Saturday, December 31, 2005

Such a Swarm of Prejudices

I re-read a portion of puritan Isaac Watts' Logic this week at the request of a friend. In this section Watts details the sources of error in our judgment which largely stem from the fondness we have for ourselves. In a most powerful way he reveals the devastation our prejudices have on a right understanding of Scripture. I'll add that American Christians, with our individualistic and anti-authoritarian tendencies, need to pay special heed to this rebuke. Some of Watts' excerpts,

We set up our own opinions as tests of orthodoxy. We ought to bring our minds free, unbiased, and teachable, to learn our religion from the word of God; but we have generally formed all the lesser as well as greater points of religion beforehand, and then we read the prophets and apostles, only to pervert them to conform our own opinions.

We become sharp-sighted as to find our own opinions in those places of Scripture where the holy writers never thought of them, nor the Holy Spirit intended them. At other times, our prejudices bring such a dimness upon the sight that we cannot read anything that opposes our views, though it be written with sunbeams, and in the plainest language [Watts cites Luther on the Epistle of James, Catholics on the Apocyphra].

If the common text be not favorable to our opinion...the common understanding most be supposed to be defective or redundant, and the sense of it shall be literal or metaphorical, according as it best supports our own scheme. We are ready to find something in every chapter of the Bible to countenance our own private sentiments; and we love those chapters best which speak our own opinion plainest.

I believe our prejudices largely explain the disunity of the Church. The solution? Watts again: "Since we find such a swarm of prejudices, the weakness of our reason, our insufficiency to guard ourselves from error, we must direct ourselves to Heaven, and implore the God of truth to lead us into all truth, and to ask wisdom of Him who giveth liberally to them that ask it."

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Chaplain Tim Bailey?

Back in 1993 when I was new to the Air Force, and new to the Christian faith, I spent a good deal of time with an Air Force Chaplain whose background was African Methodist Episcopal. He believed in prophesying and he believed in me. He told me that one day I would be an Air Force Chaplain, he knew it, and he was never wrong about these things. Thankfully, wrong he was.

A friend of mine from the Air Force, who's not a chaplain, sent me a copy of the new talking paper on the "Interim guidelines of religious expression in the Air Force." A couple of the new guidelines make sense, but most are horrid, especially if you're a chaplain.

Consider its recommendations on prayer. "Prayers may be offered at military holiday parties. If a prayer/meditation is to be offered, strongly recommend that unit Chaplains be utilized to provide the prayer/meditation. Key point: The prayer/meditation/reflection should not be specific to any faith group." Then the following sample prayer was provided,

Dear Lord, as the days of winter grow shorter, our hearts seem to yearn for the coming light, explaining our Holiday Season focus on decorative lights and candles. And as we focus on the coming light that this season represents, allow our light to shine in our world. Allow our good works to shine before men so that they may be encouraged. Amen

I detest these empty prayers and empathize for the Chaplains that are forced to pray to this therapeutic deity of our own making. Thank the Lord Jesus Christ I'm not one of them.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Love Must Be Expressed Through Word and Deed

My church is surrounded by growing numbers of people in need. Situated fairly close to the "bad part of town", a deacon recently told me that more than once the after-worship refreshments have been stolen during the service by people off the street. And there have been some tense moments during the week when emotionally-unstable people have entered the building demanding a hand-out.

I suspect most churches in large cities are regularly solicited for financial assistance from people in need. I also suspect that many of these people will abuse whatever assistance is provided. Perhaps this explains why many evangelical churches are much stronger on Word ministries (e.g. teaching, evangelism) than they are mercy ministries.

So I was intrigued when a deacon at our church taught the adults from Tim Keller's book. Dr. Keller is pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Manhattan, and he confronts the evangelical church over its lack of mercy, pointing out that mercy is not optional or additional to be being a Christian.

This is a bold book. In many places Pastor Keller gives names of those in the church that get this wrong (e.g. Sider and Chilton are both criticized) and shames the Left with its redistribution of wealth theories and the Right for its assertions that economic growth alone will mend broken families. He shows that only the ministry of the church can properly attack the root of the problem because "the spread of the Kingdom of God is more than simply winning people to Christ. It is also working for the healing of persons, families, relationships, and nations; it is doing deeds of mercy and justice."

Most valuably, this book not only convinces you of the orthodoxy of mercy ministry, aptly answering all the objections to it and also shaming the church for its negligence, but also spends many chapters describing how to go about it.

As a result, our little church is stepping up its participation with several rescue missions in town, expressing our love for our neighbors through Word and deed.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

"The Way to Contentment is to Add Another Burden"

This will be the last book I read this year. It will also be the best.

Do you have a deep satisfaction with the will of God in all things? Do you maintain an inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit no matter the situation? Or do you murmur? Do you complain at every cross and affliction in your life, dwelling on what discontents you, but unable to meditate more than a moment on God's mercies to you?

Rare Jewel was written by the Puritan preacher Jeremiah Burroughs and first published in 1648. In that era puritan authors wrote with a style of all meat, no fluff. This is a book to savor one paragraph at a time for weeks. If you do so, by the end of the book you will know the cause of your discontentment, and its cure.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Is This a War Worth Fighting?

...the War Against Christmas, that is. I'm going against most of pop-evangelicalism and saying that the battle against "holiday trees" and the like is largely a distraction from the real issues of religious liberty.

The Christians I work with are on the warpath because our base newspaper calls it a holiday tree and the Commander says 'Happy Holidays' instead of 'Merry Christmas'. Renaming a Christmas tree is certainly silly, just imagine if we started calling a Menorah a Holiday Candlestick! If we do live in a pluralistic society then there should be enough room in the public square to call a rose a rose. It is a Christmas tree.

But I don't think that the War against Christmas is a major battle for religious liberty. I'm more concerned about recent court decisions forcing some Christian schools to use state-sponsored atheistic curriculum and forbidding some Christian organizations to hire and fire based on Christian morals.

Sadly, there is much less awareness among my Christian co-workers about these issues. And most distressing, there is no angst whatsoever that some of their own churches have called off worship this Lord's Day. This seems like a clear case of keeping the traditions of men while ignoring the commands of God. And that is a battle worth fighting over.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Ordered, Adjudged, and Decreed

Here we are earlier this month with the judge in Alabama that finalized our adoption of Faith. It was a very simple proceeding; we're thankful for that. Since then the days whizzed by with little time to write. I've also been trying to finish three more books by year end; I now have one left. I enjoyed Ministries of Mercy by Tim Keller and hope to post some thoughts on it pretty soon. I also finally wrapped up Dicken's first novel, The Pickwick Papers. Nearly 800 pages long, it's an amusing tale and an amazing feat for the 24 year old author!

Friday, December 02, 2005

The last step

We're off tomorrow to Alabama to finalize the adoption at a court proceeding. At this point we don't expect any difficulties, and we're looking forward to spending over a week with family.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Improving Family Worship

I want to be careful what I teach my children through the practice of family worship. Learning to sit quietly while the Bible is read, or prayers are said, can be a significant accomplishment for little children, but not if they've only learned to tune out what's going on. Good manners are not the end, but a means. What I want out of family worship is for them to have a focused quiet, like the kind that occurs when eating a favorite meal and all you hear is the work of the fork and spoon.

I've noticed for some time that we've lacked the focus and the enjoyment of mining the Word of the Lord during our times of family worship. Now that my two older children can read well enough, I've taken some steps to try to remedy that.

I've explained to them the ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication) model of prayer, and on a small whiteboard I have a column for each category. As the children listen to me read through the Scriptures, I instruct them to tell me things to write down on the board for each area. This forms a large part of our prayer list each evening.

This approach, I pray, will show my children that God's Word is not to be read passively, nor to be read merely as stories, but every time you read the Scripture, you ought to lay your hand upon it and say, "It is mine, and I am to live upon it."

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Happy New Year!

Am I early? Not if I'm reading my lectionary right. The first week of Advent begins tomorrow, which begins the new year on the church calendar.

This has been my second year using a lectionary based on the Book of Common Prayer from 1662 for my private Bible Study. Of course there's nothing wrong with reading the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, but when I used that approach I disliked spending all my devotion in only one book of the Bible. The lectionary approach keeps you in several books every morning and evening. For instance, here's today's reading:

Ps 124, 125
Gen 35:1-20
Matt 13:1-17

Ps 119:97-112
Isa 42:1-9
Rev 21:22-22:5

I can't find the exact one I use on-line; but here's a recommendation for trying it out.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Forgotten Call for Humble Penitence

As a thought experiment I googled a few key Thanksgiving Day proclamations with the intent of comparing them theologically. I sampled Plymouth Colony's First Proclamation of 1676 (although some historians question the validity of the source document) , President Washington's 1789 proclamation, President Lincoln's of 1863, and President Bush's of 2005.

Most strikingly, the 1676 proclamation doesn't mention thanks for an abundant harvest at all; rather, it expresses gratitude that the Lord did not totally consume them with afflictions. It's also a call to consecration, "in view of God's returning mercy," so that the Lord may behold them as a people "sensible of God's afflictions."

Washington proclaims a special day of thanks in part to, "beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions." Lincoln calls for a "humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience."

Regrettably, somewhere along the way, the call for humble penitence is lost. Recent Presidents, including the current one, make no such request of the American people. No connection is made between national afflictions and God's hand. From President Bush's proclamation, all we ask of God now is that He "watch over us", give us His "special blessing", and "guide us as we move forward." We are a people no longer sensible of God's afflictions.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Growing in Years, Growing in Grace

Our daughter Grace celebrated her 6th birthday this week. She invited a few friends from the neighborhood to our house for the evening.

Her new friendships have brought with them a mixture of blessings and trouble. But we pray with confidence that she will love whatsoever things are true and pure and lovely and of good report, following the example of her Savior Jesus Christ. And she does already, to a degree. Today I walked into her room and found her working with her 3 year old brother on his Scripture memory--that's encouraging!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Pie and Praise

One of the beloved traditions of our church occurs on the Sunday evening before Thanksgiving. The church comes together to enjoy homemade pies and fellowship and then spends the remainder of the evening publicly thanking God through prayer for His goodness to us over the last year. This has been going on for 15 years. It is refreshing to be part of a church body that, despite being geographically separated by long distances, enjoys getting together enough to make the drive. And does so pretty frequently.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

What Does it Mean to be Reformed?

In an effort to understand how churches in the same denomination (PCA) can be so different, I picked up this book. It's a collection of essays covering the 3 major strands of the American reformed church: Princeton, Dutch, and Southern Presbyterian. Each background has an introductory essay and 2 or 3 essays on crucial men in that strand and their theology.

To boil down my notes on the book to the length of a typical blogpost, I'll say that the book does a great job explaining the distinctions of the 3 backgrounds in view, but at the end I'm left with the feeling that there's a large group of people that call themselves reformed that wouldn't identify with any of the three groups. It seems there should have been some discussion over the large number of reformed Baptists, or used-to-be-Baptist reformed folks. These are the kind of folks that we most often meet in the PCA and undoubtedly have added to the uniqueness of American reformed theology and practice.
Athanasius Contra Mundo

Desiring God radio aired Piper's biographical message on Athanasius. Here are the points I appreciated the most:
- Why it's worth fighting over doctrine that Christians have disagreed about for centuries
- Loving Christ must include loving true propositions about Christ. So, doctrine is essential in loving Christ.

I hope you get time to listen to it; I recommend it.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Veteran's Day to a 5 year old

I asked my children what we remember on Veteran's Day. My 7 year old son got it right, but Grace, my 5-year old daughter had a different conception. She said, "we remember those that take care of dogs."

We have since explained to her the difference between a veteran and a veterinarian.

Friday, November 11, 2005

A Question about Helping Neighbors You Don't Know

Our friend Melene, who lives in North Carolina, asked us to pray for a family in our neighborhood that was in serious need. Melene's husband was deployed with our neighbor's husband, who arrived home yesterday and will care for his wife during a very-risky brain surgery.

We hadn't met the family until recently, and so far we've only met the children and their aunt. The aunt, by the way, lost everything in Katrina and now lives here and cares for her sister's 4 children while she tries to cope with the daily pain associated with loss of brain fluid. There are serious needs all around.

This family is Catholic and may be getting assistance from their church; we don't know. So my question is what is the proper thing for us to do?

In addition to prayer, our current plan is to take them a meal and ask if their church is providing meals and other assistance. If they need help, we want to provide it; but we don't want to be too pushy since we're strangers who happen to live near-by. Other thoughts?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Conversion of Man is Real!

There are skeptics of conversion; they think man's nature cannot truly be changed. And there are those of us that for years have longed for loved ones to know the Lord, and to be frank, we have given up on them. How encouraging it was tonight to have at my dinner table a new friend in Christ. He was a sixth generation Mormon (RLDS) who as an young adult left that cult at great personal cost and now embraces the Biblical truth.

What's more remarkable is that his parents left that false faith, too! Even more remarkable is that my friend's father was the State leader of the Mormon (RLDS) church when he left!

The gospel is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe. No matter what age or situation. Take courage, have hope, keep praying for your lost loved ones!

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Outdoor Recreation

We're enjoying an unusually long Fall here in Albuquerque. To celebrate, some co-workers and I hiked 12 miles Friday in the Sandia mountains on the east side of town.

Then this morning, Eli and I, and some neighbors, went for a horseback ride a few minutes from base. You wouldn't want to do either of these activities in the summer, but it was perfect today!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Nice Quotes

Desiring God is putting message before money...all the conference lectures from this year's national conference are available for free download (here and here). The theme of the conference was Suffering and the Sovereignty of God. Joni Eareckson Tada covers the subject masterfully, and during her address remarks (and here's my paraphrase from memory), "instead of rehearsing our theology with each other, we are to live out our theology in front of others."

Also, one of the books that I have my nose in is Tim Keller's Ministries of Mercy. Sometimes it pays to read the endnotes carefully. That's where I found this great quote from the minutes of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1892,
In the meantime [since we don't have parishes yet], our usages have taught the poor that the State and not the Church is their almoner, but it is high time that it be rescued from this neglect, and restored to its proper dignity as the most ancient and one of the most significant of ecclesiastical functions...The municipal overseer can never be a substitute for the deacon...The Church must prove herself the friend of the workingman. She can and should answer and conquer the communist by the deacon."

Monday, October 31, 2005

Reformation Day 2005

Our family watched this film (from the '50s) over the weekend. The version that came out a couple of years ago is more gripping, but this one emphasized more the importance of sola fide. Our church had a nice Reformation party on Friday, although next year we hope to incorporate some of the great ideas for children we enjoyed at Covenant OPC in Dayton, Ohio.

It's almost impossible to skip Halloween in our close-knit military neighborhood; but we joined a couple of other families tonight at a deserted Chuck E. Cheese. The children had a great time with their friends. Other blogs criticize Christians for the un-neighborliness of forgoing trick-or-treat, but in my situation I have plenty of other ways to spend time with my neighbors that don't have the baggage of Halloween.

Today I was asked about our position on Halloween. I tried to avoid pietism in my brief response; see what you think.

Our family tradition is to celebrate a different holiday on Oct 31. We celebrate Reformation Day. Today is the date, back in 1517, God used Martin Luther to begin a very important reformation in the Church. We enjoy celebrating this holiday because we can use it to teach our children about the gospel.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

A Blemish on the Bright Future of Blogs

Numerous publications and even more web sites foresee blogs "spreading the gospel" to great numbers. Just a few weeks ago there was a conference on Christian Blogging, GodBlogCon with enough press coverage to get an AP article even in New Mexico's newspapers.

And maybe blogs will connect with people in ways that other forms of outreach never could. But what can be done to ensure the right gospel is getting out? The following quote was written long before the advent of computer networks, but the relevance to blogging is there nonetheless.

Tendencies, which had found no room to unfold themselves in other lands, wrought here without restraint...Every theological vagabond and peddler may drive here his bungling trade, without passport or license, and sell his false ware at pleasure. What is to come of such confusion is not now to be seen." Philip Schaff, The Principle of Protestantism, 1844

Friday, October 28, 2005

Pop Culture's Mandatory Fun

We have a "ghost sign" on our front door, despite our dislike for Halloween. If I didn't hang it up neighbors would keep dropping off bags of candy and cookies and dashing off before I can identify them. It happened twice before we decided it's un-neighborly of us to accept their goodies but not put up their silly sign. Our neighbors mean well, they just can't imagine we'd rather celebrate something else on 31 October. So that explains the mandatory fun we're now part of.

One of Kristin's friends was recently invited to two baby showers. Both were for unwed mothers. This put her in somewhat of a dilemma. Even though she didn't want to congratulate an impenitent person on fruitful fornication, if she didn't go, she'd come across as insensitive. She's glad the mother didn't abort. But does this mean an unwed mother, who has no designs of marriage, should receive the same kind of celebratory shower as the bride who waited? Well, we really have no choice. Popular culture says she does and so we concede to more mandatory fun.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Time for a Picture

Faith is a wonderful baby. And I'm pleased that the number of rude questions we receive from strangers has been very low. Kristin has received the worst one so far; someone she had never met before came up and asked her, "so how much did she cost?". This question is fine during a good conversation about adoption, but it's not a good opening question. Our skin is fairly thick anyways. For the most part, the people we've met here are very accepting and kind, especially at church and in our neighborhood.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

From Pride and Prejudice to Sex in the City

Since my last post my family has gone through a birthday (#34 for me), a double ear infection (Isaiah), and strep throat (Kristin). Plus I was TDY to California for a few days.

On the trip I listened to the MARS HILL Audio report, Wandering toward the Altar: The Decline of American Courtship. It is very well done and chronicles how cultural conventions of choosing a mate have regressed from the "calling" system evidenced in Austen's novels to the dating of the post-WWII era to the "hook-ups" of today.

Besides being fascinating history, the series will be a useful teaching tool in my family for exposing the problems with dating and sketching out a better approach.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Today's Agenda

So will I ever sing praises to your name, as I perform my vows day after day" (Ps 61:8)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Secularizing the Military

Air Force Chaplains have recently been forbidden to evangelize service members of different faith groups. That, in itself, is a loss for religious liberty and evangelical witness. Now the Air Force is considering a gag order that would forbid its chaplains from evangelizing the unchurched, or those that claim no faith. The new policies were enacted due to threats of litigation from a previous Air Force Officer who says the Academy discriminates against non-evangelicals.

Also, until recently, we used to be able to offer prayers for service members upon their promotion, retirement, or other military ceremony. That has also come under fire. Public prayer is now only permitted rarely, "to add solemnity to an event." Compare that to in the past when prayer was an invocation, asking for God's favor upon the person being recognized.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Giving You An Earful

For whatever reason, while I love reading books, I can't read them fast enough to keep up with all the topics I'm interested in covering. I should probably switch to reading more articles, an idea from Barb, but I've found that there's tons of good, free audio available now a days. I try to listen more broadly than I believe; I think it's healthy to hear different views from within the pale of orthodoxy. Here are my favorite FREE audio places in no particular order:

St Anne's Pub -- down-to-earth reformed topics, mostly cultural
9 Marks Interviews -- reformed Baptist-led interviews and speeches
Covenant Seminary Audio Library -- recordings of chapel speakers, conferences, etc
White Horse Inn-- broadly-reformed topical discussions
Issues, Etc -- Confessional Lutheran broadcasts, mostly on cultural matters
I've also downloaded several great MP3s thanks to links I find in various blogs. This is a great way to spread a good message.

For audio for a fee, I especailly like,
Mars Hill Audio Journal -- first-rate cultural commentary from a Christian perspective
WordMP3 -- MP3s of sermons and lectures, mainly from reformed pastors and theologians
I usually also order the audio for the Desiring God conferences and from other ministries such as the Basement Tapes

Any other recommendations?

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Cruise of Mr. Christopher Columbus

I just read my children the book titled above about Columbus, published in 1932. I had hoped that it would be old enough to present the Christian elements of Columbus' character and mission. But no, according to this story, it was all about gold and proving that the world isn't flat.

According to Columbus' diaries recorded during his voyage, he and the crew regularly prayed, even bursting out with the Te Deum, laudamusat the sight of land! Columbus understood, to some degree, that his voyage was in obedience to the Great Commission.

Generations of school children never heard about this, but mine will. And I hope yours will, too.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Worn Out and Learning to Pray

The Psalms indicate that God won't give us more than we can handle, but He may push the envelope from time to time. Today was a envelope-pushing day.

My family has been laid low by an intense stomach virus for almost a week. Thankfully, Kristin didn't catch the virus, so she has been able to care for me and the children. We took precautions to keep the bug from spreading to our 2 month old daughter Faith, but last night she caught it. She (and Kristin) are spending tonight in the hospital regaining fluids.

As bad as it sounds, I was too tired to pray for Faith on my own this morning when things were at their worst. But I remembered the Book of Common Prayer and found that it expressed our feelings and desires superbly with supplications like these,

O Father of mercies, and God of all comforts, our only help in time of need; We flee unto you for relief. We humbly ask you to behold, visit, and comfort Faith. Give strength and skill to thy ministers of healing; bless the means of cure; and in view of how frail her life is, look upon her with the eyes of thy mercy, deliver her from bodily pain, and prolong her days here on earth, that she may live to thee, and be an instrument of thy glory. Grant this, O heavenly Father, for the love of thy Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Relying On An Intercessor

Today I took a private request from one of my subordinates to my boss. It was a "closed door" kind of meeting. I don't know what my boss thinks of me, and I didn't do a great job in addressing my team member's need. This isn't the best boss I've ever had, and there are issues he's not going to share with me. But in the end, he listened and was fair. Why bring this up here?

Consider how much better an intercessor you have on your side. If my subordinate's need was fairly heard by my boss today, although he's not the greatest and neither am I, rejoice that you have God the Father hearing your needs and His completely-trustworthy Son bringing them forward!

Our requests to God are delivered by the beloved Son to His perfect, loving, omnipotent Father. Rest assured in His intercession on your behalf!

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. Heb 7:25

Sunday, October 02, 2005

We're Not Scalp-Hunting

I've mentioned before what a great opportunity for ministry we have in our new neighborhood. This week that opportunity became more elusive.

Another Christian couple that we had partnered with in starting a Bible study has reportedly gotten into several quarrels with neighbors over the behavior of their children. We've been told, "if Christians behave this way, we don't want any part of Christianity", and other disappointing statements.

Part of the problem is a different understanding of "ministry" between my family and our partner. I've come to understand the importance of knowing, loving, enjoying, and serving your neighbors as the foundation for discipleship. I'm led to believe that our partners' focus could be described as "let's convert the Catholics".

We're caught in the middle of the tension. We are to love our partnering family, and not distance ourselves from them for the sake of getting to know the other families. We will try to be a peacemaker in this situation.

In the meantime, today I began a neighborhood sports league for the dads and children. I had 12 children and several parents come out for a game of touch football. We'll do this each week. My intention is to build trust with the families, to show them that I'm not just interested in spiritual-scalp-hunting; we simply want to be good neighbors. And, I hope, God will honor this desire by allowing us to disciple others when and how He sees fit.

The place to put Faith when we want a one hour nap. Guaranteed results!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Twice as Much a Son of Hell

Everything they do is done for men to see. (Matthew 23:5)

A visiting minister on Sunday showed how big a problem self-righteousness is in the Christian family. He's in campus ministry and when I asked him how well the college students from Christian homes grasp the Gospel, he basically said that their parents have taught them self-righteousness and not the Christian Gospel.

He pointed out that as parents we are most happy when our children exhibit certain external behaviors and avoid others--this is our mark of success. We haven't taught them that Jesus was harshest with those who thought they had it together, who didn't acutely hate their sin and long for a Savior.

The minister added that parents just aren't as concerned with self-righteousness in their children as they are with "worldly" behavior, as if self-righteousness isn't twice as bad or dangerous. Despite all our effort in raising our children, if we're only teaching them how to behave, instead of modeling and exhorting them to continually repent and believe the Gospel, all we're doing is populating Hell.

You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. (Matthew 23:15)

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Childless by Choice

One of the things that strikes me as odd about this assignment is the number of married couples I've met without children. Of course to them I'm the odd one for having 4 children (I'm often asked if I'm Mormon), but it's getting to the point where it's unusual to meet a married couple in their thirties that have children.

In some cases the couples desire children but are infertile. But in many cases there is a conscious decision never to have children because it would interfere with their career plans. I can understand this selfishness among the non-Christian couples, but it's discouraging to find a similar attitude in believers.

I think the problem, once again, is a small Gospel. It's a lack of understanding of what we are saved unto. "Be fruitful and multiply" was never repealed. While the dominion mandate means more than raising Christian children, it does mean at least that.

The second problem is that American evangelicals find too much pleasure in ease. We are addicted to comfort and selfishness. Children are too much work. "Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean" you know (Prov 14:4).

Monday, September 19, 2005

Conspiring Against Me

For people will be lovers of self (2 Tim 3:2)

Tweaking what Calvin said, God sends afflictions into my life to wean me from an excessive love of myself. The Heidelberg, always encouraging, adds that God "will turn to my good whatever adversity he sends me in this sad world." (No. 26)

Bottomline: That terrible weekend I just endured, where everything conspired against me, Kristin was terribly sick, my three-year old suffered from some sort of urinary problem, my newborn owned the night, and my dog wouldn't quit barking, shows that God's loving providence is often acutely painful. But instead of "kissing the rod", I'm more apt to get out of its way. The old man -- that self-lover -- dies hard, and the new man needs a lot of maturing. The remedy for both problems is suffering.

This weekend reminded me that the Baileys, this family that I am the head of, certainly does not have it all together. We have our list of issues, we can be "high maintenance", we are often undone. We need the Lord. We need Him who comes "proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every affliction" (Mt 4:23).

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Wrestling with God

An encouraging sermon from Pastor Meyers on a theme of particular interest to this blog. The encouragement: learning to see the face of God behind your struggles.

Thursday, September 15, 2005


When my mom called last week wanting a recommendation for a study Bible, I mulled over which one would be right for her. Meanwhile, Kristin was smarter and mailed her one of ours.

I've been praying for something like this to happen in her life (although not as faithfully as I should). Turns out her next-door neighbor, a close friend, got her involved in a Bible study at a local Presbyterian church, and now she's in God's Word on a regular basis.

I was supposed to start a neighborhood Bible study tomorrow night. We decided to postpone it for a little while because I forgot how much work having a new baby is. But we're excited about the response. Several families, friends of ours in the neighborhood, that don't have strong church backgrounds want to come.

I've heard a little about "unschooling". I think it's where you avoid the typical educational approach of classes, textbooks, and the like in order to teach more naturally. Perhaps evangelism, note the nefarious "-ism", is in need of the same approach. If we love our neighbors, instead of treating them as evangel"ism" projects, if we enjoy spending time with them and serving them, we might find that disciple-making comes naturally.

Monday, September 12, 2005

It's Hard to Believe

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (John 20:29)
I struggle with believing God; I'll try to be specific. I have no problem believing that there is a God, or in my own sinfulness--that is too apparent. And I don't doubt God loves me, at least not since hearing a sermon by a pastor who rebuked me with, "what part of Jesus dying on the Cross makes you wonder whether God loves you?!?" But it's hard for me to believe God is really actively involved in my life.

I'm cynical. When I thank God for an answered prayer what I'm really thinking is that if you wait long enough, and do enough, eventually you'll almost always get what you want--God or no God. Thanking God after I get what I want doesn't seem like biblical faith; true faith should begin before "the answer" and continue on despite what comes. But this I lack.

I think David, in some of his psalms, expresses the difficulty of faith, while at the same time reminding himself of God's promises (see Psalm 13 for an example). So maybe what I experience is right, and a lack of "doubting God" may be an indication that I'm not trusting Him for anything hard.

Martin Luther sometimes lamented the hiddeness of God. Is He really there? Does He really hear? Is He really involved? But Luther points out that for God to be hidden, He must be present! We walk by faith, not sight. Even when it is hard to believe. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Instead of a Post

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Sunday, September 04, 2005

The Confessions of St. Augustine

I'm making slow progress through this classic work, not because it's a hard read, but because no book can compete with a baby. But I can't pass up posting the great analogy about the Word of God contained in this quote,

I therefore decided to give my attention to the study of the Holy Scripture and to see what they were like. And what I saw was something that is not discovered by the proud and is not laid open to children; the way in is low and humble, but inside the vault is high and veiled in mysteries, and I lacked the qualities which would make me fit to enter in or stoop my neck to follow the pathway. For when I studied the Scriptures then I did not feel as I am writing about them now. They seemed to me unworthy of comparison with the grand style of Cicero. For my pride shrank from their modesty, and my sharp eye was not penetrating enough to see into their depths.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

How to Hear a Sermon

Last week our pastor preached a fine sermon which included this topic. He's mentioned before that when he sees people sleeping during the sermon, he just yells louder, but this time he focused on the opposite problem: nitpicking. As a Bible college and seminary graduate, he declared himself to be a nit expert; however, sitting in judgment of a sermon (instead of sitting under one) is common to many who take the faith seriously.

Remember Paul's rhetorical question, "how are they to hear without someone preaching?" We all desire a greater faith, and since faith comes from hearing, we would profit from knowing how to hear a sermon.

Take this advice: Prepare for hearing a sermon with diligence and prayer beforehand. Then examine what you hear by the Scriptures [be good Bereans], and by all means receive the truth with faith, love, and meekness, as the Word of God to you! Since God has spoken to you, meditate upon what He said; hide it in your heart, and bring forth its fruit in your life. (WLC 160)

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Unintended Consequences of Biblical Convictions

In many of the churches we've seen, especially where doctrine and worship are taken seriously, fellowship is woefully lacking. You can attend for months without anyone inviting you into their home, or even seeking you out after the service. It's as if you wake up invisible on Sundays. Why is that?

I've asked that question of several pastors whose congregations have struggled with this problem for years. Diverse reasons are given, but the most common one is that the people live too far apart. And after many attempts to overcome this problem, the pastors have all but given up.

While distance is an obstacle, it's no new thing. Are we really to believe that a 30 minute commute to a meeting place is a first in the life of the Church? And from my conversations with friends driving from all over the region to attend the evangelical mega-churches, they aren't wanting for fellowship. No, I think the problem lies elsewhere for the reformed.

In reforming churches we come to realize the danger of too many programs. And here is where our problem lies. We cut and burn the programs, which have been the main source for fellowship, before we have trained the congregation on how to have fellowship without the programs. In our efforts to take out man-centeredness from worship, many have cut the choir, and naturally there are no more get togethers for practice. In our desire to emphasize family discipleship, we shut-down AWANA, Sunday School, and the youth group. And since we live "too far" to have Sunday evening and Wednesday evening worship, we are only left with the one Sunday morning worship service. It's a wonderful service, but obviously not intended to meet all the "one anothers" of Scripture.

The reason for the near-absence of fellowship in too many reformed churches is simple. We have cut and slashed programs that appear to be unbiblical. But this has had the unintended consequence of destroying fellowship opportunities before a biblical alternative was ready.

I don't necessary advocate going back to the "program-based" church. Instead, the next step in reforming the church, is to re-form her families into one loaf.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Introducing Faith to the Family

Preach Until You Are Free

Candidly, over the last couple of weeks I've had some thoughts about whether we're in the right church. But whenever I hear the preaching, from a man who describes himself as a capital C coward, I can't leave. I've never before seen an older reformed pastor like him that is able to communicate a sermon with such verve, lashing out in fierce anger while preaching on the judgment seat of Christ, and then breaking down in tears over sin.

His delivery style must also be his own creation. He opens the sermon reading from a page of prepared notes, until it seems that something he said takes him captive. His glasses are slowly removed and laid aside, and then he preaches until he is free. That is to say, he must preach it in order to express what is on his mind and heart and until he does, he will not feel free. After a rollercoaster ride, in which the glasses go on and off as he returns to the calm propositions of an intellectual until the next unexpected wave of emotion hits, he closes the sermon by reading his conclusion and, sometimes, apologizing for going over the time he expected to take.

This pastor is more prophet than professional. And yet he calls himself a coward. But in the pulpit he is a lion.

His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed I cannot. Jer 20:9

Friday, August 26, 2005

Baby Gifts

The adoption agency gave us this nice gift; it's called a "church baby". As the story goes, during corporate worship grandmothers used to take a handkerchief from their pocket and tie it into a church baby for restless babies. Years later the hankerchief is untied and carried on the wedding day. I guess this gift fell into disuse when families: 1. sent grandmother to Florida, 2. sent the kidos out of the worship service, and 3. switched to Kleenex (who carries a real hanky anymore!).

What we need today are practical gifts! Like this one...

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Everyone's home. God is good.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters,

for after many days you will find it again (Eccl 11:1). I don't know nearly enough about bread to try this out, but today I got back some "bread" (if you will) in the mail. The birthmother we were matched with in Oklahoma City, who had changed her mind about us because of Kristin's diabetes and our children's coloring, selected a family in Canada to adopt her child. That family agreed to back-pay all the support and legal fees we had paid earlier, resulting in a nice refund for us!

An even better return happens tomorrow when Kristin and Faith come back home! Praise God that New Mexico and Alabama (not the first two states that come to mind when you think of swiftness) worked out whatever legal agreement they needed for Faith to leave the state. I can't wait!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Vanity Mirrors

Our Lord taught (in effect), "Your obligation is to work as hard as you possibly can and when you have finished to say, 'At best I am an unprofitable servant'" (cf. Luke 17:10). And here, after just three days of taking care of the children by myself, I'm wondering where my Achievement Medal is. How pathetically vain-glorious.

Thankfully my household comes equipped with several built-in vanity mirrors to remind me of my warts and God's pure grace. The more time I spend with the children the more I see my sinfulness and folly passed down to them. (Lord, restrain my sin and foolish ways!) The longer I spend on the phone with my wife the more I realize how she prepared homeschooling material, groceries, etc ahead of time and how that has eased my load this week.

But I still want the 'atta boy's from whoever will give them. God does me good by reminding me tonight, "when you have done all that you were commanded, say, "We are unworthy servants, we have only done what was our duty."

How radically gracious that God responds, "Well done, my good servant!" (Luke 19:17).

Monday, August 22, 2005

Proud Papa Photos

If you read the comments on an earlier post, the next photo of Faith to be posted here was to be of her baptism. But how could I ever have thought of postponing photos like this one?

If I have my story straight (keep in mind I'm 1,200 miles away from the camera), this is the official shot of Kristin receiving Faith from the adoption agency. Kristin is at her parent's house. Two very lovely ladies!

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Me and My Bible

The latest edition of Mars Hill Audio Journal opened with a helpful discussion of two uniquely Baptist distinctives, "sole competency" and "the priesthood of the believer (singular)."

Originally, "sole competency" meant that each believer is to interpret the Bible on his own. Unfortunately, the effects of modernity over time saw the "no creed but the Bible" dogma lead to "Unitarian Baptists" and other rejections of orthodoxy.

The priesthood of the believer (singular) distinctive originally was meant to emphasize that each person is accountable to God. But over time, American individualism and egalitarianism morphed this doctrine into a Christian's right to ignore the authority of the Church and the accountability of other Christians.

Thankfully over the last decade or more a significant part of the Southern Baptists have returned to orthodoxy. However, during my time in reformed baptistic churches, sole competency and priesthood of the believer, while never named, were still thoroughly ensconced. I believe this hurt discipleship and, perhaps more significantly, impacted the authority of the preached word and the office of elder.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Adoption! Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken

Today was the last day for the birthmother to change her mind. Thank God for journals; as I read an entry this morning from two years ago I was reminded of this, "He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord." (Ps 112:7).

This morning's lectionary reading included the 87th Psalm, the basis for the hymn Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken. Serendipitously, I discovered that the "glorious thing" being spoken of here is adoption! In view is our adoption into Zion, the eternal city of our God. Consider the fourth verse,

And of Zion it shall be said, "This one and that one were born in her"; for the Most High himself will establish her. The Lord records as he registers the peoples, "This one was born there. Selah"

Calvin says of this passage, "that new citizens shall be gathered into the Church of God from different parts of the world. Strangers by birth shall be accounted among the holy people, just as if they descended from Abraham. Although Zion was not the place of their natural birth, they were to be grafted into the body of the holy people by adoption. We may perceive the more clearly how much benefit may be derived from this psalm; and at the same time, how necessary it is to meditate upon it continually." Selah, indeed!

Friday, August 19, 2005

Finding Compassion

Our adoption of Faith is still going well. Kristin flies tomorrow to Alabama and will stay with her parents until she receives state approval to bring Faith home. I'll stay here and keep homeschool going until she returns. It's been a busy week working through the legal documents and preparing for the trip. Yet more and more we're finding adoption is wonderful in many ways. We get to enjoy another blessing (Ps 127:5). But we are also reminded of the Lord's compassion for children in difficult circumstances (Job 29:12-17 for starters), for with God "the fatherless find compassion" (Hos 14:3).

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Little Christian Children

I've enjoyed listening to the latest audio release from St Anne's Pub on "Leading our Little Ones to Christ." I was encouraged to try reading J.C. Ryle's Boys and Girls Playing (first published in 1881) to the children again. This time I'm reading it once they are in bed--they're more interested in non-picture books when the alternative is lights out.

This section from the first sermon made an immediate impact on Eli and Grace,
You are never too young or too little to begin thinking of God. Are you old enough to be naughty? Then be sure that you are old enough to be good. Are you old enough to talk? Then be sure that you are old enough to say your prayers. Are you old enough to learn bad words? Then be sure that you are old enough to learn texts. Are you old enough to know and love your mother? Then be sure that you are old enough to know and love Jesus who died to save your souls.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Adoption Update (The Biggie)

Welcome Faith Alethea Bailey!

The adoption is not official yet, but the birthmother surrendered her rights to the child (she has until Saturday to change her mind). Faith is currently with a foster family until we can pick her up. The adoption is very likely; however, there are several things that concern us and we ask for your prayer. Specifically, that a fingerprint check (on us) would go through quickly, the birthmother to have peace of mind with her decision, the birthmother's recovery from an emergency C-section, that paperwork would go smoothly, and the travel arrangements.

We should know more as the week progresses, but we hope to bring baby Faith home in the next couple of weeks. We greatly appreciate your prayers.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Tails of the Bizarre

While we wait for the baby to be born (currently one-week past the due date), Eli and I went camping at a state park in the mountains west of town. We caught trout, rock-climbed, pitched a tent, roasted marshmallows, and enjoyed a beautiful piece of God's creation. Lava fields, crawdads the size of small lobsters, and violent cloudbursts are some of the bizarre facets of camping in New Mexico.

This photo overlooks the canyon that we hiked down. At the bottom is a little river that feeds into one of the few lakes anywhere around us.

During the camping trip I started reading Augustine's Confessions by lantern light. I regret how long this book has sat on my shelf unread! It has one of the best beginnings of any book I've read!

Our church combined worship services today with a reformed Baptist work south of town. The sermons were on community. Bizarrely (bear with me), we bumped into a friend that we haven't seen in several years, since our time at Community Bible Church in Illinois.

In his sermon our pastor rebuked our lame attempts at evangelism, likening us to the Gospel Blimpers, a reference to a Christian movie from the '60s. The bizarre storyline entails a group of Christians wanting to spread the Gospel to the neighborhood, and so for some reason they buy a blimp to spread the Word. They upset the whole town by leaflet-bombing Gospel tracts on freshly raked lawns. This is supposed to be a satire on how we will do anything to "reach our neighbors for Christ" except actually get to know them so we can then love them.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Plowing in Hope

This book helped me articulate part of what makes up good preaching, which is odd since preaching was not in view. Here's a quick summary of the book and then I'll come back to the insight on preaching.

The Bible begins in a garden and ends in a glorious city. We have a divine calling to transform the Earth from its initial natural state to a beautiful network of gardens and cities. As we bring out the latent beauty of creation we glorify the Creator. Importantly, we can expect our best works to follow us into the New Heavens and New Earth (Rev 14:13)! There is a real continuity between this world and the next, between the works done now to the glory of God and the surroundings we will enjoy in our eternal home.

Now for the idea about preaching. Redemption and Dominion go hand-in-hand; neither should be neglected. If redemption is neglected then we're no better than secular humanists, forgetting Christ and Him crucified. And if the dominion mandate is neglected then we fail to know what we are redeemed unto. We will forget that we've been graciously restored so that we can carry out the original culturative calling (Gen 1:28).

The book's author also has a blog.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Baby Watch

The birthmother in Alabama that we are matched with was due Sunday, 7 August. As of today she's not in labor. But I think Kristin might be. There are more butterflys flitting around inside of her than in all of Callaway Gardens.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

When Did God Become So Apathetic?

Orthodoxy used to be so much clearer. No Israelite doubted whether there was a Sabbath to keep. Nobody questioned whether children should receive the covenant sign and the covenant meal. It was simpler back when God would smite those who messed up the liturgy with a little "strange fire". That's a sure way to clear up any doctrinal controversy.

But I guess God doesn't care so much anymore. I don't see Him smiting anybody for strange worship, and there's plenty of that around, so it must not be a big deal. There was a time when He would kill a child for not having the covenant sign (remember Moses' boy?), but most Christians these days don't have Zipporahs to make things right, and nothing happens to their kids. Are we supposed to still keep the Sabbath? Who says you have to dress up for worship? Does God really expect us to figure out what the Old Testament says about these things? Come on, if it was really so important to Him wouldn't He spell it out for us in the New?

I'll dislodge the tongue from my cheek now and only say that where sin increases, grace in Christ abounds all the more.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Fatherly Benedictions

Here are a couple of verses that have stood out to me from this week's family readings.

A bed-time blessing for the wise child: "If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet." (Proverbs 3:24)

Next, something that every godly man longs for: "In place of your fathers shall be your sons; you will make them princes in all the earth." (Psalms 45:16)
Two Men and a Truck

A pastor we knew in Ohio believed that to be happy in a church you've got to serve. If you don't then you'll never feel like part of the body. Scripture backs him up; consider how forthright the command of Romans 12:13 is, "Contribute to the needs of the saints."

So I've been praying about how to serve in our new church. But when the pastor announced last Sunday that help is needed on Saturday to move someone from Santa Fe to here, I wrote this request off as not really applying to me. It's strange how easy that is to do.

Then on Tuesday night, out of the blue, Kristin says I should help out. I'll take that as a graciously-stubborn answer to my prayer.

My pastor and I are going to pick up the U-haul and ride together to Santa Fe and back--I look forward to getting to know him better.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

A Parting Shot

Here's a question inspired from Gilead. If you could grab a book immediately before you fell over dead, and thereby call your posterity to pay that text special attention, which one would you choose? Of course, the Bible is exempt.

The main character in the novel, before dismissing the whole idea as self-defeating, thought of falling with Calvin's Institutes (2nd volume) in his grip. I'm ashamed to admit my choice would be much less impressive. Maybe Pilgrim's Progress, or even Stepping Heavenward. Perhaps my i-Pod!

What about you?
Staunch but Starched

I met one of the homeschooling mothers in our neighborhood today. Their family has been here for several months, has tried many churches, but has been unable to decide on one. Her complaint against the Presbyterians is that the worship lacked emotion. I agree with her.

This is a common weakness of many churches and, as hard as it is to admit, we could learn a thing or two from the Charismatics. But I wonder if the emotion on display in many churches is rightly placed. I mean, are people delighting in God, or just enjoying the lead guitar?

Given our contemporary culture, emotion is the wrong "litmus test" for good worship. If you really must have a litmus test how about reverence and awe (Heb 12:28)? Pastor Rayburn, in this lecture, made many convincing points about the importance of proper worship. He covered a wide range of topics, but just his comments on dressing up for worship was worth listening to the lecture.

If you would go to a job interview in shorts and a tee-shirt; fine, come to worship that way. But if you'd dress up for a job interview but not for worship, it's clear which activity you don't take seriously. At a wedding when the doors open and the bride looks down the aisle, she doesn't want to see her husband-to-be in flip-flops and a Hawaiian shirt. That would show a lack of respect on his part. The same is true in worship.

Friday, July 29, 2005

House Number 10

We moved into our new house on Tuesday--this is our tenth home together! I've been too busy unpacking boxes to take any pictures, so here's a shot our friend Joe Sexton took of a house very similar to ours.

We're going to enjoy living here. The neighborhood consists of about 50 houses on one circle. We're all about the same age, so there are lots of children everywhere. This will be a great place for get togethers and I hope ministry. There are 7 other families on the circle that homeschool, and there are plenty of potential friends for Kristin and the children--that's answered prayer!

Since we have a high speed connection again, here are a couple of photos. The first one is taken at the New Mexico welcome station. The second picture is a family shot on the east side of town.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Agin' It!

I finished Pastor Peter Leithart's provocative little book Against Christianity. Here Christianity is described as it's commonly found in our culture: a private, individual, spiritual, propositional religion; i.e. an unbiblical faith. Christianity is an invention designed to keep Christians and the Church in its proper marginal place rather than the biblical view of the Church as the beginning of a new city with a distinct holy culture--the City of God. The link provides a more thorough review, so I'll only add some of my favorite quotes and points below.

Christian community is not an extra "religious layer" on social life. The Church is not a club for religious people. The Church is a way of living together before God, a new way of being human together.

The Church's mission is not to disguise herself so to slip in unnoticed and blend in with the existing culture. Her mission is to confront the existing culture with a culture of her own.

Prayer is not "quiet time" but a time of wrestling and passion. Contemporary hymnology, by contrast, gives us words for a small segment of our experience, the happy, fluffy, light experiences of life. If we are trained in prayer by contemporary praise choruses, when we face the pain and tests of life, we will lack the vocabulary to name them. Singing the Psalms makes the biblical story and biblical language part of us.

A test for your local church: which holiday receives more attention, the Fourth of July or Ascension? Mother's Day or Pentecost? Now, why is that?

Pastors see themselves as proponents of Christianity, teaching "religious" things or assisting people on their personal spiritual journeys. Pastors have lost any sense that they are overseers of a new city and that they therefore have responsibilities for governance.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

How Good and Pleasant it is

We are so happy with our new church home (Covenant of Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church). We had intended to look more at other churches, but we can't pull ourselves away! He's preaching on the means of grace, the centrality of the Church, the love of the Father for His Son's Bride; it is so good! Next week we're going to learn how to listen to a sermon. He says he's heard of folks that can listen to a sermon with their eyes shut, but "if I see people with their eyes closed, I just preach louder!" And he's already loud!

I'm still puzzled over the small size of the church. Maybe this is kind of like finding a great little hole-in-the-wall restaurant--you're bursting to tell others about what you've found, but instead you decide not to because you're greedy and don't want to share.

"How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!" (Ps 133:1)--how glad we are to find a place where we fit! "I was glad when they said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the Lord!'" (Ps 122:1)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

A Biblical Guide to Parenting

Greg Grindinger, our pastor in Illinois, highly recommended Age of Opportunity by Paul David Trip. This gospel-drenched guide is aimed at parents of teenagers, but I'm convinced that it's not limited to just that age group. This book continues the theme of Mr. Tripp's brother's book that the goal of parenting is to shepherd the hearts of our children.

The author rejects the notion that parents must settle for merely surviving the teen years. Yet he also rejects the idea that our focus should be on getting the right behavior. This produces a short-term victory, at best, and as soon as our children are out from our system of control they will begin to act in ways that are more consistent with the true motives of their heart. Instead we are to focus on the spiritual struggle, viewing the difficult, problem situations as God-given opportunities to develop a biblical mind in your child.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Cost of Reverent Worship

We returned to the OPC church today. They use a Geneva liturgy (including weekly communion, a creed, recitation of the Law, singing from the Psalter, etc), which we enjoy. They also have an evening worship service that consists of a hymn-sing, intercessory prayer, and a sermon. The pastor is a powerful preacher, yet he comes across with the humility of a servant. I think we've found a church home!

They've been meeting since the 70s, but regrettably the body is quite small (around 100). We were surprised and pleased to meet Carol Ruvolo there today.

A block up from where we meet to worship is Calvary chapel, which I think is the largest church in town. Why do so few attend the OPC church and so many Calvary? Is it because they want to wear shorts to church, be a number, and check the box? Or to give them more credit, maybe it's because they want a better chance at good fellowship and friends for their children?

We have talked with our new friends on-base about coming to church with us. Maybe they will, but when people don't understand why we worship the way we do, it's hard to compete with the bigger, more popular churches.

This general formula seems to hold for most churches today. Emphasize doctrine or reverent worship and you'll stay small. Emphasize both and you'll be tiny. But if you maximize fellowship and kid's activities you'll get huge.

How rare it is for a church to emphasize doctrine and right worship and also be warm and hospitable!

Thursday, July 14, 2005


From our backyard today we watched a thick bolt of lightening strike the base of the mountain behind us (less than 2 miles away) and start a prairie fire. It blazed a large swath of desert brush turning the sand black and sending up a large plume of smoke.

From the comforts of home we also regularly see (and chase) large tumbleweeds and occasionally road runners and oversized hummingbirds. So far we've only seen one snake in our yard.

Every major park in Albuquerque, including the one on base, provides children up to 18 years of age "free" lunch every day throughout the summer.

Most houses don't have air conditioning but a simpler device called a swamp cooler that sits on the roof and works like a water-cooled attic fan (no thermostat).

The city of Albuquerque has "free" wireless Internet connectivity throughout the city. Meanwhile, folks in base lodging, like me, are stuck with dial-up which is creeping along at 21.6 kps. I've got some great photos but I won't be uploading them until I get something faster.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

That didn't take long (Adoption Update)

After making ourselves available last week as adoptive parents to the adoption networks we're matched already! The birthmother is due to give birth to an African American girl on 7 Aug (less than a month away!) in Birmingham, AL. It'll be great to celebrate our new baby with Kristin's parents who live in-town! The only thing that may de-rail this one is if the birthmother changes her mind and decides to parent. But I don't think she will based on her situation.

So many of these birthmothers come from strikingly broken homes--it's very sad.

Let's pray this is the one!

Monday, July 11, 2005

God is good

Thank you for remembering us in your prayers! A wonderful, Christian family checked in two doors down from us today. We spent the afternoon together, sharing dinner while the children had a grand time playing outside. They'll be great neighbors for us while we wait for our house; they have a reformed/Lutheran background, the husband has a seminary degree, and the wife is starting to homeschool. We've already agreed to take turns watching each others' children so the parents can enjoy an evening on the town.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Wal-Mart of the Christian Community

We've visited the PCA and OPC churches in Albuquerque now. Based on our experience in six states, it seems that reformed Presbyterian churches are only strong in the Southeast U.S. and in isolated pockets scattered throughout the country. Both of the churches here are small congregations and haven't grown in years. Neither church has many children; there may be one family in each body that has children similar in age to ours. Thankfully, both churches have good preaching and reverent worship.

At times like these I think how much easier moving would be if I were a mainstream evangelical. Imagine how easy finding a church must be! Every city we've been assigned to has been filled with thriving Baptist, Pentecostal, and non-denominational churches. If I was a broad evangelical I'm certain there'd always be several close churches with rooms full of children the same ages as ours.

The mega-churches are the Super Wal-Marts of the Christian community. Why drive all over town looking for stuff at little mom and pop stores when I can just go over to Wal-Mart and get everything I need?

That answer is rather simple. The tiny PCA and OPC churches in-town offer more grace and a purer gospel than even the best equipped, richest mega-churches around. That's not to say that both the PCA and OPC churches don't need significant improvement--they do. We hope to help out with that.
The next best thing to being there...

Our beloved pastor from a previous assignment now has a blog!!!

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Adoption Update

In the last update I said we were matched with a birthmother in Oklahoma City who is due in November. We met with her a couple of weeks ago, and we thought the meeting went well. We spent a couple of hours getting to know each other while our children played together in the adoption lawyer's office and later at a McDonalds Playplace. Grace really hit it off with the birthmother's oldest daughter, holding hands and playing princesses together. They even wanted to ride in the same car on the way to and from McDonalds.

But last week we received a phone call that apparently our meeting raised some doubts in the birthmother's mind. She is concerned about Kristin's diabetes and that this bi-racial child will be a minority in a blonde-headed, blue-eyed family. Consequently, we have low confidence that she will place the baby with us.

Nonetheless, there is still a possibility that we will have the privilege of parenting this baby and so we are continuing our support. She is under considerable stress (emotional, financial, etc) and we want to help her find peace with this decision. We have asked the adoption firm to show her other adoptive families in an effort to find one that she thinks would be a better match.

In the meantime we have contacted the adoption networks that we were involved with before and told them that we are once again available as an adoptive family.

I realize this is rather confusing, here's a summary. We remain matched with the birthmother in OKC, but this match will come to an end if she selects a different adoptive family or we adopt a different baby before she delivers. If we haven't adopted a baby before she delivers, then we'll adopt her baby, if she is willing to place with us.

Monday, July 04, 2005

In Your Anger, Do Not Sin

I'm not known to be an angry person. Actually, there are times that I should be angry that I'm not--whether it's cowardice or apathy, I'm not sure. The past week has been difficult for us, and gave me an occasion to attempt to be Christlike in a situation that demanded I be angry.

We're living in the base Temporary Lodging Facility (TLF) until our house is ready late this month. The TLF is very appealing to the eye (and the wallet)--recently remodeled, two-bedroom, full kitchen and laundry. But the monsters come out at night--it's infested with earwigs, a black, beetle looking bug with a pincher at the tail. It's mating season and each morning we find them in the children's beds, in the towels, all over.

I've requested pesticide treatment three times--nobody has shown. I've gone through a can of Raid, a bottle of Ortho, and 3 fumigators, but military bugs die hard. Last night, with Kristin in tears, we woke the children up and checked into an off-base motel about midnight.

Today I filed a formal complaint and met with lodging management. I was able to communicate with controlled anger--I didn't blow up and I didn't back-down. They promise that the bug guy will come tomorrow. I pray he will.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

We made it to Albuquerque; thanks be to God. Here are some highlights:

  • Visiting with several friends along the way
  • Worship in Oklahoma
  • Met with birthmother in OKC
  • Every hotel lodged our pets and had an indoor pool
  • No mechanical troubles with the cars
  • TravMatix provided accurate info along the way
  • Gilead audio book--quietly beautiful narrative and message
  • Eli and I locked the keys in my car in Indiana while it was running with the dog inside; Kristin was in Illinois and backtracked to rescue us with help from the Illinois Rest Area staff, Quizno's Staff, and others
  • Rocky-McTocky died in Texas. This bubbly beta had been with us for several years and this was his third road trip. Grace took the loss especially hard, throwing herself onto the hotel bed and wailing, "he was my best friend!" We gave him a proper toilet burial with eulogies. Rocky-McTocky is survived by beta-friend Flash


  • Pretty much all of Missouri road system. St Louis traffic (due to a major factory fire/explosion and resulting evacuation) and lots of detours and alternate routes
  • My underpowered, overloaded car in the mountains of New Mexico. I floored it going downhill to build up speed and at the bottom cut the air conditioner to get a few more horsepower to lumber over the hills

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Packin' Up, Movin' Out
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It's a 22 hour trip!!

The move starts tomorrow when the packers arrive and should end 8 days later with a safe arrival in the Land of Enchantment. The blog will be on-break 'til then.
The Rod of God

During a combined Sunday school today I presented my research on the future of Islam to about 70 people. I was pleased to get some more "mileage" out of my school project, and I think it was well received.

I adapted the presentation for today's audience by teaching on the great Islamic threat in the days of Luther. In his time Christians in Western Europe faced the very real possibility that they would soon live under the rule of Islamic law. He wrote several treatises refuting Islam and, surprisingly, was instrumental in publishing an updated Qu'ran.

Luther was unwilling to advocate any form of "holy war" and got into big trouble for teaching that the Islamic threat was the well-deserved rod of God for the transgressions and unbelief of Western Europe. We explored some parallels to the Islamic threat of our day, and if it is a "rod of God" then what is it for?

This was our last Sunday with our Lutheran friends. We look forward, Lord willing, to stopping in at Heritage PCA in Oklahoma City next Lord's Day and worshiping with our pastor friend, Mark Balthrop, once again.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

June 18, 1994 Posted by Hello

Friday, June 17, 2005

Move over, Mapquest

Next week we'll make our longest road trip. Kristin and the children will be in one car and I and the animals in the other. A frustrating part of past road trips was the difficulty in picking good resting points along the way. Whether we were ready for a hotel (that allows pets) or a McDonald's with an indoor playland, we'd often waste time exiting the Interstate hoping and not finding what we needed.

Thankfully, it appears that TravMatix has gone a long way towards fixing that problem. Based on our route and our hotel and eatery preferences this free product lists, by Interstate exit, every place that meets our criteria. They even claim to tell you who has the cleanest restrooms along the way!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Breaking Down

We've been pretty busy this week preparing for the packers to come on Monday. I had hoped to visit a couple more fun family places before leaving this area, but my 14-year old car was falling apart and it's taken more time (and money) than I thought to get it ready for the 1,400 mile trip to Albuquerque. At home, our air conditioner has also been on the blink for a few days and has kept me tied up.

But what really is troubling is my waning passion for God over the last few months. My Bible reading has suffered, I cover only a fraction of what I used to. I've intentionally read more this week, but it feels too much like drudgery. My prayer life is in the same slump. I have a hard time paying attention to the Preached Word. Family prayer time sounds canned.

Is this spiritual slump because we've been without the Lord's Supper for several months while sojourning in a Lutheran church? Or perhaps a lack of fellowship here has something to do with it? We're envious of Valerie and want what she has.

The stress of a move easily results in spats and coldness between Kristin, the children and I. We're not strong enough to resist that temptation on our own. I need to set a good example for my family, and earnestly pray for the fruit of the Spirit as we move.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Adoption Update

The adoption process is ripe with perplexing decisions that keep you in prayer and Proverbs. Readers of this blog have seen us wrestle with race and health already. Every adoption opportunity comes with a unique set of risks and consequences.

Should we celebrate over the news that after many months of trying we have been matched with a bi-racial girl due in November? This is wonderful news for us -- a birthmother likes us! She likes us!! -- but we aren't popping open the wine bottle just yet.

This is a private adoption, not through an adoption agency but a lawyer, which means that we pay monthly support to the birthmother throughout the pregnancy. If she surprises the lawyer and us by deciding to parent then we would loose a significant amount of money.

After several hour-long conversations with the Bados--a Christian husband and wife adoption law firm in Oklahoma City recommended by Special Link--we have decided to go through with this risky venture. We plan to visit with them and the birthmother in OKC during our move out West in a couple of weeks.

Friday, June 10, 2005

The Horse and His Boy

One of the many great things about the Dayton, Ohio area is the metroparks. Each one has their own appeal; the children have enjoyed farm chores at a restored 1800s farm, I've nearly drowned in the Mad river, and Eli has done two week-long horse camps. Here's a picture from today's end-of-camp show where Eli and Garth (the hairy one) cantered and even did a little barrel racing.

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Thursday, June 09, 2005

Update: Beat-the-Buzzer Evangelism

Today I met with a classmate who wanted to understand my faith. We had a lengthy, in-depth conversation about the Christian gospel.

About a year ago my friend was teaching at a Mormon church on the history of that faith and while doing his research lost all confidence in the Latter Day Saints. Regrettably, he rejected more than just the Mormon faith, he dismissed all forms of Special Revelation. Today he is a Deist, reading their anti-Christian websites. His "apostasy" from Mormonism threatens his marriage and has alienated him from extended family.

I didn't intend to take an "Evangelism Explosion" approach, but my friend said that when he appears before God he'll say that God didn't make it clear enough what to believe; it's too hard to tell which prophet (Mohammed, Joseph Smith, Buddha, or Jesus) to believe. I mentioned the uniqueness of the Resurrection and a Gospel of grace. I wished I would have thought of C.S. Lewis' Liar, Lunatic, or Lord question.

I also took a Van Til tactic, talking about what his "final authority" is for deciding what to believe--reason or the Scriptures. I also informed him of the trustworthiness and authenticity of the Scriptures compared to other historical documents.

In the end what he wanted was a personal vision, direct revelation, or a miracle to tell him what to believe. I explained from Hebrews why the first two weren't going to happen, but the third very well may (referring to the miracle of the New Birth). I offered to give him my copy of C.S. Lewis' Miracles. He has read Mere Christianity, Screwtape Letters, and told me he'd read it, too.

I offered to follow-up with him at his convenience. Perhaps he'll call or write after we move. Overall I feel I presented the Gospel clearly, pleaded with him earnestly, and provided him with reasonable responses to his questions. Yet I don't have any chummy feelings about this conversation; here is a man who has heard the Gospel and doesn't believe. I pray that will change.
Graduation Dinner

Here's a picture of us at last night's Air Force Institute of Technology graduation dinner. It was held at the National Museum of the Air Force where we dined between wonderful, restored military airplanes, feasted off a 10-station buffet, and were entertained by a military band. It was a grand time--a rewarding end to a year of brute force learning.

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Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Does Theology Have to Make Sense?

Martin Luther knew it was absurd to believe such things as "God is man, the son of a virgin, crucified, sitting at the right hand of the Father." A reasonable man cannot stomach such contradictions. Reason always attacks theology that is faithful to the Bible, and so Luther retaliated.

Luther, according to The Foolishness of God, lambasted reason as "a big red murderess, devil's bride, a damned whore, a blind guide, the enemy of faith." He defended the sole authority of Scripture in all matters of faith; reason must yield to faith.

He fires more than a few broadsides at Calvinism for its desire to "play carpenter with God's Word; whittling away at it until all the pieces fit." Luther sought to maintain the paradoxical nature of Christian doctrine. I'll summarize just one area (election) in this space.

Reformed theologians often say that a man must be either a Calvinist or an Arminian -- that is, he must find the answer to why some are converted and others aren't, either in a difference in God or a difference in man. A true Lutheran can only say, "A plague on both your houses!" Luther says without reservation that the will of God cannot be hindered, and just as firmly he asserts that man can resist the will of God. We should not tear ourselves to pieces over this mystery; the Lord simply wants both truths to stand.

This provocative book claims that Calvinism remains true to the law of non-contradiction in doctrines such as election, perseverance, conversion, and the Lord's Supper, while Lutheranism doesn't see how you can do that and be faithful to all that the Scripture says. Lutherans simply resolve not to explain apparent contradictions, resisting the pressures of reason to act as judge over God's truth.

This was an interesting read and reminded me of Dr. Rayburn's lecture on "Preaching the Poles".