Thursday, January 29, 2009

Barbie Root

Tonight is the visitation for Barbie Root, a long-time member of our church. Barbie was a devoted mother of two daughters, grandmother of three great kids, aunt to any number of nieces and nephews, sister to three sisters and 1 baby brother, and friend to many. She was afflicted with Stiff Man Syndrome, a very rare neuromuscular disorder that progressively results in the loss of the ability to walk and is accompanied by painful muscle spasms. She was also a devoted follower of Jesus Christ, loved God and His Word deeply and always had a smile and an encouraging word for her pastor when I saw her. She is with Jesus now, where there is no more crying, mourning, or pain, and where her body no longer fights with her each day. Gone to glory at 52. R. I. P.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

On marriage and a transformed life

When June 1st arrives this year, I'll have been married 13 years. Between those years and the two years that Karen and I spent dating, I have spent all of my adult life loving this one woman. And it occurred to me the other day that I can't really remember what life was like before I knew her, loved her, and married her.

Part of that phenomenon is surely due to simple passing of the years. But a larger and more significant part is, I think, due to the fact that my life has been so transformed by this one relationship. No longer do I make decisions without considering her wishes and desires. No longer do I regard myself as being the center of existence, and my desires as most important. Instead, I have learned the art of loving sacrifice, of confession and forgiveness, and of savoring each moment of time together that feels all too scarce, no matter its duration in reality.

And as I reflect on these things, it occurs to me that this kind of transformation is the same kind that I am pursuing in my walk with Christ--a dethroning of self, times of confession and forgiveness, the sacrificing of my desires to please the One I love, and an enjoyment of rich time that feels short even if it's long. And most of all, I want my life with Jesus to so transform me that I can't remember what it was like before I met Him. I want to regard the former life of the flesh with the same disdain that I now regard my former days as a single man and to choose in the practical realities of life's decisions to reject even the hints of the old life.

Spiritual Apathy

One of the other lines I heard at the conference last week was so good I thought it deserved its own post. How does this grab you: "Spiritual apathy, very often, is really spiritual atrophy."

I have to say, it really grabbed me by the lapels and shook me. Right now, I'm in the midst of another round of re-committing myself to a healthier diet and more exercise. And just like every other time I've done that in the past, it's a struggle to get going again, with the same soreness and pain as the last time, because my muscles have atrophied that much since the last "round." Which is why I can be apathetic about going for long periods--it is simply too painful in the short run to take the long road back toward better health.

I've noticed the same thing is true in the spiritual realm. It seems hard to be engaged with the spiritual disciplines because my spiritual muscles have atrophied. But worthy things are always hard, it seems, and if I want to avoid spiritual apathy, I have to correct my spiritual atrophy.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Highlight Reel

I spent the majority of last week at a conference in Indianapolis on spiritual transformation. It was an attempt to address the wide gap that often lingers between many Christians' (including, at times, this Christian's) profession of faith in Christ and our experience of actually living the abundant life of holiness before God that Christ promised us. I can't encapsulate it all, but here are some of the good "lines" that I wrote down that might give you the gist:
  • The Gospel is not primarily about what we avoid but what we get from God. It's not so much about "dodging a bullet" as it is about gaining eternal life.
  • Eternal life is not just about the duration of our life with God, but also about the quality of the life we receive.
  • Faith is relational allegiance to the living God. It is place your future in His hands and trusting Him with the results.
  • The purpose of our cleansing is to allow us to worship and relate to God. It isn't about some kind of spiritual "record-keeping" where we have to maintain a clean slate.
And finally, what is by far my favorite line of the entire conference, from my former professor, Dr. Darrell Bock, "I don't have to look for God's will. I married her!"

You might be a Taliban if...

From our troops in Afghanistan, and with all respect to Jeff Foxworthy, here's the best of "You might be a Taliban if..."
  • You refine heroin for a living but have a moral objection to beer.
  • You own a $3,000 machine gun and $5,000 rocket launchers but can’t afford shoes.
  • You wipe your hiney with your bare left hand but consider bacon unclean.

I got these courtesy of Jay Nordlinger's Impromptus column over at National Review. Hope you chuckled.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Too funny not to share

As those of you who know me are no doubt aware, I am something of a connoisseur of redneck humor, owing to the fact (at least in some minds), of being something of a redneck myself. Anyway, I got a chuckle out of the following video, which reminds you simultaneously to wear your hunter orange in the woods and choose your friends wisely. (Also, for those who care, the guns depicted are the BB variety, so utterly useless for the depicted purpose).
video

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Recession

The usual statements are all being bandied about with the daily economic news: "the worst economy since Herbert Hoover," "another Great Depresssion," etc., etc. But in the midst of what are undoubtedly really challenging economic circumstances for a great many people, a little perspective is in order. FWIW, here's my take on the story we find ourselves in at this point:
  1. "Bail-out" is another word for theft. The root of the mess we're in has to do with the fact that a large number of people borrowed money they couldn't repay, to buy things they didn't need, to live a life they hadn't earned. Which is, in a sense, legalized and glorified theft. And now, these same people and corporations are being "bailed out" by those they stole it from initially. Insane.
  2. Moral people are required for a free market. Whenever there is a collapse like this (see also Enron, Worldcom, etc.), there is a call for "more regulation." But in a culture where people are moral, little or no regulation is needed. In one that isn't, no regulation will be sufficient. This is because the profiteers at places like Lehman's will always be one step ahead of the regulators. It's part of their job, after all. Thus do the regulators wind up fighting the last war. But each new round of regulations makes the market a little less free. To the point where we have now virtually nationalized an entire sector of the economy.
  3. More Government is likely to cause more problems than it solves. The Fed has now cut key interest rates down to near 0% and the Treasury is on a printing/borrowing binge. This will sow the seeds of both roaring inflation and the next collapse. And, of course, another round of regulations, resulting in less freedom. Meanwhile, we will have indebted our great-granchildren for the sake of pork projects and more corporate welfare. By the way, even liberal economists are beginning to notice that FDR's policy of "super-sizing Herbert Hoover" prolonged the Great Depression, rather than shortened it. Which means a "New Deal 2.0" as is being proposed will most likely make things much, much, worse.
  4. Don't borrow more than you can pay back. Obvious, I know, but well worth remembering. Now that we are facing an annual deficit in 2009 that is larger than the size of the entire government was in 2000, this is especially true. What's good for people on a household basis is still good when we aggregate those households into a nation.
  5. The people who are the worst off aren't in the U.S. As usual, our actions have global consequences. Those in the Global South are much worse off than even the poorest among us here. When America catches cold, the rest of the world gets pneumonia.
  6. Things aren't that bad. Despite all the hyperbole, total unemployment in the U.S. is 7.2%, far lower than the 10% of the early 1980s or the much worse 17% average of the FDR 1930s.
  7. God is still sovereign. 'Nuff said.

Catch the little fox (squirrels)

We have a lot of squirrels in our yard. In fact, a couple days ago, there were eight of the tasty little rodents in the same ash tree in our front yard. Because there are so many, every now and then, the power goes out, because one of those enterprising critters has decided to add some excitement to his life by chewing on a power line. It’s not the end of the world (at least not for us. It pretty much always is for him), but it does interrupt the flow of power from Ameren to our house. Which is pretty much a bummer, especially if it's cold outside or if there's a large number of people coming over soon. Both kinds of circumstances have occurred. Repeatedly.

The last time it happened, it got me to thinking. In some ways, I can be just like one of those silly squirrels. Like them, I sometimes do, say, or think things that I know I shouldn't, hoping that they will add a level of spark to my life, or at least make me feel better. And like the squirrel, I seem to do so at times with little appreciation or understanding of the consequences or the level of destruction it will bring into my life, my relationship with God, or my relationships with others. Even when I decide to give the "wire" of sin just a "little nibble." On top of that, to the extent that I am in love with my sin, it cuts the flow of God's power into my life. It's not the He who made the ear has gone deaf. It's more that that He refuses to listen as long as I think I can continue to love my sin and Him at the same time. I can’t. Either I love God and consequently hate sin, or love sin and hate God. There is no third option.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Environmental Movement Takes a Ghoulish Turn

Just when you thought that the push for "green" technology couldn't get sillier or less rational, it takes a turn for the Fascist. Shades of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels, a town in Europe is now using the bodies of dead people to heat a crematorium. "Alternative energy" indeed...

What a bunch of sickos. May God have mercy on them.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

You heard it here first...

Over Christmas, I told members of my family that I doubted that the much-heralded digital TV transition would happen as scheduled. I argued that it would get postponed by politicians who would argue that "in these difficult economic times, the poor, minorities, etc. won't be ready to make the transition." Of course, it is mostly the poor, minorities, etc. who don't have cable or satellite and thus need to make the transition, since anyone who has either of those technologies is completed unaffected.

Well, well, well... Here is the president-elect, making just the statement I predicted. My gifts as a political prophet are improving.

Physical Exercise and Spiritual Discipline

For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. — 1 Timothy 4:8
I have an uncomfortable relationship with exercise. I recognize its value for my long-term health, appreciate the improvements to my physical appearance, and relish the fact that, when I am exercising regularly, I can eat more and still lose some portion of my less than firm mid-section. Nevertheless, I am a far from enthusiastic practitioner of the painful arts of physical conditioning. Maybe too many days spent under the sadistic tutelage of various gym teachers and coaches scarred my psyche. Or maybe it’s because I am married to a wonderful woman who loves me deeply and still finds me attractive despite the need for a larger belt since our wedding day. Or maybe its because keeping in top physical shape is neither required for my job nor seems to offer any immediate reward. Certainly at least part of my thinking on the subject comes down to fatalism: “Eat right, exercise with regularity and vigor, and die anyway.” Regardless of the underlying reason(s), I am a reluctant exerciser at best and have never been able to be consistently motivated over a long period to maintain an exercise regimen. The payoffs are just too intangible and long-term to matter that much to me.

I have a suspicion that a similar attitude prevails among most Christians with respect to the spiritual disciplines. That is, while they can appreciate the long-term impact on their spiritual lives that things like meditating on the Scriptures and fasting would have, they have a deeply rooted aversion to actually practicing them with any consistency. Perhaps it’s because it seems mechanical or even legalistic. Perhaps somewhere in their spiritual journey the spiritual disciplines were made an end in themselves at the hands of a well-meaning, but misguided spiritual leader. Or perhaps it’s due to an understanding of grace that reasons “since God won’t love me any more if I do this and since my eternal salvation is secure, what’s the point?” But I have a theory that if a person can readily identify some significant, short-term benefits to doing something along with a compelling, motivating, long-term purpose to it, then the mental equations change significantly. For example, suppose that you had a wealthy relative who promised you $1 million and a beach house as soon as you finished the Boston marathon. While we’re dreaming, imagine that he also offered, more minor but still significant (say $1000 per month) encouragement until you achieved your ultimate goal. Would that change the equation for you? It certainly would for me, because I would not be engaging in exercise merely for some sort of intangible personal benefit, but training myself for a goal whose achievement carries with it a compelling reward of a new life at the beach and the resources to enjoy it.

While there are seldom significant financial benefits, the Christian life is indeed similar to the scenario I just described. It is like a marathon, not a sprint. The road is long, the route hard, and the strain intense. And just like a successful marathoner, the successful Christian must train himself for success, not merely try harder to be good. A baby Christian can no more “run with endurance the race set before him” (Hebrews 12:1) than I can in my present physical condition successfully compete at Boston.

But, just like our mythical scenario above, God has promised us a new life in a beautiful place, abundant rewards when we finish the race, and many smaller blessings as we train. The spiritual disciplines are a means of training ourselves for a more successful (defined as a more holy) Christian life. At their most basic level, the spiritual disciplines fall into one of two categories: disciplines of engagement and disciplines of abstinence. Disciplines of engagement are things that a Christian does to shape his spiritual life in the direction he wants it to go. They are like an athlete’s commitment to calisthenics, running, and weight workouts. They include practices like prayer, bible study, confession, and celebration. Disciplines of abstinence, on the other hand, involve a choice to deliberately (and normally briefly) forsake satisfying some normal desire to further one’s spiritual maturity. They are akin to an athlete’s refusal to eat Ho-Hos and Doritos while he prepares for competition. These are the practices like fasting, giving, solitude, and simplicity.

Wouldn't it be worthwhile, as we consider all the ways to improve our bodies in this new year year that we also consider how to train and shape our souls? After all, if physical training to shape our fading, temporal bodies has value (and it does), then isn't it worth it to also invest in the shape of our eternal souls? I certainly think so. But I also need help and accountability just as much as anybody else. So here's my five resolutions for the new year:
  1. Pray for the needs our the people in our church 3x weekly.
  2. Pray daily for the expansion of the gospel and for God to use me in accomplishing that mission.
  3. Spend time in the Word for myself at least 5 days a week (it's easy to blur one's time prepping to preach and teach with personal time).
  4. Take 1 day per month for an 8 hour spiritual celebration/retreat.
  5. Fast 1 day each month.
Anybody out there want to join me on the journey with some mutual accountability on these?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Congrats

One of my oldest friends became a Dad on December 27th. Mom and Dad are thoroughly exhausted, awed by the wonder of the life they have brought into the world, and not quite sure what to do. In other words, they are like most first-time parents, and all good ones. Nevertheless, it is still an experience beyond words which does not diminish even when you add more "arrows" to your quiver. Congratulations, Matt and Jeanine!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Signs

So while I was back home again in Indiana visiting family, it became apparent that I was badly in need of a haircut. Since I was staying at Mom and Dad's, the best option was the one I used back in the days when I still lived at home-a place called "Mac's" down in bustling downtown Wanamaker. Mac's is one of those places you don't see much of any more-an actual old fashioned barber shop. It's the kind of a place where there is still a red, white, and blue barber pole outside and the inside is decorated with a combination of dust, old vinyl chairs, racing posters, sports memorabilia, and out-of-date copies of Motorsports and Field and Stream. It's the kind of place where they trim the hairs on your neck with hot shaving cream and a straight razor, and the only women present are the two gals (out of five barbers) giving haircuts. One of these ladies is wearing a T-shirt that reads: "What said at the barber shop stays in the barber shop."

I was expecting to get in, get out, and on with my life, minus 11 bucks and some of what's left of my diminishing complement of hair. But while I was there, I made an unexpected discovery. Apparently, my eyebrows need clipping. Now no one has ever mistaken me for Michael Dukakis, so this came as a bit of a shock, but there the barber was, clipping away. Suddenly, what I had mistaken for one of the last oases of masculinity left in Indianapolis was snatched away. I felt that perhaps I need a good manicure and a bit of moisturizer to go with my haircut. As soon as he was done, I paid the man and left. Fortunately, I took the boys to ride around on a Caterpillar skis steer the next day, so my overall testosterone quotient hasn't been too far diminished. At least I don't think so.

If having your barber trim your eyebrows isn't one of the signs of the apocalypse, I sincerely believe it should be...