Thursday, December 27, 2007

A humble God

A couple years back, Fox had a TV show featuring two upper class wealthy socialite girls who agreed to relinquish the accoutrements of their upscale life: their chauffeurs, BMWs, cell-phones, credit cards, trust funds, and fashionable clothes. They did this in order to experience the decidedly downscale life of a more normal person. The show was called The Simple Life, and starred Paris Hilton, the Hilton Hotel heiress, and Nicole Richie, the daughter of ‘80’s crooner Lionel Richie. They dressed in semi-normal clothes, and got jobs doing a variety of things like dairy farming, sausage making, cattle ranching, working in a hair salon, and serving as hotel maids. It was designed to be a comedy and was played for laughs as the girls were totally incapable of doing a variety of things that a lot of the rest of people are able to do without thinking. I never watched the show, but I remember thinking, when it was on, “Why would someone who already has plenty of money ever agree to do this? I don’t need that much humiliation, never mind having it broadcast on national TV.”

And yet, the contrasts between even that human example what God did for us in Christ couldn’t be starker. I mean, think of it this way: Paris Hilton is heir to a family fortune worth $300 million dollars. She only has to “suffer” through life as a normal human for the few weeks it took to shoot each season of the TV show. And even though she is, for the purposes of the show, living like a “regular person,” everybody both on the show and watching it knows that, in actual fact, she’s a rich hotel heiress with access to more money and power than most of us can even imagine. But this is far beyond that. When Jesus came into the world, he gives up everything permanently, for the entire duration of his time on earth. Philippians 2:7 says “he made himself nothing.” The original Greek literally reads “he emptied himself.” Even though, as the Bible says, He was and remained God, he didn’t cling tightly to the power and prerogatives that He deserved and enjoyed as God. Instead He gave up the independent exercise of all of his divine power, and submitted its use entirely to the will of God the Father. The God who created time became subject to it, and experienced life as the same succession of moments with a past, a present, and a future, just like we do. The God who made the universe by his Word got tired and hungry and needed sleep and food. And He who had since time immemorial ruled the universe from a throne surrounded by singing angels crept into the world as the child of Jewish peasant girl.

Instead of royal robes, the King of Kings was wrapped in rags laid in an animal’s feed trough. And if it weren’t for the angelic announcement, there would have been no worshipers of the newborn king. As it was, the only ones present to worship Him on the night of his birth other than his parents were a bunch of smelly shepherds, since the Magi wouldn’t show up for several more months at least. And He who determines who will rule and who will not has to flee for his life with his parents due to a jealous king who can’t abide the thought that anyone should rule in his place.

Philippians 2 also says He who was in very nature God got a new nature, that of a servant of God, a man. And while he retained equality with God, he became just like us, made in human likeness. It’s amazing for me to contemplate. A God who grows up, gets pimples, and learns a trade. He who hung the stars in place learns to saw and shape wood and pound nails as a carpenter. And on top of all that, during His time on earth, virtually no one recognized him for Who He was. In fact, at one point, members of his own family came to lock him up, because they thought He was crazy. And then, in one of the supreme ironies of history, the God who loved man enough to become a man is killed by the men he came to save.

All of this raises the same question in my mind that the TV show, The Simple Life did. Why would somebody who has all of that power, wealth, and glory agree to undergo that much public humiliation? In Paris Hilton’s case, I think the answer is that she considered the notoriety and the money and the potential for more of both to be worth the sacrifice to her dignity. But why would God be willing to undergo the sacrifice to His dignity. Apparently because He considered me and every other person who would place his faith in Christ to be worth it.

And knowing that, there is nothing I can say to appropriately respond.

True Christians?

I recently read a review of Dinesh D'Souza's latest book, What's So Great About Christianity? The reviewer, David Klinghoffer, is an observant Jew, an that fact caused him to raise a few penetrating questions regarding Christianity's complicated history with Jews and the Jewish faith. Specifically, he questions D'Souza's perceived minimization and or revisionism regarding the Inquisition and the Crusades. Apparently D' Souza argues that the Crusades were defensive wars against Islamic aggression and that the Inquisition only killed 2,000 people over its 350-year existence, a number which compares quite favorably with those killed on behalf of other religions (e.g., Islamists killed more people than that on one day in 2001, while atheist National Socialists and Communists killed some 100 million+ between 1920 and 1990). Klinghoffer regards such arguments as a bit disingenuous and unconvincing at best.

Moreover, Klinghoffer objects strongly to the idea that D'Souza can dismiss as "not true Christians" some of the people who have committed horrible atrocities despite their profession of faith.

How should a Christian respond to such charges? Permit me to suggest the following:
  1. The Crusades are a response, not an attack. Islam conquered all of the Middle East, all of North Africa, nearly all of Spain and was advancing into what is now Turkey by c. 750 AD. All of these areas had been overwhelmingly Christian since at least the time of Constantine (c. 320), with many having a predominantly Christian population well before then. Anyone who has witnessed the slow-motion genocide of Darfur and Southern Sudan in recent years and noted the parallels to Islam's historic spread by the sword can't escape wondering whether armed resistance wouldn't be a better practical policy than helplessly waiting for one's murderers to arrive. After all, the armed resistance of Southern Sudan has won peace, a measure of independence, and freedom from the death, rape, and mutilation that used to be a feature of daily life, while the people of Darfur mostly wait helplessly. While this says nothing about the theological issues at hand, mass slaughter of non-Muslims does at least tempt a normal person to want to respond in kind and at least try to protect one's co-religionists. Which is what occurred, beginning with the 1st Crusade in 1095, after 400 years of Islamic aggression.
  2. The Crusades were a rational response, but a disaster for the Church. While I think the Crusades were understandable, given the circumstances, I still think that they were an immeasurable tragedy. In the Crusades, Christians internalized the values of their attackers-that war could be "holy," that death while engaged in holy war was an automatic ticket to heaven, and that possession of earthly territory and power was the kind of Kingdom our King had in mind. These attitudes led to the slaughter of Jews and peaceful fellow Christians in Constantinople while on the way to "holy war" in the Middle East. I think the big reason why this transition was so easily made had to do with the "Christianization" of the Roman Empire under Constantine, which was also a huge disaster for the Church.
  3. The union of Church and State makes it especially necessary to distinguish true from false Christians. Many sections of the NT (indeed some whole books, such as James) spend significant energy exhorting people about the fact that not everyone who claims to be a Christian is one. When Christianity became the culture and enforced by the power of the State, then this pre-existing reality became even more acute, because officially at least, everyone was a Christian. But this is clearly not true from any fair comparison of the actual lives of some "Christians" and the NT, any more than it is true that everyone in ancient Israel was a true worshiper of YHWH (else why all the denunciations of idolatry by the prophets?). Thus, I find it not only convenient (Klinghoffer's accusation), but also highly likely that those who murdered peaceful Jews and fellow Christians were no more like authentic Christians than a soy burger is to the real thing (That is, while there are superficial similarities, the real thing is distinct in all the ways that really matter).
  4. While Christians get blamed for European anti-Semitism, that's not Jesus. Anti-Semitism is one of the ugliest sins that some Christians (among them notably, Martin Luther) have fallen into. Yet I wonder whether such feelings of hatred are more of a pre-existing cultural phenomenon than they are a feature of Christianity as such. The reason I think that may be the case is that while Christianity is virtually nonexistent in most of Europe, anti-Semitism is on the rise there and is regarded as respectable within large segments of European society (usually cloaked in the veil of anti-Zionism). Moreover, America is the most philo-Semitic country other than Israel that has ever existed even though roughly 25%-35% of its population is Christian. How can this be if Christians are to bear the blame for European pogroms? Finally, the greatest slaughter of Jews in history came not through the Church (or even those claiming association with Her), but from those who adopted Nietzschean atheist philosophy and Marxist economics (i.e., the National Socialists or Nazis), a phenomenon which could not occur until the Church was dying out.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Visions of sugarplums

There is no more magical thing in all the world than being a kid on Christmas day. Fortunately for me, I never entirely grew up, so a little Christmas magic still remains for me each year. I simply love giving gifts and watching the surprise and wonder on the kids' faces when the wake up and find the tree surrounded with presents. This year has been my favorite Christmas with my children so far. Everybody seems to have gotten what they really wanted, with a profusion of Barbies, princesses, and assorted "girly-ness" (bubble bath, stationery, miniature puppies, clothes, etc.) for my daughters and dinosaurs, Transformers, tools, and guns for the boys. By the way, isn't it interesting that it's Christmas 1985 in all of the toy stores? I hadn't seen this many Transformers, Cabbage Patch Kids, Star Wars figures, Care Bears, and Strawberry Shortcake dolls in a store since my own childhood. All they need is He-Man and the Masters of the Universe to make my trip down nostalgia lane complete.

Karen made her traditional Christmas morning cinnamon rolls. Lunch was getyourowni. Dinner was a glorious brown sugar glazed ham with green beans, cornbread dressing, and Mediterranean herb bread. Dessert was going to be peach pie topped with freshly whipped cream, but we were too stuffed.

It was a good day.

Spirit and truth

One of the most memorable conversations in the Gospels is Jesus’ meeting with a Samaritan woman at the well in Sychar (John 4). As Jesus’ comments veer closer to uncomfortable areas of her personal life, she tries to engage him in a theological discussion about side issues, such as whether its right to worship God on nearby Mt. Gerizim or in Jerusalem. But Jesus refuses to be distracted. He quickly answered her question, but then came right back to the main issue, which isn’t the where of worship, but the who and how. He says, “a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks” (John 4:23). In making this statement, Jesus is implying an important question for the woman: are you a true worshiper, who worships the Father in spirit and truth?

I believe that Jesus’ question is an important one for us to answer as well. Everyone who has placed his faith in Jesus’ death on the cross for his sins and resurrection from the dead is, in some sense, a true worshiper of God. But even followers of Jesus Christ can falter when it comes to worshipping in “spirit and truth.” We don’t always worship God in ways consistent with the truths revealed to us by God’s Spirit nor do we always keep worshiping God in spirit and truth as the focus of our worship services. Sometimes we Christians get more focused on side issues like the location of worship, the style of worship, and the other people involved in worship than we are on exalting God in a way that is consistent with His truth as revealed by His Spirit in the Scriptures.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Spiritual leadership

Over the past few weeks, the dw and a friend of hers have been engaged in a spirited discussion of what characteristics a man should have to be considered a "spiritual leader" in his home. I have, for the most part, simply sat on the sidelines of this discussion watching and being entertained by it. But it has caused me to do some thinking on the subject and to wonder if the reason why we often hear so much about husbands being the spiritual leaders of their homes is that modern-day pastors were simply too chicken to say that husbands were simply "the leaders" of their homes without the qualifier. That sounds all too plausible to me, given the direction of the wider church in the last 50 years or so. Maybe the whole "spiritual leader" bit is modern Christianity's concession to the feminist movement, seeking to maintain some level of biblical truth without making the whole thing seem so antiquated and patriarchal. Because after all, 1 Peter 3:1-6 seems to make it clear that male leadership and female submission are biblically defined roles even if the husband is an unbeliever.

At any rate, I have decided to leave the sidelines and join the game. Here's my take on what characteristics should be present in a Christian husband's life:
  1. A Christ follower. This may seem obvious, but too often I have seen Christian women marry ostensibly "Christian" men who show no evidence of commitment to Christ. There is no desire to grow in knowing Christ, no desire to serve Christ, and little interest in the things of God in far too many "Christian" homes. I feel great compassion for the women in these marriages, but I suspect that the men they married are very much like they were before the wedding. 1 Corinthians 7:39's statement about marrying "in the Lord" is meant, at least as I understand it, to be more than simply a box to check off on the way to the altar. A man who isn't "on fire" for Christ prior to the wedding very likely won't be afterward.
  2. Sexually pure. Our times have brought an explosion of opportunities for sexual immorality. And many men who are "physically pure" (i.e., they haven't had physical contact with anyone other than their wives) are nevertheless impure with their eyes and thoughts. 1 Corinthians 7:1-7 and Hebrews 13:4 should describe every Christian marriage, with Song of Solomon and Proverbs 5:15-19 the standard to strive toward.
  3. Self-sacrificial. Ephesians 5:25-33 says, in summary, that husbands must be willing to sacrifice themselves for their wives, just as Christ sacrificed himself for His bride, the Church. A lot of men would willingly lay down their lives and make the ultimate sacrifice if it came down to it, but too many of us relinquish our selfish desires while we remain alive only with great difficulty.
  4. Fiscally responsible. 1 Timothy 5:8 says a man must provide for his family's financial needs and that failure to do so is a denial of the faith.
To be clear, I don't think this is all that is expected of Christian men ever. I think that every man should strive toward the requirements for elder in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. But a man who meets the minimum standards outlined above should still earn the respect of his wife as a spiritual leader.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Just give me freedom!

I have been somewhat at a loss as I try to figure out the candidate from among the several currently on offer for which I should actually vote. Almost all of them seem to possess entirely the wrong instincts for my personal taste. Looking at the leading candidates on the Republican side we have:
  1. Mitt Romney: Fervent Mormon and recent convert to the social conservative club. Making his campaign about his experience as an effective manager of large bureaucratic organizations (Bain, the Salt Lake Olympics, the Massachusetts government). But the solutions he offers are more a refinement of the bureaucracy than a transformation of it. He never asked, for example, whether government health care is a good idea, only which means of providing would work best.
  2. Rudy Guiliani: I respect Guiliani for his work in transforming New York from a crime-infested hole of a city into the safest large city in the world. But he has a long history of antipathy toward gun-owners, government reduction measures like the line-item veto, and is very soft on illegal immigration, and a big supporter of the freedom of speech choking monstrosity that is also known as "campaign finance reform." Where is the love for freedom from the government for the average citizen from this guy? While he has a record of punishing evildoers, he also has a long history of restricting the freedom of the law-abiding to accomplish that objective. Sorry, Rudy, I can't support you either.
  3. Mike Huckabee: Rock-solid from a pro-life perspective and an evangelical to boot, but shaky on the role of government. I mean seriously, the guy thinks it's the job of the federal government to legislate where and when people can smoke cigarettes. Where is that in the Constitution? Or for that matter, his view that illegal immigration is okay, that an expanded role for government in health care, education, and on and on is a good thing. Is there any place in our society over which Huckabee thinks government should have no oversight?
The Dems, if anything, are worse. Where is the candidate making the case for less government rather than more? I suppose, when the election finally rolls around, I will vote for the candidate who is less of a statist than the alternative, but what a depressing choice.

I guess what I want is a government modeled on Romans 12, where Paul says government's job is to protect and uphold what is morally right and punish evil and evildoers (both foreign and domestic). Beyond those limited functions, I want government to leave me the heck alone! I've got to believe I'm not the only one who feels this way. So where is the candidate who thinks that way?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I've got to figure out how to post more often

Apparently, it has been nine days since my last post. Nine days! Which apparently means that the Christmas rush has overtaken me. Anyway, in the spirit of the great Thomas Sowell, here are a few random thoughts on the passing scene:
  • 5 a.m. seems a lot earlier than it used to. Maybe it's that it is dark longer and earlier this time of year.
  • Apparently, Mike Huckabee was on The View with Meredith Viera this week. I didn't see it, but I guess she accused him of "injecting religion into the celebration of Christmas." She was evidently shocked to discover that Christmas is indeed a religious holiday.
  • Speaking of Huckabee, as an evangelical I appreciate his celebration of his Christian faith as part of his campaign. I wish that his policy positions were as conservative as his theology. More than that, I worry that there is a fuzzy line between highlighting faith in Christ as part of who a candidate is and using that faith as a means for gaining votes.
  • Has there ever been anything more exciting than Christmas when you are a kid? I am experiencing again the joy of Christmas as I celebrate it with my kids.
  • Snow should be permissible in the Midwest from Thanksgiving until December 31st. After that, it should be 60 degrees again.
  • During the '92 campaign, when Bill Clinton lost big in Iowa, but came close in New Hampshire, he hailed himself as "the comeback kid." The Comeback Kid went on to win the nomination and the presidency. With Hilary apparently floundering in Iowa (at least, according to the most recent polls), are we to look forward to "The Comeback Kid, Part II"?
  • And speaking of Hilary, why has she not, after 6 years in the Senate, learned to tone down that distinctive Nurse Ratched quality she exudes with every public utterance?
  • Virtually every county in Illinois is overpopulated with deer, contributing to a huge number of car accidents and massive crop losses each year. So why does the firearms season on deer only last for seven days?

Monday, December 10, 2007

It's all a statist plot!

At the risk of sounding paranoid, the following news item came across my eyes today:

"More proof that Daylight Saving Time is a sinister plot by statists to control our lives: Hugo Chavez just enacted his own DST plan for Venezuela."-John J. Miller, NRO

Sunday, December 9, 2007

A cancelled service

Today was the first time I can remember when I was schedule to preach and didn't. I mean, usually when I'm scheduled to preach, I'm like the Post Office-neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor dark of night, etc., etc. will keep me from my appointed preaching. I've preached before with the flu, literally going from throwing up to preaching 10 minutes later.

So I wasn't quite sure what to do today. Not only was I not preaching, we didn't even have church. And I really can't remember the last time I was home and didn't go to church and worship. I was completely discombobulated. The cause of all this calamity? About 1/8" of ice that fell right around 8:00 a.m.

The upside of all of this was two-fold: One, I already have my sermon and Sunday School lesson for this week done, so that makes my week a whole lot simpler. And two, we had actual family devotions today. While we pray together several times daily, formal devotions have become pretty rare. But today, we got to have them. I read the Scriptures, Karen, the kids, and I all prayed together, and then we reviewed the story. It was a pretty cool way to spend the morning in the absence of worshiping together at church. Who knows? Maybe we'll even try to do this more regularly now that I know it isn't completly impossible with four kids age 6 and under.

Christmas reflections

As I watched our Christmas play, I couldn't help but reflect, even as I laughed and clapped, on a God who loves us too much to let us be separated from Him. How could that great Being come to us through a peasant girl's womb? More than that, why would He? I guess He wants us to know that He loves even the least of us more than we can fathom. But what humility! What amazing depth of love that not even the backwater peasants of the world's most hated people are forgotten by God.

And now, for something you'll really like...

I apologize to all fans of Rocky and Bullwinkle reading this for the title, but my last few posts have been a bit pessimistic about the world, and especially the world that my children will inherit. But tonight also had a lot to celebrate in it, for tonight was the Children's Christmas Program! This glorious affair had stage direction by Margie McCollough and music direction by Karen the Fair. The kids, as expected, did very well. They sang loud and well, remembered their lines, and were pretty cute (which, let's face it, is the main reason for having a Christmas program to begin with). John was awesome as Joseph and Sara and Ashley made excellent stars. Nate was too young to be in the program, but that did not prevent him from entertaining all those around us with his rendition of each of the songs (complete with motions!). I guess it's the price you pay for being in the music leader's family. I mean, after all, I never attended a single practice and I know all the songs by heart and every kid's lines.

My part in all of this festiveness was to watch Nathan (a bigger task than it might sound) and to share the Gospel at the end. I probably did better at one task than the other. But, it was a great way for me to continue looking forward to Christmas in the midst of the cold and ice that now coats everything outside. There's just something about kids and Christmas, after all, something that reminds you of the simple joy of celebrating Jesus and his coming. And that something, whatever it is, touched my soul this evening.

America Alone?

I've recently become a fan of Mark Steyn, who has long held forth on the dying of the West as a concept in Europe due to the very real death and decline of native Europeans there. Interestingly, as government there got bigger and bigger, the Church got smaller and smaller, as did European families. But an expanding population is required for the government to continue financing cradle-to-grave entitlements for all (such as France's annual six-week vacation for all workers and mandated 35 hour workweek). But where to get an expanding population when native Frenchmen aren't having enough children to replace themselves? Why, if we import people from Turkey and former African and Middle Eastern colonies, then that will fix it.

Problem is, these new immigrants are culturally unassimilated and often of Islamic faith, a dangerous combination in our modern world. If present trends continue, both continental Europe and Great Britain will be majority Islamic by 2030. And given the increasing radicalization of Europe's Muslims, what will that mean? I fear it will mean that America will find itself alone in the world, the sole defender of basic human rights, including freedom to convert to another faith without penalty (something Muslims in most countries cannot do, under penalty of death).

America Alone is the title of Mr. Steyn's book. In it, he gives detailed support to the views I have outlined above. He, along with the Candadian magazine Maclean's are currently being sued by a wealthy Saudi for "libel" for making these very points in a magazine article excerpting America Alone. The Canadian human rights council has agreed to take the case and review it for possible damages and the revocation of the right to publish the book, or excerpts thereof, in Canada. As always in these cases, the process is the punishment, even if you are eventually cleared.

Why is this an issue? Because Islamic radicals are, even now, in the absence of power and majority status using Western customs and laws to establish the functional equivalent of Islamic law, which proscribes the criticism of Islam or Muhammed. Incidents like this and the "teddy bear Muhammed" incident in Sudan recently are, I think showing us what the future will look like. And the future is scary precisely because many Americans are either too steeped in multiculturalism (anyone hear a feminist protest of the female teacher sentenced to 40 lashes for allowing her students to name the teddy bear?) or too afraid to resist. War has been declared, and it seems we are slow to recognize it, even though we are fighting Islamic radicalism in Iraq and elsewhere.

When the eventual open war comes, what will be the Christian response, I wonder? What should be the Christian response? Should Christians respond with love and missions work, as many here in the still-comfortable West assert? Or should Christians prepare for the reality that they may have to fight for their lives, as Christians have done in places like southern Sudan, Nigeria, and East Timor?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

But what's emerging?

The last post I wrote about the trends within Islam got me thinking about the trends within Christendom. While I think there is a lot to praise God about within world Christianity (unbelievable growth by conversion throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America, for example), there's a lot about Christianity in the West that is deeply worrisome. And I fear that we are, in our day also experiencing a "new Reformation" of sorts. Only this time we are not going "back to the Bible." Instead, many of us in the American church are following the philosophy of our day (postmodernism) right off a cliff. We are putting our theology "up for grabs" in books like Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christian and then wondering why the children we raise don't connect what we say we believe to how life choices are made (see George Barna's Transforming Children Into Spiritual Champions for depressing evidence of this phenomenon). The name we are giving to this phenomenon is the Emerging Church.

But the question in my mind is this: Just what is emerging? From what I see it's more akin to the creature "emerging" from the guy's stomach in Alien (which first kills the host then grows to eat everyone but Sigourney Weaver) than it is like new flowers pushing up through the prior year's dead stems. To the extent the church goes in an "emergent" direction, to that extent it will diminish and die. For life isn't found in our culture, but in Christ and in deeper faithfulness to Him. Truth is found in the Bible, not in mystic spiritual experiences or "dialogue" with those from other faiths. If these convictions make me a theological obscurantist, so be it, but I fail to see the need for the Christian faith to "reform" in a way that takes us further away from, rather than closer to, the belief that Christ (as revealed in the Scriptures) gives us "everything we need for life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3).

Okay, I feel better now. End of soapbox.

The Islamic Reformation

So I was reading a little of The Corner this week and found one of the back-and-forth exchanges there quite interesting. The thought was this: For some time now, lots of US pundits have been commenting on the need for an "Islamic Reformation," by which is usually meant some sort of reconsideration of the central tenets of the Islamic faith that causes Muslims to be more tolerant of modernity, more accepting of ideas like freedom of speech and the equality of women, a lot less "death to the infidels" and a lot more focus on personal faith in Allah. But what if the Islamic Reformation either already happened or is currently happening and what we are now experiencing is the results of it? In other words, what if Saudi Wahhabism and its fellow travelers are the result of the world's Muslims going "back to the Koran" in the same way that Luther, Calvin, and the Reformers went "back to the Bible"?

I'm inclined to think that is precisely what has happened. Despite what the President, Secretary Rice and other wishful thinkers have been saying since 9/11 about Islam being "the religion of peace" and "a few crazies that have hijacked a great religion" not being representative of "true Islam," I'm tending toward the belief that they have it precisely backward. That is, what we are witnessing is a modern Islamic revival of ancient Islamic faith and practice. Whereas not too many years ago most Muslims were "cultural" or "folk" believers more concerned about appeasing the jinn (evil spirits) than a pilgrimage to Mecca or engaging in jihad, it seems increasingly the case that Muslims around the world are awakening to the claims of their faith and taking them seriously. Which means that we in the West are in for a long, bumpy road, I think.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A wife of noble character who can find?

She is worth far more than rubies. - Proverbs 31:10
This week at our men's group we were talking about "Husband & Wives in the Marriage Cockpit." One of the discussion questions asked all of the men present to share with the group one strength that their wives had. Good men invariably can't wait for an opportunity to brag on the excellencies of their wives, and I certainly wasn't going to miss an opportunity to brag on mine. In fact, doing so made me realize that I've never used this space to salute Karen. So honey, if you're reading this, here's just a partial list of some of the things I admire about you:
  1. Discernment. An intuitive sense about people that is much more finely tuned than mine. She picks up on little comments and actions that I miss and readily identifies people's strengths and weaknesses far before I do.
  2. Organization. Highly gifted in administration and in balancing a multitude of small and large tasks all at once. Amazing, really.
  3. Thoughtfulness. Always thinks of others' needs and how particular choices might make someone else feel. Quick with a card, an encouraging note, a phone call, and a prayer.
  4. Love. What can I say? Honey, you're the best.

So, how big a boy are you anyway?

My three-year-old son John desperately wants to be “big.” He is convinced that he is missing out on most, if not all, of the really great parts of life because he is too little and too young. Moreover, since he is a child, he still has a distorted sense of time. He regularly makes statements like, “Daddy, when I’m four I’ll be big and then I can…” (e.g. drive a car, go hunting with you, go to school, etc.). I have to explain that while, yes, he will be bigger and more grown up when he is four, he still won’t be quite old or big enough to do some of these things. At the same time, I don’t want to discourage him in his desire to for greater maturity. After all, God ultimately hasn’t tasked Karen and me with raising four godly children, but with raising four godly adults.

I've been reflecting on this a lot the last couple days. I wonder some times how I'm doing at getting "bigger." I am certainly bigger physically than I was when I got married (too many good meals from the dear wife, not enough activity). But how much have I grown spiritually? Am I eagerly desiring to grow "bigger" so that I can do the things "big" people do? When I turn 35 next year, will I be more or less spiritually mature than I am today? The spiritual life is never static, after all. We are either growing ever more like Christ or else we are moving further away from that goal.
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. – Ephesians 4:14-15 (NIV)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Accountable Man

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am going through Steve Farrar's Point Man with my Wednesday morning men's group (I think this is my 5th time through the book with a men's group). Today we were talking about "Aerobic Kneeling," which is Farrar's description of having regular times of prayer. Steve' recommendation just as 30 minutes 3x a week of aerobics is a good goal for physical health, so prayer 3x per week for 30 minutes each is a good goal for your spiritual health.

One of the other major points he makes about this is that success in doing this consistently requires accountability. That's precisely true. Without some form of accountability, most of us (and especially me) fail over time to be spiritually disciplined. In fact, I would go further and say that there is no long-term spiritual success without accountability to other believers. Our fallenness runs too deep, our capacity for self-justification and rationalization is too wide to achieve lasting spiritual change by ourselves.
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. --James 5:16

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

A cool photo

My brother-in-law is currently deployed with the USAF somewhere overseas. Here's the view from his cockpit window.

A tree or a pipe?

My men's group has been going through Steve Farrar's classic, Point Man. Today we talked about spiritual bulimia, which is taking in God's Word, but never letting it change you. We who are part of Bible churches are in particular risk of developing spiritual bulimia, because we are so easily confused about what the point of all our biblical study is. Many of us assume that the goal is to move from spiritual ignorance to spiritual knowledge. Spiritual knowledge is important, but it's only the intermediary step. The goal is to move from ignorance to knowledge to obedience.

The question, in other words, is whether we will be a tree or a pipe. Both conduct water through their structures, but only the tree is fundamentally changed by the interaction.

Friday, November 2, 2007

There are some things money can't buy...

The months since we moved to Chillicothe have been pretty challenging for our family. We are adjusting pretty well I think, but our health has been a big test for us. Here's the tally:
  • 1700 miles driven to and from various physicians
  • 18 doctor visits with the children and yours truly (including 1 checkup at Mayo in Rochester)
  • 2 trips to the ER (1 for Nate, 1 for me)
  • 2 surgeries: gallbladder for me, tonsils, adenoids, and nasal passages for Ashley Rose.
  • 2 rounds of croup, 3 rounds of strep, multiple ear infections, and so many bottles of meds we have lost count.
  • 1 very tired dear wife, desperately in need of a month at the beach.

Candy Quest (aka Halloween)

Every year at Halloween, we try to have the best candy to give out at our house. While I know many Christians aren't too comfortable with the idea of celebrating something with roots in ancient Celtic paganism, most non-Christians either aren't aware of those roots or simply think of it as a fun holiday regardless of them. And since we want to be a witness in our community, we buy good candy (Milk Duds, 3 Musketeers, Snickers, etc.)and keep the light on late. We have found that doing so gives us a golden opportunity to meet a lot of the neighbors and their children and to build relationships with them.

Karen mans the door and the bowl and I take the kids around. It works pretty well. Karen meets the neighbors who bring kids to our door, I meet the ones who are manning their homes for my little costumed candy maniacs. John went as Superman (of course!), Sara as a golden angel (complete with halo and wings), and Nate as a giraffe (yes, it was as funny as it sounds). Notably, they got lots of good candy from all of the houses we pillaged (er, I mean visited), with none of those nasty "candies" I remember from my own youth--the "chocolate" coins, red and white pepperments, or popcorn balls (who thought that was a good idea?).

Somewhere along the line, roles got reversed, with the kids getting cold and wanting to go home, and Dad campaigning for just one more house. Which just goes to show, candy sometimes gets in your blood in more ways than one...

Super John's definition of manliness

Last night was the end of a pretty rough day at the Horn house. Ashley's throat was on fire due to her tonsils coming out on Tuesday (apparently you have to feel a lot worse before you feel better with those things), the boys were not doing too well either after bouts with croup and strep, and Karen was pretty well done. So being romantic husband, I decided that last night would be Monical's pizza night.

John, Karen, Ashley and I all piled into the van (Sara and Nate stayed with Grandma & Grandpa) to pick up the pizzas. They were running a deal, so we got 1 large pepporoni and 1 large 1/2 cheese, 1/2 sausage. One the way home John gave us his theory of manhood (or at least boyhood).

John: "Mommy, a boy like me can eat pepperoni. But girls like Sara and Ashley need to eat cheese."

Karen: "John, do you think you have be a boy to eat pepperoni?"

John: "Yes, mommy. Only boys are strong enough to eat pepperoni. Girls have to eat cheese."

Karen: "That's an interesting theory, son."

Though I seem to have missed something somewhere, at least the message that boys aren't the same as girls and that boys should protect the girls from harm is getting through.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Missing Piece

When I was a kid, my family spent a fair bit of time working puzzles. For whatever reason, working puzzles was a family event and we would all gather round and work on them together until, at long last, the picture was finally complete. Almost always we’d be missing a piece or two at the very end and a frantic search would begin. Had it fallen under the table? Gotten kicked under a chair? Where was the missing piece? More than once, our search ended not on the floor but in someone’s pants pocket as we discovered that one family member, desperate for the great honor of putting in the last piece, had hidden it away there. Regardless, our search did not end until we found it. We looked both because we wanted the sense of satisfying closure that is the goal of working a puzzle and because we did not want the picture we had worked so hard on to be marred by its lack of even one piece.

The Christian life is also like a puzzle in some ways. Not in the sense of being complicated, or even in the sense of having a large number of pieces to make the picture. No the Christian life is like a puzzle because we have a picture we are using as a reference for the result we are trying to achieve. We read our Bibles and in so doing, we find out how our lives are supposed to look and what pieces we need for our lives to look like Jesus’ life. But you know something? The more Christians that I meet, the more I find that many of us are trying to assemble the puzzle with a big important piece missing.

That piece, more often than not, is personal evangelism. While we believe that evangelism is important and even support missionaries to share the gospel in other places, within 5 years of their conversion, most Christians do not have any non-Christian friends. And so, instead of having their life show a beautiful picture of Jesus, many Christians have a big hole where evangelism should be.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

You might be a pastor if...

Those of you who know me well know that I have long enjoyed Jeff Foxworthy's "You might be a redneck..." comedy bit. Well, my friend Bill has just posted a few lines about being a pastor in a similar vein. Some are simply funny, others fit into the category of "sad but true."

Check it out here.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A meditation on disqualification...

Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. -The Apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 9:26-27
Evidently, even Paul considered his own disqualification a live possibility. By this, he most emphatically did not mean the loss of his salvation. Instead, he seems to have in the mind the idea that the Christian life is like competing in the Olympics, where the best servants of Christ will be rewarded by God. But failure to master one's sinful passions can cause a person to be disqualified from reward. In other words, an inconsistent Christian life, which is only partially committed to Christ isn't worth rewarding in God's sight.

Which troubles me more than a little bit. In my life (and the life of every Christian I know, committed or not), there is always at least a little bit of a gap between the truths we believe and profess and the lives that we actually live. Even Paul, who was perhaps the greatest Christian to have ever lived, worried at least a little that he might not hear "Well done, good and faithful servant. Come! Enjoy your Master's happiness." If that is true for Paul, then what hope do I have of ever receiving "a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:11)?

Yet the more I contemplate it, the more I am struck by Paul's imagery. What he seems to be saying is that "yes, it is possible to live an unrewarded life as a Christian." But what he is also saying is that this possibility should not cause us to simply resign ourselves to a life of giving into our flesh and its lusts. Rather, that possibility should drive us to keep fighting, knowing that one day our fight will be over. The final bell will ring (or is it last trumpet sound?), and Christ will then hold up the hands of those who fought well and give them victory, a victory that was won not by their effort (though their effort is of course required), but through the power of His Holy Spirit working through them. In other words, as in all things, God's grace is over all, through all, and in all. Nothing I achieve that is worthy of God's reward will have come about through my power and effort, but through God's Spirit working His will out in my life. My job is to submit myself totally to Him, to be an open pipe through which Living Water can flow out to the world and to confess the clogs to Him. If I do that, God will be pleased to call me "good and faithful." And yet, if I am faithful it will be most like (as C. S. Lewis says) a boy who says to his father 'Give me sixpence to buy you a birthday present.' and the does so out of His love for His son.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The perfect and the good, part II

I had no idea that my post on abortion and evangelical politics would generate such a lengthy discussion. At least I now know how to get comments on my blog. However, rather than simply join in with the comments, now that I have (alas, temporarily!) emerged from my Vicodin haze, I wanted to offer a few more comments regarding this subject.

Thought One: According to the New Testament (e.g. Rom. 13:4-5; 1 Pet. 2:13-14), the purpose of a human government is to punish evil and uphold righteousness. Thus, it seems to me that where Christians can influence the direction of their government toward the upholding of righteousness and the diminishment/punishment of evil, they should do so. To me, that means voting for the candidate who is 1) likely to win and 2) whose election will have the actual result of diminishing evil and upholding good while 3) recognizing that the candidate who meets criteria 1 might not diminish evil as much as one who does not, but who might nevertheless diminish evil more than the other alternatives on the other side of the aisle.

Thought Two: Comments regarding the issues that Jesus and/or Paul did not address to me miss the point. As the leaders of miniscule movements and subjects of an imperial monarchy, neither Jesus nor Paul were in any position to alter the direction of their government. Thus, when they speak of government, they speak of giving government its due and obedience to governing authorities. A government situation in which Christians can not only vote, lobby, and give money to candidates but also hold high office is a totally different situation, which might merit slightly different theological emphases.

Thought Three: While my theology does teach me that things will trend from bad to worse, it also tells me that this does not grant me an excuse for doing nothing or doing counterproductive things. We celebrate Wilberforce, but no Wilberforce could have arisen granted the assumption that slavery was a permanent fixture that would always expand. Where evil can be beaten back, it should be. Moreover, though our Kingdom is not of this world, it does not mean we should allow the one in which we live as "aliens and strangers" (1 Pet. 2:11), to inexorably slide toward evil without any intervention from us. Anyone we love, we prevent from harming themselves. How does inaction (or minimal action) demonstrate love for our lost neighbors?

Thought Four: As Christian voters, our job is to work for the reduction of evil in our society. Abortion is a vast evil that should be eliminated to the degree possible. If it is only possible today to get a small reduction (i.e., by electing a pro-choice conservative like Guliani), that is still better than getting an increase in abortion (as would likely happen under any of the Dems). It is more important, IMHO, to preserve what children's lives we can than to take a stand on principle and indirectly be responsible for increasing the unborn death rate.

Thought Five: Though Christian's political positions on issues like homosexuality and abortion get a ton of press, Christians actually devote comparatively little time, energy and money to politics. For example, one missions organization (Campus Crusade) has an annual budget of $300 million+. That is more than the Bush and Kerry campaigns spent combined in 2004. By the time you factor in all of the money, time, and energy spent on all of the other kingdom causes (other missions organizations, churches, camps, etc.) it vastly outweighs Christian involvement in political causes. I believe this is as it should be, yet a little money spent on politics at this stage might help us with our goals rather than placing us in the odd position of shouting from outside the tent about what we want to happen inside it.

My latest trip to the ER

Shortly after my last post, I started feeling sick. I struggled through it for a couple days, but by Tuesday night, the abdominal pain was so intense that I had Karen see me off to the ER down at OSF. This proved to be a good decision, as there they were able to track the problem back to a set of gallstones that were supposedly asymptomatic a couple years ago that have now decided to make their presence felt. A couple shots later, I was on my way with a prescription for Vicodin and an appointment to see a surgeon today.

One of the shots was a pretty healthy dose of morphine, which sounds a lot better before the shot than after. It's a pretty gross medicine that made me nauseous (which required another shot to counteract), and I think somewhere between the shots and the Vicodin I started taking just afterward I saw the Purple Haze that Jimi Hendrix sang about.

I have subsisted on Triscuits and orange Gatorade from Tuesday night until lunchtime today, when I got to have a turkey sandwich with lettuce and bread, but no mayo. I also stopped taking the Vicodin sometime last night, so I would be reasonably coherent today when we met the the surgeon. So far, so good.

Surgery will be tomorrow at 2 p.m. I like the surgeon and he tells me I will be fine once my gallbladder comes out. Full recovery should be about 2 weeks, but I should be back to work within a week or so.

All of this to say, it may be a few days between posts, though I am going to try to post at least once more before I enter "Vicodin world" again and can't be held responsible for what I say and do.

Friday, October 5, 2007

The perfect and the good

Dr. James Dobson and some of his allies recently announced that, should only pro-choice or squishy pro-life people (Mitt Romney, call your office) become the Democratic and Republican candidates for President in 2008, they will support a third party candidate who is consistently pro-life. A few thoughts on this:

Thought One: If what they are looking for is a consistently pro-life candidate, why isn't Gov. Mike Huckabee positively rolling in campaign cash? He only has c. $600 k on hand even though he is solidly pro-life and a committed evangelical Christian. Could it be that perceived "electability" is more of a factor than Dr. Dobson and friends wish to admit?

Thought Two: What would happen if Dobson and company actually made good on their threat? Any of the following scenarios could play out, though none would be a healthy social development in my view-
  1. The least harmful scenario is that Dr. Dobson and friends aren't able to convince the majority of the evangelical voting population to support a 3rd party bid. If that occurs, the "evangelical" candidate "succeeds" in occupying the same electoral space as Ralph Nader-enough voters to swing a tight election, but not enough for more impact than that. The other bad effect of this scenario would be that it would convince many people that evangelicals are a fringe group (like voters for Nader or Lyndon LaRouche), who can be safely ignored without electoral consequences, thereby freeing politicians from both parties from paying even lip service to the sanctity of life.
  2. A slightly worse scenario would be signficant numbers of evangelicals defecting to a 3rd party. That would ensure a win by the solidly pro-choice Democratic candidate and have the additional "benefit" of tempting the Republican Party (evangelicals' natural home) to throw them overboard as unnecessary baggage since, after all, evangelicals would be the reason why there is now a Democratic president instead of a Republican one.
  3. As I see it, the worst scenario is that evangelicals do all defect to a third party. Since they currently make up only 30% of the Republican base and considerably less of the Democratic base, there are clearly not enough voters there to actually elect the 3rd party candidate. Which means effectively contributing to the election of a committed pro-choice president, who would then have a "mandate" for enacting his (or her!) policies, of which one would undoubtedly be the confirmation of additional justices in the mold of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (former pro-abortion attorney and current very liberal Supreme Court justice). This would effectively enshrine Roe v. Wade and Casey as the law of the land for another generation.
Some might read the analysis above and conclude that I am simply offering a "lesser of two evils" argument in support of whomever the Republicans nominate. And to an extent that is true. But my larger point is that it should be our goal to actually reduce the amount of real evil in the world, and I wonder if we are danger of letting our principled opposition to voting for even a squishy pro-lifer stand in the way of saving babies. After all, it is almost a certainty that a liberal president = more liberal justices on the Supreme Court = more abortion for the forseeable future. On the other hand, it is far more likely that a conservative president (even a pro-choice conservative) would do less in real terms to advance the abortion agenda because of the constraints placed on him by his electoral base. In other words, while a pro-choice conservative is unopposed to abortion in theory, the number of abortions would likely be less than under a pro-choice liberal in reality. And reality is what we need to focus on, for babies die in reality and not in the realm of principles and philosophy.

All of which is to say, in sum, "Dr. Dobson, please be careful what you wish for. You might get it and that would be a disaster."

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Big Fear #2

Though I am not that old, I have lived long enough to see men build a ministry that is a monument to their gifts, their drives, and their vanity. I have also seen the disaster that awaits them at home in the form of a passionless "ministry marriage" and children they do not know. What a tragedy for both that family and the Church! I pray that God will protect me from succeeding at all the wrong things, for in the words of the great philosopher Ferris Bueller:
Life comes at you fast. You don't want to miss it.

Date Night

Last Friday, Karen and I got to go on our first real date in a good while. Our gym dates continue, in fact we went on another one of those today. Friday one the other hand, was a date of the more old-fashioned variety. Since I was responsible for planning the evening, I picked a place that is now my new favorite restaurant, Johnny's Italian Steakhouse. Dinner was pricey, but well worth it, especially considering the fact that we hadn't had a date alone since before we moved to Chilli.

Our menu that night consisted of the following (Steve B., if you are reading, this part is for you!):
  • Salad: Karen had the house salad with balsamic vinaigrette. I had the field greens salad with gorgonzola and balsamic topped with a piece of freshly fried goat cheese. (Which sounds gross, but was actually tasty).
  • Appetizer: Maryland style fried crab cakes with remoulade
  • Entree: Karen had the crab & spinach lasagna and I had the filet oscar (i.e., topped with crab, steamed asparagus spears, and bearnaise). While Karen's lasagna was delicious, my steak was superb.
Altogether, I think this ranked as one of our top 5 dining experiences ever. We followed dinner with some casual shopping (both New York & Co. and Dick's Sporting Goods) and coffee at Gloria Jean's, then some serious shopping for barstools for our counter at Target and Wal-Mart (The children are no longer allowed to sit at our new table for snacks or meals other than dinner).

It was a great evening, one that reminded me why Karen and I have been happily married for so long. We really enjoy each other's company and doing even mundane things (like stool shopping) together. I am a blessed man.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

On writing a sermon...

Sometimes people wonder about the best way to write a sermon. I myself have become a student of the process. Follow the link below to the best description of the best process I have located to date:

Cup O' Joe with Bill: On Capturing a Sermon... the Caffeinated Way

By the way, this link takes you to the blog for Bill Allison of CADRE Ministries, a godly man with a Christ-honoring ministry to "regular churches" (like mine!).

Don't forget...

My friend Greg has been blogging of late about his big fears. Reading his posts over at holmesblend has inspired me to write about a few of mine.

One of my biggest fears is not that I will ever deny Christ (or worse, that He will ever disown me), but that I will simply drift in my relationship with Him and lose my desire to know Christ. And because it is a more subtle danger, I think it is actually more likely to be a problem. The crush of life seems to conspire against deep devotion until my faith seems more like a surface commitment than a life-altering covenant. And most people that walk away from Christ don't do so in one giant, dramatic leap of faith abandonment. Rather, they simply start to drift a little until a little becomes a lot. And the tough thing is, often you can't recognize how far you have drifted until you are very far away indeed, at which point it becomes easier to simply continue to drift.

And the problem is, it is easiest to drift not when things are hard, but when they are like I want them be, which is comfortable and prosperous. I have spent my morning turning the following passage over in my mind:
When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws, and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your flocks and herds grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. -Deuteronomy 8:10-14

Where's your country?

The story goes that years ago, when Henry Kissinger was serving as the Secretary of State, he used to call all newly appointed ambassadors into his office. Once they were seated he would tell them, “Before we send you out on assignment, I have one final test you need to take.” Then he would point to a globe and say, “Using that globe over there, show me your country.” Almost invariably, the new ambassador would point to the nation they were going to move to, perhaps Cameroon, or Ireland, or Australia, or even, back in those days, the Soviet Union. At which point Kissinger would turn to them and say, “I’m sorry to tell you that you have just failed.” Then he would walk over to the globe, spin it around, and pointing to the United States, Kissinger would say, “This is your country. Never forget that.” After that, they were dismissed to their new post.

You know, I think that little test displays a lot of wisdom. Kissinger knew that a long time of living in a foreign land can diminish your loyalties to your home country. You can get sucked into the culture of the place you are living and pick up its attitudes, prejudices, morals, and ways as you make contacts and friends among the local people. And all of that diminishes your ability to remember which country it is that you are supposed to represent. And all too often, it happens that an ambassador begins to represent his host country to his home country. So an ambassador can’t ever become confused about which country is his.

And you know what? A lot of Christians have the same tendency. The longer we live in a world that’s not our home, the easier it is "go native" and begin to reflect the attitudes, morals, and ways of the place we are living in and to forget which country is our home.
…they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better countrya heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. – Hebrews 11:13c-16

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

So whose side are you on?

I recently met the owner of the local funeral parlor. It turns out he is also the chief for Rescue 33, the local volunteer ambulance service. Which leaves me to wonder: Isn't one of your jobs a conflict of interest with your other one? I mean, if I'm in the middle of my myocardial infarction, do I really want to be wondering which side of this thing the guy doing CPR on me is really pulling for?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The sacred and the profane

As I sit writing this post, the Iranian President Ahmadinejad has been visiting New York. He has spoken at both the UN and at Columbia University. He also requested a tour of Ground Zero, the former site of the World Trade Center. There has been no little controversy about this, as many have noted the irony of a prestigious American university providing a platform for a man who vows "to wipe Israel off the map" and leads Iranian crowds in chanting "Death to America!" There has been even more controversy over the idea of this fellow visiting what has been described as "hallowed ground," especially since it would surprise no one to find that Ahmadinejad's government either directly or through its allies and surrogates funded the 9/11 operation.

Now while on a personal level, I find myself outraged that this avowed enemy of the United States is even allowed within our borders, my reason for bringing it up has little to do with politics generally or this particular crazy Islamist specifically. No, I mention it only because I think it illustrates our somewhat confused priorities.

Now I am not saying that national security and the threat from people like Mr. A above aren't real or aren't to be taken seriously. They are both more real and more serious than most of us would like to really think for very long about. But I also think it's interesting that while we are justifiably outraged by what we see as the profanation of a sacred place (Ground Zero), we are seldom anything other than simply bored when the profane intrudes upon what should be the spaced space of our own hearts and lives. I fear sometimes that I have become so used to seeing God as gracious that I no longer worry when I sin or even when I sin in the same way repeatedly. And while God is far, far more gracious than I can begin to fathom, he remains the thrice-holy God of Isaiah's vision. And why if I know these things am I not outraged at what I allow into the place in which the Spirit of Christ dwells?

Let the little children come...

I have been taking John to swimming lessons these past couple weeks. He seems to do better with a little manly encouragement (every time he does something he looks back at me, gives me the thumbs up and waits for me to return it), and Mom is usually in desperate need of a nap by lunch on Tuesdays, so it is working out well. On the way home today, we had the following conversation:

John: "Daddy, I can't imagine going to heaven."
Me: "What do you mean John? Don't you want to go to heaven?"
John: "Yes. I'm going to go to heaven when God comes back, but I can't imagine going to heaven."
Me: (Sensing an opportunity to clarify his theology) "John, are you sure you're going to heaven? What does a person have to do to go to heaven?"
John: (A note of impatience in his voice) "Daddy, I already believed that Jesus died on the cross!"
Me: "Oh. Well that's great John. Did you already believe that Jesus rose from the dead and paid for your sins too?"
John: "Well of course Daddy!"
Me: "Well that's awesome John. Did you know that I'm going to heaven too?"
John: "Yeah Daddy. You and me and Nathan are boys together and we're all going to heaven together. And Mommy and Sara and Ashley are girls together and they're all going to heaven together too, aren't they Daddy?"
Me: "Yes John. Everybody who believes that Jesus died on the cross for their sins and was raised from the dead gets to go to heaven."

I'm not sure what brought about this discussion. One minute we were talking about how many times he put his head under the water (for the record, it was 2), and the next thing I knew, we were talking about what going to heaven is like and how somebody gets to go there. Which I guess goes to show that "quality time" is a myth. How would I get quality time with my son without quantity time? And who knows when opportunities to talk about Jesus and salvation are going to come up?

More to the point, I couldn't be happier about the outcome of our discussion. I've been praying for my children since they were born that they would come to faith in Christ early. I have seen my prayers answered with each of the oldest three so far. Today's conversation confirmed things about John's faith for me, as he has been a little shaky up to now. Now if only God will also bring Nathan to himself and help the older three to confirm their profession of faith with their lives of faithfulness, I will be a richly blessed father.

Words fail to express the depth of my gratitude to God for how He has used Karen and I to bring our little children to Himself. So I will simply close by saying "Thank you, Father!"

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Of babies and boxes...

I have been reading When the Game is Over, It All Goes Back In the Box, by John Ortberg. Ortberg is a master of taking simple truths and presenting them in fresh and challenging ways. The book, obviously, is about the Game that is your life and the fact that at the end of the Game, kings and queens, pawns, bishops, and knights all go into the same box, a casket, while any castles we have built pass to others to do as they will. So in other words, its a pretty depressing book, but it's worth reading because we tend not to think much about the reality that this world and its "stuff" are neither permanent nor worthy of our full devotion.

One of the lines from the book that I have mulled over a bit in my mind these past few days is the following:
Children were once told that babies are brought by the stork, but they were invited to say goodbye at the deathbed of someone they loved. Now they are given lots of biological information about how babies arrive but are told that grandpa is sleeping in a beautiful garden with flowers.

Gym Class, Part Deux

As I mentioned, Karen and I have joined the local Community Center. Today we decided to make a date to lift weights together. We dropped off the boys at the play room (which is staffed by a marvelous older lady and full of cool toys), then headed off to lift. Three things about doing this stand out to me: One, it was much more fun to share the pain and suffering with my dw. Two, when we were first married, I never would have believed I'd be taking my wife on a date to the gym. I guess it really is true what Mom used to say about dating being a state of mind! Three, my arms are so weak from lifting I can hardly lift them up from my body. I pray this last phenomenon does not continue.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Between Holiness & Hypocrisy

No, that isn't part of directions to my new house here in Chilli, although it is where I think I live most of my life. On the one hand, I believe and proclaim a message about a great and holy God, who offers His people a great and holy life with Him both now and in eternity. And on the other hand, my public proclamation doesn't always match the life I lead privately. My thoughts, speech, and actions don't always cover me in glory. And, I'll bet that if we're honest, most Christians (even the most devout), would admit as much. We are, in the words of Martin Luther, "sanctified saints with a tremendous capacity for beer."

What brings this up is reflection on the recent Larry Craig scandal and my own recent preaching on holiness. When news of the scandal broke, those on the right reacted with shocked bewilderment: "He did what?!" This initial reaction was quickly followed by sanctimonious calculation: "Senator Craig is beyond the pale and should resign! (undercurrent: before it negatively impacts Republican chances in the 2008 elections!)" While on the left, the reaction was mostly bemused sanctimony: "See. We told you so. No one can be consistently moral, so having no social moral standards is the best. Let your freak flag fly, baby! Then you never have to apologize."

Now the particular sins of Sen. Craig aren't ones that I am prone to. But I am neither shocked nor willing to simply endorse his choices. I'm not shocked, because I know that what Paul said is true: "in me (that is, in my flesh) dwells no good thing." And that is a statement which applies to us all, whether we have Sen. Craig's predilections or not. While we may not be able to look at his life and say, "There but for God's grace..." we can surely recognize the fact that we fall far short of both God's standards and our own. We are, in other words, all hypocrites to a greater or lesser extent. And yet the solution to our hypocrisy isn't simply to endorse sin on the theory that if I can't clear the hurdle, the solution is shorter hurdles. No, the solution is to cling to God's grace, to seek forgiveness and new life from the only One who is able to restore us to holiness and to keep running, even when we fall. The worst sin, after all, isn't hypocrisy, but the sort of resignation to rebellion which thinks no pursuit of righteousness worth struggling toward.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Your last big move

Moving has been the preoccupation of my life the past few months. While Karen and I are almost unpacked and have duly sworn to each other never to move again, we're still not totally settled. A few more boxes (mostly my hunting stuff) still need unpacked and darn few pictures are up on the walls. Ah well, winter is coming and there will be time for all that during the grey months of January and February. But the fact that I have recently moved gave a special resonance to something I read in one of the books I am studying. According to Jerry Seinfeld:
To me, if life boils down to one significant thing, it's movement.

To live is to keep moving. Unfortunately, this means that for the rest of our lives we're going to be looking for boxes.

When you're moving, your whole world is boxes. That's all you think about. "Boxes, where are the boxes?" You just wander down the street going in and out of stores, "Are there boxes here? Have you seen any boxes?" It's all you think about.

You could be at a funeral, everyone around you is mourning, crying, and you're looking at the casket. "That's a nice box. Does anybody know where that guy got that box? When he's done with it, you think I could get it? It's got some nice handles on it. My stereo would fit right in there."
I mean that's what death is, really-the last big move of your life. The hearse is like the van, the pallbearers are your close friends, the only ones you could really ask to help you with a big move like that. And the casket is that great, perfect box you've been looking for your whole life.
What will be the worth of my life, I wonder, when I make "the last big move?" What will be the worth of yours?

A Few Good Men

Years ago, when I was a student at Taylor and Jay Kesler was still the president, I remember him saying in chapel that a man should count himself lucky if he had enough good friends to carry his casket when he is gone. At the time, I thought that pretty morose, but now I think that's a pretty good take on things. At this stage of my life, I am probably in need of a couple more friends than previously (hence Gym Class, below), but I still feel like a lucky man because I can name four men who have been good friends to me the last several years and will likely remain so into the future.

One of those men sent me a selection from a book by William Thayer called Gaining Favor with God and Men. He had highlighted portions which he thought applied to our friendship these past few years, one of which says:

A good companion is better than fortune, for a fortune cannot purchase those elements of character which make companionship a blessing. The best companion is one who is wiser and better than ourselves, for we are inspired by his wisdom and virtue to nobler deeds. Greater wisdom and goodness than we possess lifts us higher mentally and morally.

I can't say it any better than that. Amen.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Gym Class

Today Karen and I went to gym class. Actually, it wasn't that bad. It didn't remind me nearly as much of the exercises in state-sponsored sadism that were my high school gym classes as I thought it would. In all seriousness, Karen and I (along with the whole Horn Herd) have joined the Pearce Community Center, which is an amazing facility, especially given the size town we live in. After signing all the paperwork and getting another lovely photo ID made (this makes 3 I've had to obtain for life here, for those of you keeping score at home), we were informed that before we could actually work out, we would need to schedule an appointment with one of the Center's personal trainers.

Which brings me back to gym class. The Center director is one of the prominent men in our church and the personal trainer we signed up for a slot with is the director of our Wednesday night children's ministry. Both are marvelous people, and were a tremendous help to us as we got properly "oriented" today. Our blood pressure, heart rate, and health history are now on file, and Sarah (the personal trainer) helped us develop a starting routine for both Karen and I. It was fun, actually less like gym class and more like opening a new, more healthy chapter in our lives. Now all I have to do is get up in the mornings and go.

Which reminds me. It's time for me to sign off this thing and get some sleep so I am not too exhausted to work out.

The Chillicothe Slugger

I am continually amazed at the different ways my kids are developing. Case in point: Around suppertime tonight, while I was outside manning the grill, Nathan brought me the wiffle bat and ball. He barely knows how to hold the bat properly, but he wanted me to pitch to him. He had kind of a weird stance, holding the bat at the bottom with his right hand and tucking it tight behind his right ear, but he actually hit the ball. Maybe the boy will be athletic? I'm not sure where that would come from, given his parentage, but there's always hope my kid will be the next A-Rod and he will want to help Mom and Dad retire in Tahiti, right?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

One Lord, one faith...

On Sunday I got the privilege of doing my first ever outdoor baptism. All the others I have ever done were in a baptismal tank inside, whereas this was in the pond at Great Oaks Christian Camp near Lacon. Seven people in all were baptized, included two teens, 1 adult and four children. It was a neat time. We went out to the camp immediately following the morning service, ate a potluck meal together (I am convinced that some of the ladies here have the spiritual gift of potluck), sang some songs and heard each testimony before heading down to the water.

For me, the testimonies are the most amazing part of a baptism service. Seeing how God's grace manifested itself at various times in various ways to a wide variety of people always leaves me in awe of God's merciful love. Watching and participating in things like Sunday are part of what keeps a pastor going in his ministry. Praise the Lord for those who are moving forward in their faith.

Monday, September 10, 2007

To iPod or not to iPod, that is the question

When I left my former ministry, one of the gracious gifts from those folks was a 30 GB iPod. It's black, engraved with an inscription commemorating the occasion, and highly cool. Now those of you who know me well know that I am not the "tech savvy" person in our house. If it's electronic, it's highly likely that I do not know how it works, but my wife does. (Incidentally, the same principle applies with sports). At any rate, over the past week or so we have been moving our mountain of CDs over to our iPods (Yes, we have two now. Karen wanted a stereo cabinet to hide the stereo and all the CDs in and another iPod with a docking stereo was cheaper, so there you go).

In the process of that occurring, I have been teaching through 1 Peter, which has quite a bit to say about personal holiness. One of the things I made a point of this week (accurate to the text, I believe) is that achieving holiness requires vigilance about what we put into our minds. Which leads me back to my iPod. I have some CDs which don't exactly uphold the finest aspects of a Christian worldview, but which nevertheless contain music that I enjoy. So I am in a quadary right now.

I am not under the Law, and grace allows me the freedom to listen to whatever I wish. But what if The Police or Alan Jackson are leading me further away from, rather than closer to, walking with God? And how do I know which is occurring? And to what degree is it important to maintain some familiarity with the wider culture? And if it is important to be culturally aware (even to the point of knowing pagan poetry well enough to quote it, as Paul did and I can), then how can one maintain cultural awareness without internalizing the culture's values?

Fashionably late...

Welcome to the first post of my new blog. As I write this, I feel a bit like the kid in high school who got on board with the fad du jour just as it was ending among the "cool kids." Nevertheless, I have been intending to launch this thing for several months, and if I am a bit late to the party, then such is life.

At any rate, my intention is that this space will provide a forum for family and friends to interact with me as I do some thinking out loud about whatever's on my mind each day. I am hopeful that reflection and interaction will also help to bring a measure of maturity to my thinking, so I pray that anyone reading this will give grace to a fallen man whose thoughts aren't always going to be seasoned with wisdom. Thanks for reading.