Sunday, December 28, 2008

I Heard The Bells...

Today I had the rare privilege of simply going to church. It's a rare privilege for me, because usually, when I am at church, I am "on" for the sermon. But today was a vacation day. My friend Jim was preaching back home and Karen and I got sit together (another rare privilege!) and listen to Jay Kesler preach at my in-law's church. He was wrapping up his latest sermon series on Habakkuk (!), which is a great book to study at the end of a tumultous year. I was greatly encouraged by the simple reminders that: 1) there is a God who rules from heaven; 2) His ways are past finding out; 3) that even if there seems to be little evidence of God's goodness and rule, He is still good and still sovereign.

Appropriately, we sang what has become one of my favorite Christmas carols, I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day. I love the words of the last stanza:
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep. The wrong will fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.
Happy New Year y'all. Please join me in bidding "Good Day" to 2008.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Meditation

Try to imagine that you are a shepherd. Day after day, night after night, year after year, your life consists of watching some sheep. And then, on one seemingly ordinary night, a night just like every other night, an angel appears. And Luke says that the “glory of the Lord shone around them.” I don’t know what the “glory of the Lord” quite looks like, but it appears to be an intense experience of light.

After all the darkness of the night, the men are temporarily blind. And in the midst of all that sudden brightness is a powerful, shining figure, one that leads you immediately to think, “This must be an angel” even though you’ve never seen one. The sight is so startling, indeed so terrifying, that you are literally shaking. And then the angel speaks, and tells you: 1) Don’t be afraid, because I’m bringing you good news; and 2) The good news is that the Messiah, the Christ, has been born, and you are one of the first people in all the world to know it. And then all of a sudden that single angel is surrounded by countless others, and they’re all shouting: “Glory to God in the highest! And on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Can you imagine what you would think? (After you got your heart re-started and your breathing slowed down!). For hundreds and even thousands of years of Jewish history prior to this point, the nation has been looking for the coming of Messiah, the One sent from God to reveal his nature in unique ways, to deal with sin, and restore the nation to all that God promised Israel in His covenant with her. And finally, God has come. He has invaded the world, coming as Messiah. And the first people he decides to tell, via angelic messengers? A bunch of sleepy shepherds in the Judean hills outside the village of Bethlehem. After you got over the shock, I bet you’d do what these guys did: go and check out the angel’s words, to be sure you hadn’t just been having some sort of weird group hallucination, brought on by too many sheep and too many nights outdoors with a rock for a pillow.

The funny thing is, they find things exactly like the angel said-they find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger, a feed trough in a barn. And so they tell the baby’s parents what has happened to them and what the angel said. The shepherds couldn’t shut up about it, so many people in Bethlehem heard about their experience. And the Bible says that “all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.” Which I think is Luke’s way of saying that “folks weren’t quite sure whether to believe their wild story or not.” After all, if you were God, would you make your presence in the world known first and primarily to a group of shepherds? Why not a king who could announce your coming with a royal banquet in your honor or at least a journalist, who could take photos of the angelic announcement? But no, an angelic announcement to a bunch of shepherds, a couple appearances to the parents to let them in on what’s happening, and a bunch of swirling rumors is all that God allows, even though the birth of this baby was the hinge point of all of human history, the beginning of the times when God will bring an end to evil and restore the world to the way it’s supposed to be.

It seems almost ridiculous, doesn’t it, that God would announce the birth of His Son that way? But the same things that make it seem ridiculous also lends it elements of wonder and of awe. What kind of a God considers shepherds of all people worth being the only people to whom a direct angelic announcement of this importance comes? The kind of God who makes all men, women, and children in his image and considers them all equally important and equally in need of the Savior He sent. The kind of God who sends His Son to be born, not in a palace to a reigning king and queen, but to an unmarried peasant couple in a barn, whose only claim to royalty is the fact that they are descendants of a line of kings who last ruled over 600 years ago. The kind of God, incidentally, who is humble enough to not only be born in low, despised, questionable, and even scandalous circumstances, but who is also humble enough to die the same way-low, despised, questionable, and scandalous.

After all, a big part of the wonder of Christmas, properly understood, comes from knowing the rest of Luke’s Gospel story. This baby born in Bethlehem was a baby born with the shadow of death already hanging over his cradle. Baby Jesus was born into our world of filth, and sin, and death specifically so that he might conquer filth and sin and death in each of our lives by his death on a cross-the most despicable, low, and scandalous way a person can die. In other words, he was born, according to God’s purpose and plan, so that he might die according to God’s purpose and plan.

And God’s plan was always for Jesus, the God-man, to be born, to grow up to be a man of power, miracles, and magnificent teaching who was killed for our transgressions and pierced for our evil, just as Isaiah the prophet said 800 years before Jesus. In fact, the apostle Paul calls Jesus “the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world.” God always knew that once He created humans, they would rebel against him and need a Savior. So he planned far in advance for that Bethlehem night with Mary and Joseph.

And when it all finally came to pass, the Bible says that Mary “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” She wasn’t sure exactly what to think about all that had happened to her and Joseph, or about all that the shepherds told them about what they’d seen and heard. And some of you may be sitting there, like Mary, wondering the same thing: “What do I think about this Christmas story?” Is it really true that God came into the world like this? Could that really be so? And could it really be true that Jesus was born only to die for me on that Cross years later? And could I really find forgiveness for all the things I’ve ever done wrong by believing in a man who started out life in a barn?

Let me assure you that the answer to all of your questions like this is “Yes.” You really can find forgiveness for your sins by believing in the God-Man Jesus, born as a baby in a Bethlehem stable who grew up to become the Crucified God who rose from the dead three days after his execution. God Himself came into our world in just this way-without much fanfare and in the humblest of circumstances to save you from your slavery to yourself and your sin and the penalty of death forever in Hell.

Let me also assure you that everyone who believes that can experience the wonder and awe of Christmas in a fresh way, recognizing that it’s not about tinsel and lights and Santa and shopping, or even about family and food, but about a God who loves us too much to leave us to die in our sins. It’s about a God who invaded human history, becoming a man, dying at the sinful hands of evil men, to save all of us evil men from our sins and take us to live with Him in glory forever.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Perfect Christmas Turkey

If you are like me, you have endured countless iterations of the standard holiday bird-roast turkey. Almost every variety of roast turkey I have ever encountered had a common theme-mounds and mounds of dry as desert sand white meat, made ever slightly more palatable by the application of gravy, ketchup, or some other vaguely liquid based sauce to help you lube the stuff down your throat. Which led me to the conclusion that the proper method for eating a roasted turkey consists of the following steps:
  1. Roast the turkey
  2. Eat the legs and thighs
  3. Throw the remainder (breast, wings, neck, etc.) in the trash
Numerous observational studies confirm that this is most people's secretly held opinion. Have you ever had anybody beg for leftover turkey breast to take home? No? I thought not. Isn't the automatic use of leftover white meat in most houses some version of turkey soup? Of course it is. (People with leftover turkey breast are like dying men in the desert: "Muust haave...liquid!")

But about 8 years ago, I made a magnificient discovery: fried turkey. Fried turkey sounds strange (do you batter it like chicken?), but tastes delicious. No other turkey cooking method comes close to the ambrosia which comes forth from the deep fryer. All of the bird is delicious, and all of it turns out moist. Best of all, you don't heat the house up to something like glass factory temperatures for four hours while cooking the daylights out of all that breast meat. Cook times are much shorter, even for a big bird. On top of that, since everything about the cooking method is big (big flames, big bird, big pot, big seasoning, big oil quantity), it feels like a distinctly masculine endeavor, like grilling, rather than something dainty (like basting or making anything French). My dear wife is greatly in favor of this last point, because it means she gets me out of the kitchen so she can do what she enjoys (making mashed potatoes, cornbread dressing, and the like).
Anyway, if you'd like to step up to the manly art of frying your own, here's the simple step-by-step:
  1. Purchase a turkey. Try to keep it less than 20 lbs., as larger sizes tend not to fit well in the fry pot. Make certain it is thoroughly thawed prior to beginning cooking.
  2. Purchase all of the items pictured below. If you can't quite make them out, the seasoning is Lawry's Perfect Blend Seasoning and Rub for chicken and poultry. The oil is 5 gallons (yes gallons!) of clear frying oil. Peanut oil is better, but very expensive. This type is about 1/2 as much and available at Sam's club, although you really only need 3.5-4 gallons, depending on the size of the bird. The metal items include a turkey frying stand, a stand hook, and a long-stemmed thermometer. You will also need a burner equipped with a fuel regulator and hose to connect to a standard grill size LP tank (which you also need). Helpful Hint: Sometimes, you can purchase all this stuff in a kit-burner, pot, thermometer, seasoning, etc. This is great if you can find it.
  3. Connect the LP tank to the burner and check for leakage with soapy water until no leaks are found.
  4. Fill the fry pot about 1/2 full of oil. Use less if you have a bigger bird, more if a smaller one, as the turkey will displace a lot of oil. The goal is just enough oil to cover the bird, with 4-6" of space between the oil and the top of the pot when the turkey is frying, so that there is no splashover (splashover leads to fire and a grease fire is something you do not want!). Helpful hint: Some pots, like mine, have witness marks stamped into the sides of the pot, telling you how much oil to add for turkeys of various sizes. These are enormously helpful.
  5. Clip the thermometer to the side of the pot, so that the tip of the thermometer is submerged in oil to a depth of 2-3".
  6. Light the burner.
  7. Place the pot of oil on the lit burner and begin heating.
  8. Prep the bird by removing it from the package and removing the giblets, neck, temperature timer (that weird pop-up thing) and anything binding the legs together.
  9. Coat the bird liberally with Lawry's and insert the frying stand through the body cavity of the turkey, first through the hole near the neck, and fishing it out the rear.
  10. When the temperature of the oil reaches 350 degrees, use your stand hook to carefully lower the seasoned bird into the oil.
  11. The temperature will immediately drop 25 degrees or so due to the cold bird, but as it cooks, the temperature will start to rise. Be sure to watch the oil temperature, keeping it between 325 and 350 using your fuel regulator. Do not allow the temperature to rise much above 350, as the oil may start to smoke (this is not good!).
  12. Cook the turkey for 3 1/2 minutes per pound, or until the internal temperature of the thickest portions of breast meat reaches 180 degrees. This means that a 15 lb. bird should cook in approximately 52 minutes, and a 20 lb. bird in about 70 minutes.
  13. Remove the bird from the oil and consume the tastiest turkey you have ever eaten. The skin is crispy, savory, and the perfect complement to the moist, delicious meat underneath.
  14. Fight over the last piece of hot turkey!

You know you want to try it now. All I can say is, once you have it done this way, you'll never go back to a roasted one. In fact, you'll wonder why anybody else puts up with that inferior stuff over the glorious thing you have created.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The good shepherd

November 19th was my seventh anniversary of my life as a pastor. It's been a (mostly) great ride and fun time of serving the Lord. But in the month or so since then, I've had occasion to reflect a lot on what it is that separates good pastors from bad ones. Here's my list:
  1. Lays his life down. Over and over in the Scriptures, when God places a man in leadership, the good leaders insist that God judge them rather than the people. They intercede with God on behalf of the people, and would rather endure God's judgment personally than see it fall on their people (see, for example, Moses, David, Jesus).
  2. Preaches the Word. This was Paul's word to Timothy: Do not preach your own words or in accordance with the prevailing winds, but in accord with the Word of God as you received it.
  3. Does the work of an evangelist. This was another word to Timothy, which I interpret to mean both sharing the gospel with others and teaching/equipping others to do the same.
  4. Is personally holy. This is, bottom line, what those lists of requirements for elder boil down to.
  5. Leads his own family well. Leading a family, especially one with small children, has proven remarkably suitable preparation for ministry (at least at times!).
  6. Does not "lord it over" the sheep. A pastor can't be a bully, but must lead with love.
  7. Is the servant of all. A good pastor serves all people, according to the gifts God has given him, to equip them to serve Christ and one another.
These are about all the major requirements I can discern from the Scriptures. Can you think of any others? Are there cultural expectations that aren't biblical? What do you think makes a good pastor?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Chicago Way

With the indictment and likely imprisonment of Gov. Blagojevich (the 4th of the last 7 governors to be so "honored"), it now appears that simply being the Governor of Illinois should be considered "probable cause" for law enforcement.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Losing a friend

Today we lost one of our own. Kent Sefton was one of pillars of Chillicothe Bible Church. He had been part of the church family since he was a young man and remained a faithful part of it until yesterday. After performing his usual good job of helping to lead the singing for worship, and attending his small group, he went to be with his Savior very early this morning. He was a good man who loved Jesus with all his heart. Dead at 53. R.I.P.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

And he gave pastors and teachers

The Lord called me to be a pastor. Of that I am firmly convinced. What I can't begin to answer is, "Why?" I could have been as ministerially successful as an attorney who loves Jesus. I could have built homes for the glory of God, like my father and brother do. Back in the day, before I got diagnosed with Crohn's, I wanted to have a career in the Army, or failing that, as an overseas missionary. But why God called me to be a pastor I'm not quite certain. Maybe because God has a great sense of humor?

I think that answer must be right. Because I love to study, write, preach and teach. I even love to pray when things in my life get challenging. Which means that I feel actually equipped for about half the job-the teacher part. But to pastor means to be a shepherd, caring for, leading, protecting, and feeding the flock. And that's the part for which I feel completely unprepared and ill-equipped and therefore the portion to which I devote the majority of my prayer time. Since I was formed by God and called by Him to this ministry, I can only conclude that my deficiencies as a pastor are purely intentional on His part-given to me as a way to prevent the arrogance to which I am prone and to keep me always dependent on the Father.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Joe's bookshelf, #3

I've been reading an amazing book called Death by Love: Letters from the Cross. It's the 2nd collaboration between Pastor Mark Driscoll (of Mars Hill Bible Church in Seattle, i.e., the theologically orthodox one) and Professor Gerry Breshears of Western Seminary. The book is a series of letters written to real people (with identity usually concealed). Each letter applies a portion of the Bible's teaching about the crucified Christ to the typically wrenching individual situation the person is encountering. It's a masterful use of solidly biblical theology to deal with deep and lasting issues of personal sin. So for example, to a woman who struggles with demonic oppression after a lifetime of witchcraft, Driscoll writes about the doctrine of Christus victor. To an evil man who molested and abused his children and wives, and who is therefore fearful of hell now that he is dying, he writes about Christ our ransom payment. Altogether, the book looks at the many faceted jewel of the Cross and shows how the Cross is the answer for all kinds of human depravity, including both the evil that we have committed and that committed against us. It's well worth your time.

Joe the Butcher

It's deer season and that means meat in the freezer for the Horn Herd, an event which I am very happy about. It's not every hobby where you can both have fun and feed your family at the same time. Thankfully too, I hunt with a couple of exceptionally gracious men who are happy to donate the majority of their annual deer harvest to the cause as well. This helps keep our annual supply of steaks, roasts, and burger up to a level where we don't run short of meat until late spring. That said, I have three more tags to fill (1 for shotgun, 1 for muzzleloader, and 1 for late bow season), so I am also hoping that God will provide at least some of our meat needs through my hunting prowess as well (I don't know if I should call it prowess, so maybe I should just say "my hunting," but nevermind).

Anyway, necessity being the mother of invention, I have learned how to do my own butchering. I've gotten fairly adept at it--I transformed two deer into steaks, roasts, and burger in a little over six hours (with a helpful assist from Karen). The upper photo shows me transforming a hindquarter into boneless roasts (round steak). With deer meat, you have to slice off all of the white fat, which is waxy and bitter tasting, make sure that any hair that may have gotten on the meat during skinning is removed, and cut off any of the really objectionable pieces of sinew (aka "silver skin"). Which is why the roasts aren't quite "round" in the lower picture, which shows the results of said process placed on butcher paper for Karen to package. As a man, it's nice to know that, if the economy ever gets really bad, I can always get a couple more tags, spend a few more days in the woods, plant a bigger garden, and still feed our family.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Gospel, as you've never seen it before

I saw this a few months back. Tell me what you think....

Life in the big city...

A friend sent me the picture, taken from his backyard. The Cooper's hawk is perched on the bird house my friend put out for the little songbirds. That mangled thing in the hawk's talons? One of the little songbirds. I wonder if he realized he would be feeding all the birds when he put up his feeders and bird house...

UPDATE: I stand corrected. It's not a Cooper's hawk, but a sharp-shinned hawk. Still, an awesome display of predatory beauty...

Not necessarily the news...

I don't know how many of you have been keeping up with the latest news about the Somali pirates, but the following has to be the funniest take on it I've seen so far:
Pirates who seize $100 million in Saudi sweet crude won't be satisfied with a bottle of rum and Jennifer Lopez or Beyonce at their feet. Booty is not what it used to be.
-Wes Pruden, The Washington Times

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Engineer Humor

For some reason, in both of the churches I have served, there are a plethora of engineers. They are wonderful men, but certain quirks and habits are common to all of them. Thus, I have become something of a connoisseur of engineer jokes. Here's few favorites:
  • How do you tell when you've met an extroverted engineer? He stares at your shoes while he talks to you.
  • To the optimist, the glass is half-full. To the pessimist, the glass if half-empty. To the engineer, the glass is twice as big as the specifications require.
  • Normal people believe "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Engineers believe "If it ain't broke, that's because it doesn't have enough features yet."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I think it's in the movie Rocky III when Rocky's old trainer tells him that what has happened to him is "the worst thing that can happen to a fighter: you got civilized." The same thing happens to pastors too. Every year, thousands of bright eyed young men graduate from evangelical seminaries full of starry idealism about how they are going to preach the Word, reach the lost, and equip the saints to be a city on a hill. Within six months, many of these will be discouraged and depressed. Within three years, many will be out of the ministry. Among those that survive the initial onslaught, many will survive not as dreamers, but as domesticated drones, finally content to serve as a community chaplain and a poorly paid (usually) lecturer about the great God of the Bible.

What makes the difference? It isn't training, for all of them get good schooling. It isn't spiritual discipline or theological fidelity, for there are many devoted disciples who become frustrated pastors. It isn't giftedness, for the landscape is littered with gifted men who left the ministry. It isn't even personal holiness, for I know many holy pastors who aren't in ministry full-time anymore.

What it is, I think, is whether or not God's Spirit is moving in a particular church. Which means whether or not God's Spirit is moving in particular people. But as Jesus said, "the wind blows where it wishes..." The reason Tyndale, Hus, and Wycliffe died reviled and cursed rather than honored as a great reformer like Luther or Calvin is that they were spitting into the wind, like many pastors do today. The challenge is to remain faithful in your ministry until the wind changes.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

My take on the election

I've been thinking a lot about the election and it's meaning for the country in the past week or so. I've decided a couple things:
  1. It's healthy and good that we have elected a black man to the Presidency. I would rather it had been Colin Powell back in '96, but nevermind.
  2. The major political parties no longer believe that America IS a great country. They either believe that America WAS a great country, but is now troubled (the conservative vision) or they believe that America WILL BE a great country once they get done "fixing" it (the liberal/progressive vision). But America, for all her flaws, is still the greatest country the world has seen for at least 200 years, and possibly longer. Where are the politicians that have the same conviction?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Everything you needed to know about the bailout, clearly explained

I got the video below from a friend. Classic Ma and Pa Kettle, with remarkable applicability to today's financial meltdown...

Friday, October 31, 2008

Reformation Day

Today is Reformation Day, the day on which, in the Year of Our Lord 1517, little Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg Church and touched off the Reformation. While Luther was not a perfect man, all who believe in Jesus Christ alone for salvation are forever in his debt.

If you have the time, you should watch the following video, which gives you the whole history of Luther's Reformation in 3:42. By the way, it's also a rap! Creative, informative, true and startling all at once. Not a bad combo...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I gotta get one of these!!!

If I had had one of these back in the day, I'm pretty sure I would have been the first 8 year old ever to rule the earth. For the curious, it's a full auto Nerf Vulcan cannon that comes on its own tripod. It takes 6 of the big D size batteries to power it in all its fully automatic glory, and feeds a belt of 25 Nerf "bullets." To top it off, it's on sale at Wal-Mart for something like 35 bucks. I wonder if you can buy extra belts to increase firing times...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Cynic's Political Dictionary

For your amusement, and perhaps enlightenment, I offer the following translation from politician-speak to plain English:
  1. Bi-partisan: Anything that is worse than the results a single party could produce on its own.
  2. Blue-ribbon commission: A group of people whose purpose is to enable politicians to appear to be doing something.
  3. Campaign: 2 years of constant hectoring by politicians about how theirs opponents' election will mean the end of civilization as we know it.
  4. Change: Making things worse.
  5. Comprehensive Immigration Reform: Amnesty for illegal aliens.
  6. Constitution: A document that politicians ritually pledge to uphold but routinely ignore once in office. Supposedly the ruling law of the land.
  7. Diplomacy: Appeasing dictators and thugs with promises of American aid.
  8. Economic Justice: Taxes on the productive members of society. See also "social justice" and "redistributive change."
  9. Fascist: Political Conservative (see also, "racist," "sexist," et al.)
  10. Fairness: Taxes
  11. Gaffe: Any clear statement of my true beliefs and principles.
  12. Hope: What politicians kill off once in office.
  13. Improvement: Regression.
  14. International Community: People who hate the U.S., Americans, and the values on which the country was founded.
  15. Lobbyist: Representative of a group of voters who support a cause I disagree with, but favored by my opponent. See also "special interest."
  16. Money: What it takes to change my opinion on an issue.
  17. Principled: Any actions taken by me.
  18. Progress: Change for the worse.
  19. Promise: Lie.
  20. Racist: Opposed to race-based preferences for anyone.
  21. Real Americans: Voters who support me.
  22. Redistributive Change: Communism
  23. Reform: Spend more money for worse results (see also "Change").
  24. Single-payer: Government funded through taxation.
  25. Social Justice: see "Redistributive Change"
  26. Special Interest: A group of voters that support my opponent.
  27. Stopping Global Warming: Imposing job-killing taxes on Americans while ignoring the policies of China and India, the world's worst industrial polluters.
  28. U.N.: An international body convening in New York in which thugs, thieves, and dictators are given the same vote as the representatives of free nations in the name of "international cooperation."
  29. Unethical: Any action taken by my opponent.
  30. Unify the country: Eliminate the opposition to my plans.
  31. Voter Registration Drive: Voter fraud
  32. Voter Suppression: Limiting the vote to citizens and non-felons.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Dow and the Election

Is it just me or has anyone else noticed that McCain's standing in the polls rises and falls with the changes in the Dow? Today's 800 point increase is likely therefore to help McCain and hurt the candidate of "spreading the wealth"/"redistributive change"/Marxism. What it also tells me is that there are a lot of people who tell pollsters they are leaning toward Obama who aren't so much "for" Obama as they are "against" the current state of our country's economy and overall health and associate McCain with the failures of the Bush Administration.

But McCain, for good and ill, is not Bush. Perhaps voters will see that, perhaps not. An Obama victory will be transformative for our country in ways a McCain victory will not be, many of which will be good (e.g., a compelling refutation to the idea prevalent on the Left that a person's success or failure in America is largely determined by his or her race), but many of which will fundamentally alter the character of our nation for the worse (e.g., putting in a new class of eternal entitlements that will bankrupt us, our children, and our grandchildren). A McCain victory, by contrast, will position him as the last check and balance on a Congress likely to be overwhelmingly Democratic, and with which he shares many policy goals (global warming cap-and-trade, immigration amnesty, etc.). For me, it's hard not to be depressed by the state of the country either way. Our spending and debt are out-of-control, our military is fighting large-scale conflicts against small-scale enemies, our educational institutions are turning out expensive graduates that know little, and no politicians out there seem to believe in America as it stands and has stood for 200+ years--the beacon of freedom and the source of much that is good in the world.

I'm too old to be idealistic anymore, but too young to be this cynical. Where is the leader who will unite the country behind her ideals? Where is the man who believes more in making America great (morally, economically, and geopolitically) than in assuaging the pressure groups of his party? I know one thing-he isn't running this year. Sigh......

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I'll take that bet!

Too bad this deal wasn't around/applicable when my dear wife and I were gettin' hitched...

Contest Offers Engaged Couples Who Abstain a $10,000 Wedding

Thursday, October 23, 2008

An abstinence education program in Georgia is offering couples who abstain from sex before marriage a chance to win a $10,000 wedding.

The nonprofit Marriage Appreciation Training Uplifting Relationship Education is offering the Marriage of a Lifetime contest to couples who live in Rockdale, DeKalb and Newton counties, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. But so far, there have been no entries, despite the looming Oct. 31 deadline.

“There is a romantic end of it, but we are also looking for a couple that is committed and who will work through struggles,” Phillippia Faust, the director of the abstinence education program, told the paper. “And we are looking for a couple that is choosing a lifestyle that is not compromising, and premarital sex is a compromiser.”

In addition to promising not to have sex before marriage, couples must agree to allow the public to attend their wedding as well as undergo premarital counseling, the paper said.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


The Early Church Father Tertullian is reported to have said something along the lines of "The blood of Christians is seed." I've had a bit of trouble tracking down the actual place which translates this way, so the quote may be apocryphal (as many good lines turn out to be), but it raised a thought experiment in my mind. What do you think of the following...

Is it possible that we are going about evangelism in so-called "creative access" countries all wrong? Legend says that many of the early missionaries to Central Africa packed their few possessions in a coffin so that when they were struck down by one or another tropical disease (or hungry native tribe), their mission could have the means for burial ready to hand. They went, in other words, despite their expectation of dying. In a similar way, missionaries in the early centuries of the Church went among the tribesmen of Northern Europe and the Middle East not secretly, but boldly proclaiming the gospel, come what may. Out of these efforts came the vibrancy of today's African Christianity and the Christianization of Europe, respectively. What if we tried a similar approach in the 10/40 Window? What if we were to recruit missionaries and provide them with cultural and linguistic training, knowing that their trip to such places would most likely be one-way? Is it really better to be a "tentmaker" in a closed country, building the faith in secret? Or is that merely the way that we rationalize our fear of martyrdom?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

And we're back...

I arrived home safely from Southeast Asia last night. It was an incredible trip, with many experiences that were encouraging and challenging and others that were as terrifying as I have ever had. I will post some pictures, but due to the nature of the trip, I can't post many details or give any names, even of the places we visited. I will be sending a letter with details and more photos to all those who agreed to pray and give toward my expenses. Anyone reading this who wants a copy of that letter can let me know. Meanwhile, enjoy reading a list of some of the things I experienced:
  1. Rice, rice, and more rice. Rice at every meal. Rice until well after I was sick of it.
  2. Rice noodles with squid for breakfast.
  3. HOT chilis on and in everything I ate.
  4. Squatty potties. The less said about them or seen of them, the better.
  5. Crab pizza at an Italian restaurant overlooking the ocean. Suffering for the Kingdom, let me tell you.
  6. Meeting, talking with, and teaching some incredible men and women who really do experience suffering and possible martyrdom for the sake of the Kingdom.
  7. Terrible homesickness-missing Karen and the kids something awful.
  8. Opening doors to the Gospel among people who are among the least reached in the world.
  9. Seeing God answer prayers, bind Satan, protect us, grant us peace, and meet us in ways I have seldom experienced.
What more can I say? It was amazing, powerful, and indescribable. Not even our photos do justice to what we saw and God's work in our lives while we there. For all that, I am both grateful to have gone and seen God at work in others and in me and very glad to be back home.

Friday, October 3, 2008


You have to love a quote by Gen. Douglas MacArthur (see above). It's pretentious, defiant, and memorable all that the same time. But as I'm going to spend the next two weeks without much in the way of indoor plumbing, to say nothing of high-speed internet access, blogging may be a bit light until after I return to the states on the 17th. Till then, be sure to check out the blogs on the blogroll. Hopefully a 2 week hiatus won't get you all so far out of your routine reading that you forget to return for additional installments of my scintillating thoughts(!) about issues big and small.

Till then...

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Evangelicalism in America Today

The following video is from The Gospel Coalition, which is a staunchly evangelical group of men who are committed to upholding both the unchanging truth of the Gospel and contextualizing the presentation so that all men might have a valid witness of it. I'm very impressed by these men. Check out the video below for a sample...

What kind of man are you?

I've been spending a lot of time reading about postmodernism and the effect it is already having on both the Western Church and Western culture. The church is facing a new set of challenges, and it's not as if the Church has not risen to meet similar challenges in the past. But we in the Church are just beginning to realize the extent to which, if we want to effectively reach those who are beginning to predominate in our culture, we have to change the way we present the unchanging truth of God's Word. To be clear, we need to recognize what kind of man we are talking to, and how he understands the world and his view of the four sources of truth (revelation, tradition, reason, and experience) in order share the gospel with him in a way he understands. In broad outline, there are three "species" of humans in the world:

  1. Religious Man: These are the kind of people that used to predominate all over the world, and still predominate in the non-Western world (i.e., Central and East Asia, South & Central America, and Africa). They already believe in many of the concepts that are present in Christian theology-God, sin, judgment, an afterlife, spiritual forces of good and evil, and the necessity of escaping judgment for the evil that we do. Biblically speaking, the best example of this type of person is Nicodemus ("A member of the Jewish ruling council"). Successful evangelism with a religious man like this involves building on what he already knows, but correcting his theology so that it reflects biblical truth. Books like The Strange on the Road to Emmaus and Peace Child reveal good methods for doing this. A Religious Man accepts revelation, respects tradition, uses reason, and values experience. All are valid pathways to truth to a religious man and all support his belief in a world that is ultimately spiritual.
  2. Scientific Man: These are the kind of people that began to rise in Europe beginning in about 1750 and in America about 1850. They dominated Western culture from about 1900 until around 1990. They find most of the Bible and anything supernatural unbelievable. For a scientific man, only what science can prove through empirical study (Can I touch, smell, see, hear, or taste it?) is true and real. The best biblical example of this type of person is Thomas ("Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it."). Successful evangelism with a scientific man involves the presentation of evidence about such things as the general reliability of the Scriptures, the trustworthiness of the Gospels, the possibility of miracles, and the existence of God. A Scientific Man worships reason, disregards revelation, distrusts tradition, and evaluates experience by what seems to him to be rational. He believes reason is the valid pathway to truth, because his bedrock, pre-conversion belief is that the world is ultimately material.
  3. Hey Whatever, Man: These are the people that began rising in Europe in 1900 and in America about 1960. They are disillusioned by the world created by the "modernists" (i.e., Scientific Man), which though it enabled things like flight, cars, and vaccines, also created mustard gas, the atom bomb, and the Holocaust. As a result, they are very open to spiritual realities of whatever type (from palm reading to crystals, Hinduism to Christianity), but distrustful of any "institutional" or formal expressions of religious belief such as the Church. Since the scientific man's "objective truth" was so often used in support of causes that were evil, Hey Whatever, Man no longer believes that there is any such thing as objective truth (i.e., ideas that aren't dependent on the perspective of the person, but are true for everyone, everywhere). Instead, he believes that everything is "up for grabs" and that truth is completely individualized. The best biblical example of this type of person is Pontius Pilate ("What is truth?"). Successful evangelism with Hey Whatever, Man consists of giving him both information about the Christian faith and an experience of Christian truth as it is lived out in relationship with others. Hey Whatever, Man worships experience, distrusts reason, is intrigued by tradition, and is open to revelation. He believes that while the world is "kinda" material (i.e., he doesn't totally reject science), "there is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in your philosophy."

Obviously, most people are mixtures of one of the above, and no one fits these broad generalities perfectly anymore. But a good understanding of what "species" you are dealing with is critical for evangelistic success.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A little prayer

Since I am leaving on a two-week trip for the other side of the planet this Saturday, a number of people have told me that they will pray for me. If you would really like to pray, here are some specifics to pray for:
  1. God's protection for my family. A lot can happen while I am a full 24 hours by plane away from Karen and the children. Pray that chariots of fire (2 Kings 6:17) will surround our house while I am away.
  2. God's protection for me. My health is not the best and that fact, combined with weird food, an unsanitary environment, and the possibility of opposition to our visit by some folks, means that I need God's everlasting arms to support me even more than usual.
  3. "Ear opening" experiences and opportunities. May those with "ears to hear" listen well.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Seeker Sensitive Life

I found thehes comment on my post below, on Hell, especially interesting. Paraphrasing Mark Dever, they said, "we'd do a lot better to have Seeker Sensitive Lives instead of Seeker-sensitive services." I couldn't agree more. But what would a so-called "seeker-sensitive life" look like? My initial thoughts on the subject are below. What are yours?
  1. Deliberate engagement: One of the trends in modern evangelicalism that bothers me most is the tendency to isolate ourselves from the world. Where the old-style fundamentalists made deliberate choices to separate themselves from "the world" (don't smoke, drink, chew, go to movies, play cards, and so legalistically on...), modern evangelicals are content to do so without the recognition that this is the effect achieved. So, instead of deciding not to wear make-up or ever drink a beer, modern evangelicals simply built an alternative culture and live exclusively in it. So we now have Christian music, Christian movies, Christian coffeehouses, Christian schools, Christian businessman clubs, Christian phone books, Christian bookstores, Christian candy, Christian clothing and on and on. As a Christian, you don't have to engage the world much at all. And it shows in the fact that despite all of the above, our country has never had fewer authentic Christian people. If we want to reach the world with Gospel, we have to be in it, but not of it just like Jesus said we should be.
  2. Intentional relationships: One of the great tragedies of Christianity in America is that, five years post-conversion, the average Christian has zero friends who aren't Christians. A real Christian needs real relationships with people who are really lost and therefore really going to Hell. We need to intentionally put ourselves into situations where we can do this. This means not just involving ourselves in the world with all of its mess, but also building connections with sinners, wherever we find them.
  3. Loving interaction: It isn't enough to simply know some non-Christians though. One has to engage with them in a loving way. We need to be willing to love them enough not to make a big deal out of their sin before they have the power of the Holy Spirit within them to change. We need to participate with them in activities they enjoy. We need to know them well and be vulnerable about what our lives are really like, so they don't form a false impression of Christians as "shiny happy people holding hands" (like REM sang year ago).
  4. Thoughtful explanation: Very often, Christians present their faith in a way that is hard for others to accept. They can't answer tough questions or give flippant answers to things that the person is genuinely struggling to think through. There are good answers to every intellectual challenge to the Christian faith, and I believe that every Christian should know what at least some of those answers are so that they can explain the Gospel in a way that makes sense. Christianity is the only solid basis for understanding the world and our place in it, but far too many Christians neither understand that nor can explain why.
  5. Compelling character: The Gospel only makes sense if the truths we espouse line up with the lives that we live. I have grown tired of hearing of Christian leader after Christian leader whose private life was virtually the mirror image of his public persona. But average Christians, no less than the public figures, need godly character too. The Gospel is mocked, not because it is not true, but because the lives of many Christians make it unbelievable.

Five Trends in the Church Today

The following is copied from a blog post on the Acts 29 Network site. I would simply encourage you to follow the link, rather than simply copy and past the content, but it's too good to miss, and some might not follow the link, so here it is in its entirety. Anyway, the content is a mixture of points made by D. A. Carson, interspersed with comments by Scott Thomas, the author of the post:

If you ever want to feel like you have the intelligence of a NASCAR fan that just finished off a six-pack (I think it's a Red Neck law), then listen to D.A. Carson talk about, well, anything. Don is fluent in something like 7 languages and has written over 45 books. He is the esteemed Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School near Chicago. For instance, Carson said in his talk to us, "To be a non-perspectivalist is to be omniscient." Nobody in the room was smart enough to argue with him over that.

Don spoke at a luncheon at Bethlehem Baptist Church (John Piper) on Friday September 26, 2008 just before the Desiring God Conference. I attended this lunch with about 40 other church leaders. Don spoke for an hour about five trends in the American church that are troubling to him.

Five Trends in the Church Today

By D A Carson, September 26, 2008

1. It is important to observe contradictory trends. Interestingly, Don encouraged us to recognize the good things in our current culture. He said we have a lot more good commentaries available to us than we did fifty years ago. Yet, mainline churches have fewer conversions than ever before. This is a contradictory trend, according to Carson.

I understand this to mean that we know more and have access to more information, but it is not resulting in more conversions. We apparently know more about God, but less about His mission to seek and to save those who are lost. Our mainline churches are focusing on the minutia difference between supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism, for example, but are ignoring the call to both know God and to follow his sending us to our neighbor's house. There should be a constant tension between group Bible studies and sharing of one's faith. Otherwise we end up in a holy huddle somewhere arguing about non-essentials.

2. Current evangelical fragments are moving into a new phase -- into polarized "clumps." Don said evangelicals are identifying themselves in clump-like expressions of evangelicalism (Health/Wealth clump, Openness clump, Arminian clump, etc.). Carson said the National Pastor's Conference (NPC) is as inclusive as possible -- some speakers are stellar while others are simply heretical -- but they include as many unique tribal representatives as possible. "Even Reformed circles are clumping," said Carson, "and the center is emptying out in favor of vague, dilute evangelicalism."

Carson astutely said that old-time gospel would be around until Jesus comes while he believes (as Don humorously put it, "not as a prophet or the son of a prophet, but one who works for a non-profit") that in 25 years nobody will be calling themselves "emergent" but many will still be centralized in the gospel.

I wonder what will replace the center as the varied subcultures of evangelicalism move to the fringes. For orthodox confessionalists, the center is the perfect place for the gospel. We need pastors who call their people "back" to the inner city of the gospel without relenting to the flight to the suburbs of dilute evangelicalism, as Carson put it.

3. The most dangerous trends in any age are the trends that most people do not see. Orthodoxy is always focused on the past but the new expressions of evangelicalism are the most dangerous. Carson recalled the once Christian colleges like Princeton and Yale that were led by pastor/theologians but became so big that they hired administrators who were not as discerning of current trends; only of past. A formally orthodox leader will head into trouble if he is not astute toward current trends in evangelicalism.

Carson made the case that 1920's liberalism is no longer the issue-even though some churches are still fighting that shadow. Today's issues like justification, inerrancy, primacy of family, gender roles, sexuality, pornography, modesty, race relations (very few race-integrated churches), tolerance, consumerism and human flourishing are the current issues at hand.

I think most church planters are men who grew tired of fighting for bygone issues in their churches while people are losing the wars against the current issues of today. In my opinion, mainline churches will continue to lose their best men who want to be warriors in a real war, not in the reenactments of the religious wars of the last forty years. As long as we continue to address these modernist battles, Satan and his demonic force will rule the ground in our churches with diversion tactics that consume our energy.

4. There is a trend in our churches to be consumed by social concern. In the most intriguing point of his talk, Don said that the Gospel plus caring for the poor was an inseparable couplet. He cautioned that if the gospel was merely assumed (and not clearly articulated), our passion for social justice would overshadow the gospel. While we are not intentionally exalting social concern over the gospel, people learn what we are excited about (gospel over caring for the poor). Carson warned, "Our passion must first be the gospel and not assume it to be understood." He continued, "We must be careful to keep the gospel central and not turn our responses to the gospel as the main target."

Furthermore, Carson exhorted these Christian leaders to spend our time on prayer and the ministry of the Word and allow our people to begin and maintain efforts in social concern. He said we must distinguish between what the church as church must do and what the community of believers in the church must do (I did not personally see the difference but it seemed to suggest that the pastor was exempt from exemplifying an outpouring of the gospel into the community through social efforts).

Our calling, Carson said is to do good in the city (Jer. 29), because the person has an eternal destiny and we care for them. We are all poor beggars telling other poor beggars where they can find bread. Don concluded this section by warning us not to make the issues of gospel and social concern antithetical.

5. There is a trend in our churches to emphasize discipleship over the gospel. It is crucial to teach the whole council of God centering on Christ crucified as the power of the gospel and salvation. If we see the gospel as what "saves" us and if we see discipleship as the actual place where real transformation takes place, it is not a biblical approach. Carson said this trend has a tendency to lead us to see discipleship as legalism; as what pleases God.

It is disturbing to me that some churches see discipleship as a formulaic course of study instead of a lifelong journey as a sinner saved by grace. Following Jesus is not accomplished by completing 8 classes in the basement of a church. It is a complete abandonment of our self in favor of the person, work and mission of Jesus.

We need to be aware of the current trends in the church today and pastor our church with an emphasis on the gospel. Anything less leads to narcissistic religion and away from Jesus.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Ant and the Grasshopper

Now seems like the good time to pull out that old fable by Aesop. Why should the 95% of the homeowners who are paying their mortgages and the millions of others who rent because they know they can't afford to buy a house be forced to pay to bailout the banks who made "no money down" loans to sub-prime borrowers whom virtually everyone expected to default, now that they have defaulted?

I know. I know. We face economic collapse and Depression-like circumstances if we do not. And perhaps a case can be made that Christian compassion demands we help "the least of these." But isn't it the case that good intentions and an excess of "compassion" (in the form of making loans to those who lacked good credit histories) what got us into this mess to start with?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


This past Sunday, I preached the first sermon I've ever heard that was exclusively on the Christian doctrine of hell. Which made things interesting, I'm sure, for the visitors who showed up on Sunday for their first visit. And which makes me not a very postmodern, emergent, or seeker-sensitive pastor, I guess. But nevertheless, since the New Testament refers to it so often (160 times in 260 chapters), I felt that there was no reason why we shouldn't talk about it in the context of a sermon series on evangelism.

Because after all, the game of life is played for keeps. God respects human freedom enough to allow every person to experience the full glory or agony of the consequences of their choices, both in this life and the next. And that very freedom leads to the very frightening possibility that some will spend their eternity separated from God. Don't we therefore owe it to those we know to share with them how to escape from that terrifying conclusion and to find eternal life in Christ?


John and I left mid-morning on Friday to go to the National Cattle Congress up in Waterloo, Iowa with some old friends of mine and their sons. We made a commitment to each other a couple years back to invest in each other's sons and to try to do at least one Father/Son gathering each year. I suspect that these will get more involved and the commitment more serious as our boys grow into young men and we are trying to lead them into authentically Christ-centered masculinity.

At any rate, our boys had a great time with us as dads and we men had a ball re-connecting with each other. There was a bear show, a tiger show (8 tigers up close!), a trick roper, rodeo clowns, bull-riding, bronc-busting, steer wrestling, barrel racing, calf-roping (both team and individual), and, perhaps most important carny food-$3 pizza slices, $4 lemonade, $5 funnel cakes, etc. So we ate junk food, took the boys for pony rides, let them see all the entertainment, and took them back to Cedar Rapids exhausted. A good time was had by all.

I was reminded too how good friends don't take a lot of time to catch up with. Within a couple hours, it's almost as if it hasn't been months since you last saw them. I also saw my good friend and former boss, Steve. His years of experience in ministry and deep devotion to Christ always make him a good sounding board for me as I find my way in ministry and life.

As I get older (not that I'm an old man yet), I realize what a privilege and blessing it is to have good men to share the journey with. In fact, more and more, I'm realizing the wisdom in a statement I heard an old pastor make years ago, "If you finish life with six good friends to carry your casket, you're a very fortunate person." I agree. Rich friendships are rare and greatly to be treasured when they are found.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Car Wash

I am far from being a car nut. Oh, I might religiously wash and wax a new one for the first month or so, and I don't miss my 3,000 mile oil changes by very much, but car care generally falls pretty far down my list of priorities. When it comes to washing the vehicle, I tend to be of the opinion that a vigorous application of road grime, oxidation, and bird manure protects metal surfaces nearly as well as wax. Which means that it had been about 3 months since the truck's last trip through the local Qwiki-wash. Since it had been so long, I decided to splurge and go for the $6 wash, the one that includes the "underbody spray" and "tri-color wax," though precisely how these are of benefit to me I've yet to discover. At any rate, this particular place has machines that only take cash, which means that I had to utilize the bills I had on hand. I was amazed to discover that the wrinkled up, creased, corner-folded bills I fed the machine went in smooth as a silk. The attendant, who looked to be an older gentleman of about 70, smiled over at me and said, "Takes money just like a woman doesn't it?"

Which caught me completely off guard, and made me laugh. It was as completely unexpected as suddenly hearing my very proper grandmother start cussing. Which made me think about the Lord's anointing of David in 1 Samuel (which I taught in Sunday School last week), and how much our perceptions of people that we gather from the outside don't usually align with who they really are. External appearance is always a lie to one degree or another. What counts is what's in our hearts because, as Jesus said, "From the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks."

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

True Crime

Like all "true" stories, the following came to me with the announcement, "Now this is a true story..." When will people learn that the truth doesn't need an introduction? Anyway, enjoy!
An elderly Florida lady did her shopping and, upon returning to her car, found four males in the acto of leaving with her vehicle. She dropped her shopping bags and drew her handgun, proceeding to scream at the top of her voice, "I have a gun and I know how to use it! Get out of the car!"

The four men didn't wait for a second invitation. They got out and ran like mad. The lady, somewhat shaken, then proceeded to load her shopping bags into the back of the car and got into the driver's seat. She was so shaken she could not get her key into the ignition.

After multiple attempts, it dawned on her why her key did not fit. It was the same reason there was a football, a frisbee, and two 12 packs of beer in the front seat! A few minutes later, she found her own car parked 4 or 5 spaces down. She loaded her bags into her car and drove to the police station to report her mistake.

The sergeant to whom she told her story couldn't stop laughing. He pointed to the other end of the counter, where four pale young men were reporting a carjacking by a mad elderly woman described as white, less than five feet tall, glasses, curly white hair and carrying a large handgun. No charges were filed.
Which just goes to show, people really should stay away from the Nutra-Sweet. It will rot your brain...

Friday, September 5, 2008

On leaders and holiness

I ran across the following this week in a book I'm studying with a good friend:
[Leaders] fix their gaze on the holiness of Christ and seek to reflect this holiness in the character and conduct of their own lives. This holiness is a blend of moral purity, spiritual produce, sacred purpose and transcendent power.
That's good enough for me. Now, if I could only figure out how to do it all day, every day.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Little boxes

My father-in-law sent the following to me as a way of encouraging me in my ministry...

Little Boxes
But Lord,
I've always bought brown sugar
in brown boxes
with brow letters on the box.

I saw the plastic bags of sugar in the grocery store yesterday
I could tell by looking that this was a better way
The strong, air-tight bags would keep the sugar soft and usable.
But I've always bought brown sugar in a box
And I reached for the box.

Now, back at home, I wondered why.

Lord, why are we...
Why am I...
so reluctant to change old ways?
Some old ways are valid,
but some need changing.
And I cling to square boxes with unthinking tenacity,
just because I've always bought square boxes.

That is not reason enough,
Times have changed—and are changing
so fast it makes my head swim.
I am obligated to face my days intentionally!
The container that brown sugar comes in is no great thing.
But there are other, weightier matters
that require rethinking—and perhaps revising.
If I am going to live significantly,
I must make my big decisions purposefully,

“New occasions teach new duties; Time makes ancient good uncouth. They must upward still, and onward, who would keep abreast of Truth.”

Forgive my square boxes. Amen.

-From Bless this Mess and Other Prayers, by Jo Carr and Imogene Sorley


Politics makes for famously strange bedfellows, and watching this year's presidential race unfold has given rise to what seems to me a larger than average number of ironies. A few of my favorites are:
  1. Uber-feminists describing why a woman who governs America's largest state is unqualified to be vice-president, while a man whose longest term at a full-time job will be when he finishes his first term as president is the most eminently qualified individual since George Washington.
  2. The man who ran with Al Gore eight years ago (Sen. Lieberman) explaining last night why the Republican ticket is worth supporting, but the Democratic one is not.
  3. The HISTORIC, UNIQUE, AMAZING Sen. Obama, who represents a supposedly "new kind of politics" nominated as his running mate a man who started serving as a Democratic Senator when Obama was 11 years old.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Governor Palin

At the risk of being overly partisan, I am thrilled that Senator McCain picked Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. I'm less than thrilled by McCain generally, but choosing a conservative mother of five (including one Down's child) who loves Jesus and has a record of accomplishment is a winner in my book. That she happens to be a woman who can counter the whole "elect us for history's sake" business coming from the other side of the aisle is just gravy.

Trusting God

I never fail to be amazed at my constant need to re-learn the importance of trusting God. But time after time, placing events that are beyond my control (and those that are!) in His hands proves to be the best plan. He seems to love coming through just as I'm about to give up hope, so that I recognize His intervention and give Him praise for it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A prescient thought on Iran, Russia, China...

...and other assorted rogues in our world:
The timid civilized world has found nothing with which to oppose the onslaught of a sudden revival of barefaced barbarity, other than concessions and smiles.
-Aleksandr Solzenitsyn
One wonders if we in the West will develop other means of opposition. And if so, will we do so soon enough to prevent our own destruction?


I turned 35 yesterday. I can remember when that seemed old enough to have been around when the earth's crust was cooling, but now it feels like I'm only old enough to be a semi-responsible adult. The kids finger-painted some beautiful artwork for my office while Karen created a great photo-collage of pictures of us to hang on our walls and baked the most glorious from scratch German chocolate cake with homemade coconut pecan frosting I've ever tasted. It was a great day.

It's sobering to think that I'm at the half-way point of my journey toward my biblical "three score and ten" years. I pray that I will grow by leaps rather than baby steps, that God will use me much more rather than less, that I will be a better husband, father, and church leader than I have often been, that I will cross the finish line kicking it in with legs flying and chest thrust forward to break the tape rather than limping through the last laps.


This week I'm getting back in the swing of things with preaching and teaching. I've had the past couple weeks off from teaching Sunday School (intern!) and since my intern has now become our candidate for Pastor of Student Ministries, he was preaching last Sunday. So this is the first week I've had to follow my custom of prepping both a Sunday School lesson and a sermon in about a month. This week we're doing the book of Ruth in Sunday School and I'm really looking forward to it.

One of the things I love about Ruth is that even though God is actually mentioned very little in the story, you can see His hands working "behind the scenes." Ruth just happens to have her circumstances work out so she winds up working for, then meeting, and then marrying her kinsman-redeemer Boaz. But really what I love about the story is that it's not so much about Ruth herself as it is about Naomi ("my pleasantness") returns to Israel calling herself Mara ("bitter") for all that has happened to her, but God blesses and cares for her anyway. God even gives her a son through Ruth, and places her in the lineage of David and Jesus the Messiah. What's amazing to me is how God is still faithful to care for his people even when they are struggling with trusting Him. A humbling reminder for me...

Intent vs. Result

One of the things that annoys me most about certain strands of political thought is the idea that one's intentions matter more than one's results, such that as long as one has "good intentions," endless amounts of public money must be devoted to perpetuating that policy even if it results in no improvement or is in fact counterproductive. A couple quick examples:
  1. Public Education: The solution to every educational problem is always more federal money, even though private schools and even home schooling produces better results with usually far less resources. Is it just possible that ideas like performance based (rather than tenure based) teacher salaries, making public schools compete for students (rather than assigning them by geography, and setting achievement standards that must be met to move up a grade with no possibility of dropping out at without graduating would produce better outcomes?
  2. Wind, Solar, and Bio-Energy: None of these technologies are economically feasible apart from government subsidy, and converting the nation to them would result in the despoliation of millions of acres for new wind and solar farms (not to mention massive land seizures via eminent domain) plus the land required for new transmission lines to carry the resulting power. But offshore drilling, nuclear power, and oil shale can't be tried, ever, lest St. Al and his buddies fail to feel good about themselves or lose money on the massive "carbon offset" business they started to make money through government regulation.
  3. Sex Education: The teen pregnancy and STD infection rates have not decreased, despite massive amounts of money spent supposedly educating teens about the risks of pre-marital sexual activity. Yet we may not teach abstinence, or better yet, remove the topic from the school curriculum entirely as beyond the educational mission of the school. Why not? Because if we did, then our society might slip into a new Victorianism, I suppose (would that we were in serious danger of that!).


I ate the last of the salmon filets from our spring fishing trip the other day. Blackened Cajun style salmon has become one of my favorite things, especially when it's mixed in with the joy of having caught the fish yourself rather than purchased it from a salmon farm somewhere in Chile [i.e. "Fresh Salmon (may be previously frozen)"]

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Technology and its limits

I lost my cell phone on Sunday night. A search of the Kroger store and the bike route I took to it have been fruitless. Which led me to contact my service provider to get my account suspended until I could get a new phone, which I did last night. This process has been educational on a number of levels. Among the things I have learned:
  1. It is possible for a cell phone to disappear into the ether, leaving no trace of its departure.
  2. Missing cell phones are expensive to replace.
  3. Your cell phone provider has the technology to remotely suspend your cell phone service, track how many milliseconds you utilized the phone, locate you for 911 emergencies via a satellite that can find you utilizing your phone to within 6 feet of your actual location but cannot utilize all of this technology to tell you where your missing cell phone is at present.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Deer Season

I got my deer tags this past week. So I can now legally shoot two deer during shotgun season, and one during muzzleloader season. I have also saved a week's vacation so my Dad and I can bowhunt the rut in early November. It may sound weird to those who don't hunt, but hunting has always been a deeply spiritual experience for me. The quiet of the woods, the beauty of God's creation, the mixture of triumph and sadness as you stand over your fallen quarry, is something I can't quite explain to someone who has never experienced it. I pray on stand quite a bit, both for a deer to come down the trail, and for all of the things I never quite seem to get around to at other times. It's on the deer stand, all alone in the woods with the Lord, the snow, and the deer, that I think I have learned what it means to "Be still and know that I am God."

An interesting contrast

Diana West has a very interesting article over at called "Roars about Russia, Bare Whispers About Islam." It makes the point that, whereas we in the West seem to understand intuitively that imperial expansion such as in happening in Georgia these days is something that is simply part of the historic culture of Russia, we neglect to draw the same conclusion about Islamic culture. I wonder why? Is Islam any less prone to expand by the edge of the sword or the roar of the tank than the Russian Empire? Not if you are a student of Islamic history. So why the reticence to identify Islam's expansion by that means as what it is, a central and characteristic feature of that culture, not a "hijacking" of a "great religion" by so-called "extremists"? Are we so concerned about political correctness that we dare not call religiously inspired violence by its correct name, Islamic jihad? What are we gaining by this dishonesty other than self-delusion?

Come Away With Me...

One of my favorite things is surprising Karen with a "spontaneous" getaway for just the two of us. Back in our P.C. (i.e., Pre Children) days, we'd often run off somewhere on the spur of the moment. Usually it was camping somewhere, like to Brown County State Park back when we lived in Indiana, but during our Texas days, getaway times included going to the "beach" in Galveston (there is no beach, at least not comparatively speaking, but what a memory!), going to Canton for the flea market, or to San Antonio for the Riverwalk. Once we moved to Iowa, where we definitely entered into the A.C. (After Children) period of our life, our getaways were less frequent. This was due primarily to having less disposable income, but also due to the fact that planning an invasion of a 3rd World country requires less planning than arranging reliable care for four children and finding an affordable, but nice, place to stay. Nevertheless, we managed a couple trips to a Galena B & B, a couple stays on Chicago's Magnificent Mile, and a couple trips to the Twin Cities.

In the year that we have been here, we haven't had much vacation just the two of us. We managed a couple days in Galena back in January (frozen and snowy, but Vinny's was still open!), and a couple days at The Cove together (which was more work than vacation), but that's it. Last week, I surprised Karen with the news that we would be going away on Sunday night. Planning VBS, Family Fun Night, and the launch of MOPs has pretty well taxed Karen, and my schedule over the summer has been averaging 60 hour weeks, so we were definitely ready for one. I set up child care with a very reliable college student, booked us into the Starved Rock Inn (an old, but newly renovated and very comfortable, not to mention cheap motel straight out of the 1950's). We ate out, snacked on Fig Newton's and Pringles while we caught the Olympics on cable, hiked all over Starved Rock State Park, slept in (until 6:30!), and generally relaxed. It took a couple days to plan, but it was completely worth it.

Here's a couple pictures:

Since we got out early on Monday morning, there were virtually no other people about. That fact, combined with the early hour, meant that we were able to see a lot of wildlife. We nearly walked by this graceful doe, as she was standing completely still as we approached. After we saw her, she let us stand within 20 feet of her for several minutes, until the mosquitoes got too bad and we decided it was time to continue our hike. I think if we had been slow and deliberate about it, we could have walked up to her and fed her out of our hands. It was fun to see a wild deer this close.

This, on the other hand, is my "dear" bride (sorry, but I couldn't resist) in her natural habitat. After 14 years together (including 12 as husband and wife), I know that the best days of my life are always yet to be, as the passing of each day, week, month, and year means more depth, more love, and more fun with the only lady for whom I will ever have eyes.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A Ministry Anniversary

Today is a unique day in that it is the 1st anniversary of the beginning of my tenure as Senior Pastor at Chillicothe Bible Church. It has been an amazing year in many ways, though it has also given me multiple opportunities to remind myself of something a friend said to me long ago: "Most pastors overestimate what they can accomplish in a year, but seriously underestimate what they can accomplish in five." I seriously overestimated what I could get done in 12 months time, but my past experience in ministry gives me a high degree of hope for what the next 4 years will bring. Among the things I've seen happen this year are:
  • A transition to preaching every week instead of a few times a year. This aspect of ministry really turns my crank. I love to share God's Word with people this way. It's just so much fun!
  • Movement among a few of our people to cultivate relationships with the lost people they know. 30 people participated in Evangelism is Relationships training to spur them on in this.
  • Karen and I have gotten to know several of our neighbors and had a couple of them over.
  • We are getting to know the church family much better and seeing where people's hearts truly lie (for good and sometimes ill).
  • Four of the pews that used to serve as "seating" in our hallway have left for better locations and been replaced with cafe style tables and chairs.
  • We've hired the best summer intern with whom I've ever personally worked and I'm enjoying seeing his ministry develop.
  • The office got repainted and reorganized into a more efficient workspace.
  • I hired my first secretary and two short-term replacements while she was out with two separate knee surgeries.
Along with these things (and others) though, so many goals remain to be realized. Among them are:
  • The launch of a MOPS ministry to reach young mothers and their children.
  • Mobilizing the rest of the church with a heart for the lost people in their lives in such a way that many of the roughly 10,000 non-Christian people in our community find Jesus.
  • Seeing fruitfulness and reproduction from our disciple-making efforts.
  • Watching the children of our community meet Jesus, follow Jesus, and serve Jesus with their lives.
  • Renovating our building and adding parking to make it more visitor friendly.
  • Leading our church out of the contemporary/traditional debate about music in worship and into an authentic experience of worship that inspires us to follow Christ more closely regardless of musical style preferences.
  • Creating a new members class and helping each new person find their "fit" at CBC.
I'll be excited to see how God uses us these next several years. I know we have the pieces for a great work of God's art. I am just trying to keep myself submitted to Him as a tool for His use in process of creating it.

Joe's Bookshelf #2

It's been a while since my last entry of this sort and it is high time for another one, since I've got a backlog of probably a dozen books to post about. Anyway Why We're Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be) is one of the best non-fiction books I've read in a long time. The authors, Ted Kluck and Kevin DeYoung, provide a helpful critique of the dangers and problems of the Emergent/emerging church movement. The movement is hard to classify and engage with because, when pressed, so many of its adherents want to argue with you about terms (emerging or Emergent? "movement" or "conversation" and so, irritatingly on...) or absolve themselves of any connection to anybody that is part of the movement when it suits them apologetically ("Well, I like Brian McLaren, but I don't agree with him about everything."). What makes the book so appealing is that it engages with those in the "emerging conversation" on their own terms and is written, in many ways, like a book by Donald Miller or Brian McLaren, but minus the theological fluffiness and unwillingness to make the hard choices that must be made to remain authentically Christian.

Kluck's chapters are usually written in the sort of highly conversational "story" type way that should be right up the average "emerging" Christian's alley, while DeYoung (Kluck's pastor) writes with a more studied, theological emphasis. Both contribute to a meaty critique of the major issues raised by the emergence of the emerging church. Among their criticisms are:
  • Many in the emerging "conversation" seem to feel that dialogue is an end, not a means, thus they are content to engage in it for its own sake. In this way, they are like the Athenians on the Areopagus, "who spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas" or those the NT describes elsewhere as "ever learning, but never coming to the knowledge of the truth."
  • Often the emergent cultivate ambiguity on issues about which God has spoken clearly, such as homosexuality and the authority of the Scriptures over a believer's life. Truth has become "truth" for far too many emergents. Truth can be more than propositional, but it is never less than propositional. Indeed, it cannot be.
  • The emerging desire to draw a distinction between Jesus and Christianity, or even between Jesus and the apostle or between Jesus and the OT. It's a failure to realize that without the OT, there is no Jesus worth mentioning. Without the apostles, nothing is known about Jesus or his teaching. Without Jesus, there is no Christianity. While the emergents may not like every aspect of who Jesus really was or about the "movement" he founded, that's more a problem with them than with Jesus. There simply is no Jesus worth mentioning sans doctrinal formulations, propositional truth, rationality, and Truth. After all, Jesus got crucified for stating in propositional, hard categories some truths the Jewish religious leaders disliked. Jesus didn't start conversations for the sake of conversations, but to help people find Him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, apart from belief in Whom there is no salvation.
  • The emergents' tendency to focus on the way something is said rather than the truth of what is said. That is, when you talk to emerging Christians, often they will say "Well, so and so is just so nasty in how he says things" as if 1) that constitutes a refutation of what was said; and 2) harsh criticism doesn't count.
This is a great book, and at risk of sounding like I'm gushing over it, I really do think every Christian between age 16 and 40 should buy a copy and read it multiple times as it will help your brain deflect a lot of the mushy headed substitute for thinking that seems to be in the air within Christendom these days.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Another political thought for the day

"Nothing says 'character reference' like a teeming crowd of thousands of adoring Germans chanting your name." -Jim Geraghty, The Campaign Spot

Top 10 Bible Stories You Didn't Learn in Sunday School

At CBC, we have been blessed to have an intern for the rest of summer. He's a big fan of the book of Judges, and out of a discussion of that book he mentioned that he and seminary buddy of his used to talk about the "Top 10 Bible Stories You Didn't Learn in Sunday School." Which got me thinking about the differences between what I would include in the Bible if I were writing it and what God chose to include and the differences in the reasons why. With that in mind, here's my list of the Top 10.
10. Abraham and Abimilech (Genesis 20)
9. Judah and Tamar (Genesis 38)
8. Zimri and Cozbi (Numbers 25)
7. The Annihilation of Midian (Numbers 31)
6. Ehud the left-handed warrior (Judges 3)
5. Jael & Sisera (Judges 4)
4. Jepthah and his daughter (Judges 11)
3. Amnon & Tamar (2 Samuel 13)
2. David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11)
1. The Levite's Concubine (Judges 19)

These passages teach me two lessons: 1) God's ways are not my ways; 2) God chooses to use deeply flawed people to accomplish His purposes. Both of these thoughts are deeply encouraging to me.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Politically incorrect jihad humor

Two members of Hezbollah were talking about their sons' recent glorious martyrdom against the imperialist Zionist oppressor...

Jihadist #1: "You know, it's amazing to watch this generation mature and embrace true Islam."
Jihadist #2: "Yeah. Kids blow up so fast these days..."

Which reminds me of former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir's line that there will be peace in the Middle East as soon as the so-called "Palestinians" love their own children more than they hate Israelis...

A word to the wise voter...

In this political season, it's important to remember one thing especially. Every politician running for office promises "change." But "change" is not a synonym for "improvement."

Monday, July 21, 2008

Deuteronomy 6

One of my favorite parts of being a father is tucking the kids in for bed. It's time for hugs, kisses, and bedtime prayers for protection from nightmares and things that go "bump" in the night. It's also when I occasionally have very significant conversations.

The other night, we had one of those. There's an African American boy who lives on our street that's about John's age who likes to come over and play with my kids. Since we have been living in Iowa and small-town Illinois the last several years, our kids haven't not experienced much ethnic diversity. Out of the blue Sara asked me about Jaden:

Sara: "Daddy, is Jaden from Mexico?"
Me: "No, Sara, Jaden is an African American."
Sara: "What's that Daddy?"
Me: "Well, a long time ago, some of the people in our country bought and sold people like Jaden as slaves from Africa."
Sara (completely wide-eyed): "Didn't they know that was wrong, Daddy?"
Me: "Well, some people did. But there were still a lot of people who did it, so a lot of people thought it was okay. You know, sometimes, when a lot of people around you are doing something, it seems alright. But we have to look at what God's Word says and do that, even if everybody except us says it's okay to do the wrong thing, right Sara?"
Sara: "Right, Daddy."

After that, I reinforced the point by telling the story of Daniel's three friends and how they stood against the will of their king. Sara really got into it, especially the part where they all say, "Our God is able to save us. But even if he does not, O king, this we know: we will not bow down and worship the idol you have set up."

It was a great moment to be a dad. I'm grateful to God for giving it to me.