Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Happy Birthday Steven!

My younger brother is 29 today. Hard to believe that he is still that young, when he has accomplished so much and has so much less hair than me. Still, 29 is a great year. Happy Birthday, bro!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

When the Frost is on the Punkin'

Years ago, when I was a student at Taylor, our much loved president, Jay Kesler, would recite this old James Whitcomb Riley poem at the first chapel in the October. He knew it cold from memory, and it was such a tradition at TU that I can hardly feel the first crispness of fall in the years since but my thoughts return to chapel at Taylor and these lines.
When the Frost is on the Punkin'
WHEN the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin' turkey-cock,
And the clackin' of the guineys, and the cluckin' of the hens,
And the rooster's hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O, it's then the time a feller is a-feelin' at his best,
With the risin' sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.

They's something kindo' harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer's over and the coolin' fall is here—
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossoms on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin'-birds and buzzin' of the bees;
But the air's so appetizin'; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur' that no painter has the colorin' to mock—
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.

The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,
And the raspin' of the tangled leaves as golden as the morn;
The stubble in the furries—kindo' lonesome-like, but still
A-preachin' sermuns to us of the barns they growed to fill;
The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;
The hosses in theyr stalls below—the clover overhead!—
O, it sets my hart a-clickin' like the tickin' of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.

Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps
Is poured around the cellar-floor in red and yaller heaps;
And your cider-makin's over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With theyr mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and sausage too!...
I don't know how to tell it—but ef such a thing could be
As the angels wantin' boardin', and they'd call around on me—
I'd want to 'commodate 'em—all the whole-indurin' flock—
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I Spy

My son Nathan has gotten into playing "I Spy." He makes his fingers into little glasses and then says, "I spy, with my little eye, something [red, or blue, or black, or whatever]." If you don't guess what it is on the first try, he can't contain himself and tells you what it was immediately. Clearly, we need to work on the helping him understand the rules of the game a bit better. But it's still fun to play with him, especially when he gets to laughing and blurting out the answers before you've had a chance to even guess.

I was reminded of this as I was reading the chapter for tomorrow's men's group meeting. We're reading Donald Whitney's Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health. It's a little book, with short chapters (a prerequisite with some of the guys), but each one is packed full of profound insight and deep probing of your spiritual life. This week's question is "Are You More Sensitive to God's Presence?" At one point, Whitney suggests that we briefly stop reading and quickly identify everything blue that we can see. Our eyes quickly filter out everything else to see only the blue objects in the room. In the same way, as we grow spiritually, we need to develop "God eyes" as it were, so that we filter out the noise of our world to see God's presence with us in every situation.

The more that we remind ourselves that God is present with us everywhere at every time, the more it seems that we see His hand at work, and have the sense of His presence. The more that we meditate on His word, the sharper the focus of our spiritual eyes. But the less we practice the presence of our Lord, the more we act like Moses in his pre-burning bush days:
"Glancing this way and that and seeing no one..." - Ex. 2:12 (NIV, emphasis mine)
Yet God is always there, is He not? Oh Lord, open my eyes that I may see You.

Navigating the middle passage

There are two opposite, but equally dangerous traps into which Christians can fall. One of them is legalism, which is identifying standards for yourself, either biblical standards or extra-biblical ones (legalism often includes both!), and then simply gritting your teeth and working hard to obey with all your might, but with little reliance on God’s grace coming to you through the Holy Spirit. The other danger is the sort of “let go and let God” folks, who think that somehow they will advance toward holiness without any conscious effort on their part. Neither is true, and both of them are destructive to the authentic spiritual life.

But if you look closely at Philippians 2:13, Paul gives the truth. He writes, “It is God who works in you, both to will and to act according to his good purpose. God is so sovereign that his purposes are accomplished both in what we choose and what we do. But it is still we who do it. Instead of divorcing God’s sovereignty from our responsibility, as a lot of people try to do, Paul stitches them tightly together here. As the commentator John Murray wrote,
God’s working in us is not suspended because we work, nor our working suspended because God works. Neither is the relation strictly one of cooperation as if God did his part and we did ours so that the conjunction or coordination of both produced the desired result. God works and we also work. But the relation is that because God works we work. All working out of salvation on our part is a the effect of God’s working in us…The more persistently active we are in working, the more persuaded we may be that all the energizing grace and power is of God.
God is working in us by His Holy Spirit. The fact that we even have the desire to change and grow to be like Christ is from the Spirit. Moreover, the harder we work to change, the more we realize that any growth we experience isn’t our doing, but God’s. God will accomplish His purpose in us, but He chooses to do so through the effort we put forth toward change in response to His Holy Spirit, which is already working in us.

Fear and trembling

A week ago Saturday Karen and I took the kids to the Peoria Zoo. While we were there, we stopped by the lion cage. Within a span of 5 minutes, both of the lions walked by within inches of us. All that separated us was 2” of heavy-duty glass and 4” of air. And I’ve got to tell you, there was an aspect of that which was pretty exhilarating. I could see the muscles ripple under the skin, the power in their stride, the length of their fangs, and the deep predatory gaze of their yellow eyes staring back into mine, unblinking. I was in awe of these creatures, but I was also just a little bit afraid, and very glad that we were separated by that heavy-duty glass. If I were inside the glass, I strongly suspect that the mixture of awe and fear would be radically reversed, with the balance heavily tilted toward fear. The reason, of course is that while a lion truly is an awe-inspiring creature, it is also one which is fully capable of destroying you. Those 3.5" long claws and teeth aren't decorative, after all.

And something like that healthy fear is, I think, what Paul has in mind when he writes:
continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling - Philippians 2:12b
A lot of people want to downgrade the word “fear” in this passage to something like “reverential awe.” But I think that when we do that, we are somehow trying to domesticate God, cutting Him down to a size where we can deal with Him. We know that the wild, untamed God of the Bible really exists, but a God who is smaller, less fearsome, and more cuddly seems to be...well... so much more comfortable than a God we ought to have a healthy dose of plain old fear of. Because after all, we don't need to be afraid of God as believers, do we? I mean, God loves us, doesn't He? Which is of course true. God does love us and He will never destroy us as He will destroy the wicked one day. But I suspect at least part of us wants God to be less fearsome, to be less the Warrior who treads the wine press of God's wrath (Rev. 19:15) than the gentle shepherd who carries the lamb on his shoulders. We want less the Lion of the Tribe of Judah and something more along these lines...

But back in verses 10-11 of the same chapter, Paul said that something pretty fearsome would happen to all humanity one day. One day, the Day of Christ, we will stand before God in all of his glory and bow our knees before the Lord Jesus. And even though God loves us, even for us who know Jesus, standing before the ascended and glorified Son of God will be awe mixed with a healthy amount of just plain old fear. After all, if being in the presence of a lion, which is just one of the host of creatures that God was powerful enough to create ex nihilo is enough to cause us to (quite rightly) get that tightness in the pit of our stomachs, then why do we think standing in the presence of THE LION will be somehow less mixed with fear and even trembling? God does love us, and those of us who love and follow Jesus don’t need to be terrified that God will destroy us, but a healthy dose of what the Bible calls the fear of God is not a bad thing, but a motivator to flee from sin. Because who wants to stand before God and give account for rebellion? Not me.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What is marriage?

This Sunday I start leading a small group study on marriage with my friend Josh. So I've been looking for good video clips for each week to kick things off. Here's a pretty good, rough and ready description of a healthy marriage from your furry friend Grover:

Thursday, September 10, 2009

This is redneck, but classy redneck

Pastor Jim, my ministry partner at CBC and a good friend, has been building friendships with the skateboarding kids in our community since his arrival here last summer. A case of Mountain Dew combined with a warm welcome to our property for 3 or 4 boys has now grown to include 10-15 skaters and their buddies hanging out here after school on most days of the week. Which is great. They get a place to skate and hang out; we get to build friendships with kids most people don't really like. But all the skateboarding has meant that the carpet on the north porch is getting pretty fatigued and probably in need of replacement.

So Jim and I took it upon ourselves to get a couple rough estimates for replacing our carpet with something similar. Which, it turns out, is harder to do online than it should be. But, wonder of wonders, we did find something completely unexpected: camo carpet.

Now as a dedicated hunter, I find this a revelation. I literally had no idea! It comes in all my favorite camo patterns, from Realtree AP and MAX-4 to Mossy Oak Break-Up and Obsession. Clearly, this will make a classy addition to any hunter's home. I haven't talked it over with Karen yet, but since she has been talking about wanting to replace our upstairs carpet, I'm sure she won't object...

Something lighter...

There are times when I simply don't have the emotional energy or the introspective qualities to write a decent blog post about spirituality or anything too deep. This week is one of those times. Meanwhile, since the big news of this week is President Obama's speech "explaining" to all of us yahoos out here in flyover country how nationalized health care won't be anything like visiting the doctor at the DMV but will instead deliver better care at less cost than we have now. Since everything else the government is involved in is such a model of thoughtful, caring, efficiency, I'm sure that this is surely going to be the result. Anyway, I'm getting the sneaking suspiscion that the President, along with a number of other members of his party, have a very different vision of what kind of country America should be, and want to wield their power to create in reality the country which has heretofore existed only in their heads and at Renaissance Weekends. So I found this little video, of Jack Webb giving "just the facts" to Pres. Obama, amusing and enlightening.

P.S. The age on this video reminds me that the case for liberty versus collectivism must be made anew, every generation. There are no permanent victories, for every society is always 20 years from barbarism.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Something cool

This fellow from Norfolk, England has spent the last 30 years building a 1:100 scale model of the Temple as it was in Jesus' time. He is still not finished, and probably won't finish in his lifetime since he is now 78, but the total area of the model is 20'x12' and contains over 4,000 individually hand-carved 1/2" tall figures (those little figures are people, which gives you an idea how massive this thing is). Each one of the clay bricks are hand made and fired. Apparently, this is most historically accurate model ever created.

I don't know what would inspire someone to spend 30,000+ hours of their life doing this, but I do find the end result thoroughly inspiring.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Whattya got worth living for?

One of my favorite movies of all time is The Princess Bride. It is the story of how a poor farm boy named Westley leaves his true love Buttercup to go seek his fortune. Along the way, Westley gets captured by pirates and is presumed dead, only to be reunited with Buttercup after she is already betrothed to Prince Humperdinck, who is trying to have her killed as a pretext for war with Guilder, a neighboring country. Westley rescues Buttercup, and leads her through the Fire Swamp and safely past its lightning sand, random flame spurts, and Rodents of Unusual Size, only to be captured by Humperdinck and his men, and killed in the Pit of Despair.

Now you would think that getting killed would pretty much put an end to any hopes Westley had of marrying Buttercup and rescuing her from evil Prince Humperdinck. But you would be wrong. Because Westley’s friends Inigo the alcoholic Spanish swordsman and Fezzik the giant from Greenland find him and take him to Miracle Max, who tells them that Westley is only “mostly dead.” “And there’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is still slightly alive. With all dead there’s only one thing left to do – go through his pockets and look for loose change.” With the aid of a bellows, Miracle Max inflates Westley’s lungs and asks, “Hello in there! What you got worth living for?” Westley answers, “True love.” And of course, with the help of Miracle Max, a chocolate coated miracle pill, and his own true love to live for, Westley is miraculous healed to rescue the princess and ride off into the sunset on white horses, kissing passionately.

Now my point in all this is not simply to tell some of the best parts of a movie I enjoy, but to suggest that Miracle Max's question is one well worth answering? What, at the end of the day, do we have that is worth living for? Paul answer is simple: "Christ" (Phil. 1:21).

What Paul means is that Jesus is life; everything else is just details. In this, Paul is kind of like an Olympic athlete. Athletes competing for the Olympics are totally defined by that pursuit. Their schedule each day is determined by what will make them the most successful competitor when the day comes for their race. Their diet is determined by what will help them succeed. Their sleep pattern is determined by the needs of their body for rest to succeed at competing. If they have a job, it is chosen with respect to their need to train. In the same way, Paul’s relationship with Christ is the defining characteristic of his life. It is the center of who he is and what he does. His relationship with Christ is what gives his life purpose and meaning, the thing which reigns supreme over every other concern, need, relationship, and consideration. Christ and Paul’s relationship with him determines what Paul will say, how he will act, and what and how he thinks about every other issue. He is completely dedicated to exalting Christ as long as he lives, and he knows that even if he dies, death is not really a loss but a gain, because in death a Christian passes out of this broken-down life and into the very presence of the Living God.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Down in the River to Pray...

This past Sunday was a great day in our ministry at CBC. Together, Pastor Jim and I baptized 10 people. This was the largest number of people I have ever personally baptized at one time. In fact, I think it's more people than I have personally baptized total to this point in my ministry career. It is so exciting for me to help people take the next step in their discipleship and follow Jesus in this kind of dramatic, public fashion. Though it is sometimes under-emphasized in our evangelical tradition, there really is something quite significant about being publicly baptized.

What a day! We worshipped together at church, ate and talked together at the local Christian camp in whose pond we baptize people, and heard testimonies from all 1o of their conversion to Christ. The weather was unseasonably crisp for late August (must be "global warming") and the water was therefore quite invigorating, but what is that compared to the glory of serving Christ like this? I feel blessed to be a pastor and to have God use me in people's lives. What an amazing privilege.