Sunday, February 29, 2004

Enjoying the Beauty of Two Books

I've heard that Puritans thought of creation and revelation as two books to know God by. The past two Sundays we've enjoyed both together. Two beauty-filled redemptive-historical sermons on Isaac and Rebekah combined with balmy afternoons at the sand-filled park across the street have been doubly-nice.

Even beauty contained in something as commonplace as pine trees is worth trying to capture in words. Pines here are about 4-stories tall. The bottom 3-stories are long branchless trunks, thin and straight as arrows. They are capped by a few scraggly branches. A close-knit group of pines will frightenly bend and sway in the wind like a wheat field ripe for harvest.

At night, our neighborhood is so dark that moonlight is only lightly screened through their thin layer of needles. I can almost read by it. Tonight there is a glowing half-moon. And every clear night, the star field is crisp and gleaming.

"Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge." Psalm 19:2

Saturday, February 28, 2004

The Songs We Sing

My dad played piano by ear, a little. I remember he liked the tune to Old Danny Boy. Besides that the only music I remember was from an old paint-specked, mono radio. He'd listen to the country music of that day, like Conway Twitty, while he built our house on the farm. I'd usually spend the day playing in the dirt, or practicing hammering a nail straight.

I enjoy the memories of my childhood. At the same time I'm hoping to leave indelible marks on my children by the songs we sing. So far our young group can belt out the first verse of the following songs from memory:

Lo, He Comes With Clouds Descending
Come Thou Long Expected Jesus (and other Christmas Carols)
O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing
All Hail the Power of Jesus Name
Crown Him with Many Crowns
Be Thou My Vision
O Worship the King
Rejoice the Lord is King
Come Christians, Join to Sing
Great is Thy Faithfulness
Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us
Holy, Holy, Holy
A Might Fortress is Our God

Friday, February 27, 2004

Is it sinful...

...for parents to send their children to public school?
...for Dad to stay at home with the children so Mom can work?
...if a married couple decides not to have children?

In a sense everything we do is tainted with sin, for our righteousness is as filthy rags. However, I see issues like those above as wisdom and glory issues, not as scandalous sin. Sending your children to government schools shows a lack of wisdom. A stay-at-home Dad and a working mom reflect God's glory poorly, as do most married couples that decide against children. These are generalizations, there can be exceptions, but they are not the rule.

Some say that churches should restrict the privileges of members who do such things. However, seems to me punitive actions are to be reserved for scandalous sin (such as adultery, divorce, etc). I'd rather the elders model a wise and God-glorifying lifestyle, let their convictions be known in all the church, and leave room for their sheep to follow over time.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Kids Have More Fun

The rodeo is in town. We're pumped. Last time they let the children into the arena to chase a calf. This was pretty daring for my sandal-clad daughter (...road apples!).

For me, the fun of life really began once we had children, not "BC" as pop culture believes. Kids know how to have a good time, and help their ol' fogey parents enjoy zoos, circuses, carnivals, rodeos, parks, woods, lakes, etc. Before children I'd drive around these places all the time, but seldom did any of it. Now it's load up the van and let's go!

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Business-Based Friends

Got a voice mail today from a neighbor inviting my wife to another "party". This time it was for Longaberger. Seems odd that neighbors today only open their home when there's a good chance we'll buy something while we're there. Kristin gets more invites for home-business "parties" than she does for playgroups, baby showers, coffee/teas, and meals all put together. It shouldn't take a sales pitch for neighborhood moms to get together.

The workplace has emptied the neighborhood of many potential friends for my wife. There is a deep and important need for friendship among stay-at-home moms. It's for this reason that I have mixed feelings about home-based businesses. It's just too easy to unintentionally exploit a young mom's need for friendship while picking up a few orders and making some bucks. Even well-intentioned ladies must be very careful if they want to mix business with pleasure in order to avoid being a faux-friend.

Home-based businesses are fine; but business-based friends are not.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Church Abuse

Part of my workday was spent hearing a sales pitch from a corporation seeking to provide engineering services to my office. There's nothing unusual about that. What was unique was this corporation's tie to the church.

As a branch of a local baptist university, they qualify as a non-profit organization. And because they are a non-profit, we can award them government contracts without having to go through the usual amount of red-tape.

They were professional, but not openly Christian. Association with the church is important to them only because it gives them advantages over their profit-oriented competitors.

It's too bad that so many of the "Christian" universities have become unorthodox strongholds. It would have been great today if the pitch I heard was from an unashamedly-Christian, dominion-seeking, bunch of engineer geeks.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Help for Little Children

While reading Proverbs to my six-year old son last night, three times we read that the mouth of the fool comes to ruin. With a contrite expression Eli interjected, "Like mine". I responded to this unexpected confession by commending his softened heart. Next time I'll be ready to also urge him to rely on God's grace to change him.

The gospel is for children, not just for the mature. When my children disobey, I shouldn't encourage them to try harder to obey. Since Jesus was made like his brothers in every way, He is able to help little girls and boys when they are tempted to disobey. To please God (and me), our children don't need to try harder; instead they need to know to rely on God's grace.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Seed Sown Along the Path

During our unit's PT (Physical Training) session this week I talked to a lieutenant about Jesus as we ran the mile and a half. I'm thankful for the opportunity to exalt Jesus to those who know me but not Him, and for the ease with which this conversation began. But I wimped out and omitted an essential part of the message: the external call to repent and believe. This omission reduced the call and it became instead just my personal testimony.

As an attempt to improve in this area, I re-familiarized myself with the external calls given in the Gospels and Acts. I guess it has been awhile; this was my first time reading these texts and appreciating that the call to repent and believe is not a one-time "conversion" thing; but something to be done continually.
Books Read in 2003

The Misery of Job and the Mercy of God; Piper
Pilgrim's Progress; Bunyan
Little Women; Alcott
Federal Husband; Wilson
Stepping Heavenward; Prentiss
The Gospel for Real Life; Bridges
Future Men; Wilson
In Freedom's Cause; Henty
A Scientific Theology; McGrath (unfinished)
The Defense of the Faith; Van Til (unfinished)
God's Passion for His Glory; Piper/Edwards
Never Too Early; Claggett
King Lear; Shakespeare
Back to Basics; Hagopian (ed.)
Cantebury Tales; Chaucer
Reforming Marriage; Wilson
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; Baum
Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt-Manipulators; Chilton
The Hundred Days; O'Brian
(plus some Air Command and Staff College readings)

The books I list as unfinished were fine, and I learned some good points out of them. I'm just not ready for them yet. But they did stretch me, which is good. The favorite for the year (and my wife's, too) was Stepping Heavenward. But only because I've read Pilgrim's Progress before.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Thank Who?

I'm slowly seeing that even my cubicle-dwelling job is a calling from God. If I do my work in an excellent manner, not only do I reflect God's excellencies, but I also have more and better opportunities to speak of His excellencies to others.

But here's a temptation to be aware of. More people will appreciate my work if it's done in an excellent manner and some will kindly express that appreciation to me. Especially my bosses; people that I naturally want to please. The temptation here is towards self-glory. I can simply say "Thank you", which is appropriate, but seems to give too big a share of the glory to me.

I know a fine man that, when complimented, responds with an appreciative-sounding "Praise God". This seems to come closer to the mark. Here are a couple of quotes that brought this thought to mind:

"Thou are the author and finisher of faith...every good work or thought found in me is the effect of thy power and grace"
- Valley of Vision, page 4.

"May the Word of Christ dwell richly in my heart from hour to hour,
so that all may see I triumph only through His power
- from a 1925 hymn by Katie B. Wilkinson (#644 in Trinity Hymnal)

Friday, February 20, 2004

First Words

Isaiah, my 20 month old son, answers the catechism:

Q. Who made you?
A. GAAA!!!

Q. What else did God make?

Q. Why did God make you and all things?
A. GLLLOOREEEE!!! YEAY! (clap, clap, clap)

Thursday, February 19, 2004

What to do about "Adam and Steve"?

I feel like there's something I should do about the same-sex marriage mess. But I don't know what.

I certainly don't want to give any credence to the notion that the state should be involved with defining marriage. That is clearly outside their sphere of authority. They should simply defer to the historic, orthordox position of the church. However, I am saddened to see pop culture and now the state move farther into licentiousness.

And I hate to see another good word hijacked. "Marriage" will join other abducted terms, such as "Presbyterian", "Evangelical", and "Christian". We'll soon have to qualify the word in order to use it. Here's an example.

To keep from confusing my church with the majority of Presbyterians, I have to describe it as part of a Bible-believing Presbyterian denomination. "Presbyterian" has baggage I have to discard before I can use it. And so now will "Marriage". Soon I'll have to describe my marriage as being "heterosexual". How strange this should sound!

One thing to do seems obvious--pray for repentance. That marital adultery in the church would end. And moreso, spiritual adultery. The church has weakened marriage; the state thinks it can do better.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

The Gospel According to the Bible Belt

Living in rural Georgia brings with it some unique aspects of Southern culture. Besides confederate flags, monster trucks, R.C. Cola and Moon Pies, the South is also famous for being the Bible Belt.

The military has stationed us in several different regions of the country (Northeast, Mid-west, South Texas, Deep South). Each has its own unique sub-culture. Here in the Bible belt-buckle, it's my observation that religion influences much more of the population than the other regions we've lived in. Churches are as numerous as gas stations. Very few people are unchurched.

But sadly, the gospel here is starved and shrunken. Its sole tenant: Jesus died for sinners. Its only application: Get Saved! Its fruit: No cursing and no drinking.

When our love for Christ only penetrates our speech and beverage selection, what we have is a diminished gospel. When the message stops with "Get Saved", we should realize this is a man-centered faith.

How much more robust is the reformed faith! It's a God-centered gospel, in full-bloom, affecting and giving meaning to every area of life. Salvation, Worship, Family, Vocation all align under a common purpose to glorify God. Far from being a platitude, "to glorify God" gives direction and inspiration to all of life's difficulties and delights.

Regrettably, this gospel is seldom heard in the Bible-belt. Which reminds me of something else the military has taught me. Belts make great tourniquets.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Refusing the Milk

Reality Check: a majority of pastors in America can't stomach the milk of God's Word.

Here are the dismal statistics from Barna showing what small percentage of clergy hold basic orthodox beliefs (see WORLD, 7 Feb, pg 25):

44% of Pentecostal and Charismatic Clergy
27% of Methodist Clergy
35% of black pastors
15% of female pastors

If so many pastors reject basic Christian truth, it's no surprise that most American Christians are ignorant. What a sad state the American church is in.

How should the reformed church respond? One, praise God for keeping us faithful. Second, we should pick better targets. Instead of feuding amongst ourselves, why don't we aim our well-worn canons at the real wolves in shepherds' clothing? Where are the books, statements, etc specifically calling these groups to task and pleading for the lost sheep to come out from among them?

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Bring on the Grief and Pain!?!

This ties into my post from Thursday. During worship today I was struck by the third stanza of Elizabeth Prentiss' hymn, More Love to Thee, O Christ:

Let sorrow do its work,
send grief and pain;
sweet are thy messengers,
sweet their refrain,
when they can sing with me,
more love, O Christ, to thee,
more love to thee, more love to thee!

Calvin on Our Fathers

As one who believes that Christians today underappreciate the historic orthodoxy of their faith, Calvin reminds me it's also important not to overcorrect:

"They were foolishly inflated on account of the glory of their race, they often imitated the vices of their fathers as though they were virtues, and defended themselves by their examples...

"Hence may be learnt a general truth, that we are not to defer too much to the authority of the fathers lest it should draw us away from God; for if any fathers have ever been worthy of honor, no doubt the Jews possessed that preeminence; and yet David distinctly commanded their children to beware of being like them." (Calvin's Commentary on Hebrews 3:8)

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Pray Like a Believer

At our previous assignment our church didn't have many older people. Our church prayer list was not usually about health issues. One of the adjustments we've made since being back in a PCA church is the older folks. And with that seems to come prayer lists almost exclusively about health problems.

Good health is certainly something to thank God for each day; but I see room for improvement in the way we pray for those who are suffering. The prayers are not done out of faith. I'm not saying we should "claim the healing" or anything like that. Our prayers for those who suffer should be for them to believe God's promises throughout their illness. And for them to rest confident in the fact that the difficulty is of the Lord and for a beneficial purpose. This glorifies God and seeks the person's best. We should want godliness more than good health. Instead, our prayers are mostly faithless pleas to God to heal the person as soon as it's His will, completely ignoring His purpose in the pain.

Also speaking of prayer, today I read and enjoyed Jeffrey Meyer's article "Formal Corporate Prayer". Here's an excerpt that's relevant to my comments above.

"You know very well what happens when there is no guidance or direction to the prayers. Prayers become tedious: "I just want to thank you, Lord. . . and I just want to ask. . . and I just want. . ." Or they become trivial and down right silly: "O Lord, help us to be all that we can be" (the Army Prayer) or "Lord, help us to reach out and touch somebody this week" (the AT&T prayer)

"’s the important point: if the child never grows up and learns how to pray biblically, if the content of his prayers remain the same, then it’s not so cute anymore. God may be pleased with a childlike prayer, but he is not satisfied with it either. He expects us to grow up and learn how to pray like adults, to inform our prayers more and more to the models He has given us in the Scriptures.

"Some churches never get beyond praying for sick people and saying grace at the table. That’s fine as far as it goes, but have you ever noticed that the Bible doesn’t contain a whole lot of prayers for sick people and pretty much assumes that we know how to give thanks for our food? Again, I’m not talking here about a fancy, flowing style. My concern centers on the content of the prayers: confession of sin; thanking God for creation and providence; thanking God for the person and work of Christ; praying for strength in the midst of temptation; praying that His kingdom would be protected from all its enemies and extended throughout the world. These are petitions that do not come "naturally" to us. We need to be trained."

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

After leading a three-day long meeting of about 20 people, I'm exhausted. I guess if Myers-Briggs Type Indicator stuff is right, I'm not much of an extrovert.

Our goal was to move broke aircraft at the field into the depot for repair faster. We scrutinized each part of our process looking for improvement. The behavior of the women on my team puzzled me. Each of these women are known to be hard-working and reliable "make it happen" kind of employees. But when we began to scrutinize processes in their area, they became very defensive and reacted as if we were personally insulting them. A lot of emotions were flying around the room, none were "gentle and quiet". In the end, theirs was the only area left unimproved.

Perhaps it was the three-day long session getting to them. But I can't rule out that it may be an issue of improper roles. The question is not "can a woman do anything a man can?", but, should they? After today's session, I'm all the more thankful for my submissive-embracing wife.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

From Pole to Pole, That Wars May Cease

Today I took the fourth in a series of military tests aimed at making me a better warfighter. I think I passed.

In the past I've crammed the weekend before the test, but this time I prepared differently. I decided to enjoy the Sabbath by doing my best to live that day as if the kingdom had fully come. Since all wars will then have ceased, instead of studying for war on the Sabbath I enjoyed a peaceful day.

Crown Him the Lord of peace!

Saturday, February 07, 2004

I'm no John G. Paton

I read John Paton's autobiography recently. Both Vision Forum and John Piper speak very highly of the book. He was a Scottish Presbyterian raised in a covenant family to be a missionary to Cannibals. The shadow of a bloody death loomed over him for many years on the Islands of the South Pacific, but his trust in God's Providence made him fearless in the face of savagery. In his lifetime God used him to usher in whole islands to the kingdom of Christ.

I'm no John Paton. Tonight I stammered and was shifty as I spoke to my inquiring, unbelieving brother-in-law about Jesus. God has used stammerers before (Abraham, Moses, perhaps Paul), but it was courage that was lacking tonight.

There was something else besides Paton's boldness that would be very out of place in the churches I've seen in Georgia. He was an ardent Sabbatarian. He'd be shocked to find it commonplace for churches to hire people to work the nursery on the Sabbath. Given our history, it does seem rather a strange thing to find in Presbyterian circles.

Speaking of churches, mine now has their web site up and running. In less than two years, this church has progressed from Happy/Clappy worship to enjoying God through liturgical worship and weekly Communion. And, by the way, it's doubled in size.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Covenant Community vs. American Dream

I spent the day as part of a panel interviewing people for promotion. In-between interviews we chatted about the fun of traveling. One lady on the panel was representative of the women that I work with. She was vocal about her trust in the Lord. She was professional in appearance and demeanor. She began working when her children hit school-age and looks forward to world-travel once the children are out of the house. Cruises, RVs, exotic vacations will fill-up her future.

I'm convinced churches that lack an understanding of the Covenant Community will find their members living out the American dream instead of Titus 2. We need to consider our responsibilities to the other families in the church and not just take off once our professional career ends.

I, too, look forward to enjoying the adventures of world travel. But I'll hold-off until the New Earth; that'll be worth seeing!

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Whites Only

Kristin and I went to our first adoption appointment today. We're trying to decide whether to start our home study now or wait until we move to Ohio in May. Either way, I think we'll be involved with this particular adoption agency since they're one of the few it seems that place bi-racial or minority babies.

It's surprising to learn that there are so few adoptive parents interested in transracial adoption. They'd rather wait in the "whites only" line for years while numerous black and bi-racial babies languish in foster care (often the waiting room for prison). What should our reasons for adopting children be? If the litmus test for choosing a baby to bring into our loving home is race instead of need, are we not racist?

Do we not realize that the eternal kingdom Christ has ransomed is made up of people from every tribe and language and people and nation? I long for my family to reflect that truth; in doing so we will reflect God's glory.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Children: Signs of Judgment

A recent devotional in Tabletalk pointed out that the prophet Isaiah's children were signs of judgment against an apostate nation (see Isa 8).

Our children serve as signs of judgment by revealing to the world the hidden wretchedness of their parents' life. From Daddy they learn new ways to be selfish, and aren't ashamed to demonstrate this to their playmates. From Mommy they figure out how to burst with unrighteous indignation, but they don't mind if the folks in the grocery store see.

Gladly, my failures as a parent will be largely overcome (where sin increases, grace abounds all the more!). And by that grace my children will always love Christ, His church and, in turn, raise more godly children. But most children today are being raised for less noble purposes. If their parents sow anger, apathy, or avarice into them, our nation shouldn't be surprised at what it reaps.

The Lord, with his strong hand upon Isaiah, warns him and us not to walk in the way of this people. I and the children the Lord has given me are signs and portents in Israel. (vss 11, 18)

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

A Sabbath Walk

There's a limit on how far an Orthodox Jew can walk on the Sabbath. One walk that I haven't reached the end of yet is the Christian understanding of this day. Because of a certain situation in my life since moving to Georgia, I wrestle with the meaning of the Sabbath frequently.

In childhood the Sabbath meant the blue-laws of the South and my father's prohibition against the local pop radio station. After my conversion, I came to see the Sabbath in terms of works of necessity and works of mercy. Later I discovered joy, realizing that Christ is our Sabbath-rest. He made peace with God for us; things are as they ought to be.

I've thought of the Sabbath in these redemptive terms for some time, while also wrestling with its creational meaning. New light was shed on this subject while reading Vos' Biblical Theology. If asked what the world to come would be like, he would answer that it should resemble the Sabbath. To him the Sabbath is to be an expression of our eschatology. We are to learn from the weekly Sabbath that life is not an aimless existence, that a goal lies beyond. Some day all things will be as they ought to be.

This sounds great! But now the task is to figure out how a young family is to enjoy the Sabbath in this way.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Read and Do

Kristin became ill and was up most of the night, so I stayed home today. I was able to teach homeschool, serve meals (nothing fancy), and chop down the laundry pile by a couple of loads.

In phonics the children are learning about the consonant blend -dr-. To illustrate this blend we looked at the verse where Jesus teaches that to offer a drink to the least of the brothers is, in reality, serving Christ Himself. How clear the connection was between our lesson and godliness--just down the hall was mother, needy and thirsty from her sickness!

I am so pleased to be able to educate my children in such a way, that they not only learn to read the Word of God, but are also able to immediately live it out.