boon-dog-gle: (noun) work of little or no value done merely to keep or look busy.
free: (adjective) provided without, or not subject to, a charge or payment.

12/28/06

Saturday Night: Caleb Travers...

I just found out that my friend Caleb Travers is playing a show this Saturday, 8 p.m., at the Hartford Coffee Co., which is just a few miles away from us here in South City. I've heard it's a cool place--and it'll be even cooler this Saturday with Caleb playing; he's pretty good.

Here's a video of him playing one of his songs, apparently in his kitchen:

12/27/06

Surprise random link of the week...

Here's this week's link: Have fun!

And some pictures from my neighborhood to go with it:







Unfortunately, this last house is the best one, but the picture turned out the worst.

12/24/06

Merry Christmas...

As I was thinking about Christmas recently, it occurred to me that Jesus' family was a foster-family, like ours is. Okay, maybe it was more like an adoptive family. But my point is that since Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus, he served the role of a foster/adoptive father, like I do. I want to be careful to say that I'm only comparing the roles that Joseph and I fill, not our characters. To do what Joseph did required measures of faith, love, and compassion that I can barely hope to one day possess. He must have been humble too. You don't hear a lot about, or from, Joseph. He doesn't seem like the kind of guy who would have published a blog.

There is something that Joseph and I share, however, that really all parents share, but which I think foster parents in particular share, and that is a tremendous uncertainty for the future. No parent knows what the future holds for his or her children, of course, but foster parents don't even know if their children will be their children. In many cases, it's only a matter of time before a foster-child's parent(s) reclaim rights to the child. I wonder if Joseph ever worried about that time, because I do.

Now, for any parent, the best thing to do with the worries we have for our children is to entrust them to God. Entrust our worries to God, yes, but especially our children. We are going to screw up in raising our children in so many ways that we'd call it a miracle that any child grows up halfway adjusted, if it didn't happen so often. So, we call it God's common grace. And thus we look to God for His help, encouragement, strength, guidance, and many other things in the day to day rearing of our children. But more than that, we entrust our children to God's calling on their life. For, we know that ultimately it would be an utter tragedy to raise our children to know a "good" life and yet not know Jesus their Savior. And furthermore, while the suffering of our children always brings barely-endurable heartache, we know that ultimately suffering for faith in Christ is blessed triumph.

Yet the problem is, we just never know what the future holds, for us or our children. We might even be tempted to think that if we just knew what was ahead, we would be able to handle it with more resolve or more patience or more faith or whatever. But consider Joseph: he was told what the future held for the child carried by Mary, his betrothed. Joseph was told that Mary would bear a son who would save his people from their sins. I don't know how much comfort that brought. In the Old Testament--the only Scripture that Joseph knew--any time God dealt with the sin of His people, there was a lot of suffering involved. I imagine that as Joseph went on to raise, care for, and love his foster-Son Jesus, he grew ever less inclined to allow Him to suffer. In Joseph's case, knowing the future was probably a tremendous burdon.

So Joseph, like me, and like all parents, must have had a tremendous uncertainty about the future (even if he knew something about it). Yet, God did something for Joseph, as He does for all of us, to help us have faith in the face of that uncertainty. You see, even though God could just flatly ask us and expect us to have faith in Him, that's not the way He operates. He condescends to our creaturely need for evidence. In the case of Joseph, the very event that precipitated his supposed (by us) uncertainty, was the same event that could give him cause to grow in his trust in God's provision. The birth of Jesus--the one who would save his people from their sins--was the assurance to Joseph and to all of us that God is and would be faithful. For it was the evidence of God making good on His promises.

Throughout the history of Israel, and throughout the record of that history in the Old Testament, God had repeatedly, by both implication and outright declaration, promised that He would completely save His people from their sins. It wasn't accomplished through the flood, and it wasn't accomplished through circumcision, nor was it accomplished through the exodus, the establishment of the monarchy, or even through exile. But it would be (and now has been) accomplished through Jesus. One of my favorite phrases in Scripture is from Galatians 4 when Paul says that the birth of Jesus happened "in the fullness of time." Like picking a piece of fruit off the tree at the peak of its ripeness, Jesus was born at just the right time.

It's true that atonement was not accomplished until Jesus died. But in sending His Son to be born in the fullness of time, God showed us that He is a God who fulfills His promises. He is not like a human father who makes promises and then forgets them or makes excuses to avoid them. Our God is a Father who provides for us perfectly and does everything just as He says He would.

So Joseph was told just the right thing when his foster-Son was about to be born. "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:20-21) It's pretty clear that Joseph was a man who trusted God. I would guess that he would have married Mary and raised Jesus if God had simply told him to do so, without explanation. But it's precisely because God is a God worth trusting in that He gave Joseph hope for the endeavor. His role would serve God's purpose to save His people, including Joseph, from their sins, just as God had promised.

As we celebrate Christmas, even in our uncertainty, God is likewise saying just the right thing to us. Suzanne and I do not know where our foster-daughter Gracie will be next Christmas. But, knowing what the future holds isn't what we need. We need to know that God is worthy to entrust our future to Him. And we can know that. We can know that God is One who fulfills His promises. And we can know that His provision for us is perfect, complete. Remembering the birth of Jesus at Christmas is essentially remembering that God not only cares for us, but He also takes care of us. He does for us what we need of Him, whatever the cost. And so the God who has shown Himself to be faithful over and over again in the past, is worthy of our trust in the present, and for whatever we, or our children, will face in the future.

12/18/06

eat my theological shorts...

There might be a few of you interested in this silly quiz. If you take it, I'd be interested to hear how it pegged you and what you think of it.

You scored as Karl Barth. The daddy of 20th Century theology. You perceive liberal theology to be a disaster and so you insist that the revelation of Christ, not human experience, should be the starting point for all theology.

Karl Barth


80%

John Calvin


73%

J├╝rgen Moltmann


67%

Anselm


67%

Jonathan Edwards


67%

Martin Luther


60%

Charles Finney


53%

Augustine


47%

Friedrich Schleiermacher


40%

Paul Tillich


27%

Which theologian are you?
created with QuizFarm.com


I guess it could have been worse! At least I scored 73% with Calvin! The summary paragraph at the beginning seems to be rather overblown. The questions in the poll were so vague that I could have answered nearly all of them drastically differently, depending on what interpretation I made of them.

Seriously though, these days there are probably some people who would question my fitness for Christian leadership based upon my answers to this poll. You may know that in my denomination (PCA) there is a heated debate about certain doctrinal issues that is threatening to permanently fracture the unity of our churches at a denominational level. I was going to post a link to a summary of this debate, but I couldn't find one on short notice that wasn't either too vague to be useful or too partisan. I'll probably write more on it in the future, because it is an issue on which leaders in my denomination are going to have to consider their position. That said, while I think the issue is one that is worth studying and even debating, I do not think it is one that warrants division. If folks would keep in mind the following tips on good theological discussion--and I do mean "good," as in, "morally excellent"--the discussions would be far more productive.

  • Don't assume the worst about your opponents' motives or goals
  • Don't insist on attributing ideas to your opponents that they don't claim--especially when they explicitly deny those ideas (that seems obvious, doesn't it? but this tip is ignored consistently in these "discussions")
  • Avoid logical fallacies, when presenting your position and also (especially) when summarizing your opponents' positions
  • Hold off on using the "h" word as long as possible
  • Speak to and with your opponents; don't just talk to your supporters about your opponents
  • Be more willing to express humility than attempt to humiliate your opponents
  • Ask questions, lots of questions
  • Seek to be caring, not clever

I'm sure there are more that could be suggested (anybody?), but those came to mind. I pray that as our leaders seek doctrinal truth (which is a valuable pursuit) they will not allow our churches to lose focus on the work of Christ's kingdom to seek, serve, and love the lost.

12/15/06

links and thoughts on stuff...

Okay, I'm just going to spew forth on a bunch of stuff that has come to mind recently.

First, I'll point out some matters internal to the blog. I've added a bunch of new links to the sidebar lately, some of which I've mentioned, but one of my favorites that I haven't mentioned yet is The Nietzsche Family Circus. What you'll find there is a random pairing of a Family Circus cartoon with a quote by Friedrich Nietzsche. Why would someone do that? I don't know. Why wouldn't they?

Secondly, my Conan O'Brien obsession continues as I've given him a whole section in the sidebar. The one site in particular that I'll point out is Hornymanatee.com. If you don't know what that's about, then you need to watch his show more often--but in lieu of that, here's a story that explains the site's origins.

On to other matters...Gracie, our foster-daughter, is really growing and she's now 3 months old. She is really fun--smiling all the time, looking inquisitively at things, making sounds. But it still takes a lot of patience and fortitude to take care of a baby. For the first several weeks of life, a baby's poop doesn't smell all that bad (or, I should say, all that strongly). Apparently, at about 10 or 11 weeks, things change--big time. And, you have to be willing to be covered in baby puke most of the time. But it's still worth it, still a blessing.

I read somewhere that some Christian group is "offended" because of the release of a horror movie called "Black Christmas." I really wish we could stop being "offended" at every little thing that people do that we don't like. I mean, I wish everyone could stop, but at least Christians ought to stop. It's one thing to advocate for the freedom to express and practice our faith. And it's a wonderful blessing that the U.S. still provides us that freedom. But it's another thing to whine to the media about every little thing that non-Christians do that you deem to be unChristian. What do you expect? (1 Corinthians 2:14). I just wish Christians had some measure of perspective to realize that the comfortable position of the church in our country for the past two centuries was an historical anomaly. It's an anomaly in the world right now. Maybe, instead of worrying about what bad movies are going to be released, the American church should be worrying about, and working for, our brother and sister Christians whose churches are being shut down in China or who are being slaughtered in Sudan.

I'm not much of a tech-head, but I thought this article on "What code doesn't do in real life (that it does in the movies)" was pretty funny. So, if you are a tech-head, maybe you'll really enjoy it. It's so ridiculous when characters in movies or t.v. do things just because it's the only way to complicate the plot. For example, since we've had cable I've caught up on a lot of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and it's so common for people (or aliens) to make the dumbest possible decisions, for which the only conceivable rationale is to make the conflict last 55 minutes, instead of 5 minutes. This is different than asking for a willing suspension of disbelief. I'm totally willing to accept that in the future people will explore the galaxy in peaceful fraternity with aliens (even though I don't actually believe in intelligent life on other planets). But they should still know that when you visit a planet and interact with it's inhabitants for the first time, you should not allow one of your kids to go off with their planet's kids unsupervised. I guess the article about "code" is really the opposite phenomenon--it's something in a movie to make things easier. But it made me think of this Star Trek thing. And while I'm on the subject, another thing that irritates me about Star Trek is that they often make references to our contemporary society and refer to it as coming from "ancient earth." For example, someone might say that singing the "Happy Birthday Song" is an "ancient earth custom." The problem is, the show is set like 350 years in the future. Do you refer to events of the 1600's as occurring in "ancient times?" Of course not. So why would people start doing that in the future? Okay sorry, all that was interesting to like 3 people (and even to them, only mildly so). But I love that show.

Here's something you won't expect: of these three shows--The Simpsons, King of the Hill, and Futurama--Futurama is the funniest.

Clint Eastwood was on David Letterman tonight. If I was stranded on a desert island, with a t.v. and DVD player, and I could only have the film library of one person, I would really be torn between Clint Eastwood and Woody Allen. I guess I'd want Eastwood's movies, because when you're stranded on a desert island you don't want to be constantly questioning whether life has meaning or purpose or value. But you get my point; they've created two of the best collections of movies out there.


Speaking of movies, Will Ferrell's "Stranger than Fiction" was really, really good. It was really entertaining and really thoughtful and thought-provoking. In fact, it really deserves a full review in its own post, which I might yet write. So I'll just say, you really should go see it if you haven't. (I used the word "really" seven times in this paragraph.)

Okay, you're all sick of me by now. I'm done. Take care.

12/14/06

More Than Carpentry Christian Ministries...

I wrote the article below for our church's newsletter. It is about the ministry that our friends Jim & Tammy McGarry are starting here in St. Louis. If you live in St. Louis (or even if you don't) and you want to find out more about the ministry, send me an e-mail.

In the year 165 the Roman Empire was ravaged by an epidemic of disease. As much as one third of the empire’s population died during a fifteen year span. Whole villages and even cities were deserted in some provinces because of the pervasiveness of death in those places. The once thriving urban centers were allowed to fall into ruin. If that was not bad enough, only a few generations later in 251, another epidemic broke out, with equally devastating results. At the height of that second disaster, it is estimated that as many as 5000 people were dying every day, just in the great city of Rome. Dionysius of Alexandria commented that it was better in Egypt during the time of Moses when the firstborn of each house died. For, he wrote, “There is not a house in which there is not one dead—how I wish it had been only one.”

While philosophers discussed the meaning of life, pagan priests fumbled to explain why the gods inflicted such disasters, and famous doctors fled from the cities, common Christians remained behind to care for the sick, not only among their brethren, but also their pagan neighbors. Dionysius described the actions of the Christians in his congregation,
“Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to every need and ministering to them in Christ…Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead.”
These were not superstar Christians; they did not have theological training, missionary training, or even medical training. But they were faithful Christians, responding with Gospel care to the needs of their neighbors. They were sick sinners themselves, who had received the healing love of Christ, and were in turn sharing that love with fellow sinners.

Their faithfulness produced astonishing results. In many cases, people only needed a small amount of nursing care in order to get through the worst symptoms of their disease. So those that were cared for by Christians were far more likely to regain their health. And since the Christians already had a caring community network, their survival rate was far higher than the general population. Then once the epidemics had passed, so many people were impressed by the love and faith of the Christians (and in many cases owing them their lives) that they felt compelled to investigate this new message about a Person named Jesus.

The history of the church is instructive for the church of today. It is of course a sad reality that there are epidemics of disease in our own day, such as AIDS and cancer. But these are not the only epidemics we face. Our city of St. Louis is plagued with crime, racism, poverty, and other sinful patterns. The response of many people, as in ancient Rome, is to flee the problems of the city. For that reason, many of our once thriving urban neighborhoods are falling into ruin.

Our Christian community at Memorial, however, has decided to respond differently. Our mission is “to glorify God by being an urban evangelical church.” Jim and Tammy McGarry are trying to faithfully carry out this mission, and indeed to be faithful to their calling from God, by founding and developing the More Than Carpentry Christian Ministries. This ministry, that combines Jim’s skill in carpentry and their family’s gifts in hospitality and mercy, is located in one of St. Louis’s urban neighborhoods that are most suffering from the epidemics of sinful patterns. The building they bought at 1259 Stephen Jones, in Wellston, will not only be a home to their ministry and business, but also their family. As they live, work, and minister among the people of Wellston as their neighbors, the McGarrys will face and share many of the same hardships that their neighbors experience, but they will have the grace of God to empower them and the Gospel of Christ to give them hope.

But the McGarrys are not superstar Christians. In order for their ministry, or any ministry, to have its full impact, it will require the faithfulness of a community of Christians. The Christian response to the epidemics of the Roman Empire was successful because believers worked together, trusting in Christ and loving their neighbors. Likewise, the More than Carpentry ministry needs a network of support from believers who are willing to join its mission in faith. The McGarrys need prayer and financial support, and they also hope for Christians to join in their work in Wellston. Saturday work-days are one opportunity to volunteer, helping to prepare the building and grounds for long-term ministry. Just as the faithfulness of early Roman Christians had an astonishing impact upon their communities, God can work just as powerfully through His people in St. Louis today.

The ministry is just getting started, and their website doesn't really have any content yet. But here it is for future reference: More Than Carpentry Christian Ministries.

12/13/06

Surprise random link of the week...

Here's this week's link: Have fun!

12/6/06

Surprise random link of the week...

Here's this week's link: Have fun!

I've got some more good stuff this week, which will eventually make it's way to the sidebar:

G.K. Chesterton...

"The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people."