Wednesday, December 7, 2011

I think I say this every year...

...but "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" is my favorite Christmas carol. It's my favorite for these lines:
And in despair I bowed my head:
"There is no peace on earth," I said,
"For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men."
Even at Christmas, it is easy to despair. Hate is strong and it mocks the song. The world we live in is continually coming unscrewed. As a pastor I have a front-row seat to the destructiveness of sin and see proved each day that "the thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy," just like Jesus said. And in such times as these, it's easy to believe that, if there is a God, then He is on leave. For the world cannot exist as it does and there be a God out there who loves us and is strong enough to deliver, can there?

And yet...And yet...there is a Christmas, an annual reminder that we do not believe in a God who remained remote from His creation, who knows nothing of suffering and the hardness of the world. Rather, we embrace Jesus, the God-man, the God who came in the flesh, experienced all the worst the world has to offer, from grinding poverty, to disease, betrayal, torture, injustice, suffering, mockery, and death and yet through all that is bringing redemption to the world. It is not fully redeemed yet, nor will it be until judgment comes, but Christmas is our annual reminder that the world as it is is not how it will be and that we have a God of love and power who has not only experienced life like us, but loves us too much to let the world forever continue as it is. God is not dead and he does sleep. Do you hear the bells this Christmas?

Art and the common man

I've long suspected that most of what we call "art" in the modern era is unworthy of the term. And every now an then, you run across someone saying something you believe better than you ever could. Here's Jonah Goldberg, from his latest G-File:
I once read somewhere that architecture is the best example of an "artistic" school that has completely broken with popular tastes. Architects certainly seem to design buildings to please each other and the critics and not the public. The average intelligent person goes to the Louvre in France and marvels at the beauty of the 17th-century buildings. The average architecture critic yawns at the musty old antiques and gushes over I.M. Pei's glass pyramid. I don't hate the glass pyramid (okay, maybe I do a little). But I don't go to Paris to see a structure that I could see at a relatively upscale suburban mall. The phenomenon is even more pronounced when you look at modern architecture in more conventional businesses and houses. What's more appealing to the eye, stately Wayne Manor or the Hall of Justice?

Still, I don't know if architecture is the best example of the phenomenon. Modern art caters to popular tastes just as little as architecture. A great deal of performance and installation art strikes most normal people as a colossal joke or a straight-up con. And please don't tell me that my failure to appreciate three squares and a triangle or a blob of paint on a canvas is my shortcoming. If something isn't aesthetically pleasing or interesting, doesn't require skills I do not have, and makes a stupid point stupidly, I don't appreciate it as art. That doesn't make me a philistine. It makes me a non-rube.

Anyway, it seems to me that the more a relatively artistic field of endeavor caters to critics over consumers, the worse it gets. You can see this all over the place, from haute cuisine to music. Some of my best friends in college were music majors, and they would ramble on about how Philip Glass is a genius. Maybe he is. But I'll take Beethoven or the Beatles over him any day. I don't follow the literary world too closely these days, but my impression is that the same is true in the world of fiction. If you write for the critics, only the critics will read you.

Deer season

Deer season ended not with a whimper, or even a bang, but by simply ending. Tag sandwiches don't taste very good, and this is the first time I've eaten one in a while. Still, in a thought familiar to Cub fans everywhere, "There's always next year!"

Monday, November 14, 2011

Whitetails on the table

...So that buck I wrote about? Well, my hunting buddy had it walk by his stand at 15 yards and that was all she wrote. It was a mainframe 8-pointer with an abnormal sticker point on one side that scored 124 7/8". A nice buck, but not a monster. My friend and I split the meat on whatever we shoot, so yesterday afternoon I helped him skin and quarter it. The hams and chops from my half are all currently sitting in my freezer, neatly carved into roasts and steaks, while the remaining 15 lbs of de-boned meat is in bags in the fridge awaiting the grinder. Perhaps tonight I'll get around to that. If not, then tomorrow morning.

Meanwhile, I am also getting ready to boil the skull for my friend for a European mount. I hope it turns out well. It's a cool looking set of antlers and should make for a good mount. Pictures to follow when I'm done.

This weekend is also the start of shotgun season. Which means deer that were heretofore too far away are now in range...

Friday, November 11, 2011

And one more makes...twenty!

It's been interesting to watch the reactions to the excited announcement by Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar that they are expecting their 20th child. It seems we are quite discombulated as a culture by the idea that a loving couple might be so...what's the right word?...ah yes, unnecessarily prolific. I mean, maybe back in the day when everyone farmed and people buried as many children as they raised (and often more), maybe such fecundity made sense. But now? In the post-Pill, post-Roe era? Why, such people are as hard to understand as aliens from outer space. I've heard reactions from admiration that one woman could even endure that many pregnancies (one dear friend, who is currently expecting said to Karen, "Just thinking about 18 more babies makes all my lady parts hurt!") to celebration of life (many Christians), to a scolding, don't-you-know-how-babies-happen-yet-you-coupla-rednecks (many on the left side of the media). Interestingly, the same sort of reactions, along the same sort of spectrum, could be found at the recent announcement that the 7 billionth child had just been born this month.

And while I find the thought of adding 16 children to our family fills me with a sense of profound weariness, when I see this lovely family, celebrating new life not as a number, but as a long-awaited joy, my heart fills with joy for them, though I don't know them, at the same time that it weeps for a culture where babies are  not as welcomed bundles of joy, but as a burden to society. May that change. And to all my "young evangelical" friends in search of a cause worth giving your life for so that our culture reflects Gospel values: here's one.

Whitetails in the mist

I went hunting on Monday morning, out to the camp where I have the privilege of serving as a board member. It was a crisp, cool morning, but not yet cold. The pre-rut was on, a front had just come through, and if the two does I spotted crossing the road on the way in were a sign, it promised to be an ideal morning for a bowhunter still in search of his first  bow kill. I was hoping that the big 12 pointer that has been haunting the alfalfa field at the north end would want to fight with my decoy and I'd get a shot or at least an encounter.

Instead, after I got everything set and was pulling the bow into the treestand with me, I discovered that my arrows had disappeared from my quiver somewhere between the truck and the tree. With no arrows, this was proving not to be much of a hunt. So I slipped out of the stand and walked back to the truck, flashlight in hand. I did not see them on the way back, so I waited at the truck for daylight, frustrated.

After it got light, I walked down, packed up the decoy and gathered my kit, it now becoming obvious I was in for a different kind of hunt-to find about $100 of arrows. I did finally find them, on the way back up the hill. Apparently, they had caught on some of the thorn tangle I had to plow through on the way down in the dark and popped out to the ground.

But by this time, it was 7:30 and the first magic hour-and-a-half was gone, and the spot I was hoping to hunt was probably scented up by all my tromping around. So, if I was going to actually hunt deer at all, it was going to be out of another stand.

When I arrived at another stand, overlooking a hot scrape which is easily 4' in diameter near some big rubs, I settled in comfortably and prepared to call and wait and call and wait. And it started to rain. Not hard, just a good steady sprinkle that soaks you a little at a time.

I toughed it out for two hours of no deer sightings and then decided I'd had enough fun for one day. I got down and slid through the sodden woods toward another stand to see what deer sign might be active near it (I haven't hunted it yet this year). As I got close, I spotted three deer--two does and a nice buck, who were all ambling downhill toward me at about 80-90 yards. Too far for this archer, but they might close the deal on their own. At least, that was my hope.

It was not to be. I watched for 5 minutes, silently and without moving. I had the wind and the deer weren't aware I was there. But then, the wind carried the scent of another predator to the deer and, in a jumble of white and grey-brown, they were gone, over the hill and out of my life. The coyote appeared, moments later, dogging their track.

Tomorrow is another day for me and the woods and the bow. Perhaps God's grace will prevail and I will get meat for the freezer and the family. Perhaps not. But either way, any coyotes in the area best be alert for airborne special deliveries.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Christian and the Vote

“every true, born-again follower of Christ ought to embrace a Christian over a non-Christian.” ~ Robert Jeffress, Senior Pastor, First Baptist Dallas
On the off chance this particular deceased equine hasn't been sufficiently flogged, let me ask the question: Is that true? Should a Christian always prefer the Christian candidate in any particular political race? What if the candidate in question is a fool, or his/her theology is off more than half a bubble out of plumb? How much theological heterodoxy is permitted before a person can be safely declared "not a Christian" and thus no longer require me, a "true, born-again follower of Christ" to vote for him or her?

These are not idle questions, but cut to the heart of the matter: How should a Christian vote?

In my mind, it comes down to the following criteria:
  1. Proven character. A good leader should be a good man or woman first. If he or she has not proven faithful in smaller matters, like being able to police his/her passions, why should he/she be trusted with a position of leadership? Personally, I was never comfortable with the idea that a person can be privately immoral, but publicly lead well. A person who has integrity in private will exercise it also in the conduct of his/her official duties, and who lacks it privately sooner or later won't be able to demonstrate it publicly either.
  2. Effective leadership. Can the person inspire people and get important tasks accomplished. Is there a record of such accomplishments? Any politician will have to lead not just people of his/her own party, but also those of the opposition. Can he/she make even enemies be at peace with good decisions, well executed?
  3. Enforcing justice fairly. This is one of the areas of our society which is always under challenge. Biblically, we must not grant special favors to the rich or connected because of their riches or connections. Cronyism or class-based favoritism is prohibited. But similarly, we must not put a thumb on the scale for the poor against the wealthy. We in the church are called to help the poor, but government's role is to enforce the law fairly for all. Does the candidate understand that, or does he/she stand on one side or the other?
  4. Policy proposals that focus on results rather than intentions. Nothing is easier than endorsing policies which sound good and make their promoters feel good about themselves. But as the old proverb says, "The road to hell..." Good intentions matter less than good results where people are concerned, and politicians do well to remember that Murphy was an optimist, and most policies have unforseen consequences. [Consider for example the push for so-called "electric cars." What they really are in most parts of the country is "coal powered cars," since the electricity they run on is provided by coal, a less-efficient and dirtier form of energy than gasoline. If everybody buys a taxpayer subsidized electric car, that will effectively result in a need to construct a whole lot more coal-fired electrical plants and much dirtier air].
  5. Minimization of the role of the state. If we believe what the Bible says that man is sinful and that man given power is prone to not just mischief, but destruction, then we should seek politicians who want to minimize rather than maximize their own role and their own scope of power over others' lives. This applies whether the pol in question seeks war or just do goodery "for the children." The power of the state seems to operate on a one-way ratchet, so look for pols who are either seeking to undo the ratchet a few clicks or at the very least, advance it no further.
  6. No political messiahs. This is related to last one. It seems that every election brings out the messianic in every pol. This is natural, as it seems you have be an above-average narcissist just to run for office. Thus, they promise "heaven" to those who vote for them and that "hell" will result if they are not elected. They scare the voters, hoping that the glories they promise for support and the hell of their own loss will result in their elevation. But knowing that this is the nature of politics, we as Christians ought not be bamboozled. There is one Messiah, Jesus, and all others are mere pretenders. Don't vote for a man or woman who is there to save the world; they can't. Vote for the fellow who takes the tragic view that our best efforts can only improve things a bit, if at all. It's downbeat as a philosophy, but realistic in it's expectations of fallen people.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Is Mormonism a Cult?

In a certain sense, no. That is, if by "cult," you mean the sort of mesmerized, secretive organization which demands unquestioned allegiance to the leader and which leads to the deaths of many of its adherents, a la Jonestown, David Koresh, etc. then Mormonism isn't a cult in that sense. At least, not today, though even cursory reading about early Mormon history certainly leads one to conclude that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were more akin to Koresh than to Paul or Jesus.

But moving over to the theological realm, the answer is certainly an emphatic "YES." Consider the following:
  1. Mormonism was founded by Joseph Smith, who claimed that he was told via direct revelation that he needed to found a new church of "Latter Day Saints' specifically because all other churches and Christian denominations were false and corrupt. Thus, their differences with historic Christian orthodoxy are not incidental, but central to Mormons' self-identity and reason for existence.
  2. Mormonism rejects the unique authority of the Scriptures, and considers them their inerrant nor complete, adding to them not only the Book of Mormon, but also Doctrine and Covenants and The Pearl of Great Price.
  3. Mormonism emphasizes the continuing nature of revelation through official prophets. Through the Mormon hierarchy of President, First Presidency, Twelve Apostles, First Quorum of the Seventy, and Second Quorum of the Seventy, Mormons can receive authoritative interpretations of both the Scriptures, the Mormon additions, and entirely new authoritative revelations. It is uncharitable to point out that some of these "new revelations" have come about because of the changing of social mores or desire for social acceptability in the wider culture, but with issues such as polygamy and the admission of blacks to the Mormon priesthood, such certainly seems to be the case.
  4. Mormonism affirms a primordial spiritual existence before birth as God the Father's spirit sons and daughters, who receive bodies when humans procreate here on earth. How the first humans got their bodies I do not know, since there seems to be a need for a first set of bodies for the Father's spirit children to inhabit, but whatever.
  5. Mormons are non-Trinitarian. They affirm the Father, Son, and Spirit as unity in purpose and mind, but not in essence, and such unity as there is not eternal. Moreover, Mormonism is explicitly polytheistic, with Brigham Young teaching, "How many Gods there are, I do not know. But there never as a time when there were not Gods and worlds."
  6. To Mormons, Jesus is Redeemer, but his deity is derivative and lesser than that of God the Father.
  7. For the Mormon, humans are not inherently sinful. They do not possess an innate sinful nature, but are basically good.
  8. Mormonism teaches that eternal reward can come to Mormons by their own efforts. Salvation is thus essentially not by grace, but by works.
  9. Mormon salvation means that good Mormons ascend to the highest level of reward (the Celestial Kingdom), where they and their spouses (to whom they are still married for eternity!) continue to procreate as Gods, whose spirit children will one day inhabit other worlds. Less good people, who aren't quite righteous, go to the Terrestial Kingdom, where they don't suffer, but also aren't ruling as gods. The Telestial Kingdom is for the wicked and includes suffering. And finally, the Devil and fallen angels are confined to the Lake of Fire.
That is not even an exhaustive treatment of Mormon theology and its departures from historic Christian orthodoxy. But it is quite enough to say that while Mormonism is something, it is not "Christian" in any recognized theological sense of the term. At best, it is a religious movement which incorporates some Christian terminology and uses the Christians Scriptures. But it is not inaccurate in the least to label it a "cult."

Mormonism in the news...

Mormonism and its beliefs are back in the news because two of the candidates for the Republican nomination, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, are devout Mormons. Additionally, Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Dallas (one of the largest congregations in both the SBC and the world), "helpfully" pointed out that Mormonism is a cult and that Christians shouldn't vote for a Mormon when they have a choice (such as Rick Perry, whom Jeffress evidently finds more to his personal taste).

This touched off a series of highly predictable events:
  1. Pastor Jeffress was denounced as a "bigot" by pundits both right and left.
  2. Rick Perry "backs away" from Jeffress, apologizing and damage controlling for comments he neither made nor solicited.
  3. Mitt Romney, the Republican frontrunner, gives yet another tiresome speech, of the same variety given by politicians at least since the Catholic Al Smith, in which he tries to walk the tightrope of a religious man whose faith isn't shared by the majority of Americans--that is, "my faith will guide me enjoy to give me political credit as a good and decent person, but won't influence me so much that I will say, follow the pope's guidance on foreign policy, or make wearing "temple garments" (aka "holy underwear") compulsory for all federal taxpayers."
  4. Debate ensues among the punditocracy about whether the constitution's prohibition of religious tests for office precludes voters from allowing their thoughts about a candidates particular faith or lack thereof to be a determining factor in their vote. The fact that the Constitution is meant to restrict the powers of government rather than individual voter behavior escapes notice.
But none of these reactions gets really down to the heart of the matter? Is Mormonism, in fact, a cult? And related to that, should Christian theology and a candidate's beliefs be the determining factor in a voter's choice?


I forget to pray. And often, in a variation of the same phenomenon, I pray for things for a while, and then stop praying for them because it doesn't seem like God is actually doing anything. In the past month, I've gotten three different reminders that God is at work even long after I've stopped asking.

I heard from a friend that he had finally apologized to someone and begun the process of healing that long-since broken relationship. I know both men and knew that my friend was, at least partly, in the wrong. So it cheered me to see the Spirit's work in his heart to repent and attempt reconciliation. It had been years since they had spoken. Where, except in the Body of Christ, does this happen?

I also heard through the grapevine about an old friend. I had helped bring her to Christ years ago, but she had shortly afterward wandered away from church and from Karen and I. I was deeply grieved over her, almost physically pained that someone genuinely converted could slip so easily back into a former life. At the time, I found myself doing some re-thinking about my theology of conversion, and wondering if indeed she was the type of "believer" described in Hebrews 6, whose conversion only seems genuine, but isn't. As I saw the slippage happening, I prayed that it would end, but I stopped after it seemed permanent. But wonder of wonders, I have since heard she is not only back in church, but has re-committed herself to Christ and is married to a man who is also a Christ follower. Color my cynical, faithless heart shocked, but joyful!

And last of all, I've found myself restoring relationships with a few people that I had hurt and who had hurt me. Years have passed since the original incidents, allowing the pain to ease, but never really heal. I had forgiven, but not reconciled. And honestly, I held out little hope that real healing would ever happen. I had stopped praying for it, just as I had stopped praying for these other things. Yet God was gracious to me, as He ever is, and kept working to bring about what could not happen without Him.

Oh the depths of both the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments and His ways past finding out!

Favorite Sins

"It's always your favorite sins that do you in." ~ You and Tequila
It really is true what Dad used to say: "Even blind hogs can find acorns once in a while," so every now and then, even secular culture finds some true things to say. After 10 years as a pastor, what I find over and over again is that it is the sins we can't quite repent of that destroy us and the area of life in which that sin promised the greatest fulfillment. A girl with eating disorders finds her body destroyed by her attempts to perfect it. A man with a sexual addiction eventually finds no pleasure in actual sex. An alcoholic or a drug addict no longer enjoys, but still must have, that which now only adds to the pain he starting out trying to medicate. And on and on...

Sin promises what it will not, ultimately, deliver. And with it comes the Thief, whose aim is to steal, kill, and destroy. Over time, the Father of Lies is revealed for who he is, though not before destruction has poured forth from every corner of the destroyed person's life. And then repentance is a long journey home from a far country, smelling like pigs.

I am thankful that we still get to come home and still get that glorious welcome from a Father who runs to meet His children. But my pastor's heart grieves for those I see wandering, doing the very thing that will destroy them in the end.

Friday, September 9, 2011

God and Science

David Berlinski is one interesting dude. And I think I've found a book I want very much to read (Berlinski's The Devil's Delusion). This 11 minute video is, I'll promise you, the most interesting reflection on the interaction between science and faith that you will watch today. Watch the whole thing, as they say.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

God and Small Things

Last Sunday morning, I preached through Genesis 24, about Abraham sending his servant to get a wife for Isaac. I emphasized the fact that there is no miracle, no prophetic word, no vision of God. God doesn't even repeat and re-state the Abrahamic Covenant, as He had done at many points in Abraham's past. No, what you see is Abraham's confidence that God will go before his servant and give him success on his mission, based on his confidence that God will keep His covenant. And since fulfilling it requires that there be another generation after Isaac, then God will surely provide a wife for him.

I brought all this out because I think the text is teaching us that there are no coincidences and that God is in even the small details of our lives. It was surely not simply coincidence that the servant just "happened" to find right spot to meet Rebekah, that she just happened to be the first girl he met, or that she just happened to pass the test through which the servant had prayed for the right girl to be revealed. Neither was it simple coincidence that she was willing to go with the servant to marry a man she had not met because she believed in God's promises to him, nor that her family was willing to have her leave. God was in these circumstances, leading, guiding, and showing his steadfast love and faithfulness to Abraham, Isaac, Rebekah, and the servant.

I had opportunity to remind myself of these things when I came home from the service and found this awaiting me:

Well actually, it looked a little different. When I found it, there was  portable basketball leaning against the windshield. I've had that goal up and the base filled with water for about 4 years with no problems. The previous night there were 70 mph winds and the truck was parked six feet left of it. No problem then. But the next morning, when I moved the truck in front of it, that's when it decided it had enough. Coincidence? I don't believe it was. I believe that God was showing me that He was in this too. Not just in the good things that happen, but also in things like having your windshield broken by your hoop. "The Lord gives, the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord."

Morning Boys

One of the joys of my mornings has been being able to be there to see the boys off to school. They are so excited to get on that big bus, they literally run down the driveway to meet it each morning. Here they are, looking ready to go:

Why Do I Want To Be Good?

We all know that we are supposed to be good, supposed to make moral improvement in our lives. We all know that we are not supposed to be immoral wretches who enjoy our wretchedness. But often, I don't think that we really ever stop to ask ourselves "Why?" Why do I want to be good? Why do I want to stop behaving in a particular, sinful way?

What I find is that our motivations are often varied. Sometimes, we want to stop sinning in some fashion because continuing down that road is causing pain in a relationship. So we want to change because we want our friends, spouses, or family members to stop bugging us about this thing we do (or have done, again!). We want peace, so we change. In our better moments, we may even do so in repentant fashion, because we see the hurt we've caused and want to change because we love the person more than we love being the person that we are. Change on these bases is good. It contributes to harmony, and even, at times, personal holiness.

Sometimes we want to change because it will increase our level of social acceptability and help us "fit in." So we stop cussing because that's not cool in our social circles, stop getting drunk because that's frowned upon, and stop running around because that's simply not what nice people do and we want to be viewed as one of the "nice people." And again, that's not worthless change. Who doesn't think that restoring some of our culture's former taboos and recovering the stigma attached to certain behaviors would be a good thing and to the benefit of our culture?

And for me sometimes, I even find that I want to change because I want to be less in need of grace. My theology tells me that I must have grace, because without it, I am completely unacceptable before God. But my pride tells me that needing it is a terrible shame and so I want, sometimes, to change simply so I can feel more worthy and less needy when I come before God.

But the best motivation for change is because we want to glorify God rather than ourselves, please Him rather than our companions, conform to Christ rather than culture, and stand holy before Him because of His grace rather than pridefully working to not need it (an impossible task, since we ar still sinfully prideful). I cannot get out of my head the thought, probably planted there by John Piper or maybe Westminster, that my chief purpose (and yours too) is that we bring glory to God. And He is not glorified by us working harder, but by our allowing His Spirit to transform us, by His grace. He is glorified when we recognize that we need to seek tranformation not so we can feel or look or act better, but because God in Christ has come to save us from our sinfulness so that He can work in us and conform us to the image of the Son and so become, not just better versions of ourselves, but partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4). He is glorified when we seek transformation not to better ourselves, but to better glorify Him.

Istanbul, not Constantinople

A friend of mine is in this ancient city today. So in her honor, enjoy this song. It's now an oldie (as am I, I guess), but it always makes me laugh. Enjoy!

They Might Be Giants - Istanbul (Not Constantinople) from They Might Be Giants on Vimeo.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The boys of fall

This week is a great week at the Horn house. My sons started playing flag football in the evenings, and Karen and I are getting our first dose of being "sports parents." We have promised each other that we will not become one of those parents, the kind who generate eye rolls and deep sighs throughout the stands. And I'm glad we are committed to this already, because once the boys are suited up and playing, the temptation will run high, .

This fulfills a little dream for me too. I know you aren't supposed to live vicariously through your kids, but childhood seizures meant I never got to play competitive football myself, and I am genuinely thrilled for them. They are already doing drills, running Indian runs, practicing their stances, getting ready for the "hit" portion of the game, and being coached by Dad on such important phrases as "It's just a scratch. Put me back in, Coach." I'm so proud of them, I could bust. We'll see what happens after they actually get to touch a football, but this is a pretty magic moment, and I feel blessed to be experiencing it with my sons.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Matt Chandler on Christian Dating

Sometimes, you run across something which perfectly encapsulates your thoughts. I have long believed that Christian dating has gotten really weird. I don't know when this happened, but some of us are not far from advocating something like temporary monasticism absent miraculous intervention. Here's Pastor Matt Chandler of Village Church in Dallas, a godly man I respect on the topic:

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Family Vacation

Since we are spending this season of our lives in a very small community, one of the things our family really enjoys is trips to "the big city," and round here that means Chicago. We want our children to experience the sights, sounds, and tastes of places outside the little world we inhabit, and to have fun visiting a place we wouldn't want to actually take them to live in. So off we went, to ride the El, eat Chicago food, see museums, shop at their favorite stores (American Girl and the Lego Store), and eat chocolate.

Our enthusiasm remained undimmed, despite bouts of the worst family infestation of stomach virus I've ever seen. Hopefully, you can see that in the "highlight reel" below:

This is the Pioneer Zephyr, the train that set a land speed record for its non-stop run between Denver and Chicago back in the day. This was also one of the kids' favorite parts of the Science and Industry Museum. Personally, since it was my first trip too, I could have spent a lot more time looking around the U-505 submarine and the associated exhibits. The history connected with that was irresistible for me, but alas, not so much for the kids.

This is Nate's evaluation of the experience of riding the "El." The others weren't quite so impressed, but it was still the only time in my memory when public transport was a highlight...

On our last day, the boys and I headed off to the Lego Store, home of Lego Darth, Lego Woody, Lego Yoda, and a large assortment of Lego sets, games, and miscellaneous pieces (to help you re-build the sets to which you have mysteriously lost some of the pieces). It was a fun sort of trip to a version of boy heaven (except that nothing there comes by grace), and John and Nate got to pick out some small things to add to their collections.

Our adventures in Legoland ended, and so it was time to journey down a floor to join the girls at American Girl. With Sara off still figuring out exactly how to spend the $50 in squirreled away allowance (far easier than it sounds, in that place--$50 doesn't go that far), I got Ashley to be my all star American Girl while she waited with the boys and I by the door. As an aside, why are there never any comfortable chairs in a girly store? Don't they know that men and boys are often semi-willing participants in the shopping excursion there?

And finally, it's just not a Horn family vacation if there' no stop at Cabela's or Bass Pro somewhere, so this was our last stop on the last day. If you can't read it, the sign over the door reads, "Welcome Hunters, Fishermen, and Other Liars." At lot to be said for truth in advertising, if you ask me, so I'm wondering how a sign like that would look over the doors at church.

Friday, July 8, 2011

And now for something completely different...

When I was 7 years old, my dad took me to see Raiders of the Lost Ark. I was completely captured by the experience, and for several years wanted to be Indiana Jones. Fortunately for me, my parents had a large wooded yard at the time, a lot of which was left untamed and without grass. They had really good cap guns in those days (if I could find ones like the ones I had, I'd trade you even up on a Smith and Wesson .22 semiauto), and Dad's barn was full of rope to make whips. A boy with an active imagination could easily spend all day exploring the "jungle" and raiding the lost city of Tanis.

So when a friend sent me the following video, while there is a part of me which thought, "I can't believe this guy makes his living doing this," there is also another, perhaps deeper, geekier, more boyish part which thinks, "If this pastor thing ever doesn't work out, I have found my new calling!" Anyway, enjoy a laugh or two with me:

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Reflections on Genesis 15

I've been preaching through the book of Genesis this year at Chilli Bible, with the goal of preaching the first two major sections (Creation-Babel and the Life of Abraham & Isaac) this year and punctuating them with trips elsewhere (2 Peter after chapters 1-11 and probably into the minor prophets again after we wrap up Abram and Isaac's stories). But what has long stood out to me is the very humanness of the Bible's central characters. There are no plaster saints, no perfect men but Jesus the God-man. Abram himself, particularly before his late in life demonstration of great faith on Mt. Moriah, is probably best described as a man of questionable loyalty to God, whose life alternates between periods of great faith punctuated with incidents of epic stupidity and disobedience.

If you didn't know your Bible, in fact, you could be forgiven for wondering what God will do with a man like Abram, who disobeyed God in taking Lot and all the goods of his father's house off to Canaan, and who then abandoned the land of promise for Egypt, where he also lied about and then gave up the wife needed for the child of promise in exchange for a good dowry from Pharaoh. In short, Abraham has sinned and rejected all the things God had promised to go his own way. Yet in chapter 15 God is right there, re-affirming His covenant with Abraham.

And He does so in a most unusual manner, instructing Abram to cut in half a heifer, a ram, and a goat, and to lay out a young pigeon and a dove, leaving a bloody aisle between the halves. This was part of a covenant making and/or sealing ceremony, in which the covenant participants walked the aisle between the pieces, and in so doing laid on themselves an implied death sentence if they break the covenant (i.e., "May it be done to me like these animals"). But after all is arranged, it is God alone (symbolized by the torch and smoking firepot, v. 17), who passes through, symbolizing that it is God alone who will keep the covenant, since He alone made it.

In this, I find great personal encouragement and even sanctifying grace. For, as Paul says in Romans 15:4, "Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us..." And what this little incident reminds me is that I have a much better covenant than Abram, for mine was sealed not with God symbolically pronouncing death on Himself, but with the actual slaughter of the Son of God, whose death paid for my covenant breaking and established a new one, which likewise God alone keeps with me. Through that covenant, enacted by God's merciful, holy love, I cannot be rejected despite my ongoing sinfulness, because God has already paid the penalty for my sin. And since no matter what I've done or do, God is right there re-affirming His love for me, I am motivated each day to confess my sin and live in greater obedience. This is indeed, amazing grace.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Day Camp

Here's some of the photos from Heartland District Cub Scout Day Camp with John:

John loved playing Robin Hood, but he is cross-dominant, which means that even though he is right-handed, his dominant eye is his left. Due to the the shortage of left-handed bows, this meant that he needed to shoot right handed and cover his left eye. So despite looking like a pirate with a caution tape "eye patch," he did learn to shoot pretty well and really enjoyed himself!

Here, John is doing his other favorite camp activity, BB guns. He earned his sharpshooter patch, and outshot everyone else his age. Needless to say, Dad was pretty proud of John's first time out.

This is human foosball. It is set up exactly like a foosball table, only with ropes instead of rods. Each player slides down the rope using the pieces of PVC they are holding and knots in the rope limit movement to their zone of play, like the stops on a foosball table. The boys had fun, but about 1/2 hour's worth is all they could take before they wanted a break. John is in the center, wearing a clear poncho, because it had just stopped raining (again!).

Wild Honey

I spent part of last week at Cub Scout Day Camp with my oldest son John, who is a Wolf Scout this year. It was a great time of learning to shoot BB guns, make things out of leather and emboss them, build a bird feeder, shoot BB guns, play human foosball, practice with bows and arrows, learn how to properly fold and care for a flag, shoot each other with water guns, and yes, shoot BB guns.

It rained off and on all three days, including an epic downpour on the first day. On the night of the second day, there was a massive storm that knocked down trees all over the park where we were having camp. So our Cub Scout Service project was helping pick up limbs and sticks for an hour. But we all also spotted the huge hollow treetop that came down which contained a honey beehive. As the intrepid sort who had to try to collect some, and since the odds of me coming across another wild hive like this in the future are somewhere between slim and Barack Obama's re-election prospects, I waited until all the boys were otherwise occupied and then hustled back to the truck for some gallon sacks to stick some honeycomb in. For the curious, no, I did not get get stung. What I got was a lot of honey filled comb with no very good idea how to extract the honey.

I called a friend, who told me that commercial honey producers cut open the combs and separate the honey from the comb with centrifuges. Huh. Learn something new everyday. But my garage being a little light in the centrifuge department, I had to rely on something else: hillbilly ingenuity, which quickly devised a plan involving a bowl, a glass jar, a funnel and some brand new knee high pantyhose (which were a bargain at $ .33 a pair). Clean, sweet, fruity tasting honey was the result. I was excited to be able to show the kids where honey comes from and more excited (being kinda cheap), not to have to buy honey for a couple weeks.

Next project: Find some wild locusts to eat with it and a camel hair coat to preach in next Sunday...

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Polygamy and the Bible

As many of you no doubt know, the State of New York recently legalized gay marriage and, significantly, did so in the absence of judicial fiat (as in Connecticut, Iowa, & Massachusetts) or ultimatums (as in Vermont) but through the normal legislative process (as happened in New Hampshire). New York is the largest state by far to have instituted gay marriage, and its passage there has been the occasion of a lot of commentary from both left and right about the nature of marriage itself. More and more, people on both sides of the political aisle are finding it difficult to conclude that marriage necessarily means one man and one woman. As a result, that biblically based concept is increasingly under fire, and now is seen as the last refuge of the bigot.

Indeed, one of the more common attacks against it is the idea that there is simply no such thing as "biblical marriage" as equivalent to one man, one woman given the polygamy of some of the patriarchs and kings of the Old Testament. Thus, the reasoning goes, if God does not condemn polygamy, how can monogamous, albeit homosexual, "marriages" be worthy of condemnation? They are, in this, partially correct. It is true that God nowhere explicitly (more on that in a moment) condemns polygamy anywhere in the Old Testament and it is true that some of the patriarchs and kings were polygamous and yet blessed by God. So how can this be if it is true that God's plan was always monogamy? But they conveniently choose to leave out the following facts:

Genesis 1 tells us that God, in making humanity "in his image" created one man and one woman in a relationship (marriage) designed for fruitfulness and mutual blessing. There are no indicators that any other kind of relationship was ever part of God's original design.

Genesis 2 speaks of God creating and then bringing the woman to the man as his perfectly suited companion. Again there is no indication that multiple women, or indeed, multiples or singles of anything or anyone other than a woman would be the ideally suited companion to complete the man.

In Genesis 4, we meet Cain, who is not only the first murderer, but also the one who sets up a civilization opposed to God. One of Cain's descendants (Lamech) not only doubles down on Cain's murdering, he is also the first polygamist. Say what you will, this is hardly a recommendation for the concept.

Or, if you want to get actually into the details, consider the four major figures who were polygamous in the Old Testament. All were blessed by God, but it must have been in spite of their polygamy, because their polygamous families are all presented in their respective narratives as a mess you wouldn't want any part of. Consider first Abraham: Abraham married Sarah, Hagar the Egyptian, and Keturah. He had Isaac through Sarah, Ishmael through Hagar, and six sons through Keturah. Hagar and Sarah were at war when they lived in the same household and Hagar was eventually "sent away" (i.e., divorced). Her son, along with the sons of Keturah, formed the Arab and Bedouin tribesmen that were at war with Israel (the sons of Abram's grandson Jacob) from 1500 BC to the present day. So that worked out well.

Now consider Jacob: He had two wives, Rachel and Leah, along with two concubines, Bilhah and Zilpah. There was unrelenting competition among the legit wives, who each gave their handmaiden to Jacob as an additional wife. The whole sordid story, including Leah "renting" Jacob from Rachel in exchange for some of Reuben's mandrake roots, the selling into slavery of Joseph, the firstborn of Rachel, and so on makes one wonder "How can God be using these people to redeem the world?" but it never makes you think, "If only I had some more wives, because this looks like a good plan that God blesses."

How about David? Well, one of his sons (Amnon) raped his half-sister Tamar, in recompense for which he was murdered by his half-brother Absalom. Absalom then, after a complicated series of events, led a rebellion against his father David and took the kingdom for a time. This rebellion was due, at least in part, to the fact that David was not going to give the kingdom to him, but to the son David had with Bathsheba, whom David had gained as a wife through seduction and murder. That son, Solomon, had his half-brother (Abijah) executed because Abijah was scheming for the throne as Solomon's older brother by a (more) legitimate wife. So again, this seems like a pattern worth replicating, no?

Solomon, the all time biblical polygamy champ, was "led astray" from the Lord by his many wives, who introduced explicit idolatry into Israel again. He is in fact the living embodiment of the reason for God's command in Deuteronomy 17:17 that the king "must not take many wives for himself, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold." Moreover, because of Solomon's violations of these very commands, his foolish son Reheboam lost the northern half of the kingdom to a former general who set up idolatry, continuing the worship that had been imported along with Solomon's wives. The spread of idolatry, which grew to prominence in precisely this way was in fact the reason for the eventual exile from the land of both northern and southern kingdoms.

Moving to the New Testament, Jesus emphasized repeatedly that "At the beginning of creation, God 'made them male and female.' 'For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two but one." (Mark 10:6-8). Note that Jesus goes back to Genesis 1 and 2, emphasizes the original pattern given by God as equivalent to God's plan for marriage. Also note the following: 1) male and female; 2) "wife," not "wives"; and 3) the repeated use of "two" as the number denoting a proper marriage. Jesus doesn't support the polygamous idea as anything other than a corruption of God's ideal.

Further, in the list of requirements for church leaders (elders and deacons) in the Pastoral Epistles, the Greek term mias gynaikos andra (literally, "one woman man") is used to indicate that the proper number of wives for a Christian leader is one.

Thus, there is simply no evidence for the claim that biblical marriage has a wider definition than that of the one-flesh union of one man and one woman. Not that I think this will convince anyone not already inclined to accept the Bible as authoritative and true. That is, I don't believe that anybody making this argument is doing so as anything other than as a way to tell Bible believing Christian to shut their collective pie holes already. But at least you can point them to what the Bible actually teaches on the subject rather than what they seem to think that it does.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sun, Sand, and Celebration

As many you already know, Karen and I went to Florida to celebrate our 15-year anniversary. We left on June 2nd and returned home yesterday. It was a nice, long break, made even nicer by the fact that we didn't have to break the bank to go and by the fact that we were able to go just the two of us. We haven't had that sort of extended getaway in a long time, probably since before we had children. So it was nice to have time to really relax in an environment we love. We ate out, talked uninterrupted, watched American Choppers and Pawn Stars, shopped at Bass Pro and Bath and Body Works, walked for miles and miles in the surf, slept until we woke up (does 7:30 still count as "sleeping in"?), drank coffee, put shrimp in our salads, cooked frozen skillet meals, ate fresh mangoes and papayas, swam in the pool, did our devotions in a beach chair, read, napped, took a glass-bottomed boat ride over a reef, and in general reminded ourselves of all the reasons we got married in the first place. We simply love being together and can't imagine life apart. Life is hectic and harried sometimes, so it's good to go the beach to celebrate the other part.

We also spent all day going exploring in the Everglades and Big Cypress National Parks. And if anyone tells you that alligators are "endangered," don't you believe it. There were alligators in every pool and canal, lying in every culvert and under every bush. We saw over a hundred just in the little places that we walked through. Babies, adults, and great big monsters of the water. Gators were everywhere! I was amazed that the alligators would let me get as close as I did to them, and even more amazed that there aren't more rules, park rangers, and fences preventing such foolishness. We also saw hundreds of fish of every shape and size, turtles (including one immense snapping turtle), plus four varieties of herons, egrets, massive eagle nests, anhingas, black vultures, purple gallinules, giant grasshoppers, gumbo limbo and strangler fig trees, orchids, bromeliads, mango and papaya orchards (we stopped for a fresh papaya milkshake), and more gators. Overall, the area was much different than I expected. I was thinking giant live oaks and cypress trees, not mangrove swamps and oceans of sawgrass. But it was amazing, nonetheless. Oh, and in case you needed any reminders not to ever hang your feet off a dock in Florida, I hope you enjoy this photo.

We missed our kids like crazy by the week's end, so it was great to know that they weren't missing us overly much. They were too busy living it up at Grandma and Grandpa's house. They spent their days making banana splits, watching movies on a giant "screen" outside under the stars (with full surround sound, no less!), holding the various members of a new litter of puppies, swimming in the pond, having enough Nutella to affect the stock price, playing in the playhouse, riding the Mule (a 4x4 golf cart), and in general running amok. Still, when we got back, they remembered that they missed us, and were all happy to be headed home. At least, all except Ashley, who is happily spending "just a few more days" by herself at Chez Horn. (We agreed to let her do this because we are aware that in a family like ours, time for "just me" to do something is a rare occurrence. Nathan got his turn last summer. This is Ashley's year. Hopefully, we'll be able to do the same for Sara and John in years to come.)

So to sum up: We had a blast. We felt incredibly blessed. We are glad to have gone and glad to be home.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Reflections on hell and justice

Consider with me the following events:
  • Item #1: Rob Bell, the well-known Grand Rapids pastor formerly known as an evangelical, openly flirts with universalism and seems to deny that explicit faith in Jesus in this life is required for entrance into God's Kingdom in the next.
  • Item #2: Seal Team 6 invades Pakistan and shoots Osama bin Laden in the chest and head before burying his body at sea to be consumed by its creatures.
  • Item #3: Majid Movahedi, a 30-year-old Iranian man, is sentenced to being blinded with acid for the crime of throwing a bucket of acid in the face of Ameneh Bahrami, a formerly beautiful Iranian woman who refused to marry him. Bahrami is disfigured and blind, and her prospects of marriage or even living outside her parents' home are remote at best. Islamic law, with its concept of qisas, allows for literal enforcement of "an eye for an eye."
These things may seem wildly disconnected on the surface, but below that they are connected. They are all about justice, and about how it is achieved.

Bell's problem is that he cannot support the biblical idea that a God of infinite love is simultaneously a God of infinite holy wrath and justice. So he redefines God's love to exclude eternal hell for anyone. Yet in what sense is it just, indeed, in what sense is it even loving to allow the guilty to escape punishment? In Bell's world, the finally impenitent are to be welcomed into heaven; but that means that both rapists, torturers, pedophiles, murderers, sadists, child-sacrificers, Nazis, Communists, and dictators are all to be allowed to live forever with those they victimize. Where is the love in that? Do not even the worst of people protect their children from these things? Why would God's love mean less? Further, isn't it true that many criminals escape justice in this life and never pay for their crimes? Many murderous dictators die in their beds. Many murderers, abusers, and other assorted nasties never serve a day in prison, nevermind dance at the end of a noose. And even if people "get what they deserve," it does not seem to me that the scales are fully balanced even then. Consider that Saddam Hussein butchered 300,000 of his own people, often in ghastly fashion. Are we to believe that justice is satisfied because he was hanged? What about the other 299,999 lives he took, which debt remains unpaid?

Bin Laden's death was weird. I was elated. We who had suffered had finally put paid to a man responsible for 3,000 dead of my countrymen on 9/11 plus 18 crewmen of the USS Cole, plus two embassy bombings and Khobar towers. It was about time, in my mind, that death came for the one who had brought so much of it. Yet many of my Christian brothers and sisters told me not to rejoice in the falling of my enemy, because Christ tells us to turn the other cheek and because we ought not rejoice that the rod that struck us is broken. I found that reaction genuinely odd. Jesus' statement has nothing to do with enabling people to murder you; it is about enduring personal insult (hence the right cheek). Moreover, by any biblical standard OBL was an evil man who murdered and oppressed the innocent. By what logic are we not to celebrate the end of oppression and the bringing of justice? Is not the diminishment of the quantity of sin and evil in the world, even if by only a slight amount, in itself a good thing worth celebrating? And will not God's bringing of justice on the Great Day be just as much a cause for glorifying God as the salvation from judgment given to us who trust in Christ?

And finally, what about "an eye for an eye"? Is that a barbaric relic, a leftover idea best left in the past? Are the world's human rights groups correct to protest? It should be noted that Islamic law is hardly revered for its justice, but what about in this case? What is the appropriate punishment for blinding and disfiguring a woman simply because she refused to marry you? How do we determine?

It seems to me that true justice, biblical justice, involves both reparation and retribution. Reparation is simple-It involves repairing, to the extent possible, the damage your evil has done. Thus, in the Mosaic Law, a thief had to repay what he stole, a man who seduced a virgin had to marry her and could not divorce her, and a man whose ox caused damage had to pay for it. But there is also a retributive element, of punishment for having done evil in the first place, especially as it relates to crimes for which reparation is impossible. Thus murderers, kidnappers, adulterers, and idolaters are put to death. Likewise, the thief has not only to repay, but must pay back four-fold.

One reason I believe in hell, in addition to the fact that the Bible emphatically teaches it, is that I have to believe that a God of justice eventually balances the scales. The unrepentant sinner must pay his debt. The wicked must not be allowed to continue in their wickedness forever. Oppressor and victim must not share eternal dwellings, for that would be the triumph of Satan instead of the victory of God. Evil must be atoned, one way or another. Which, in my case, greatly magnifies the glory of the cross, at which my debt for my treasonous rebellion was paid. But we must not minimize the glory of the God who offers two pathways, one of the Substitute, whose death covers my evil, and the other of full recompense for it in my own body, by pretending that love requires us to eliminate one of those roads. Else what do we do with the bin Ladens and Pol Pots, and Hitlers, and Stalins? What do we do with the Majid Movahedis? What do we do with the more mundane evil done by ordinary sinners like you and me?