Thursday, August 28, 2014

Process, results, and Mark Driscoll

In my last sermon, I opened with a bit about "destination people" versus "journey people." It wasn't meant to be serious, or to provoke much serious thought. It was mostly to help people to relax and engage with the text of Exodus, which is a book about Israel's spiritual journey out of slavery and toward their destination of the Promised Land. So it was fascinating to me that after the service, as people were making their way out and greeting me (as is still tradition in our church), that a friend stopped me with a serious comment about this illustration.

He told me that journey vs. destination is another way of talking about "process orientation" vs "results orientation." Which is true. Some people don't care about how something is done, only that it is done. For others, how you get there is at least equal in importance as that you arrive. This led to a further discussion about politics and also about church ministry. My friend told me that he is usually more process than results oriented. I lean the other way.

The conversation was sharpening for me in light of recent events involving Pastor Mark Driscoll. I have read much of what Mark has written and found much of it beneficial and helpful (esp. Doctrine) and enjoyed a few of his sermons. Moreover, I respect the fact that his church, Mars Hill, has been able to effectively share the Gospel with so many people (esp. young men) in a city as aggressively secular as Seattle. I did have questions, as many did, about various comments he made or actions he took, but somehow, through a combination of my own spiritual immaturity and results orientation, I largely ignored the warning lights.

Now the warning lights have given way to smoke pouring out of the engine. I have no desire to join in what has become a generalized internet pile-on. Yet, I do think that pastors (like me!), who tend toward seeking results above all do well to pay attention to what has occurred. Too many of us were willing to ignore evidence of immature and ungodly behavior in Mark because his ministry was going so well. There really were lots of people coming to faith in Jesus. There were churches being planted. And that's what many of us pastors (again, including me!) hope will one day happen in our churches too. At our best, we want to see those things happen not out of some megalomaniac desire to build a monument to ourselves, but because we really do believe that faith in Jesus Christ is the dividing line between heaven and hell and that life is only found knowing Him. So out of love for others, we greatly desire to see as many as possible know and love and follow Jesus.

Yet it is apparently easy for that good desire to transmogrify into ugly self-exaltation. May I and my fellow pastors never be granted influence that outruns our character, nor allow ministerial results to so overrule the process of obtaining them that we discredit the Gospel message we so earnestly desire to spread.

A sharp sword

Like most men, I have found that maintaining my "covenant with my
eyes" (Job 31:1) is a difficult fight, at least at times. Our culture confronts me (and us) daily with opportunities to see and sinfully enjoy that which I (and we) should not. Our culture's movies, TV, news sites, advertising, and yes, our neighbors provide virtually endless sources of temptation. Yet our temptation need not become sin. It is possible, in spite of temptations, to live in a holy way.

A while back, I read parts of Kevin DeYoung's The Good News We Almost Forgot. I don't remember a lot of the book, but one beautiful little nugget has implanted itself deeply into my brain. He refers to Matthew 5:8 ("Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God") as "a sword for the fight against lust." So it has proved. For the past few years, whenever I have been tempted, I have recited that verse to myself as part of my efforts to "take every thought captive" (2 Cor. 10:5, my emphasis). It reminds me that my desire to find satisfaction through what I can see is not simply wrong; it is also misdirected. It's not that I want too much, but too little. The pure in heart will see God Himself, and the sight of Him will make all else pale in comparison. Nothing and no one in all the world is so desirable or beautiful that they are worth missing out on seeing God in all His glory and greatness.

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!