better for you, then I challenge you to pick up this book. Before you read it pray that God will soften your heart and then read it carefully. But be aware, you will be confronted with some tough words, and it just may change your life.

"Greener Grass Conspiracy" Trailer - Stephen Altrogge from Crossway on Vimeo.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Book Review of Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges

When I asked NavPress to send me this Jerry Bridges book, I wondered to myself, “How can I possibly write a review of one of his books?” Bridges is an authority on weighty topics of the faith, and this book is no exception. One thing I love about his books though is that he takes a tough topic and makes it easy to understand. Grace is one of those things that we, as Christians, talk about all the time, but I fear we never really understand what it is all about. If you fit into that category, then you need to read this book.

Bridges begins the book by talking about the “Performance Treadmill” and how we are conditioned, as believers, to still think that doing good things is part of what grace is all about. It only takes him a few pages to tear down this myth. He uses Romans 3:10-12 to remind us that none of us are any good, none of us seek after God, and that all of us are worthless. That is a tough pill to swallow, but unless we understand this we cannot understand why we need grace.

Once he tears us down, he then begins to build us back up and explain to us why grace stands on its own. He does a masterful job explaining grace to us by using Jesus’ parable from Matthew 20 about the generous land owner. Anything I can say here will not even scratch the surface of this book. I absolutely recommend this book to everyone who says they’re a Christian. I will warn you though; you may have a hard time not being convicted while reading it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from NavPress Publishers as part of theirBlogger Review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Boone Dawdle, Bikes, Blisters and Bruises

The True/False Film Festival made its summer debut this past Saturday with the first ever Boone Dawdle. The Boone Dawdle consisted of a bike ride on the MKT and Katy Trails fromColumbia to the Les Bourgeois Winery inRocheport (a 20 mile ride), a nice dinner at the winery, and then a showing of the documentary film, Best Worst Movie. At the conclusion of the movie the Boone Dawdlers were taken back to Columbia on shuttle buses where they were able to pick up their bikes which were magically transported back to town.

If you read my post earlier in the year about True/False, then you know that I worked as a volunteer with my friend Rob as part of his Tourniquet Team. Rob asked me to take part in the Boone Dawdle and my job was to transport all the bikes from Les Bourgeois back to FlatBranch Park in Columbia. Rob provided me with a team of people, a Penske Rental Truck, a few ideas, and the rest was up to me. I had a great team and with their help, along with several other folks along the way, we somehow transported 155 bikes from the winery to the park in about six hours. I know at some point there was some doubt as to whether or not this was even going to happen, but after a lot of hard work, a few blisters and bruises, too many bottles of water to count, and a whole lot of sweat, the mission was completed.

Saturday was a long, tough day, but it was also tons of fun. I don't know about you, but accomplishing something that seems impossible is good for my soul. I felt good when we got done and it really seemed like we had conquered something. Maybe that's my ego talking, but there was some kind of satisfaction that working this event brought to me. It was also fun to be able to do this with my wife Janice, who was part of my team.

Since Saturday, I have been trying to think of how I can "spiritualize" this whole thing. How did volunteering at this event help further God's Kingdom? How did my involvement at the Boone Dawdle help someone see Christ? I mean, I didn't stop and tell anyone about Jesus. I didn't open my Bible and read Scripture to anyone after they checked their bike in with my team. So how was my involvement a witness of who Christ is in my life?

Wouldn't you know today I received my daily email from John Fischer, an old Jesus Movement guy from the 70's who is still around singing, writing and changing the world one email at a time. He is a guy who believes that Christianity and "culture" can and should come together and he talks about this in very practical ways. He has been on this topic for awhile now and today he put out a list of what he called "10 Prerequisites for being effective in the marketplace." He also called it a "manifesto for global change." So, to avoid the risk of plagiarizing John, I'm just going to copy and paste in his whole email from today. So here it goes:

10 Prerequisites
by John Fischer

An ongoing theme of the Catch of the Day has been a Christian's place and testimony in the world. Much has been done in the last 20 years to damage a credible and trustworthy image of Christians in society. The attempt of Christians to gain an influence in culture using tools and weapons that are not of the Spirit of God has been costly to the gospel in that those who so desperately need the hope the gospel provides have been driven away by the fear and anger of those who should be carriers of that hope.

We know that Jesus did not come to condemn the world (John 3:17), but most of those who are not Christians today are convinced his followers did. We have exchanged the good news of the gospel for the bad news of a culture war, and the battle continues to rage in many sectors and in many minds. In light of this, The Catch is seeking to help advance a different worldview and redefine a Christian's role in society.

Today I share with you a work in progress-a new manifesto for global change. Reflect on it. Comment on it. Pray over it. We will be looking more deeply into all 10 of these as the days go by, but this will get us started.

"For as he thinks in his heart, so is he." (Proverbs 23:7) What you think ultimately effects who you are.

10 Prerequisites for Being Effective in the Marketplace

1. A personal understanding of my own sinfulness

2. An overwhelming sense of God's grace for me, and for everyone else

3. A heart that forgives and forgets

4. An absence of agenda

5. An expectation that God is already in the world (I am joining Him there, not taking Him there.)

6. A sense of the church as the Body of Christ Universal

7. An insatiable curiosity for all that is not yet known to me

8. A belief in the intrinsic value of every human life

9. An assumption that I have something to learn from everybody

10. A deep and abiding desire for everyone to know what God has done for them through Christ

So there it is. After seeing this, everything came together. Especially number 5. Who am I to think that I can take God out into the world He created? How about I get off my duff and meet him there. Lots of people associated with True/False know that Rob and I and several others are part of Karis Church, and I know they respect what we have done for them. The fact that we can come to the table with no agenda (See #4) and work our tails off has to speak to these folks. So many believers have to "spiritualize" things instead of just getting out there and getting their hands dirty. I have even heard people say that the culture cannot be engaged. Well I beg to differ! We were engaged on Saturday.

Here is the bottom line: You will never win someone to Christ who doesn't like or respect you. I guarantee that if any of the folks we served with on Saturday ever have questions about Christianity I'll bet they will think of us if they decide to talk to someone. That is what engaging the culture is all about. As I continue on this journey I hope you will join in in some way. We live in such a great city. There are so many ways to serve. Find something that hits on one of your passions and get involved. Christ can change hearts and he can change our city and He wants to do it through us, but it can't happen if you're on the couch.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Camp CUMCITO 2009 Re-Visited

I put this blog post up last year after we returned from camp. I was looking through these photos and thought I would re-post them. This is the fifth year that Janice and I have been involved with Camp CUMCITO together, and I am really missing being there. The kids will arrive tomorrow (Monday) at noon. The staff is there now doing on-site training. Please pray with me this week for the staff and all the campers. I have been told they are expecting a full camp which means 48 boys and 48 girls. There will be a total of 12 cabins with 8 kids and 2 counselors per cabin.

I will be making the trip over to camp on Thursday afternoon to spend a few hours there, but I'm already looking forward to next year when I will be able to be back there serving with Janice and all of our camp friends. As I hear news from camp this week I will try to keep everyone posted on what to pray for.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Book Review of The God Who Smokes by Timothy J. Stoner

NavPress sent me this book about six months ago to read and review and I have had a tough time trying to figure out what to say about it. Not because it has nothing to say, but because it has so much to say that I don’t know how to review it in just a few words. I must say that since receiving this book I have devoured it.

Yes, this book does have a funny title by a guy named Stoner, but you will realize quickly that his play on words is serious. This is a book about how out of control God is, out of our control, that is. He is passionate, compelling and dangerous, Yes, I did say dangerous. This book reminds us that we’re in the middle of a battle, and while God is good, He is not safe.

Stoner does a great job of exposing the Emergent Church movement and reminding us that when it comes to God’s standards, there is to be no compromise. He looks at what Rob Bell has to say in his book Velvet Elvis and compares it to what the Bible says, and I think his conclusions will upset many Bell followers, but you can’t argue with Scripture.

So, do we as a church need to engage the culture? Yes. But, not at the expense of God’s standards. All I can say is that you should read this book. The fact that it is written by a lay-person and not a “theologian” was also very refreshing. This is one of those books that can change the way you think about a lot of things if you will let it.

I do have one criticism for the author. He makes a brief mention of Mark Driscoll from Mars Hill Church in Seattle. It sounds like from his footnote on page 281 that he thinks Driscoll and Bell are part of the same church, just in different cities. Make no mistake about it, the only similarity between Driscoll and Bell is the name of their churches. That is where it ends. Mr. Stoner, if you see this, please note these guys are in no way connected.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from NavPress Publishers as part of their Blogger Review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Ronald Reagan's D-Day Speech Re-visited

I posted this last year on D-Day, but it is always good to see this each year to remember what our brave soldiers did. And who better to explain it than one of the greatest Presidents ever. Enjoy and remember.


Today is the 65th anniversary of D-Day. Take a look at the speech Ronald Reagan gave 25 years ago at Point-du-Hoc. No one can say it quite like the Gipper. Let us not forget the men who sacrificed all so we can be free today.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Flight of the Stealth Bomber

Last week I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to sit in the cockpit of a B-2 Stealth Bomber and take it for a spin. OK, so it wasn't a real B-2 Bomber, but it was a real life B-2 Stealth Bomber Simulator.

Only three B-2 Simulators exist in the world and they are located at Whiteman Air Force Base near Sedalia, MO. Whiteman AFB is home to the 509th Bomb Wing, which is the only B-2 Squadron in the world.

So, I probably owe you a little background on how I got this opportunity. I belong to the Whiteman AFB Base Community Council. This is a group of folks from different cities all over Missouri who come together each month and support the men and women who live and serve at Whiteman. It is an opportunity for us to come out and meet them and let them know how much we appreciate their service to the country, and we also offer support, especially to the young airmen, at Whiteman. For instance, free tickets to Cardinals games to the airmen each year. Free tickets to the MO State Fair. Free tickets to various concerts, etc. Each month a different community is featured at the luncheon and Council members from that city get a chance to go on the flight line and get an up close tour of a real life B-2. Also, four people from the featured community get to go fly in the B-2 simulator.

Now I've been a member of the BCC for about three years, and my first simulator ride was scheduled about 2 1/2 years ago. A few days before my scheduled flight the B-2 Bomber, The Spirit of Kansas, crashed during take-off from Guam as it was heading home from a training mission. When the crash occurred security was tightened for all aspects of the B-2 program and my simulator ride was cancelled.

At some point the tours and simulator rides were re-opened for BCC members, so all that was left was the waiting. Last month, Columbia was the featured community at the monthly luncheon meeting, but I was not one of the four chosen to go on the simulator ride. I did, however, go on the flight line tour and that was an amazing experience. Now if you've ever been to an air show, and you've seen a B-2 Bomber parked on the ramp, you have probably noticed that you can't get very close to it. And you can also only view it from the front. I found the reason for that is because the back of the plane is the most secret part. You may ask, "What is so secret about the back of the plane?" My answer is, I really don't know, but part of the tour I got was a complete walk around of the airplane, including the back. Now I was privileged to take this tour, as only a few civilians get this opportunity. I also got some time to talk to one of the B-2 pilots and he shared some perspectives on flying the B-2 that was very interesting to me, being the huge aviation geek that I am.

So, fast forward a couple of weeks. I sent an email to the Public Affairs office at Whiteman, which is the standard way to RSVP for the monthly meeting, and I asked if there was any way I could get on the simulator tour, even though my community was not being featured. The answer, of course, was no. I was told I could go on a waiting list, but there was little hope I would be able to go because each featured community never had a problem filling the four available spots.

A week before the April 1st meeting, I got a phone call from Public Affairs. They informed me that there was indeed an open spot for the simulator tour and they wanted to know if I was still interested. My response was, "Let me think about it for a day or two, and I'll get back to you." Now if you believe that's really what I said, then you don't know me at all. I really said, "You bet I'm still interested! Count me in!"

So after the luncheon, four of us were loaded into a van and driven to the 509th Bomb Wing Headquarters Building, which is where the simulators are located. Our phones and cameras were confiscated and we were taken through several layers of security to get to where the simulator was located. If you remember the opening from the old TV show Get Smart, that's what the security layers reminded me of. We were also introduced to Lt. Col. Dave "Super Dave" Anderson, our "Mission Commander" for our flights. Super Dave just happens to be the longest-term B-2 pilot who is flying today. He was actually part of the very first class of B-2 Bomber pilots and he was trained by the original B-2 test pilots. Super Dave was also the guy who dropped the very first "Bunker Buster" bomb in Baghdad during the Iraqi war. He also very much enjoys his job as a B-2 pilot and flying with him, I think, made the whole experience even better.

I was 2nd in line for the simulator ride, and the whole experience was really a "sensory overload." I walked down the stairs and across the catwalk to the simulator and once inside I crawled into the pilot's seat, which surprisingly enough was quite roomy. I was surrounded by all sorts of screens, gauges, switches and knobs, and Super Dave gave me a 2 minute tutorial of the ones I would need to fly this thing. I also had to adjust my seat so the rudder pedals (which really aren't rudder pedals) were at a comfortable place. The "rudder pedals" were actually one of my biggest surprises. The pedals are used for ground steering, but are not needed for flying. Look at the plane and you'll see it doesn't have a rudder, so I guess it makes a little sense. There is also no tiller for nose-wheel steering like a typical airliner. It is all done with pedals.

So Super Dave gave the simulator operator the command to unfreeze the simulation and I proceeded to taxi to the runway. I realized quickly that the pedals were very responsive and it seemed pretty easy to handle on the ground. As I pulled onto the runway I got the nose gear on the center line and I then applied full brakes. Super Dave had me hold the brakes tight and I pushed the throttles to full power. This was where I got the real sensation that the full motion simulator was just like the real thing. I could not only hear the four engines spooling up, but I could also feel the aircraft shaking as it was ready to get moving. At Dave's command I released the brakes and off we went down the runway. The realism in what we saw out the window was unbelievable. I could even feel the seams and bumps in the runway as we were performing our takeoff roll. Super Dave said not to worry about anything except to keep it straight on the runway and pull back on the stick when he gave the "rotate" command. Before long we were airborne and the landing gear was on its way up. I immediately was told to put the Bomber in a hard right turn as we climbed out. I turned about 270 degrees and we flew back over the runway we had just lifted off from. In this hard right turn I was again reminded that this was a full-motion simulator. I could even look out the window to the right and see what was behind me as we were making our turn.

The B-2 Bomber is equipped with a short stick that sits on a pedestal between your legs. The stick is easy to operate and it is all you need to steer the aircraft once you're airborne. Remember what I said about the "rudder pedals?" Each pilot also has their own throttle control on the left. Again, this differs from most airplanes with a shared throttle in the center of the two pilots.

I climbed to an altitude of about 1000 feet and kept the throttles at full power. We then proceeded to do a low high speed pass over the nearest city. That meant we went down to about 300 feet. At this point I have no idea how fast we were going. My job at this point was to avoid crashing into buildings.

After the low pass we climbed to 5000 feet and we then went looking for a KC-135 tanker so we could get some fuel. The process of getting attached to the tanker was not easy. A series of light commands on the KC-135 told us how close to get and how far forward we needed to be. Again, the realism was unbelievable. As we tucked ourselves under the tanker you could hear its engines. About the only thing visible through the windshield was the KC-135. With help from Super Dave I was able to get connected to the tanker. Once connected the task of keeping the B-2 in this small area was overwhelming. I quickly realized that I was over-correcting the airplane and tragedy would soon ensue. Super Dave grabbed the stick and got me back on track. With all his years of piloting the B-2 this was just another day at the office.

What remained of the flight was done at night as the simulator operator switched things up on us a little. It was a full moon and lots of stars present as Super Dave talked me through a touch and go back at home base. He allowed me to work the throttles and the stick and I lined it up for a final approach. He talked me through what to look for and whether to add more or less speed brake controls. It seems when landing there is not much if any throttle adjustment. You control your speed with the speed brakes. I was able to touch down on the 1000 foot mark on the runway and Super Dave said that I "greased it in."

Now that we were on the ground I had to retract the speed brakes and push the throttles back to full power, all while keeping the airplane on the center line with my feet. Super Dave called out my speed and when he gave the "rotate" command we were once again airborne. We circled back around the field and came back in for another landing. This time it was a full stop landing. My landing the second time was not quite as smooth, but it was still pretty good for a guy who had never flown a plane before.

As I was climbing out of the seat, Super Dave commented that I looked like a kid in a candy store. I told him he had no idea how great a privilege it was for me to fly the B-2 simulator. And it truly was a privilege. I'm sure there are many things I have left out of this experience, but it was such an overload of the senses that there is just no way I can do it justice here in just a few words. The one thing I do know for sure is that we have the greatest military in the world. It's good to know that guys like Super Dave are sitting in the cockpits of airplanes like the B-2. These are the guys who help keep us free and safe in the U.S. and I know I don't thank them enough.