words :: books :: ideas

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


In honour of John Milton's 400th birthday today, I present for your deliberation a quote from his most excellent and epic poem, Paradise Lost:
"Nor love thy life nor hate but what thou liv'st
Live well, how long or short permit to Heav'n."
- 11.553-4

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"Why Do You Always Smile?"

It’s a question I have been asked numerous times.

To say I always smile is a bit of an overstatement. Generally, but not always.

This past year has been my most difficult thus far. With a job, college, and life in general, I tend to become stressed. I cry pretty easily too. Still, one can usually find me with a ridiculous grin spread across my face.

When asked this question most recently—during the break at my psychology class—the man asking said something interesting. He implied some people [himself?] might not like the fact that I seem so happy, because they are not happy themselves. It seemed strange to me that someone could resent, and be jealous of my happiness.

Since that night, I’ve been thinking more about why I smile so much.

Is it because I enjoy learning new things every day? Is it because I find excitement in nearly all I do? [well, data entry can get kinda boring—although some of those city names are quite unique.] Is it because I have a lot of good things in my life? Is it because I’m simply thrilled to be alive?

Why do I smile so much?

I think the best answer is the one I told the man in my class: Jesus.

happy are the people whose God is the LORD! – Psalm 144:15b

Friday, September 05, 2008

Hanna[h] the Hurricane

I was so excited when I learned that a tropical storm—and potentially a hurricane—had been named after me [they spelled it wrong though—it should be Hannah not Hanna]. No, I don’t like the fact that my namesake may bring destruction and death; however, I really like turning on the radio and hearing my name broadcast to the nation. I am instantly captivated by weather channel. “Look out for Hanna[h], she’s a’comin’.”

It seems odd that two syllables can please me so much, but I really like it when people say my name. Although the word has lost value from overuse, special describes the way I feel when someone addresses me with my name. This person actually deems me significant enough to know who I am.

In John 10, Jesus talks about being the Good Shepherd taking care of His sheep. He says, “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3). I am delighted to think that the King of the Universe would know my name.

My name is graven on His hands
My name is written on His heart
I know that while in heav’n He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart

- Before the Throne of God Above

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Man who Burst into Prayer

Although Nehemiah displays many praiseworthy characteristics, the one I have the highest regard for is his prayers.

Paul has not yet exhorted the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing,” but Nehemiah is already obeying (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Continually as he writes, he bursts into prayer.

As he recounts the dialogue of the Jews’ enemies in chapter four, he suddenly begins asking God for justice.

When he writes about his own generosity, he exclaims, “Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people” (5:19). He continues his story until the middle of 6:9, when he again enters prayer, “O God, strengthen my hands.”

A few verses later, he once more pauses his narrative to pray, supplicating God to remember the sins of Tobiah, Sanballat, and the prophets who wanted to scare him into sin (v. 14).

An additional four times in the last chapter Nehemiah bursts suddenly into prayer, asking for God’s remembrance of certain deeds. Nehemiah seems to have such a habit of prayer that it just comes out—even when he is in the middle of telling a story.

In the account he is telling, Nehemiah also relates several instances in which he prays. Learning of the horrible condition of Jerusalem’s walls, Nehemiah mourns, fasts, and prays for days. As I have often heard others do (and done myself), Nehemiah quotes Scripture in this prayer, reminding God of His promises to Moses (1:8). Most of the first chapter is filled with his exemplary prayer.

Demonstrating well the fact that we can and should pray anywhere and everywhere, Nehemiah “prayed to the God of heaven” before answering a question from the king (2:4).

When the Israelites’ enemies plot against them, Nehemiah says, “we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night” (4:9). Nehemiah encounters a problem, so naturally, he prays.

Nehemiah does not just talk to God, he also listens to God as is seen in the phrase, “my God put it into my heart . . .” (7:5). Additionally, when Nehemiah chooses to behave righteously no matter the consequences, God gives him understanding and insight into a disloyal prophet’s wicked intentions (6:12).

Although the Levites’, rather than Nehemiah’s prayer, in chapter nine, much of the history of Israel is told in prayer to God. They worship God for what He has done by reciting their history and His involvement in it. Many times the psalmists write about praising God for His past doings:

Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples . . . make known his deeds among the peoples! Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! . . . I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands (Psalm 96:2, 105:1-2, 143:5).

Throughout his book, Nehemiah exemplifies many aspects of prayer that I want to implement more in my own life.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


This summer I want to read some good books. If you would like to help me compile my reading list, please suggest a book or two. [And if you really, really, really think I should read the book you suggest, you can give me a copy and I will move it to the top of my list.]

Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris - 232
Paradise Lost by John Milton - 303
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling [AG] - 759
The Deadliest Monster by J.F. Baldwin - 250
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - 182
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exup
éry [J.F. Baldwin] - 85
Don't Waste Your Life
by John Piper -189
An Ideal Husband
by Oscar Wilde [J.F. Baldwin] - 127
Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton [J.F. Baldwin] - 312
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenistyn [J.F. Baldwin] - 159
Mere Christianity
by C.S. Lewis [Beth] - 191
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey - 248
The Ishbane Conspiracy by Randy Alcorn - 296
*The Reason for God by Timothy Keller [Fireboy]
*The Complete Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton
*Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky [Brandon Booth]
*A World Lost by Wendell Berry [J.F. Baldwin]
The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis [Fireboy]
Miracles by C.S. Lewis

3,333 pages thus far.

[* indicates current read, bold indicates completion, a name in brackets indicates from whom the suggestion came]

Friday, August 08, 2008

Not the Shortest Man in the Bible

Nope. That was Peter, who slept on his watch. Nor am I referring to Bildad the “Shoe-height.” I’m talking about “Knee-high-emiah” [thanks, Adventures in Odyssey]. Enough with the corny jokes . . .

In the past months, I have become an admirer of Nehemiah. He exemplifies many commendable character traits.

The first aspect of Nehemiah that I notice is his passionate concern. When he hears about the state of Jerusalem’s walls, he immediately weeps, mourns, fasts, and prays for days (1:4). At the end of the book, his passion is again demonstrated. With zeal, he rebukes the Jews for their sin. “I confronted them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair. And I made them take an oath in the name of God . . .” (13:25).

When Nehemiah sees a problem, he does not passively say, “Someone should fix that,” hoping for the best; Nehemiah recognizes a change needs to happen and whole-heartedly seeks to bring about that change. He takes the initiative and leads his people in diligently repairing their city.

Though he could use his proactive leadership as an avenue to gain honor, Nehemiah displays great humility, especially in chapter four. The Jews’ enemies plot to attack Jerusalem as the construction goes on. Nehemiah, however, stations armed guards in the weak places in the wall. In verse 14, he exhorts the people not to be afraid, but to “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome.” When the Israelites’ enemies give up their scheme, Nehemiah does not credit his own planning, or even the people who were guarding the work. Instead, he writes, “God had frustrated their plan” (4:15). Although prepared for anything, Nehemiah does not put his trust in the sword; rather, he puts his trust in the Lord. “Our God,” he exclaims, “will fight for us” (4:20).

Continually, he gives the glory to God rather than claim it for himself. This attitude of personal humility points others to recognize God’s mighty deeds. When the wall is completed in a mere 52 days, all the nations around are humbled and realize that “this work has been accomplished with the help of our God” (6:16).

In addition to being humble, Nehemiah behaves righteously. Intending to harm him, the wicked Sanballat and Geshem urge Nehemiah to come to them. [At first, I did not see anything wrong with Nehemiah meeting with these enemies—other than his comprehension that they want to hurt him. Upon consideration, however, I think this may be an instance like that described in James 4:17, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”] Nehemiah replies through messengers, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” (6:3). His enemies insist four times he to come to them, but on each occasion, he refuses. A fifth time they send Nehemiah an open letter filled with slander. They falsely claim he is planning a rebellion and tell him to take counsel with them. Wisely, Nehemiah refutes their assertion through a messenger and perseveres in his great work.

Shortly thereafter, a prophet attempts to scare him into sin by stating it will save Nehemiah’s life. When encouraged to transgress, he says, “No!” God gives Nehemiah special insight enabling him to later write, “I understood and saw that God had not sent him [the prophet who wanted Nehemiah to commit iniquity], but he had pronounced the prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him” (6:12).

The greatest characteristic of Nehemiah I admire is his prayer life. Because there is much I want to say regarding his prayers, however, I will leave that for a separate post.

Read Part 2

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Comfort in Desolation

Although I cannot find it anywhere in the book, my library receipt gave Cry, the Beloved Country (by Alan Paton) the subtitle, "A story of comfort in desolation." I think it fits well.

Taking place in poverty ridden South Africa, Paton powerfully writes from the viewpoint of two men on opposite sides of the same tragedy. The contrast and yet similarity of a native umfundisi or priest and a wealthy white farmer effectively moves the reader.

It is one of the most moving books I have read. I had to pause my reading one day because I was so overwhelmed.

Cry, the Beloved Country evoked in me a hatred for injustice and racism. It stirred in me compassion for hurting individuals.

Be moved. Read this book.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

In 2 Samuel 7, David wants to build a temple for God. I can just imagine him: his nation is finally at peace and he is excited to do this good thing for God. He tells his desire to the prophet Nathan who responds encouragingly, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the LORD is with you.”

Later that night, however, Nathan receives a vision from God saying that David should not build Him a house. God will bless David in other ways and his son, Solomon will build the temple instead.

David’s response to all God says is worship.

. . .

This summer I hoped to be a small group leader at a Christian leadership camp. For weeks and months I hoped and prayed for a staff position. It had been my desire to serve in this way for more than two years before I applied.

Like David, I received encouragement to pursue my aspiration. Like David, the answer was no. The job that I was looking forward to has been given to someone else [at least for the time being, I may apply again next year].

It has been difficult for me to always worship in the midst of my disappointment. God is good, though, and supplies grace when it is needed.

"When I don’t get to have my own way
I will trust in You
For You know what is best
When tears begin to roll down my face
I will trust in You
For You are good, You are good

"Sovereign One
You work all things to Your plan
Sovereign One
You hold all things in Your hands"

-Sovereign Grace Music

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Right Living

“Our salvation is not secured by our right living (thank God), but by the right living of the only perfect sacrifice, Jesus Christ.”
- J.F. Baldwin The Deadliest Monster

Inside St. John Lateran, Rome

Friday, June 20, 2008

The History of an Old Rock

“Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock” (Isaiah 26:4).

As I meditated on Isaiah’s words this morning, I thought about the ancient rocks I saw on my trip to Europe.

In March of this year, I visited an old rock known as the Areopagus or Mars Hill.

This rock is the location of several well-known events. As recounted in Acts 17, the apostle Paul addressed the Athenians from Mars Hill in around 50 A.D. Hundreds of years earlier (in 399 B.C.), the philosopher Socrates’ trial took place on this same rock. In addition, Aeschylus, the Greek playwright who lived from 525-456 B.C., sets a portion of his drama The Furies on the Areopagus. The tragedy details the trial of Orestes on this rock shortly after the Trojan War ended in 1184 B.C.

Rocks last a long time. They do not, however, last forever. Near the Areopagus is the Odeon of Herodes (which is not nearly as old, having been built in only the second century B.C.). After more than 2000 years in use, this theater is showing evidence of wear—mainly from the stiletto heels of many visitors.

Although millions of feet are wearing away the rocks of Greece, God is the rock that will never erode.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Pursuit

The hounds bay with excitement. They have found the scent. They race off after their quarry, filled with elation as they perform their work. Yes, it is work, but it is good work. It is the work that they were created to do, and joy fills their bodies as they do it.

The underbrush is thick, and the dogs must fight their way through it. But they don’t care. All they care about is chasing that deer, for that is what their master wants them to do. They run with abandon. Through dense brush, under low hanging branches, across swift rills, they run. The hounds run and run and run.

The youngest hound begins to grow weary. In the beginning, he ran ahead of the other dogs in his enthusiasm, but now he falls to the back of the pack. The chase is long and hard. He has never run like this before.

An older dog woofs an encouragement to him. Experience knows the pursuit is worth the effort.

At last, they sight the hart. He stands alone among the trees. Exuberantly, the hounds fill the air with their song. The stag lifts his majestic head, crowned with antlers. He sees the dogs racing toward him.

For a moment, he waits.

With renewed energy the dogs rush forward, but the deer turns and bounds gracefully away. He maneuvers swiftly through the trees, rapidly expanding the gap between himself and his pursuers. Soon, he is lost to sight, but the scent is strong.

The dogs race onward in pursuit.

. . .

Okay, so I don’t actually know anything about hounds chasing deer, but that’s the image I get in my head when I read the word “pursue.” Pursing is chasing after and actively seeking. It is not a passive word.

Paul tells Timothy to “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11). The apostle again exhorts him in 2 Timothy 2:22, “pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace.”

It’s not, sit in your tree stand and hope that these virtues come walking along, but grab your hounds and chase them down!

“. . . he loves him who pursues righteousness.” – Proverbs 15:9

Friday, June 06, 2008

Nehemiah's Prayer

At various times, I have heard the acronym ACTS used as a structure for prayer. It stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. Recently, I realized that this replicates very closely Nehemiah’s prayer in chapter 1 of the book bearing his name.

He begins his prayer by praising God. He uses terms like “LORD,” “God of heaven,” “great and awesome God,” and One “who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments” (v. 5). Acknowledging His greatness, leads us to humility. Nehemiah recognizes his own lowly state, referring to himself as God’s “servant” (v. 6).

Nehemiah then confesses sin. He has been praying “day and night . . . confessing the sins of the people of Israel” (v. 6). He does not, however, just admit the guilt of others; he includes himself, saying, “Even I and my father’s house have sinned” (v. 6). He sees this iniquity and repents.

Next, he reminds God of His promises (he must have known the Scriptures well). Through God’s words to Moses, he can know why the Israelites have been scattered and know how they can be gathered again. “Return to me and keep my commandments and do them” (v. 9).

He concludes with supplication, reminding God who it is that he is praying for: “They are your servants and your people, who you have redeemed by your great power and your strong hand” (v. 10, emphasis added). With his final words, he again asks for God’s attention to be upon His humbled people, “who delight to fear your name,” and pleads for success and mercy (v. 11).

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Trees, the Trees!

This afternoon I sat in the plum tree in our front yard, writing in my journal about trees. From my spot behind the foliage, I heard someone approaching and shifted to see a friend of my sisters’. As the greeting came out of my mouth I knew she would be surprised, but it was too late to call the words back. Sure enough, she jumped. She said something along the lines of, “Oh, Hannah! You surprised me . . . we watched Prince Caspian last night, and when I heard you I thought, ‘The trees, the trees!’”

Actually, I was sitting in the tree, writing about trees because of Prince Caspian. Most of my family went to see the movie earlier today. It’s the trees that save the day. Trees save the day in The Lord of the Rings too. Those authors must have liked trees. I like trees too.

God made trees in such a way that we could enjoy them, both for their produce and for their beauty. When God planted the garden in Eden, He “made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Genesis 2:9). One tree in particular “was a delight to the eyes” (3:6).

You know the story: that tree was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, of which God commanded man not to eat. But man did. In doing so, Adam and Eve fell from their state of perfection into sin and death.

The role of trees in Scripture, however, is not finished. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). Man sinned by eating of the forbidden tree. Man is made righteous by Christ’s death on another tree.

There is a tree at the end of the story too. On the New Earth in the New Jerusalem will be “the river of the water of life . . . also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations . . . Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates” (Revelation 22:1, 2, 14).

Monday, April 14, 2008

He is Risen!

"But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive."
- 1 Corinthians 15:20-23

Although I prefer the more life-like style of paintings I saw in the basilicas of Rome, this is my favorite mural in St. Andrew's Church in Patras, Greece. Victorious, Christ rises from the dead, crushing the gates of hell. Keys are strewn beneath Him, as graves are unlocked and their captives set free. The thought of His resurrection, and my own future resurrection to life, excites me!
"'O Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?'
. . . But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
- 1 Corinthians 15:55, 57

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Soli Deo Gloria

All too often, when I do a good work I seek my praise from man. Did you notice that I took out the trash? Did you see what a good job I did sweeping?

This is completely contrary to Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:16, “…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

That last part is crucial. The glory belongs to God. I should not parade my good works so that people will think highly of me. That is pride—stealing His glory and honor, or as C.J. Mahaney writes, “contending for supremacy with God.” I need to give Him what is rightfully His.

My motivation for doing good works should not be earthly praise. It is hypocritical to do good works to be seen by others. Jesus warns, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).

When I do my good works in front of others, that is all the praise I get. When I do them secretly, my “Father who sees in secret will reward [me]” (6:4). His rewards are way better (see Matthew 7:11). Here on earth, “moth and rust destroy and . . . thieves break in and steal” (6:19). The wise course is to invest in my future. I only have a few years on earth, but eternity lasts forever. I need to follow Jesus’ command to “lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (6:20-21).

Glorifying God with one’s works is not a theoretical practice. Jesus’ good works are a means of giving glory to God. When Jesus heals a paralytic in Matthew 9, the crowd was “afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men” (v. 8). In chapter 15, when Jesus heals many people of various diseases, “the crowd wondered . . . And they glorified the God of Israel” (v. 31).

The next time that it is my turn to take out the trash or sweep the floor, I will endeavor not to do it as a “people-pleaser” (Ephesians 6:6), but rather “do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


This afternoon as I unloaded the dishwasher, I thought about letters of recommendation. I am at a stage in my life when I am beginning to ask people to write them for me.

Honestly, I really like reading them. It’s nice to read nice things about oneself.

I had finished with the dishwasher and was on to a peanut butter and banana sandwich when the thought hit me: What would God write in a letter of recommendation for me? What would He say about me?

This might be how He would introduce me. Even as an introduction, it is by no means exhaustive (to do that I would basically have to quote the entire Bible).

He created me in His own image (Genesis 1:27). He knit me together in my mother’s womb and every day of my life was recorded in His book before I even began to live them (Psalm 139:13, 16). He chose me before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4).

He made me His own (Philippians 3:12). He adopted me as His child and heir (Galatians 4:5-7). He qualified me to share in the inheritance of the saints in light (Colossians 1:12). He transferred me into the kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:13). He gave me citizenship in heaven (Philippians 3:20). He desires that I be with Him and see His glory (John 17:24).

You might have noticed that every sentence begins with the word “He.” That is because my righteousness is not my own, but, as Paul declares, “that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9).