For it is by grace you have been saved...

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Family Portraits

Our church is in the middle of doing a "church directory."  And we all know what that means.  Family portraits.  Now, let me be completely honest.  I hate getting pictures taken.  I hate the posing, the "turn your head a little to the right, now lean forward, now move your shoulders this way, now stand on your head and count to twelve."  Yuck.   Plus, for some reason, the pictures always end up looking just like me.  Who wants that?!

Afterward, of course, I'm always a bit more positive.  After all that yuck, we end up with a nice portrait of the family that we will proudly hang on the wall for the next few decades, and I'll walk by and give a big sigh and think "oh, I remember those days, I wish we could go back..."

Family portraits are a good thing.  I've come to realize that even more as I discover that this might be our last chance to have the whole family together like this.  At least for awhile. The oldest is leaving for Germany for a year (if not more), the next two have both graduated high school and who knows where they'll be in a year.   So it's nice to have them all together, and to capture this moment. (For the record, we're still waiting for the newest photo, so the one here is our previous family photo; as if anyone cares...)

But there are drawbacks, as well.  While I would love to freeze time and keep things just like this, while I still walk by and look at those older portraits and think "Oh, how wonderful those times were," the truth is, it would be unnatural for things to stay like that. 

Life is meant to progress.  We are meant to grow and mature.  As much as I don't like it, our children are meant to grow up and move on and begin lives of their own.  It's the way God intended it.

The same is true of our spiritual lives, of course.  We are meant to progress, to grow and mature.  If we stayed the same, if we could take a spiritual picture today and saw no change a year from now, that would be unhealthy.  

And the same is true for a church. The temptation is to look back at the life of the church and see it like the church directory.  That moment frozen in time.  When everything was like this, and the people were like that, and "oh, wasn't it wonderful."  But we are to be growing and maturing and progressing.  People come and go, families change and grow, ministries ebb and flow.   And that's a good thing.  Things may be different now than ten years ago, and will be different ten years from now, but that's as it should be.  Hopefully those changes are the result of growth and maturity and becoming more Christ-like and Christ-centered in all we do. 

So I'm thankful for the family portraits to hang on to.  I'm even thankful for the church directory that will capture this moment in time.  But hopefully it's not a case of trying to permanently frame where we are, and we stop moving toward where God wants us to be.  It will be great to look back in years to come and say, "Oh, I remember those times."  But while we may do that with fond memories, may it never detract from the joy of where God has brought us, and the delight of where we are now in our service to the Kingdom.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Silver Celebration

That's right!  25 years. Since 1989. 25 years of excellence. Celebrating our 25th year.

No, not a business.  Not a church celebration. Cheryl and I are celebrating 25 years of marriage.  Unbelievable!  How could any woman put up with me that long??  What a testimony to the grace of God!

Well, 5 years ago on our 20th, I posted a corny little poem I wrote for the occasion.  I thought about doing something like that again.  But the internet can only handle so much romantic excellence, so I decided not to be the cause of any overload.

What I will do is publicly and loudly declare here for the world to see my unending gratitude to God for blessing me with such an amazing woman.  I can't imagine my life without her.  I can't imagine a better wife, a better friend, a better mother, a better servant, a better anything than this beautiful woman I get to go home to every night. 

I read somewhere that the average marriage in the US lasts about 8 years.  How very sad.  Had I lost Cheryl after only 8 years of marriage, my life would be missing so many amazing blessings.  I seriously can not imagine where I would be right now without her.  God has used her so wonderfully in my life.  She is my encouragement, my balance, my comforter, my.... I can't even explain all she is to me.  (And without giving away too much information, she still is my passionate love; I still get distracted thinking about her!)

And to think that she has tolerated me for 25 years....amazing.  God is so good! 

So thank you, God.  And thank you Cheryl for agreeing to walk with me in this life.  I know the calling God has placed on our lives has had it's bumps now and then, but I can't think of anyone I'd rather have beside me.  Looking forward to the next 25!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

On the Road Again

Not me.  These guys!

I know many don't know who Whiteheart is, and don't care.  But this has always been one of my favorite Christian bands.  And I'm so excited to know they're hitting the road again.  So I just had to share.  There.  You can go back to your life now.  Well...after you watch this brief teaser video.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Government Bullies Defeated...for now

Most everyone has heard Justina Pelletier's story.  Taken from her family because they disagreed with one group of doctors and wanted to stay with another group of doctors.  Then power mad government agencies step in and a 16 year old is kidnapped from her family for 16 months.  

The good news is that for now at least, justice has prevailed.  Justina is going home.  And while that is truly great news, don't let it fool you into thinking this sort of thing is going away.  Let me tell you our own little run in with government bullies.

10 years ago, when our youngest was born, we were thrilled.  After having lost two children following our third baby, we thought we were done with having children.  But 8 years later, along comes this little guy.  What a joy. 

However, after a few weeks we noticed things weren't going so well.  He seemed to be losing weight instead of gaining, and just didn't look good.  He acted fine, ate fine, etc.  We called his doctor's office and were told that as long as he was eating and filling diapers, he was fine.  A week or so later, we were still concerned and asked the doctor to please look at him.

Once the doctor finally saw him, he decided that maybe he wasn't getting the nutrition he needed from mom's breast milk, and told us that we needed to start a formula regimen.  That was a Friday.  The doctor said that we should come back on Monday, and if there was no imporovement, our son would be hospitalized.  Mom didn't want to give up breastfeeding, but knew we needed to do what was best for him.

So we started the formula, but even moreso, we started praying.  Our church prayed, our family prayed, our friends prayed.  And when we took him back on Monday, he had gained like 12 ounces!  That's just unheard of.  The doctor was amazed.  He couldn't believe the turnaround.  He credited the formula, but we credited God.  Either way, things were good and no hospital stay was required.  We thought things were good.  Well...

A week or so later we come home from church one Wednesday and there is a card on our door from a DFS worker.  Not even thinking about our little boy, we assumed someone must have questioned our kids being at home during the day, and not liking homeschoolers or something, they reported us.  To be on the safe side, we contacted Homeschool Legal Defense Association, whom we have a membership with, and they agreed to make a call or two for us.

Turns out, someone from the doctors office called DFS claiming they have to report all cases of "failure to thrive" in babies.  No one told us that, but there it is.  We told the DFS worker that we appreciated the concern, but we took our son to the doctor on our own, he was under a doctor's care and doing fine, and we would gladly give them the medical records to prove it.  Apparently that's not enough. 

The DFS worker told us that they needed to have a home visit with us to make sure our other children were being fed properly.  I was astounded.  This one issue with our baby, one that we had to plead with the doctor to address in the first place, and now they were suggesting that we weren't caring for our other 3 kids.  

We refused their "offer" of a home visit, and the next Wednesday after church we came home to find the card of a county sheriff's deputy on our door.  I called the number immediately and asked what the problem was and was told the the DFS supervisor had sent them to our house to force a home visit.  Force!  For no reason at all. When I called the DFS supervisor, she threatened to remove all our children unless we complied.

Now, the HSLDA told us that since this wasn't technically a homeschool issue they couldn't get fully invovled, but they did offer advice, and even wrote some official sounding letters to the DFS telling them to cease and desist (what a blessing they are!)  We arranged for the DFS worker to "view" our other children on a neutral site (my church office) and also had several church members present who all reported that they had been in our home, witnessed our parenting, etc. and that all was well.  

Remember, we had done nothing wrong.  Our baby wasn't doing well, which we went to the doctor about.  He was currently under that doctor's care, was doing remarkably well, and needed no further treatment.  But we were still treated like criminals, to the extent that I was told my "record" would show an "accusation" of "child neglect" for the next five years!  

In spite of all our accommodating to the DFS folks, even though the worker was apologetic and told me she didn't think any of this was necessary, the supervisor still tried to keep pushing things, harassing us.  I finally had to call our state representative, who contacted the state DFS office, who eventually told this bully thug to back off.  They finally did back off, but again, our family went through the terrifying ordeal of having state workers trying to force their way into our home, threatening to remove our children, sending police to our home...all in spite of the fact that we had medical records proving that there was no problem at all; that our son was doing just fine.

I share all this simply because folks need to know that the Pellettier's case is not isolated.  Their ordeal makes our look like a picnic, but the fact is, government bullies are routinely harassing American citizens.  And this kind of thing is only going to get worse unless the people of this nation stand up and start holding our government accountable.  That means at the polls.  That means at the grass roots level.  That means getting our head out of the sand (as mentioned in my last post) and putting a stop to an over-reaching government before Orwell's vision comes true.  

PS - I let you know if Big Brother starts in on us again for posting our story online! (yeah, I'm kind of that paranoid sometimes!)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Something is Rotten in the State of Denmark

A few weeks back I posted about the direction our nation is headed with regard to the homosexual agenda and its effect on the church.  I said that:

Call it alarmist.  Call it radical.  Call it what you will.  The Church needs to wake up and prepare itself for how we will deal with these issues.  At the present rate, the day will come when pastors will face legal battles if they stand for truth and refuse to perform gay marriages.  Churches will likewise face sanctions if they refuse to host said "weddings." 

Little did I realize that on the global scene, we would see this play out so quickly.  Denmark has recently declared that the church MUST perform gay weddings.  Even if the local priest/pastor refuses, it's up to the bishop/leader of the area to replace him with someone who will perform the wedding.  In simple, the state is forcing the church to act against its conscience.  How well Shakespeare prophesied: "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark."

And that rot which erodes the free speech and freedom of religion for individuals and churches will be making its way across the waves sooner than we might think.  I know what the head-in-sand types will say.  "Oh, that's Denmark.  Things are different here."  The only differnce is timing.  Denmark led the way over 20 years ago in legalizing same sex unions.  We eventually caught up.  There is little doubt we will eventually follow this latest lead as well. 

Don't misunderstand my intent.  I'm not promoting "hate", as anyone who disagrees with a liberal is accused of doing.  And I'm not advocating that the church go on a crusade regarding this one issue.  As Mojo & October Light put it: "is the church's job to stop homosexuals? No, it's to bring good news to dead souls."  Good words.

My point is simply that the church is facing a day and time when our freedom to proclaim that good news will be hindered, even refused altogether unless we play along with the state.  In the meantime, we can, and should, stay involved in the political process as good citizens, and work to prevent such a day.  Something is indeed rotten in Denmark.  And if we're not vigilent, it will spread to our great land as well. 

But even more, we need to be sure that our courage is firmly in place, that our stand is firmly on the Word of God, and we are prepared to face the consequences when this day arrives. The church down through the years has faced such manhandling at the hands of the state.  We've been blessed in this nation to avoid such.  But we must be strong and ready in case those blessings come to an end. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Chosen for a Purpose

I may have shared here before about my preoccupation with the idea of purpose.  Things ought to be done for a reason.  I’m always the guy asking, “why?”  Why are we doing this; what do we hope to achieve; what is the purpose for this or that. Things ought to have a purpose and then they ought to achieve that purpose.  I feel pretty strongly about that. 

I was thinking of all that as I read the well known story in Genesis 18 of Abraham’s visit from three strangers.  As part of that visit, we have the picture of the angels going down to Sodom and Gomorrah and bringing God’s judgment on that place for their extreme wickedness.  We know those stories pretty well, don’t we?

What caught my attention was just one verse I the middle of that section.  In Genesis 18, verse 19 deals with the issue of purpose.  God is speaking of the coming destruction of those godless cities, and he begins to reflect on the need to share what He’s going to do with Abraham.  Because of His purpose for Abraham and his descendents, God says, I ought to fill him in on what’s going on. 

God says, “For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”

Twice in this verse we have the Hebrew word “ma‛an” which is used over 270 times in the Old Testament, and is translated as here in the ESV as “so that.”  It is a word of purpose.  It has the idea of “on account of” of “in order that” or “to the end of.” Things are done for a reason when this word is used.  And it appears twice in this one verse, which tells me that purpose is at the center of this.  So, what does this tell us about purpose?

I think it tells us, obviously, that God Sets Aside His People.  This is the action itself.             This is what is being done that the other two phrases will show a purpose for.  The verse begins, for I have chosen him.  Literally, I have known him; but it’s indicative of a special and intimate knowledge.  The idea is, I have set him aside.  

God is a choosing God.  He chooses Abraham out of all the others in the world.  He chooses to build His people through Abraham’s son Isaac, and not his other son Ishmael.  He then chooses the conniving Jacob instead of his older twin Esau.  We’re not sure exactly why, but we simply see God setting aside a people for Himself.

God has chosen a people, set them aside for Himself and His promises.  And Paul says in both Romans and Galatians that you and I have become part of that promise through faith in Christ.  We, too, then are a people chosen by God.

Peter says in 1Peter 2:9 - “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession…”  God is still in the business of setting aside His people.  But it’s not just about being set aside.  Here’s the “why” question. God has set aside His people, but He did it for a reason, didn’t He?

God Sets Aside His People for a Purpose.  “For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice.” This is the reason.  So that Abraham will himself be obedient and will teach his family to do the same. 

In the wake of Father’s Day, we ought to remind ourselves that God has placed the family at the center of His plan’s for the world. God set aside Abraham to be the father of His people.  And part of the purpose in being set aside was so that Abraham would be faithful in leading his family; his children and their children after them; to be obedient to the Lord, to be faithful to God and His Word.  But ultimately, there is even another purpose behind that.

God Sets Aside His People for HIS Purpose.  Abraham has been set aside; he is set aside for the purpose of directing his family… “so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”

The ultimate reason, the ultimate purpose for God’s setting aside His people is for His own purpose and His own glory.  So that He can fulfill all the promises He has given.  The promise to call out a people to Himself, the promise to guide and protect that people, the promise to bless the nations through that people, the promise to bring salvation through that people, the promise to bring that people into an eternity with God where we will worship and serve Him forever. 

God’s purpose to glorify Himself is at the center of everything He does.  The most famous Psalm of all, Psalm 23 includes the phrase: “He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.”  Why does He restore me and lead me?  For His glory.  For His name’s sake. Likewise Psalm 79 says, “Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name's sake!"

John echoes the same thought in his first letter.  1 John 2:12 says, “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name's sake.”  And 1Peter 2:9 says – “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, (so) that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”  We are chosen, set aside, saved for His purpose; to glorify Christ; to proclaim His excellencies.

Viktor Frankl once said that “Clinics are crowded with people suffering from a new kind of neurosis, a sense of total and ultimate meaninglessness of life.”  I believe that more people are like me than they want to admit.  We all want to identify the purpose of things.  We want to know the why.  We want to have a reason for things.

God reminds us in His word that He has chosen us for a reason.  We do have a purpose.  We are called to teach His word to our children and their children, so that His name will be glorified in our families, our churches and our nation.

I’m writing this simply because I want to challenge myself, and you,  to be faithful to the purpose for which God has called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light; to live our lives individually, as families, and as a family of families in the church for His praise and His glory.  

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Media Coverup? (Or am I just not paying attention?)

We all know the media is biased.  We all know they choose to only report on those stories that help further their cause, support the liberal agenda, etc.  Here and there some media outlet may let the cat out of the bag, but you have to hunt for it. 

Or maybe I'm just not paying enough attention.  Maybe the story has been out there for months and I'm just now catching up on things.  I don't deny this may be the case.  I'm not nearly the news follower I used to be.  Maybe because I got tired of the one sided line we're being fed. 

But thank goodness for Fox News.  They will keep me posted on the truly important stories, those that have a real effect of my every day life.  Like this headline: 

What!?  I'm not a Dunkin' customer, primarily because we don't have any around here, but still... Raising coffee prices?  Global shortage???  I can't believe this.  This is a real crisis.  Why are the media not following this story each and every night until a resolution is found?  Stinkin' liberals.

Now, to be fair, once I read this disturbing news I did do a search online for information regarding this pending crisis.  And I did find several stories back in February.  So maybe I did miss the announcement when it first came out.  Maybe I was too busy freezing from this past winter nightmare.  

But even if I did miss a day or two, why wasn't this story followed up on? Why is there no continuing coverage.  Forget the stuff going on in the Middle East and in Russia and so on.  What's going on with my coffee?!!

If you've read anything on this blog in the last few years, you are probably aware of my affinity for this beautiful bean and the bounteous beverage brewed from it.  And I'm not alone.  There are thousands, nay millions of us all over the world.  Why is the media ignoring us?  What are they afraid of?  What are they trying to hide?

Well, that cat has shed it's bag/bonds and is on the loose now.  So I'll be paying attention. I'm going to write a letter to my Senator right now asking to have a special envoy appointed, a special committee, a special something or someone who will investigate this looming disaster and find a way to avert it before it's to late. If you care at all about the future of coffee, you'll join me.  Don't let the media coverup keep us from addressing this coffee catastrophe!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Homeschooler Moment #19

Physics according to a 9-year-old.

So, I took him to a Kid's Fishing Day event.  He has fun around the lake (with all 150,000 other people throwing hooks around) and actually snags a fish...almost.  First cast out, a fish grabs hold and he reels it in.  But the volunteer tying hooks on he kids' poles had been a little lax, and the hook actually came off the line and the fish gets away. 

Anyway, he's not too shaken up, continues to fish for awhile and then goes to do some of the other activities, including a "bounce house."  It's a hot muggy day, and after standing in the sun I'm thinking the last thing I want to do is climb into a hot, plastic, enclosed bubble powered by hot air.  But he likes it. 

Afterward, I ask him about the day, and he tells me how much fun he had.  I asked about the bounce house, and he says "yeah, that really cooled me off."  I said, "????"  He says, "yeah, I got hot by the lake, but in the bounce house it cooled me off."  I asked how that worked.

He says, "When you're going up the air is blowing down, and when you're going down the air is blowing up, so it cools you off."

There you have it.  Physics according to a 9-year-old.  Who says we homeschoolers can't do the higher subjects!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Constitutional Collapse Corners Cakemaker

I always wanted to write a headline like that.  Sadly, in spite of cutesy alliteration, this one is still true.  The two year old case involving a Colorado bakery owner who refused to make a cake for a gay wedding has resulted in the shop owner not only being told he MUST serve gay weddings; but furthermore, he has to require sensitivity training for all his employees. You can read about it here.

The implications of this are staggering.  Gone are the supposed Constitutional rights of free speech and freedom of religion. In their place are inserted forced conformity and thought police tactics.  Private business owners are apparently no longer allowed to have any religious convictions at all.

Regardless of those who try to liken this to racial discrimination, this is not just a matter of not serving someone because you don't like them.  Bakers and photographers and caterers all provide services in which their product and participation is equal to joining in the celebration.  And they should have the freedom to not join in the celebration of an act they are convicted by their faith to be immoral.  

While there are many who argue the Church should just ignore these issues, not make a big deal, etc., it is becoming more and more evident that the issue of gay marriage is going to be THE issue we face in the coming years.  Not only because cases like this set a precedences that could lead to the state forcing churches to recognize and perform gay weddings, but because the issue of gay marriage is confronting churches on all sides. 

Even the Southern Baptist Convention, that bastion of conservatism, is facing the issue.  Just in advance our our convention's national meeting, a church in Los Angeles announced it will be splitting over the issue. The pastor announced he has "changed his mind" about gay marriage, (convenient since his teenage son just announced he's gay) and after churchwide deliberation, he was allowed to stay on as pastor.  However, a large group within the church will be leaving over the matter.  Al Mohler has a wonderful article about the issue here.

For years people like Voddie Baucham have been warning us about the aggressive pro-homosexual agenda.  And for years, people have said those warnings were paranoid and unnecessary.  Recent events have proven the warning to be very much needed.

The reality is, freedom of speech is all but gone.  You can only say those things the government deems correct.  And freedom of religion is only for non-Christians.  Muslim?  We'll bend over backwards to please you.  Christian?  Shut up and get out of the way. 

Call it alarmist.  Call it radical.  Call it what you will.  The Church needs to wake up and prepare itself for how we will deal with these issues.  At the present rate, the day will come when pastors will face legal battles if they stand for truth and refuse to perform gay marriages.  Churches will likewise face sanctions if they refuse to host said "weddings."  

We need to pray.  We need to prepare.  We need to do what we can to elect godly men and women.  But it seems as though a runaway judiciary will circumvent elected officials and the will of the people anyways.  We can't count on the Constitution to protect our "rights."  May God give us strength to remain faithful in the days ahead. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Let the Nations Be Glad and Sing for Joy

"Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy..." (Psalm 67:3-4, ESV)

I try to often remind our folks and church, and myself, that we need to "broaden our horizons" when thinking about the Kingdom of God.  Not that I want us to throw open the gates to embrace every cultural immorality that's currently popular the way many argue.  I'm just saying that we need to remember that Christianity is not an American thing; it's not just a 21st Century thing; it's not just about me and my local church.  

God has been at work accomplishing His plans and His purposes for His glory for thousands of years, across all continents, among thousands of various people groups, in the midst of a myriad of cultural experiences.  We need to realize that what I experience as "church", the songs we sing, how we do worship, etc., is just one of many expressions of God's people down through the ages. 

Again, I think we ought to be cautious about opening things up to any and all expressions; we ought to still be concerned with sound doctrine and so on.  But especially in terms of musical expression and what constitutes worship, we need to understand that the "great cloud of witnesses" represents all sorts of songs, in all sorts of languages, in all sorts of styles. Let all the peoples praise Him.  Let the nations be glad and sing for joy. 

I was reminded of this recently with a video making its rounds on the internet.  (Isn't the internet great?!)  It's an Icelandic band called Árstíðir and they are in a train station in Germany, taking advantage of those amazing acoustics to sing an old traditional Icelandic hymn called: Heyr himna smiður.   Loosely translated as Hear, Heavenly Carpenter or Hear, Smith of Heavens.

One loose translation of the song goes like this: 

Hear, smith of heavens.
The poet seeketh.
In thy still small voice
Mayest thou show grace.
As I call on thee,
Thou my creator.
I am thy servant,
Thou art my true Lord.

God, I call on thee;
For thee to heal me.
Bid me, prince of peace,
Thou my supreme need.
Ever I need thee,
Generous and great,
O’er all human woe,
City of thy heart.

Guard me, my savior.
Ever I need thee,
Through ev’ry moment
In this world so wide.
Virgin–born, send me
Noble motives now.
Aid cometh from thee,
To my deepest heart.

Hearing this guys sing so beautifully in a language I have no clue about is a reminder of the vastness of God's Kingdom, of the variety of people within it, and maybe a glimpse of what it will be like in heaven when we all get to learn to sing a new song.  

Here's the video. Amazingly, it will lead you to worship even though you don't understand a single word!