Thursday, August 7, 2014

Abortion, cohabiting and our moral intuition

Two recent incidents in my own life illustrate the reality that we all possess moral intuitions, and whether we want to admit it or not, our own hearts convict us:
 
Incident #1 involved a recent online "conversation" which reminded me why I tend not engage in many of them. It was about abortion and the forms of contraception (like Plan B, for example) that sometimes "work" by preventing implantation of a fertilized egg (aka an embryo or early stage human) and I was, as gently as possible, offering the opinion that abortion, whether surgical or chemical, is morally wrong. In reply, I was told in no uncertain terms that I should shut up because I was a man, and religious besides (apparently that adds up to three strikes!). Wisely or unwisely, I persisted for a while, until my highly agitated conversation partner told me that all I really wanted to do was control women's lives with my religious dogma and besides, she wanted to reduce abortions, which is why she recommended Plan B and its compatriots.I found that last bit revealing. It reminded me of Hilary Clinton's famous line that she wanted to keep abortion "safe, legal, and rare." (To know much about the abortion industry is to conclude that its practitioners have evidently concluded 'one out of three ain't bad', but I digress). The bigger question is "Why 'rare'?" Why should my internet interlocutor feel compelled to tell me she wanted to reduce abortion?

Incident #2 involved a couple from a while back who told me that they are cohabiting, but keeping it quiet from their children until their upcoming wedding. Again, why should they respond that way? If there is nothing of which to be ashamed, why keep the fact that you are sleeping over a lot from your children?

The answer is obvious: because in your deep heart you know that there's something not quite holy about what you have decided to do. Moreover, you are trying to convince yourself that it is good in spite of your moral intuition to the contrary. The Scripture unsurprisingly proves itself true. We are adept at "suppressing the truth," (Rom. 1:18), but it relentlessly pops up again like a beach ball held under the ocean, condemning us with our own lips (Rom. 3:15). This is an example of common grace, meant to drive us toward finding the repentance and forgiveness we innately know that we desperately need. May we all find freedom from all our sin and shame in Christ Jesus.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A hunter is born

Karen went hunting with me for the first time the first year we were married. I shot three squirrels on that particular stalk through the Hoosier National Forest. Karen had a good time on the trip and enjoyed being with me doing something I love, but as I recall, she wasn't much interested in learning to do it herself. In more recent years, we have talked about getting her out in the woods "when the kids are older." Well that day has arrived. Our kids are now old enough to be able to stay home by themselves for a few hours without a babysitter while the dear wife and I slip out for coffee, or a walk, or a hunting trip nearby. Last fall it got serious. Karen bought a deer tag and sat in a treestand. The deer didn't cooperate for either of us during gun season, but she conquered the most difficult challenge of it, which is getting in the stand, 20 feet up, and sitting there with enough focus to be able to shoot if a deer appears in range. We drew turkey tags this past spring but despite early excitement on the one morning we got to go, no toms came close.

Squirrel season opened on August 1st and Karen asked if we go for the opener. I took time off work and away we went. The woods near home where I like to go was still, buggy, and sweaty, but the result was this:

Those are the faces of happy hunters, smiling despite a collection of mosquito bites on our hands and heads that made us later look like Looney Tunes characters after they get hit by a mallet (despite generous application of bug spray beforehand!). She is smiling with accomplishment and joy. I am smiling because a dream I have held close since I was first married is now fulfilled. My bride has become a huntress!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Traveling Circus

This year has been the year when we have traveled the most. I went to Oklahoma with my brother in March to shoot the ingredients for good barbecue, then in June we all went down to the beach for two weeks of sand and surf with my Mom, Dad, and big Sis.
Legoland in Schaumburg

Then we took Sara and Ashley up to Timber-Lee Christian Camp in East Troy, WI for a week of spiritual growth and fun in the sun. The rest of us spent the night in Kenosha, went to the Civil War Museum, Villa de Carlo, Tenuta's, and a tour of the Jelly Belly warehouse, capped off with a visit to the Lego store.

After all that, we dropped Karen off at O'Hare for a two week trip to Amman, Jordan to see some dear friends that live there. That night I met my in-laws at the house. They left with the boys for several days at my sister-in-law's new home in southern Illinois and playing with the cousins before heading east to my parents' house for a week of sheep wrangling. I picked the girls up at camp on Saturday the 12th after they had a phenomenal week. Sara got in all the horseback riding and training she wanted, made some good friends, and learned a lot. Ashley got to exercise her flair for all things dramatic at theater camp (Favorite part? Stage combat)and made some key decisions that are paying dividends in her spiritual life, plus had her usual easy time making every member of her cabin a friend. One of my favorite parts of camp is seeing the kids' enthusiasm for worshiping Jesus and experiencing spiritual growth.

Sara with two buddies

Ashley with her counselor and cabinmates




While the girls were gone, I spent my days working at church and my nights replacing the floor in Nathan's room. (And yes, I know you don't see the whole room done yet, but it was a victory to get the furniture back in. There's still a closet yet to do, then the hallway and two more rooms!).

Down to the subfloor
Almost finished!



 
Karen, tired but full of joy, at the Amman airport
I should also add that this was the first time since Karen and I have been married (18 years!) that she has been off on an adventure and I have stayed home. Plus, for the last 13 years, we have had constant pretty much noise in the house. A week of just me and the dog kickin' it together was quiet and lonely. So getting the girls back home was a huge blessing! I got to talk with them, they got to hang out, catch up on Dr. Who, help me put the house back together, and participate in youth discipleship (which they have been missing a bit). Last Saturday was the day when both the boys and Karen came home. It was a grand reunion, but we are still recovering in some ways. Karen is still jet-lagging pretty hard, and there is still luggage needing put away. We finally got to see all of Karen's photos last night and hear her tell all about what it's like to float in the Dead Sea (which you can do standing up!), wander through miles of Petra's rock carvings, stand on Mt. Nebo and see Israel but not go in (like Moses!), see the place where Jesus was baptized, visit the ancient citadel where Uriah the Hittite died, and spend time with dear friends.

 Everybody is back now. The boys obviously need more exercise (hmmm...wonder if the city will let me keep some sheep?), and this Sunday John takes off for his 1st ever week at Timber-Lee while shortly after that Sara will be going to Washington, D.C. for a few days of sightseeing with a friend and her family. By the time we get everybody home for good, it will be time for school and JFL football to start up again.The circus is still moving, but I am glad I get to play ringmaster.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Hog Wild

I turned 40 this past August and my dear bride Karen decided to soften the blow of my entry into middle age by sending me on a wild hog hunt with Cabela's Outdoor Adventures, further cementing her status as World Champion Wife. Since I didn't think it would be nearly as much fun to go alone, and I relish every bit of time I get to spend with him, I invited my brother Steven to go with me and he was only too happy to go.

With that in place, the planning and anticipation stage of the trip began. Steven starting researching rifles, and I started blowing the dust out of my .30-06 with 150 grain Winchester Power Points. I had bought my Model 70 back in 1999, when Karen and I were still living in Texas and I had fantasies of going hog hunting down there. Somehow, four children and two pastorates later and I had never fired it at anything other than targets. It was time to fix that. Six months and a lot of dreaming, packing, and shooting later, we were ready to go. Steven found a great deal on a (very gently) used Kimber .270 and another one on a Meopta scope. He also got the directions to the ranch. We left first thing on Monday, March 31st, with plans to be at the ranch by dark.

Well, we didn't make dark. That is, we didn't make it to the ranch we would be hunting at dark. A mix-up with the outfitter meant we were at the other ranch owned by the same outfitter, conveniently located some 2 hours west of where we needed to be. Oh well, it's only another 2 hours down the road on top of our 12 hour drive, right? We rolled in quite late, but we were greeted by the guides, dinner, profuse apologies (and later, a check for the extra mileage).

We unpacked and rolled out of bed the next morning at 5:45 to meet the guides at 6:15 and go hunting. It was a beautiful hunt, with deer and turkeys wandering around keeping us occupied. Steven didn't get any action on hogs, but about 9:30 I had a herd of pigs come trotting through, but did not stick around waiting on me to pick out a boar. At 10:30, my guide showed up in the truck, which flushed the herd back out into some open woods 200 yards away. I rested the rifle, and a hog dropped at the shot. Later that night, we found another one in the same area--the one I actually intended to shoot. When I shot, the bullet passed through the chest of hog #1 and landed in the cranium of hog #2 (which is why she dropped immediately). The night hunt wasn't productive for either Steven or I. We both missed nice boars at last light. Mine was another 200 yard shot, and apparently lightning doesn't strike twice in the same day. Steven's was about 1/2 that distance, but he didn't discover until the next day that his rifle was shooting 6" low of point of aim, hence his bullets were sailing under the hogs and hitting the dirt.


My "bonus" pig
The pig I intended to shoot, but didn't locate till evening

Steven with his sow.
The next day, Steven got his scope adjusted and then headed to his stand. On arrival at the stand, two sows took off running. I should mention that when pigs run, they are experts at flat out getting gone. But Steven threw the rifle up and dropped one with a spine shot at 110 yards. Redemption! Honor restored! My stands, meanwhile, weren't productive at all on the second day.

I shot another big sow at dusk on the last evening, this time with Steven's slug gun at about 35 yards. Boom! A quick twitch, then the lights went out for good. I had another opportunity at a boar about an hour later, but had to move to get into position and spooked him.


Last night pig


View from the Lodge-Eastern Oklahoma in spring is beautiful!
All in all, it was an amazing, fun hunt and one I would readily do again. Definitely among the best birthday presents I ever received, and a great memory made with my brother. The ranch is both huge and beautiful. The "little" ranch we hunted was "only" about 13,000 acres, while the one we landed at initially is over 28,000. I'd never seen spring in the eastern Oklahoma cattle country before, but it is beautiful. The guides were nice guys and worked hard for us. The cook made great food. And in case you're wondering, wild pig is delicious!


God and happiness

"I think God wants me to be happy." So goes one of the standard explanations of many Christians who are either currently, or about to be, engaged in something they know God forbids. It is a lie, yet we are endlessly self-deceptive when we are determined to prostrate ourselves to some makeshift deity we have made, for the moment, supreme lord of our lives. Yet all such "gods" turn out to be hard masters, destroying even the pleasures they initially offered with the much larger and more overwhelming disasters that follow in their wake.

C.S. Lewis, as usual, puts it far better than I when he wrote:
Of course this law has been discovered before, but it will stand re-discovery. It may be stated as follows: every preference of a small good to a great, or a partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice was made.
Apparently, the world is made that way. If Esau really got the pottage in return for his birthright, then Esau was a lucky exception. You can't get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first. 
In other words, pursuing happiness instead of pursuing Him who brings joy will not, in the end, result in happiness but in emptiness and misery. But putting Christ first and obeying His will, produces joy and happiness as a by-product. You cannot sin your way to peace, joy, and the good life any more than you can grow wealthy by burning your money in the fireplace.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

On means and ends

One of the things I have been learning in my walk with God has been to stop confusing means and ends. What I mean is this: there have been long periods in my Christian life where I looked to God more for what I wanted Him to do for me rather than simply wanting to be in relationship with Him. The things I wanted were not bad things. I wanted freedom from sins I found oppressive to my soul and that I knew were offensive to God. I wanted healing from Crohn’s, a chronic disease that has limited me in a variety of ways since I was a teenager. I wanted my kids to be not just good kids, but godly ones, who sought the Lord on their own and in whose hearts Jesus was very real. I wanted to see our church grow in both depth and attendance. And I still want those things and I still believe that it is entirely right to pray and seek the Lord for them. But I am learning that in pursuing these (and other) desires that I was missing out on authentically loving and worshiping Jesus simply because He is worthy of it quite apart from what He can (and may yet!) do for me. I was at risk of loving the gifts of God more than their Giver, of treating my Heavenly Father more as a means for achieving my life goals than as the Chief End and Purpose and Goal of life Himself. 

Recognizing and then repenting of this idolatrous pursuit has been something of a process. As I said, it is something I am learning to do, not something I have learned. Yet I am learning to rightly order the desires of my heart, to put loving and worshiping Christ first and last and far above any outcome or goal as I realize more and more how unbelievably gracious God has already been to me. I am learning to want God Himself far more than any benefits or blessing He might, in His amazing grace, confer. And in this, I am, I think, learning to truly worship God.