Monday, September 18, 2017

Back to Self

Last evening Toni and I were at the home of one of the other couples that participates with us in a small group, a small group organized through the church that we've been involved with for a little over a year now. It was good to get together again; we haven't met together as a group since summer began, but, for me, the best part of the evening was when we decided what we'd be studying together this fall.

I made two suggestions and the group decided to accept one of them. It wasn't the one I first thought of, but that's okay. I'm sure we'll benefit by going through Dutch Sheets little book God's Timing for Your Life. (I actually found my copy of this little book as I was searching for my first choice. Maybe finding that other book, and the groups choice to study it instead of the other was an example of God's Timing. We'll see.)

As I think of this now, I realize that both of the books I suggested, plus the other two that I had in my bag but didn't suggest, were about the self. Neither of them go into the more common topics of conversation that Christians, and others, engage in: studies of doctrines or Biblical books or religious practices or church denominations. All of them had as their purpose the work God is doing on our own lives, and, specifically, on the areas of our lives that we have some control over. I think that's good.

Too much of my own mental energy is spent on things beyond my control. It's true that there are some things out there in the world of others, near and far, that the Lord does want me to pay attention to, but when I focus out there too much I get distracted from the work God wants to do in me. I will pray that others learn to focus on themselves too. Perhaps studying and meditating on God's Timing for Your Life will help in that process. But mostly I need to allow God to continue the hard work in me that he is desiring to do, letting go of what He's doing in the lives of others.


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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Good Mistakes?

What if mistakes and errors are a part of God's good creation? What if the problems they cause are necessary to God's plan? What if God's not interested in "perfection," at least not in the way we normally think of it. What if those challenges have always been a part of the "good," as when God said "it is good"?

I'm hoping to find time to study this in depth. Soon.

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Saturday, September 9, 2017

Sadness and Encouragement

Happy Saturday! It's a beautiful day here in Roseville, and, I'm sure, in the rest of the upper mid-west*. I've got a pretty long list of projects to take care of here, including picking apples and replacing my bike's front tire tube. (Toni and I are starting to plan a long weekend to go biking and camping, and maybe canoeing too, later this month.) Before I get to those and other thing I wanted to take time to share a bit of encouragement that I received from the Lord earlier this week.

For a long time I've felt melancholy and sad about the ways that our lives have had us moving away from people who mean a lot to us. Personally there are so many that I've worked with and have connected with in other ways in the churches and communities we've served, many that we don't see much anymore. Occasionally we can visit, like we went to visit Ladysmith on a Sunday morning earlier this summer, but, as the saying goes, you can never step into the same river twice. People change and move on. Many I'd like to have seen and connected with there weren't around. And that's just one example of those I miss. ("Saudades" is the Portuguese word for this. Look it up.)

As someone who has worked in ministry for many years, not only do I miss people, I miss seeing the fruit of my/our work in their lives. We've been told, and we've seen, how some people's lives were impacted by our ministry work, but there are many others who we just don't know how it is that they're doing right now. I would love to talk in depth with many of them. That in depth conversation, however, in many cases, probably won't happen. I don't have the time to be together with those individuals and families for long enough to really connect. And some just aren't interested in doing that with me any more. Again, it's sad for me. It's a sadness that overlays a lot of what goes on in the my mostly happy day-by-day life.

That's why I was so thankful earlier this week to read the following spiritual meditation by Oswald Chambers. Maybe it will be encouraging to you too. It was based on a verse from John 7:38 where Jesus says: "He who believes in Me…out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."

Here's the first part of the devotion:
A river reaches places which its source never knows. And Jesus said that, if we have received His fullness, “rivers of living water” will flow out of us, reaching in blessing even “to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8) regardless of how small the visible effects of our lives may appear to be. We have nothing to do with the outflow— “This is the work of God, that you believe…” (John 6:29). God rarely allows a person to see how great a blessing he is to others.
You can read the rest of it here. The devotion goes on about the unstoppable power of rivers. Obstacles will be overcome! O.C. writes: "The river of the Spirit of God overcomes all obstacles. Never focus your eyes on the obstacle or the difficulty. The obstacle will be a matter of total indifference to the river that will flow steadily through you if you will simply remember to stay focused on the Source."

That's what I need to do -- to stay focused on the work of Jesus Christ -- the source of all good. When I get discouraged about the lack of contact with people I love, with people I've worked with or been involved in "helping" in one way or another, I will just need to trust that that work of God will not be deterred. It will continue -- in my life, and in the lives of those I have loved down through the years.

God's peace will flow when I trust Him, and when I ground my life in His great promises, like the promises I read in that devotion this week. Time to get to work.

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* This is hurricane season in the southern USA. I've noticed, often, in other years, that it tends to be such beautiful weather when it's stormy down south. Amid all the world's tragedies, of which there are so many right now, there are moments of beauty. I'm thankful for that today. Peace to all of you who are in other situations right now, in Jesus' powerful name. Nothing can stand in the way of His Love -- not even a hurricane.

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Monday, September 4, 2017

Response to Nashville Signers

I posted what follows just now on the facebook page for the "Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood," the organization that sponsored the "Nashville Statement." Here's [ a link ] to my post on that page.
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Dear Nashville Signers: Where can I go to have some in depth and careful conversation about the various points in your statement? Like you, I see the biological differences between men and women as part of God's good creation. I even see these differences as scientifically self-evident and necessary for the the continuation of life, so it's obvious to me that God wants those biological differences to be honored. That's true even though I don't read the first chapters of Genesis (and the account of Adam and Eve) as history, at least not in the sense that we understand history "normally." Therefore, much of what you say in your statement is something I can resonate with.

I have some questions, however:

(1) I've read that you affirm, and even insist upon hierarchy in gender relations, and that your Article 4 about "divinely ordained differences" includes that hierarchy. Is that true?
(I would have been pleased to see the word "biological" inserted there, as in "divinely ordained biological differences.")

(2) Sin is first mentioned in Article 9. What is your definition of sin? Is sin always blameworthy, or is it sometimes a "missing of the mark" as in the Greek ἁμαρτία, an error, a "problem" that can become rebelliousness but can be, in some cases, more of an inherited or culturally inculcated problem that needs gentle care more than "confession and forgiveness"?

(3) I wonder if you believe that it's sin to be cruel toward those who identify as homosexual or transgendered? Do you?

(4) In Article 10, you say that it's sinful to approve of non-"straight" sexual relations or "transgenderism." What do you mean by "sinful"? Do you mean erroneous or rebellious?

(5) Also in Article 10, you say that approving of "homosexual immorality or transgenderism" constitutes an "essential departure" from the Christian faith and witness. I'm inclined to agree with this, but mostly because many of those who approve of these things evidence departure from Christian faith and witness in other ways, and not because such approval is by itself "heresy." There are many other ways in which Christians disagree with one another, and though I agree that the issue of sexuality is particularly serious, because it ties in with the way that new life comes into the world, other things are serious too. Some Christians, for example, deny the full implications of Jesus' command to "love your neighbor as yourself," and his definition of "neighbor" as those who are essentially different (as in the story of the Good Samaritan), Jesus' command to "love your enemies"  and other portions of the Sermon on the Mount) that also may show that same departure from true Christian faith and witness. Would you say the same of those and other "departures" from Christian faith and witness, or are those things in some ways not "essential."

I'd love to talk about these things but don't know who to talk with about them. Let me know please!

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What Happens When We Know Jesus

There's an excellent and even, dare I say, perfect aspect of life that I've had the privilege of experiencing over the years that I'd like to say something about this morning. This excellence and perfection doesn't belong to me. It's universally available, that is, it can be experienced by anyone who is willing to give up their life and say, in faith, that what is going on with me isn't the product of chance but is a part of God's plan, and that God can use everything about the circumstances of my life for Good. This is a faith-filled position. It's only available when an individual trusts God absolutely. And the only way to trust God absolutely is to know, for certain, that God is Good and that He is personally involved in and interested in every aspect of personal life. And we can only know that when we know Jesus.

Knowing Jesus in this way doesn't mean there will be no problems in my life, but that all those problems are seen, and known, to be ways in which God can and does work through for my good and for the good of others. The frustrations and inconveniences and even the pains of life (not that I've experienced much of the latter) are known to me as tools that God is using to refine and challenge me, making me into more of the person that God wants me to be. Even the sin in my life, both my willful rebellion, the ways in which I choose comfort or distraction over honest character building, and my errors, the ways in which I simply "miss the mark" God would have desired for me--both of these types of sin can and are used by my Lord to deal with me, sometimes harshly, but always in love. But I can only know that when I know Jesus.

I want you to know Jesus too. Jesus loves you with a love that will never stop, a love that is more powerful than anything you or I will ever have to deal with. We know this when we know that Jesus rose from the dead, and that he will work the same resurrection, both literally (in the end) and metaphorically (now). I am praying that He will make Himself known to each and every person that I have known in my life, and to all those I see and deal with everyday now.

If there is any way in which I can come along side you in your journey, please let me know so I can at least pray for you by name, so I can keep you in my mind and heart before the Lord. We are in this together, and someday that's where we will be.

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Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Nashville Statement

The "Nashville Statement" was put together by a group that wants to maintain, or somehow re-establish, the so-called "traditional" roles of men (father and leader) and women (mother and homemaker, etc.), so it's difficult for me to even respond to it. There's too much to say in that regard.

I am interested, though, in a scientific look at sexual differentiation and its role in the conception of each and every human on earth, not to mention all species that reproduce through some sort of intercourse.

I can't personally get past the notion that God's plan for life on earth connects with such differentiation. I don't think the existence of other sexual orientations or the existence of, for example, hermaphrodites, takes away what I think is a logical conclusion that God created sexual differentiation and reproduction as a unique and irreplaceable "blessing."

Do you see this differently than I do? If so, can you help me understand?

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Saturday, September 2, 2017

Out Flow

Here at the lake the water has been high all summer. At the south end of the lake there's an outlet that only open during summers like this. When the lake is low there's no flow.

Jesus said, as recorded in John 7:38, that trusting in him will allow "living water" to flow out of me and you. When we don't know Jesus, when we don't understand his absolute rock-solid love for us, when we don't know Jesus is God Almighty, then we're prone to worry, and when we worry we're like the lake when the water's low. There's no flow.

When we know Jesus, and when we have the basics of life, many of which are to be provided for us through the community of faith, good will flow from us every day.

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Monday, August 28, 2017

See You Again

Yesterday we said goodbye to Kelly and Abigail. Kelly is someone we've known and loved since we met her many years ago at Okoboji Lutheran Bible Camp when she was on staff there. She told her life and faith story the first time we met her, at a campfire, and it was her story that drew us to her. I remember seeking her out right after that campfire. Over time we've become like a second family for her.

After Okoboji, and after some time spent with a production in the Western USA, she came back to serve with Youth Encounter, on staff there, and on a team that traveled to East Africa (not necessarily in that order). Since that time she moved to Africa where she's been working with children, at a quasi orphanage called Neema House. She came to visit us this summer and now is back in Tanzania. We hope to see her and Abigail again in 3-4 years, and hopefully her husband Dixon will be able to come too.

When I get sad about goodbyes, of which I've had to deal with many over the years, I have to remember the promise of the Lord, and of the grand reunion to come. And I still desire, and go out of my way, to make contact with people near and far, with people who have been, and always will be, very important to me. I don't let go.

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Saturday, August 26, 2017

Brag or Example or Praise God

It was a little rainy when I got up this morning, but after it got light out I decided it wasn't too bad, so I went out for a little run, the same run and route that I used when I was training to be a "running buddy" for my nieces this spring. The doctor I saw yesterday about my arm doesn't want me to do upper body exercises, but she said running was fine.

I'm not fast. Never have been. And slower now that I haven't been training lately. Still, it felt really good. I'm thankful for almost no pain. 5.8 K.

I like to post things like this but I don't want to do it on social media. That would seem too much like bragging. I'll post here though, on my blog, because if anyone wants to see it they will need to do it intentionally. Social media is more like a push.

I do want to set an example for others though, so I hope this is part of that. Plus I want to praise God for giving me the health and energy and motivation to do this. I know how privileged I am.

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Friday Night Lights

Toni and I went to the State Fair last night after I got back from work. We drove down Fairview to a local church parking lot and took a bus from there. We shared a "Spicy Pork Bowl" from the "Blue Barn," walked through the crowds, stopped in the Heritage Center and the Education Building, tried going to the Fine Arts Center but it was closed at 9:00 PM, stood in line and then rode the "Great Big Wheel" where we saw lightning on the horizon, got 2 cream puffs and got on the bus back to our car before it started raining. A pretty perfect way to end the week.

(Toni had already been to the fair with friends during the day yesterday, so she didn't have to get a ticket. In fact, their tickets were free because they played with a band in the afternoon State Fair parade.)

It's a rainy day today so I'm glad we went to the fair last night. Now I've started a list of things to do today. Great to have a day off.

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Friday, August 25, 2017

Muscle or Tendon?

Today I went to see a family practice doctor about my right arm. It was hurt sometime during the first full week of this month. Since then there's been a "stinging" or "burning" sensation whenever I extend the arm fully, especially when I do pull ups. I've stopped doing hard exercises with that arm -- and I'm trying to be good to it. Next Tuesday I'm scheduled for an "MRI of the upper arm to evaluate for a distal biceps or triceps tear."

I'm thankful for health insurance, and for the fact that it doesn't hurt when I drive.

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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Self

Many times I don't remember what I've written previously on this blog, at least not without looking back, or searching. I did a quick search right now for a particular word and can't find that I've actually written anything on this one word, so I guess I haven't.

The subject isn't "self," but, instead it's the word "self." At the beginning of 2016 God gave me that word as a sort of "theme" -- a central concept or organizing idea, an idea that has held my attention now for more than a year, a word I keep coming back to when I get bothered by things beyond my control.

When I read Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest, I'm brought back to that theme. When I read scripture or hear a sermon I'm called to self-examination, not to being critical of others. And when I wake up in the middle of the night, and find my mind rushing to so many things that I can't do anything about, the Lord brings me back to "self." Not self-ish, self as in "Let God work in YOUR life, and let Him have his way with others in His way."

I don't need to manage anyone else's life, not even those closest to my heart.

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Here are three examples of what I've written on this topic before:

A facebook post from May 7, 2017
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A blog post from the beginning of this year
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The last half of a blog post from 2015
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