Sunday, July 27, 2008

Dog Days of Summer

It seems we've entered the so-called dog days of summer. The weather lately has been dog-dayish, temps around 90 and humidity to match, with little or no rain. Seems that with these days comes the fast retreat of summer into fall. Here's some signs that this is coming to pass.

  • Son Matt has been corn detasseling for the past two weeks, with his last day in the fields today. And tomorrow morning he starts band practice with the Columbus High band. Yes, school is looming large on the radar screen, with Matt's first day as a freshman being August 12th. In between now and then he has band practice, band camp (where he learns how to march), his first experience marching in the Columbus Days parade, and turning 15 and (maybe) passing the test to get his learner's permit to drive. Yes, that is scary.
  • The annual Columbus Downtown Runaround running event was held yesterday morning. This is always a sign that the summer is far spent. And this year, daughter Hannah and I did the 2.1 mile run together. Hate to say it, but I kind of outran her, she had to stop several times to walk. But a few blocks from the finish line, as she was walking and we were being passed by some guys I work with, I told her that she didn't want to get beat by a bunch of old guys. Which was all it took to get her sprinting to the line ahead of me. It was fun to do this with Hannah though, and afterwards I felt so good I went out for a 32 mile bike ride.
  • Speaking of biking, July has been bicycle month at our house, sort of. I've been trying to put in miles towards my 1000+ goal, so far am at around 650. Son Mike has also started cycling and has been pretty consistent at getting up early and going out for 15-25 mile rides. In fact, he and I are going to do a 30-mile group ride in Hastings in a couple of weeks, part of the Kool-Aid Days celebration (Hastings, NE is where Kool-Aid was invented, in case you didn't know). And July also means the main event for cycling nuts like us - the Tour de France. And having real cable and a big screen TV this year means we've been able to watch daily live coverage of le Tour. For those of you non-cycling types, it ended today. Carlos Sastre from Spain won, from Team CSC. Mike even bought a real Team CSC jersey. At least he looks fast...
  • Speaking of Mike, he's starting his last month of summer vacation as well. End of August he heads for Israel for the semester at IBEX. He's starting to wind things down a bit with his internship at church, finishing up the second of two classes he's taken over the summer in the next couple of weeks, and hopefully being able to work more hours schlepping orders and earning tips at Applebees to stash some cash before his summer ends. I keep hearing rave reviews of his teaching from people who have been in his class on Haggai this past month. I think it's been a really good experience for him as he prepares for ministry.

So once again, summer has flown by. Funny how when I was a kid, summers seemed really short too. Then because school always seemed to start too soon. Now because there's just so much activity that it's hard to keep perspective. I guess the older I get, the more I regress to being a kid. Oh well...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Age Before Beauty...

Today marks two birthdays at our house. One is mine, as I complete the first year of my second half-century. (I'll let you do the math on that word problem for yourself.) While I may not be a kid anymore, I am still a bit childish. But even so, the signs of chronological progression are there. Like for example, I got my first letter from the AARP the other day. And today at work I got an email from a co-worker containing a bunch of "senior bumper stickers." Here are a few of my favorites. Of course, none of these apply to me in any way.

And the second birthday today is that of daughter Hannah. Yes, the Princess of the house was born on my 39th birthday. (More math for you there. I'll help you out - she's 12.) The baby of the family is not a baby any more. She's what nowadays is called a "tween." Not quite a teenager (thank God), and yet not a little girl.

So happy birthday to my Princess, the best birthday gift ever.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

It's Lonely at the Bottom

Wow. The traffic rate on this site, which has never been much more than on main street in Worms, Nebraska on a Sunday night, is at an all time low. Barely a trickle, according to my hit counter. A couple of visits a day, that appear from the referrals to be more accidental than intentional. And it's been around two months since anyone has left any kind of comment here, too. They say it's lonely at the top. Well, it's lonely at the bottom rung of blogdom, too.

Of course, I haven't been posting much lately. Seems the busy times of summer have been occupying my mind and energy. And leaving little fodder worth sharing with the few who browse this little backwater blog. I've also not been real active commenting on some of the other hot spots on the web that I frequent. Since I haven't been frequenting them very frequently of late. So I'm sure that has an effect on traffic detouring around the 'Den recently.

So I think I'm going to take a little blogging break, officially. Give it a rest til closer to fall, let my creative juices stew and ferment a bit. So the one or two of you reading this - thanks for stopping by or subscribing, come back in a month or two. Until then, God bless.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Rainy Morning Joy (not Happiness)

I'm sitting here this Saturday morning kind of in a funk. I and a friend had planned on an early morning bike ride together of around 50-60 miles. But I woke up to the sound of thunder and rain (trust me, not good conditions for road cycling) and so no ride today. I was really looking forward to the ride, but it'll likely have to wait til tomorrow afternoon now. I have been making good progress on my goal of 1000-1500 miles for the summer, already have nearly 500 miles in and starting to feel like I'm getting in shape riding-wise. But, not today.

Which I guess is OK, since I have to do final prep for my Sunday school lesson for tomorrow. So I'm sitting here working through that. And what, pray tell, is the subject of the material I am prepping to teach? Why, it's joy. More specifically, joy as a fruit of the Spirit of God. Ah, the irony of the Lord. On a morning when I am feeling less than joyful, maybe even a bit grumpy about not being able to do what I want, I am forced to face the Biblical truths about joy. But as always, herein I discover something.

First and foremost, joy and happiness are not at all the same thing. Happiness being the external, circumstance-focused and fleeting good feeling. While joy is a deep-seated, abiding and foundational sense of well-being. I love Strong's definition of chara, the Greek word most often used for joy in the NT - "calm delight." Or the BDB definition of simchah, the common Hebrew word for joy - "gladness." So am I happy that I can't go riding this morning? No. But based on my understanding (that I now have) of God's better purpose for me today, namely understanding His joy, I can take a calm settled delight in Him, and I can be glad in that. Perhaps not happy, but most certainly joyful.

And I see another truth at work in the Biblical evidence regarding joy and happiness. That being that joy, as defined by God and as exhibited by Him, can only be produced in the life of a person by His Spirit. Indeed, it is a primary fruit of His Spirit (Gal. 5:22). So what this says to me is that believers in Christ, those indwelt by the Holy Spirit, are the only people on the face of the earth capable of having real joy. Everyone else has to settle for happiness, or at best a striving to achieve this inner sense of calm joy but never being able to find it, apart from Jesus Christ. Maybe this helps explain the endless pursuits of pleasure and stuff and wealth and power and a million other things that the people of the world engage in. As stated in the Declaration of Independence, "the pursuit of happiness." An externally based and temporary state of pleasure, instead of an internally based and eternal state of well-being. For the person apart from Christ, there is nothing else.

So as I sit here in my office this morning with the clouds and rain outside, and my bike waiting anxiously in the garage for me, I am not happy that my plans have been disrupted for the day. But, I am joyful in the knowledge that my God had something better for me this morning, and in fact He does for eternity as well. For my ultimate good, and His glory. I can rejoice in that settled, eternal truth. God's sovereign grace again. I am still amazed.

Monday, July 7, 2008

If I Had One last Chance to Tell You

Last weekend was the formal announcement to our congregation that our senior pastor has accepted a call to pastor another church. We've known this was coming for a while as he's been very open about the whole process. There are no issues or conflicts, he simply believes God is calling him to make this move. So as he preached this Sunday, I was thinking about the unique position that he's in. He has about four more opportunities in the pulpit to proclaim the Word of God to the flock that he's shepherded for the past 13+ years. The body of believers that he loves and that love him.

I wondered to myself - if I was in the same position, what is it that I would want to leave people with? With the remaining few proclamation events left to me, what would I want to be sure to communicate to people? If I had one last chance to preach, exhort and teach, what is is that I would focus on? What a challenging place to be.

Perhaps I would respond the same way that the apostle Paul did with his protege Timothy as he faced his imminent death. Recorded for us in 2 Timothy:

For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God. (1:6-8)

You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. (2:1-3)

You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, (3:14)

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. (4:1-2)

Or perhaps I would want to go back to the basics of the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as expressed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, those things that are of "first importance." Namely this:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)

Or I might just want to use the opportunities left to me to communicate the love of Christ that I have for the body of Christ that I have served and served with for these years, as Paul did so often in his epistles. For example, the whole of Romans chapter 16.

So much to say, and so little time and opportunities to say it. If I were in this position, I would hope and pray that my words and my life and my ministry had spoken volumes in the previous years together, so that these parting words were nothing more than a reminder. That certainly is the case with our senior pastor. Godspeed, Pastor Mike, as you go where God leads you next. And God's grace on our church as we seek the man that the Lord has already sovereignly appointed to serve as our next under shepherd.

What if the Muslims Won?

Gene Edward Veith has a great post on the Ligonier Ministries blog today pondering a question I have thought about before. I quote the piece here:

On October 10, A.D. 732 , some 80,000 Muslim cavalrymen attacked 30,000 Frankish infantrymen near Tours in present-day France. Those Muslims had already conquered Northern Africa and Spain, and they were poised to sweep over the rest of Europe.

Normally, foot soldiers are no match for horsemen with lances, especially when outnumbered. So the Frankish king, Charles "The Hammer" Martel, arrayed his men at the top of a steep wooded hill, hoping that having to charge uphill and avoid trees would at least slow down the Muslim cavalry. Most importantly, he had his men huddle together to form a large square, their holding up their shields to form a "shield wall" and creating a thicket of spears to fend off the horses. If anyone broke away from the group, if anyone ran away, if the shield wall collapsed so as to force a scattered retreat, the horsemen would easily cut them down as they ran. But during the battle, as wave after wave of cavalry threw themselves against the formation, the shield wall held. Not only that, the Franks utterly defeated the invaders, slew the Muslim general, and drove his surviving forces back over the Pyrenees.

Mental experiment: What if the shield wall broke? What if the Muslims won the Battle of Tours? What if the Muslims in the eighth century took over Western Europe? If they did, what would our culture look like today?

Thinking that surely Western civilization would have survived despite a Muslim conquest is naive. Medieval Christendom was probably not as culturally robust as the Byzantine Empire was, but after Constantinople fell to the Muslims much later, hardly anything survived that culture's Islamicization.

Just saying that we would be like Iraq or Iran is surely not enough. In their clothing, architecture, and technology, these Islamic countries show a Western influence. When the jihadist terrorists attack Western civilization, they are using bombs, guns, and Internet communications that Western civilization has made.

So let us imagine what our culture would be like if the Muslims conquered Europe, as very nearly happened.

We would have no legislatures, since Islam does not recognize the creation of new laws, since the Shari'a of the Qur'an is considered sufficient for all time. This would be enforced by an absolute ruler, such as an emperor or caliph. We would today either own or be slaves. The kinds of political liberty we take for granted today would not exist.

Islam does not approve of representation art, just elaborate designs for their mosques and tapestries, so we would not have much heritage in the visual arts, and the development of distinctly visual media, such as film and television, would be unlikely. We would have little, if any, music, whether symphonic compositions or rock 'n' roll. Islamic countries usually have religious and erotic poetry, but, despite occasional tales such as The Arabian Nights, we would probably have little fiction. The novel would not have been invented. Islam has no drama, and without the biblical plays of the early church and without Shakespeare, neither would we.

We might have some science. The ancient Muslim world was good with mathematics. But it would not take the same form. Science would probably remain in the realm of the abstract and theoretical, missing the way Western engineers turned scientific discoveries into applied technology.

Christianity would survive. Christ has promised that. But the church would be marginalized and restricted. Islamic tolerance means that Christians would be allowed to stay in their little groups and propagate their faith within existing families, as long as they pay deference to Islam. But woe to you if you try to evangelize a Muslim. Our churches would be little enclaves, as with the Assyrians in Iraq or the Copts in Egypt. Christianity would exist, but Muslims would control the culture.

The Qur'an seeks to establish -- and to fix permanently -- the laws of Allah. Shari'a does not change, and so the culture it governs will not change, especially if it escapes the contingencies of history by becoming universalized.

Christianity teaches that human institutions are to be judged according to the transcendent moral law of God. Thus we have the habit of criticizing our rulers and our institutions when they do not measure up. And because Christianity teaches that we live in a fallen world, we know they never do. And because this world is not absolute but contingent, that it passes away, we accept and sometimes even cause cultural change.

In short, if it were not for that Frankish soldier who refused to run when the Muslim horses charged down on him, we would still be, for all practical purposes, in the eighth century.

To think what Islam's cultural influence would have been throws Christianity's cultural influence in high relief. Christianity either directly shaped or allowed to come into being what we now recognize as Western civilization.

That the shield wall held is an example of God's providential reign over history.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Religious Tolerance Duplicity

According to this article, the Muslim citizens of the Scottish district of Tayside are furious about a post card put out by the local police. So what's the cause of their outrage? Do these postcards, which are intended to inform citizens of a new phone number for non-emergency calls, have some blasphemous image of Muhammad? Are they defamatory to the Quran? Do they besmirch the name of Allah? What could be so heinous about these cards, which carry the image of a cute little puppy named Rebel?

Well, it seems that the little German Shepherd is the reason for the Islamic outrage. Because dogs, even cute little fellas like Rebel, are "ritually unclean" to Muslims, and therefore they have taken offense. Yep, that's the sum total of the motivation behind their fury. Seems like much ado about not very much to me. Like someone needs to be told to "get over it" and stop looking for reasons to be offended.

But herein lies my point. A religious group takes offense at something completely unoffensive to anyone else, something not meant in any manner to be offensive, something that at best is simply a reminder of a tenet of their religion, but still chooses to makes a fuss. And what is the response of the authorities and those who issued the puppy postcards? Why, falling over in apologies and the like, of course. One city councillor is even asking for an investigation into this incident.

Now, I am all for religious liberties. Even though I reject the validity of a false religious system like Islam, in a free society I also support their liberty to believe and practice as they wish and not to be persecuted for it. But - and this is a big but - there's a huge difference between being persecuted for your religious beliefs and finding offense on religious grounds where there is none intended or even implied.

Apply this level of offendedness to the Christian community. On a daily basis there are numerous public comments, news stories, entertainment events and the like that are directly offensive to Christian belief and faith. And many if not most of them are far from Innocent, but rather intended to insult and belittle the name of Christ and His people. We would be in a constant state of outrage and fury as believers in Jesus Christ if this same standard of response was adopted by us. It would be ludicrous, and completely counter to the Biblical mandates that Christ has given us. As His followers, we expect to be despised and insulted and misunderstood.

But even when the occasional over-the-top insult to Christian faith arises and we do raise our voices protesting, what is the response of the authorities and media? Is it like the response to these puppy-persecuted Muslims? Formal and official apologies? Launch an investigation? No, more likely it's complete apathy. Do you see the duplicity here in the level of religious "tolerance" in our post-modern society? Islam, Wicca, Paganism of whatever breed, you name it and the institutions of our society tolerate it with vengeance. But include the name of Jesus Christ anywhere in there and forget that. Even the Mormons (remember, the church of JC of "latter day saints"?) are seen as nominally Christian and therefore not worthy of tolerance.

Not that I am looking for sympathy or tolerance of this kind for Christianity. The scorn the world has for followers of Christ is a badge of His ownership of us. Far be it from us to seek the world's adoration or expect them to understand us. Apart from the sovereign grace of God in the Gospel of Christ, they never can or will. But let's for once stop all this silly nonsense about "tolerance" we keep hearing. It's at best a selective tolerance, which will lead only to acceptance of nearly anything. Anything, that is, except the absolute truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.