Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The Desert Fathers

A very interesting passage from the preface to the book The Desert Fathers. The context is the radical seclusion of the Desert Fathers, and how they related to the rest of hummanity through their seculusion:
At first one might feel the heroic way of these desert giants is too far removed from the quest of the everyday seeker living in this world's society. However, the fathers and mothers themselves, along with their early historians, sought to make it clear to us that this is not the case. Noteworthy in this regard is the rather lengthy account in the chapter entitled "History of the Monks of Egypt" of the last days of the fabled desert hermit Abba Paphnutius. We are told that as his end approached he "entreated the Lord that He would show him his like upon the earth." And whom did the Lord show the saintly father? A street musician who had been a thief, the very busy headman of a local village, and a wealthy Alexandrine merchant. The historian goes on to tell us that, as the priests gathered around the dying saint, he told them:
All that the Lord had revealed to him, saying to them that no one in this world ought to be despised, let him be a thief, or an actor on stage, or one that tilled the ground, and was bound to a wife, or was a merchant and served in a trade: for in every condition of human life that are souls that please God and have their hidden deeds wherein He takes great delight: whence is it plain that it is not so much profession or habit that is pleasing to God as the sincerity and affection of the soul and honesty of deed. And when he had spoken thus about each in turn, he gave up his spirit
The final word of a great and saintly father--a teaching could not be given greater emphasis.
(Helen Waddell, The Desert Fathers. Preface by M. Basil Pennington, O.C.S.O., Random House, New York. p. xv-xvi)

Monday, August 30, 2004

A Better Tetra

Our sick fish is now feeling much better.

I previously posted a blog about our sick black-finned Tetra tropical fish, who came down with the dreaded "ich." Well, he has now fully recovered, and spent only seven days, not fourteen, in his "hospital" tank. He's currently enjoying the scenery in our new five gallon tank, and keeping a couple of scissor-tail rasboras company. The little guy is doing extremely well, and as long as he stays healthy, I will be moving him to our 10 gallon community tank in early October so he can join his two black-finned Tetra companions.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

The Good Soldier

Last month I read the book Gettysburg: Day Three by Jeffry Wert. He writes about the entire third day of the battle of Gettysburg; the day that was climaxed by the famous and foolhardy "Pickett's Charge." At the beginning of the fourth chapter of the book, there is a quote from an observer of the battle (from New York state) that has haunted me ever since I read it:
"The man who made the good soldier was not the swaggering swash-buckler, not the street brawler, but the respectable plain man who at home had always done his duty, faithfully, whatever it might be."
This small quote, written soon after the battle of Gettysburg had ended, is one of the most interesting insights into the battle that I've come across. Why so? Because it goes completely against the grain of all that we are led to believe. It's not the average Joe who wins the girl and saves the day in books and film, but rather the swash-buckling, handsome young man who laughs in the face of danger and throws his life away with reckless abandon. Of course this is not a modern ideal, nor is this a particullary American point-of-view, rather it is common to man, and Americans have simply done the best job of packaging and selling this particular perception.

(One very interesting counter-example of this idea are the American super-heroes, especially Spiderman and Superman. Their creators went out of their way to show how these heroes were the most ordinary of men when not dashing around saving beautiful women from peril: Clark Kent the newspaper reporter, Peter Parker the photo-journalist and student. In a way, the duality of their natures made the characters far more interesting and appealing...)

On a real-life battlefield, the idealized male leading-man is not exactly who wins the battle, despite what we often mistakenly believe. Rather, according to this account from the observer from New York, the soldiers who won the battle of Gettysburg were simply those who stayed at their posts, doing what they were suppose to do: defend their ground against enemy attack. (The anonymous observer's comment was directed toward the Union troops he observed in the Gettysburg battle, who were on the defensive.)

Contemplating this quote for some time, I realize that what is true for real-life battle, is also true for spiritual battle. It's not the TV preachers and big name pastors who will carry the day against the forces of evil (though sometimes these leaders certainly do help) but at the end, it will most likely be the common man, who only aspires to do his God-given duty, that will be the force that made a difference.

In the culture of serious Christianity--whether it be Protestant, Catholic, evangelical or whatever--there has always been a desire to place certain people on pedestals because of their outstanding contributions to the Christian religion. Whether it be St. Patrick, Mother Teresa, Smith Wigglesworth or D.L. Moody, we often idealize those great heroes of the faith who we want to be like. Of course this is, again, common to man, and all faiths and systems have their heroes that they look to as shining stars.

Amazingly, when God came to earth, he did not come as a superstar living a plush life and tended to by one thousand servants. He did not have a fancy chariot which he rode around in, carrying him from venue to venue as he healed people and prophesied in front of large, adoring crowds.

Rather, when God came to earth, he came as a poor man, a child to rather obscure Jewish parents who were not wealthy in the least. When God began his ministry here on earth, it was that of an itinerant preacher who went around a true homeless person, counting on the hospitality of others for his food and housing.

Though he could have been high priest, king, emperor, or any other title he desired, God chose rather to not have any title at all. Though his followers called him "rabbi," it was not meant as a title, as we think of titles, but rather a simple description of what God did while on earth: teach. We give God all sorts of titles now-a-days--and rightfully so--but there is nothing about his demeanor while on earth that demonstrates he was looking for titles.

At no time did he do anything to assert his rightful authority over others, though come Judgement Day, everyone will have to bow to him! As a matter of fact, he did not even go so far as to rid himself of a traitor within his midst: Judas. His lack of control, and his complete lack of authority over men is striking when you think of it. The only thing he took authority over was demons, and then only when directly confronted. No doubt he could have rid the entire earth of demons with a word, but rather chose to limit himself to driving them out of people, and usually only those who stood directly in front of him.

The quote from the Gettysburg observer could just as easily apply to Jesus as it could to the brave Union soldiers who simply stood and did what they were told. Perhaps that is the ultimate lesson for us Christians: not to pursue the superstar world of ministry, but simply be obediant to that which we know we must do.

The quote from Wert's book reminds me of the following passage from Luke's gospel:
“Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

Luke 17:7-10 NIV

Saturday, August 21, 2004

An evening with Bobby Conner

Just got back from the "Holy Spirit Explosion" conference in Rockford, Illinois. Tonight's speaker was Bobby Conner, truly one of the most awesome men of God I've ever come across. I first saw Bobby at the Morningstar "Worship and Warfare" conference at Heritage USA many years ago, and he made a very lasting impression upon me.

Bobby had a very simple message for those of us at the conference: God is going to be dismantling everything man has built into his church. For many of us, this was a very, very welcome word of encouragement!

Very little of what passes for "church" in America has anything to do with God! There are lots of plans, programs, controls and other things that are promoted, but very little power is present...very little indeed.

Those of us who have become discontent by what we are seeing in the church are being made that way by God himself. He is fostering a kind of 'holy' discontentment upon his people, so that they will be agents of much needed change.

Well LORD, bring on that discontent! May that be the fuel that brings YOU back into your church!

Thursday, August 19, 2004

"Aqua" the Betta Fish

Here are some pictures of my new pet betta fish "Aqua." Click on any of the photos to see a larger image.

Aqua really likes his moneywort aquatic plant. He often rests on the leaves of the plant like a bird pirching on a branch! This picture helps explain why people really enjoy having these fish: their colors are incredible.

Here's a picture of Aqua's home, a 2.5 gallon "Mini Bow" aquarium, sold at almost every pet store under the sun as well as Wal-Mart. As you can plainly see, Aqua's tank is well equiped. Here's a list of what he's got, where it came from, and the price.
- Mini Bow 2.5 Aquarium (PetSmart - $28.00)
- Blue aquarium gravel (PetCo)
- Moneywort aquatic plant (PetSmart - $1.99)
- Greek Column (PetCo - $0.99)
- Castle ornament (PetSmart - $1.99 on sale)
- Thermometer (Wal-Mart $1.17)

Aqua himself came from a small privately-owned petstore in town called "Birds and Beasts."

The black monolith behind the moneywort is a in-tank Tetra-brand Micro "Whisper" filter that came with the aquarium. You can see Aqua in the upper right-hand corner by the thermometer.

No, I didn't add dish soap to Aqua's water! This is a picture looking down into his tank, and clearly shows another of the peculiar traits of betta fish: bubble nests. Yes, Aqua himself created those bubbles as a nest for betta eggs. Amongst betta fish, males are stay-at-home dads, building the nest and caring for the young while the mother quickly swims away after laying the eggs. Aqua doesn't have a mate, so I'm not exactly sure why he felt it was necessary to make a nest! Perhaps it's just his way of putting a "seal-of-approval" on his new home.

Here's another view of Aqua showing off his long flowing fins and tail. It's easy to see why these are called "veil tail" bettas.

A final shot of Aqua sitting in front of his castle, enjoying his new home. In the background you can make out other fish from a neighboring community tank that serves as the backdrop to Aqua's aquarium.

All pictures taken with an Olympus D450 Digital Camera, available light used for all photos except for the betta bubbles.


This poor little tropcial fish is in the hosptial!

While taking some pictures of our freshwater tropical fish today, I noticed one of the Long-finned Black Tetras had small white spots on his body, like someone had sprinkled him with salt.
The fish is a newcomer to our community fish tank, and never really looked all that good from day one. A quick check of the Internet for fish diseases helped me to realize that the poor little Tetra was suffering from the dreaded "Ich," short for Ichthyophthirius multifiliis. This is a fatal disease--if left untreated--caused by a single-celled parasite.

The picture above is our little sick Tetra in his "hospital tank" The hospital tank is a 2.5 gallon all-glass tank that I had on hand. Since there's no gravel in the tank, you can see the grain of the pine table that his tank is resting upon--he looks like he's floating in thin air!

This guy was treated with small dose of Mardel Maracide to kill the parasites, which it should do within 24 hours. However, I will keep the fish in the hospital for the next 14 days, just to MAKE SURE the ich is gone.

None of the other fish in the community tank seem to be infected, but I dropped in one tablet of Jungle "Ick Clear" just to make sure. Hopefully I caught the disease in time before it spreads to any of the other fish.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004


Photo of a typical pet store Betta fish

SATURDAY 8/14/04: I did something I did not think I would ever do...I purchased a betta. betta as in betta fish, a.k.a. "Siamese Fighting Fish." Why did I buy such a silly thing? I don't know, but it's been an adventure.

I have a 2.5 gallon all glass aquarium at home that I wasn't using for anything. So I thought it would be cool to put a betta in it, along with a little gravel along the bottom and one or two aquarium ornaments.

Well, I purchased the fish, but soon realized that the fish tank needs to have a light shining in it to see the betta's rich colors--otherwise the fish looks like a dark shadow. I could not find a proper light for my mini-tank, so I found myself getting a new 2.5 gallon "Mini Bow" tank, because it included a light as well as a power filter. (I got the "'lectric lime" color...)

SUNDAY 8/15/04: I purchased some special betta fish food when I got the betta, but my betta wouldn't eat it! He'd take some in, then spit it out! Doing a quick search of the 'net, I found out that almost all bettas (along with almost all tropical fish) really like brine shrimp. So I went to the pet store and purchased a package of frozen brine shrimp to keep the betta alive and swimming. At first, he spit the shrimp out too! But I left some sitting on the bottom of tank, not knowing what else to do. Checked back a couple of hours later, and it seems as if he all the shrimp (either that, or the filter sucked them up...)

MONDAY 8/16/04: I went out and purchased a real, live aquatic plant for the betta's new home. The plant is called a "moneywort." The betta took to it immediately, and occasionally will rest on the leaves of the plant. Surprisingly, the real plants cost much less than the fake, plastic plants for aquariums.

I decided to name the betta "Aqua" because of this amazing turquoise-blue color that he has. Beautiful fish. I will try to post a picture of him in the near future...

Thursday, August 12, 2004

A blog for the contemplative life

Here's a cool blog: One House is the blog of Karen, who pursues a contemplative life, something I'd like to make a higher priority in my own life.

Monday, August 09, 2004


The book Gettysburg by Steven W. Sears

I've been recently reading the excellent book Gettysburg by Steven W. Sears. In one ofthe early chapters of the book, Sears discusses how General Lee of the Confederate Army reorganized his forces prior ot the battle at Gettysburg. I found this interesting tibbit of info on page 51:
"I AGREE WITH YOU also in believing that our Army would be invincilbe if it could be properly organized and officered," General Lee wrote on May 21, replying to a letter from John B. Hood, one of his divisional commanders. "There never were such men in an Army before. But there is the difficulty--proper commanders--where can they be obtained?" In his orders for the army's reoganization, issued May 30, Lee had to be concerned that his new choices for proper commanders would be worthy of the men they led.
General Lee's concern for his army has been a concern of mine for the body of Christ in general. In all my years of being a Christian, I've encountered very, very few true leaders in the body of Christ. Most of what is called leadership I would categorize more correctly as managers of the status quo.

Being a student of history, I've noticed that the problem of leadership is a problem that goes back to the beginning of time. More often than not, it is leadership in the church, in the military, and in politics that directs the course of history. Whehter it be Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Bismarck, or even Mother Teresa; it is good leadership that makes a person I real standout historically speaking.

Of course as Christians, our ultimate example of leadership--and perhaps the best example of leadership there ever was--is the person of Jesus Christ. Yet how many of recoginize and follow his examples of leadership? Very few I'm afraid. We pay a lot of lip-service to our Saviour, but in terms of following his example there remains a lot to be desired. I know I certainly have a long way to go in this regard!

Good leadership is something to be greatly valued.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

The tale of two ridges...or...Cemetery vs. Seminary

Upon visiting the Gettysburg battlefield in July, I was struck by something I always knew, but the prophetic significance of it did not strike me until touring the actual battlefield.

First of all, the Civil War battle known as "Gettysburg" was the turining point of the American Civil War. It occurred over a period of three days; July 1 to July 3 1863, with the Confederate forces leaving the field late in the evening of July 4th. Up to this time, the Confederate army won every single battle in which it was engaged.

On the end of the first day of the battle until the withdrawal of Confederate forces late on July 4th, the two armies held two north-south ridge lines that ran near the town of Gettysburg.

The Confederate forces held a ridge line called Seminary Ridge just to the west of Gettysburg. It was called Seminary Ridge due to a Lutheran Seminary that occupied the north end of the ridge line.

The Union forces held a ridge line called Cemetery Ridge that was located a little to the south of the town of Gettysburg. It was called Cemetery Ridge due to a cemetery on the north end of the ridge located on a prominent hill called Cemetery Hill. The ridge line ran south from Cemetery Hill and terminated at the foot of another hill called Little Round Top.

So, in a strange twist of divine providence, the Confederates were holding the Seminary, while the Union forces were aligned with the Cemetery!

There are some tart little jokes amongst evangelical Christians referring to seminaries as cemeteries because there are many stories of people actually loosing their faith while attending seminary, especially the more liberal ones. Here at Gettysburg, back in 1863, the punchline of an old joke was an actual battle.

Though I knew about these ridges and their names for many years, it wasn't until I actually visited the battlefield that the blinders were removed, and I first realized the tremendous irony of the names.

Cemetery Hill, Cemetery Ridge and Little Round Top were "high ground" in that they offered a nice view of the surrounding countryside. They were higher in elevation than Seminary Ridge. High ground is advantageous in warfare in that one can easily see and make out enemy formations and movements, and take appropriate action to counter their attacks. It is also difficult for infantry to attack up hill, hence winners and losers in the battle of old were often decided by those who held on to the "high ground."

The turning point of the battle, and the "high tide" of the cause of the Confederacy was an attack known as "Pickett's Charge." In this attack, 15,000 Southern soldiers left the relative safety of Seminary Ridge, and attacked the Federal positions along Cemetery Ridge.

The charge was an overwhelming failure, with the South sustaining tremendous casualties, and the Northern troops standing victorious for the first time during two years of Civil War. The 'Cemetery' prevailed over the 'Seminary.'

On July 3rd the Federal troops stood on Cemetery Ridge and the adjoining hills, waiting for the attack they knew would come. They fought a purely defensive battle, allowing the forces of the Confederacy to do all the maneuvering and attacking. While the Southerners enjoyed some small success on the second day of the battle (July 2nd), all they had gained was completely lost on the third day, July 3rd, when General George Pickett took his men into battle in one of the most famous infantry charges in history.

The prophetic lesson I learned is a simple one: the cemetery is stronger than the seminary. In other words, death is stronger than theology. No matter how good, how strong your theology is, the cemetery will still prevail. In fact, death will do more to straighten out one's theology than all the systematic theological text books ever written. Perhaps that's the reason why my favorite theologian is Thomas Aquinas, who after seeing a powerful vision of heaven while in prayer, knew that his best theological works were as straw, and stopped writing theology text books.

Now as Christians we know that there is life after death, but only after death. We still must experience the pain of death before enjoying the benefits of new life. The Lord once told me that theology is preparation for death, and the best theology is the one that best prepares a person to die, and die well.

Here in the 21st century, "dying well" sounds like a rather pessimistic idea, but in the early days of Christianity, "dying well" was a powerful evangelical tool! It is said many ancient people were converted simply by watching how well Christians met horrible deaths at the hands of the Romans.

Today's church has all but abandoned the idea of preparing us to "die well." There are plans and programs for just about every aspect of life, except for death! It is assumed that we will persevere unto death, but little is done to instruct or encourage the sheep to plan for the long term. (other than the finance ministries, but that's another story...)

The truth of the battle of Gettysburg is a lasting lesson for those who have ears to hear. No matter how much instruction we've had in theological matters, death is still the ultimate reality we must face, and the ultimate test of our theology. I have come to the realization that a lot of bad theology and theological ideas is caused when we lose site of this simple, obvious truth.
A good name is better than fine perfume,
and the day of death better than the day of birth.

It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of every man;
the living should take this to heart.

Sorrow is better than laughter,
because a sad face is good for the heart.

The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.

--Ecclesiastes 7:1-4 NIV