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Archive for July, 2011


It was precisely 30 days, 6 beds and 4 states after our arrival in Newark.  As the plane descended that day, CavGirl shouted “Green!” with glee over seeing so much green that is decidedly missing in the desert.  It was a great vacation.  My one complaint was that I didn’t get as much sleep as I wanted (and I didn’t get to go to Fenway).  This was partly because my in-laws don’t believe in using shades, blinds or anything else that blocks the light from entering the windows.  This means the CavKids got up early.  They would inevitably decide to wake me up.

This morning was no different, though a little bit earlier.  For government work, I’d say around 6:30 or so they roosted me from my slumber.  It would be the beginning of a long day, that would not end until about 3:30 in the morning after crossing the country.  It was not as strange the first trip, but strange in its own way.

After our good-byes, we climbed into the Envoy for the long trip to NJ.  Deciding to save CavWife from car sickness, I sat in the middle section.  I thought that after we got out of the mountains we’d switch.  I … was …. wrong.  This meant I spent about 4 hours unable to stretch my legs except for the stops at rest areas necessitated by traveling with 2 young children and 2 retirees.

Finally we arrived at one of CavWife’s sister’s home.  She fed us a late lunch.  The kids were able to get some exercise in the pool.  Soon they beckoned me to join them.  I dragged my aching back into the pool while CavWife spent time talking with her parents and 2 of her sisters.  At one point I inadvertently ran CavGirl over with the raft CavSon was in.  She was a trooper, hanging on and bobbing back up without getting scared.  Ah, progress.

Then back into the car for the ride to Newark and the airport.  This time I lodged myself into the front passenger’s seat.  No, didn’t call shotgun.  After another hour or so in the car, we arrived and were dropped off.  We paid the sky caps to take care of our bags rather than wait in a long line.  He must have been new because our boarding passes took forever.  His name was long, and unpronounceable.  “Welcome to America!  Here, have a job checking our bags.”  He must have thought us a strange culture.

We made our way through security, and then the fun started.  We were in the same terminal but all the things we didn’t notice in our previous exhaustion soon became apparent.  It is a smaller terminal.  Operative word here is smaller.  There was precisely one sit down restaurant.  We didn’t want to sit down for dinner.  It was around 6 and we wanted something to carry on to the plan.  Mrs. Obama would be happy, there was no McDonalds.  We were not so happy.  There was only a newstand that sold $8 sandwiches.  Yes, $8 for prepackaged sandwiches you could get at 7-11 for half that.  You have to love the whole captive passenger thing.

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I did something I rarely do yesterday.  I checked my Facebook via my semi-smart phone (or is it quasi-smart?).  I was traveling with the family all day and decided to do a status update for some reason.  That’s when I saw that one of my friends mentioned John Stott’s death.  If the death of His saints is precious in His sight, it should also be in ours.

Acts says that David served God’s purposes for his generation.  The same, I think, can be said for John Stott.  Oh, some will lament his views on annihilation (as do I), but overall he was a faithful servant of Christ and was a key figure among British evangelicals, as was J.I. Packer.  His impact was not limited to England.  In the late 90’s I went on 3 mission trips to assist Armonia, a ministry in Mexico City committed to urban transformation.  Saul Cruz had studied under John Stott, and their ministries were linked in some way if I remember correctly on this sleep-deprived day.

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The other day I was talking to a church planter and the topic of study leave came up.  He wasn’t sure how I approached study leave.  Some guys prepare for upcoming sermon series by reading a commentary or two.  I usually don’t approach it that way.  I use study leave, primarily, to do the things I often don’t have time to do in the regular rhythm of pastoral life.

I try to read a book in an area of interest or weakness.  Recently, while preparing a sermon, I noticed my library was lacking books specifically on the Trinity.  So on this study leave I read Fred Sanders’ book on the Trinity, The Deep Things of God.  We all have areas as pastors we have not studied deeply.  There are some issues (the doctrines of grace, spiritual gifts, leadership or eschatology) that pastors spend lots of time reading and thinking.  But there are many we neglect, and are neglected by authors.  The Trinity is just one of those.  I’d also include Christology, the atonement and the Sacraments (though baptism is popular, but not as part of understanding sacraments).

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Our personal history can help us, or hinder us.  I don’t recall my childhood being one filled with affirmation and praise.  I seem quite capable of affirming the kids, but struggle at times when I need to affirm adults.  I’m not sure why that is.  Perhaps because they don’t often learn new things, and much of my affirming the kids comes as they gain new skills.

Many kids today are growing up in an era of “fake affirmation”.  They are affirmed so much for so many things they probably wonder if they can do any wrong.  Maybe I had a graduation ceremony for elementary.  I can’t remember.  But today every little milestone is celebrated so that those that actually have meaning have their meaning minimized.

So there are two errors that can take place: the neglect and over-use of affirmation.  One aspect of over-use is the man-centered aspect of affirmation.  It is into this context that Sam Crabtree has written his long-needed book Practicing Affirmation.  He believes that Christians should practice commending others to the glory of God.   In other words, we commend them for character, attitudes and actions that reflect the character, attitudes and actions of God.  As a result, we are praising God as we commend them.  This keeps us from what he calls idolatrous commendation, and failing to commend (just as sinful as the other extreme).

This is a fairly short book that seeks to facilitate the practice of affirmation.  It is not just defending the practice, though he does do that.  And there are some questions or arguments he spends more time on.  For instance, he spends much time refuting the argument that non-Christians should not be commended.  He rightly asserts that such a conclusion neglects two very important biblical truths.  First, as James 3 notes, people still bear God’s image.  Though unregenerate, non-Christians still bear some testimony to the God whose image they reflect.  Second, due to common grace even non-Christians can grow in relative character and act in ways that are commendable.

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Right now I’m stuck.  Flat tire.  You know how that goes.  Planus interruptus.  Instead of heading to church, we are stuck at the Farm because I can’t seem to lower the spare tire.  As annoying as it may be, it is not as annoying as if it had happened Friday while we were driving home back from NH in the midst of a heat wave.  That would have been worse, especially in light of my inability to lower that spare tire.  We passed one poor soul whose jack had dug into the hot pavement, unable to lift his vehicle.

Before traveling to NH to visit my parents, we decided it was time for a haircut.  The “Butcher of Bakers Mills” discovered the clippers, held together by duct tape, only had 2 attachments.  So I got buzzed pretty good.  I decided this was a good time to remove 3 weeks’ worth of stubble from my face.  I ended up looking like one of my brothers.  So I thought.

She's got an idea...

But even before this… CavGirl stepped on a nail while playing in the woods with her cousins.  CavWife heard some screaming over the persistent sound of Pop-Pop’s lawnmower.  He big cousin Evan carried her to her aunt’s house.  It bled alot, which was good.  And she seemed to do well.  We agonized over whether or not she needed a tetanus booster.  We relented since it had been 5 years.  The doctor decided she needed antibiotics just in case.  2 problems.  First, he gave her a liquid.  Second, he said it didn’t taste very good.  I want to smack this guy.  Though this could be the reason he is practicing medicine in the middle of nowhere.  For most of the 10 day protocol of antibiotics, 4 times a day, we had to deal with screaming, running, gagging and more.  A few night’s later I watched Inception with my oldest niece.  He planted the idea in her mind that this would taste horrible and like Cobb we couldn’t get the thought out of her mind.

With renters in the main house, we headed down to CavWife’s sister’s home.  Down into the cave so the morning sun wouldn’t wake me up.  But the footsteps would.  But before a night’s sleep, we went to someone’s house on Garnett Lake.  He is the retired basketball coach from Wheaton.  He and his wife were great hosts as we sat by the lake with one eye on the kids while we talked about life.  Then I slept in the 4th bed on this trip.

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When you’re a kid, there are few things more exciting than a circus.  When you are the parent … there are few things as frustrating.  And enjoyable.  We experiences all of that and more on our recent trip to the circus while on vacation.  Seen thru the eyes of faith, there are few things that more clearly give us a vision of the creation mandate.

There is the blessing, and the curse.  You see people subduing part of creation.  The trainers have various animals performing prepared routines.  While this could lead to exploitation, it isn’t necessarily the exploitation of the animals.  We see people exercising the authority God gave humanity at creation.

We also witness some performers mastering the “laws of nature” to perform great feats that exceed our imagination.  I love to see people do such things.  It is a glimpse of glory.

Then there is the curse.  Sometimes people and animals are exploited.  Some of the performers are treated like, or act like, sexual objects.  One of the performers had a very casual and scarily seductive way about her.  Sex can sell, and she was using it to keep her job.  That’s sad because her skills exceeded the other women she was working with.  They were more awkward.  She seemed a natural, but the look on her face seemed to invite more than admiration of skill.

The curse is also seen in the crass greed.  They had some good sale pitches.  For instance, peanuts were only sold for 5 minutes and might include a coupon for a free balloon.  The stick of the balloon won by the girl in front of my kept hitting me and poking me.  Not so much fun.  But I felt like Pilgrim at Vanity Fair: buy this, eat that, ride this…. The onslaught was non-stop, and my kids would have been willing victims.  Thankfully, we don’t carry much cash so they didn’t get all the pony or camel rides, popcorn, etc. that their hearts desired.

So, our recent trip to the “one ring circus” was filled with glory and depravity.  It is a microcosm of life.  And I find that interesting.

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I grew up in the 2-time Money Magazine #1 City to live in.  Of course this was after I moved away (is there a correlation or causation there?).  I spent about 7 years in Orlando, FL.  My 10+ years in Winter Haven were small city-ish.  I now live in a large city again.  But my in-laws live in the middle of nowhere.

Seriously. Friends visiting us there asked where the town was.  “You’re in it.”  The only non-residential buildings I’ve seen are the Post Office, volunteer fire station and the church.  The school is 6 miles and 2 towns over.  The nearest Wal-Mart is about 40 minutes away, as is the nearest mall and actual movie theatre.  Cell-phone coverage?  About 9 square feet on the back porch.  There are only 2 gas stations within 15-20 minutes, and they are next door to each other.

Here in the middle of nowhere, we have chickens and guinea hens.  It is amusing to see a chicken running across the lawn.  Or to see a gaggle of guineas hooting their way around the yard.  This year we discovered a hen being followed by 18 chicks.  The days of mail order chicks may be done.  But there is talk of a highland (or furry) cow.

Mystery Animal

When you live in the middle of nowhere, one of the things you do for fun (read: entertain the kids) is visit petting zoos and alpaca farms.  Each year we make our pilgrimage to the Word of Life Ranch.  I say ‘hi’ to the llama with the offset jaw.  He’s a reminder to me that I am loved by God despite my own brokenness.  The young kids love the goats, sheep, rabbits, horses and more.

This year we stopped in on an alpaca farm.  What, you ask, is an alpaca?  It is part of the same family as the camel, and looks like a smaller version of a llama.  They are not beasts of burden, like the camel and llama because of their size.  Like sheep, they are shorn and their fur is turned into yarn.  Don’t tell the lady who raises them, and calls them all by name, but they are also raised for their meat.

They are fascinating creatures.  Unlike most livestock, they use a common “bathroom” to prevent predators from tracking them.  They are basically helpless.  Which is why it was so funny to watch 2 of them fight.  It was like two geeks trying to hit each other (I can still use the word geek, right?).  Their necks were intertwined (see the picture of the shorn alpacas) and they made camel like grunts while spitting.  See, there is a common denominator between the 3- spitting.  They roll around in the dirt to cool off and lay with their bellies exposed to the sun to soak up the vitamin D.

There's an alpaca under there!

Life here is very different from any life I’ve known.  This summer has been interesting in some new ways.  For instance, this was the first time we were up here for the 4th of July.  We often travel the 11 miles and 30 minutes to a beach a few more towns over.  We decided to head over there on the 2nd of July.  One of the kids’ cousins from NJ decided she wanted to spend birthday up here.  We went to the beach to play and have a cookout.  We didn’t realize it was [name of town] Day.  I guess each year they have their annual meeting, have a parade, covered dish BBQ and watch the fire works.  Could your town have a covered dish BBQ at the local park?  In the process of preparations, we had to move about 3 times on the beach.  We made sure our food was ready before the parade.

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