60 People Who Shaped the Church


Al Gansky Novels   60 People

Alton (Al) Gansky has been one of my favorite novelists for eight or ten years now. Wonderful suspense novels. Sometimes with a bit of the supernatural thrown in. Some of Al’s novels are military thrillers co-written with such notable men as Major Jeff Struecker, one of the key players in the real-life event the movie Blackhawk Down was about.

But Al Gansky also writes non-fiction.

As a former Christian pastor, he was well qualified to do the mountains of research necessary to write a book like 60 People Who Shaped the Church. In his Introduction, he says, “History intimidates us; historical characters intrigue us.” I suspect that’s one reason historical novels are so popular.

Would I have pored through a history book about the French Revolution even once? I doubt it seriously. Would I read A Tale of Two Cities, not once but three or four times (so far)? Absolutely!

But 60 People is not a novel. It’s a 316 page look at the “sinners, saints, rogues, and heroes” who played a key role in shaping the Christian church as we know it. Al admits–not surprisingly–that cutting the number of people down to sixty was a challenge.

Al starts with Jesus’s disciple, Simon Peter, and the apostle Paul and moves smoothly through 20 centuries, ending with Dr. Billy Graham. Many of Al’s vignettes–few of the chapters are longer than three or four pages–are about men one might expect to find in it book like this: Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Isaac Watts, John and Charles Wesley (yes, the brothers do have separate chapters), Charles Spurgeon, Dwight L. Moody, and Billy Sunday.

But Al has some real surprises. Like scientists Copernicus and Galileo. And mathematician Blaise Pascal.

And writers. Like John Bunyon, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress. And T. S. Elliott, who was important for far more than his poetry and plays. And C. S. Lewis and Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

And composers like Handel and prolific hymn writer Fanny Crosby.

Included in this collection are some people who would seem highly unlikely to play a role in shaping the church. Like the emperor Diocletian, “who persecuted the church and in doing so helped spread the gospel.” And King Henry VIII, “who separated church from state and started the Anglican church.”

Because of the way this book is organized into short chapters, I found it convenient to read just a chapter or two a night. I wish I could remember all of the fascinating details Al Gansky presented about each person, but one stands out even months later.

Slave trader John Newton was quite a rough character during the earlier part of his life and he once fell overboard while drunk. His crew (reluctantly) saved him by harpooning him in the leg and pulling him back to the ship. He bore that scar the rest of his life.

If you’re the least interested in the history of Christianity, but totally disinterested in reading a book about Christian history, you may find 6o People Who Shaped the Church to be just the kind of read you’ll enjoy.

Next on my list is another of Al Gansky’s books, 30 Events that Shaped the Church.

What do you think of the idea of 60 People? How about leaving a comment?


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Best regards,


RogerMirrorSelfie     RogerSelfie

Okay. I admit it. I’m not only behind the times now; I’ve probably always been.

Specifically, the word “selfie” to describe a picture one takes of himself, usually with a cell phone, did not enter my vocabulary until several years after everyone else knew what the word meant. In most instances, I’m not sure I missed much by what I didn’t know, but that doesn’t change the fact I used to be totally ignorant of the word.

Very rarely do I feel the need to take a selfie. I think I know sufficiently well what I look like, and I’m not sure even my family and closest friends need a reminder from my cell phone. Well, perhaps the family members who live a distance away.

However, when I walk at the mall–as I did on this very rainy day–I do periodically note my reflection in various store windows. Especially those that are closed and don’t have any distracting merchandise to take away from my reflection. Or should I say without adding that merchandise TO my reflection?

I’m certainly not an egotistical man in general, especially about my looks. I hope I’m not so bad looking that little children point at me behind my back and ask their mothers what’s wrong with me. Or that teens look at me and laugh, probably thinking, “Boy! Are you old!”

But neither am I aware of women of any age looking at me and saying, “Wow!” (I hope that fact pleases my wife.)

Actually, the one thing I notice in my store window reflections is how much slimmer I am than I was just a few years ago. I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve dieted in my life and the total number of pounds I’ve lost. Or the number of pounds I ultimately regained.

But when my doctor pronounced me as officially diabetic and told me to count calories rather than carbs and to watch the scales, I took him seriously. During a year-and-a-half, I managed to lose fifty pounds, and–for once in my life–I’ve been able to keep them off. My diabetes is totally under control, and I’d be scared to regain any of my former weight.

An accomplishment like is worth observing in mall store windows.

At the top of this post are two selfies. Both were taken in the bathroom. One is a picture of the mirror reflection; the other is a cell phone selfie. Rather different, wouldn’t you say?

But there’s a more important difference than the picture quality between my cell phone and my Nikon D-3100. One picture shows me more-or-less the way I really look. The other is–guess what?–a reverse of what I really look like. It’s the way a mirror image is supposed to look.

So, yes, those window reflections accurately show my correct overall size and shape, but they don’t show the real me. Not the me other walkers at the mall see. Or my wife. Or anyone else who looks at me.

Like it or not, the cell phone selfie is a truer representation of my appearance.

No matter which way of looking at myself is more accurate, neither shows me the way God sees me. He sees me on the inside as well as the outside. He sees the person I am and the person I still want to become. Even while my body deteriorates with age, my spirit seeks to become more godly. More Christlike.

God sees that desire, and I believe it makes Him smile. And the thought of His approval makes me smile. Not at what I look like, but at Who I want to please with my whole being.

Are you satisfied with yourself at this stage of your life? What would you change? How about leaving a comment?


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A CraigsList Miracle

Okay. Maybe this tale doesn’t exactly fit into the miracle category. Not like when I survived acute viral encephalitis in the eighth grade without any ill effects after several days in a coma.

But it’s still pretty remarkable…

Some years ago I bought a “real” bass guitar. A Fender Precision, for readers who want precision about the details of the story. I loved it and thought I’d want to keep it forever.

Although I’d been a guitar player since I was a junior in high school, I started fooling around with bass probably around 1970.

I went through a series of cheap basses, but I only used them for home recording, and the ones I’d used were adequate. Sometimes I also played bass in church, and when I had the money to get the Fender, I did. Presumably the last bass I’d ever want or need.

About a year ago–I’m sure of the time because I was practicing the bass part for the Christmas musical and having to tote my heavy Fender back and forth between home and church–I decided it was time to buy a second bass. I settled on an Epiphone Viola, which was appreciably lighter than the Fender. I liked the sound so much I decided to use it at church and keep the Fender at home for practice.

What I didn’t pay that much attention to is the fact that the Fender is what’s called a “long-scale” bass and the Epiphone is a “short-scale.” That has to do with neck length, and that–of course–affects the width of the frets.

But this year the heaviness of the Fender–I’d developed muscle pains in my chest wall–and having to make mental adjustments in playing when switching between the two basses had really gotten to me in practicing for the Christmas musical. So I decided to sell the Fender and get another Epiphone.

I already knew that music stores don’t begin to pay as much for a used instrument as the owner thinks it’s worth, but Guitar Center would pay only $190 in order to sell it for $315. Hmm. Did I mention that the Epiphone I wanted was $350?

The family budget wasn’t set up to handle the difference, so I decided to try CraigsList. Since the guy who’d helped me at Guitar Center thought I could probably get $350 for it, that’s what I listed it for, although I would’ve been willing to compromise.

Within a day I had a serious nibble from someone who asked if I wanted cash only or whether I would consider a swap. I replied cash…unless he happened to have an Epiphone Viola bass to swap.

And would you believe he did? And he wanted the Fender because he was having problems going from a short-scale bass to a long-scale–the exact reverse of my problem.

He sent me pictures of his bass, and it appears to be in good condition. We’re supposed to be meeting this morning (the day I’m writing this, not the day it’ll be posted) to check out one another’s basses in person.

I’m trying not to get my hopes all the way up, but it’s not easy. After all, what are the chances two people would even potentially be able to make such a perfect swap? As far as I’m concerned, God had a lot to do with this happening. He knew what I needed before I even thought to ask Him for it. Thank You, Lord.

Have any stories about purchases or swaps you’ve made? How about leaving a comment?


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Best regards,

Snowballing Debt


Those of us who’ve been blessed with living in places that have occasional snow are probably all familiar with the process for making a snowman. First we form a snowball. Then we set it down and start rolling it around the yard. It gradually grows to the size we need for the bottom half. Then we repeat the process for the upper body and the head and put each part on top of the one that goes beneath it.

A very clever and successful process if the snow is the right kind.

But what happens if we roll a snowball until it gets too large to pick up, much less to set on top of another oversized snowball? It just sits there and frustrates us…unless we choose to pare it down to a more workable size.

Debt–credit cards, especially–is very much like that. It’s easy enough to keep our charging under control at first. But too many people just keep rolling that snowball until it becomes unmanageable. I wonder how many of them keep charging more and more and only make the minimum payment each month. It’s too easy to do.

And then they wonder whether they’ll ever get out from under the debt they’re accumulating. It’s a sad story, isn’t it? I hope it’s not yours.

But if it is, financial expert Dave Ramsey–I highly recommend his “Financial Peace University”–has some tips that really help. I want to focus on the one that helped my wife and me zero out our total debt in two years. (No credit cards, though; we’ve paid those off each month for a number of years.)

Dave calls this method “snowballing.” Interesting that he could take the word commonly used to describe debt that’s out of control and use it to describe the solution.

You start by listing your debts in ascending order of the unpaid balance. For example, suppose you have the following scenario:

  1. Car #1:  $2,000 still owed (payment $400)
  2. Car #2: $8,000 still owed (payment $400)
  3. College Loan: $12,000  still owed (payment $350)

Then you add some of your unbudgeted income–you may need to cut out some non-essentials to do that–to the normal payment. Let’s say you pay an extra $200 a month on Car #1, making a total of $600. You will have paid off that car in four months rather than five. Not a major difference, but you’re heading in the right direction.

Then you add the $600 you’d been paying on Car #1 to your payments for Car #2–a total of $1000 per month. Car #2 will be paid for in eight months rather than twenty. Now that’s a difference worth getting excited about.

And, finally, you add that $1000 to the $350 for the college loan for a total monthly payment of $1350. What would’ve taken thirty-five months to pay off is zeroed out in just nine months!

Can you believe it? You have gotten out of debt, reducing $22,000 to zero in twenty-one months rather than having your debt keep dragging you down for sixty months.

It takes discipline, though, and to many of us discipline is a dirty word. But–if debt is a problem for you–which is worse, doing without enough of your wants to put a cap on your debt and work on reducing it systematically or getting more and more of the things you don’t need and watching your debt snowball further out of control?

My wife and I definitely prefer Dave Ramsey’s kind of snowball.

What do you think? How about leaving a comment?


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Best regards,

A Different Look at Teamwork

If you read this past Wednesday’s post, please feel free to skip this paragraph. I wrote about the importance of learning to function as part of a team, using some of my own experiences as examples of how the failure to be a team player can create problems. Humongous ones.

Although I was talking primarily about teamwork on the job, every area of life that involves other people requires a certain amount of teamwork. Whether it’s me mowing the lawn and vacuuming while my wife cleans the bathroom or not butting in line in front of someone at the grocery store, society depends on our ability to play our roles properly.

The Bible has some interesting things to say about that. The apostle Paul was writing to the church in Corinth. And here’s part of what he had to say:

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. (NIV)

Although he was talking specifically about people in the church having varying roles, what he said is also relevant to society as a whole. In one sense, the world population is one team, and no member of the team is more important than anyone else. Each of us is needed, and we must all work together in a general sort of way in order to remain at least marginally civilized.

If I should knowingly drop a piece of trash on the floor in the mall, my action affects the custodian. Yes, his job is to pick up trash, but I’m not a good member of the “earth team” if I knowingly make his job harder–or cause someone to trip and hurt himself on the trash I drop. If I should knowingly exceed the speed limit enough for a policeman to pull me over, I’m making his job harder than it needs to be.  But I may also be endangering another member of the “earth team.”

Even though the policeman’s job in helping to maintain safety seems more important than that of the custodian, I both  people are parts of the same body. Parts the body couldn’t function without.

What do you think? Is the application of the quoted Scripture to humanity in general too much of a leap of faith? How about leaving a comment and letting the rest of us know what you think.


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Best regards,

Thoughts on Teamwork

If you’re like me, you’ve undoubtedly heard somebody who used to play on an athletic team make a statement like this: Everyone ought to participate in organized sports as a teen. Learning to work with others is important and being on a team is a great way to do that.

That makes sense, even though the closest I came to being a team member was in disorganized backyard baseball as a pre-teen. I probably wouldn’t have been permitted to play if the backyard hadn’t been mine. I was equally unsuited for team play in junior high and high school gym class.

Not because I was uncooperative. Not because I didn’t try hard. But because I was a terrible athlete, no matter what the sport. Age hasn’t improved things any.

As an adult, teamwork didn’t seem overly relevant in my first two careers. As a secondary school English teacher, I interacted with fellow faculty, but what I did or failed to do didn’t affect them any more than their activities affected me.

As a counselor/interviewer for the Maryland State Job Service, I was one of several people doing the same job in the same office. How I did my job affected my clients, though. Not fellow staff.  Or so I thought until the very end of my working there.

I was scheduled to move away and begin work in Virginia as a computer programmer, and I managed to leave a huge amount of paperwork undone. Paperwork I had always detested doing. I’ll never forget the look of disappointment on my supervisor’s face when he saw it. He didn’t have to say anything. I’d thoughtlessly let the people I’d never thought of as a team down.

I enjoyed a certain amount of solitude in my programming. Solitude and independence. I don’t think I really appreciated the effect my work had on other members of my team until the time I faced such a major deadline that my inability to get my part done actually gave me anxiety attacks. The pressure was too great, and I went home the day before everything needed to be completed, pretending to myself as well as to everyone else that I’d finished my part.

I hadn’t. I deserved to be fired.

Instead, I watched my job performance go further downhill until my company needed to do some downsizing. I didn’t have to wonder whether I would be laid off. It only made sense. If I couldn’t be a functional part of the team, I didn’t deserve to be there.

I spent three years on the register at Target, awaiting the time I could retire early. Thank goodness I’d finally learned my lesson about teamwork. I just wish I’d learned it years earlier. Organized athletics wouldn’t have done it for me, but surely something would have.

Who are you? Are you a team player or more like the way I was for too long? How about leaving a comment?

I’ll have more to say on this on Sunday. Please come back again if you’re interested.


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Best regards,

Count Your Many Blessings

Are you familiar with the old hymn that says in part, “Count your many blessings; see what God has done”? Although I don’t hear it often–it probably sounds old-fashioned to people who’re more accustomed to today’s contemporary Christian music–it does pop into my head from time to time.

And for good reason.

As someone who takes seriously what the Bible says about every good and perfect gift coming from “above”–that is, being gifts from God–I place gratitude high on my list of priorities. Even the least of God’s gifts is far more valuable than I can ever  pay Him back for.

And if I could–if I needed to–it wouldn’t be a gift. Gifts have no strings attached.

One of my original songs goes like this:

What good can I do? What good can I say
That’s good enough to pay the Lord for loving me?
There’s nothing I can do. There’s nothing I can say
That’s good enough to pay the Lord for loving me.

What bad can I do? What bad can I say
That’s bad enough to keep the Lord from loving me?
There’s nothing I can do. There’s nothing I can say
That’s bad enough to keep the Lord from loving me.

So, what then can I do? What then can I say
To thank the Lord for loving me?
I’ll do everything I do. I’ll say everything I say
In the name of the Lord Who never stops loving me.

Any way you look at it, none of us deserves God’s goodness. His love and His mercy. His forgiveness. Life on earth right now and life throughout eternity.

If you know me–even if you don’t–you undoubtedly realize that I’m not very good at living my life in a completely God-pleasing and God-thanking way. I believe that’s true of all of God’s children, although some of them seem to do at least an outwardly better job of it than others.

One thing I never fail to do when I pray–something I do at least a couple of times daily–is to express my thanks to God. At the same time, I acknowledge that He is so much bigger–so much vaster–than I can possibly imagine. Compared to His perfectness in every way, my shortcomings, my failures, and my sins must look horrible.

Must look horrible? Not really.

Everyone who’s accepted Jesus as the Lord and Savior of his life has become a Child of God. So God wipes all of those bad things away from His sight. God loves His children. He provides for them–for us. Every good and perfect gift. We don’t deserve that. Not even the most righteous of people is as righteous as God. All the more reason to express our gratitude to Him the best we can.

Are you thankful for God’s provisions? Do you remember to tell Him? And to try to live in a way that shows Him just how appreciative you really are.

Please feel free to leave a comment. I’ll see you again on Wednesday.


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Best regards,