History Tour with the Family

Thursday, July 22nd; at about noon: a call comes from mom asking if it was okay with Andrea and I if they came and visited soon.  Well, soon to them means tomorrow, only twenty-some hours later–and they live eleven hours away!  That night and the next day, we prepared for the family to visit.  At about 5:00pm Friday afternoon, they all arrived.

We always enjoy having family over (hint-hint to everyone else…).  I love showing everyone the nearby attractions and just visiting in general.  This time, my parents insisted on taking a tour of the battlefield at Gettysburg, only about an hour away from our home.  The thing is, I know that they enjoy interesting stories and some history, but maybe not the WHOLE DAY of going from skirmish to skirmish, immersing themselves in the battle.  For myself, I would never turn down a day at Gettysburg!

We left in the mid-morning and arrived around noon.  After browsing the little shops downtown, we ate lunch, and departed for the battlefield itself.  As a whole, I think that Gettysburg is fairly well-preserved; it is slightly commercialized, but not too bad.  Personally, Antietam in Maryland is my favorite battlefield, but Gettysburg comes in a close second.

We popped in the self-guided tour CD into the car, and headed on our way through all of the landmarks.  I think highlights for everyone included the Virginia Monument, Little Round Top, the Pennsylvania Monument, and High Water Mark (Pickett’s Charge).  I was surprised by my little brother and sister…they actually enjoyed themselves.  I could see how easy it would be for kids to get bored; but overall, it turned out to be fun and interesting for everyone.  In another life I would probably have been a battlefield tour guide or something of that sort: doesn’t that sound fun?!

The scenery around Gettysburg is amazing!  It is not quite as hilly as Red Lion, but I would say it is more scenic.  It is quintessential Southeast Pennsylvania with the farmland, rolling hills, and higher mountains in the background (I know, Utah people, they’re not real mountains!).  Mom will probably have a more eye-appealing post about this in the coming days, but until then, I figured we would give a good preview!

Stomping Grounds: Part 1

We all have those places where we grew up, that we can look back on, and be a little sentimental about.  I can count about five in my life (so far!).  If I counted the homes I have lived in, I think that would be seven.  For the first one of those I was just a baby, and for the second, I have only a few vague memories of.  Okay…here it goes.  I have a serious confession to make: I was born in the South!  And no, I am not proud of that!  My birthplace was in Paducah, Kentucky.  Again, I have zero memories of it.  My father’s job had transferred him there not too long before I was born, and we lived there until I was 18 months old, I think.  At that time, my dad’s job transferred him yet again; and this time “up north.”  On to the Great Lakes we went!

Before my family moved to the great state of Michigan, we had no roots there at all.  No connection to people there.  It’s amazing how much that one job transfer paved the way for the rest of my life.

Saginaw, Michigan would be my hometown for the next seven years of my life.  I really did like Saginaw.  It was a good size city, but definitely not too big either.  At first, we lived in a duplex about fifteen minutes north of town, in Freeland.  The only memories I have of there are not all that great–I fell off of railing I was climbing up, and I couldn’t play on my swing for a while because the Tittabawassee River had just flooded into our backyard.  Not much more than a few years did we live there when we got our first house on Dale Road, Saginaw, Michigan.

Aerial View

Our good old house in the “Township” (Saginaw Township, to be exact).  It was a nice bi-level home in a quaint neighborhood–less that a mile away from the city limits.  I have plenty of memories from there: the list would last forever!  It was in this house that I accepted Jesus as my Saviour as an eight-year-old.  I can remember my dad taking my sister and I on bike rides constantly.  It was such a treat for us to ride to one of the nearby 7-11 convenience stores and grab a little candy!  The really big treat was riding to McDonald’s, getting a Happy Meal, and playing in the Playplace.  It seems like we rode our bikes everywhere!

We also had an in-ground pool at our house.  Before we moved there, my dad was planning on filling in the pool, fearing for our safety.  Then, I think he thought of how fun it would be, and figured that he would just teach us how to swim instead.  So, soon after moving in, we were taught how to swim the old-fashioned way: just throw the kid in the shallow end until they figure out they can float and paddle!  So there I was as at four years, and my sister at two, already “masters” at swimming.

Some of the best days were fall afternoons and evenings.  There was an awesome apple orchard that wasn’t too far away where we could get fresh cider and cake donuts.  Unfortunately now, that same orchard has been so commercialized that it is but a shadow of its former self.  Currently there’s a golf resort, huge gift shop, and hotel.  This is what it is today.  Oh well!  I still like the simple cider mill and rows of apple trees.

Saginaw is a city of contrasts separated by the wide Saginaw River.  It started as the lumber capital of the state, and midway through the last century, began to see a severe downward spiral.  The eastern side of the river became a crime-ridden slum, while the west side tried to maintain its identity as much as possible.  It’s probably still like that today, and even worse.  When I lived there in the early 90’s, there was still some of the automotive industry; now there is virtually none.  The city is still shrinking.

Of course, I didn’t know about any of that as a kid.  I just knew that I loved to get a donut from “Dawn Donuts” on a weekend morning.  At that time of my life, I didn’t appreciate good food yet.  My top restaurants were still McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Chuck-e-Cheese’s.  I do remember, though, Guido’s Pizza.  The funny thing is, I hated it because it was so thick!  Pizza was supposed to be thin!  Little did I know that it would be the first taste of my now favorite “Chicago Style” pizza.

I started school in Saginaw at Plainfield Elementary.  I think that I fit right into school.  I liked the friends, playing on the playground, and yes: learning.  There I learned some of the public school stupidity.  In gym class, we learned to square-dance for a whole three months.  In reading, we got to learn all about Frog and Toad’s “feelings.”  My second grade teacher taught us all how great President Clinton was.  In second grade, soon after we started going to church, the teacher held up a small box for all of us to see.  In it, she said, was the most important person in the world!  We all were in awe of what might be in there.  She asked for guesses on who it was.  I was the first one to raise my hand, and of course, being a new Christian, I knew that God was the most important person in the world; so I said who I thought was in the box: “God!”  “No,” the teacher said.  “He isn’t real.”  Another few kids guessed incorrectly as well after me, until the teacher finally answered the question herself.  She opened up the box, and in it was a mirror.  “Who is in that mirror?,” she asked.  “You are.  You are the most important person in the world.”  That, my friends, is the fundamentally flawed philosophy of public schools and the world today.

Thankfully, just a month into my second-grade year, my parents enrolled me in the Christian school that was administered by our church.  There I learned cursive writing and real phonics for the first time.  I am eternally grateful that my parents took me out of the government school system at such a young age, and that I was able to have a well-rounded, God-centered education the rest of the way up.

At church, for the first time I was introduced to things like AWANA, missions, cantatas, and progressive dinners.  This post isn’t necessarily a testimony, so I will just save that for another time.  I had and excellent second-grade teacher, and a lot of good friends at that church and school.  On the contrary, one of my friends was home schooled.  To me, it was one of the craziest things I had ever heard of!  “For real,” I thought.  “Your mom teaches you???  You get to be done at lunchtime!”  I didn’t know that it would be me in the same situation several years from then.

We moved away from Saginaw when I was eight, and yes, I missed it and didn’t want to move at first.  However, I still visited my dad every other weekend there until I was sixteen; so I guess I kind of lived there until then.  Saginaw will always be a part of me.  I learned so much there, have a multitude of memories, and will always call it one of my homes.

Choosing A Bible College

Years of training and mentoring from parents.  Countless hours of preaching and counseling under a pastor.  The end of high school is drawing nearer.  For fundamental Baptists, one of the greatest decisions in life approaches.  It is one of those decisions that makes other decisions for you–once it is chosen, there is little turning back.  This is a choice that ends up being one of the first steps a young person makes in finding God’s perfect will in their life–a decision to be taken with the utmost care and godly counsel.

Unfortunately though, the decision of which Bible college to attend is often taken all too carelessly.  There are many decisions that lead up to choosing which Bible college.  First, a young person must determine through prayer and study whether the Lord’s will is for them to be in the ministry.  If God does not want them in the ministry, most pastors would still advise them to attend Bible college for at least one year to build a strong foundation in their life, then go on to study for their particular field.  If God does desire for them to be in full-time service (as we say), then a plurality of choices is open for them.

Today, it seems that fundamental Baptist Bible colleges are in abundance.  Yet, does that mean that all of them are acceptable and possibly God’s will?  This is the main question I wish to answer.

Obviously, all Bible colleges have their strengths and weaknesses, as do churches.  A strong temptation is to rank specific points of a college on some kind of scale of what is important and what is not.  This is what should be avoided, however.  Every specific point should be weighed on its own merit, before it is ever weighed against any other point.  For example (I’m painting with a big brush here!), if a college has a weak stand on the Bible and a strong stand on music, it should not be reasoned away by saying, “I would rather have weak bibliology than weak music.”  Why is this?  Read this from Pastor Kent Brandenburg: it is a far better explanation than what I could say.  With this point assumed, then, here are a few major specifics (assuming they at least claim to be Fundamental, which would assume creationism, pre-tribulationism, etc. ) that I would examine as a whole to determine exactly where God would have a young person attend Bible college.

  • Ecclesiology

Is the college under the authority of God’s institution of the local church, and therefore its pastor; or is it a para-church organization?

Unfortunately, this is one of those points that honest people rank as less essential, and therefore throw aside.  A ministry of a local church is not only blessed by God because He ordained that church, but for several practical reasons as well.  With a local church college, one voice is being heard, with no room for confusion.  There is accountability to be a part of that church–working and worshipping as one church family.  Christ does not say that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against a para-church college; but He does say that they will not prevail against His church.  Where would be a better place to train for the ministry than a Bible college that is  under the authority of an Independent, New Testament Baptist church?

  • Soteriology

Is the college focused on reaching the world for Christ from a biblical point of view, or more inclined to follow the teachings of Augustine (Calvinism) or Pelagius (Arminianism)?

I cannot understand why someone who grows up in a good church would want to sit under someone who believes Christ’s blood is limited, or that God’s sovereignty is limited.  To put it simply: take the Bible for what it says.  On the other hand, the church and college should not be inclined to just see how many they can “get saved.” Instead, what should be practiced and preached is the Matthew 28 way of faith in Christ alone, and repentance toward God, followed by believers’ baptism and discipleship.

  • Music

Is the college communicating the gospel with fervor and depth, or bloated with un-biblical contemporary styles and methods?

Here is another thing that many look over.  Yet this has and will continue to be the death trap to numbers of unaware families that decide they are going to rank in their own minds essentials and nonessentials.  For more information on this, read my post titled: Not of the Father.  (Yes, I am referencing myself here, but this is my explanation of the issue, with plenty of other sources from more knowledgeable men.)

  • Modesty

Does the college preach and practice dress standards, or simply gloss over them as a nonessential?

Are the standards consistent across the board?  Some college handbooks say that modesty is different from one room to the next.  Reading the Bible, the issue of modesty is always consistent wherever one is at.  I am not talking about, “Ties must be worn to class, but do not have to be worn when sleeping;” or “Culottes cannot be worn in church, but can be worn when participating in athletics.”  Those are not modesty issues, but rather an issue of being sharp and in order.  What I am talking about are those that say you must abide by the dress code while on campus, but when you are off, you are off the hook–and other similar situations.

  • Excellence

Is the college excellent and sharp in what it does, or sloppy and careless?

Yes!  This is a Bible principle!  Some think that Fundamental Baptists should be sloppily dressed, unorganized, and unprepared.  The Bible says otherwise (Philippians 1:10, I Corinthians 14:40).  You should seek a college where the pastor and faculty are organized and scheduled, therefore being an example to learn from.  Personally, I am thankful to currently be in a church where I have learned this principle even more.  On the same note, the academics should be very challenging.  Graduates should be fully equipped to study, counsel, discern, and teach from the Bible with authority.

What is lacking from this list are the real nonessentials of cafeteria food, location, size, and job opportunities.  I am not saying that these should be totally looked over, but I sincerely believe that if one can trust God and pray for His will, He will provide everything that is needed, and possibly much more.  As a personal testimony to God, I trusted Him as He led me to my alma mater–without ever tasting the food (which ended up being out-of-this-world), knowing little about its campus and surroundings (which are top-rate and beautiful), and relatively small in enrollment (which provided a personal feeling, while being still large enough to provide a well-balanced education).

Here is a simple question to ask regarding Bible college: “Would I be a member of the church that the college is under?”  That should hopefully narrow the choice down quite a bit.  This is the choice that, once it is made, makes other choices for you.  At college, one will often find God’s will in their life when it comes to a mate, ministry philosophy, and place of ministry.  Much prayer between young people, their parents , and pastor should be made in finding God’s perfect will in this area.  And do not forget, God will never go against His word.  If any doctrine or standard is wrong, then God is not leading there.  God is always consistent with His Word.  Seek God through His Word, and He will lead in His perfect way.

Psalms 119:105 “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”

The King of Documentaries

Most of you that know me or have been reading our blog for the last year probably know that I am a HUGE fan of history.  I love reading history books, articles, and maps.  On the same note, I highly enjoy watching good documentary films from time to time.  Whenever we are around a TV (not all that often!), I like the History Channel, Discovery, and Travel.  I have seen good one-hour documentaries many times, especially about the Military, Early American History, and the ancient Middle-East.  That was pretty much it until I met my historical film hero…

It all started with receiving an audio album a few years ago called, The Civil War: TV Soundtrack .  It is a selection of Civil War era songs composed for a series of PBS documentaries directed and produced by a man named Ken Burns.  Then, maybe a year after first listening to the album, my father began reading The Civil War: A Narrative by Shelby Foote (another one of my history heroes).  After he was done I read the series (a collection of three hefty books…probably 1500 total pages or more).  Eventually, my dad bought the PBS documentary by Ken Burns on the Civil War, which is widely known as the definitive work on the war.  I watched maybe two of the eleven hours of it, but ran out of time before heading back to college.

Last November, though, I heard from a couple of people that Ken Burns’ PBS series on the Second World War was superb.  Andrea and I began watching the twelve hours of film last November, and finished sometime in February.  I was floored by how informative and interesting it was.  Truthfully, Andrea and I both liked The War.  It is all told through the mouths of men who actually fought, and those who were on the home front.  There were no “experts” that were interviewed…just real people.  I highly recommend The War.

However, in my opinion, his best work is The Civil War.  From that, my love for in-depth Civil War history developed.  The films actually make you feel like you are there.  I told my sister-in-law, who is teaching the Civil War era next year in school, about it, and now she is reviewing them as a source.  It seems that it plays out more like a real story than just a dull documentary.  Yet everything is so accurate.  For example, something neat that I learned toward the end of The Civil War is that before the war we would say “The United States are…”, and after the war up to today we say, “The United States is…”–it was a symbol of how our states truly became united.

Another few documentaries that Ken Burns has directed are, The West, Baseball, and The National Parks: America’s Greatest Idea.  One trademark of Ken Burns are his amazing visuals.  He can take a still picture and make it come alive.  He can take a bland video and transform it by adding fitting music and voice-overs.  I have not seen The National Parks yet, but I hear that the visuals are spectacular.

His style is amazing.  In fact, when I made our vacation presentation from Mexico, a lot of the ideas were from Ken Burns.  One concept that Mr. Burns has perfected is actually named after him: The Ken Burns Effect.  It is essentially panning and zooming through a still photo with voice-overs and music.  It is now used heavily in documentaries.

Now, I just know that most of you are cringing at the thought of voluntarily watching a historical documentary.  I challenge you to go to your local library and rent the first episode of The Civil War.  Or the first episode of The War or The West.  I can guarantee that it will at least be mildly interesting.  I believe that they are masterpieces.

Here is a short clip from the The Civil War.