Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Home is the hunter...

Sorry for lack of posts since last week. The mighty hunter has returned, obviously, with... wait for it...1/2 a duck! How exactly does a person shoot 1/2 a duck you ask? Well, it's like this: All together, the four of us shot four ducks-a hen shoveler, a drake bluebill, and two drake mallards. Two of the ducks were shot by Gerry Lancaster (they were on his end of the boat), while one was shot by Gerry's brother Jack (on his end of the boat). My friend Steve and I were fighting it out in the middle. I shot the one mallard I had a chance to shoot, though Gerry also shot, so we both claimed 1/2 of it. In the end, I wound up taking all of the ducks home, where they are now resting comfortably in my freezer, awaiting the day of duck a la orange, which is yet to come this winter.

It was not the most stellar day from a duck shooting perspective that I've ever experienced on the marsh. On the other hand, between the raindrops, I got to witness the morning flight, saw some ducks work to the call, watched sandhill cranes and geese flap by at a distance, ate grilled and buttered cinammon raisin bagels, followed by ham and eggs, and sucked down coffee with good men. We talked, we razzed each other, we stood in the rain and the wind and watched for circling birds coming to the call and the decoys. And it's these things, as much as the actual shooting, that make for a good duck hunt. And it's for them, as much as the other, that I love going and am looking forward to the next time.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ducks, marshes, and old friends

I'm going to Iowa on Thursday night so that I can experience the joy of sitting in a camouflaged boat out on the marsh while the sun comes up with some old friends and waiting for the ducks. In the last few minutes before the dawn, we'll all be silently praying that shooting hours and duck flight closely coincide. I'll be hoping for teal screaming by, crusing low over the dekes, mallards coming in with their orange feet up, and maybe a shoveler or a gadwall just to liven things up.

Of course, it's also possible that no ducks fly near or at all. That the marsh is quiet except for the sounds of eggs and bacon frying, coffee pouring out of thermoses and into cups held by cold fingers, and of friendly voices razzing each other about one thing or another. And that too is a good way to spend a morning. Since I haven't done either one in a couple years, I don't much care.

Fight! Fight!

When I was in high school back in the day, it always seemed that every student knew of a fight about 5 minutes before any responsible adults could intervene. This meant there was always time to witness the circling, the cussing, the few thrown punches of a fight between boys, or the rolling around the floor, hair-pulling, eye-gouging action of a girl fight, all without being late to class. Personally, I always found these things part of the entertainment provided free while I served out my 12 year public school sentence.

Now that I am a grown man, my prospects for viewing really good hand-to-hand combat have shifted to other venues like Sunday night football and the occasional household spat between my children. Oh, and occasionally within the Church, as part of my pastoral calling, like my calling as a father, has involved maturing beyond being a side-picking spectator and becoming the neutral, responsible adult.

Not that there is any hair-pulling or punches thrown in church, of course, though that would certainly be cleaner. Church fights take the form of offense deliberately (and sometimes accidentally) given which turn into grudges lovingly nursed, negative votes cast, and angry words spoken and written. A disagreement hardens into a fractured relationship, which grows into a faction as sides are chosen, which then metastasizes into a split, a new church, a new denomination, or even "a new way of doing church" (Rob Bell, call your office!).

All this is hardly new, as even people promising "new ways of doing church" have a long pedigree. Because no matter what happens when a new church starts (for whatever reason), eventually the sinners make it through the filters and take up residence there, just like they were present in the old place. And yet, hope springs eternal for some way of "doing church" in which all the sinners will somehow always get along and never have to swallow their pride, confess their sins to one another, and be reconciled. We think, naively, "Well, if we just had more people like me, then things would be perfect." Which are the thoughts of prideful fools. The only way the Church becomes the Church in the way it should be is as it grows to be more like Jesus. And the only way that happens is if we learn to humble ourselves and "agree with each other in the Lord" (Phil. 4:2).

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Losing a heavyweight...

I first met Wally Cold when he came to hear me preach back when I was the Pastor of Evangelism and Community Groups at Faith Bible Church. He was part of the Chilli Bible search committee, and he had to come incognito, since I hadn't yet told the church I was looking for another position. After the service was over, Karen and I joined him and the other members of the team at Chili's for a long lunch. I liked them all instantly, but I felt the deepest connection with Wally. He struck me as a wise man who had come to his wisdom the hard way, but who nevertheless had a strong love for Christ and His Word.

For the next several months, I had many other opportunities to speak with him, both in interview contexts as well as later, after I had been offered and accepted the call to CBC. We talked about the church and the hopes and dreams of its people. We talked about fishing. We talked about friends of his that he was hoping I could influence toward Christ. We talked about a lot of the mundane details involved in moving a pastor from one church to another.

In all this talking, we built a friendship. We always talked about going fishing together, catching bass out at some private pond. We never made that trip, but he did take my sons and I for a ride in his bass boat out on Lake Thunderbird, even letting the boys drive sitting on his lap. He always had a kind word and a firm handshake for me each Sunday and always sought to encourage me in my ministry. When criticism came my way, he was quick to gently point out the truth and help me to reject anything that was false. He believed in me, loved me like a brother, and held me up in prayer. Who could ask for more than that?

Two months ago, Wally got cancer. Or more accurately, the doctors discovered cancer after he had been struggling with illness for months. Lately, he had asked me to send him copies of the sermons in the week after I gave them. He and Clarice couldn't come to the services anymore with his health failing, but they would get the sermon and listen to them on Sunday mornings so they could feel like they were worshiping with us. Then he would send me a long email offering critique and encouragement. He worried that I would get puffed up with too many compliments, but he loved me and God's Word, so the criticisms were small and few while the compliments overflowed.

This week, after his 2nd round of chemo, his health failed. He was in and out of consciousness, but I was able to tell him that I loved him and hear "I love you too." When I told him that he would have to tell me what the City looks like, he told me I already knew (it's there in the Scriptures!). Now he knows far better than I do. This good and godly man turned his final lap today. He passed through the door and into the presence of the Savior this afternoon at 1:05 p.m. Rest in peace, my friend.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Prayers for Padang

Here in the US, with our 24-hour media, we hear about disasters every day. And then the news cycle turns, and we forget. But look at this photo. These are real people who are still living in a real disaster area. They need help. More than that, they need Jesus. This area has been one of most hardened and resistant to the gospel in all of Indonesia. Which, considering that it's the world's largest Muslim nation, is really saying something.

My prayer is that this tragedy will crack the hardened shell of Gospel rejection and that there would be a fresh openness to the life-giving words of the Scriptures. Will you join me in continuing to pray for Padang?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Binge and Purge

No, I'm not bulimic. It just feels that way with reference to our house. We buy things and accumulate junk until we get to a point where the junk seems overwhelming. Then we pitch it out with extreme prejudice, wondering where it all came from.

I spent this morning cleaning with Karen while the kids play with some friends. That keeps them nicely distracted while we purge the trash, accumulated ancient school papers, broken and/or unplayed with toys, and pages that have been well colored. We threw out three 33-gallon garbage sacks of this stuff this morning and we're well on our way to filling a fourth. And that's just from downstairs!

Where did all this stuff come from? Who knows, but it feels cleansing to pitch it. I can already feel a sense of calm descending on my soul...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Political resurrection

President Obama has done the virtually impossible: He has brought the political Right and with it the Republican Party back from the wilderness and into the fight in just 9 short months. For any politicians out there who'd like to know to replicate this remarkable achievement, just follow these 10 simple steps:

Step One: Shortly after Inauguration, embark on the worldwide apology tour. Temporize America's accomplishments and highlight her past sins of "imperialism, sexism, and racism," all while granting America's past faults equal moral footing with dictators who currently murder and imprison their opponents and oppress their people and cultures that stone women who are victims of rape.

Step Two: Cozy up to and negotiate with Vladimir Putin, Hugo Chavez and that nutball who rules Iran, What's-his-name, while selling out our friends in Israel, Honduras, Columbia, the Czech Republic, and Poland.

Step Three: Outsource health care reform to Reid, Pelosi, and Co. so that the resulting bill is a 1,000 page monstrosity which will raise taxes by $200 billion, increase the deficit by trillions, all while decreasing the quality and speed of care for everyone except the congressional mandarins who won't have to live under the system to which they are going to subject the rest of us.

Step Four: Heedlessly push for ever more expansive and expensive government, even though most Americans don't want it. See also, the health care debate, aka "more cowbell."

Step Five: Spend $787 billion on a "stimulus" bill which does nothing to stimulate the economy but a lot to pay off various supportive constituencies like organized labor.

Step Six: Take over GM and Chrysler, while continuing to support legislation that makes it impossible for them to compete (i.e., CAFE standards).

Step Seven: Do nothing to encourage job creation, like lowering taxes or increasing business capital investment credits. Instead talk a lot about the higher taxes that will be necessary to fund all the social engineering programs you want to fund. Let real unemployment hit 16%(!) while speaking constantly about how you're going to help us all by expading the national debt by $9 trillion over your (presumed) 8 years in office.

Step Eight: Get your surrogates to denounce anyone who opposes you or your policies as a racist.

Step Nine: Staff your office with various limousine radicals, tax-cheats, and corrupt Chicago cronies.

Step Ten: Talk a lot. When you start to think people don't support your policies, talk some more. Be on prime time all the time. Make more speeches and have more press conferences than Bill Clinton. And when it's clear your popularity and the popularity of your policies are dropping like a stone, then: Talk. Some. More. Give 'em more cowbell. That's what they really need!

See how easy it is? It's so simple even an audaciously hopeful upper class dude who went to private school his whole life and never accomplished anything much of significance can do it.

No time for half-measures

I have no qualifications as a military strategist. I have never fired a shot in anger, or stared down at a jihadi through the peep on my M4. I will likely never know what it is to march miles through hostile territory with only the rifle in your hands, the pistol on your hip, and the training you share with your buddies to protect you.

Nevertheless, it does seem obvious to me that Gen. McChrystal's request for more troops should be honored. Now that our brave soldiers have defeated Al-Qaeda in Iraq and the front has shifted to Afghanistan, if the general says he needs more troops to win, I think he should get them. After all, Stanley McChrystal is hardly George McClellan-he fights and wins counterinsurgencies when he has the resources he needs, having just come off doing so in Iraq. And yet, the delays and stalling continue.

Meanwhile, the president continues to do his best Solomonic split the baby routine. He can't send more troops without infuriating the Left, who have already had to face up to the reality that his rhetoric about closing Gitmo, no more wars, and universal health care were mostly just that. All hat and no cattle as they say. So to have to swallow expanding a war the Left hates would simply be a bridge to far. When the Left is all he has left, Obama can hardly burn them again. On the other hand, Americans don't like to lose wars nor do they kindly remember presidents who do. Who looks back fondly on that old liberal pioneer of "the Great Society", Pres. Johson? ("Hey, hey, LBJ..."). So he can't very well deny a successful general his request, lest he be blamed for the inevitable defeat. Yet what he seems not to remember is that Solomon's strategy was just that: a strategy for identifying the real mother of the child, not a serious policy. Actually splitting the baby wouldn't have been wise, but disastrous, in the same way that giving McChrystal less than he is asking for will simply mean that more brave men will needlessly die .

Mr. President, it may be distasteful, but the time for splitting the difference is over. It might work as a campaign strategy, but it's a terrible idea for actual governance. It may be hard to jump all the way over the chasm, but suggesting we can safely jump halfway is pure foolishness masquerading as prudence.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Bowhunting with Dad

I went bowhunting with my dad on Monday after spending Sunday afternoon hanging stands in a couple likely locations. We didn't see a deer, but I still had a good time. Time with Dad, especially time to be together in the outdoors, has become much rarer now that I am a father myself with a variety of responsibilities. So it was great just to be together, eat bacon cheeseburgers at ratty restaurant in Henry, and watch the sunrise over the mist in the fields and forests of central Illinois. I'm hoping for a deer this season. It would be great to connect with my bow. But even if not, I'm hoping for more days with Dad.

Fun fact of the day

Apparently, Nestle is the manufacturer of both Hot Pockets and Alpo.

Friday, October 2, 2009


Our church publishes a newsletter every month called The Mustard Seed. I try mightily to actually publish something in it each month, though I am not always successful. Here's my latest submission:


The world at the end of 2009 can seem like a much less hopeful, happy place than the world of last year. The global economy went into meltdown, with millions of homeowners and credit customers suddenly going into default. Unemployment across the country stands at near 10%, and locally around 12.5%. The Middle East seems to be heating up again, with Iran desperate for a nuclear bomb with which to threaten us. The Aghan War is going poorly. Even the weather seems to reflect the nation’s mood with a cooler, wetter summer than usual and a fall that is quickly turning gray and cold. In the midst of all this bad news it’s easy to be depressed and discouraged.

But we as believers in Jesus Christ have a lot to be encouraged by and a lot in which we can rejoice. First and foremost, we can rejoice because our sins are forgiven (1John 2:12). Our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev. 21:27). We are the sons and daughters of God himself (1 John 3:1) and possess already the eternal life which God promised to those who follow his Son (1 John 5:11-13). Our salvation is ours forever because we are kept in Christ not by our own efforts at righteousness, but by the perfect holiness of our loving Father (Jude 24-25). On top of these things, God chose us before the foundation of the world to give us his glorious grace in redemption, adoption, sealing and empowering through the Spirit, and blessing us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms (Eph. 1:2-14). And now, since God has already done the most for us in our glorious relationship with him, He can only do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3:20).

I believe that in the midst of what has been a very challenging year for our church that we are still seeing God work to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine. For example, we have seen God use our congregation to reach four adults on our Evangelistic Relational Sphere of Influence (R.S.I.) wall of prayer. We had 60+ kids come and participate in VBS over the summer. There are 20+ women involved in MOPs, many of whom do not attend our church. We have 60+ kids coming to AWANA each week, learning God’s Word and hearing the Gospel faithfully proclaimed. We baptized 10 people at Great Oaks in August and have added 7 new members as of the end of September. God provided funding for the L****** (name withheld for security) people group prayer guide to be printed by our Missions Team so that people all over the world can begin using it to pray for a people without the Gospel. We have distributed dozens of Bibles to prisoners across the US. We have given food and financial assistance to a large number of our community’s families, touching their lives at the point of their need so that they might “see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Kids are continuing to come and hang out, study, and play at the CafĂ©, experiencing Christ in the love they are shown there and our Youth Ministry is reaching out to all types of students in our community – rich and poor, band kids and skateboarders, athletes and academics.

For none of these things can we take credit. It is God, after all, who did the work through us and deserves and glory for the results (Phil. 2:13). But in these things, as well as all of the other things that God has already done for each of in our salvation, we can rejoice. And we have plenty of reasons to do so. So even as 2009 winds its way toward 2010, let us not forget in the midst of all the challenges that we can (and should!) REJOICE!
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” – Philippians 4:4