Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Right Person?

I haven't followed much the debate surrounding President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court. I know I should care more about this, but quite frankly I can only keep so many issues at the forefront of my attention, and this one isn't the most pressing at the moment. I've seen many positive comments about her and not a few negative ones. This quotation, however, certainly gives room for thought. I'm all for valuing the experience a woman can bring to anything, but to argue that a woman's experience or wisdom is better than that of a man simply because she's a woman, or because she's a latina is patently false, not to mention sexist and arrogant. The Palm Tree Pundit has nicely shown how appaling this argument would be if made of almost any other contrast. But in the modern world one doesn't have to be logical or balanced, as long as one chooses to denigrate the right opponent.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Sinking to New Lows

I have never been much of a fan of "special interest" Bibles. I guess for me it comes down to the belief that the Scriptures in and of themselves are adequate to speak to every individual, regardless of any affiliations or backgrounds. I can see some value in a basic study Bible that provides background information on the text itself. But I see no purpose in the proliferation of Bible's that aim to "open" the Scriptures specifically to men, women, blacks, whites or any other group. It seems to me we are doing precisely the opposite of what God wants. He wants to unite us in his body. We, however, are trying to subdivide the body in the hopes of ever-greater sales.

Just when I thought we'd hit the bottom in this category, I saw the American Patriot Bible in the bookstore recently. Words cannot express the feelings that came to me. I think this review captures all of my criticisms quite well and probably more eloquently than I could, so I encourage you to take the time to read it.

Being a believer is not about being a patriotic American. I think that the two have fairly little in common, in fact. I'm not saying that we cannot love our country. But my allegiance is not first and foremost to my country. It is to my king and to his kingdom, which is above all countries and includes many and women from every nation, people and language. His kingdom is not a place to wave the flag of a particular nation. I cannot find any evidence in Scripture to support the idea that America is God's new chosen nation. To claim that is to implicitly claim that other nations just don't matter as much to him, which is arrogant and unbiblical. In the era of the New Covenant, there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, American or non-American. We all stand equal at the foot of the cross. So do we really need a Bible to tell us how wonderful it is to be American and how proud we should be of this fact, a fact which most of us had no control over anyway?

A Helpful Conversation

I had a helpful conversation with my beloved wife last night. She reminded me that our God more often than not reveals his plan to his people at what seems like the last minute. This is true throughout Scripture and has been true through our life together. As I said yesterday, I wish this weren't so. I'd so much prefer that God make the path clear and smooth, that I would know well in advance what is going to happen so that I can prepare accordingly. But that is not the road to growth in faith. I recognize that. But it doesn't necessarily make it easy to accept! So I continue to pray that he will give me a revelation, showing me day by day what to do so that I don't wander aimlessly. But I will pray this in the confidence that he will answer--in his time.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Give Me a Revelation

As I face some significant questions and challenges in life right now, I feel uncertain as to which direction to go or how to proceed. Our plans for the future seem to be on hold until we see these obstacles removed. I don't like uncertainty. I'm much rather that everything be clear and straightforward. But I guess that wouldn't give much opportunity for walking by faith now, would it?

The words of a song by Third Day have become my cry to God the last couple days:

Give me a revelation
Show me what to do
Cuz' I've been trying to find my way
I haven't got a clue.
Tell me should I stay
Or do I need to move?
Give me a revelation
I've got nothing without you.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Cutting it Close

As my eyes opened Wednesday morning my brain quickly realized that something was amiss. The early morning sun filtering through our bedroom curtains should not have been there, since I was supposed to wake up at 3:30AM to prepare for my 6:30AM flight. In Tucson the sun should not be up at 3:30AM. After the few short seconds it took for my brain to process this knowledge I quickly sat up and looked at my alarm clock--5:30AM!! Somehow I had slept through my alarm and had only 1 hour to get ready and get to the airport. I sprang out of bed, shook Sharilyn awake and frantically started throwing on my clothes. Fortunately I had almost everything ready to go, awaiting just a few last minute items. No time to shave. Barely time to brush the teeth. In 10 minutes Sharilyn and I were ready to go. The noise of our preparations awoke our son, who came out to say good-bye to me as I quickly threw my bags in the car. At that point I was so anxious about not missing my flight that my good-bye kiss was more like a bear mauling.

Driving quickly through the streets I pushed the edge of the speed limit, hoping that no early-morning police officer would feel the need to bless me with a stop. At each light I prayed that it would stay green or, if it was red, I impatiently waited for the light to cycle. Each minute seemed like an eternity. If I missed this first flight, it would throw off my whole schedule of connecting flights and when one is flying halfway around the world, that is not an insignificant matter!

Just after 6AM we reached the airport. Pulling over to the curb, I jumped out and pulled my bags from the back of the car. No time for lengthy good-byes, to my regret (though perhaps that was easier than an extended, tearful parting.) A quick kiss, a hug and words of love and off I ran into the terminal. How long would the line be? Could I still make my flight?

Imagine my surprise and tremendous relief when I entered the terminal and saw that there was not a single person in line at the check-in counter. Not one! And three helpful employees waiting to get me checked in. I dashed up to the counter, out of breath, apologizing for my lateness. The ladies calmly assured me that everything was fine, that there was still plenty of time--no need to worry. Oh, those words were music to my ears! They got me checked in quickly and I proceeded to the security clearance--another potential bottleneck. But again, God was watching over me and there were only a couple people ahead of me. I sailed through security and reached my gate, with 20 minutes to spare!! Wow, was I relieved! I hadn't had time to eat anything or even shave, but I could take care of all that at my first layover in San Francisco. The most important issue--making the first flight, had been taken care of.

I wouldn't recommend this approach to catching flights. I did get two more hours of sleep than I'd planned, but the stress in those 40 minutes between waking up and reaching the gate were not worth it. I don't think I could have pulled this off at most airports. There are some advantages to flying out of a small airport! The rest of the trip went smoothly and I arrived in St. Petersburg more than 24 hours later, tired but thankful that I had made it. I hope that the return trip will be even less eventful.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Taking Flight

My eyes were moist as I put my daughter, Teresa, on the bus at 3:30 this morning. I had to restrain myself from wrapping her in a big hug, knowing that she doesn't like hugs that much anyway and particularly not in front of her friends. Oh, have we really entered that stage of parenthood? My little girl is growing up. This morning she left with the rest of her classmates for a 4-day school trip to San Diego. It's not hard to let her go in the sense that I know she is being well-chaperoned and that we have committed her to the Father's care. But it is hard to let her go because it is one small but significant step towards growing up. My love for her causes me to want to cling to her, to hold her close and protect her. But because I love her I need to let her stretch her wings and learn to fly.

This is her first time to travel somewhere without either myself or her mother along. There have been many times I have had to leave her at home while I traveled and there have been times when together my wife and I have traveled, leaving her and her brother with family or friends. But this week she is the one going away from us. She's launching out into the wider world on her own. It's a good first step. Big enough to give it significance but secure enough to not leave her parents loaded with worry. In June she'll follow this step with another when she travels with her youth group to summer camp for a week.

I'm praying a lot for her. She is a strong introvert and being among large groups of people, especially if she doesn't know them, is stressful for her. Her routine will be discarded. The food will be beyond her control. And she will get a taste, a small taste, of life without mom and dad. I pray that she will have a great time, strengthen some existing friendships and maybe even make a couple new ones, enjoy the beauty of God's creation and get to relax. But I'm also praying that she will find she misses her family a bit too. I think she will. I did at her age, though I probably would never have admitted it.

Wayne Watson wrote a song years ago that makes me teary anytime I hear it, especially now as my children transition into the teen years. The song is called Watercolor Ponies, referring to the childhood watercolor paintings we parents so proudly display on our refrigerators. The chorus goes like this:

Still I wonder baby what will we do, When it comes back to me and you? They look a little less like little boys every day. Oh the pleasure of watching the children growin' Is mixed with the bitter cup Of knowing the watercolor ponies Will one day ride away.

Parenting is such bittersweet joy. You want your children to grow into mature, independent adults. But the process of getting them there is filled with moments like this morning when you have to step back and let go a little bit more until one day they ride away on their own. Oh to cherish each moment until they do!

Monday, May 11, 2009


I love Romans chapter 8. Unfortunately I live too much of my life in chapter 7. Intellectually I completely affirm that my sins and failures are removed by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I know that I am a new man because of him. But practically, I still struggle with these things. I still fall short, pretty much daily. And often when I fall short I go into a lengthy process of self-recrimination. I pray and ask for forgiveness. I declare my desire to repent. But then I keep doing these things as if I were uncertain that God had really accepted my prayer. I live as though my debt is not paid and that I have to pay it off by my earnest efforts to seek forgiveness and repentance. I am very good at beating myself up over my failures.

That's why I love Romans 8:1. "Therefore there is now NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Those are such great words of freedom, freedom that I am learning to embrace and live in. I am learning that when I fail, when I sin, when I fall short of the mark, I can ask for forgiveness in humble repentance. And then I can choose to receive that forgiveness and move forward or I can dwell in the mire of self-recrimination, telling myself how worthless and sorry I am that I missed the mark yet again. I don't think that's what God wants from me. But it is a hard habit to break.

I'm loving the freedom I am beginning to experience in Christ: the freedom to be forgiven, imperfect, flawed. Freedom can be a difficult thing to live with though. Why else does religion seem to inherently go back to a system of observing rules and making payment for one's failures through some means, be it a sacrifice, an act of penance or as in my case simply going through a process of feeling bad and kicking myself for a period of time over my shortcoming. We're offered grace but instead we want a system of merits and demerits.

I don't want to trivialize sin. I don't intend to trivialize the atonement the Jesus provides through his blood. It's only because of that atoning blood that I can speak of and live in this freedom. But precisely because of that blood I can be free. I don't need to keep working for my forgiveness in any manner. It's already offered and given. I just need to choose to accept it and live in it.

How good it feels to be free!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Why are we not appalled?

I was appalled to read this article in our local paper this morning. I'd like to say that I can't believe that Christians would be so willing to support torture, but the reality is that I've heard comments to that effect among various people I know. One blog I read went so far as to say that the methods the US government has used aren't really torture anyway. They are just "uncomfortable things." Would we call them that if they were being used to convince believers in other countries to renounce their faith? Or would it be torture in those cases? I don't think we can have it both ways.

We can apply the ever-popular WWJD to this issue. I don't think it's hard to reach an answer. I cannot imagine that Jesus would ever condone the abuse of another human being. I understand the desire to protect ourselves and our loved ones. But that does not justify tormenting other humans to extract potentially useful information. Our safety and security is not the highest priority. Living Christlike lives before the nations is. I think many in the American church have misplaced their priorities. We value our lives and our way of life more than our God. Could God say of us what is said to John of the brothers and sisters who have gone before us, that "they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death"? (Rev. 12:11) I would rather go to the death than to stain the name of Christ by condoning immoral, unjust behavior including torture.

Some might say, "But if we do not oppose evil it will overcome us and there will be no opportunity to be God's witnesses." I'm not saying we should not oppose evil. I am saying that we cannot use evil to oppose evil because then we can no longer offer a better example. We lose the moral high ground the minute we adopt immoral methods. Notice what precedes the words I just cited from Revelation 12:11. It says: "They overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony." They didn't do it through force of arms. They didn't do it by resorting to the evil methods of their enemies. They did it through their testimony to the saving grace of Jesus Christ. It's pretty hard to communicate the message of Christ's love when you're torturing someone, isn't it?

I think that the Christians in the United States should be the first ones calling on our government to renounce torture. We should be setting the example and leading the charge, and not the charge to put suspects to the rack in order that we might feel safe and secure. As the article I mentioned earlier reminds us, we've dropped the ball too many times in the past. Let's not drop it again this time.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Little Trials

The rest of my family is currently sick. Teresa came down with it first about a week ago. Then Dietrich and Sharilyn picked it up and they've both been down for several days now as well. That leaves me as the lone healthy person to tend to their needs. I'm not a good nurse. My wife will affirm that. God is working in me, helping me to be more compassionate, patient and kind. In fact I've been meditating lately on Col. 3:12-15. But none of that seems to matter when my family gets sick. I have to work to be thoughtful, patient and caring and easily become irritated and annoyed because their illness is an imposition on my time and energy. This time I'm particularly concerned about falling ill myself since I must leave for a nearly 2-week business trip next week. I don't want to travel while sick, so I'm doing everything I can to avoid catching this, short of leaving them all here to fend for themselves while I go stay at my parents. I mentioned that the other day and my wife didn't find it very funny. Hmmm.

Being a man (or woman) of God often isn't very glamorous. It's a matter of living in Christ amidst the daily demands of life, like taking care of sick family, shopping for groceries, or going to work. It’s easy to be a man of God when everything is going great. But it’s when things aren’t ideal that he is able to form us into his image.