Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Christmas book for my daughter

My five-year-old daughter likes princesses and Christmas, both of which come together in A Royal Christmas to Remember. The book is part of The Princess Parables series produced by ZonderKids, and it's geared towards children between the ages of 4 and 8.

The story follows five princesses named Joy, Grace, Faith, Charity, and Hope, each of whom embody the virtue they are named after. As they get ready to celebrate Christmas, they decorate the castle and talk about what they hope to receive Christmas morning. The night before Christmas thieves break into the castle, tie up the princesses, and begin to loot the place until they are captured by the palace guards. The whole scenario struck me as odd, but it didn't seem to phase my daughter. The story ends with the princesses giving out gifts to the villagers who were also robbed by the bandits. The point of the adventure is that rather than being focused on getting things, we should instead imitate God, who gave up everything, even his own Son. The whole idea comes from the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:15-21.

The anti-consumerism and pro-giving message is a welcome reminder to both children and parents that the Christmas season is not a time for storing up treasures on earth.

The book has one significant error worth mentioning. It describes Luke 12:15-21 as "the parable of the Rich Young Ruler." However, the rich young ruler was not a parable, but an actual even that took place during the ministry of Jesus and which occurs in Luke 18. This seemingly minor mistake suggests that the authors and the editors aren't as biblically literate as I would expect of Christian authors and publishers. I can still recommend this book, but it's a good reminder to exercise discernment even when getting children's books from trusted publishers.

I received this book from the publisher for the purpose of writing this review.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Septuagint: A tool for students of New Testament Greek

I’ve written before (here and here) that 2016 is my year for working on my biblical Greek and Hebrew. As the year draws to a close, I have to admit that I haven’t been as consistent as I wanted to be at the start of the year, but I have made some great gains. I’ve been most surprised by how much I’ve retained even without having gone over vocabulary lists or parsing out words.

I recently had the opportunity to secure a review copy of Discovering the Septuagint: A Guided Reader, edited by Karen Jobes, professor at Wheaton and author of a number of highly acclaimed commentaries, including one on Esther in the NIV Application Commentary series.

This volume, as the name implies, introduces Greek students to the Greek text of the Septuagint. Jobes introduces the work and highlights the background and significance of the Septuagint for understanding the New Testament and the world in which it was written. What follows are 10 chapters from 9 different Old Testament books, including passages not considered part of the canon of Scripture like Psalm 151 and additions to the book of Esther. I found these passages fun to work through simply because I couldn’t rely on my familiarity with the English versions to help me out. Each chapter begins with a brief introduction about the Greek text of the book, pointing out differences and similarities to the Hebrew (Masoretic) text. Then follows a passage from the book (some have another introduction, like the non-canonical Psalm 151) broken up verse by verse with notes on vocabulary words and phrases in the text. Each section then ends with an English translation.

My early New Testament Greek classes had me work through 1 John and other passages to help me learn the language. Working through the Septuagint only further cements these lessons. Because the language of the Septuagint is a little archaic compared to the Koine period and it has significantly more vocabulary, it makes for a great next step in language learning. Words that don’t appear frequently in the New Testament can be studied in different contexts. Parsing verbs used in ways different than you’re used to forces you to think through it more.

I would love to be able to take a class that uses Discovering the Septuagint because the book was intended to be used as a textbook. However, it’s still a useful tool for improving your grasp of biblical Greek, and if you’re able to do your own independent study, I’d recommend checking it out.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Book Recommendation: Christ All Sufficient

I have a shortlist of authors whose books are worth adding to my library, sight unseen. Brian G. Hedges is on that list because he writes books that provide a solid exposition of Scripture using vivid illustrations which he follows up with clear and practical application. I first read License to Kill: A Field Guide to Mortifying Sin back in 2013, which lead to me picking up Hit List: Taking Aim at the Seven Deadly Sins in 2014. His most recent book, Christ All Sufficient, is his first commentary.

Commentary is a bit of a misnomer. When people think of commentaries, they usually have in mind some dry, academic tome the size and weight of a college biology textbook. That's not what this is. Hedges wrote 10 chapters on the book of Colossians taking readers verse-by-verse through the New Testament letter explaining the flow of thought and directing readers to take hold of the timeless truths first penned by the Apostle Paul. The chapters all felt like quick reads, but each was worth pondering for a while before moving on to the next because Hedges has a way of bringing out what's in the text and calling readers to apply it immediately.

The book reminded me of the God's Word for You book series, which I absolutely love (a few titles are on my Christmas list this year). If that series is aimed at introducing people to the rich truths of the Scripture, Christ All Sufficient builds on that idea and gets a little deeper into some theological concepts. I highly recommend it to anyone who is considering preaching or teaching through Colossians. Even if you're just planning on reading through the letter, Hedges book will bring out great insights you probably would have missed without doing an in-depth study.

In short, I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Berenstain Bears and the Christmas Angel

I have fond memories of reading the Berenstain Bears with my parents, and now I'm reading the books with my kids. I still prefer the original stories, but the recent additions by the Berenstain couple's son are enjoyable reads as well.

In The Berenstain Bears and the Christmas Angel the bear cubs make an angel out of snow and learn about how Gabriel announced the coming of Jesus to Mary and the angels told the shepherds that he had been born. The illustrations are on par with those done by Stan and Jan Berenstain, and the focus on the angels of Christmas is one of the more unique emphases I've seen in children's books. It even has a list of Bible passages for parents and children to look up about angels.

The Berenstain Bears have been around since 1962, and I'm glad they're going to be here for a long time.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Peru Trip, Days 10-11, Coming home

Monday, October 17, 2016

Santos and I woke up at 4:30 am so we could get to the train station in Machu Picchu on time for our 5:30 am train trip to Ollantaytambo, making it our third straight night without a full night's rest. We gathered our gear and walked down to the train station, waved our tickets, and waited for the train to arrive. When it did we climbed aboard, and to our sweet relief we discovered the ride was smooth and without any curves like our hair-raising drive through the mountains less than 48 hours before.

After talking briefly with a French couple who had wisely come to Cusco a week before to get adjusted to the altitude, we kicked our feet up and rested, snapping only a few photos along the way. Every once in a while the train would stop to let another train coming from the opposite direction pass through a tunnel ahead of us where only one track was laid or to switch back onto another track in order to climb higher up the mountainside.

Once we arrived at Ollantaytambo it was up to us to find a taxi driver to take us to Cusco. Fortunately, there were a whole bunch of them just waiting for a fare. Since we had paid 40 soles for a one-hour ride between Chazuta and Tarapoto, I figured 80 soles was a good price to haul the two of us the two hours back to Cusco. A cabbie stepped up and offered to take us for 100 soles, and I told him firmly, "80 soles, no más," and he accepted without argument. He even grabbed one of my suitcases and started hauling it to the parking lot.

I let Santos ride up front after he had taken the bullet riding in the back on the trip to Santa Teresa, but the ride between Ollantaytambo and Cusco hadn't made us sick on the way up, and by now we were getting used to the altitude enough that we didn't even feel any effect from the driving. The driver asked if we wanted to stop at a place where some Quechua women sold souvenirs. We had the time, so we agreed. When we got there we were treated to some tea and a presentation showing us how they spin wool, dye it, and turn it into cloth. It was quite fascinating. Afterwards Santos and I perused the items for sale, and we both picked up a couple items to take back home. Before we left we all posed for a photo.

Once in Cusco we checked our bags at the airport and took a cab to the Plaza de las Armas, the center of the city and the old Inca Empire. We wandered around taking in the sights, visiting shops, and just enjoying ourselves in a way we hadn't been able to before because we had been rushing from one place to the next. We had until 3:30 before we needed to take a taxi back to the airport, and we weren't going to be rushed. For lunch we stopped at a nice restaurant where I enjoyed a nice cut of llama steak after deciding that my children would never forgive me if I ordered cuy (guinea pig).

We finished our shopping and made it back to the airport with time to spare. Our flight was slightly delayed (never going with Avianca again), but we managed to get out on time. In fact, once we were in the air our pilot apologized for rushing us onto the plane when we finally did get to board. He explained that the rush was necessary because our aircraft was not rated for night flying and we had to get off the ground before it was too late. This was a little unsettling as the sun set over the Pacific Ocean on our approach to Lima, but we made it with no problem.

We had another layover in the Lima airport, but this time, for some reason, we had no problem falling asleep even with the constant announcements over the loudspeaker. I set my alarm and drifted off into dreamworld on one of the benches. Santos woke up about an hour before our midnight flight and nearly had an infarction thinking we had come so close to sleeping through boarding until I told him my alarm would have gone off in a few minutes anyways.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

On the plane I didn't even try to sleep until we were in the air and I could recline my seat a little. Again, I was surprised at how easy it was for me to sleep when I had been unable to do so on the way down. Santos, on the other hand, had difficulty sleeping due in part to the elderly lady on his left using his shoulder as a pillow. I didn't get a chance to ask her how she slept, but Santos believes she slept well.

We arrived in JFK International Airport in New York City just before 9 am. Customs was quicker than I had ever experienced, and we enjoyed one last trip to Starbucks and awaited one more flight. The closer I got to home the more excited I became. Santos had the itch to return home too, despite having planned to stay the night at our house. After a short flight to Buffalo, Santos made up his mind and bought tickets to Indianapolis, not willing to spend one more day apart from his wife and children. When Hannah came with the kids to pick me up Santos said goodbye, and I hopped into the front seat of the van. I was finally home.

Thank you all for praying for me during this trip. To those of you who helped shoulder some of the costs, I am eternally grateful. To all who have read through these recollections, thank you. I was richly blessed, and the believers in Chazuta, Santa Teresa, Machu Picchu, and beyond were encouraged. To God be the glory.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Peru Trip, Day 9, Machu Picchu

Sunday, October 16, 2016

By this point in our journey Santos and I had gone two nights without much sleep. Around 5 am a couple of kids in the hallway woke us up from our sleep. Because the sun rises and sets so early, most people seem to wake up before 6 am around here. We had to meet our contacts by 6 am anyways, so we gathered ourselves together and went down the street to the restaurant owned by Pedro's family. Again, the last full meal we had was lunch the day before, which Santos had failed to retain through the whole car ride, so we were grateful for the tea (mate de muña) and rolls with avocado for breakfast. We spent a little bit of time attempting and failing to get tickets for the train from the nearby hydroelectric dam to Machu Picchu, so we had to take a taxi with some fellow believers from Machu Picchu to the dam.

We got to the dam just in time. In less than five minutes we bought our tickets, climbed aboard, and the train started moving. Compared to the car trip the day before, the train ride was bliss. We traveled in style along the Urubamba River. Although we had planned on taking the train back to Santa Teresa in the evening and setting out on the mountain road in the morning back to Cusco, Santos and I talked it over and decided to spend the night in Machu Picchu if at all possible and return to Cusco by train instead. The only problem was that we left our bags in the hostel at Santa Teresa.

Once we arrived at the train station in Machu Picchu, we talked it over with the local church leader Abraham about what we wanted to do, and he assured us someone could send us our bags before the day was out. With those assurances, we purchased our tickets. It was a lot cheaper to take an early train to Ollantaytambo and take a taxi the rest of the way to Cusco. If you remember, Santos and I felt fine for that part of the road trip. With that done, we had to travel to another building to purchase our tickets to enter Machu Picchu. Abraham, as a resident, already had his entry pass. From there we went to purchase our bus tickets to take us up the mountain to the ruins and then back down. The line seemed long, but it was nothing compared to the line to get on the bus. Abraham's wife and her friend held our spot in line for us (a common practice in this country) while we were buying all our tickets, so it was much shorter for us than it could have been. In all, we ended up standing in five lines that morning.

The half hour bus ride up the mountain gave us breathtaking views, but the best views of all were waiting for us at the top. Machu Picchu, that great Incan citadel and one of the seven wonders of the world, is truly amazing. I had visited it some 13 years ago back in 2003, but it hadn't changed much. Because of it's new status as a "wonder" the crowds are now much larger, and some areas we were free to explore are now roped off to prevent damage to the site, but it's still more than you can expect to explore in just one day.

After our excursion was done we discovered that we had spent too much time under the sun in the thin atmosphere. We both got bad burns. We were waiting in a similarly long line for the bus back down the mountain when it started raining lightly. Down at the bottom, and by now very hungry, we took Abraham out for lunch around 4 pm. We agreed to meet up again in the evening to attend a Bible study at the Christian school where Abraham teaches, and Santos agreed to teach through some of his material on 1 Corinthians.

We went to Hostal New Day, owned by one of the ladies who attends the Bible study, and rested a little bit before we would have to head back out again. When we woke up and came downstairs our bags were there. The brothers in Santa Teresa had gotten them to us. We went to the nearby plaza to take in a few more sights and I left Santos with his notes to explore the area some more.

The time finally came for the Bible study, and the hostel owner took us with her, meeting up with more people on the way to the school. We sang a number of songs with Abraham playing the guitar and Jenny, one of the women who had been with us in Santa Teresa but who lived in Machu Picchu, lead the singing. Then it was time for Santos to lead the Bible study. He taught from the word, and I could tell the people were listening. His message was encouraging but challenging as well, calling on us to live lives of holiness before God.

Afterwards we returned with the women to the hostel for a little bit of sleep before we had to wake up again at 4:30 am so we could make our train in the morning. As we were getting out our shorts and t-shirts for bed, the hostel knocked on our door to speak with us. She did two things that floored us. First, she gave us a love offering to bless us for our visit - 100 soles, or approximately $30 for each of us. Additionally, she told us our rent for the night was taken care of. We tried to politely decline her gift, but she insisted and it would have been rude to do anything other than to gratefully accept her gift, hug her, thank her, and pray with her. Humbled yet again by the sovereign hand of our God.

By now our trip was over. All that remained was a train, a taxi, and a few more flights, but even on our last day we would meet with new surprises.