Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Fruit Trees

Tonight my pastor taught me a great deal about the gospel, in about 15 seconds. It's no quick fix. It's no magic formula. My struggle against sin is not all over in a day. Instead, the gospel chips away at my sinful nature. It molds me. Shapes me. Little by little.

This encourages me in my wrestling match against pride, anger, slander, lust, etc, etc; for I am corrupt in all of my being, just as the children's catechism says. To flee, cling, and rest on God is all I can do. And through my trials, God will sustain me, sinful nature and all, while He slowly perfects and renders fruit of holiness out of me.

"God is a gardener; He grows trees. He doesn't sell canned fruit. What He produces takes time and He is glorified by the process often more than the product." Russel Kelfer

Chesteron remarked, "You can easily imagine trees not growing fruit; you can imagine them growing golden candlesticks or tigers hanging on by the tail. A tree grows fruit because it is a magic tree."

While I'm more apt to produce tigers-by-the-tail, God can bring even fruit of holiness out of me.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

The Easy Life

School registration opened yesterday. Several co-workers, parents of pre-K children, actually camped out in the public school parking lot over the weekend to ensure their 4 year old got a slot. Meanwhile, we're struggling with our 4-year old, who has been especially difficult lately. The easy life calls.

My colonel's retirement golf outing was also yesterday. Nice, large houses and new cars surrounded me for several hours. Conversation centered on the refined swing, the best golf clubs, and the right country clubs. The easy life calls.

I have the means to lead my family to an easy life. We could spend more on ourselves while posturing to spend retirement collecting seashells in Florida. I could make my wife's life especially easier right away by freeing her of homeschool duties.

But the things that people say will make us all happier I don't think really will. Big houses, expensive cars, kids off to school, double-income--if this is the easy life, it's only so for a while.

There's the importance of delayed gratification. Not gratification in fine houses and possessions, but in wisdom that only comes through tribulations and gratification in godly children, well-raised.
Gone Fishin'
by Kristin

Once again Tim took the older kids fishing after dinner. Sunday night they went to Luna Lake, and Isaiah and I played on the playground while they fished. This time they went to Duck Lake. Isaiah and I went to the commissary (milk, oatmeal, and raisins) and then stopped by to see what they had caught.
They had caught nothing, but were having a grand time. The little boat Eli made was sailing fine. Eli wanted to do something with it so he asked if Isaiah could hold his fishing pole. After about a second of holding it, the bob went down. Isaiah started to reel it in. Then I helped him reel in his first fish! He was so excited! It was a little brim. I wished I had a camera! The kids were so excited for him.
Grace is determined to catch one next time. She keeps feeding them her worms--loses the fish as she reels it in.

(Isaiah is 22 months old)

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Exit Strategy

Those who exit a worship service before it's over for no obvious reason puzzle me. Today our pastor gave a passionate plea (his word) for baptized believers to participate in the Lord's Supper. Oddly enough, as soon he finished his remarks several folks slipped out. Were his words just empty platitudes? I didn't think so. And "slipped out" is too mild. They gathered their purses and things and, in some cases, walked the length of the sanctuary. Quite distracting.

True, they could have good, yet discrete, reason for doing so. But for all I know they were hustling out to grab lunch and get to the Cherry Blossom festival or a soccer match. In any case, it's hard to imagine another event beating out the Lord's Supper. Here is Jesus, with us like no other place this side of eternity, giving us the strength to make it. What could pull them away?

A few more folks head out at the start of the last hymn. I think too beat the rush, which is what I do at most sporting events. But this too is distracting and reflects that they've had enough worship.

Many more get ansy at the benediction. Sit in the back of the sanctuary and you'll get a good view of "the benediction shuffle". Upper bodies bob down to get Bibles and purses. Heads nod in silent agreement about which way to exit the pew. Keys make a muffled jingle.

A recent Basement Tape recommended a remedy to the shuffle. Grab your children's or spouse's hand and raise it so that you're focused on receiving the blessing of the benediction.

If we can't wait to the end of a worship service, how well can we wait on God the rest of the time?

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Leader’s Guide

As one who is slowly seeing the folly of my evangelical lifestyle, developing proper convictions is a most difficult task. And leading my family to understand them is tougher still.

Oodles of choices frequently present themselves as convictions for us to either affirm or reject: educational approaches, military commitment, large family, transracial adoption, paedocommunion (and a host of other worship issues), political parties, etc.

I sense danger on all sides. I could spend my hours naval-gazing yet deciding nothing. But convictions adopted in haste are sure to turn me into a thunder-puppy, wasting my hours shouting down thunder puppies of the opposing pack.

One thing is clear. Before adopting a conviction I should know its place in the gospel. If I can’t explain why I believe something in a way that shows it is part of the gospel then I don’t understand it or the gospel well enough. The less essential a conviction is to the gospel the less valuable it is. My life’s focus must be on believing the right gospel, without stopping short of its fullness or going too far.

This is also the guide for leading a family. A fast, but wrong, way to attempt change in a family is through a kind of gospel-less law. “You will homeschool”. “You will submit to me”, etc, etc. But rather than domination, I am to lead by the gospel, teaching my wife and children how our convictions fit into our gospel understanding.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Treasure Trove

Today is the blogathon at Buried Treasure in support of the Highlands Study Center. There'll be a new post every half hour!

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Spring in the Swampland

We’re enjoying a gentle Spring in Georgia. But with it come the snakes and mosquitoes. While I coached from my office phone, Kristin gathered up her courage, and a tree shovel, and crushed the head of the serpent that had slithered into her flower bed. And we’re back to coating ourselves with bug spray. I don’t mean to sound like a sourpuss; really, I like Spring. But it also gives me the chance to answer a common question from the children, “Why did God make pests like snakes and mosquitoes?”

I won’t go for an exhaustive answer, but here’s what I emphasize. As much as we enjoy the beauty of God’s creation this time of year, the pests, allergies, and other annoyances remind us that God is even more enjoyable, more beautiful, and more delightful than the finest Spring day. Creation, as it now stands, is spoiled. But our Creator remains unspoiled and full of delight!

"The Son breaks out in glory when he shows himself as one who outshines all creation." (Valley of Vision, pg 26)

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

A Slip of the Tongue

At a military social last week I asked about a group joke that I didn't get. It dealt with the Austin Powers movies which I haven't seen. I then made my mistake. Some self-righteous sounding quip escaped off my tongue. Since then my brief remark has led some co-workers to view me as one of those "holier-than-thou Fundamentalists". And some rather nasty slander has gotten back to me.

It's surprising how a year's worth of effort to avoid this stereotype was so easily erased by a little slip of the tongue.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

The Power of Sympathy

Great encouragement came this morning by meditating on a remark in Hebrew 4:15 that Christ "sympathizes with our weaknesses". Calvin, and others, comment that weaknesses include the feelings of the soul, such as fear, sorrow, dread, and similar things.

Calvin adds:

"Whenever we labor under the infirmities of our flesh, let us remember that the Son of God experienced the same, in order that he might by his power raise us up, so that we may not be overwhelmed by them."

"These infirmities Christ of his own accord undertook, and he willingly contended with them, not only that he might attain a victory over them for us, but also that we may feel assured that he is present with us whenever we are tried by them."

In my weaknesses, Christ raises me up, attains victory over them for me, and is present with me through them! I rejoice to be under the care of one too tender to crush, too kind to injure, too powerful to leave me to wallow in my weaknesses.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Maledictory Monday

Jesus' maledictions often worry me when I reflect on discipling my family.

Are we going to great lengths ("crossing sea and land") to homeschool our children, only to make them twice as much children of hell as they would otherwise be? Am I tying-up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and laying them on my wife's shoulders without lifting a finger to help? What if, having driven one unclean spirit from my house, seven others enter in and dwell here?

These are fears of the future. When the seeds that I'm planting now sprout, what will they be? Thorns & Thistles!?!

How I need the gospel! God is proactively out for my good. His promises are for me and my children, "the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children's children!. (Ps 103:17)

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits!" (Ps 103:2)

Saturday, March 20, 2004


Our senior pastor is out of town, so our new assistant pastor has this week's teaching and preaching responsibilities. On Wednesday he taught on "the unbiblical idea of seeking God's will". Even before he introduced his first point someone objected. And after his lesson more emotive objections were voiced.

Public rejection of teaching is sometimes necessary. But I've been in many churches where the rejection is often premature. Most of the time it takes place in a small group setting where submission to an authority's teaching is intentionally minimized or even ridiculed. This attitude is often justified as being "Berean".

The Bereans were commended for two reasons. We all know the part about "examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were correct." But it seems we have collective-amnesia, forgetting that first they, "received the word with all eagerness." (Acts 17:11)

When listening to the teaching of a God-ordained authority is my attitude full of eagerness in what I am receiving? True, there are times when I'm hungry for bread, but I get a stone instead. But how many times have I been offered bread, yet was too skeptical to receive it? The truth is that, at best, many of us are only half-Berean.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Adventures in Babysitting

Our babysitter is a nice, quiet, homeschooled girl with 7 siblings. But despite all she's seen in her household, she's adding some stunning experiences thanks to our children:

Tonight at the park our 4-yr old slid down a slide so fast it made her poop in her pants. A first for daughter.

Last time, my 20 month old son planted his head in the sand after falling off the top of said slide. A first for youngest son.

Also last time, they all got locked out of our house. A first for this house.

A previous time our dog drew blood from my 6 year old's arm through an overly playful nip. A first for dog and son.'s a wonder she comes back. It's scary that we still leave.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

A Mess in the Manger

Reading Proverbs to Eli last night, we read,

"Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean,
but from the strength of an ox comes an abundant harvest" (14:4)

Here's a choice for my family. Do we want a clean manger or an abundant harvest?

Or, in other words, do we want a comfortable, easy lifestyle, or one with Kingdom purpose? I used to think both were possible. Our home, car, clothes, etc could look like magazine-covers, and we'd have faithful children, too. In our affluent culture the wealth comes easy enough. But the comforts of wealth lead many to fail on the faithful family part. Isn't this reminiscent of the "personal peace and affluence" trap that Schaeffer described?

I'll stick with the abundant harvest. Raising godly children doesn't come easily; there's hard ground to plow and messes in the manger. We'll have to give up on the perfectly appointed dream-home, the BMW roadster, etc. But if our treasure is in Christ, we won't miss them.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Rest in Peace

Our house is cursed. By that I mean the effects of the Fall are felt here. I've mentioned before that we struggle with anger. We get frustrated at our children easily, try harder not to, and then a little later, we get really frustrated! We've proven true that line, "if we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing". My pastor calls this "gutting it out", instead of believing the gospel.

Not that God promises us that our 6-year old will peacefully cooperate with his mother during his studies. Nor that he will get along with his sister. Peace is a big need in our home.

But thankfully, part of the gospel is a promise of peace. God is at peace with us because of who Christ is and what He has done, I don't want to minimize that. But the promise of peace doesn't end there. God also promises peace in our life that we're unable to generate ourselves. It's a fruit of the Spirit. The best we can do is trust and rest in His promise of peace to us.

Christ is faithful. He will finish the job, in us and in our children. "Let the peace of Christ rule in your were called to peace" (Col 3:15).

Sunday, March 14, 2004

A Song of Ascents for Lord's Day Morning

I was glad when they said to me,
"Let us go up to the house of the Lord!"

We are going to the house of prayer,
pour upon us a spirit of grace and supplication.

We are going to the house of praise,
awaken in us every grateful and cheerful emotion.

For the Lord has chosen Zion;
he has desired it for his dwelling place, saying:

"Here will I dwell, for I have desired it;
I will satisfy her poor with bread

Let Israel now say:

"Let us go to his dwelling place;
let us worship at his footstool!"

(A harmony from the Psalms and Valley of Vision)

Friday, March 12, 2004

Reforming a Church

The church we recently joined is about 15 years old. For approximately the first 13 years it was as "contemporary" as one can be; I'm told it didn't even have an order of worship. About two years ago, just before it was about to bankrupt, the Session called a new pastor, purportedly without knowing him too well.

The Session was open to change. Man, did they get it. A prescribed Order of Worship. Redemptive-Historical preaching. Weekly Lord's Supper. But most of all, the fetters that had held back the fullness of the gospel were unbound. Like the proverbial iceberg, the application of the gospel gradually got bigger and bigger.

I've been listening to recordings of the first sermons the pastor preached here. The nervousness in the congregation can be subtly detected. I get the sense they weren't sure what to think; it was all so different. But they must have been pleased that so many new people were showing up. Still, I'm told some complained, "why preach about the gospel so much to Christians?"

I'd like to say I was wiser than that. But months later when we found the church, I wondered why this reformed pastor didn't take some action about the way the teen-agers dressed, the women-dominated committees, the American flag in the sanctuary, etc, etc. If I were pastor, I would have convinced the Session to correct all the things I saw at once.

But now I see that lasting change comes by teaching the congregation to bring the gospel to bear on all areas of their life; not by a coerced mandate from the Session. When Christians sit under the preached Word and Sacraments we are gradually tranformed into what God created us to be. As our church realizes the fullness of the gospel we're also developing a greater desire for it. Reformation is coming.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

A Complaint

While reading Exodus this morning it stood out that when the Israelites in the wilderness complain about their situation to their leaders they are actually complaining against the Lord (Ex 16:2,7).

Where has complaining ever gotten me? A recent sermon point stuck with me. Complaining betrays a lack of belief that God cares for me and is in-control. But prayer is its photo-negative. Prayer shows that I believe God actually cares for me and has made promises that He'll keep.

Rather than grumble, murmur, and gripe to myself and my leaders, I should believe the gospel, pray, and wait.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

To my wife, on her birthday

You're not the kind to make a big deal out of your birthday. You don't want folks to "make much of you". Still, I expect you may have mixed feelings about your new age. 32--you've caught up with me again.

I'm not old enough for people to view me as wise and no longer young enough to be admired as youthful. It's easier to judge the growth of my bald spot than detect any progress in wisdom. I suspect you may also struggle to see the benefits that attend another birthday. As the one charged to tend to your maturity, there are a few things I'd like to point out.

You want the gospel more now than ever since I've known you. You are moved by the preached Word like never before; you have discovered sublime satisfaction in the Supper. You are bringing the gospel to bear in all areas of your life. To God be the glory.

You deny being a beautiful woman. But if beauty is a gentle and quiet spirit, you have no defense against my claim to the contrary. In fact, not only has beauty attended you all along, but each year it envelopes you more. To God be the praise.

The past year of your life has been more difficult than we anticipated. Being a stay-at-home mom is tough. Homeschooling young children while safeguarding a toddler is tougher still. Struggles with debilitating sickness, disrespect, disobedience, and doubts have worn you down. But wisdom says this is good. You please God more now than before, because you have been forced to rely more on His grace and not on your many strengths. You have always been intelligent and industrious, now you have been made wise. To God be thanks.

Celebrate your birthday for what He has done in your life. It's only going to get better!

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Mission Conference 2004

This weekend was our church's annual missions conference. A couple of things are worth pointing out:

1. 23 churches in 3 months. The couple that we spent the most time with is supported by 23 churches plus other individuals. Their missions organization allots them 3 months furlough every three years. Of course they spend much of that time visiting supporters. There's got to be a better way.

2. Military to Missionary. We thought Kristin's diabetes would keep us off the mission field after my military career is over. But this weekend we realized that even in our situation the military is great preparation for missions. To meet our medical needs we could do our mission work near any overseas US military installation. For example, we could church-plant among Muslims in London, Spain, Germany, etc. Anywhere there's a decent US military hospital. Also, the frequent moves that are part of the military lifestyle are providing us with a network of churches and friends that could be potential supporters. Plus, we're used to a transitory lifestyle. What's another move or two? The last point I'll mention is that the retirement pay would help offset the support needed.

For years I've wondered what I should do after the military. Kristin and I are excited to think that missions may be right for us.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

The Death of the Protestant Work Ethic?

This week there were several challenges in doing my job with excellence, i.e. unto the Lord. As a supervisor it isn't enough that I do my work with excellence, I also need to enforce a standard of excellence from those that work for me. This isn't always possible with a few of my notorious folks. So when my boss exhorted me to work on their poor performance I was strongly tempted to get upset; but just before I completely lost my head, I realized that part of doing my job with excellence is agreeing that there are improvements to be made. "He who hates reproof is stupid." (Prov 12:1b, ESV)

Also this week a previous employee said that I was the best supervisor he'd ever had, and that, "you got more work out of me than anybody". I returned his compliment with praise to God who does all things well.

There's a significant need for Christians today to develop a strong work ethic. Doing their work unto the Lord, means in part, doing it with excellence. I remember several years ago Kristin and I went to a Ragamuffin concert; it was their first tour after Rich Mullins died. They didn't know the lyrics to several of the songs they played and, overall, gave a poor performance. They showed no shame for their sub-standard act; it didn't seem to matter to them. I think many Christians have a similar view towards their work. They fail to do it with excellence and therefore fail to reflect God's excellencies to those they serve.

Some updates from earlier posts:

1. The rodeo was a great time. Saw the latest in cowboy fashion. The night after we attended a bull jumped 6 feet vertically into the stands after bucking the cowboy. Ten people were injured; most by the stampede of fleeing spectators. It took 15 minutes to get the bull down. Guess there were no real cowboys in the stands.

2. I ate the meatloaf. Still alive; still don't like it. But I didn't hide any in my glass of milk like I used to.

3. Some old neighbors were back in town for a visit yesterday. Their base house down the street is still empty, and their son wanted to know if his toads were still there. Eli stretched his arm down into a hole and pulled out three hibernating toads. The boys were ecstatic; the frogs were not.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Chocolate Bunnies and Ju-Ju Beans
An Apology for Skipping "The Movie"

Many people I respect have seen Passion. It's important to note that I consider them more mature in the faith than me. I've enjoyed their reviews of the movie. It's obviously a reverent and powerful film. At the same time, I don't think it'd be beneficial to me. Here are my reasons for skipping "The Movie":

#1. Chocolate Bunnies. I can hardly read the book of Daniel without thinking of dancing chocolate bunnies. This mental residue is left over from watching the VeggieTale video Rack, Shack and Benny. And Goliath is a giant pickle. The image associations I'd pick up from Passion probably wouldn't be so ludicrous, but when I read of the death of Christ I'd rather not think of a movie.

#2. Ju-Ju Beans. Have you heard the vintage Bill Cosby tale about how as a boy he'd get so scared at movies that he'd slide out of his seat and hide on the theater floor? At the end of the movie someone would have to pick the black Ju-Ju beans off his back, because we all know that no one eats the black ones! Besides making some scared, the Passion story is also sacred. Isn't it irreverent to chomp on popcorn and slurp your Big Gulp while watching the sufferings and death of an innocent Man? If I went to the movie, I'm afraid the folks around me wouldn't think so. A sacred story deserves a more sacred setting.

These may just be my strange hang-ups. But when I learned from the current Mars Hill Audio Journal that the average American college student has seen nearly 100 movies for every book he has read, perhaps my hang-ups aren't so bad.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

The High Cost of Discipleship!

Church is tonight. I dread it. At least the dinner part. Meat Loaf! Yuck, yuck, yuck! For over 20 years I've successfully averted all meals involving this ketchup-slathered concoction.

But if I want to learn about tonight's topic, the joys of the New Earth (and I really do), then I'll have to choke-down a little sorrow from this old one. Oh, the high cost of discipleship!

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Little Things To Love a Lot

The way my daughter says "daddy"

Wrestling with the boys

My wife's cookies

A good mail day

A sanctuary filled with singing

A like-minded brother

Monday, March 01, 2004

Repairing the Ruins

During a men's dinner this weekend I saw God's covenantal faithfulness to multiple generations. One man there was a sixth generation Christian. His family Bible is a second edition King James printed in 1633! I'd like to start a tradition like this in my family, but the mass-produced Bibles of today don't seem like heirloom material.

Another man, our host, is a young father with Covenanters' blood on both sides of the family. As might be expected, he is passionate about the church. He takes seriously his parents' expectation to build upon the faith passed down to him. It's good to see God's faithfulness to His promises. Yet, there is much to be done.

I think it was a Basement Tape that pointed out that our parents' generation just didn't see the danger in sending covenant children to government schools. Thankfully, many of their grown children have seen that error and taken action. But I wonder...what blind spots of ours will our children see and fix?

We labor today to regain what was lost in 1973 when abortion restrictions were struck down. Thirty years from now, will our children single-out 2004 as the year that marriage was struck down?