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.