Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Captive Audiences

I got a McOpinion this evening from the McDonalds drive-through attendant. He saw my Texas plates and while making the change decided to tell me how Bush is just a power-monger.

My barber is known for making use of her captive audience, too. Her themes are racism and rich folks. A friend's barber literally raps (softly) to his customers about oppression and racism.

This reminds me of my captive audience -- bathtime is a great time for catechizing the little ones!
Another rejection for us, but...

We've been praying for closure for Baby Moriah who has been in "adoption limbo" since she was born 6 weeks ago. God answered that prayer today, not by placing her with us, but with another family.

Maybe we're getting used to the rejections, knowing they're just part of God's wiser purposes, yet we still feel a little sting each time.

Our rejection is probably only temporary; Moriah's acceptance into her family is forever. And for that we're thankful.

Monday, April 25, 2005


There's a regular stream of articles on the pressure to muzzle outspoken Christians at the Air Force Academy. Some excerpts from today's L.A. Times article shows what's really going on.

Members of the Yale Divinity School, who visited the academy last year to observe pastoral care on campus, were surprised by the overtly evangelical tone they found. They sent a memo to school leaders.

During Protestant worship services, the report said, cadets chanted, "This is our Chapel and the Lord is our God." They were encouraged to proselytize to others and "remind them of the consequences of apostasy."

SAY IT AIN'T SO!! Declaring 'the Lord is God' in a worship service! Encouraging the worshippers to obey the Great Commission! NOOOO!!!

Protestant cadets were reminded that those not 'born again will burn in the fires of hell,' " the report said. "Protestant cadets were regularly encouraged to 'witness' to fellow Basic Cadets."

Kristen Leslie, an assistant professor in pastoral care at Yale, led the team. "There was a religious arrogance," Leslie said.

So let's get this straight...believing there is only one way of salvation is 'religious arrogance'.

In a crowded room on the edge of the Air Force Academy, Chaplain Melinda Morton was doing her bit for culture change.

She dimmed the lights and rolled the video.

Morton was teaching an RSVP — Respecting the Spiritual Values of all People — class, a 50-minute exercise in trying to stop what critics called a culture of intolerance on campus.

So far 1,500 of 4,300 cadets have taken the class and eventually all 9,000 employees and military personnel at the academy will complete it.

As the class ended, one participant, Lt. Col. Marcia Meeks-Eure, paused before leaving.

"I think this sort of thing is very good because it underscores what we are supposed to be doing," she said. "I am Baptist but I won't talk about my faith unless someone asks."

Ahhh, yes. That's what the Intolaristas love to hear.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

A baby...maybe

Deep in the woods of my South Carolina home was a murky pond. As a boy, I spent many dawns and dusks crouching on the bank watching for my bob to suddenly run and submerge.

You learn a lot about patience from fishing. You can't see what's going on below the surface, you wonder if maybe the worm came off during the cast leaving just a string and a hook--not very enticing to the fish. Sometimes something would play with the bob; bump it, move it around, but never commit to the hook. This could go on for a while; sometimes it was a turtle, other times it was a fish too small to swallow the hook. But occasionally, after waiting and watching the dancing bob for what seemed like hours, a nice size fish would snatch it and run.

For six weeks we've been waiting and watching as the birthmom I mentioned earlier, considers us. The baby is now 6 weeks old, the birthmother has terminated her rights to the child, and the child waits in foster care for the agency and the birthmom to pick an adoptive family. For weeks we've been told that we're "very strong contenders but it will be a day or two before she decides", only to wait a day or two and find that no decision has been made.

Nothing more to do but trust God's timing and ask him to incline the birthmother to choose us. Meanwhile we'll patiently crouch by the phone, hoping that one of the calls will be the one we've been waiting for.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Agents of Cool

Youth Pastor

This youth pastor of a local church displays his new hairstyle, which was the result of his promise to the youth group. They could cut and style his hair if they raised funds to match the amount spent on a recent ski trip. The group raised $6,250 for charities, and the pastor got a new doo.

Giving to charity is a good work, yet if done out of selfish motives instead of to the glory of God, even large gifts to charity cannot please God. Augustine called such good works splendid sins, splendid in one way, but in another way nothing more than sins.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

"It is like a sacrament ever on the lips...

For its words are not mere words. They are, 'the twigs of the burning bush aflame with God'.

They recite it constantly through the daily round, at prayer times, through the passage of the year, and through all the stages of life. They strive to learn as much of it as possible by heart. It is not given to many to learn to recite the whole of the Book, and the title thus won by those who do is greatly respected.

The Quran is more central to Islamic theology than the Bible is for Christians."

Francis Robinson, "Islam and the Impact of Print"

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Weaker Brothers

I've been reading studies on how using the Internet is affecting people's lives in terms of social relationships, community commitment, and psychological well-being. Although I'm reading this for a class, the results of the studies are relevant to me as a blogger and blog-reader.

Most studies show that time spent on-line forming relationships often displaces face-to-face relationships with family and your own community. On-line relationships are weaker on average than those formed and maintained off-line. On-line friends, because they are not embedded in the same day-to-day environment, are less likely to provide tangible support (like a small loan, rides, or baby-sitting) and less likely to understand the context of your life. People can form strong relationships on-line, but they are rare.

Application: Don't spend more time and attention on weak ties at the expense of what should be strong ties in the real-world.

Although this wasn't included in the studies, I'd like to point out another healthy precaution with the Internet--watch your doctrine closely. In the blogosphere you will come across more arguments for and against every conceivable theological position than you ever would encounter in real life. Just thinking back to the last week, blogs I enjoy have surprised me by denouncing inerrancy and a 6-day Creation.

As threatening as higher criticism was for pastors in the 19th and 20th centuries, the "wider criticism" provided by the Internet may be more dangerous to the laity. As a general rule, when it comes to theology, don't talk to strangers.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Family Worship

Since Eli can read well enough now, he participates more in family worship. One way is by reading the opening Psalm with me responsively (we alternate reading every 2 verses). Standardizing on one Bible translation within the family avoids confusion.

I'm regularly tweaking the liturgy, currently it looks like this:
  • Opening Hymn (first verse only, from memory)
  • Opening Psalm (a short one)
  • Gloria Patria
  • Bible Passage (short reading, lately from Portals of Prayer)
  • Meditation on Passage (lately from Portals of Prayer)
  • First Catechism , Scripture memory, or Creed
  • Missions Moment (from Operation World)
  • Prayer requests
  • Family Prayer (everyone takes turn praying)
  • Lord's Prayer in unison
  • Benediction

This takes about 20 minutes and happens between dinner and bath time. Now that I've written it out, I see that a closing hymn would be nice, too. The children especially enjoy the missions moment, where I briefly talk to them about the needs of a different nation each night. In addition to finding that nation on the globe, Eli enjoys showing everyone the nation's flag from a book he bought at a library book sale.

There's still work to be done concerning the Hebrews 12:28 command to worship God with reverence and awe, but the ants-in-the-pants are gradually going away. Also, this is not the primary time for learning new memory work, it's better if that happens other times in the day. This is simply a time of coming together to worship God as a family.

Monday, April 18, 2005

A New Adoption Strategy

When we move to New Mexico, if we haven't adopted yet, we're going to change our strategy. To date, we've focused on domestic non-Caucasian babies. There is a constant need for families to adopt these babies.

But we continue to get rejected over and over simply because we already have children. There is such a strong preference among birthmothers, and the adoption agencies that counsel them, for childless couples. Did none of these folks like their brothers and sisters?

In a recent situation, the birthmother and adoption agency decided to keep the baby in foster care rather than place the child with us. They're still waiting for a childless couple to materialize.

So once we get to New Mexico we're going to also look at international adoptions. We prefer to meet a need here in our own country, but that appears unlikely.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Luther's Warrior Children

With apologies to Rev. John Frame and his lecture on Machen's Warrior Children, the reason why Protestants don't know when to stop fighting may actually lie with Dr. Luther himself.

Today in the Lutheran catechism class we began discussing the Lord's Supper. As far as I can tell, the difference between the Lutheran and Reformed views of the Supper is not something we should fight over. Neither of us are memorialists, and neither hold the Catholic view of transubstantiation. Both believe in the same purpose for the Supper. Both say it's a means of grace and, significantly, affirm that Christ is present in a special way like no other.

The difference comes down to how Christ is present. Reformed say that Christ is spiritually present. The Lutherans talk about a Real Presence (don't confuse with consubstantiation), which means that Christ's human nature is also present "in, with, and around" the elements. The Westminster Confession of Faith denounces the Lutheran view, apparently because it violates human nature (how can Christ's human body be both here and there?). Lutherans reply that resurrected human nature is capable of this and then accuse the Reformed of separating the two natures of Christ, which of course the Reformed deny.

So the real difference comes down to what we believe about the nature of a resurrected human body, something that Scripture chooses not to tell us much about. But sadly enough, the focus of our class today (and others I've been in) is on the difference that separates Lutherans from the Reformed, to the point that the blessing of the Lord's Supper, its purpose in the life of the believer, gets over shadowed and easily forgotten about.

Like protestors looking for a cause, we focus too much on teaching people what to reject, without first ensuring they know what to affirm.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Happy Birthday Blog

The blog is 2 years old today -- time for a new look.

Last year at this time I explained why I write. That's still true.

Some of my favorite memories come from casual conversations with friends during a meal together. It's a great time for genuine discipleship. Blogs, to me, are like the talk without the food. Not nearly as good as in-person, but better than eating alone.

The military lifestyle results in a string of broken or weakened relationships (let's not kid ourselves with euphemisms) but also forces you to start new friendships. Maybe this blog helps a little with both those things.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


A recent WORLD interview contained an interesting observation from Daniel.

You criticize "tokenizing our religion," and after describing the courage of Daniel...you note that he accepted a Babylonian name and worked alongside astrologers and sorcerers: "Daniel is just as instructive for the issues he wasn't willing to go to the wall for, as much as for the ones he was."

Tokenism practices religion publicly just to be seen doing it. I'm talking instead about publicly expressed scruples, matters of individual conscience that illustrate that our behavior has spiritual roots. (Daniel risked his life to pray three times a day toward Jerusalem--a scruple of conscience, not a biblical command).
Call Waiting

The interview we were supposed to have today with the birthmother didn't happen. Twice we were asked to drive up to Akron and meet with her, but both times she changed her mind and asked for a phone interview instead. About an hour before our scheduled phone call she decided against it too. At this point, she has decided to try parenting again; the baby is now 5 weeks old.

Our prayer is for both mom and baby. The mother is distraught, unstable, and obviously unsure what to do. The baby needs a family to bond with and some stability in her life.

Meanwhile, we wait for the next call.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Putting the Em-PHA-sis on a Different Syl-LAB-le

As I look for a church in Albuquerque one particular – and unspoken – difference stands out between the Reformed and the Lutherans. They tend to emphasize different means of grace; specifically, the reformed tend to emphasize preaching of the Word, while Lutherans tend to emphasize the Sacraments. Notice I said “tend” three times in that sentence – don’t take this too far. And let me add a hearty thanks be to God that both groups affirm the centrality of the Church in the means of grace.

One large (and beautiful) Lutheran church in Albuquerque posts their sermons on-line; the typical length – 7 minutes. But they get to be strengthened and comforted by the Lord’s Supper every week. The PCA church there also posts their sermons on-line, with a typical length of 45 minutes. But they only get communion every 6th week.

The difference in preaching between the two camps is striking. While I don’t think a 7 minute sermon is right, and I’m somewhat uncomfortable with the lack of an expository approach, when the Lutherans preach they do preach Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of sins as THE emphasis. From what’s emphasized in Presbyterian sermons, one may doubt whether there is a central teaching of Scripture.

If you ask a group of Lutheran pastors what Baptism did for my children, every one of them would give you a straight answer -- and the same answer. Now whether it’s the right answer is still an issue for me. But it’s clear that the reformed camp lacks any consensus on the matter.

I’ve generalized in a way that’s favorable to the Lutherans and critical of the reformed. Exceptions abound. There is much in Lutheranism that I have yet to make sense of; I still feel more comfortable with reformed doctrine.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Adoption Update

When a birthmother selects a family to adopt her baby, normally only the chosen family is notified. For the other families, "no news is bad news." Since we didn't get a call last week about a baby girl who needs a home, we figured the adoption agency placed her with the other interested family. Well, the agency called today and told us that the birthmother would like to interview us this Wednesday before making her choice. We love surprise phone calls like these!

We would appreciate prayer.
Air Force Academy Rejecting Christianity
excerpts from Rocky Mountain News

Air Force Academy officials described plans Friday to give sensitivity training to all 4,000 cadets and all academy personnel after charges of religious intolerance.

Academy superintendent Lt. Gen. John Rosa's religious tolerance training plan fueled debate among board members. Rep. Joel Hefley, whose district includes the academy, defended religious expression, citing slogans chiseled on the walls of Congress.

Board chairman James Gilmore III asked whether safeguarding minority religious rights could trample on others' religious rights.

"Evangelical Christians do not check their religion at the door. I think that is not understood in American society," Gilmore said. "As a result of that, we're seeing a lot of condemnation of evangelical Christians because they are seen to be aggressively asserting themselves on other people, although they wouldn't see it that way."

General Rosa closed the door on favoritism. "Title X and the Constitution tells me that I must as a commander do this," Rosa said.

"It looks like you're rejecting Christianity," board member Bob Dornan said.

"Exactly," Rosa said.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Our Next Assignment

Albuquerque! Not our first choice, but it sure beats Iraq and a host of other undesirable places.

We move in June, we start church-hunting now. In this town of 500,000 there appears to be all of TWO reformed, Presbyterian churches. But there are about 10 confessional Lutheran ones and some possibilities in the Anglican department, too.

If you have any insights on the Albuquerque area, do tell!
Quirky Albuquerque

Here's what a normal house looks like in the "land of enchantment". This one goes for around $200K. Some of the amenities include a "spot of grass for the kids to play on" (actual wording).

Friday, April 08, 2005

"Grandmama is old and I think it is time she went home to Jesus"

World News Daily reports on another Terri-type murder-in-progress, but this one sounds even more egregious. According to the group Hospice Patients Alliance, Hospice regularly sedates and starves to death patients who were not terminal.

We're finally waking up to the fact that euthanasia has been rampant for years. But will we care?

Thursday, April 07, 2005

What Denomination Are You (Now)?

Kristin and I were impressed with this quiz. It's not perfect, but overall does a good job of defining some important doctrinal differences. Here are my results:

1: Presbyterian/Reformed (100%)
2: Eastern Orthodox (79%)
3: Anglican/Episcopal/Church of England (75%)
4: Congregational/United Church of Christ (75%)
5: Lutheran (71%)
6: Baptist (Reformed/Particular/Calvinistic) (61%)
7: Roman Catholic (56%)
8: Church of Christ/Campbellite (47%)
9: Methodist/Wesleyan/Nazarene (42%)
10: Seventh-Day Adventist (25%)
11: Baptist (non-Calvinistic)/Plymouth Brethren/Fundamentalist (24%)
12: Pentecostal/Charismatic/Assemblies of God (24%)
13: Anabaptist (Mennonite/Quaker etc.) (14%)

In the post's title don't miss the "Now". Ordinarily you'll have a hard time properly understanding different Christian traditions if you only learn about them from your own denomination. Regrettably, denominations tend to present stawman arguments about "those other guys" which don't adequately represent others' distinctives. This is what thunderpuppies are made of.

"The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him." (Prov 18:17 ESV)

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Close Calls

Although I haven't written about adoption for a while, we have had some near matches. Yesterday we were one of only two families being considered for a little girl here in Ohio. It appears we weren't the one. A couple of other possibilities are still in the works. It's just speculation, but I think two things have kept us from being chosen by a birthmother earlier: we already have children, and our race. Yet, we seem to be handling the roller-coaster ride better than the first few close calls; thanks be to God.

It's also been a while since I've written about our next assignment, mainly because the Air Force has delayed telling us. It looks like we may know by next week, giving us a little time here before we move in June.

Tele-evangelists are an embarrassment to Christianity, but at least they're not on every channel. In the Muslim world, the staple of TV programming is "tele-Islamists". By and large their messages are railing, angry, and extreme; but that may be changing. Apparently, Islamic TV producers have been watching TBN.

"Amr Khaled is a 37-year-old former accountant turned Islamic "televangelist." With his stylish business suits, trim moustache, large, expressive eyes, and magnetic charm, Khaled moves audiences to tears with his retellings of Quranic stories and promises of God's redeeming love. Ever since he began preaching in private homes and clubs in Cairo several years ago, Khaled's fame has grown astronomically, particularly among well-to-do Arab women and youth.

As a "born-again" Muslim who rediscovered his own faith as a teenager, Khaled offers himself as living proof that being religious does not have to mean being "backwards" or fanatical. Khaled said in an interview with the English-language Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram Weekly, "My main concern is to make young people love religion instead of fearing it."

His first show, Kalam min al-Qalb, or Word from the Heart, used a talk-show format featuring audience participation and "testimonials" from famous actresses, football players, and ordinary young Muslims. Its producer and director, Ahmed Abu Haiba, asked Amr, "Have you ever seen Christian preaching channels in the West? I believe that if we did this with Islam it would be a new experience for Islam."

The filming took place in a space-age studio setting with soft pastel lighting, video screens, celebrity guest stars, and a live audience of young people, both boys and girls, who shared the microphone with Khaled as he moderated a discussion about a particular religious moral issue, or aspect of personal piety. "I chose subjects to be related to the heart, outside of the fiqh and the rules, halal and haram," Abu Haiba said, adding that key components were the use of colloquial Arabic and the exchange of personal feelings.

His show is part self-help psychology--an emotional and positive twelve-step program to a better Islamic life--part spiritual experience, and part televised call for social reform and grassroots organization. The young preacher's tapes, videos and CDs outsell the albums of today's hippest Arab pop stars, while his lectures in mosques and clubs across the Middle East, Canada, and the UK have attracted thousands. In some places people stand outside and clog the streets with traffic for hours to hear Khaled speak.

Students, businessmen, women and others have formed clubs named after the program. On college campuses and community centers, students sell t-shirts, key chains, and stickers bearing the shows logo and motto "Together We Build Life" in both English and Arabic. These trendy (and fairly expensive) commodities are reminiscent of the virginity promise rings and "What Would Jesus Do" bracelets so popular among born-again Christian youth in America.

Khaled's rise to superstardom--and his undeniable marketing success--is evidence of a new breed of media-savvy Islamic preachers. The messages resonate with an increasingly globalized Arab youth culture struggling to carve a third way between the excesses of religious extremism and disillusionment with state-subsidized clerics. As demonstrated by the growing popularity of everything from "dial-a-sheikh" telephone services that charge by the minute and online "fatwa sessions" that invite Internet users to submit religious questions by e-mail, there is a growing mass market catering to Muslims seeking spiritual guidance, both moral and mundane."

Monday, April 04, 2005

Lutherans and the 5 Points

If you're a Calvinist, and you're tired of brawling with Arminians, have you considered what the Lutherans say about Calvinism?

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Free Lectures on Papal Succession

The Teaching Company has offered these two free lectures

From Tom Rolling, president of Teaching company:

A note on timing. We had planned to send these lectures the week of March 28, 2005, for some time. After the collapse of John Paul II's health on Thursday, March 31, I considered withholding these lectures out of respect for the pope. After much reflection, I believe that sending the lectures is appropriate, even at this hour.

You will hear much on papal succession in coming weeks, but little of it will offer the detail and depth of historical perspective contained in these two lectures.

In the end, I decided that the better service to our customers, perhaps especially our Catholic customers, would be to send the lectures. A papal succession is an extraordinary moment in history, continuing the longest surviving human institution of government.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Rags to Riches

It was a cold, windy, wet day here, so I played Monopoly with Eli and Grace--their first time. Eli, who was nearly broke, was the first to land on "Free Parking". He went berzerk--in this photo he's literally vibrating. Methinks he likes it.

The Local Church

It's nice for a change to live close to the church you're part of. It makes a big difference, not just with relationships but also with service. We participated in a church visit yesterday to a local nursing home. About a dozen wheel-chair bound residents delighted us with their joyful singing. And they took delight in seeing our children dance to "He's got the whole-world in His hands" and other simple songs. The similarities of life at its extremities -- infants and the elderly -- is striking. Both groups are dependent on others for many basic needs; most importantly, for love.

Later this month the church is forming small groups, not to cloister in a home for Bible study, but to go door-to-door to find out if our neighborhood residents attend a church, and if not to invite them to ours. According to the church newsletter "only God approved excuses will be accepted on this day of representing our Triune God and showing His love for Fairborn" and we will be contacted by phone to enlist our participation. The Mormon church is not the only one who wants to speak to this neighborhood about Christ.

Friday, April 01, 2005

The Jihadi Mat

After my long and careful study of Islam and in light of the weakness of the Christian church, I have become persuaded in the beliefs and practices of the purer forms of Islam. I respect my previous belief system but am convinced that Christian doctrine has gone too far and Jews not far enough.