Monday, June 30, 2008

I got you last

Tonight, Monday June 30th, marks the first time the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays play since their infamous brawl a few weeks back. To make matters worse, Coco Crisp, who started the whole fracas, appealed his suspension and had it reduced from 7 games to 5 games. While a Rays player who was barely involved in the incident, received a 3 games suspension losing his appeal. Not really sure how that works.

Crisp will be serving his suspension, and wisely so, during this series. MLB has sent extra security to the game to stop any extra curricular activity. It should be fun to watch.

Adding fuel to the fire is a quote from one of the Boston pitchers: "Payback is a b%$*%."

A few things. While sometimes I think it would be cool to be a professional athlete, I'm not sure I would be able to keep my cool and honor Christ in times such as these. I know my wife would attest. So I'm glad I'm not a professional baseball player. Or basketball, or football player for that matter. It would be harder in those more contact sports.

Another thing is simply a question: when will it end? I would have thought that an all out team fight would have ended the bad blood. But it certainly hasn't. These teams will be hating each other for years. While it does make for exciting baseball (drama always does, though this is more like an action film), it does raise a question: when will bad blood end? What will it take?

The Jews and Palestinians will never not have bad blood. Neither will other violent racist groups. Forgiveness really can't happen without some sort of payment; and neither side can afford to pay it. It's a perennial "I got you last" game. No one likes to be hit last. We can't leave it at that. Unless there is an atoning sacrifice.

And Paul believes that sacrifice has a racial and relational component, writing "for he himself is our peace, who has made us (Jews and Gentiles) both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility...." So if Christ is the common ground, there is hope because He has paid the price. He was the one who was "hit last." And so the "I got you last game" can end. If only more Christians believed that.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Darryl, Dylan, and the Seed

Right now, as I'm writing this, I've reached a new level of multi-tasking. I'm blogging with my 4 week-old on my lap. That is until he wakes up. I'm not that good yet.

I preached last week on the Parable of the Seeds and the Sower. If you want to listen to it, click here. Anyhow, I thought about illustrating the seeds that fell on rocky ground with some well known folks. In the parable, these seeds fell on rocky soil, and had no roots. When hardship came, they withered away.

There have been some famous folks who have received the gospel message with joy at first, but then they seemed to have departed the faith (either through lifestyle or profession). Darryl Strawberry, my favorite baseball player at the time (also the player whose swing I modeled my left handed wiffle-ball swing after) had a huge conversion experience but since has been through several wives, numbers of arrests, and drug and alcohol treatments. Yet I researched him the other day and found he had started an autistic foundation. I think he's still involved in a church.

Bob Dylan was another one who came to mind. He had the conversion experience and even recorded several gospel albums and used to preach at people in concert. Yet he retreated from this upfront Christian persona, and left to join some Jewish study group some years later. However, in a 2003 interview he explained that he had studied with this group as a Christian. Apparently he still performs some of his Christian songs in concert. Now I would rather hear him read than hear him sing. Certainly the best and most prolific song writer the world has known, Dylan's voice has not aged like wine. I'd say its been more like milk.

Regardless it was encouraging to see that these two still professed faith. After researching them, I realized they would have made bad illustrations. And besides, the debate over whether or not their faith is legitimate faith is not our debate. According to the parable, the good seeds will land on fertile soil and there will be fruit. Though they may turn away for a time, they will persevere until the end. So if they are truly believers, they will repent and believe until the end. The same expectation we should have with ourselves.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sonia, Lars, and the Real Girl

A few weekends ago I watched a movie called Lars and the Real Girl. Its a different movie. Very different. But quite clever. Ryan Gosling's character is a little loopy in the ahead and very aloof. That is, until he orders a life sized doll named Bianca who he begins to seriously date. And interact with. Seriously.

The reaction of this small northern town is surprisingly positive. Different folks have different reactions, but overall there is a beautiful picture of community. I highly recommend this movie. Its even fairly clean as far as I can remember.

However a few thoughts ran through my mind throughout this clever, yet bizarre movie: is it loving to go along with something that is simply not true (a doll being real)? If I were a bit messed up in the head (a bit MORE messed up than I am now) and I brought home a doll for a fishing partner (I'm already married so let's nix that scenario) would you go along with it? Would there be certain circumstances which would mitigate certain responses? Would it be loving to go along with it for a certain time? Indefinitely? Forever? Would you suspend the truth for a time-if I couldn't handle the truth at that time-and patiently bear with my idiosyncrasy?

Just some thoughts which popped into my head. If you've seen the movie, please respond. Even if you haven't, go for it. But I do highly recommend it, for whatever that recommendation is worth. Even Christianity Today ranked it among their top 10 redeeming movies of 2007. Click here to read a review.

And if your name is Sonia, and haven't seen the baby pictures, click here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Not sleeping and the Kingdom

Yesterday marked something new in my life. I was too tired to fish. Amy said, "Don't you want to get out and fish in the morning?" After the 2:45 am feeding, I had no gas left in the tank. I chose sleep over fishing. I can't remember the last time that happened. I really can't. Will this be a new trend for me? Perhaps as long as it takes to get Connar sleeping through the night, or at least simply sleeping period. Though he did sleep after the 12:45 am feeding last night, so maybe there's fishing still in my future...

Since I didn't kayak fish, I had some extra energy to spend doing yard work and working out. I brought my Ipod and listened to a sermon by Jean Larroux, pastor of Lagniappe Pres in Bay St. Louis, MS (where we went on our mission trip). He's probably the best preacher I've heard, being passionate, illustrative, and concise. He has been preaching through a series on The Lord's Prayer, and this one is on "Your Kingdom Come."

His sermons are the perfect length to listen to on the computer or Ipod (only 25 minutes or so). So if you have a spare 25 minutes, I would highly encourage this one. It was quite challenging for me and much better than my sermon on the kingdom!

Click the link here to go to the church's podcast, and then click on "Your Kingdom Come." However all of them are great.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Triatholon and Christian life

On Saturday I watched my brother run a triatholon. Watching people run/swim/bike is unique. It is one of the few times where there is actually more fun in spectating than there is in participating. At least from where I stood.

Anyhow, the organization of the event (by Sarasota cops) was a step below "incredibly poor." There were no mile markers, bikes were spread out all over the place, and there was no map of the running route.

That lead to a few problems. The huge Red Bull arc was placed not at the finish line but instead just off the beach, about 1/6 mile from the finish. So people like my brother were encouraged by volunteers to sprint to a "finish line" that wasn't even the finish line.

But the worst part was the fact that the home stretch overlapped with another part of the course. So as my brother was about to actually finish the race, he was instructed to go "another loop" by a volunteer. A different volunteer he talked to had no clue, so my sister-in-law and I actually had to chase him down in flip-flops and instruct him that he simply needed to cross the actual finish line.

Untrained volunteers made the run and race harder and longer than it actually was. No one needs to make tri-atholons any harder than they are. At least I would assume that's the case.

That's what folks have always done with the gospel. People have always tried to make the Christian life harder than it is (and its plenty hard without folks adding to it). It started with circumcision in Galatia and I'm sure each following generation has its own attempt to burden those young in the faith. (alcohol, schooling, specific child rearing, cultural retreatism, etc....)

But loving the Lord God with all of our heart, mind, strength and neighbor as ourselves is a 24-7 job. And not easy. Folks that try to add to it are actually forgetting these 'simple' words of Jesus. Why would anyone want to make the Christian life harder than it already is?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

My Grandma

I have to brag on my Grandma. She's probably the most loving and self-less person I know. She's amazing. Yesterday she came down from St. Pete to give Amy a respite. And of course Connar blessed her with a few "blow-ups." Not sure exactly where those 'blow-ups' landed. But since she arrived wearing a wetsuit, I think she was prepared. Actually she wore normal clothes, but was prepared nonetheless.

Anyhow, she has continually served us since we've moved to Bradenton. Often she would drive down once a week or every other week to help Amy out in her classroom. While she does live in a condo in St. Pete, with many 55 + neighbors, she has refused to adopt that secluded private 55+ retirement mentality.

She serves her church. Even helps out with refreshments at VBS. She is actually committed, not leaving when others have left. She serves her grandkids. But why do all these things, and just have everyone serve her? I mean, she is a widow. She wouldn't have it any other way. She finds great joy in serving. She actually wants to hold my screaming, crying baby. Not just when he is cute, quiet, and easy.

Her service is really a win-win. It blesses us. But it also blesses her. She finds her life by giving it away, which is what Jesus promised. And that's really the most joyful way to live, not to mention the only option that Jesus really gives us. Its a delight to see my Grandma serving us. Not simply because she is serving us (though that's priceless), but because Jesus is continually filling her with joy.

And that's the way serving others can be. So here's to all of you 55+ who have continued serving faithfully (folks do notice it) and setting a good example for us young whipper-snappers. Though someone who can't wear a visor without getting his head sunburn probably shouldn't go by whipper-snapper. I hope we all can feel as blessed in our serving as my Grandma does.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Piper's thought, and a good one at that

Below is a quick but thoughtful response by John Piper on the blessings of checks and balances in the American government. Now I would love to ask him why he's not Presbyterian then, since both systems function with the same underlying presupposition (the wickedness of the human heart and its need for accountability). But since there are no Baptisterians (presbyterian in government, but hold to believer's baptism) that I know of, that's not going to happen. And that's cool. I'm still down with him. I tried to link to his site, but it wasn't working. So here it is.

The Supreme Court rendered a decision last week concerning Guantanamo Bay. Unlawful combatants there now have constitutional habeas rights (protection from unlawful detention). The decision was considered a rebuke to the Bush administration and the way the armed services are doing their work under his leadership.

Here is what amazes me and awakens thankfulness in my heart to God. I heard the president from Rome speak these words: "We will abide by the Court's decision. That doesn't mean that I have to agree with it."

Don't let this go by without wonder and gratitude. Here is the most powerful leader in the world standing in public in the middle of Europe and saying for the whole world to hear that some of his decisions are nullified and his authority is curtailed and that he will submit to it.

Imagine such a thing in Myanmar or North Korea or China or Vietnam or in a half a dozen African regimes. Unthinkable.

What an incredible privilege we have to live in a land where human power is checked.

I believe in the wisdom of this kind of democracy because I believe in the almost unbounded potential of the human heart for evil. Power corrupts. It is biblically wise that there are checks and balances in the American system.

Another reason I believe in the wisdom of such a democracy is that Christian faith cannot be coerced by force, and unbelievers cannot be executed for their unbelief by anyone but the returning King of kings. Therefore, governance that limits the power of men to force faith or kill the faithless is a good thing.

I am thanking God today for the freedoms and the power-restraints of America.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Connar's purr

This is a funny little video of Connar's purring. Hope you enjoy it. Dare I say cute?

Cool Providence and Fatherly singing

Connar had his first vacation this weekend (click here for the pics). A little town called Tampa. My parents headed out of town and my brother-in-law and girlfriend (his, not mine) flew in, so we hit up the North Tampa area for the weekend. On Sunday, I was able to get away to worship. Amy should be back in the saddle by this Sunday. I worshiped at a PCA church plant only a mile down the road from my parents house.

They incorporated a lovely blend of hymns and a few praise songs (one 'brought me back' to my youth ministry days) with a modified liturgy. I felt right at home. On top of all that, one of my buddies who I hadn't seen for a year, just happened to show up for the 2nd week in a row. You see, the previous week a woman passed out during the sermon. The pastor never finished, so my friend and his wife decided to come back this Sunday. Cool providence.

One of the more moving things I witnessed was from a worshiping parent. He was singing lustily and joyfully while holding one of his children: perhaps 3 years old. I'm not really good at guessing ages though. Anyhow, with his face periodically looking at his son, he appeared to me as though he were singing to or singing over him. The child was kind of fidgety and had his hands covering his ears. As though he didn't want to hear. How's that for a picture of sin? Covering our ears instead of listening to God singing over us.

But the dad kept singing, and it seemed to calm the child.
It reminded me of that verse in Zephaniah 3:17 "The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing." As God would have it, the benediction came from this same passage. Cool providence. And how apropos to witness this on Father's day.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Another Herald Article

If you're one of the few, (I wouldn't go so far as to say "the proud"), who read the Herald (though I personally have nothing against it), then you've no need for this link. Obviously you would have read my article in Saturday's paper. If you're among the larger percent of the population living outside Manatee County, or neglected this great duty of Geoff's article reading, you can click here for a link to my article. Due to the fact we have a newborn now living with us, I felt encouraged by all the tired traveleres who've traversed this same path. So the article deals with the suffering aspect of fellowship. People need others to share their joy. But folks also need other folks to share in their sufferings, just as Paul instructed us toward the special fellowship of sharing in Jesus' sufferings. I actually got an email from a reader on the same day it "hit the press." Not a bad start, eh? Hopefully it will move us all toward deeper community.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

American Idol

I was listening to a lecture the other day by a pastor named Mark Driscoll. I'm usually a huge fan of him. I think his vision for ministry is very much consistent with that of the Reformed tradition of redeeming culture, seeking community and mercy, and transforming the city. And on top of that, I think he is hilarious.

However I learned the danger of idolizing folks as I listened to him defend a minority position on elders. Only men who are married can become elders at his church. He gets this from the elder description passages in I Timothy and Titus as they specify that an elder needs to be 'a man of one wife.' I won't exegete (breakdown and interpret) the passage for you, but will say that I don't hold his position.

But the problem with Driscoll was not so much that he disagreed with the other pastor he was co-lecturing with. The problem was that he was so stinking arrogant, belligerent, disrespectful, (and had to get the last word in), that I wanted to punch him. I really did.

I felt like throwing away his books, deleting his link on my blog, and telling my father-in-law to disregard another lecture I burned for him where he identified the dangers of the emergent church.

A week later I have calmed down. Well it didn't take that long, I guess. And I realized two things.

1.) Arrogance and dogmatism on unclear and minority matters will only turn people away from you. And fast.

2.) Idolizing people is dangerous on a variety of fronts (besides the obvious replacement of Jesus with another). I was so angry because I held him in too high an esteem. I had idolized him. He's a dude with issues. I should have expected him to have weaknesses. I do. And I hope that people don't throw out everything I say when I'm defensive or respond angrily without grace to something they say.

So I can still learn a bunch from him, without idolizing him or becoming a thoughtless groupie.

Another present

Just when I thought my neighbors couldn't be nicer, another family pulls up in their mini-van and drops off a mini basketball autographed by none other than Dick Vitale. Apparently he is a regular at the First Watch or Broken Egg (where she is a waitress) or something like that in Lakewood Ranch. How cool is that, eh? This neighborhood is definitely a special place and community is forming where there was no community before. Amen.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A neighbor better than State Farm

On Monday I called my neighbor to see what he was up to. A month or two ago he offered to load his pick-up truck bed with nearly a ton of landscaping rocks. So I took him up on his offer. He told me he didn't have much to do the whole afternoon. And he proved it.

After getting the rocks, he helped me unload them and place them all over the yard. Since he is professedly more anal than I am (not too tough), it was helpful to have someone more skilled, or at least, more attuned to aesthetics. It turned an extremely ugly yard into a decent looking yard.

Then he offered to drive back and grab a bed-full of mulch! So we put half in my yard and I helped him put some in his yard. Talk about a great neighbor. Fortunately I have several great one's on my cul de sac.

I've noticed that doing yard-work puts you in the path of your neighbors, and so is quite a good thing. But I hadn't ever experienced actually doing yard-work with your neighbors. We had a blast and learned a ton about each other. I'm actually looking forward to helping him lay some sod. Hopefully we'll do it early in the morning though....

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The God card

Someone who posted on my blog has a sports/faith blog. On it I found this article relating to athletes who like to play the "God card" and compare themselves to Jesus. Terrell Owens, known for saying "I love me some me," also said that he should expect people to hate him because, "they hated on Jesus." Click here for an interesting article critiquing a fellow Dallas Cowboys teammate Roy Williams' comparison to Jesus.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Sports Ethics

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be a professional athlete. Or rather a Christian who is a professional athlete. Christ's lordship applies to everything we do. There is nothing that exists outside Christ's Lordship for the Christian's life. Nothing.

So I often wonder how I would, or at least should, act in specific sporting situations. Especially in the 'unwritten rules of the game.' For instance, retaliation in baseball. Retaliating against a neighbor or enemy is one thing. But is retaliation in baseball entirely different?

Recently the Tampa Bay Rays went to Fenway Park for a series. One evening a dirty Red Sox player named Coco Crisp, slid hard, high, and late into the Rays 2nd baseman. The next night, James Shields, drilled him with a fast ball in the hip. Crisp didn't take kindly to it.

He charged the mound, and Shields swung hard at him and missed. A melee ensued and several folks got thrown out with several more getting big suspensions.

The Rays 2nd baseman, a Japanese player, said that he felt like his team really "had his back." They don't do that kind of stuff in Japan (strangely enough the place that brought you Kamikazes) he said. I guess you could say that the retaliation pitch was really showed love to Aki. I mean, that pitch really showed Akinora Iwumura that Shields cared about his safety and well being. He would risk being thrown out of a game to protect his teammate.

As a Christian pitcher, I don't think I would have a problem throwing a retaliation pitch. Its just part of the game. If someone charged the mound, I guess I wouldn't have a problem defending myself either. But would a more godly approach be a tackle instead of a punch? How should one react to a brawl? Is it more loving to sit on the bench or to charge the field? What do you do when you're out there? Pull people off? Tackle folks in order to protect your teammates?

If you want to check out the video of this brawl-and as far as brawls go, this one is solid-click here.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Two Communities

Here's a cartoon that a friend sent to me. I found it apropos and humorous. Of course the cartoon spelled my name wrong-but I'm used to that. Connar will have to get used to it too (normally spelled Connor, I think).

However, diaper duty really hasn't been that challenging except when Connar pees on himself and the surrounding areas. I've not really been sprayed yet. He normally just sprays himself. Kind of gross to see his face covered with pee. But not to him.

Anyhow, I've been so blessed to be part of two neat communities. My church community has been huge, bringing meals every other day. And good ones at that! I can't imagine not having such a community in my life. I don't see how people live disconnected to this Family. They have blessed us so greatly and have really made our joy more complete through their desire to care for us and be excited for us.

Another community has been my neighborhood. My next-door-neighbor brought us over MORE gifts. She and her daughter had already given us stuff, but they gave us more yesterday. And they are not the only one's who brought us over stuff, or offered services. We're very thankful for this community as well. Just thought I'd share the joys of community.

Are there struggles in community? Of course. We're people. But I think, experientially, the blessings far outweigh the struggles.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Discovering a gold mine

I have a confession to make. Of all the things that make me feel inadequate as a pastor, of all the things that I'm embarrassed to share (like my anxiety struggles, anger, defensiveness), one of the most embarrassing things is that I've never read the Narnia series. There it is. It's off my chest and you can throw cyber stones at me if you like. Or real stones if you can find me. I can take it. Now.

I think I once read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe some time ago (though I wouldn't say that to a lie detector test), but that's the extent. So when this Prince Caspian came out, I thought I should start. Steve Brown, one of my seminary professors, used C.S. Lewis illustrations about as often as he referred to his love of pipe tobacco. Which was a ton.

So I picked up the Box Set, for lack of a better word, and began reading The Horse and His Boy. I loved it. It was really devotional. And it was easy reading. I needed something to get me back into pleasure reading after I finished The Brothers Karamazov. Something simple. Something good. Crime and Punishment (though I do plan to get to it some time) wasn't going to do it.

Now I finished Prince Caspian, reading while the baby is doing his thing=usually anything but sleeping=though he's been good today. Praise the Lord. And I can't get enough. Lewis truly was brilliant in his ability to not only communicate truth through allegory, but to do it at a level kids and adults can enjoy. J.K. Rowling has done well reaching a wide audience (another confession-I've never read one of those books). But Lewis reaches such an audience in communicating deep scriptural truths. He gets an extra star for that. I'd love to sit down and talk with that joker some day.

I'll be preaching a decent bit this summer and one can be sure that there could be some Narnia sightings, or 'hearings' rather. No power point. You've probably read these Narnia books a billion times. But if you haven't, I would recommend discovering this great resource filled with well written, encouraging, and challenging illustrations.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Its not unusual....

On Monday, one of Amy's fellow teacher's delivered the news of Connar's birth to Amy's class. Remember, until this time, Little T was his name-o. I guess that wasn't as weird sounding as "Connar." Apparently one of the kids said, "Why didn't he get a real name?" We laughed, because we think they have some unusual names. Weirdness, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder. Anyhow, here's some more baby pics.

A "BigFoot" Sighting

If you're trying to post a comment, and it takes a little while for it to show up, there's a reason. In order to cut down on SPAM comments (which I'm really not sure how they get posted), I have to moderate the comments (an approval email is sent to me and I simply approve it, provided its not spam-if you're not a spammer, you have nothing to worry about). I'm not a communist government. I will publish what you post if its not SPAM. Seriously. I just am getting tired of SPAM, and thought this would be easier than making you type those funky letters that no one can read! If you would rather type those funky letters, let me know.

Anyhow, here's a picture of an oft undiscussed side effect of labor: big feet. Check these bad boys out. Can you guess which foot is Amy's? Don't be hating on me, we're all laughing about it. You should too.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Some Fatherly Thoughts

"They" say that you learn a lot about God's love for His children when you have a kid of your own. Not that if you don't have kids, you will somehow have an inferior picture or experience of God's love for you (Paul didn't have kids and he knew a decent bit about God's love, eh?), but I would definitely say I've learned a lot about God's love for me.

When Connar came out, I actually cried. For a few seconds. Twice. I usually only cry in sad movies, when I'm depressed. But the overwhelming emotional response was part in due to the fact that this day had FINALLY come, coupled with the fact that this was my son. I was already a parent in some sense of the word, but I hadn't laid eyes upon my little one. It's one of those indescribeable things. All parents probably feel this way. I've seen it with parents who adopt as well.

I know someone who adopted a little girl from China, and then they tried to take her away, because her health wasn't up to par. But the Mom wouldn't let that happen. She had already placed her love on the child and did not want another. In the words of a great Hymn it was a picture of "O Love that will not let me go..."

When I got home from the hospital I just couldn't believe how much I loved this kid. Changing diapers really hasn't been that bad (I know the real smell comes later, but still, I had never change a single one before!). My love has been placed upon him. And while its not perfect, it is definitely a gracious love (until he can smile back) that brings delight to my heart.

So now I'm a step closer in plumbing the infinite depths of the love and delight God places on His children via Connar's arrival.

I've got some more pics I'll be putting up soon. It still amazes me that people (outside my family) are so interested in seeing pictures of our little one. I guess it gives me a snippet of the love God's people have for covenant kids. But that's another topic all together.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Finally Home

We're home now. We got here at 3 pm and are now trying to figure things out. Fortunately we have Amy's mom here now, and then my replacements will be shipped in from Tampa on Saturday (my mom). Amy is doing much better. Still on drugs, and will be for a few days, but she's feeling better. Thanks for all of your prayers. Here's some more pics from a proud mom and pops. If that's not enough, and I understand that it probably is, click here for few more.