Sunday, August 31, 2008

God's Providence and Bicycles

Once again, God has proven His providential nature. OK, so maybe you'll think I'm stretching this a bit, but I do believe that God deals quite providentially with His people in all things great and small. Even something as insignificant as the purchase of a new bicycle. Which is what this post is really about, and I just wanted to make it seem sort of spiritual. But on with the story.

So we traveled to Omaha yesterday morning to take son Mike to the airport for his flight to Tel Aviv (see previous post for the rest of that story). And so we decide to do a little bit of shopping while in the city, as any small-towners like us would. Tammie wants to do some looking around at the massive Nebraska Furniture Mart (the only furniture store I can think of that has a "campus"), so we drive there. And I just happen to spot a Trek bike shop right across the street, that I didn't even know was there before. So I drop the wife off at NFM and son Matt and I head for the Trek store to look around. After all, I am in the market for a new road bike, maybe I can get some ideas or find a good sale.

And just about the first bike I spot is a Lemond Buenos Aires. It's sitting on the end of the rack, gleaming in it's metallic red and white finish highlighted by the fine sculpting of the full carbon fiber frame, the Shimano Ultegra and 105 components sparkling like diamonds. Sweet ride, thinks I, but far out of my price range. But hey, it looks like it's my size, so let's take a peek for fun. Yep, original price is $2419.99. Ouch. But wait, there's a sale tag. Seems that the Trek store is having a special progressive sale this weekend, where each of the four days of the sale the price goes down. A lot. The Saturday price was $1399. A real bargain. But the Sunday price, if the bike is still there on Sunday, goes to $1099. Zikes! Now we're talking my price range, for a bike that is incredible. So I ask the guy and he says yeah, we open at 11:00 on Sundays so give us a call right away and if it's still here we'll hold it for you.

So this morning, as we're walking out of church after early morning worship and Sunday school class, I look at my watch and the time is - exactly 11:00. So I grab my phone and call. Yep, they still have it. Sure, they'll put my name on it as long as I come pick it up today. Sweet! So I and the lovely wife make another quick trip to Omaha this afternoon to make the deal of a lifetime. And the guy tells me that they were wondering who would get it first, since there were at least four people interested in it. So there you go. The providence of God, lived out in graciously giving me a fantastic bike that I could never have afforded otherwise.

Alright, if you aren't into bicycling I'm sure all this seems just weird to you. That's OK. Just remember that God's sovereign providence and grace is not limited to any one category that we might think. He can glorify Himself by providing something as mundane as a great deal on a bike. And I am doing my part in the whole transaction, by "proclaiming the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." Soli Deo Gloria.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Our Firstborn in Jerusalem

Today is the day that our oldest son Mike leaves for his semester studying at The Master's College Israel Bible Exchange (IBEX) program in Jerusalem. We'll be taking him to Omaha to board a flight. He should arrive there sometime tomorrow morning (our time) after a long flight, along with about 40 other TMC students. I think this will be a life-changing three and a half months for Mike, and I know he's very excited about the whole adventure. I can't wait to hear what he has to say about the experience and how God uses it to shape him and further prepare him for whatever future ministry waits him.

To keep all of us back here up to date on what's going on, Mike has set up a blog, A Gentile in Jerusalem, that he intends to update frequently with pictures and thoughts. Be sure to visit and maybe even give some words of encouragement and wisdom. And of course, your prayers for Mike's well-being and safe return are appreciated as well. You can also keep up to date with the whole IBEX experience at their website. You'll no doubt see some pictures and videos of Mike there as well.

A few people have asked us if we are fearful as Mike heads for the middle east. Actually, neither Tammie nor I really are. With Mike having been living in the LA area for the past two years attending TMC, and making car trips half way across the continent between here and there, I think traveling to and living in Jerusalem will be at least as safe. And of course, we're trusting in the God who is calling Mike to pursue ministry to providentially oversee the whole adventure. So in reality we're excited with Mike about this once in a lifetime opportunity. And for my part, maybe even a bit envious.

So Yahweh-speed, Micha-el as you travel to the land of Zion and explore more deeply the person and work of Yeshua the Messiah.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Too Many Books, Too Little Time and Brain Power

Seems that I have been reading a lot of books simultaneously lately, and kind of an eclectic blend of material. I picked up Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation a couple weeks ago and have been occasionally reading bits of it. Really gives some good insights into my parent's generation, my dad being one of those who fought in WWII as a very young man. More thoughts on that book later, maybe. I've also been reading through a great little book called Christ is All: The Piety of Horatius Bonar. Never read any of Bonar's work before, but I love his style and language, not to mention the content. A great collection of short snippets of his prodigious writings. Again, sometime I will share a few of those.

But the most surprising book I've read lately, almost straight through in a day or so, has been a small volume I got at T4G named If You Could Ask God One Question, by Paul Williams and Barry Cooper. I had no intention of reading it any time soon until I saw a brief review by Dan Phillips that intrigued me. The book is clearly geared to non-Christians, but is a very good exercise in apologetics for the majority of us that aren't academics or scholars. The premise is very good - what question would you ask God is you were able to ask just one and get an answer? The questions range from "If you're really there, why don't you prove it?", to "All good people go to heaven, right?", to "Isn't faith just a psychological crutch?", and even to "Why do you allow suffering?" and "Why do you hate sex?" All of them honest, everyday questions that non-believers have about God and Jesus Christ and Christianity in general. And for all these questions, the authors go directly to the Scriptures, the person of Christ and the Gospel of Christ for the answers. But they do so in a way that is very engaging and even somewhat entertaining. In short, a great model for all of us who have a hard time engaging in answers to these kinds of questions, who are not always ready to give a defense (Gr. apologia) for the hope that is within us.

In fact, as I've been reading this book I am considering developing a Sunday School class around it. Something like "Everyday Apologetics." Using the questions and the model of this book to frame some teaching on the importance of having a ready answer, how to answer authoritatively but lovingly, and how to bridge from apologetic discussion to clearly communicating the Gospel and it's implications for the person. I think this is a very real need is our churches today.

If you want to find out more about this book, and the whole ministry behind it called Christianity Explored, check them out on the web.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Changing of the Seasons

It seems that the changing of seasons has been at the forefront around our lives lately. Of course it's the end of summer, with Labor Day coming up this weekend, and the beginning of the transition from summer to fall. Can't say I will miss the heat and humidity. But the real indicator of changing seasons at our house has been the two youngest of the clan going back to school. Matt the 15 year old starting his freshman year of high school. And all the activities that go with that like marching band practices every morning at 6:30 and football games and the like. Oh, and Matt started a new season of his life this week by passing the test to get his driving learner's permit. We went out yesterday for his first time on the road. The fact that I'm alive to type this says he did OK.

6th grader Hannah also started school again at Columbus Christian, and wife Tammie is back at her admin job there in full swing again as well. In a way it's nice to have some structure back in our lives after what seems to have been a hectic summer.

Another big season change indicator will happen this Saturday, when oldest son Mike leaves for his semester at IBEX in Israel. This will be a big change for him after his summer interning here in Columbus at our church. (Check out his newsletter article on this here.) I'm looking forward to hearing about his experiences studying in Jerusalem and all over the holy land. This will be a time that Mike won't soon forget.

Speaking of our church, a big change of seasons occurred today as we said goodbye to our senior pastor of 14 years. Pastor Mike is leaving to follow the call of God taking him to pastor another church about 70 miles away. It was a time of remembering and laughs, and tears and separation. He will be sorely missed, but I'm excited about what God has in store for us in this next season of ministry.

I'm also taking a season off from teaching at the local rescue mission. I've been doing the same class with the disciples there for four or five years now and feel like I need a bit of a break to keep from getting stale. And one of the guys at the mission, Chris, is stepping up to teach for a while. It will be great experience for him, and a needed respite for me.

My bicycling season is coming to an end as well. I did manage to pass my goal of 1000 miles this past week, and hopefully will be able to keep putting in miles through at least the end of September. Last weekend I did my longest ride ever, a 70-miler that really felt pretty good. But with all the other stuff going on in the next month I'm not sure I'll fit in a 100-miler like I wanted to. Oh well, there's always next season.

As I've been reflecting on this whole change of seasons theme, it's occurred to me that change is hard. All of us are afraid of change in one form or another. But it also occurs to me that it is through change that God accomplishes His work and purposes. Look at all the changes He took His people Israel through, for their good and His glory. Look at the lives of the prophets and the apostles, marked by seasons of blessing and seasons of suffering. God is a God of change and seasons, always moving us forward to what He has next. My prayer is that we will not be stiff-necked resisters of His sovereignly designed changes of season, but rather embracers of the changes He has for us. In the small as well as the big things in life.

Friday, August 22, 2008

When You Care Enough to Send the Very Best...

I'm sure we've all heard the news about Hallmark coming out (no pun intended) with a new line of same-sex "marriage" cards. It's been big news this week, and the usual reactions from the cultural evangelical community have surfaced. The "boycott Hallmark" cries coming from the remains of the moral majority and the Focus on the Family crowd and the like. I'm not going to comment on that whole reaction, because I think it misses the entire point.

But what I do want to talk about is touched on by Al Mohler in his latest blog post regarding this whole thing. The fact that in and of itself, a greeting card manufacturer does not define or drive the cultural norms. But rather, it reflects the culture. The products that firms like Hallmark produce are based on consumer demand, plain and simple. So that means that the kinds of cards and related products they produce and sell are a very good mirror as to what kinds of events that we as a culture deem worthy of celebrating, of announcing and sharing with others. When Hallmark or other greetings companies begin to sell homosexual marriage cards, or divorce cards (as they've been doing for some time now), or live-in partner cards and the like, they aren't really influencing the cultural norms, but merely reflecting the acceptance of these "alternative lifestyle events" by the culture at large. And more than acceptance, but celebration. As Mohler points out, in and of itself, the decision of a large company like Hallmark to sell same-sex marriage cards is not a major precipice in the decline of western culture. But it does indicate a tipping point in what the culture sees as acceptable. It's an indicator of the normalization in most people's minds of these lifestyles as acceptable, and even celebratory.

And this is why I think reacting against Hallmark themselves with calls for boycotting and the like miss the point completely. Even if Hallmark was convinced that there was a vocal minority of people opposed to their publishing of these cards and decided to withdraw them from the market, how does that change the perceptions of the culture? Not so much. The acceptance of homosexuality and even same-sex "marriage" is still there.

And this is why the only answer to redeeming the culture, what people accept and celebrate as normal and even good in the moral realm, is the Gospel of Christ. Cultural norms are a reflection of the views of the cultural majority. And we as followers of Christ should not be surprised when a Christless majority values those things that are in complete opposition to the righteousness of God. How can they do otherwise? How do we as Christians influence the culture? Not by boycotting companies like Hallmark, although we should certainly take opportunity to speak out about the cultural decline when these events occur. No, we influence the culture most by influencing individuals that make up that culture, one person at a time, with the transforming power of Christ's Gospel. After all, it was God the Father who cared enough to send the Very Best, in the person of His Son. Not to redeem a culture, but to redeem a people for His own possession.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Popularity, Jesus and the Beatles

In a TV trivia question this morning I heard about the infamous statement made by John Lennon back in 1966 regarding the popularity of the Beatles. He stated during an interview that the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus." Of course, this caused a huge furor in America, resulting in anti-Beatles rallies complete with smashing of their records. It seems that John had gone over the top with this remark, and even today other members of the Beatles like Paul McCartney are still somewhat apologizing for it.

But this whole concept of popularity and Jesus Christ got me thinking. Just how popular is Jesus? How many Jesus fans are there out there, screaming for Him and expressing how much they like Him? The answer to that is, it depends on which Jesus we're talking about.

To be sure, the cultural Jesus is very popular. The Jesus that's pictured as the meek and mild guy carrying a lamb around and all the children coming to sit on his lap. The Jesus that tells us to be kind to one another and not to judge. The Jesus who we can get a plastic version of and stick on our dashboard, the Jesus who we can pray to and get whatever we want. This cultural, iconic Jesus is the greatest commodity ever found. Who wouldn't like this Jesus?

But what about the real Jesus Christ? You know, the one we read about in the Bible? And I mean the whole Bible, not just those cutesy passages that are "popular." The Jesus who says that unless a person is born again they can't even see the kingdom of God. The Jesus who says shortly after that statement that the person who does not believe in Him is the resting place of God's wrath on their sin. The Jesus who said that He didn't come to bring peace to the earth, but rather a sword. The Jesus who says that to follow Him we must die. The really scary Jesus who reveals Himself as the conquering King in the Revelation. Just how "popular" is this real, true, Biblical Jesus? The sad truth is, not so much.

In fact, I think trying to apply the category of "popular" to the real Jesus Christ doesn't even make sense. The Christ is not concerned at all with His popularity, His fan base or the latest opinion ratings survey. He is the sovereign Lord of the universe, and He presents Himself as He really is. He is the self-existent One who doesn't need our fawning or infatuation with Him. It's only the fake, make-up-your-own-Jesus that has to deal with competing for popularity with the likes of John, Paul, George and Ringo.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Male Bonding on Two Wheels

Oldest son Mike and I had a real male bonding experience this past weekend. We went to Hastings to participate in the Kool-Aid Classic bike ride. Awoke at 4:30AM to the sound of rain outdoors. Got ready to go anyway (our bikes were already on the rack on the car), picked up a friend of mine who was going along and drove through pouring rain (with frogs hopping all over the road - no kidding) for two hours to Hastings. Once we got there, it had stopped raining and really wasn't too bad. We were only doing the 30-mile ride (they also had a 60-miler) so even if the weather wasn't perfect we could handle it.

As the 8:00AM start time approached, a drizzle started, which turned into a full rain shower. Some of the hundred or so riders braved the start in the rain, but we decided to wait and see. Around 9:00 the rain had stopped again and looked like it might be gone completely (according to weather radar on my friend Gene's Blackberry - gotta love that technology) so we took off along with a bunch of others. We had a great ride, a cool day riding through scenic countryside with a wide range of other riders. A couple of hills that were tough but manageable.

And then, about seven or eight miles from the finish back in Hastings, it starts to pour. I mean a real rainstorm. Raining so hard you could hear it hitting the leaves in the cornfields alongside the road. Mike starts to have trouble seeing where he's going since the water is getting in his eyes and messing with his contacts. I give him my eye wear for protection, which promptly fogs over. So we ride together, Mike with his head down out of the rain alongside me and watching my wheels to keep going straight. Somewhere in the middle of this, my friend Doug who is riding with us reminds us that we paid money to do this. But as he said, "I've done dumber things in my life!"

Finally about two miles from Hastings the rain stops and we make our way through town to the finish. No cheering crowds, no awards ceremony. Just a few other soggy and cold riders like us packing up their stuff. But we had survived, so felt good about that. A quick trip to the local YMCA for a warm shower and dry clothes, then a catered lunch for us brave souls that rode, and a free pass to a big-screen movie about the Tour de France. Then back in the car for the two hour drive home to Columbus. Arriving to beautiful sunny skies at home. Just the thing to dry out all our wet stuff we hung on the line.

Yeah, so most people hear this and think, "What a couple of idiots." But we both had a really good time. OK, so we didn't think that so much in the middle of the rain storm, with trucks zooming by on the highway and spraying us and all that. But it was a good time of dad and son male bonding doing something we both enjoy. And with only a couple of weeks til Mike flies off to Israel for three months, I'm glad we had the time together.