Monday, March 30, 2009

Doubt in the face of hard decisions

Kristin and I watched Doubt this weekend; we've talked more about it than any movie we've seen in a long time.

Doubt was first a Pulitzer-prize winning play about a battle of the wills between an iron-gloved Catholic school principal who believes in the power of fear and discipline and a vibrant, compassionate priest who is trying to upend the school's strict customs. Both main characters have a mix of strange and endearing traits so you're never able to completely dislike the cold principal or trust the friendly priest. You're left withholding judgment as the nun ruthlessly pursues a suspicion that the Father is having inappropriate relationships with the students.

Ultimately, Doubt has two main points. First, there are difficult situations where you must make moral judgments even when you don't have all the facts. Second, these decisions will come at great cost.

This is a good movie; if you haven't seen it yet, I hope you will.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Some recent reads (by Kristin)

The Law of Kindness by Mary Beeke
“Life is full of races and discouragements. A kind word of encouragement can spur us on.” This book provides lots of practical advice for “small courtesies” that “take very little time or effort” (my kind of book) in areas of:
Parenting with Kindness
The Kind Wife
Kind Thoughts and
Kind Words
Through the book Mrs Beeke helps you examine your motives (ouch!) and encourages the dependence on Christ as you seek to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit of kindness.

Practical Theology for Women: How knowing God Makes a Difference in Our Daily Lives by Wendy Horger Alsup
Just some quotes from this one:
“ There is a lot in Christianity today that is easily defended by human logic but utterly lacking in biblical foundation”
On regarding scriptural truths:
“ Do you allow these truths to interpret your circumstances, or do you allow your circumstances to distract you from these truths?”

Great reminder:
“ As we empty ourselves in humility, God transforms us, rooting out our sin and depravity and replacing it with character that reflects his own.”

And then some good ideas because:
“Many days, it is hard to find time to get into the Word, but there are still many ways to allow the Word to get into us.”

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life

This book is an examination of spiritual disciplines - disciplines provided by God which are designed to help us grow in godliness, allowing us to become more and more conformed to the image of Christ. The disciplines Whitney writes about are:

Bible intake
Silence and solitude

One of my favorite aspects about this book is that Whitney draws heavily from the Puritans and from other great Christians of the past when the spiritual disciplines were regarded more highly than they are today.

Note: This book is the free audio book for March from Christian Audio.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bye Bye Barry

Barry was an old friend. Kristin bought it with babysitter money when she was in college. The odometer reading: 10 miles. Today it was towed away with about 160K miles. In 18 years that car (which never broke down on us) made lots of memories: our honeymoon drive to Destin, cross-country drives to 7 assignments, driving on the flightline of McGuire AFB, a back seat full of kids, trying to get over the East Mountains of New Mexico, getting hit by a truck on the driver's side, getting hit by a cop car on the passenger's side, wishing the car was visible to the naked eye or at least had air bags, etc. Bye, bye Barry; hello Bubba (our very visible Suburban).

Monday, March 23, 2009

Be IW Not OW

White Horse Inn interviewed Os Guinness recently; I adapted part of it for our Sunday School discussion on how we should interact with culture, how we often get it wrong, and how understanding common grace is the key.

Here's a quick explanation:

Be IW not OW: how we should be

Be IW, OW: Christians that look just like the world

Not IW, Not OW: Christians that have withdrawn from society

Not IW, OW: Pharisees, the prodigal son's older brother, a Christian ghetto

A proper understanding of common grace is the key to staying in the "IW not OW" quadrant. Forget about common grace and you tend to separate from the world. Forget that common grace is not saving grace and you end up OW.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Shed that thick suit of skin

It's about time for "reverse feedback" at the office. This is where folks get to submit anonymous comments about me to my boss. Then my boss sits down with me and goes over the comments before I get to see them--sounds fun, huh? Reading the report last year made me squirm. No one likes a critic, especially a group of anonymous ones.

Yet criticism has even more withering power when it comes from loved ones in your family and church. Conventional thinking says to grow your skin thick and don't let the gripes get you down. But I found an article that presents a much better way. (HT: JT)

To take criticism well see yourself as God sees you—a sinner. The cross has criticized and judged you more intensely, deeply, pervasively, and truly than anyone else ever could. This knowledge permits you to say to all other criticism: "This is just a fraction of it."

But the cross of Christ also reminds you that God has thoroughly and forever accepted you in Christ. The whole world can stand against you, denounce you, or criticize you, and you will be able to reply, "If God has justified me, who can condemn me?" "If God justifies me, accepts me, and will never forsake me, then why should I feel insecure and fear criticism?"

I ought not to fear man's criticism for I have already agreed with God's criticism. And I do not look ultimately for man's approval for I have gained by grace God's approval. In fact, His love for me helps me to hear correction and criticism as a kindness, oil on my head, from my Father who loves me.

Read the whole thing.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Good relationships take time

I admire people who have close and deep relationships with others (I'm thinking here of relationships outside of the immediate family). Kristin and I struggle with this; part of the problem is moving to a different part of the country every few years, but for me at least, there's something more inherent.

The following excerpt from an interview with Christian counselor and author, David Powlison, illuminates a common reason for failing to build deep friend relationships--one that I'm guilty of. Surprisingly, it revolves around how he thinks of making effective use of time. He exposes a tension between "efficient time management" and developing good relationships.

David, what single bit of counsel has made the most significant difference in your effective use of time?

I’ll give a bit fuller answer here, as I think my response is likely a bit unusual. I’ve had to learn how I work best, and it’s not the cultural ideal of tightly scheduled efficiency. For me, effective and productive often operate in ways that seem quite “inefficient.” I’m more “third-world” in my use of time: event-oriented and person-oriented, rather than time-conscious and to-do-list-conscious. I operate with an inner gyroscope tuned to whether or not any particular experience or interaction is complete – not to how long it takes or whether it fits the schedule. I’m attuned to whether or not any particular thought is actually finished thinking, rather than whether the product is done on time. So I tend to take the time it takes to get something right—whether that “something” is the close attentiveness of getting fully engaged in this conversation of consequence, or how to craft this sentence and paragraph, or whether I’m stopping and actually noticing the hawk flying overhead right now.

My way of working—of living—means that I’m not very “efficient” in my use of time because I tend to take the time. I am the world’s worst when it comes to multi-tasking and to checking off to-do list items. It can be a fault for which I must repent; it’s my greatest strength, because I’m fully engaged.

I admire people who seem able to use every moment productively. But I’ve found that I simply do not work well that way. A certain kind of “wasting time” has proven to be absolutely essential to my fruitfulness. (I’m not recommending my way to others, but simply describing what I’ve learned about how I work. Perhaps some readers also work this way, and can find freedom from trying to live up to an ideal—the so-called “Protestant ethic”—that ill suits how God has made them to function.)

Our dominant cultural ideal is that of the busy, efficient executive who is always on task and getting projects done. But that doesn’t fit the neighborly housewife who takes time for relationships and helping in the need of the moment, or the artist who takes the time for trial and error and experimentation, crafting and recrafting. I operate more like a neighbor and artist than like an executive.

I take comfort in the oddity of Jesus’ example of time management. He was certainly on task, but his way of going about his calling was to wander around and interact with whoever he happened to run into that day. He engaged whatever happened to be going on in those people’s lives right then. He took “little” people just as seriously as “big” people, and gave himself to both. His work life was more like Francis of Assisi than like a life structured around the Blackberry, strategic plan, project list, and meeting schedule. God’s kingdom embraces and uses many kinds of people, and we don’t all operate the same way.

He goes on to give a great example from his life. The interview was conducted by pastor C.J. Mahaney and is available in full here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How to build a bridge (to an angry child)

I finished a good book today that addresses a common parenting problem. Get Outta My Face focuses on how to engage an embittered child (aimed at teenagers) in conversations that will open him up instead of shut him down. There's a ton of practical wisdom here that can repair damaged parent/child relationships.

The author, Rick Horne, has served the Lord as a Christian high school counselor for over 30 years and has raised 6 children through the teen years. It would be a shame not to learn from such a wealth of experience.

Throughout the book he explains in practical terms how to listen carefully, intentionally and affirmatively, clarifying the underlying healthy desires beneath the teenager's actions, looking for solutions that will be more effective in attaining those fundamental wants, and helping to develop small, manageable plans for reaching out to those goals.

This book offers parents like me a practical and wise way out of dead end conflicts with their children.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Free modern recordings of old hymns

Here's a free album I like; Page CXVI is sharing their recent recordings for free to bless the wider church. You can listen and download them at their site.

(For those curious, I'm told that CXVI is the page number where Aslan sings Narnia into being.)

Others that are good at putting old hymns to modern tunes:
Nathan Clark George
Jars of Clay - Redemption Songs
Indelible Grace albums
Sovereign Grace Music
Red Mountain Music

Speaking words of life and death

Our home phone rang just after 6 a.m. Sunday morning and I was told to put on my service dress and report to the military personnel flight as soon as possible. It was the casualty notification assistant and I was to inform the next of kin of the death of a loved one.

I was awake when he called, preparing to lead worship at church that morning. I made different plans, spoke to Kristin, got ready, and was just about to leave the house when the phone rang again. There had been a miscommunication and another officer was already en route; I wasn't needed after all.

As I dressed down, I remembered sketchy details about the last time I was involved with casualty notification. It's been about 10 years since I drove out to a farm in Pennsylvania to inform the parents of the death of a young airmen. As you can imagine it is heart-wrenching duty. As soon as the vehicle pulls in front of the house and men in service dress step out, the family knows exactly why you're there and intense emotions of grief begin.

After putting away my uniform I tried to return to what I was doing before the phone call this morning--I found this impossible. It will be good to go to the Lord's house in a couple of hours and hear his word of grace. How stark is the difference between the good news I will deliver during worship today and the bad news that I was to deliver to that poor family! But isn't this the message of the Bible? We are dead in our sins, cut off from our Father; but there is new, eternal life for all who repent and trust in Jesus. May this family and all of us know and be thankful for the comforting words of God.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Happy Birthday, Love!

This picture was taken in Jan '09, but it could double for her college sorority photo from back when we first met. Kristin is one of those rare, lucky ones that time largely leaves alone. Happy birthday, dear, I love you.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

The real membership test

Are we a church or are we a club? As I think of the scope of needs that are facing our little church and consider others that could be around the next corner, Piper addresses a significant question:


Raising the third brother

Parents fall into different traps along the way of raising their children. Sometimes they are too worldly and their children reflect that. Other times they see that trap, but they overreact, and instead of worldliness their children develop a joyless self-righteousness. I've fallen into both these traps, some for long periods of time, and value advice on steering clear of both.

Marvin Olasky, in a really good WORLD column, offers a clear alternative. Picking up on Tim Keller's book The Prodigal God, he calls for raising the third brother. We all know the wrecked life of the first brother in our Lord's tale of the prodigal son. And a few spot the more subtle glimpse of his older brother, who is externally "righteous" but internally full of dead men's bones. Elder brothers lack love, charity, compassion, and a sense that all of us are in this mess together.

What's rare, Olasky points out, are third brothers who know deeply that the Father loves them and have patience and love for both the elder and younger brothers.

Third brothers ask pointed questions, and here are ones for each of us to answer: Am I a younger, elder, or third brother? Can we, through God's grace in our parenting, avoid raising elder- and younger-brothers?

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Life in our home

"It's kind of like living with a telemarketer."

- Isaiah's parents after a ride in the van

Friday, March 06, 2009

Avoiding the Big-D

There was a U-Haul truck in a neighbor's driveway yesterday, not a strange sight for an on-base neighborhood. But gossip travels fast in military housing and we're told that the neighbors are not moving away, just away from each other.

Divorce is frightening. I think because most of the time you don't see it coming until it's too late. By the time you realize that you're heading for--in the words of a recent country song--"the big-D (and I don't mean Dallas)", hearts have been hardened, bitterness has taken root, and salvaging the relationship is unlikely.

I pray that God will use even this event to turn my neighbors' hearts toward Him. This "near-miss" also soberly reminds me that the same can happen in any house on this block--including mine. I must remember my vows and ask God to strengthen me to keep them while I guard against the enemy of our marriage that lives within me (my own sinful nature).

Good examples of marriages are so helpful. Take this one for instance. I can't help but be impressed at how he studies and serves his wife. Look at these two questions he uses to love his wife comprehensively and let them challenge you.

Do you know how to surprise and delight your spouse in specific ways in each of these areas?

clothing sizes, styles, and stores
books and magazines
the arts
places to visit
intellectual interests
and, of course, sex

Do you know how your spouse is faring in each of these areas?

theological knowledge
practice of the spiritual disciplines
growth in godliness
spiritual gifts that can be used to serve others
involvement in the local church
relationships with children
relationships with parents
relationships with in-laws
relationships with friends
personal retreats

Let's take our marriage relationships seriously and thus avoid the big-D.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Isaiah wows his football coach

Basketball season is over and football practices have begun. In Isaiah's league they have a brief devotional at the end of each practice. Tonight his coach asked the group of mostly 6-year olds, "What is God?". I guess he wasn't expecting anyone to shoot back with the answer to the 4th question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism*. The coach was stunned by Isaiah's barrage of words and had him repeat them, to which he said rather dumbstruck, "that's a really good answer."

*The catechism's answer to the question, "What is God?", is:
God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.

Hudson River Plane Landing

This pilot's action captured in this video reminds me of a good desciption of manhood: reject passivity, accept responsibility, lead courageously! (from Raising a Modern Day Knight)

HT: Challies