Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Where Dead Batteries Do Not Destroy

This has been a busy week.  Backyard Bible Club has been taking up much of my time, and my family's time each day, and it's been tough to stick to our usual schedule.  But it's a good kind of busy, and I enjoy it.  Each day there are 15 preschoolers running around like maniacs in our back yard.  What's not to like?

One of the songs we've been teaching the kids throughout the week is a couple verses from Matthew six, which say: "Store up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is there your heart will be also."  We've been encouraging the kids to treasure God all week, and not the stuff of the world.

It's interesting how, when you are teaching biblical truths to children, it's easy to go into what I'll call "teacher mode."  That is, adults tend to somewhat condescendingly teach truths to children and as though it is something for the kids to learn, and as the adults, they have already fully appropriated these truths.  That is not true of me, however, even though I sometimes teach as though I am an authority in believing and enacting the truth of God in all matters.  I'm still a sinful, flawed human being who is being perfected by Jesus, and I need to grasp the same truths that I am trying to teach the kids this week.

A little reminder of my lack of appropriating biblical truth came to me this morning in the form of a non-working car.  I had to run to the church this morning to get some things for today's lessons, and so I went.  I entered the church, got what I needed, and then went back out to my car, only to find that it refused to start.  My car has been a horse for me, and has almost never had any problems.  But here it was, on the third day of Backyard Bible Club, refusing to start.  Not too big of a problem, except my role in the four Backyard Bible Clubs is to be the gopher and go to each club and deliver materials and supplies, as well as to take pictures and shoot video of the clubs, and even to lead songs at a couple locations.  Needless to say, I was not a happy camper Bible Clubber when my car wouldn't start at the church this morning.

Providentially, my dad just happened to be turning into the church parking lot when I was having my difficulties.  He was able to give me a jump, and I was on my way.  But after I returned home and shut the car off, it wouldn't start again.  Oh well.  I got into the wife's car and started my day of driving - off to the other clubs!

When I was at the last club of the day, leading songs, I decided to take a minute to explain to the kids why Matthew 6.20 talks about moths destroying earthly treasures.  They probably didn't know about moths and the damage they can do, or about how metal corrodes.  So we talked about how things that can be damaged or destroyed -like clothes and cars - are not worthy of being our treasure, because they won't last forever.  Instead, our hearts should treasure eternal things - heavenly things.

It started to get to me when I realized I was telling the kids that the fact that something rusts is evidence that it won't last forever, and that we shouldn't treasure those things.  I thought about my car, and how disappointed I was when it wouldn't work right this morning.  Could it be that I was "treasuring" my car?  I certainly don't worship my car, but maybe I worship the convenience a car brings.  The fact that my car wasn't working this morning was a good reminder to me to not put my trust or find my satisfaction in earthly things, because one day I'll wake up and those things - like my car - either won't work or will be gone completely.  And if I am treasuring the convenience of having a car, what does that say about my heart?  Nothing good.

The lesson for me today: store up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where moth and rust (and dead batteries) do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

You're Gonna Have to Wait for that Penguin

This summer at our church I am privileged to teach an intergenerational Sunday School class called "Lord, Teach Us To Pray."  As you might have guessed, the class focuses on prayer - the Lord's prayer, specifically - and uses it as a model for all prayer.  Today's class examined the "in heaven" portion of the opening of the Lord's prayer, and we talked about how, when we pray, we should acknowledge in our hearts and minds how God is in heaven - that is, he is the Lord of the universe, looking down on all things, observing all things, and doing whatever he pleases.

Like I already said, this is an intergenerational class, which means that all ages are combined (K through adult).  This format makes it possible from the young to learn from the old, and vice versa.  It also affords families the chance to look at the Bible together during the class and talk about the subjects the material presents.  As the teacher, I feel really privileged to be a part of the class.

This year The Mrs. and I thought that our oldest child would be "with it" enough to attend this class, even though he is just entering kindergarten this year.  After all, we thought, even if some of the content was over his head, it would at least be beneficial for him to see other people devoting themselves to the word, and he could get a good sense of the corporate nature of the church.  So we have been having him attend the classes.

This week the lesson talked about how God answers prayer in three ways: either "Yes," "No," or "Wait," and how all of these answers are good and right for us (even if it isn't the answer we want) because God is always good and loving, and always does what is best for us.  At the end of the class I passed out a little diagram of a stoplight that had these three answers on the sheet next to the green light (yes), the yellow light (wait), and the red light (no).  I encouraged the class to think of times when they prayed prayers and received on or more of these answers to their prayer, and to share that with the group.

After church this morning, my son showed me his sheet.  I was blown away by what I saw, partly because it was very cute, but also because it was a very real interaction from a five year old with the ideas regarding the subject of prayer that we have been tackling in Sunday School.  His sheet is pictured at left.  Click to enlarge

A bit of interpreting needs to be done in order to understand the sheet.  The picture at the top of the page is of our now deceased cat, Bartholomew.  Ferg explained to me that he had prayed that Bartholomew would live, but that God's answer to that was "No" since Bartholomew died (and actually, he still prays for Bartholomew on a regular basis, even though he has been gone for about two years now).

The picture at the bottom of the page is of our cat Martha, who is very much alive.  Jamie said that he prays that she will be a healthy cat.  Since she has suffered no significant illness, God's answer to that prayer so far been "Yes."

And then finally, the somewhat indistinguishable picture in the center of the page is of a penguin.  "Why did you draw a penguin in the 'wait' circle, James?" one might ask.  "Because I prayed that God would give me a penguin, and I haven't gotten one yet, so the answer must be 'wait.'"

I don't mean to brag on my son too much, nor would I say that he's especially smart or in tune to the spiritual realm, nor would I say that he is even a Christian, but this just goes to show that kids can apprehend and grasp a lot more than people think.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Father's Day

Here's what my kids got me for Father's Day.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Baseball Stories

Former Minnesota Twin Dan Gladden is the color commentator for Twins radio broadcasts, which I listen to on a regular basis.  Now that Major League Baseball has completely removed all local baseball from network television, the regular fan who doesn't have a cable subscription service is forced to follow the local nine on radio only.  In truth, this is fine with me, as I actually prefer listening to the games on the radio to watching them on TV.

Gladden has a rather shaky broadcasting reputation when it comes to the opinions of online commentators - the fans who listen to the radio broadcasts.  Some don't think he's good at calling the plays (which he does for four innings per game).  Others don't think he gives the score or the count often enough.  It's true that he's less descriptive than his broadcasting counterpart, Cory Provus, but Gladden still has some great qualities for being a Twins broadcaster, and I'm glad he's here.  

One of the things that  makes Gladden fun to listen to is the fact that he's a former player, and a former Minnesota Twin.  What makes it especially enjoyable for me is that Gladden played on the Twins team of my childhood, with all of my boyhood baseball heroes like Kent Hrbek and Kirby Pucket.  Gladden likes to tell stories during the game broadcasts about these guys, and about his time in the majors.  It's almost as enjoyable to hear Gladden's stories as it is to hear the game.

One story Gladden told on tonight's broadcast caught me as funny.  Danny and Cory were talking about nicknames that the players give one another, and about special handshakes they share with each other after a good play or a home run.  Gladden said that he remembered Kirby Pucket and Al Newman doing what he called the "Nestea Plunge" high five.  Cory asked him if anyone on the team ever gave him a nickname.  He said that many people had nicknames, but the one that stuck most was one that Kent Hrbek gave him: "Wrench."

"Why 'Wrench?'" asked Provus.  "He said that I looked like the dirty kind of guy who was a mechanic who could fix anything," Gladden responded.  He said, "I could fix anything, but I told Hrbek I couldn't fix his swing.  He was 0 for his last 18."

Friday, June 14, 2013

A Year of God's Grace

Several months ago I posted on this blog about the bad accident suffered by missions innovator Steve Saint. As Steve has progressed through his injury and recovery, ITEC, his company has released videos on his progress and the testimony of God's grace in his life.  Yesterday was the one year anniversary of the accident, and so another video was released, recapping the previous year's activities.  The video stories are embedded below, beginning with the first down the most recent one at the bottom.  If you watch all the videos it'll take you about 47 minutes, but it's well worth your time.

Worship at the Altar of Relevancy

I read an article today in the most recent version of the WorshipIdeas newsletter that lists several bad reasons to worship, or better put, to worship in a particular way.  The article did not set out to give bad reasons to worship, but that's what it ended up doing, nonetheless.

The article reports that a survey by Faith Communities Today indicates that churches who make a switch to contemporary worship receive an almost immediate and consistent growth rate of 2%.  Also, churches with more contemporary worship styles are more likely to see continued growth than their more stylistically traditional counterparts.  This is not necessarily a bad thing per say, but it sounds to me like a terrible reason to "switch" worship styles.

One worship pastor says that the style of music in the church affects how "people see the church as relevant," and so, because the church is seen as relevant, people will supposedly come.

Is that really how we want to be determining how we do worship in the church - by what the masses consider to be "relevant?"  Really?  The church's relevancy is determined by what people think of the worship style?  Are we missing something here?  Seems to me like we're more concerned about what people think is relevant than what God thinks is relevant, which is the opposite of the way it should be.

The underlying tone of the report implies that churches who want to grow should switch to a contemporary worship format.  I couldn't disagree with that implication more.  Don't get me wrong: I realize that we are cultural beings who have cultural persuasions and preferences, and it would be foolish to dismiss the impact of these persuasions on our people, and even on worship leaders and pastors.  But to focus on the desires of the people at the expense of focusing on the desires of God is dangerous ground to tread.

What the statistics promote is a pragmatic way of conducting worship services.  In other words, church leaders have an idea of what they want to accomplish when they conduct a worship service, and they then ask themselves what they need to do to accomplish that goal.  If and when your goal is to attract X number of people to your worship service, than you will do what you can to cater to their whims and desires: you will play the music they want to hear, you will preach sermons they want to hear, and you will create an atmosphere that is comfortable for them.  

The opposite (and more biblical approach, in my opinion) is to ask "What does God want from this worship service?" and then to work toward accomplishing whatever the church has determined that to be.  In this way of seeing worship, the reaction or opinion of the masses doesn't matter.  When our goal is pleasing God with our worship instead of people, whether or not people like what we're doing or how we're doing it is a question that never even blips on the radar screen.  When we are working to please God with our worship, our goal is obedience to what we believe he would have us do in leading and conducting worship.  Our goal is obedience to God - not numbers; it is working to honor him - not to please people.

What is the most relevant thing the church does?  Is it not to maintain faithfulness in the proclamation of the gospel?  If the most relevant thing about the church is its music, then we have serious, serious issues.  May it never be at my church.  Another question to consider is this: can the church be focused on the gospel and still utilize culturally relevant music and modes of communicating the message?  I think it can, and does.

The question is not, "What do we need to do to get more people?" but is instead, "What should we do, because that's what God tells us to do?"  There is a significant difference between the two questions, and the answers you will get from each are vitally important in the life and ministry of the local church.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Camp Miscellany

This week finds me back at Village Creek Bible Camp, in the midst of the Mississippi river valley in northeastern Iowa.  I usually find myself here 2-4 times each summer, and then probably a couple other times throughout the other seasons.  Needless to say, it's become a pretty familiar place to me.

This week I'm here with four of our church's junior high girls, attending the "Young Teen" camp.  Although we've only been here for one full day now, it's been a full day, and so I thought I'd write about a few things, in no particular order.

Sunday School saves the day.
I was able to fill in on a somewhat last-minute basis for this morning's chapel session.  I usually end up being one of the camp pastors at least one week each summer at camp, but declined the invitation this summer, citing an extra work-load due to the church's lack of a youth minister.  Be that as it may, the opportunity presented itself for me to stand in the gap this morning, and I was happy to do so.  Thankfully I had some old Sunday School lessons that I could draw from with which to fill the chapel session.

Is there a camp for introverts?
I think I've finally discovered why I was never much of a camp person as a kid, and why it still doesn't appeal to me now even as an adult.  As an introvert, being around people for extended periods of time wears me down.  But at camp, there is no escaping the people.  They are everywhere.  Campers are sectioned off into cabins, so you're always with those folks.  And when you're not hanging out with those people, you're with the larger group.  People.  Everywhere.

There's nothing wrong with this, per say, but it's hard on those of us who not only like to be alone, but need to be alone - at least for a time.  As a kid I remember a lot of people trying to talk to me and be my friend and get me to socialize when I was at camp.  But all I wanted was to be left alone.  It's not that I didn't (don't) like people - it's just that too many people for too long of periods of time overtaxes my system.

The camp environment is definitely geared toward extroverts - people who get energized by being around and socializing with others.  This is not me, however, and probably explains why I always feel so drained when I get back from a week at camp.

First world problems
I've never been much for sleeping bags, so any time I visit camp I make sure to pack bedding: sheets and blankets.  The beds at camp are, shall we say, less than desirable, both in aesthetic appearance and physical comfort.  If nothing else, a week at camp will help you count your blessings of having a nice, comfortable bed.  

The Mrs. packed my bedding for me this time, and unbeknownst to me, she packed a sheet for a twin sized bed.  Well, the room I'm staying in has a full size bed.  And try as I might, a twin sized sheet does not fit on a full sized bed, which means I get to sleep on a bear mattress.  Yay.  But even then, I can count my blessings, as there are undoubtedly millions of people around the world laying their heads on bear ground.  Thank God for mattresses.

Camp Cramps
For the past several months I've been trying to incorporate physical exercise into my regular routine.  This started out with some "core" exercises earlier in the year, which were going along swimmingly until I somehow injured my knee.  I had to put my exercises on hold for a while, whilst my body healed up.

From there I discovered the Kettlebell, a very fun to use and challenging piece of exercise equipment.  I started using that on a regular basis, and was making quite a bit of headway with it, until my shoulder started hurting me.  So again, I was sidelined by injury.

After those two injuries, I decided to go back to the basics, i.e. walking and running.  We do own a treadmill, after all, so I took to it.  I started out by doing a few weeks worth of faster-than-normal walking, gradually increasing the pace.  After I was confident that my stamina had increased sufficiently, I purchased a "Couch to 5K" app for my phone.  This is a nifty little app that trains you to be able to run - all the way up to 3.2 miles at a time (or whatever 5 kilometers is).  I completed the first week of this training with flying colors, and was excited by the progress I was making.

The second week came, and during the middle of the week of my running training, I began to feel some pain on the inside portion of both of my knees.  I didn't think much of it at first, but the next time I got on the treadmill that week, the pain was enough to make me stop my exercises.  A couple days later, and I could barely climb a flight of stairs, my knees hurt so bad.  So again, I was sidelined by injury.

It should be noted that before I took on any of these exercise regimens I made sure that I was doing the necessary stretching and pre-workout warmups so as to prevent injury.  But alas, it was not to be.

Anyway, after about a month off now, I feel ready to get back on the horse, so to speak.  I thought that my time at camp would be a great way for me to get back in the swing of things, at least as far as walking was concerned.  So this afternoon I made a point of taking a walk down the long gravel road that leads out of the camp.  I determined to gauge the length of my walk by time, and not by distance.  In other words, by noting the time when I left, I would know when I needed to turn back in order to be back at the camp for any relevant activities.

I took off at about 1:40 in the afternoon and just started walking.  Every once in a while I would stop to pick up an agate off the road, or look at some interesting wildlife (such as a huge caterpillar I found, and a fearless butterfly that would not move an inch out of my way, and even some guinea hens that a local farmer was raising).  At about 2:35 I figured it was time to turn around, as I needed to be back at the camp in plenty of time for supper (priorities, right?).

About half the way back, I noticed that my left foot was just a little soar, but I didn't think much of it.  After all, I was walking on a gravel road that was rather uneven, so my feet were coming down on the ground at different heights.  To correct for the discomfort, I moved to the other side of the road so that my right foot would bear most of the burden of the extended reach required to walk the road.

But this didn't help much.  As I kept going, the pain got worse, and worse, until I finally got back to camp.  When I did so, I hopped in my car and retraced my steps in my vehicle in order to determine just how long my walk was.  By the time I had driven to the point where I stopped walking, I had gone 2.4 miles.  This meant that my entire walk was 4.8 miles.  I was quite pleased with myself.  But my foot still hurt.

It felt good to be sitting down in my car after such a long walk, so I decided to sneak back to my room and take a short nap before supper, which I did.  By the time I woke from the nap and put my feet on the ground to go to the dining hall, my left foot was screaming in pain.  From just below my ankle all the way to my pinky tow, the pain on the side of my foot was excruciating - bad enough to cause me to limp as I walked.  I thought about it, and couldn't figure out what could be causing such discomfort.  I didn't twist my foot or walk in an peculiar way that would cause this kind of pain.  And my shoes were the ones that I have worn time and again without any discomfort.  What was causing this?  Even now, as I lay in bed typing this post at 10:00 at night, the pain still lingers and I haven't the slightest clue as to why my foot hurts.

Oh well.  Such is life when you're at camp!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Thus & Such, Vol. 29

This edition of Thus & Such is rather long, as I haven't posted to this category in a while.  Enjoy.

1. We begin with what might be the most poignant and convicting article that I've read so far this year, by the great Tim Challies.  In it, Tim ponders out loud the reality that he affirms God's sovereignty in difficult situations, and notes that most of the time these difficult situations are happening to other people and and not to him.  He wonders if he would be so quick to affirm his love for God's sovereignty if the tables were turned.  This article was a punch in the gut for me, but a good punch in the gut that I need on a regular basis.  Thanks for penning it, Tim.

2. "As the religious character of our society changes, so do our assumptions about religious freedom."  Ain't that the truth.  As we begin to think differently about the influence of religion, we will naturally think differently about how we are free to exercise our religion.  This is a long but good and important read.  

3. A common - and very uninformed - objection to the authority of the Bible by non-beleivers is that the Bible was copied over and over again to give us the text we have today.  People will assert that, because the copyists were flawed human beings, they no doubt made errors in their copying.  I say that this view is uninformed because some smart Christian people have realized this problem, and have done some thinking in order to address it, and it's actually quite an easily reconciled problem.  Take a look.

4. Here's an article that unintentionally (I think) exposes several facets of the homosexual conversation. But the point of the article is to coach Christians on how engage homosexual arguments in the market place of ideas with the gospel.  It's a good and informative read.  Check it out.

5. "After realizing all of what I would have to give up, I said to God, 'I cannot let these things or people go on my own.  I love them too much.  But I know you are good and strong enough to help me.'"  Check out this love letter to a lesbian.

6. "The simple act of going to in and of itself a declaration of war."  Read about why this is true here.  

7. One of my favorite quotes is by a guy named Nicolaus Zinzendorf.  It reads thusly: "Preach the gospel, die, and be forgotten."  I googled that quote and came across this blogpost.  It's a good one.  The author says, "When I die, don't read my obituary to see the meager things I did.  Instead, read the Bible and see what the God of the universe has done."  Amen to that.  Also, I think I found what I want for my epitaph (scroll down to the end).  Take a look.

8. This article brings up an important question that our society needs to have: how do we define what discrimination really is?  There are many Christians, including myself, who believe that the table of discrimination has turned toward Christians, and that we are now being unfairly judged and unfairly characterized.  How do we know when this turns into discrimination?  It's a good question that we need to think about.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Yo, Adrian

Warning: Having re-read this post, it's rather sexual in nature.  Readers be aware.

A couple weeks ago, Adrian Peterson, star running back for the local footballers made some public statements on gay marriage.  Peterson said that gay marriage was something he couldn't endorse, but that he holds no animosity toward homosexuals.

Peterson's comments came in the context of being asked by media members to address the release of Chris Kluwe from the Vikings, the punter who was vehemently and disgustingly pro gay (I say disgustingly because Kluwe wrote several pieces that were so lined with filth and vulgarity, and so full of vitriol and hatred toward anyone who dared disagree with him, that I refuse to link to them here).

When Peterson made his comments, there were several reactions in the sports media.  Some did not approve; others said they respected him for sharing his opinion.

And then this week Adrian was asked some follow up questions regarding his previous comments.  Peterson elaborated by saying that he wouldn't have a problem with having an openly gay teammate.  He says he'd still high-five him, pat him on the rear, and go about playing the game.  He did mention, however, that he'd feel uncomfortable showering with a gay teammate.  You can read about all of his comments here.

When Kluwe came out with his over-the-top, hateful comments endorsing the homosexual lifestyle and damning all those who dared disagree, one of my many reactions to his sentiment was that he should just shut up and play football (some people think the Vikings thought this as well, as it is rumored that some of the higher-ups in the organization questioned Kluwe's ability to be so involved in the gay marriage debate and remain focused on his job on the field).  You're a football player.  Just play football.  I had somewhat of the same reaction with Peterson, even though he comes down more on my side of the issue.  He's a football player.  We don't need to know what he thinks about gay marriage in order for him to play football, or for us to enjoy watching him play the game.  Hey pro athletes: just stick to what you know.

But what has intrigued me the most about this latest hubub has been the reaction of the local sports media.  Once in a while, when I'm not listening to Wretched Radio podcasts, I tune into ESPN 1500 on the AM dial and listen to Reusse and Mackey.  Patrick Reusse is the seasoned curmudgeon, while Phil Mackey is the young punk sports reporter.  The two usually play off each other really well, and it can be very entertaining sports radio.

This afternoon they were talking about this situation with Peterson, and Mackey said that his problem with Peterson's statements was that it seemed as though Peterson was trying to go out of his way to assure everyone that he didn't have a problem with gay people, when he actually did.  In short, Mackey was implying that Peterson's comments were a sort of bigotry-light, or like trying to sugar-coat discrimination.

For example, argued Mackey, what if, instead of being gay, a person had a head cold?  It would be odd to say that you would still high-five or pat someone on the rear who had a head cold.  Of course you would!  Why wouldn't you?  Of course you would shower with someone who had a head cold.  To refuse to shower with someone just because they had a head cold would be ridiculous.

Granted, all analogies break down eventually, but Phil's never even makes it out of the gate.  He's equating playing with an openly homosexual player with playing with someone who has a head cold.  The two situations are not even close to analogous.

A more apt analogy would be, perhaps, what it would be like for a man to play a professional sport with a woman.  Would you high-five her?  Sure.  Pat her on the rear end when she makes a good play? Whoa.  Now we've just crossed a boundary, haven't we?  Why would it be inappropriate for a man to slap a woman on the behind after a good play?  Because men are attracted to women and vice versa, and the gluteus maximus is considered to be off limits when it comes to congratulatory slaps between genders, giving a congratulatory tap on the cheeks would definitely be off limits.  A man slapping a woman on the bottom - even in congratulatory fashion - would, by nature, be a sexual act.

But when it comes to a gay man who is attracted to other men, shouldn't the same rules apply?  I would think so.  Personally, I wouldn't slap a gay man on the behind for the same reasons I wouldn't slap a woman on the rear, because it is a sexual act.  This is why straight men slapping other straight men on the butt is not a sexual act - because they are all men and there is no sexual attraction between them.  But with gay men there is a difference.  Although they are also men, their sexual attraction is toward men which would make touching their rear end in any way a sexual act.  In fact, slapping a woman on the rear end could constitute sexual harassment, or even assault.  Would it not be the same for a gay man?

But then we go beyond butt-slapping.  What about showering?  Would a man feel uncomfortable showering with a woman who is not his wife?  Definitely.  Why?  Again, because men and women are attracted to one another, and showering while naked is an intimate act that is not shared between common acquaintances.  So then, if gay men are attracted to men, then wouldn't gay men showering with other men be an act with an underlying sexual nature?  Again, I would think so.  I wouldn't shower with a woman who was not my wife, nor would I shower with a gay man, because both actions would be sexual in nature.

This is not to say that gay men are women, but they share a similarity with women in that they are physically attracted to the male gender.  Having a head cold does not make you attracted to naked men - it simply makes your nose stuffy and runny.

That's a bit different from a head cold, Phil.