Thursday, February 24, 2011

Loving My Valentine

Karen and I have gotten pretty adaptable in recent years about Valentine's Day. We like to celebrate our love for one another, but we hate trying to squeeze into an overcrowded restaurant on the actual day. So we usually celebrate either early or late, with a card and expressions of "Happy Valentine's Day!" on the 14th. This year, we stretched it out a bit, which was really fun. Before Valentine's Day, my bride kidnapped me for a late afternoon showing of True Grit (including popcorn!) and then dinner at Famous Dave's BBQ (my favorite Peoria restaurant). On the actual day, we had a quiet dinner at home (how that happened when all the kids were there can only be attributed to God's grace!). Then, nearly a week later, on the 19th, we celebrated together at the Aquila and Priscilla table at our church's first (hopefully annual) Sweetheart Dinner. I must say also that I was with the most beautiful woman there. Karen looked stunning. Dinner was delicious, the conversation around our table was hilarious, our speakers (Mark and Jill Savage) delivered practical, biblical reminders for keeping our marriages both faithful and fun, and we remembered again how much we enjoy each other.

A couple years ago, one of the old widows in our church, whom I deeply love and appreciate, told me that marriage only gets sweeter with time. I'd heard that before, but coming from her, it stuck with me, and now I'm sure that's true. We're a long way and a lot of years from those giddy kids who danced down the aisle together after the pastor's pronouncement. We're saggier, and grayer, and much, much more tired. But there is a richness, a sweetness, and a deeply contented joy that grows with time. I am so blessed.

Dad's lessons about hunting...and life: #2

Most hunters I know strive to always shoot straight, and Dad was (and is) no exception. He valued good shooting and good shots, and if you missed an easy one, you knew you were in for some ribbing about it, probably both then and later, because the goal of a good hunter is always a clean kill. Partly, that’s because it is the kill that distinguishes hunting from simply taking a walk outside, and partly because if you don’t shoot straight, you’re unlikely to have much to bring home. And there were years, particularly when I was very young, when the rabbits, squirrels, and deer that Dad shot were the difference between meat on the table and not. The experiences of those years shaped my dad, and he shaped me in turn. So we practiced, and practiced, and then we went hunting, rejoicing in the good shots and kidding each other about the bad ones.

But we all know that sometimes, you don’t miss cleanly nor do you kill cleanly. Sometimes you "wing" that rooster, or duck, or deer. Well then, you need to do your best to track that animal, find it, and finish the job. All other hunting stops until that animal is recovered or you’ve exhausted your ability to search and still can’t bring the animal to hand. So I learned from Dad how to blood trail a deer, and how to train a dog to search for and retrieve pheasants & quail that were only "winged."

I’ve discovered that this principle holds in other areas too. Every man should be a straight shooter, a person with integrity, honesty, and a sense of personal honor. We shouldn’t seek to tilt the table to run our direction, but play fairly and treat others with the sort of gentleness we expect from them. And sometimes, just like when we’re afield, we wound and break things. We wound people and we break relationships when we failed in our commitment to be a straight shooter (as sinners, all of us fail, at least at times). And just like when we’re afield, we have to follow-up and, as much as possible, make it right. Only this time, instead of seeking to finish it off, we ought to be seeking to heal it and bring it back to life.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dad's lessons about hunting...and life: #1

I learned to hunt from my Dad, by walking quite literally in his footsteps and doing what he did, because even back then, I knew that he was (and is) a great hunter, and when I grew up, I wanted to be just like him.

Dad read Outdoor Life, and learned about hunting from Jim Zumbo, about shooting from Jim Carmichel, and how to laugh at all the silly stuff we outdoorsmen do with Patrick McManus. So as soon I could read, I raided Dad’s stash of back issues of Outdoor Life, and learned and laughed right along with him. In fact, every now and then, one of us will quote a line from a McManus' story about building muzzleloaders from scratch (the one called "Poof! No Eyebrows), which we've we’ve both read more times than we can count, and we’ll laugh all over again.

When I was 8, dad taught me to shoot with a lever-action Daisy BB gun. That fall and several afterward, he took me squirrel hunting every weekend when the weather was decent and the season was in. I learned to move through the woods quietly by walking behind him, and to hunt safely with that BB gun before I was allowed to move up to his Winchester 42 .410 pump.

When I was around 10, Dad finally bowed to the reality that Indiana’s habitat had changed. What used to be grass fields full of rabbits had grown up into timber, the coyotes were coming on strong, and there just weren’t as many rabbits as there used to be. So the beagles all got sold, and he bought his first bird dogs, a German wirehair named Gretel and then later, an English pointer. Over the years, there’s also been a succession of Brittanies and more setters than I can count. I happily took up my role as bird boy and assistant dog trainer and followed Dad around the state doing training, and watching from the gallery at Shoot-to-Retrieve trials. I learned a lot about dog training and fell in love with bird hunting and bird dogs as I walked in Dad’s footsteps.
When I hit high school, I actually got to go on my first ever wild pheasant hunt, out in Creston, Iowa. That was back in the first years of the CRP program, and the birds were thick everywhere out there. In my memory, we all shot limits every day, but that may not have been reality. Also around that time, Dad helped me to shoot the first buck I ever killed with decent antlers, a weird non-typical that was standing in the middle of Big Walnut Creek. And when that deer went down in the creek, it was Dad who went swimming in that icy November water to retrieve him.

Dad still loves to hunt and I still love to hunt with him. When our relationship was rocky (as it was sometimes), we could always go hunting together, and so I treasure hunting partly for that reason. And I still walk in his footsteps in many ways.

I often think back to those early days in the woods, when we would wander around together hunting. I often had literally no idea where we were, yet somehow we always wound up back at the truck. I have realized over the years how much my life owes to him, because no matter how my life wandered, he was always there, pointing me the way back to the Lord. I don't think I would be a Christian, never mind a Christian pastor, were it not for my dad's example of faithful Christian manhood and leadership, nor do I think I would a good husband and father if not for his modeling it for me.

Thanks, Dad. You have always led me Home.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The past week

In the past week, I have: conducted a funeral, preached on Genesis 5 (the "begat" chapter), visited old friends at our former church, delivered an evangelistic message to a gym full of rough sawn hunters and fishermen, taught Sunday school, played Wii and had tickle fights with my kids, went to dinner and a great movie with my bride (who still loves me despite a multitude of reasons not to), led a Cub Scout den meeting, shoveled a whale of a lot of snow, stacked firewood, watched football, read Scripture, talked with my mom and dad, led staff meeting, counseled the hurting, prayed a ton, bought and installed a new printer in my office, studied and read commentaries on the Scriptures, wrote three sermons and a blog post, sent follow-up cards to new visitors to our church, ran at the gym, and tried to find enough time to get some sleep.

Two thoughts on this:
  1. If you wonder what a pastor does all week, here's a list. (I've left off a couple regular commitments-small group, Elders and Great Oaks Board meetings, leading a men's Bible study, and leading an AWANA group, but you get the idea).
  2. I am a blessed man. Who but another pastor gets to experience the joys of a life like mine? Thanks be to God, who has given me all these things as a means of bringing glory to Him. I feel genuinely lucky to be able to be used of Him in all these ways.

Why Islamism Will Spread and Grow

My fellow Americans probably don't want to hear this, but the future world will contain more Islamist governments than the world today. If you have a hard time believing this, consider where we are today:
  1. Turkey: The Erdogan government in Turkey is moving rapidly in an Islamist direction and as quickly as it dares away from Ataturk style government. Journalists and bloggers are being jailed as I writes this for being critical of the government. The Turkish army and its generals, the traditional protectors of Turkish democracy and separation of mosque and state, were neutered last year with the suppression of Western-leaning generals. Turkey is already tottering. Any dreams of it become a more European type nation are fading fast and likely to fail.
  2. Syria: Already the pro-Islamist puppet of Iran.
  3. Iran: 'Nuff said.
  4. Lebanon: Hezbollah has been democratically elected to power. The Cedar Revolution is dead.
  5. Iraq: Democratic government minus democratic institutions favors the organized and the willful. Islamists don't rule there yet, but when Uncle Sam pulls out the last of the troops, that will probably result, and probably through the time-honored tradition of "one man, one vote, one time."
  6. Afghanistan: The Karzai government will accommodate itself to the Taliban or some similar faction at some point in the future. American's patience will eventually run thin and then we will be back where we started.
  7. Gaza: Hamas already rules there.
  8. Pakistan: Millions of Pakistanis cheered the murder of a pro-Western, anti-sharia politician. Does that tell you which way the wind is blowing?
  9. Sudan: South Sudan has voted to secede. Assuming that separation actually comes, the Khartoum government will now be free from any pressures to moderate their already Islamist rule for the sake of minorities in the country.
  10. Egypt: 1/3 of the world's Arabs dwell in Egypt. She is the only Arab nation with sufficient population and military strength to pose a real, existential threat to Israel, our ally. Revolution has come, at last, yet Mubarak eliminated all the organized, democratic, pro-Western activists over his 30-year reign. Guess who that leaves? Muslim Brotherhood, get ready to take your bow come September, for luck favors the prepared.
Why is this happening? Because once again, the direction of change within the Islamic world is back to a more faithful version of Islam, one more consonant with the teaching of the Koran and the hadith, one which is all-encompassing and swallows religion, politics, diplomacy, and life within its gaping maw. That is what the Islamist are selling and they have lots of willing buyers. The advance of Islamist theology and the military jihad which will come and increase in its wake is the central challenge we will face as Westerners in the 21st century.

How will we respond?

Will it be with rockets, bombs and bullets? With evangelism? With accommodation and appeasement? With submission? Who knows but God Himself. What I do know is that we must not deny the challenge, for denial will not reduce it or remove it. Moreover, as Christians, who believe that all humans are made in God's image and loved by Him, we must find a way to draw the line between protecting ourselves from destruction, and showing love to our enemies.

Where, I wonder, is that line?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What to do if the Groundhog predicts a long winter...

Apparently, there are a lot of recipes for Groundhog. I've never eaten one, but apparently it tastes somewhere between squirrel and rabbit.

According to, to prepare one for the pot:
  1. Skin and dress in the usual way for small, furry game animals.
  2. Remove the scent glands under the arms and in the small of the back. Also remove all external fat.
  3. If the groundhog is old (check for worn teeth), it should be parboiled or soaked in cold salted water overnight. To parboil, add 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda.
  4. Cook in any recipe appropriate for rabbit or similar game.
This reminds me of my favorite line from Bill Murray's Groundhog Day: "Groundhog Day used to mean something in this town. They used to pull the hog out, and they used to eat it. You're hypocrites, all of you!"