Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Rock & Roll Girl

So, my wife, Angela and I were asked to lead the Grand March during our recent Resurrection Day Celebration. This is the beginning dance of our celebrations and demands of the participants only the ability to walk, turn while walking, and then toward the end, bowing and curtseying. No problemo, thought I.

As you might imagine, this being an event of high anticipation, most everyone was watching. It was when the sound engineers accidently played a blurb of the wrong music when things got crazy—or I should say; my wife got a little out-of-control. The music that was supposed to be Neo-Celtic, instead, blasted Rock and Angela immediately (involuntarily?) moved to the music. Yep, right there in front of everyone…twice, they got the music wrong, twice.

I did what I could, trying to block out this spectacle from the eyes of our youth (and my Session) but to no avail. Failing in this attempt, I started to wonder, Will I still have a job on Monday?

Thankfully, there is a general awareness that Angela does indeed, rock. She is atypical of the stereotyped expectations of a ‘Pastor’s Wife’ and that is not only why I love her but also why that she is loved by so many people. She is who she is; basically a Rock n’ Roll girl who became a Christian in her 30’s and at 50+ still acts, at times, like she’s 20.

This brought to mind the privilege I had a few years ago of sharing breakfast with Wendell Berry. This was the morning after a reading that he had given the night before at a local college. At that time the story he had read was one of his yet unpublished works, A Desirable Woman. I had so appreciated the reading that I asked him what had been the impetus for such a story. He replied that he had always wanted to write a fiction about a sexy pastor’s wife. Confident that we were on the same page, that he was trying to write outside of type towards antitype, I immediately remarked, “You should meet my wife.”  

‘Sexy’ of course is his description for ‘Desirable’ and in this (as in his story) there is a great need for a genuineness (under sanctification) that supersedes the stuffy expectations of the stuffy. I see this as best described by the term, Truly Human. Jesus was ‘desirable’ for many a reason of which one was that His behavior was not predictable to the stuffy.

Of course you never had to wonder if Jesus was mindful of seeking first the kingdom, of reaching out to the needy, or helping the broken hearted or giving of Himself sacrificially. He did all of this out of a deep-seated joy (Hebrews 13:1) and throughout the Gospels, unconventionally.

My wife is like that. If you knew all that she has gone through in our marriage while I was in seminary and doing college ministry and then for these last 16 years in the pastorate, you would marvel that she still feels like dancing. I gotta tell you, she acts the same as when I first met her and I really believe her ‘secret’ to still ‘dancing’ is that I have protected and preserved her genuineness more than any alarmist environmental group has for any eco-system out there that you can name.

Thankfully, she is not alone. Most of the ladies in our sacred community are ‘there’ as well and it is a marvel to behold. As I have occasion to travel, I notice that we are not alone in this and that is momentous.  

Christian women should be unfettered and unflappable. (This can be, of course, embarrassing to their husbands at times.) Their joy of life before God should be unmistakable. Their person and service to others is then easily genuine.

Rock on, ladies.    



Ethan On Deck

Returning home from a recent trip my wife and I, for some reason, started reminiscing about jobs that we have held in the past. Yeah, I guess we were both tired at this point.
Anyway, I was able to remember 25 different companies that I had employment with since I was 14 years old.

Most of these jobs were related to working my way through bible college and seminary; and also while I was involved in ministries that didn’t pay enough to support me. Most of my life I have been bivocational; a full time tent-making minister. The list has no other rhyme or reason to it: freight companies, ladies shoes, dairy farm, custodian, drug store, waiter, courier, bank teller, construction, painter… 

The point here, I think, is that my dad taught me that work, hard work, is a good thing.
When I left home at 17 to prepare for the ministry, I left knowing how to work. And with that knowledge, I have managed to take care of myself and later, my family.   

Now a ’days, I am fully supported by the church (since January 2000). It feels good. I have a study, a desk, a computer, and shelves for half of my books. But because of my family’s heritage, our family lives on a farm. We wanted to live on a farm because it involves work that the youngest to the oldest member of the family can perform. And there is great reward derived from the doing of the work (discipline, strength, knowledge, confidence…) and the results of the labor (milk, cheese, fresh vegetables, eggs…).   

Our children are taught to love work. That doesn’t mean that they have learned that lesson but I think that it is starting to sink in.

The other day I got a call from someone that I have done some painting and renovation for it the past. He had kept my number and called me about another small project that he wanted done.

Well, I took the job—for my son, Ethan. I figured that it would be a good experience for him.
The job was sealing 500 square feet of an outside deck.
We were using a high-dollar sealer that came off our brushes like water. Not the easiest task as drips and runs falling on the patio below us would be very unprofessional.

He did well. For the most part we worked next to each other. I taught him how to use his brush like a broom, a knife, a mop, and a wand. He paid attention. His technique improved. His speed and efficiency increased.

The layout of the deck was such that there were two easy possibilities of painting yourself in a corner. We avoided this by thinking ahead and our conversation easily segued into other applications of that idiom. “As you walk by the way, as you lie down, as you rise up…”.

As we were working I told him that the estimate for this job would pay one person $25 an hour. Then we talked about minimum wage and how many hours a person would have to flip burgers to make what we were making in one hour? Answer: 3 ½.
I reversed the equation. How many hours would he have to work to make as much as unskilled people make in one day? Answer: 2 ½.
Then our conversation moved in the direction of being financially secure enough to afford a vehicle, a house or apartment, get married, and support a family.
I warned him that if we spilled a gallon of the sealer we would have to pay to replace it out of our own pocket and be liable for damages. One mistake could cost us more than the job paid. 

For lunch, we went to a local diner where we ate big. Driving back to the job I shared with Ethan what the cost of our lunch had been and the wisdom of packing a lunch most of the time to save money. Eating lunch out, for the working man, is a bonus, a reward earned by getting the job done on time or sooner than expected.  

Then we talked about how independent contract work meant that you had to work harder but that there is a real freedom that comes with being self-employed. You can go on vacation, take classes, travel, etc. because you are not tied to a schedule that someone else is in control of.

This dialogue was in no way meant to disdain working for a company or industry but was intended to be formative in developing his perspective. Because my father taught me some of these things, I have always worked harder “for the man” when I was regularly employed. And “the man” always saw this and I advanced quickly in salary and position.

If all my sons can learn this early, they will be the first choice for those who need something done or need a quality employee.   

Later that night, as my butt and knees and back were aching, I shared with my wife what her husband and oldest son had accomplished that day. I slept well. The work I had done was physical, relational, paternal, spiritual, profitable, and instructive.

I gave my son all that I possessed. The doors of the treasury were opened wide. It was all his.

Our next project is renovating our own kitchen, dining room and living room. There is old wallpaper to cover, trim to replace, ceilings and walls, and cabinets to be painted, and sheet rock to be hung and finished. There may also be (shudder) tile work.

But there is a difference associated with this project for we will have entered…the Honey Do Dimension. And while the same general skills apply; the risks and rewards are far different. I’ll share as much as is appropriate with him…. 


Ministers & Ministry

While standing outside our local abortion clinic I made acquaintance with a guy from another area church. I’d never met the man before but anyone standing on the front-line is either going to be a pretty decent type of just plain crazy.  

“I’m gonna try and get my pastor out here sometime and some of the other people in my church.” Said the man standing next to me as we stood, holding our signs for the passing cars to see.

“Well, go easy on them,” said I, “It took a while for me to come out here.”

It had taken some time for me to come around. I understand that abortion is one of many judgments that God is visiting upon those who do not follow Him. ‘All those who hate me love death’ is a biblical truth that plays in my mind constantly and rightly affects my view of life.

But that really shouldn’t stop me from proclaiming the Son’s rule and reign before the world, right? After all, if I take ‘present judgment’ too far I shouldn’t ever witness to anyone. And, if I am an ambassador for Christ, then standing near the gates of hell is a strategic place to be. After all, there is a lot of action and visibility…people driving by, people showing up for their appointments, abortion doctors swerving their cars toward you attempting to scare you away, pro-abortion protesters screaming at you, police cars arriving….   

“You know,” said I speaking to my newfound brother-in-arms, “every passenger in the cars that pass us are either bringing more of the Lord’s blessing or greater wrath upon themselves ‘cause God said, ‘I will bless those that bless you and curse those who curse you’.

He nodded. “Makes sense. Not only are we making everyone that passes us aware of the issue but also every wave, thumbs up and approving honk of the horn is a blessing to us.” “And,” he continued, “all of those folks that yell and give us the finger compound the curse upon themselves.”

“Yep.” Said I.

We both watched a car pull into the parking lot. Another young woman had arrived, driven to the abortuary by her dad or boyfriend or mother…ironic, that last one.

Several of our people began attempting a conversation with the people exiting the car. Sometimes, the ‘patients’ will come over and talk. Some curse or ignore our pleadings and quickly enter the building. The there are those who listen. Sometimes they break down and cry. A few repent of their intentions, thank us, and drive away.

You never know what the outcome will be—so if you are a sign holder across the street—you watch and pray.

Our group on Wednesdays covers two fronts. There are the sign-holders that make up most of the participants. They position their signs so that the messages printed on them are clearly seen by the passersby. Several people are staged to speak to anyone arriving at the abortion mill. They call out and entreat in a caring way for those bent on destruction to reconsider their actions. As appropriate, they are confronted with the Gospel. While they may rebuff or ignore our people there is one question that almost always stops them in their tracks—“Are you a Christian?”.  

Those who profess their faith before us ‘in the very act’ of premeditated murder often begin to excuse themselves with pathetic statements like, ‘God wouldn’t want me to bring this child into the world’ or ‘God understands my situation’.

Yeah, it’s intense for life and death are on the line and that line is drawn by none other than the King of the universe.

Which brings me back to my newfound friend. There is a camaraderie formed amidst such action. The people from my own congregation who have known each other for years are ‘tighter’ in their association with one another. We have suffered insult and abuse, we have rejoiced as pregnant girls and their escorts has driven away, we have sung the songs of Zion and watched our antagonists shrink away, we have wept as our pleas are ignored and another baby dies, we have been encouraged as other Christians have supported us. Some stand with us. Some stop and buy us coffee or water or lunch.

Today, it’s me and Sam, in the cold, holding our signs and enjoying the esprit-de-corps that only soldiers know. We wave at people driving by. Many wave back in support others gesticulate in anger…all on their way to somewhere and to eternity.     


Ministers & Ministry

When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself. By: Steve Corbett

Reviews of this book have made the circles of other groups related to the readership of Every Thought Captive—that’s how I heard about it. And now you should too, if you haven’t already.
What we have here in Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert’s book is a pretty thorough treatment of how we are blowing the Good Samaritan idea/ideal. If you are like me, you are just this side of all those Miss America contestants who, “Just want to relieve all the suffering that is in the world.” After reading the first 50 pages I was thinking that all my efforts over the years in trying to accomplish this were about as effective as a swim suit competition.
I have been involved in Rescue Missions, soup kitchens, food distribution, voter registration, and short-term foreign missions. I have picked up hitch-hikers, passed out sandwiches, and given money to those guys carrying signage stating that they will work for food.
We all want to know what to do when we are approached by a pan-handler or when a “needy” person shows up at church, or when we drive by a low-income housing project.
“Something ought to be done”, is right, but what? Often what is done is not only a phenomenal waste of money, energy, time, creativity, strategy and manpower; it actually makes matters worse for everyone involved—them and us.
Recently, during a visit with a good friend of mine, I joined in with his church in a combination evangelizing-the-lost-while-feeding-the-hungry outreach. All the Christian sincerity in the world could not morph this activity to resemble anything in the Bible. I knew this after reading, When Helping Hurts.
What made this all worse was that before this already scheduled project, I shared with my friend what I had recently learned. Yeah, we were but miserable. I’m convinced that we would have done more for the Kingdom by going out and shooting some pool instead.
The authors share plenty of their own experiences along with illustrations of what others have done in trying to help the poor and needy. The writing is honest and straight-up from guys who still want to be involved in restoring brokenness and reestablishing lives of the down and outters. A reliance on God’s help and a success by relying on His word is the goal here.
Each chapter starts with a set of diagnostic questions that facilitates a better understanding of what needs to be done for the needy.
Some of the successful ministry options border on governmental involvement. I don’t like that. But the overall content is a great place to start in overhauling our ideology and practice in charity and good works. 
So you really should get this book. Buy a copy for your pastor, your session, your deacons and for any one that is always setting up harmful, wasteful projects for the people of your church to “get involved”; especially if that person is you.



When it came to looking for her first vehicle my daughter had her heart set on getting a Nissan Xterra. While other suggestions came her way from friends and family members she never deviated. She had one stalwart supporter—uh…me, her dad. I think that I understand desire, and timing and season of life so I encouraged her, “Honey, for your first car, get whatever you can afford.” And she did. She paid cash for a 2000 Forest Green Xterra. That is what she wanted and that is what she got; a vehicle that could carry friends, and snow boards. And for 7 weeks she had the best car in the family.

Yeah, just 7 weeks. While on a trip to the store another young lady coming the opposite direction ran the red light and totaled Lauren’s first sweet ride.

We thank God that Lauren and her passenger, her sister, Alayna, were ok. In our Lord’s kind providence two men from our church happened by right after the incident. While the traffic assumed another route around the two vehicles and their debris, Lauren even assured the other driver that it (the accident) was ‘ok’ and gave the girl a hug.

Like most parents, I dreaded the day that my children would finally make that pilgrimage from the car seat to the driver’s seat. But Lauren did well. During her initial ‘Learner’s Permit’ phase, when the new driver has to be accompanied by a licensed adult, I would sometimes doze—not so much an indication of fatigue but of confidence in her motor skills.

So now the search is on for her next automobile. But there is a token, a reminder that she carries away from this experience.  

Her last responsibility was to turn in her license plates to the DMV. So, she and I and her brother, Garrett went over to the auto salvage yard where her Xterra had been towed after the accident. While Lauren and I searched for anything that she might have left behind or under seats, Garrett took the screwdriver I had handed him and removed the plates. But he also did something else…

While removing the license plates he noticed a few fragments of the grill and secretly put them in his pocket. During the weeks following the loss of Lauren’s car and her birthday in January, Garrett took one of those fragments and fashioned it into a necklace. We were all surprised at his creative thoughtfulness.

My kids amaze me all the time just like yours amaze you. And though I know that this particular article sounds way too much like it should be printed on pink paper, I cannot help but sometimes ‘gush’ about my children.

And on this note, they really are turning out pretty well. There is much that I wish I could have given them early on. There are many things that I wish that I could give them now. And I would be the first to say that as a parent, I am just average at best.

So when I see them being considerate, responsible, creative, good natured, kind-hearted…I know that I am experiencing more of the goodness and grace of God. There really is no other way to explain it.

As Christians, we know that there are no such things as ‘accidents’. We also know that out of chaos comes that which is Good; light out of darkness, beauty from ashes.

Out of the wreck of my attempts at being a righteous father to my children there is glory fashioned from the debris. Fragments, that by grace, become jewel-like and adorn their lives finding place in their character, their actions, and their conversation.