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Presidents Day Countdown: Abraham Lincoln

Reading even a few Abraham Lincoln quotes helps you appreciate the depth and extent of his wisdom and character.

If George Washington kept the United States from falling apart before it had really got started as first president, fast forward to a time when it didn’t look like the United States would celebrate its 100th anniversary as a country. Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president US president, a self-taught man from humble circumstances, cast a vision of integrity – despite the cost – for the union in his words and actions. Here are just a few thoughts from ‘Honest Abe’ – a common man with uncommon wisdom applied to personal success, politics, virtue, and even the practice of law!

In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years. Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.

A house divided against itself cannot stand.

Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.

America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.

Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable – a most sacred right – a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world.

As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy.

Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new at all.

Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.

Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer has superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.

Don’t worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition.

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.

God must love the common man, he made so many of them.

Perhaps the most famous and immortal words that Lincoln ever spoke are known as the Gettysburg Address:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate…we can not consecrate…we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government: of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Honesty Is the Best Policy – Quotes From George Washington

Quotes by George Washington.

The First President of the United States of America

Honesty is the best policy … the wisdom and character of George Washington was essential to the birth of the United States of America.

Despite being touted as the Father of Our Country, is it possible George Washington is underrated?

When Henry Lee delivered his funeral oration in 1799, he said of him, he was “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

Washington through force of will, personality, diplomacy, and talent kept the union from disintegrating before it started. After winning the Revolutionary War, Washington headed straight for his plantation in Mount Vernon to retire from public life. When King George III heard this, he said that if Washington would actually do that he was the greatest man who ever lived. He didn’t. But it still seems to be the case that Washington really wasn’t interested in holding power, despite winning the presidency two terms.

His quotes underscore the degree to which our nation was built on the premise that liberty requires good citizens – and that good citizens are those who practice virtue and live with integrity.

Washington’s words are a nice personal reminder and challenge on how we should live!

While we are contending for our own liberty, we should be very cautious not to violate the rights of conscience in others, ever considering that God alone is the judge of the hearts of men, and to him only in this case they are answerable.

It is with pleasure I receive reproof, when reproof is due, because no person can be readier to accuse me, than I am to acknowledge an error, when I am guilty of one; nor more desirous of atoning for a crime, when I am sensible of having committed it.

I shall make it the most agreeable part of my duty to study merit, and Labour to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire, called conscience.

Few men have virtue enough to withstand the highest bidder.

A people … who are possessed of the spirit of commerce, who see and who will pursue their advantages may achieve almost anything.

I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is the best policy.

However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.

To contract new debts is not the way to pay old ones.

Arbitrary power is most easily established on the ruins of liberty abused to licentiousness.

Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation. It is better be alone than in bad company.

Discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak, and esteem to all.

Experience teaches us that it is much easier to prevent an enemy from posting themselves than it is to dislodge them after they have got possession.

Firearms are second only to the Constitution in importance; they are the peoples’ liberty’s teeth.

Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.

Happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected.

I can only say that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of slavery.

I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.

If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

If we desire to avoid insult, we must be able to repel it; if we desire to secure peace, one of the most powerful instruments of our rising prosperity, it must be known, that we are at all times ready for War.

Thomas Jefferson on America, Tyranny, Commerce, Alliances, and More

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

It is quite evident in these immortal words that Thomas Jefferson is a historical giant for his thoughts on government – and a host of other topics.

Jefferson was a political philosopher, primary author of the Declaration of Independence, and our third president, serving two terms. His presidency was marked by the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the Louisiana Purchase. He is the only two term president to never veto a bill from Congress.

Jefferson was a true Renaissance Man and was accomplished in areas as diverse as horticulture, archeology, and architecture. He was a gadget inventor with a fondness for clocks and was a student of the Bible, though not known for his orthodoxy. Even after his presidency he kept busy, founding the University of Virginia – another of his singular achievements among his presidential colleagues.

A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned – this is the sum of good government.

All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.

All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.

An association of men who will not quarrel with one another is a thing which has never yet existed, from the greatest confederacy of nations down to a town meeting or a vestry.

As our enemies have found we can reason like men, so now let us show them we can fight like men also.

Books constitute capital. A library book lasts as long as a house, for hundreds of years. It is not, then, an article of mere consumption but fairly of capital, and often in the case of professional men, setting out in life, it is their only capital.

But friendship is precious, not only in the shade, but in the sunshine of life, and thanks to a benevolent arrangement the greater part of life is sunshine.

Commerce with all nations, alliance with none, should be our motto.

Conquest is not in our principles. It is inconsistent with our government.

Delay is preferable to error.

Dependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition.

15 Romantic Movies

Ready for Valentine’s Day yet? Here are 15 fabulously romantic movies to choose from for date night. From classics like Casablanca and African Queen, t0 sweet (and yes, a little sappy) Disney offerings like Enchanted and Beauty and the Beast, to a trio of selections based on Romeo and Juliet – with a few entertaining love stories you might have forgotten about.
You are sure to find something she will love and he will like!

Labor Day: It Beats the Alternative

Labor Day

A celebration of a “worker’s holiday.”

Founded in 1882 (or 1884) by machinist Matthew Maguire (or by some reports, carpenter Peter McGuire). Labor Day in the United States was ratified as a federal holiday in 1894 (maybe; and maybe again in 1898) and subsequently by all 50 states as a state holiday. It is celebrated on the first Monday of September each year.

In the words of McGuire (no one can remember what Maguire said), Labor Day should be a “worker’s holiday” to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.” (His reference to “rude nature” does take a little luster off the honor.)

By a resolution of the American Federation of Labor Convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement (Source: Department of Labor website.) But that seemed like too much work and conflicted with church services so it never quite caught on. Over time, another hallmark of the holiday, highly charge political speeches on the evils of the Bourgeoisie’s exploitation of the Proletariat, faded away also. We can thank long-winded politicians, the NFL, and the defeat of Communism for that.

Ever since Adam’s Curse in the garden (Genesis 3:17-19), though, there has been a definite negative connotation associated with work.

Cursed is the ground for your sake;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,
And you shall eat the herb of the field.

In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are,
And to dust you shall return.

Karl Marx, writing from his comfortable upper middle class lifestyle in London, England, couldn’t help but express outrage over the horrific conditions for much of the worldwide working class, though his assertion that industrialization separated ‘man’ from the fruit of his labors failed to note that the life expectancy of farmers wasn’t very long either.

A negativity toward work, even by those who ply their trade in safe, comfortable, life enhancing environments with free coffee and real half and half, persists. For example, if someone works long hours today and shows a fondness for work, he or she is labelled a ‘workaholic’ – someone with an obvious and dangerous psychological deficiency. One of the fantasies presented by motivational speakers as a good idea to the modern American worker is to quit a job that doesn’t meet his or her need for self-actualization – without having something else that pays the bills lined up.

I have no desire to argue against the theology of the Curse. But I would posit that there is something a lot worse than work. No work.

Just ask yourself this question, who looks happier and lives better, the one who is out of work or the one who is gainfully employed?

I like what friend and author, Richard Exley, presented in The Rhythm of Life. The best life, the fulfilled life is one that has the proper balance of work, rest, play, and worship. In a culture obsessed with play – and certainly not going overboard in the area of worship – what a great paradigm for ordering your life in a way that opens you up to experience and express what matters most.

Wow. I feel like I have a better attitude toward hard work already. I plan to remember that tomorrow when I head back to the ‘salt mines’!

A Mother’s Gift


I’ve never been a big Elvis fan. I was a teen in the 70s when Elvis was heavy, wore white jump suits with tassels, and was a Vegas act. He did have a couple hits in the 70s, like Kentucky Rain, which I kind of liked. But then again, Paul Anka and Sammy Davis, Jr. had hits too. (I actually hated Candy Man.)

I received a manuscript a couple weeks ago from a music entertainment author who I represented in my agenting days. He wrote a memoir with Lamar Fike, one of the “Memphis Mafia” members who made up Elvis’s lifelong entourage. Lamar was a fixture in the Presley household long before Elvis became a one-named superstar. He was present at many crucial moments in Elvis’s life, including the death of his mother. I did a sneak peek at the manuscript and the following short passage jumped out at me, though it may be common knowledge to Presley aficionados —

After Gladys died in 1958, I found that Elvis had lost his moral compass, and for that matter Vernon did too. Whatever sense of innocence that the Presley household had while Gladys was alive, was suddenly tossed out the window. Suddenly Vernon was able to break up a married woman’s happy home, and Elvis was free to sexually cavort with a far-from-innocent underage girl named Priscilla Beaulieu.

Our thoughts on Mother’s Day tend to turn sentimental as we remember the sweet things about motherhood. Fike’s words are a nice reminder that one of the greatest blessings a mom can bestow on her children is a moral compass, not always a sweet and easy business. For me, it’s not that I always followed that compass during my teen years and other moments in my life, but growing up with prayer and countless readings through a battered blue edition of Egermeier’s Bible Story Book, I was never able to forget that a compass pointing to matters that mattered was there.

So if there were a few things you didn’t get to do because your mom said no and maybe went so far as to put you on a guilt trip, say thanks anyway, from the bottom of your heart. And whether you’re a mom or dad with kids in the home, even if it’d be more fun to just be popular and let them figure out everything on their own, make sure you give them a compass that they can use when they need to find their way home.

Thanks Mom – that is a mother’s gift I am grateful for.

The Day Satan Called: A True Encounter With Demon Possession

By Bill Scott. FaithWords, a division of the Hachette Book Group. Published October 2011.

We live in a culture that is skeptical of most things spiritual – but that can’t seem to get enough of dark, scary, “spiritual” movies and books – from Rosemary’s Baby to The Exorcist and a host of annual releases. So what more can be said about demons and evil spirits?

I will establish up front that I am friends with the author of The Day Satan Called and worked with him on the editorial development of the project. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be a raving fan and recognize some special contributions to our understanding of the spirit world that Bill has made through this book, does it?

I met Bill Scott and his wife Janet about a year ago to discuss a couple publishing projects they needed to work on for an organization for youth they founded and run. In the course of the conversation Bill mentioned off-handedly that he had written a manuscript (with more than a little help from Janet) of his experience with a … witch … who he had invited to live in his home in order to help her … okay.

Suffice it to say I watched Bill just a little more closely to see what kind of guy he really was. What I noticed then and have seen confirmed over and over in the subsequent year is that Bill is direct and honest to a fault. I took the manuscript home and was transfixed – and terrified. That’s the first thing I would say about The Day Satan Called – it is a well-written, fast-paced, entertaining, and incredibly scary story. Bill seems to take you to the edge of the cliff at the end of every chapter. About the time you think what he lived through couldn’t get worse – it does.

I’m not going to give away any spoilers, but I’ll note that the book has a totally unexpected ending. The story is great but it is Bill’s observations that make this book special. In the process of looking back at how things started and ended, Bill asks and answers some poignant questions about demon possession: is it related to multiple personality disorder (MPD) – sometimes? All of the time? How much of what is called demon possession is someone’s personal fantasy or even a con game? Or both? How prevalent is demon possession in our society and how concerned should we be? With all the temptations in the world that seem to work so well with so many, why would Satan even bother with “possessing” some people? Can a Christian be demon possessed – or in the case of a person suffering from MPD, can one personality be redeemed and another personality be possessed?

I mentioned that Bill is honest and direct. He doesn’t claim to know all the answers to those and other questions, but he does a great job of presenting what happened to him – even the parts that are personally embarrassing that he’d rather forget – and reaffirming the scripture: “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

When Can An Author Quit the Day Job and Write Full-Time?

A week after Cuts Like a Knife hit the market I had a neighbor ask, “when can an author quit the day job and write full-time?” I got the same question from two authors within days. Here is a quick glance at the numbers that helps anyone that wants to start a new enterprise count the cost – I picked a salary with an easy monthly number and then walked authors through the royalty process. Enjoy!

 

We’ll Be Friends Forever – RIP Ora Knies

Amy with her 109-year-old grandmother.

My wife Amy’s grandmother, Ora Zimmerman Knies, died in her sleep on June 11, 2010. She was 109 years old.

Three days later we gathered at Memaw’s funeral mass held at St. Stephen Catholic Church in Hermitage, Tennessee. She was survived by her three “boys,” 11 grandchildren, 22 great grandchildren, and 19 great great grandchildren. She just missed holding a fifth generation of babies, with one of the great great’s due to have a child in a few weeks when she passed away.

Beyond savoring the memories and bonds of love and family, anyone who attended her funeral couldn’t help but reflect on all that Memaw had seen in her 109 active and colorful years of life. She was born January 13, 1901 – the year the first radio receiver picked up a transmission. Had she entered the world just two weeks earlier she would have been alive during three of the centuries of the Christian Era calendar.

Ora was born in the Territory of Oklahoma – it would not be admitted to statehood for another six years – and traveled cross country by horse-drawn carriage as a young girl when her family moved to Winchester, Tennessee.

The array of inventions and developments she witnessed in her lifetime is mind boggling – from the Wright Brothers engine powered airplane to commercial air travel and rockets and man landing on the moon; from the newspaper to the radio and on to the television, which itself morphed from black and white to technicolor with hundreds of stations; from the first Model-T rolling off the assembly line in Detroit in 1908 to the interstate highway system of the Eisenhower era; from penicillin and bubble gum in 1928 to the atomic bomb during World War II.

She witnessed the two world wars with Germany – the first by radio only and the second by radio and television. The day after her death, Governor Phil Bredesen of Tennessee landed in Germany to meet with Volkswaagen officials to discuss manufacturing opportunities in his state.

The United States of America has had 44 presidents in its history. Memaw lived during the presidency of 20 of them, from McKinley to Obama, and including her favorite, JFK.

Ora lived alone in her own house until 103, when she entered an assisted living facility. Her flower and vegetable gardens are still legendary. She drove her car for the last time on her 100th birthday. She did not hand the keys to her sons readily or happily and it took her a few years to forgive them – even though, according to the daughters-in-law, Memaw was pretty certain her boys had never really done anything wrong in life. She finally had to quit bowling in the Madison Bowling League when she was past the age of 100 due to hip problems.

Memaw’s last visit to our home was Christmas 2008 and she had a marvelous time, particularly looking through family photo albums. Amy had made memory books for Bo and Zach on their football seasons and after studying them several times, Ora proclaimed she was now a football fan. In fact, she wished she had learned to play.

Her one complaint about her assisted living residence was the food. She loved to have a home cooked meal and she participated in the preparation for Christmas Dinner by making her much requested peanut butter fudge. She sat by me at dinner and told me numerous times that we would be friends forever.

We all know that how we live our lives is what matters most. But most of us still have a fondness for the ongoing numbering of our days as well. If longetivity didn’t matter we wouldn’t work so hard to live longer.

For Memaw, quality and quantity were inseparable. She was one of those believers who received in abundance both of the blessings expressed in Psalm 91:16: “I will reward them with a long life and give them my salvation” (NLT).

So Ora Zimmerman Knies, may I be so blessed, and yes, let’s be friends forever.

Contact Page

Snail Mail:

2000 Mallory Lane, Suite 130-229, Franklin, Tennessee 37067

Bestselling Books of 2012

2012 was a good year to sell books as an author if your last name was James or Collins.

The January 4, 2012, online of edition of Publishers Weekly provided a chart with three bestseller lists, all dominated at the top by Fifty Shades of Grey (E.L. James) and The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins).

Bestselling Books of 2012
Nielsen Bookscan Top 20
Amazon Kindle Top 20
Amazon Print Top 20
1. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James (Vintage)
1. Fifty Shades of Greyby E.L. James (Vintage)
1. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James (Vintage)
2. Fifty Shades Darker by E.L. James (Vintage)
2. Fifty Shades Darkerby E.L. James (Vintage)
2. Fifty Shades Darker by E.L. James (Vintage)
3. Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James (Vintage)
3. Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James (Vintage)
3. Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James (Vintage)
4. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)1
4. The Hunger Gamesby Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
4. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
5. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
5. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
5. StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath (Gallup Press)
6. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
6. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
6. Fifty Shades Trilogy Box Set by E.L. James (Vintage)
7. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel by Jeff Kinney (Amulet Books)
7. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Crown)
7. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
8. No Easy Day by Mark Owen (Dutton)
8. The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
8. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
9. Killing Kennedy by Bill O’Reilly (Henry Holt)
9. Bared to You by Sylvia Day (Berkley)
9. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel by Jeff Kinney (Amulet Books)
10. Fifty Shades Trilogy Box Set by E.L. James (Vintage)
10. The Racketeer by John Grisham (Doubleday)
10. No Easy Day by Mark Owen (Dutton)
11. Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly (Henry Holt)
11. Reflected in You by Sylvia Day (Berkley)
11. The Hunger Games Trilogy Box Set by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
12. Jesus Calling by Sarah Young (Thomas Nelson)
12. The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks (Grand Central)
12. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Crown)
13. The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan (Hyperion)
13. Defending Jacob by William Landay (Delacorte)
13. The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan (Hyperion)
14. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Crown)
14. War Brides by Helen Bryan (AmazonEncore)
14. The Official SAT Study Guide, 2nd Edition by the College Board (The College Board)
15. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)2
15. A Game of Thronesby George R.R. Martin (Bantam)
15. A Song of Fire and Ice, Books 1–4 by George R.R. Martin (Bantam)
16. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)3
16. The Innocent by David Baldacci (Grand Central)
16. Killing Kennedy by Bill O’Reilly (Henry Holt)
17. The Hunger Games Triology Box Set by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
17. No Easy Day by Mark Owen (Dutton)
17. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (Amer. Psychological Assn.)
18. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (Little, Brown)
18. A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin (Bantam)
18. Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly (Henry Holt)
19. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever by Jeff Kinney (Amulet Books)
19. 11/22/63 by Stephen King (Scribner)
19. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (Random House)
20. The Racketeer by John Grisham (Doubleday)
20. The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Berkley)
20. Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander (Simon & Schuster)
Nielsen/BookScan (week ending Dec. 30, 2012)
Amazon Kindle (as of Dec. 31, 2012)
Amazon (as of Dec. 31, 2012)

Don’t Eat That Frog First

Eat that frog?

Eat that frog?

In his bestselling book, Eat That Frog, Brian Tracy tackles the issue of personal productivity with 21 ways to conquer procrastination, beginning with his classic breakfast recipe :

If the first thing you do when you wake up each morning is eat a live frog, nothing worse can happen the rest of the day!

If you’ve ever met Brian, read one of his books or heard him speak, you know what a disciplined, talented, savvy communicator – and person – he is. I have a lot of admiration for him. Better to listen to him than me! I’ve been known to procrastinate at times.

But I would humbly suggest that there are some days you will get more done by foregoing the frog for breakfast – it tastes nothing like chicken – and enjoying your Cheerios, oatmeal or bacon and eggs. [Read more…]

Jerusalem: A Biography – Montefiore’s History of the Holy City

Jerusalem by Simon Sebag Montefiore

A look at 3500 year history of the Holy City – from King David to today.

Most of us know that in 1493 Christopher Columbus sailed the “deep blue sea.” But one of his key motivations for sailing west to secure the riches of India never made it to our childhood textbooks. It can be found in a section of his letter to Ferdinand and Isabella that is often redacted: “before the end of the world all prophecies have to be fulfilled – and the Holy City has to be given back to the Christian Church.” It is usually taught that the Spanish monarchs commissioned Columbus to beat the Portuguese in the search for the west route to India. But what is left out is that the drive behind the commissioning was they felt exactly the same way as Columbus – they needed more gold to fund a new Crusade to the Holy Land.

That is just one small glimpse into the unique, amazing, incredible, and fascinating history of Jerusalem – from King David to the Six Day War; from the birth of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam to the concurrent rise of Jewish and Arab nationalism to the Israel-Palestine conflict – woven throughout Montefiore’s exquisite narrative on the history of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem has seemingly always been at the center of international politics and intrigue. In the 3000 years of Jerusalem’s known history, it was exclusively Jewish for 1000 years, Pagan for 300 years, Christian for 400 years, and Muslim for 1300 years. In all that time no group has secured or held the Holy City without bloodshed. Today it is the capital of two peoples and revered among three faiths. It is a never-ending clash of faith and civilization – and for many Muslims and Christians the place of the ultimate battle and of Judgment Day.

I picked up Jerusalem because I wanted a comprehensive history of the Holy City, particularly due to the fact that Jerusalem is such a focal point for contemporary international political debate. I thoroughly enjoy every minute of this 700-page book that is filled with the good, the bad, and the ugly – and a surprising amount of humor. I might not have agreed with all of Montefiore’s biblical exegesis during the history I am more familiar with due to my Old Testament and New Testament studies, but it didn’t matter because what I wanted was a sweep of the history and got it – three thousand years of faith and compromise, beauty and slaughter, and hatred and coexistence.

Jerusalem was filled with surprises – and not just Christopher Columbus’s fascination with the Holy City. For example, toward the end of the biblical era, I was taken back to learn how influential Herod was in Roman politics – he was close to Antony and Cleopatra, Tiberius, and a major reason Nero made it to the throne. Reading through the Crusader centuries was like reading a novel. I didn’t think it could get any more interesting but then I got to the 19th and 20th centuries when Rasputin, Lawrence of Arabia, Churchill, Tsar Alexander, Hitler, and so many other characters show up – every historical period was fascinating because of the people who kept popping in and out of the story of Jerusalem.

I’m not a historian, but I feel confident in asserting that whatever world history you do know will be enriched by reading this book.

In the Epilogue, Montefiore sketches out the parameters of a peaceful solution to the current political impasse, but does not seem overly optimistic it will be achieved: “Jerusalem may continue in its present state for decades, but whenever, if ever, a peace is signed, there will be two states, which is essential for Israel as a state and as a democracy, and justice and respect for the Palestinians.” That is, of course, the point where readers will agree and disagree for a variety of reasons, politically and religiously.

In closing, I’ll state the obvious. This is not a biblical, religious, spiritual book. Nor is it a political science book. It is a history book, though Montefiore is mostly careful about religious matters and sensitivities and at the end he does give his point of view on achieving peace. You will be disappointed in Jerusalem if you read this to confirm a political or religious interpretation.

I almost forgot to mention. I read this on my Kindle. I wish I had bought the paper and ink edition because of the maps and illustrations.

Montefiore’s own family is part of Jerusalem’s 19th and 20th Century history – and a section of the city still bears his family name. He has also written biographies on Potemkin and Stalin.

The Pillars of the Earth – Building a Cathedral to God’s Glory

Ken Follett. Penguin. Published in 1989.

My first exposure to Follett was in the early 80s with a trio of spy thrillers, Eye of the Needle, Triple, and The Key to Rebecca. I like the spy genre and though I didn’t think Follett had the nuanced political and psychological depth of a LeCarre or Deighton, he delivered intrigue, twists, and turns at a Frederick Forsythe (Day of the Jackel) level. Smart, action-packed escapist reading!

Follett wrote The Pillars of the Earth in 1989 and I completely missed it. For 20 years. Once I’ve read an author a couple times and like him or her that usually doesn’t happen. But it should have come as no surprise. In Pillars, Follett switched genres from international political thrillers to historical fiction with this 973 page tome. I’m sure his publisher was aghast when he brought the proposal to the table. Follett was undoubtedly told that this was a bad “self-branding” move for any author, that he would confuse and lose his core audience. I’m Exhibit One that his publisher was probably right in a business sense. But if Follett had listened, we would have missed out on a literary treat. It hasn’t turned out too bad for Follett either, as Pillars is his backlist title that continues to sell the most copies every year.

So what prompted Follett to write a book that features a devout and godly monk who dreamed of building a cathedral to God’s glory; the ups and downs of a couple of stone masons and their families; and some really rotten earls, barons, sheriffs, bishops and priests? Was it Follett’s own act of devotion and religious fervor? In his preface he claims to be an atheist despite a Plymouth Brethren upbringing. But he did have what can be described as a near religious experience on a business trip to Peterborough for the London Times. He had recently read a book on European architecture and was fascinated with Nikolaus Pevsner’s description of all that went into the building of Gothic cathedrals. With an hour to spare before his train left for London, Follett took a tour of the Peterborough Cathedral and says he was instantly “enraptured.” This began a personal hobby of visiting and studying cathedrals all over England and Europe.

Follett may have left modern politics behind in Pillars but not the politics of 12th Century Europe. With the death of King Henry, Stephen and Maude wage a civil war for the throne spanning decades, with a constant and ensuing political fallout for earls, cities, and counties. Even the building of a castle or cathedral became a political roller coast ride with access to lumber, stone or labor determined by which combatant won the last battle of the season and which barons and earls had the right allegiance to be rewarded or punished.

Follett shows Medieval churchmen at their superstitious and barbaric worst – and their enlightened, progressive, spiritual, and charitable best. I think he is very fair to represent the true spirituality of the Medieval – and modern – believer. He doesn’t succumb to the temptation to paint crude caricatures. My own reading of Medieval history is cursory but from what little I know, Follett actually helps dispel the myth that these were simply “Dark Ages.” Watching Jack – a stone mason and master builder – wrestle with how to make his cathedral roof taller but still safe and finally discover the pointed arch is a marvelous glimpse into the technological developments of the day.

Pillars is set around the building of the Kingsbridge Cathedral, but Follett takes us on a historically plausible side journey through France, over the Pyrenees, and into the Iberian Peninsula, where Medieval monks traveled to the library of Toledo, Spain, and were introduced to Euclid (his algebra and geometry play a role in the building of cathedrals), Plato, and other great writings from antiquity. Throughout the story Follett introduces the historical seeds that blossomed into the modern political mind and arena, from worker’s and women’s rights to the question of whether kings and nobility must answer to the law.

Toward the end of the book, Prior Philip, the stern, austere, kind, hard nosed, fair, loving hero of the story witnesses the assassination of Thomas Becket at Canterbury – carried out under the urging of his nemesis, Waleran, a bishop who made Machiavelli seem like an author of positive thinking and encouragement titles. Philip faces his ultimate test of faith, namely whether he will keep his faith in God and whether that faith in God has the efficacy to make the world a better place. As a reader, we have followed his life as orphan, monk, reformer, and builder for sixty years up to the year 1174 A.D. But the question he must face in the closing pages of Pillars is just as relevant today!

Overheard and Observed in China: Part 1: The Economy

I just returned from a way-too-short and rapid trip to China. There are so many angles and facets to explore but for a Part 1, I thought I’d focus on some interesting economic dynamics in China that are highly interrelated with some equally interesting dynamics in the U.S. economy.

As context, note that the overarching paradox of trading with China from a U.S. standpoint is (a) we like China’s cheap costs but (b) we don’t like the trade gap. The burgeoning trade gap is particularly bothersome as the U.S. dollar continues to free fall in the international currency markets, which should make buying U.S. products more attractive than ever. But the trade deficet is going to be a side light and what U.S. businesses and consumers are really going to notice in the near and foreseeable future is that costs in China are on the raise and may increase at a more rapid pace. Here’s why:

1. We’re not the only ones that dislike a huge trade gap; for China’s economy to mature, more of its output needs to be consumed internally, not just by the export market. Toward that end, in the last ninety days Beijing has rescinded a substantial tax rebate (think subsidy) for factories and business that export their goods. That will no longer be part of the formula for quoting costs to U.S. companies that outsource to China.

2. The RMB (China’s currency) is up 20% against the U.S. dollar in the last 18 months. The renmimbi (“people’s currency”) is stronger across against many currencies on the international board, but with the ongoing storyline of a still declining U.S. dollar and its spending power, the bottom line result is higher costs.

3. New labor laws in China include new increases to the minimum wage and a sweeping worker reform act–no company can fire a worker once they sign a third employment contract–equals raising labor costs. On the second element, the reform act, one wonders if most Chinese laborers will now end up working for a new company every four years as many labor contracts are two year deals. Not even an almost limitless labor pool can hold back the simple reality that conditions for workers–from wages to safe working conditions to better factory-owned dormitories or private housing options–have improved and must continue to improve. Some have argued that with the reported 750 million unemployed workers this need not be the case. But what has changed is that people living a subsistance lifestyle in the great rural expanses of China are no longer willing to trade an open air work day for a factory work day that is still based on mere subsistance worker benefits.

4. Rising materials costs are happening across most industry categories, led by rocketing oil prices, but in my world, publishing, it comes as no surprise that the cost of paper keeps marching upward at a particularly steep grade. U.S. standards of “green” are much less stringent than those defined in Europe, but as that gap closes, costs will only continue to climb. Related but off topic: Bill Gates said that we tend to overestimate the impact of new technology over the next two years but underestimate its impact over the next five years (see Business at the Speed of Thought). I wonder: will there be a stampede to ebook readers in the next half decade?

5. When you add up nos. 1-4, not surprising but largely unnoticed in the business community, hundreds of Chinese factories are closing every month. Profit margins and Return on Investment (ROI) are so slim that the Chinese entrepreneurial class is looking for new and greener opportunities. Marching alongside the issue of ROI , the first true generation of entrepreneurs in China is hitting retirement age and the heirs don’t want to run factories–or in some cases can’t afford to run existing operations–so they’re selling off equipment and boarding up buildings. Some argue that this is simple Economic Darwinism and is a positive case of natural selection with inefficient operations falling by the wayside. Perhaps; but it should not come as a shock that as once or emerging third world economies develop, they no longer take on environmentally toxic projects with no questions asked.

Two questions that I predict will become more acute for U.S. (and world) companies that do manufacturing in China in the days ahead will be: are we anticipating and ready for continued rising costs? and are the vendors we are currently relying on going to be in business for the foreseeable future?
Stay tuned for Part 2 of things I observed and overheard in China …

Inspired Faith 365

Inspired Faith 365 written by Mark Gilroy

Inspiration for every day of the year!

Inspiration for Every Day of the Year

The most important things in life—a healthy marriage, child rearing, your career—require daily attention. Your spiritual life is no different. No wonder the power of daily habits is woven throughout God’s Word.

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is a bit of folk wisdom that illustrates a powerful truth: the remedies that provide true health come in daily doses! You can’t work out one day a month for 12 hours and expect to get in shape. But if you work out 30 minutes a day, you’ll see definite results. Spiritual life is the same way. Going to church on Sunday and attending an occasional seminar or special service might be great for a growth spurt – but we still need to practice a daily “walk with God” if we want to mature and develop as people of faith. That daily walk needs to include time in God’s Word, prayer, and giving thought to those things that matter to God – so that they will increasingly matter to us.

Inspired Faith is just what the doctor ordered for your spirit. Simple and profound new writings are combined with a weekly selection from one of the great devotional writers from history like Spurgeon, Wesley, and Tozer. Each selection includes a scripture verse, a suggested scripture reading, an inspirational quote and a prayer starter.

Spending time with God every day in prayer, reading, and meditation provides the encouragement, motivation, and sustenance to truly live a life of inspired faith—not just on Sunday but every day!

PURCHASE

Direct from Simple Truths

LOOK INSIDE

 

A Daybook of Grace

A Year of Devotions to Draw You Near to the Heart of God

A Daybook of Grace
(c) Mark Gilroy Creative
Fall River Press

Grace for Each Day

Spend time with God each day, in His Word and through prayer.

Reflect on His love for you and the wonderful plans He has for your life.

Ask Him for wisdom and strength to face any challenges before you.

Ask God to search your heart. Listen for His voice. Follow whatever He asks you to do with trust and joy.

As you draw near to the heart of God, you will discover and experience His grace and blessings – His Presence – in a deeper, more profound, life-changing way than ever before.

 

Come close to God

and God will come close to you.

James 4:8

A Daybook of Grace contains a full year of daily devotions

978-1454910749 | 384 pages | Hardcover | $14.99

 

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Amazon: Hardcover

Barnes & Noble: Hardcover

CBD: Hardcover

 

The Grape Detox Diet

Larry Stone was owner and publisher of Rutledge Hill Press - where he introduced Life's Little Instruction Book to the world.

Larry Stone was owner and publisher of Rutledge Hill Press – where he introduced Life’s Little Instruction Book to the world.

Larry Stone is a publishing legend, someone I admire and, I’m proud to say, a good friend. We had breakfast last week and he told me about an annual detox diet he and his wife Lois do together each year. Having lost 50 pounds this past year, my ears perked up. I am interested in anything that will help me keep weight off – and be healthier. I think you’ll enjoy this guest post – and you just might  find a new health commitment to begin each year!

I have told many friends about the detox diet my wife and I have followed in January for the last 30 years. It may sound nutty, but it does make us feel better, more alive, and more energetic and keeps us at our target weight. My wife looks fabulous, and at 69, we both still water ski and climb mountains.

What makes this grape detox diet so interesting is its history. In 1927 Johanna Brandt left South Africa for the United States to tell her story of having been cured of cancer by “The Grape Cure.” Although she discovered this diet, she claims it had been known for centuries. I’m not claiming it cures anything. But I do know all of us tend to put poisons in our body, and this diet will eliminate them. [Read more…]

A Good Dog Down – Losing a Family Pet

Saying goodbye to the family pet.

Colby was part of our family for 12 years.

As a footnote on a blog I wrote a month ago about the decision of whether to euthanize the family pet, our 12-year-old black and silver miniature schnauzer, the dreaded day finally arrived yesterday.

After long lunch meeting with a publisher and potential author, I settled into my office and figured I’d deal with Colby another day. Wishful thinking. I finally had to man up when I looked at him on the back porch and saw how incredibly awful he felt. I had to force myself to face the fact that an occasional good day didn’t mean he wasn’t miserable almost every day.

Colby did have one great day the past week. Zach and I took him to the park on Saturday. Zach and two of his friends and I were passing the football. Colby trotted after the boys a little – though no mad dashes like the old days when he thought he was a defensive back. He then found some shade and watched the boys run routes with his trademark little smile. He kept his head up the whole time, scanning left and right. I think he wanted to jump in the game one more time.

Just like the old Colby. But the old Colby was gone. Four years of diabetes shots, numerous visits to the vet … it was time. I’m so glad he had that one last good Saturday. Might not have mattered much to him but it was good for Zach and me.

He never ate again after Saturday morning. He hardly moved the last two days. Despite numerous efforts to get him moving and clean him up, he was lying in urine most of the time. So Monday afternoon it was time to end the work day early and take care of a different kind of business.

I had to carry him to the car, which in a sad way made the task at hand easier. On the drive over I talked to him about old times. Colby, remember when … He’d flick his eyebrows up when he heard his name, but otherwise didn’t move a muscle. When we got to the Williamson County Animal Control Center, I decided to stay inside with him for his last shot. I held him. He never flinched when the needle went in. He really was already gone.

It doesn’t rise to the level of so many human tragedies in the world, but losing a family pet is still incredibly difficult and sad.

Thanks for the memories Colby. You were a true friend.

Tim McGraw had a big hit with the lyrics, “I don’t know why they say grown men don’t cry.”

But they do. I know first hand. That’s what happens when you lose a pet who has been part of the family for 12 years.

John Rebus: The Literary Character I Hate to Love

Rude, churlish, obnoxious ... John Rebus is the literary detective I hate to love.

In Exit Music John Rebus retired – but Rankin brought him back. I assume it was due to fan outrage!

The literary character I hate to love – or love to hate – is Inspector John Rebus. Rude, arrogant, churlish – his brilliance in solving Edinburgh murder mysteries is matched only by his self destructive love for booze, cigarettes, and conflict with authority.

I’m a bit like those few who are close to him in Rankin’s novels – loyal and able to see past his coarse exterior – but always wondering what he will do next to get himself in trouble with the bosses – and drag me along with him!

In Exit Music, author Ian Rankin finally put Rebus into retirement and introduced a new series character in The Complaints. I can only assume fan reaction won the day as Rebus made his typically messy but triumphant return in Resurrection Men.