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.