Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Fourth Wise Man That Wasn't

[For your Christmas enjoyment, and maybe a little edification, I offer this short story I wrote a few years back.]

           The assembly had disintegrated into raucous shouts and groans only minutes after the Grand Vizier had called it to order.  He should have known that this would be the case, since Balthasar and his colleagues were known for their controversial notions.  Why, the vizier wondered, did they insist on putting such ludicrous theories forward?  Legends surrounding that foreign master of the magi of long ago had been nearly erased from their collective memory, but now Balthasar was bringing them up again.   The suggestion that the appearance of one particular conjunction of stars was the fulfillment of some long-forgotten promise of a king with universal significance strained the patience of even the most open-minded of the wise.  And this was no time to be thinking about off-beat ideas that could derail the progress the magi had been making.
            The Vizier let his thoughts turn with satisfaction to the steady increase in importance that their exclusive fraternity had experienced during his leadership.  The world’s leaders were once again interested in what the wise men from the east had to say.  It had been a rough few centuries for them, ever since Alexander and his armies had swept through Persia like a grass fire in late summer, displacing not only the old empire, but the old empire’s advisers as well.  Now, following the disintegration of Greek rule and the ascendancy of the Romans, kings throughout the east (and even toward Rome in the west) were seeking out the magi once again. 
            They had carefully protected and cultivated their reputation for special wisdom, studying their books and rehearsing their legends.  Those who practiced the magic arts could always amaze, but such tricks did little more than keep the general population in awe.  It took the vast reservoir of facts and insights gained over centuries for the skillful wise man to create in his king or prince that sense of dependence that secured the magi’s power.  Rulers, fearful of the threat of the Romans or the challenge of the Parthians, were offering great wealth and honor to obtain the services of some of the magi for their courts.
It was at such an opportune moment that Balthasar chose to present his ideas and plan, asking his compatriots to risk the ridicule of all those kings and princes whose support has been so difficult to regain.  And for what purpose?  To follow an unfamiliar star foramtion toward the heart of unfriendly territory to find this mysterious king of a people that has no real political significance.  The Jews groaned under Roman rule through the puppet king, Herod (an obnoxious and vain man whose enemies had a nasty habit of dying untimely deaths).  They had no need of magi—new king or not.  They needed a better army than Rome’s, and no one seems to have found one. 
            The Vizier thought about Balthasar’s words.  “We believe that our ancient master, Belteshazzar, was more than just a wise man,” he had proclaimed once again.  “His wisdom was unparalleled in the days of Nebuchadnezzar, who believed him a prophet of the one true God.”
            This had sparked the first reaction among his fellow magi, of course, for their own belief in one god had put them at odds with much of society.
            Balthasar had continued, “Belteshazzar received many visions and dreams that spoke of the future of his people and of the kingdoms that would rise and fall around them.  His words accurately foretold Alexander’s rise and fall, and the coming of the Romans.”
Some of the magi scoffed at this, others bristled at the suggestion that one of their number had accurately foretold what so many others had missed.
“He predicted the coming of a king among his people who would be God’s deliverer of mankind.  We believe this new star is the announcement of that king’s birth.”
No more could be said above the assembly’s shouts of derision.  Balthasar’s friends, Melchior and Gaspar, both touched his arm and shook their heads in disappointment.  They were alone in their convictions, and their fellow magi would not listen any further.
Most of their number had left the meeting place, but those three still stood together, talking quietly among themselves.  The Vizier felt compelled to speak to them.
“I told you it was useless, Balthasar.  No one wants to be reminded of old fables that put most of our ancestors in an unfavorable light.”
“The truth about our past is reflected in our stubbornness today,” replied the old man. “Daniel’s (Balthasar slipped into using Belteshazzar’s Hebrew name) truthfulness was not diminished by the jealousy of the other magi then, and we believe we can trust what we have learned through studying his life and teachings.  Why can’t a man like yourself see that our plan holds out the promise of a discovery beyond any of our wildest dreams?”
The Vizier thought for a second before replying.  “You are correct in saying that, if you are right, your discovery might be amazing.  But consider the risks.  This proposed expedition will cost you more than just your fortunes.  If you are wrong, your reputations will be lost forever, as would that of anyone willing to go with you.  You are staking all on the words of a long dead sage.  You believe the deliverer of the world may be born among an enslaved people, and that a star has appeared to announce this?  No, my friends, your quest is too ridiculous to imagine joining.  I urge you to forget this nonsense, stay at home, and enjoy your privileges and prosperity.  Few have what you possess.”
“That is true, wise one.  But we have decided we would trade all we have to discover if God has truly sent this promised King.  If such a king has been born, then we will gladly lose all else to know of him.”
What would it be like to discover the savior of the world, the Vizier wondered.  Certainly such a journey, with a company of genuinely interesting (if slightly unpredictable) men in search of this king would be remarkable.  But it would undoubtedly be for nothing.  No, he would not go.  He would do what magi did best—go with the established wisdom.  And the established wisdom was that money and power in one’s possession secured all the future you could hope to have.
“Farewell, my friends.  I shall miss your company.  When you return, I shall do what I can to help you get back to your normal lives here.
“Thank you, wise one,” Balthasar replied, “but if we return, we believe we will have news that will keep life from ever being what it was.”
As they left his presence, the Vizier said to himself that if that were to be the case, then perhaps it would be best for them not to come back.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Newtown, Yellow Springs, and Bethlehem

Like everyone else, I was stunned and saddened beyond words as the reports of the slaughter of Newtown, Connecticut's children came in.  20 youngsters died at the hands of one marauding murderer who killed his mother first.  We will learn more about him and the heart-wrenching losses suffered by families in the coming days.  I appreciated the governor of Connecticut's words, saying that "Evil visited" Sandy Hook School yesterday.  It was and is evil in our world that impels such violence and harm.  We must pray for the families who suffered loss of children, and those who lost parents, friends, co-workers, and spouses.

Even as those reports continued today, we left the house for me to officiate at the wedding of Matt Brooker and Hannah Lamos, two wonderful young people in our Grace family and students at CU.  It was an joyous morning, more informal than most weddings, and simple as could be.  The happiness in their faces was what I love to see on any wedding day, and their shared desire to exalt Jesus and celebrate with their families was a blessing to me.  It was a celebration with unmixed joy.

Matteo di Giovanni's "Massacre of the Innocents in Bethlehem", 
1488.  Note how the artist made the crime look as if it was in his
own time.  The innocents are slaughtered in every age.
What a contrast in emotions I went through in 24 hours:  sadness at the tragedy of so many in Connecticut, and joy at the sight of this newly married couple.  It seems almost bizarre that one can go through such a large swing in such as short time.  In fact, it isn't just a "swing," but rather the co-existence of sadness and joy in the same day.

Tomorrow, we gather for the third Sunday in Advent, with its theme of Joy.  We should remember that the joy we celebrate in Advent and Christmas is always accompanied, in this world at least, with the continuing presence of sorrows and sadness.  Even in the Christmas story, we learn of both great joy, as manifested by the wise men when they saw the star and it led them to Bethlehem, and horrendous sorrow experienced by the parents in that tiny village just days later.  It really was a little town, probably with only few dozen families.  But since Herod had heard that the future King of the Jews had been born there, he sent his soldiers to kill all their youngest children.  I just read this past week that it probably was about 20 children that died--just the same as in Newtown.

 By God's intervention, the murdering Herod did not find Jesus there, for Joseph had been warned in a dream to flee to Egypt.  By God's intervention, Adam Lanza killed himself before he could kill more victims.  I wonder if the families of Bethlehem ever knew why Herod attacked them as he did--there is no indication that they did.  The grieving families in Newtown will never know why their children died yesterday.

Such tragedies remind us of the destructive power of evil, and of the Evil One whose sole purpose is, like the thief described in John 10, "to steal and kill and destroy."

But in the midst of such tragedies, joys still come.  Messages from faraway loved ones bring smiles.  Couples get married.  Kids come home from school.  Families and friends get together at Christmas.  It is God reminding us, "Yes the world is evil.  But evil does not always win--will not always win."

Advent is the season of longing and anticipating the coming of Jesus.  That longing should get stronger in the face of heinous evil.  And it should get stronger when the joys that come our way provide a foretaste of what life will always be like when Jesus takes up his throne and kingdom here.  God allows both because they are the realities of life in a fallen world where the hope of redemption and renewal is offered in Jesus.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Forgiving the Seriously Fallen

Two matters came my way today that both made me stop, think, and wonder.  The first was a question from a friend who knows a Christian man (former church worker and teacher) who is facing serious jail time for molesting underage boys--repeatedly.  Much like the Jerry Sandusky case, it has generated a lot of hatred and recrimination, and it has devastated his wife.  He expresses repentance, remorse, regret, sorrow--you name it.  He will be punished for his crimes, and should be.  But Christians, including some that my friend talked to, hold out no hope of this man ever being changed, or even worthy of redemption.  Society and mental health professionals tend to agree that he is hopeless.  Christians join others in saying they hope there is a special place in hell for such people.  But will he be in hell?  Could he be truly saved and that messed up?  The question that I was asked: has this become the unpardonable sin--perhaps not to God, but to us?  Do we just let such people be locked away and forget about them?

The second was an article I'd actually seen when it popped up in my email in a newsletter I read.  I saw the title Going to Hell with Ted Haggard, and wasn't sure I'd be interested.  Then I saw it was the most-read article of any week that this long-time Christian publication has been on the web, so I thought I would read it.  It was convicting.  I'd urge you to click on the linked title and go read it.  Now.  I'll wait.

OK, welcome back.  Interesting to contemplate, isn't it, especially the statement by the atheist that the thing that keeps him from ever becoming a Christian is that we say that God accepts you just as you are, but when one of us in the church falls publicly, we tend to "eat our own."

As a church with multiple children's and youth ministries, we take protection of children seriously.  And as believers in the high and holy calling of a pastor/overseer/elder, we know that the public sins of leaders can have far-reaching consequences inside and outside the church.  Yet, does the gospel of grace extend to repentant child molesters, and if so, is it grace strong enough to make them a functioning part of a local assembly?  And does God's grace ever forgive and restore fallen leaders to any usefulness beyond sitting quietly in the shadows?

I guess I have another question to wrestle with in my "No Easy Answers" series.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Good Resource and a Gift Idea

I've come across two very different things that I believe would be helpful for some of you who come to the blog from time to time.

First of all, let me suggest an excellent blog post by Kevin DeYoung at The Gospel Coalition site on A Few Things To Consider Before Supporting Gay Marriage.  It is an excellent defense of the idea that government did not create marriage, but regulates and favors it for reasons that are beneficial to society.  It puts the debate on the right terms.  If you have friends who think that this is "no big deal," this article has some arguments that might help them reconsider.

And, for those looking for an excellent gift idea for parents with younger children, may I suggest Thoughts To Make Your Heart Sing, by Sally Lloyd-Jones?  This is the same author who wrote The Jesus Storybook Bible, the children's Bible story book I recommend and bought for my grandson.  This is a devotional geared toward kids, and a good tool for leading into spiritual discussions in a natural way.  I have included it in the recommendations of books in the right column--you can go to directly from there.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Stories of this and that...

Sad Follow-Up to a Good Deed
The feel good story of last week was about the NYPD officer who generously purchased shoes and socks for this homeless man on the street during a cold night.  The picture here, snapped by a tourist, went viral and the officer became a hero.

Many commented on the story, saying it restored their faith in humanity, and wishing that everyone would just be as kind as this officer.

Happy ending, right?

No.  for here is the follow up story: Homeless man grateful for boots, but barefoot again.

What happened?  If you read the story you will discover that the homeless man is hiding his "valuable shoes" to protect against theft.  Further, he wants a share of any profit from this picture (there wasn't any), and he has abandoned a family who would care for him if he would stay with them.

We would love to believe that homeless people need only a helping hand or a gift to make things better.  But the multiple levels of brokenness due to sin and the Fall lead to some people making continually bad decisions and sinful choices.

I have nothing but praise for the officer's intent and actions.  But I also think there is an important reminder that, in a fallen world, simple solutions often fall short of real change--especially when those solutions can only deal with symptoms, and not the heart.

Ravi Zacharias on the Problem of Pleasure
I listened to Ravi's podcast on the dangers of pleasure, and found it very instructive.  One quote stuck with me.  "The price of all pleasure is pain.  For a true [legitimate] pleasure, the price is paid beforehand.  For a false pleasure, the price is paid afterward."

How true!  True pleasures come as we discipline ourselves, walk in obedience, and then experience reward. Illegitimate pleasures promise so much, but are followed by the various prices of guilt, sorrow, and disappointment.

Whatever happened to Rob Bell?
I was asked this question by someone recently (I don't remember who), and it came up again in a discussion in the office.  So, when I saw this, I thought I could answer the question.  It seems that Bell's book, Love Wins, not only caused Bell to fall under great criticism for what seems a rejection of orthodox teaching on the doctrine of eternal punishment, but cost Mars Hill Bible Church about 3,000 members.  Bell left the church and moved to southern California, where he hopes to launch a "faith-inflected" talk show.  The church is now pastored by Kent Dobson, son of Grand Rapids pastor Ed Dobson.

The article recounting all of this is here.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Why We Celebrate Advent

[I have had a few requests for an explanation of Advent, and why we celebrate it.  So I am posting something I wrote for another setting to give some background and perspective.]

Celebrating Advent
Who celebrates Advent?
Christians have a history, but we also have a history of forgetting our history.  Because of this, we have churches that celebrate certain days, and other churches that don’t.  Some churches used to celebrate certain occasions but have stopped; others have begun celebrating days that they didn’t used to.   It would probably surprise most English-speaking Christians that in our early “Protestant” days, we celebrated Christmas and Advent; then, under the influence of Puritans who felt that anything not specifically commanded in Scripture should be disallowed, we stopped celebrating it.  Some of our Puritan and Baptist forefathers went so far as to urge the banning of any public displays for Christmas—and disciplining members who celebrated or even said, “Merry Christmas.”  However, as time went by these groups relaxed their anti-Christmas views, and by the middle of the 19th century, almost all Protestants were once again celebrating Christmas.  However, Advent was not universally restored.   Churches that followed the traditional church calendar (six seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost, and two stretches of what were called “ordinary time”) celebrated it, while those who ignored the other seasons ignored Advent, too.  But many churches, including ours, are rediscovering the ways that Advent can be a blessing to our lives as we move toward Christmas.

Where did Advent come from?
Advent goes back into the 4th century, around the time Christianity became a legal religion in the Roman Empire.  During that era, churches became very creative in their new-found freedom as many new people began to attend Christian services but with no understanding of what Christians believed.  Out of this situation, churches began to follow regular lesson plans for worship, both in the elements of worship services (the liturgy) and in the schedule of what would be taught (the church year of seasons mentioned above).  People did not own Bibles, but the Bible would be taught systematically through the year.  In this way, it was hoped that the basic truths of the faith would be passed on as people did certain things every week, recited certain words, heard certain scriptures read regularly, and celebrated particular seasons in order.  

Advent was the first season of the year, and it was meant to remind Christians that we were in need of a Savior.  The sense of longing and waiting that Israel had known was adopted as the Christian attitude of longing for Christ’s second coming.  The season involved both calls to repentance and preparation (similar to the message of John the Baptist) and joyful anticipation of the Messiah.  It usually began with a feast, then moved into fasting, and ended with feasting again.

What about Advent traditions?
Different traditions associated with Advent sprung up throughout the various countries where it was celebrated.  One set of traditions involved the development of four themes of Advent.  There has been some variation in them, but the third Sunday of Advent was always marked by the concept of joy.  We have taken as our themes the order of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love—themes that were prominent in many places that celebrated Advent.

Another tradition involves candles.  Typically there were four Advent candles in a wreath.  Often one of the candles would be pink (for joy), for the third week, and the other candles would be purple, symbolizing both repentance and royalty.  Each Sunday, and throughout the week, the candle for that week would be lit, with each week adding another candle.  Many wreaths would have a white candle in the middle, called the Christ candle.  It would not be lit until Christmas Eve, which began the traditional 12 day Christmas celebration that would end on January 6th.    

So why do we choose Advent?
Churches like ours that have adopted the celebration of Advent believe that it is a positive replacement for Christians of the general “holiday spirit” that focuses more on presents and some nebulous call to be cheerful.  Instead, we choose to focus on the One whose birth is being celebrated, and specifically on why He came and what His coming promises to all of us.  We also want this to be a time of intentional reminder that we are still waiting for the completion of our hope.  Christian faith is still pointed toward the future and the coming of Jesus back to this world.  

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Advent Reflection, Week One--Hope Lives!

After our Sunday dinner, I told Kathy that today was when my Christmas season begins.  Yes, our house has been decorated for a few days.  Yes, I have been listening to Christmas music for a few days now.  And yes, I've done some Christmas shopping, with more still to do.  But for me, our opening Sunday of worship in Advent marks the true start of my celebration.

Arriving at the church building and seeing it decorated for the season was the first step.  May I say that the folks who decorate our facility every year do an amazing job, and this year is no exception.  I feel like I'm walking into a Christmas card!  Then, our musicians always do so much to use regular worship music and Christmas songs together to draw us into just the right focus of our hearts and voices.  I'm so thankful for all of the talented people who sacrifice hours and hours of practice time in order to make our music seem so effortlessly done.

This year, we've added having different families light the Advent wreath in the service, and that is great for at least two reasons.  One--it let's families participate in a unique way in our worship time.  And two--my hand usually shakes when I have to light the thing, and I'm so glad that someone else has to do it!

I personally enjoy the preparation of Advent messages and trying to weave our themes into the service.  This morning, we were thinking about hope, and I had the privilege of looking at the subject through a study of the  story of Joseph as seen in Matthew 1.  Here was a man who had the birthright of being a king, but one whose throne was long dormant.  Yet his hope was not in his nation, nor in his bloodline, but in the promises of God.  His faith led to his being labeled "just" or "righteous," meaning he received right standing before God by faith.  This led to a heart of compassion, a will to obey God, and a devotion that didn't lead him to expect God to bless him specially because of his faithfulness.  He had hoped in God, and he saw his hopes begin to be realized in ways he never expected.  You can go to our church website to see or hear the message.  Follow this link.

Of course, today continues to be a celebration.  We will be going to the annual Cedarville University Christmas Concert, a highlight of our Advent beginnings every year.  Following this, we'll be with families from the church for an Advent dessert (we are doing desserts and dinners in homes in place of one big Advent dinner at the church).

This has been, and is continuing to be, a very good day.  Best of all, it's because everything we are celebrating and anticipating in Advent points to the glorious realities yet to be revealed!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

David Platt's Convicting Call

The preacher whose sermons have convicted me EVERY TIME I have heard him over the last few years is David Platt--whose impact through his book, Radical, continues to be felt in many lives.  Here is the message he preached at Liberty University's Convocation in 2011.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Re-election of President Obama and the Future of America.

In my reading of people I respect and conversations with many around me about the election results, I have noted a larger level of disappointment and despair than I've seen in previous elections where a candidate favored by most evangelicals has lost.

Was the election a demonstration that we are no longer the nation of our founders or of the generation that won World War 2?  Cal Thomas thinks that is the case, and says so quite clearly here.  Maybe he is right.

One pastor writes passionately that to vote for President Obama was a wicked act because of his stated desires to continue all forms of abortion and make same sex marriage legal.  Further, he argues that America is not just wicked, but has been made collectively stupid because of our societal sins.  I found his powerful statement here.  Maybe he is right.

Of course, there are Christians, especially among the young, women and minorities if the polls are to be believed, who felt that the President's positions on abortion, same sex marriage, and limits to religious freedom were not reasons to vote against him, and that his four years in office provided enough reason to re-elect him.  Jim Wallis did not endorse the President in this post on religious consistency and hypocrisy in politics, but he gives the framework for those who might have done so by raising numerous issues the Bible addresses (poverty, care for children who are dying around the world due to what are curable diseases, and care for the strangers among us who are undocumented immigrants) in addition to those I've mentioned and saying we must weigh the importance of each and vote accordingly.

I disagree with Mr. Wallis in terms of what seems to be the moral equivalence he strikes. The deaths of 20,000 children around the world daily due to preventable causes is a genuine tragedy.  However, they are not all within the reach (or responsibility) of the American government, and the church is free to act and leads the way in caring for such children to prevent the deaths of many more.  Only the government of our country can prevent the legal murder of unborn infants here.  Therefore, as a moral decision, the abortion issue is more important when it comes to choosing government leaders.

But, I am  not here to rehash the arguments of the election.  I understand the disappointment of those who supported Mr. Romney and cannot believe that our country would, after watching the record of the last four years, re-elect the President Obama for another four years.  I congratulate those whose votes for President Obama overwhelmed all the supposed momentum for his opponent, even though I cannot actually rejoice in your victory.

What I want to say is this: America's future, while unknown to me in its specifics, will be the same as all the kingdoms of this world.  It will ultimately fall, either before the Lord's return or at that time.  The nation will be judged, as all nations will be, for its rejection of God's rule and God's ruler--Jesus Christ.  And it will not only be overthrown, it will be replaced by the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.  Like many nations before us, we have been blessed by God in ways other nations of the same era have not.  And like those blessed nations who have gone before us, from the Babylonians with a humbled, repentant Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4), to Persia with its God-appointed King Cyrus (see Isaiah 45), all the way to spiritually awakened Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries, we will forget God's goodness, love our sin and ourselves, and bring decline as well as wrath upon ourselves instead of mercy.  That isn't very encouraging to patriotic Americans, is it?

God makes clear that there is one remedy that a nation can find that turns away his wrath, and it isn't conservatism, or progressivism, or libertarianism, or any other political -ism.  It is repentance.  Repentance can come quickly, and it can work powerfully to change matters.  However, it is a spiritual blessing that is sought by God's people for themselves and their nation.  Many Christians I know are ready to confess the sins of others, but we must confess our own as well, including placing our trust in men, in nations, and in politics.

Let me close with the reminder I shared with the staff the day after the election from 1 Timothy 2:1-4.  Paul tells Christians that our first obligation in corporate prayer is for all people, and then he specifically tells us who rises to the top of that large category--kings (or presidents in our case) and all in high positions.  Do we offer supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving for our leaders?  We should, and when we do it allows us to rest in God's sovereignty and experience "a peaceful and quiet life" and to live in a "godly" way--which means living in the realization that God is always present and active.  We also live "dignified" lives this way--a life that is worthy of looking at with respect.  Exemplary lives are part of God's strategy to see people "saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth."  Could fervent prayer for our leaders and repentance within the church be the key turning away wrath and an outpouring of mercy?

Perhaps a great disappointment is necessary to make many of us look at what really matters to us, and whether the troubled state of our nation or the lack of a powerful corporate Christian testimony to those who are perishing is the greater disaster.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Never the Same

For your encouragement, I share my friend Steve Richardson's video of the story of his family's ministry and its results.  Kathy and I had the privilege of meeting Steve's parents (featured in the video) and are so thankful for the continued faithfulness of Steve and Arlene as they lead Pioneers.  Watch and be blessed!

Never the Same from Pioneers-USA on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

My thoughts on voting, and David Jeremiah's sermon on the election.

It's election time, and as someone who has always had an interest in politics, a passion for truth and justice, and a concern for my own nation's well being, I take voting seriously.  I also value God's kingdom over the kingdoms of this world, and my calling as a son of God and pastor in the Church over being a citizen of the USA.  I know how easily political passions are stirred, and how we can blur the line between political desires and biblical priorities.  What to do?

First, we bow before God's sovereign will, knowing that He will guide events according to his plan for the ages and while we must exercise our responsibilities and will be held accountable for our free actions, He is bringing all of history to its God-glorifying, justice-rendering, mercy- and grace-filled, conclusion.  And we are to preach the Gospel  of Jesus to the ends of the earth to hasten that day!

Second, we acknowledge that Christ is King over His kingdom, and while it is not here in its fullness, we who are its citizens are to live as such and demonstrate the difference it makes in our choices and in where our confidence lies.  

Third, we recognize that in a fallen world, we must often choose the lesser of two evils.  No one we could respect would argue that one candidate in our national election for president is God's man, while the other is the forerunner of the Antichrist!  They are both flawed men who hold positions and beliefs that do not reflect righteousness fully.  But we must still choose and should choose the lesser of the two evils (also known as the better of two alternatives).  I read a great post on that subject here.  The best reminder there: "Not only are the choices imperfect, but so also is the chooser."

Fourth, we should vote for the candidate that best reflects our understanding of biblical values.  I've said my peace about my prioritizing of those values in an earlier post.

David Jeremiah is one of the more well-known evangelical pastors of our day, serving Shadow Mountain Church in El Cajon (outside of San Diego), CA.  Before that he was the founding pastor of Blackhawk Ministries in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.  And long before that, he was a charter member of Grace Baptist Church in his youth and during his time as a student at Cedarville College, where his father was the first Baptist president of the school.

We have a long connection with and respect for Dr. Jeremiah, and I was recently made aware of a sermon he preached on the upcoming election.  A link was sent to me, and as I watched the video, I was impressed at his attempt to frame the choice that Christians face in light of our answering some basic questions about the actions and views of both candidates.  He makes no "endorsement," but draws clear lines when it comes to issues such as demonstrating reverence for God, protection of life and liberty, and promotion of biblical family concerns and values.  I post the video so that you can watch and decide what you think about it.  Disclaimer: the video is from the AFA site, and I do not endorse all actions taken by the AFA, so do not assume otherwise.

And if you have been wondering how Dr. Billy Graham decided to urge Americans to vote for "biblical values" related to protection of the biblical view of marriage, the sanctity of human life in the womb, and protection of religious liberty and conscience, you will find out in the video.

One more thing: before raising the other issues related to biblical justice that are not addressed in this sermon and saying they are just as important, see my previous blog post here.

David Jeremiah on Vimeo.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Reformation Day Resources on John Calvin

It's Reformation Day, and some people asked about more resources about John Calvin after my Reformation Sunday sermon this past Lord's Day.  You can access some materials through the link below.

First, there is a short, free biography by T.H.L. Parker, the best known modern biographer of Calvin, that is available from Desiring God Ministries here.  They also have a few other resources you can find at their site, some of which I used in my preparation for my message.  My major source from this ministry was John Calvin and His Passion for the Majesty of God, and it is found here.

If you have great interest in more than just Calvin, you could get John Piper's book on the lives of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, called The Legacy of Sovereign Joy. It can be purchased or obtained in another free .pdf file from this link.  Piper is one of the biggest promoters of biography of famous Christians that we have today, and you can find other biographies like this one at Desiring God.

Another biography by a respected modern scholar is John Calvin, Pilgrim and Pastor, by Robert Godfrey.  One of our Grace CU students told me about a book by his high school instructor that tells the story of Calvin well in the form of historical fiction.  It's called The Betrayal: A Novel on John Calvin, and it is by Douglas Bond.  I've looked at reviews and plan to read it myself, but thought I would pass it along for others to review as well (Thanks, Christian Hayes!).

For those who missed the sermon, check the Grace website and soon you should find notes and video (audio should be up shortly as well--we're still working on restoring our iTunes podcast feed).

Have a Happy Reformation Day!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Gospel and Self-Deception

I read Matt Chandler's book, The Explicit Gospel, and now am using it in a Bible study.  This quote really stood out to me.  Read it soberly!
"Even works of righteousness, if not done through faith, are works of self-righteousness and therefor filthy rags.  Be very careful about going to church, reading your Bible, saying prayers, doing good deeds, and reading books like this through anything but faith in the living Lord.  Because the result of all that is belief in a phony Jesus and inoculation to the gospel.  You can end up knowing the jargon and playing pretend.  Be very careful.  Watch your life and your doctrine closely (1 Tim. 4:16).  Some of you are so good that you've deceived yourselves.  God help you" (page 85, emphasis mine).

Friday, October 5, 2012

Some Pro-Life Issues are More Important than Others

As another election cycle concludes, I find myself wondering about the wisdom of some of my Christian friends who try to defend their support for a candidate for office who supports abortion rights by an appeal to other issues.  They say something like this,

 "Well, there are lots of "pro-life" issues.  You can't just care about people before they are born.  If you don't care for them afterward--the poor, the sick, the oppressed, the immigrant, the victims of discrimination, etc., you are not really pro-life, you are just anti-abortion."

(Often, the speaker will throw in protection of the environment as being "creation care," and equally or nearly equally important as a "pro-life" issue.)

I believe that every one of the issues mentioned in the above is important, and Christian ethics has something powerful to bring to any discussion of policy decisions.  In fact, unlike some of my more rock-ribbed conservative friends, I am supportive of a number of government initiatives and using tax money to address quite a number of programs to address many of them.  I am all for a very liberal immigration policy.  I've lived in poor neighborhoods, and ministered in places where "the system" really IS stacked against the poor and needy.  They do suffer, and it is wrong.  However, only one of the issues under discussion is the active, government-sanctioned (and soon to be paid for) taking of millions of innocent, defenseless, human lives.

This kind of weak thinking needs to be seen for what it is--rationalization and false equivalence.  It is rationalization because it tries to re-frame issues in a way that says they belong to the same category of moral importance when they do not.  The killing of an unborn child is a crime against the God who gives life and a direct violation of scriptural absolutes from Genesis onward against the unjust shedding of blood.  This crime, by man or beast, was so evil that God demanded that the offender be executed by "man"--that is, mankind collectively, which we now see function through human government.  It is false equivalence in the same way as we see it when people say, "All sins are equally sin, so they are equally bad."  Telling a white lie and murder are, indeed, both sins, but the scope, consequences, extent of guilt, etc., are radically different as everyone with a smidgen of common sense (not to mention good theology) understands.

[Let me hasten to add that abortion is, certainly and thankfully, as forgivable as any sin, and those who may have had an abortion under the misguided idea that this was simply exercising a personal choice are in many ways victims as much as sinners.  The church is filled with sinners saved by the forgiving grace and mercy of God.  My earlier post below addresses my pastoral concern for those who have abortion as a part of their past, and my desire we not let that past define the present or destroy the future.]

Someone who opposes the death penalty as evil, but supports abortion as a personal choice has chosen to oppose something with at least some biblical support (I know Christians are on both sides of that debate) and to support something that violates every principle of Scripture when it comes to the sanctity of human life as given by God.  And pacifists who hate war but allow abortion are at least as inconsistent--not wanting to kill in war, even if the aggressor may be heinously evil, but callously allowing the destruction of an unborn child because its arrival might be inconvenient.

If a candidate promises to feed all the poor, but will allow the rich and poor alike to kill unborn babies, that is not in any consistent way a pro-life position.  If another candidate will make the killing of babies universally illegal, and says, "let private compassion replace government programs," that may or may not be a good political position, but it is not evil unless it says, "let the poor starve to death; the sooner the better."  Debates over the role of government in caring for individuals can take many forms, with both sides able to marshal positive biblical examples and texts for support, but the decision to allow the killing of unborn children can find no such support.

I understand the appeal of candidates who exude compassion and attack greed and selfishness.  It resonates when we see inequality, suffering, and evil in our society.  But to my friends who want me to join them in supporting candidates who take what they (and maybe even I) would say are more "Christian" approaches to societal evils, I say this:  start choosing candidates who will defend defenseless unborn babies, and then I will know that those candidates may be trustworthy in the other issues we face.  Until they see that a government cannot practice any form of state supported mass murder, they cannot get me to choose to vote for a candidate who will take the morally right stand on the issue.

By the way, I will vote this way, even if it means voting for a high tax, soft on defense, socialist.  My conviction has led me in the past to vote for a liberal Democrat over a conservative Republican.

Now I know that some will say, "You can't legislate morality!"  To which I answer, "Of course you can!"  That is what legislation does every time it makes something a crime; it creates civil morality.  Laws against rape, murder, theft, etc. are the legislation of morality--they are wrong and they will be punished.  The question is whose morality will be enshrined in legislation.  And as long as I can, I will strive to have civil morality that is as closely aligned with biblical morality as is possible in our society.  I'm not after a theocracy any more than our Founders, who seemed pretty comfortable with the idea that the Bible provided a framework from which a republic could draw effective and sufficient moral guidelines.

Think clearly, and think biblically, as you prepare to vote, this time and always.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

No Scarlet Letters


Recent circumstances have brought the subject of divorce to our collective minds and discussions.  Specifically, the question has been whether a person who has ever experienced a divorce, even when not sought by that person, and occurring in a situation of unrepentant, continuous adultery on the part of the "leaving" spouse, can ever meet the "husband of one wife" qualification listed in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 in order to serve a church as a pastor/elder/overseer or as a deacon.  Past pastors here have taught, along with other Bible teachers I respect, that the answer is "no, he cannot."  I teach, along with a significant number (and what appears to be a majority) of conservative Bible teachers among evangelicals, that the answer is "yes, he can."  I will make that case in coming weeks, most likely in a sermon series on a number of important matters, sometime early next year.

Unfortunately, this has caused some here who went through the pain of divorce to experience the reopening of wounds, and wonder if this is somehow a statement that we hold "divorced people" under some sort of reproach that will forever mark them as less than full participants in the life of the church and the experience of grace.  One person mentioned that, in churches, one never escapes the label of "divorced"--as if wearing the scarlet letter (since most people don't read books anymore, that's a reference to Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic novel of the same name.  I aim to educate as well as exhort). And it is not treated as a neutral fact, but as a negative deficit.

This is wrong.  When we say, by way of describing someone, "he was divorced" or "she is divorced," we are labeling someone with a tragedy, not an identity.  If you were mugged five years ago, and the way I describe you is, "he was beaten to a pulp" every time someone asks about you, I have a pretty warped view of who you are.  There may be isolated circumstances where that information might come up, but it should not be equated with who you are.

Now sometimes a Christian may have divorced for reasons the Bible doesn't say are acceptable.  I would argue that what I just said in the previous paragraph still applies.  If you were dismissed from a job for stealing company property, repented, and now are living a godly life, it would be wrong of me to describe you as "that guy in the church who got fired for theft."  It is a true statement, but it is not your identity in the Body of Christ.

We don't ignore the realities of our past.  We may have to deal with some very real consequences of our past in our present.  But it is not the place of fellow Christians to make sure that someone's past continues to define them in the present.


I suppose this isn't the only "scarlet letter" that churches might apply.  In the novel, it was an "A" for adultery that the heroine had to wear on her clothing.  Her baby was not, apparently, proof enough of her sin.  In our day, we have other sins that make us uncomfortable enough that we don't do a very good job of showing the forgiving grace of God when redeemed sinners from a certain past are around.  Adultery is certainly one of those--however, if a divorce did not occur, and a couple stays together, we tend to use a lower case "a" and we seem to be willing to let time prove repentance, and as we do, the letter can disappear, or at least fade.  Frankly, it should be banished whenever, as Spurgeon said, a person's "repentance is as notorious as his sin."

Perhaps the greater "A" today would be abortion.  A sad fact that you can learn from our Miami Valley Women's Center is that a number of young women who come to them with an unplanned pregnancy and who may be considering abortion are from Christian homes.  They know that pregnancy outside of marriage is evidence of sin that we do not easily forgive, and rather than pursue confession and forgiveness, these girls often feel as if abortion is their better option for any sort of future.  And undoubtedly, our church family has women who have experienced abortion and feel guilt so great that they do not feel free to share their story because they doubt our ability to forgive.


These three letters are some of the hardest for evangelicals today.  It stands for "same sex attraction," and doesn't refer only to those who act upon it, but those who struggle with it.  Let's face it, churches are not easy places for a man or woman to say, "I am battling same sex attraction--I know what the Bible teaches, but these feelings have been with me as long as I can remember."  While we know that with God all things are possible, we also have lots of studies and data that indicate that for a person to move from same sex attraction to the biblical ideal of full and exclusive heterosexual attraction is uncommon, though not unheard of.  It is possible, but not always achieved, and sometimes it may not be achievable.  How do we show love and acceptance to a Christian who acknowledges such a struggle, wants to live in holiness, and desires accountability and fellowship in the church?  Right now, it seems that they can only have that fellowship as long as they struggle in secret.  An open struggle brands and isolates in most churches.  

Have you noticed that all of these "scarlet letters" have to do with sex?  I haven't even listed all of them that fit the same general category--sex outside marriage, unwed pregnancy, pornography, and the list goes on.  So does that mean that other sins are not as serious as sex sins?  Well, 1 Corinthians 6:18 does warn that immoral sex does have unique and hurtful personal consequences as opposed to all other sins.  Some also point to Malachi 2:16 and say that it says the LORD hates divorce.  That is a disputed translation, and the better rendering does not say that (look at it in the ESV, NIV, or HCSB for what I believe is the more literal and better translation).  However, look what God clearly says he does hate:

      There are six things that the LORD hates, 
      seven that are an abomination to him: 
            haughty eyes, a lying tongue, 
      and hands that shed innocent blood, 
            a heart that devises wicked plans, 
      feet that make haste to run to evil, 
            a false witness who breathes out lies, 
      and one who sows discord among brothers. 
      (Pr 6:16–19 ESV)

Now, there is no sex anywhere in those verses.  But there is pride, deceit, violence, evil plans and evil actions, false witness against others, and divisiveness.  I've seen all of these in church, but seldom had someone pointed out and be told, "oh, he's a false witness" even if he has borne false witness in the past.  And when was the last time someone was disciplined in church for causing people to become angry with one another?  

Please hear me, I am not looking to label liars or prideful people, or even divisive people who are repentant and seeking to live in holiness.  The whole point of grace is that sin is forgiven and no longer enslaves or holds us.  In the same way, these sins that we have elevated should not be labels of repentant believers, either.

One more thought.  If you have been a liar all your life, and now you are repentant and seeking to be a truth teller, does one failure after days or weeks of truthfulness mean you are still the same liar you have always been?  Should we give up on you as someone who will never change?  Should we get out a scarlet "L" for you?  Of course not.  Change is often slow, and seldom perfect.  Perhaps we should be equally tolerant of repentant sinners still seeking to walk in the Spirit, but whose flesh occasionally gets the upper hand.

We need to work hard to overcome the human (fallen) tendency to label people by their past when God does not.  Scarlet letters must be banished from the church.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Pain, Unity, and Change

These past few weeks have been tough for me as a pastor--the kind of weeks that help me understand the providential timing of a sabbatical just before them, and that make me even more dependent upon God to supply the wisdom I lack.  I want to share with my church family some of my thoughts about this, and use this as a time for us to learn.  I also think these lessons may help others beyond our setting, so I'm using the rather public venue of this blog.  Because of this, and not wanting to cause more pain, I will refrain from using   names below, using descriptions instead.

I confess that I've run a gamut of reactions and emotions as I discovered that a flawed search/interview process--led by me--did not bring forward the fact that a chosen candidate for a pastoral position had experienced a divorce in his background. He thought we had discussed it (he was in numerous interview processes at the same time and it was discussed in those), but we did not learn of it until after our process was completed, when the question appeared on our membership application and he called me to confirm in his mind that we knew.

That divorce was not his doing or his fault, and fits any understanding of biblical "grounds" that would free him to remarry in the Lord.  My understanding and teaching position based on Scripture is that this does not disqualify him from being a pastor, but it is the kind of matter that needs to be discussed with a candidate. Good Christians have differed with my view in terms of qualification.  In fact, this disagreement exists within our church and we have not spent time working out together our operating position on this issue when it comes to pastoral and deacon leadership.  So a man we voted to call found himself offering his resignation before he started, and all of us are left in varying levels of pain and confusion.

The pain begins in thinking about the family of our candidate, newly moved here to begin their service, now wondering what God's plan is for them.  We have all been blessed by their graciousness in this situation, but grieve that we have unintentionally brought them into this confusion.  I find comfort only in knowing that our sovereign God works his will in everything, including our faults.  He is ruling, sometimes by overruling our intentions, and he makes no mistakes as he guides those who trust him.

Pain intensifies when I think about the hurt and confusion of my brothers and sisters in the church, especially those who have been through divorce themselves or have loved ones in such situations.   Let me be as clear as I can be: our church has taken as its practice and belief that marriage is meant to be permanent (Matthew 19:6), but that divorce sometimes occurs (Matthew 19:7-9, 1 Corinthians 7:8-16, 25-40).  Divorce is life-altering, but it is not grace-limiting.  Victims of divorce (those whose partners "break" the marriage by breaking their vows) are no different than the victims of other sins, and should not be treated differently.  And those whose divorces may not have the clarity of such a biblical "breaking" are able to discover the riches of God's grace in forgiveness, healing, protection, provision, restoration, service, and hope through submission to God's will and Word.  There may be long-lasting consequences to be dealt with, but it is not the church's role to create consequences that God does not.  There was only one facet out of many related to divorce our leaders wrestled with in this decision, and that was how to interpret "husband of one wife" in leadership qualifications in relation to a person's ability to serve (see 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6 for elders/pastors/overseers, and 1 Timothy 3:12 for deacons).  We were not reconsidering whether divorce and remarriage are ever allowed or if they somehow limit a believer's ability to participate fully in the life of the Body of Christ.  I plan to address the issue of marriage, divorce, remarriage, and service in leadership later.

A third pain that I want to speak to now is the pain that comes when the unity of believers within the church is threatened.  Frankly, I feel like we have dodged a bullet, but there is a hail of gunfire still coming in.  Our leaders faced a difficult situation requiring them to act with speed due to circumstances.  They did so with amazing grace (to borrow the hymn title).  There was no rancor in our discussions, abundant charity, clear humility, a lot of struggling as we all had to think out loud, and great sobriety as we considered what to do.  Our decision was driven, as has been said in other places, by seeking to bring glory to God, to protect the unity of the church, and to protect the candidate's family.  We felt God's glory was best served by humbling ourselves and taking responsibility for the errors made, and based on our lack of clarity and unity on the qualification issue, ask the candidate to resign, something he had already said he was ready and willing to do for the sake of church unity.  He had expressed his understanding that his ability to minister effectively among us would be hindered without such clarity and unity among the leaders and congregation.

I know that this issue could have been forced through, ignored (for a time), or simply ended and swept under the rug--strategies churches have often used in embarrassing or potentially divisive situations.  But these approaches only poison the environment and never yield desirable results.  Disunity and division would almost certainly have been the result.  And on this matter, the Scripture is very clear: unity is to be preserved (Ephesians 4:3) as we speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).  

Our leaders were unified, even though we do not yet have a united position on this subject.  We know we must come to that position, but what encourages me right now is that there is a willingness to engage in such a process.

I have also been blessed by a number of church members contacting me with their questions, and asking me if I am going to teach on these matters.  I have in the past, but I will do so even more diligently in coming days--I'm still trying to work all of that out.  This situation exposes our need to examine these subjects. 

Which brings me to the subject of change.  Wrestling with any controversy demands that we go back to the Scriptures and study them with renewed passion, and with a willingness to set aside preconceived notions about what we should believe, or what we feel based on our past.  We should all be thankful that the church at large no longer believes that celibacy is to be preferred in all ministers over marriage (at least we pastors should be thankful for that).  Protestants all used to teach that the Pope was The Antichrist.  We may have strong differences with Rome, but most of us no longer hold that particular view.  Such changes have come ever since the time of the apostles by continued study of the Scriptures by prayerful leaders seeking the illumination of the Spirit.  This task falls primarily to pastors/elders/overseers, who are to be devoted to prayer, study, and guarding sound teaching, and such leaders are accountable to God to provide such teaching (Hebrews 13:17b, James 3:1).

No generation of Christians has gotten all doctrine all right.  Essentials have been agreed upon, but beyond that there has been much disagreement.  This means we start with the assumption that we are probably wrong on some things and right on others, and must use the means we have (prayer, study, and dependence upon the Spirit to guide our thinking) to seek answers, and then to apply them.

We can count on this: there will be change that will come to us all.  Some of us will need to change our understandings.  Others of us may need to change our reasoning for an understanding we continue to hold.  As a church, we will have to submit to a process that says, "Together we are going in Direction A, even if I personally think the evidence is better for Direction B."  Unless that distinction is over essential matters the Bible teaches that submission is better than separation (Hebrews 13:17).

So, what does the Bible teach?  Who is responsible for such decisions?  How should we apply this?  Such questions deserve answers, and I hope to work on them in coming posts, and other teaching venues as well. Stay tuned.  

Friday, August 3, 2012

Random Joys of Montana

Sun Point, Glacier National Park, MT
Tomorrow we begin driving east across Montana on our way to the Dakotas, and the past week has been a reminder of why we have enjoyed every opportunity to be in Big Sky country.  We have always enjoyed our time on the Haddock family property--each of the grandkids have a plaque in a tree that grows around the house--and the beauty we see here (3 deer crossing the lawn this evening).

We visited Glacier National Park--an amazing place filled with staggering beauty.  I'll try to post pictures later.  But let me just share some of the random joys of being here...

1.  Flathead sweet cherries.  If you like cherries, these Bing variety cherries are the biggest, sweetest cherries I think I ever had--we bought 5 lb. bags twice this week!!!

2. Driving on a two lane road  through open countryside with a sign that says "Speed Limit 70."  A few years ago, Montana had no upper speed limit on highways; "safe and reasonable" was the daytime standard.  Forced to adopt limits, they have kept them generous...and I like it!  It's 75 on on the freeways.

3. The big sky.  It really is amazing to see, especially when you have snow-capped mountains in the background and a large, blue lake in front of them (I'm thinking especially of the Flathead Lake region)

4. No sales tax.  Prices on the sticker are what you pay.  What a concept!

5. Naps Restaurant in Hamilton.  They serve a  13 oz. marinated top sirloin steak smothered in grilled mushrooms, with salad and fries, that is the BEST.  Kathy and I split it, and still had too much.

6. The Haddock home.  My in-laws built a place in the woods that is the definition of peaceful.  My father in law, Harold, and his wife Monteene have been gracious hosts allowing us to sleep late, take long walks, eat late breakfasts, and enjoy our surroundings.

We have been blessed!

Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park, MT

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Checking in at the Two Month Mark

Two months passed.  One month remains.  What?

It is nearly impossible for me to believe that two months have gone by since we left home on this sabbatical journey.  We’ve driven over 7,000 miles; although for the last two weeks the longest drive was forty or fifty miles, with a maximum speed of 50 mph. 

As this month began we were wrapping up our one week visit to southern California.  Visits to old homes are always sweet and bittersweet, for many reasons.  What joy it is to spend precious time with family or friends you haven’t seen.  Reunions remind you of those old times, but you also hear about hard times in the interim since.  You learn of joys and sorrows, and you experience partings again.  But you would not wish to lose those moments, and as we left my dominant emotion was thankfulness. 

With Landen at Hume Lake
We spent a week in the very same cabin at Hume Lake that our family had used for many years when our children were small.  It was old then, and it is older now (our last stay had been sixteen years before), but it was still in good shape, and better yet, filled with many of the memories of those visits that we could share with our grandson, as Landen and Rebekah made the journey with us for the first few days.  How much fun we had seeing him get excited about the same things that his mom and aunt and uncle had been excited about—the screened in porch with the same toys, the deck, the pine cones, visiting the Giant Sequoia redwoods, his room and the kissing Simba and Nala toys on the bed.  We waved goodbye to them on Monday, and for the rest of the week we simply enjoyed the walks around Hume Lake, including the few miles AROUND the lake, hiking UP the steep and winding roads surrounding us.  Uphill hikes at over 5,000 feet elevation are something I haven’t done much of in Ohio.  We think Hume Lake is one of the most beautiful and most refreshing spots we know.

It was a two day trip to our next destination, and we overnighted with our friends, the Kildals, in Roseburg, Oregon, and my uncle and aunt in Hillsboro (outside of Portland) as we made our way north.  The drive through northern California and southern Oregon is breathtaking, and made us wish we could stop and explore much more.  It was a blessing though, to connect again with these dear ones who made us welcome, and visits were too short.

Randy hauling in dinner in the crab pots
Our arrival at our current location was the first to involve a car ferry, the Mukilteo-Clinton Ferry, to be exact.  We are on Whidbey Island, a long, narrow island in Puget Sound, north of Seattle and between the Olympic Peninsula and the Washington mainland (go look at a map).  With quaint towns like Langley, Greenbank, Freeland, and Coupeville, the southern half of the island is sparsely populated, while Oak Harbor in the north is home to a large naval air installation.  Long-time friends, the Wilcoxes, have a home here, and also a beautiful “pond house” across and down the street that looks across the way to the bay and out back has a pond and rolling grassy hills that lead to the real hills in the distance.  We are the privileged occupants of the pond house.  Sunlight Beach (where we are) is on Useless Bay, a long, wide, and incredibly shallow inlet off the sound where the shifting tides can go out a mile and expose tide flats you can walk.  When the tide is in, it is within twenty yards of the homes nearby and boats are floating.  To say that this is picturesque is not doing the setting justice.  These weeks have been a time of relaxing and refreshing.  We’ve enjoyed time with our friends, including making new ones, but the “down time” has been important to us as well.  Lots of reading, some writing, walks along the beach and on the tide flats, and drives to explore the area and its scenery have allowed for us both to experience the rest we had hoped for.  Rest, as I’ve preached before, is not just inactivity, but it is the laying down of burdens and the ceasing of labors (and the thoughts of labors) for a time.  Being in a place so far removed from our home and familiar settings where we have been so well provided for, we consider ourselves blessed beyond measure.
Useless Bay when the tide is out
Our time here draws to a close this week, and we begin our journey eastward.  First stop will be Montana, visiting Kathy’s dad in Hamilton.  We’ll spend a few days at Glacier National Park during that time, then head onward to Mount Rushmore, and then journey north and east to see Mackinac Island and a final week at South Haven on Lake Michigan.

I do want to mention that one other blessing has been to worship and fellowship with believers and churches along the way.  This is the longest stretch I have gone not preaching but just worshiping in church services since my last sabbatical in 1999, and I’ve been encouraged by the messages I’ve heard.  The church here on Whidbey Island wins the prize for most familiar songs—but I’ve enjoyed hearing lots of new songs (or at least new to me) along the way.  Redeemer’s Fellowship in Roseburg is remembered every day through the coffee cup I got (thanks, Mikal!).  Two stops in a row before that we had preachers other than the lead pastors, who were on vacation.  Imagine that—pastors gone during the summer!

We appreciate the emails and Facebook notes we’ve gotten letting us know of people’s love and prayers, and we look forward to seeing everyone in a month…but we aren’t rushing home early either!  We look forward to a final month of seeing sights gearing up for a great season to come when we arrive home, Lord willing.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Sampling and Savoring on the Sound

Puget Sound is not easily described to a person unfamiliar with the Pacific Northwest.  While it is ocean water, it isn’t exactly the Pacific.  It is a large body of water formed between the Olympic Peninsula of Washington and the rest of the state.  Seattle sits on the east side of the sound, and a number of islands are found there as well.  One of them, Whidbey Island, is one of them, and that’s where we are as we pass the midpoint of our sabbatical.

Sunset on Useless Bay

According to my friend and long time Washington resident, David, Whidbey is the longest inhabited island in the continental U.S., longer than Long Island, though not as populated.  The northern end of the island has a Naval Air Station and the largest town, Oak Harbor.  We, however, are on the southern part of the island, where a few small tourist towns serve vacationers, and where our friends have a summer home that they have graciously made available to us.  So, we enjoy a few weeks of watching the tides on Useless Bay in front of us, and behind us seeing all sorts of birds enjoying a pond.  In many ways, it is as picturesque as any setting I could imagine.  The bay’s name stems from the fact that it is so flat that when the tide goes out, you can walk a quarter mile or more away from shore without getting wet, meaning that ships that might try to come to shore would find this spot, well, useless.  But its navigational challenges are more than compensated for (in my opinion) by the sheer beauty of this unique place and the joy of walking a half mile out on the tide flats.  It really is amazing here.  Kathy and I are getting in our share of reading, some writing (including journaling), walking, praying, and thinking.  We do miss our home, family, and friends dearly, but we’re not quite ready to come home J.  But we will be, when the time is up!  For now, here are some pictures to enjoy!
Walking in downtown Langley during Choochokum, their annual arts and crafts festival, last weekend.
The tide coming in!
The tide is out!
Our current home away from home
The view behind our house.  Note the pond and fire pit.  Look inviting?