Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Celebrated Jumping Frogs of Montgomery County

Kristin says...."talk about gross"; but when young boys are involved I find frogging to be much more satisfying than fishing. Yesterday we caught 7 frogs in about 20 minutes; Saturday's fishing expedition resulted in boredom and no fish.

Catching frogs is also more exciting than catching little fish. The frogs aggressively attack the worms above the water (fun to watch). Frogs are easier to de-hook (no sharp fins and a big mouth). And best of all, once de-hooked you can play with a frog for as long as you like!

Gone Froggin'

Monday, May 30, 2005

The War on Terror As I Understand It

I finished my research project on Islamic Terrorism. My focus was mainly on how information technology (satellite TV, internet, etc) is moving Islamic culture towards extremism.

Many Americans ask "why do they hate us?" The answer: U.S. policy toward the Middle East (e.g. supporting corrupt tyrannies) and especially our policy with the Palestinians. For us the Palestinian problem is just one issue out of many; for the average Arab it is the most important issue of his life.

Most people identify Madrassas (Islamic religious schools) as the main propagator of anti-Western hate. In some cases (Saudi and in the Stan-lands) they are problematic, but by far the larger problem is with the media.

In a land that banned the printing press for several hundreds of years and censors all forms of media, satellite TV is breaking through the information blockade. Up to 90% of homes in some Middle East countries have satellite-TV dishes, and 30 percent of the stations are independent (i.e. uncensored). This is a great opportunity to influence the Arab people.

Regrettably, the Islamic extremists have capitalized on this opportunity, waging a full-scale propaganda war against the U.S. Violent anti-West "values" are inculcated into Arab children at a very early age and saturate the lives of every viewer.

Only 2 percent of homes in the Middle East have internet access but every Islamic terrorist group has their own web site. Why? The internet is their outreach vehicle to Muslim communities and sympathizers around the world. Yahoo! Groups, and other tools, provides anonymous command and control of the terrorist networks in addition to recruitment, training, and fundraising.

The U.S. is a latecomer to this war of ideas. We've made some naive attempts to engage in this battle, but find ourselves at a disadvantage reaching out cross-culturally to an audience that long ago turned against us.

We must find and popularize the moderate, indigenous voices of the Middle East before the mass population moves from what today is mild opposition of the U.S. to militant opposition.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

An Alien Nation or is it just Alienation?

Because it was TRs that first woke up Kristin and I to the twin dangers of evangelicalism and thoughtlessly consuming modern culture, we naturally thought that those outside mainstream-Presbyterianism had the answer. We didn't know that just because someone understands the problem well doesn't guarantee that they also have the right answer. The '60's offer the classic proof text.

A funny thing happened. As our convictions widened (I won't say deepened), the churches that interested us kept getting smaller and farther away. The typical PCA church didn't suit us anymore, and the double-earring wearing male worship leader at the one in this town cemented our feelings. Fortunately, a lack of courage on my part (and the level-headedness of my wife) moderated my impulse to do something really wild.

The Church, as the people of God, is an Alien Nation in some sense. But what we felt as we spent time in TR-ish churches was not belonging but rather alienation. What we wanted was a church that lives together before God in a reverent way, but what we got was more like a weekly club for the misfits of Presbyterianism.

That's too one-sided. I can't explain why the TR-type churches we've seen are the coldest we've ever known. Maybe it's not so much "penal-colony" syndrome as it is how far apart the people of the church live. Or maybe the problem lies with us. We move too often; surely this is at least partly responsible for our feelings of isolation.

It took time but we're finally realizing that it's not just the TRs who are aware of the cultural and ecclesial problems of today. Some mainstream PCA evangelicals get this; they just don't let it define them. When we move next month we so strongly hope to find a warm, friendly reformed church close to where we live. Enough with alienation; life in the Alien Nation shouldn't have to be this way.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Beat-the-Buzzer Evangelism

I had a nice surprise at the gym today. One of my classmates came up to me and wanted to meet before I move to New Mexico to talk about my faith. During the last year he has "let go" of much of what he believed (his background is Mormon) and is basically a Deist at this point. He's curious to know more about what I believe, not because he's ready to embrace it, but simply to understand.

We plan to get together next week. Please pray for God's illumination.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Some Recommendations

Skip McDonald's on your next road trip and enjoy some of the best food in America by looking here before you head out.

Listen to some of America's best speeches here. Several are good for Memorial Day. (HT: www.worldmagblog.com)

Kristin laughed and cried throughout this easy read (HT: Carmon's blog). The children and I really like this ranching story, (HT: Rick's blog).

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Roamin' Catholics

I was worried about dinner tonight. I invited a military family over to eat with us who are new to the area; they have 5 young children and eagerly talk of more. They also homeschool. Since this is Trinity Sunday, I had put together a devotion for after dinner on that topic but were worried that the family might be Mormon. But when they offered to bring a bottle of wine my fears were put to rest--they're either Reformational or Catholic!

They are Roman Catholic. This is the first homeschooling Catholic family we've met. We enjoyed dining with them very much. I was able to learn why they homeschool instead of using a Catholic school, who their influences are, and some things about their family catechism time.

They are a great family; someone we'd enjoy spending more time with. The wife is a cradle Catholic, but the husband was baptized in the Methodist church, like me. His understanding of the differences between Roman Catholics and Protesting Catholics lacked a little, and he is such an affable guy, I can't help but wonder what would happen if we had more time together.

And he brings a mighty fine wine!

Friday, May 20, 2005

Amazing Adoption Stories Part 1

A big howdy to the Geaslen family! Thanks for relaying the amazing adoption story to us tonight. Since the mainstream media often relays only horror stories about domestic adoptions, it's good to hear and pass on some good news.

While we wait for our adoption in God's timing, we have opportunities to speak to many people about our experiences. As Kristin spreads the news about the many black American babies that need loving families to adopt them, some extended family of the Geaslens wondered why they have never heard of any as they wait to adopt. They inquired, found out that their agency does not do transracial adoptions, and just recently switched to one that did. Right away the situation changed.

Just a few days ago they received a request to meet for lunch with a birthmother who needed to place her 10 month old child. At the end of the meal the birthmother decided this was the right family to raise the child and placed her in the hands of her new mother right there in the restaurant! Needless to say the adoptive family was surprised to go from childless to parenting a 10 month old in a matter of minutes!

We rejoice that this child now has a loving two-parent home--complete with a special aunt, uncle, and several cousins!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

God is Good

The folks in charge of base housing at our next base (Kirtland AFB) called yesterday and offered us a house! We were delighted to accept and very surprised since it was just the day before when they told us everything was booked.

Living on base is great for the family--no commute time, often home for lunch, etc. And in this particular situation, the church we're most interested in is close to the base. It would be great to work, live, and worship in the same community!
On Women in the Military

There's been more news than normal lately on the role of women in the military. Some want to further restrict their presence by barring them from forward support companies such as some supply, transport and medical units. I support this idea.

A few others want to completely remove women from military service. While I share much of the same values as those that support this position, I don't think this particular step is necessary.

When the general public thinks about women in the military they often picture them running an obstacle course with an M-16 in their hand. That does happen--women are too close to the tip of the spear in our military.

But many more women in the service are not. The Air Force, which I think has the highest percentage of women of any service, is a good example. Because of new advances in technology, only a small percentage of the force is in harm's way. New technology requires more people in the "tail" than in the "tooth".

Don't get me wrong. The lines between combat and support have been blurred and this puts our combat support units in greater danger--there are women assigned to these units. That's why I support the idea of restricting women from the forward support units.

But barring women from military service entirely is like barring women from any career--and that's a different subject.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Saving Lives Through Relationships

The Air Force set aside part of today to focus on the importance of taking care of each other. Part of the event entails a keynote speaker who addresses the 900-person student body. Today's speaker is an alcoholic who came within a hair of killing himself--he's also a friend of mine and a fellow student. He will soon be separated from the Air Force and almost ruined his marriage. At the last event a few months ago another keynote speaker explained how close she came to killing herself (note written out, plans made, etc)--she is also a friend and one of my professors. Both friends of mine, and I had no idea of their struggles!

I met both of them at a previous assignment, they each worked just a couple of cubicles from me every day. Who would have guessed what was just below the surface in their lives? How many more friends do I have now (and will soon have in New Mexico) that hide such terrible secrets?

This is a call to prayer...that God would help me be better at developing genuine relationships...that God would enlarge my heart for those around me...that God would use me to save lives.

Monday, May 16, 2005

I Found the Answer to World Peace

Why is it that my two oldest children (7 and 5) can bicker and nag each other all day long but as soon as we send them off to bed for the night they instantly become best friends, giggling and babbling until we split them up an hour later so they can get some sleep?

Has anybody thought to try this in the Middle East Peace Process?--seems like they've tried everything else...
I'm a Blog Luddite (sounds like Troglodyte)

n. Someone who doesn't think blogs will change the world and strives to use them cautiously, knowing that this is probably not the wisest use of their time.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

The Problem with Lists

Kristin and I are "list" people. To-do lists, library book lists, grocery lists, all work out very fine for us--but church lists are another matter. As we prepare to move again, we're trying to change and that means not listing out what we're looking for in a church.

It's supposed to be the military that always fights the last war, but we're just as likely to dwell too much on that church we were in before. "Oh how we loved how they did [insert something like weekly communion, small groups, etc]", and so that goes on our list of "must-haves" for the next church. But when we find a church that matches our list, they do it all "wrong." And we end up being too contrary.

Maybe a list for what you want in a church is about as dumb as a list for what you want in a spouse. There are too many variables that can't be quantified and qualified accurately. There are tacit elements that can't be written down.

Lists are out, but I'm not sure what goes in their place...a dart board?

We are little lambs who don't know which way to go. Savior, like a shepherd lead us.
Skipping Pentecost

In the Lutheran church Pentecost Sunday (today) is often when people join the church. At the one we've been attending the Information Class finished a couple of weeks ago, but we've continued to meet with the pastor to talk through some Lutheran distinctives.

Until a month ago I didn't know that membership in a Lutheran church is by confession, not profession. What confessional membership means is that to join the church you have to agree with Luther's small catechism, not just profess faith in Christ.

We weren't able to affirm a few of their beliefs, but really appreciate the one-on-one time with the pastor. The Lutheran faith is an "alternate" interpretation of the Scriptures--more incompatible with Calvinism than I thought--but consistent in its own teachings.

So we were not among those who joined the church today, and although it was encouraging to see several Roman Catholics convert to Lutheranism today, we look forward to returning to a Reformed church at our next assignment.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Merchants of Cool

PBS's Frontline has posted some of their documentaries for on-line viewing. A past MARS HILL AUDIO conversation recommended Merchants of Cool so Kristin and I watched it on the laptop earlier this week via this link.

If you're interested in understanding youth pop culture, or in general, the thoughtless consumption of modern culture, this is an intriguing expose. Be warned it is graphic--not for little ones to see or hear.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Ideas for Mother's Days

Kristin does more than most moms are expected to these days--homeschooling is a big part of it, but other convictions also increase the demands upon her as a mother. Therefore, "I am determined that [my wife] shall not be driven to desperation," (can you cite that quote?) and have thought of a few good ways to keep that from happening. Here are the ones that come to mind:
  • Sabbaticals: An overnight "get-away" somewhere relaxing. This is not so much an escape as it is a time of reflection. I give her an edifying book or audio recording that reminds her how special this time of life is
  • Weekly Time: An evening or an afternoon to do something alone -- either crafts, or even just errands
  • Reading: Besides giving her books to read, I also have her periodically review notes that I took on helpful books that we've read together in the past. This is a quick way to remember the wisdom of previous year's reading.
  • Sabbath Feasting: Like the Israelites in the wilderness, we pick up twice as much manna the day before the Sabbath, so there's no need to cook or go out on the Sabbath. We order enough carry-out for Saturday night's dinner to also supply Sunday's lunch.

Any other ideas?

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Meet a Friend of Ours

We met Joe and Melene during our time in Illinois. I worked with Joe and our families were soon worshipping together and part of the same small group. Joe is an Air Force pilot and Melene is a gifted musician and mother of two beautiful daughters. They currently live in North Carolina. Melene started blogging and is the first blogger that we've known in real life before meeting in the blogosphere! I hope you'll stop in at Sing for Joy.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

What Day is it?

Lots of folks celebrated Cinco de Mayo today. Many Christians celebrated the National Day of Prayer. But this day the Church celebrates Ascension Day.

I don't want to make too much out of this, but the Christians I spoke with today that participated in the National Day of Prayer hadn't a clue about Ascension Day--and there's a reason why. It's the difference between a God-centered ministry and a man-centered one.

I'm not against the National Day of Prayer, I believe some good comes out of it, but its focus often seems to be "let's see if we can get Mr. [Muckety-Muck] Government Leader to support our event. This will show the liberals how much influence we wield!" If we realized the truth of Ascension Day, we'd have such a different perspective!

This Day we remember that our Lord has been raised to Heaven and is seated at the right hand of God Almighty, everything has been placed under his feet, he rules it all! We remember this Day that Christ is praying for us--so who cares if the Governor won't pray with us! We recall that Christ was raised in the flesh, the first fruits of the harvest to come, where we too will join Him, to be with Him in our glorified bodies forever!

Celebrate the real meaning of today!

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Lighten Up

Tomorrow starts our 3-day garbage, er I mean, garage sale. Everything must go! As we move in June (to our 10th home in 11 years) we're sick and tired of packing and unpacking the same unlistened to CDs, unlooked at books, unplayed with toys, unworn clothes, etc. Plants are free, but my children will gleefully charge you a quarter for a cup of lemonade.

I'm reminded of the time after our wedding ceremony when a retired military wife looked at our stash of stuff and sadly warned us, "after 3 moves it's firewood." Well, it certainly has a way of piling up. Hopefully, we'll sell enough this weekend to cut down our trips to Goodwill.
Freedom of Religion

All I know about the emergent church movement is what I've heard on the White Horse Inn and Issues, etc. Both programs are very critical of it, probably rightly so.

But they both missed the e-church appeal -- sadly, it's probably a false one -- of getting answers to doctrinal questions from an "unbiased" source. Here's what I mean. As I wrestle with a doctrine, let's say baptism for example, can I really expect a Lutheran pastor to genuinely explore beyond the standard Lutheran position? He'll explain all the relevant Scriptures from the Lutheran point of view and when I mention how others view the same passages, he'll say something like, "that's not how our church understands them." Or perhaps, he'll set up a strawman argument out of the others' position and then beat it senseless. Calvin sharply said, "There is not a more destructive plague than when men are so intoxicated by the scanty portion of knowledge which they possess, that they boldly reject everything that is contrary to their opinion." Rare is the person who has seriously tried to understand the different positions on a doctrine before arguing with others over the right way to believe.

Emergent churches, because much of their doctrine is "in process", seem like a more objective place to learn. But, for the same reason, they terrify me. Freedom of religion means complete freedom, even to believe lies, or not to believe at all.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

What Kind of Presbyterian Are You?

A new quiz based on this paper by Tim Keller. The quiz is short on questions, big on generalizations.

My results:

1: You are Reformed Historical! Most in this group support ‘strict subscription’ to the Confession and are mainly inspired by earlier forms of Presbyterianism. What divides Reformed-historicals and the rest of the PCA is not so much doctrinal differences as differences in perspective (and attitude) regarding how to communicate our doctrine and relate it to the post-Christian culture. (100%)

2: You are Reformed Conservative! You may be more culturally conservative than committed to a specific form of Presbyterianism. Many in this group don't like the strident rhetoric of the "Truly Reformed" crowd. You are standing for very good causes and are appropriately concerned for the moral decline of our culture. (73%)

3: You are Reformed Evangelical! You focus more on "distributing nutrients" to the church rather than "attacking infection". You are committed to Reformed theology that you feel is more biblically than culturally derived and are devoted to present-day ‘missions and ministry.’ However, you are susceptible to adopting pragmatic approaches to ministry that are not reflective of Reformed/biblical distinctives. You may be prone to evaluate influence by size of church numbers rather than by evidences of transformation in society. (57%)
Taking Confirmation Seriously

Today's sermon was a great example of preaching with a deep love for your people and a healthy fear of God. It was a confirmation service and one of the two boys being confirmed was the pastor's son. The sermon, and in some sense the whole service, was a celebration and exhortation for the confirmands, who were draped in a white garment and spent the service directly in front of the pulpit or kneeling at the alter. The pastor was noticeably affected by the presence of his son, his preaching was more impassioned. His burden for the souls of his "congregation" was obvious, providing a good example of how all preaching should be.

I'm not sure about the Biblical basis for confirmation (although there's historical basis), but the Lutherans certainly make more of it than the Presbyterians. Most of the confirmation ceremonies I've seen in Presbyterian churches are squeezed into the regular liturgy and come across as half-hearted--the confirmands I saw today won't soon forget theirs.