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Archive for June, 2012


One of the more difficult things in pastoral ministry is the keeping of secrets. Not our own, but the hearing and bearing of others’ secrets.

We hear all kinds of things in pastoral counseling. We hear how people have been sinned against, and how they have sinned. It is difficult to hear the dirt on someone. There is no one to tell.

Some of those secrets are more ordinary- unfortunately. Sad to think that hearing about sexual abuse is old hat. But sometimes there are stories that strike you deep because they are that powerful. I hadn’t heard too many of those in years past. But I have had two of those this year. It takes its toll precisely because there is no one you can tell. These are things you don’t even tell your wife. It wears on your soul.

This is one of the side benefits of going to General Assembly. You see trusted friends who know no one in your situation. You can share some of those burdens without any collateral damage. They won’t look at anyone differently. They aren’t going to visit your congregation and wonder. They are completely disconnected from the situation.

I feel for the guys who don’t have such opportunities. They probably need to talk to a counselor periodically. Sin is a great weight, and we can’t carry it alone. Jesus doesn’t tell us to bear it alone (Gal. 6), but to bear one another’s burdens. I am grateful I have a friends who can bear those with me, and whose burdens I can bear. Guys who don’t go to counseling or implode. If you are one of those guys, find someone safe to talk to. Fast.

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GA 2012- Day 5


It was a late night. We finished the business of the Assembly just before 11 pm. I spent some time relaxing with Danny and Jamie. Before I knew it the clock said 12:30 am. Time to head back to my hotel. I was in bed before 1:30. I slept okay, waking up around 7. I had plans for a long walk in the morning.

But first I went down to the breakfast area for some tea. While there, on my iPad, Eddie showed up. So we talked for awhile, eventually joined by Dominic Aquila. It was interesting talking with him- he knows lots of PCA history. And before I knew it, it was nearly 10 am. I was not sure what time Danny and Jamie would pick me up, so I guessed I wouldn’t have time to take a walk, shower and get packed before they did.

I checked out at 11:30. Their car was packed, ready for their trip back. So it was a tight fit. We enjoyed a nice, non-bar lunch since he did the Bourbon Walk. Jamie was relieved. We went Mexican at a chain. Little did I realize this would be my only real meal of the day. Soon they were bringing me to the airport. I had a box from Danny, filled with beer to bring home. He’s a pro at packing beer for airplane rides. So I thought I was okay.

When I went to check the box, well … She was not happy with Danny’s job. I understand since if any of them broke it would get on other people’s luggage. I would have to buy cushioned bags. She disappeared for awhile, cramming my 11 bottles into 3 bags. This would cost me $15. But I was able to check them and move on with life.

I made my way to the security check. It was a long line for a small airport. The estimate was less than 30 minutes. That is a long wait for an airport that size. I would have to get used to waiting.

I made my way to the gate, and Ed was nowhere to be found. So I settled in with my novel. Soon Jason Bobo showed up. And then Ed. So we continued our fellowship as we waited for our various flights out of Louisville. We noticed that another flight was cancelled and some other PCA guys were stranded for the night. Soon, our flight was delayed, again and again. Soon the 5:15 flight was scheduled to leave for 6:50. Other flights were delayed. We thought it was a storm. Unsure if we’d make our connection, and not wanting to risk not eating, we decided to head to a restaurant around 5:40. We grabbed a seat and ordered drinks. Next thing we know the gate was changed and the flight was boarding. What?!

They announced a fire in an FAA facility that was grounding traffic in the northeast. Our flight was originating from their, which is why it was pushed back repeatedly. Since they couldn’t send a newly arrived plane on to Baltimore, they unloaded it and sent us to Chicago in it. They were not boarding yet, so we took a chance to get something to eat from Quiznos’. I placed my order and got my Doritos and drink while I waited on my sandwich. And waited. The two guys making them seemed utterly clueless to airport realities. They started to board, and I could wait no more. The Doritos would have to suffice.

Our arrival in Chicago was the opposite of our trip to Louisville. We arrived in the wilderness and had to quickly make our way from terminal A to B. We had enough time to go to the bathroom, but not grab anything to eat. We arrived moments before boarding. We’d make it home. But we learned that Jason’s flight was cancelled. He was supposed to pack when he got home, load the truck on Saturday and move to Dallas. Now he wasn’t sure when he’d get home. And I was stressed? Yes, I had plenty to do before I left for vacation Sunday, including Men’s Group, attending a funeral service and preaching Sunday. But that pales, in my opinion, with what he had to do.

Despite all the changes, stress and lack of food, we only arrived in Tucson about 30 minutes late. My beer arrived safely, though getting our bags too awhile in the notoriously slow Tucson International Airport. Soon we were in my car and heading home. We would sleep in our own beds that night. The next morning I learned Eddie got stranded in Charlotte. Then the airline lost his bag, which had his keys in it. I don’t know when he made it home since his wife was on vacation.

It was a good trip- though filled with various adversities. I was able to enjoy time with good friends. I wasn’t quite pleased with how we did our business. But we are sinners, and God knows He has entrusted His church into our hands.

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You can’t take all this too seriously.

A decent night’s sleep is a wonderful thing. I was tired through part of the day, and not as quick on my feet as I’d like but I was not exhausted like the previous few days. This was good because the business of the Assembly would continue until nearly 11 pm.

I woke up earlier than I’d hoped when some stranger knocked on my door. I decided to pass on the morning seminar and relaxed in the breakfast area of the hotel. Eddie popped by and we enjoyed some time together before heading over to the Convention Center. This is the day that most of the real work gets done as we handled Minutes of Presbytery and Overtures. In the ARP, the review of minutes, Session and Presbytery, focuses on form and not substance. In the PCA attention is paid to substance, particularly the granting of exceptions. There was a biggie regarding the practice of paedocommunion, or infant communion.

Paedocommunion is not permitted in the PCA. Elders are permitted to believe in the practice, but not to teach or practice it. There is a tension over it. I am in the group that prefers the status quo in this matter. Some people want it ruled as permissible to practice. Another group wants it completely gone, and no longer permissible as an exception. Frankly, the way at which it was expressed in the report confused me. I’m still getting oriented to how things are done. But, the discussion overlooked the fact that he was permitted to teach and practice it. If this had been clearly stated, the discussion would  have been much shorter. So it was was referred back to the committee.

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Sleep deprivation is an ugly thing. I was a zombie, minus the odd gait and thirst for human flesh. I hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in about a week. It was taking its toll as I often nearly nodded off throughout the day.

I wasn’t the only one . The guys I shared the room with didn’t sleep that night due to my snoring. They had ear plugs. One tried to sleep in the closet to find refuge, to no avail. They didn’t dare risk it again. I am the sole survivor of the apocalypse. Throughout the day I ran into other guys from my presbytery in a similar state. Not how you want to do church business.

First, I went to the prayer seminar by Paul Miller. It was good, a condensed version of his prayer seminar. But I couldn’t make it thru the 2nd half of the session. Too tired! But I discovered that most PCA pastors struggle with prayer at least as much as me. This is counter-intuitive with our theology.We confess the weakness of the flesh, and idolatry of the heart. We know the importance of prayer and yet aren’t known for our prayer lives.

The morning business session dealt with the overtures (requests for action) regarding. The Book of Church Order and Rules of Assembly. Perhaps there is a purgatory, and I was in it. Hearing from representatives for other denominations was good. One of the conservative Presbyterian churches in South Korea and the Presbyterian Church of Brazil far outnumber the the conservative Presbyterian denominations here, combined.

Lunch was spent with Doug Falls. Good friendships just pick right up again. I love that. We went to an Irish pub, and the black and blue burger was good. Catching up was better.

Instead of checking the agenda, I sat down in the meeting as it resumed. I should have gone back to the hotel for a nap. Mostly reports. They can be encouraging, but I was just too tired.

Dinner was with the Daltons at Doc Crow’s as Danny continued the Louisville Bourbon Walk. Good BBQ, and more affordable than lunch (do you sense a pattern here?). It was unique with the slaw under meat and fried onions on top. Bye onions.  Joe’s Crab Shack was turning into my white whale. Would I ever get some seafood (though I could have had a soft shell sandwich at Doc’s)?

The worship service was tough, I was sooo tired. And the sermon intro was way too long. I asked Danny, “Does he have a text, cause he’s not exegeting anything.” Suddenly he addressed the text. Did a good job, though it was not substantially longer then his intro.

Then I discovered there was no business that night. There was an ice cream social. A great opportunity to just enjoy Danny and Jamie’s company. But I needed sleep so I returned to the hotel to find Eddie gone and the other guy getting a room elsewhere. Awkward!

A check of the Red Sox score and a few chapters of a novel, and it was to bed for a decent night’s sleep. True to form, I’d be up for an hour in the middle of the night, and would be awakened before 7 by some stranger knocking on my door, but mission mostly accomplished.

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I woke up early. Too early after staying up too late. But after breakfast, I put on my shorts and walking shoes and took a long walk I listened to music and a sermon by Sinclair Ferguson. It was beautiful riverfront park. But I noticed a number of people who looked unemployed or homeless. In the downtown area, there were other marks of the recession. Empty, older buildings were commonplace.  There was some great architecture in the area.

Eventually I made my way over to the convention center to register and peruse the exhibit hall. Always good to do that before it gets too busy. I was able to spend a few minutes talking with Jason Bobo from Redeemer Seminary, and Ra McLaughlin from III Millennium Ministries. Jason used to be an RUF campus minister in my Presbytery, so I wanted to see how he was adjusting. I used to work with Ra at Ligonier Ministries. Richard Pratt was busy, but I said a quick ‘hi’ and shook his hand.

Then a ‘healthy’ lunch at Panera. The Thai Chicken Chop salad looked interesting. I’ve heard of the jumping cactus, but not the jumping salad dressing. It jumped upon my shirt. Not want you want as you meet people you haven’t seen in who knows how long, and show up at the opening worship service.  Thankfully I had 2 new t-shirts to wear when I run out of polo shirts.

The seminar on the Holy Spirit’s work of Gospel Consolation was very good. I needed to hear it, and be reminded of the Spirit work of bringing Christ’s work to mind. It was a very encouraging seminar. The next seminar was more theoretical- John Owen and Confessions.  The speaker tried to keep us in balance. Confessions should be in touch with the past, and relevant for the needs of the present. This is pertinent because there are some who consider amending the Westminster Confession anathema. Others would like to see it updated. As mentioned in the previous seminar, the PC (US) updated it years earlier to include chapters on the Spirit and the Gospel. There may be topics that weren’t very important then, but are now.

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I’ve been struggling with a bout of insomnia lately. So it wasn’t a surprise when I was awake at 3:30 in the morning. But after an hour , I was able to get back to sleep. When I woke up again at 6:45 to the loud noises of CavSon, I was quite glad that I wasn’t riding to the airport with another local pastor on his way to Louisville. I needed about an hour to get ready, so I ended up leaving later than I expected. He was already at the gate when I was only about 5 minutes from my house. By then the dog had puked, beginning a long, hard day for CavWife.

I got one of the few remaining covered spots at the Fast Park and Relax. I actually had to check a bag because I transported 3 big bottles of beer for my friend Danny. It was stuff he couldn’t get in FL. He would have some stuff I can’t get in AZ. The line for security was the longest I’d seen at TIA, which isn’t saying much. Finally, I got to the gate with time to spare. A quick call to CavWife, and messages to old friends occupied my time by the gate. Then it was time for Ed and I to board the plane. It was a full flight, so we were crammed in there.

I decided to spend my time going over the Commissioner Handbook. I repeatedly interrupted Ed with “Can you believe this?”  there really needs to be a limit on the number of overtures each Presbytery can make in a year. Some made 7 or 8. Glad someone has time to ponder changes to the Book of Church Order and Rules of the Assembly because I sure don’t. Maybe these things keep them up at night So, there was a big binder on my lap thru most of the journey.

After a wee bit of turbulence we arrived safely in Chicago. We had some decidedly non-Chicago-style pizza and talked. We discovered that our gate was off in the wilderness, and began the trail of tears. You know you those remote areas with signs saying “No Gas 40 miles”?  There should have been one that said no bathrooms or food for 2 miles. Remote!

Distracted by a call to CavWife and confused by the time change which was not reflected by my phone, we nearly missed our flight. Apparently times flies in Chicago, or the suburb we hiked to.

Safely in Louisville, I commented on how strange it was to miss humidity. Shortly after checking in around 8, Danny texted me. So I walked to their hotel to eat their leftovers and have a delicious , cold beer from Cigar City Brewery while we enjoyed some time talking. Our wives carried on a conversation via text. They had a decidedly superior view from their 20th floor room. It overlooked the river, with steamboats  soon it was nearly 11, so I returned to my hotel before crashing around 1 am. Sadly, I’d wake up around 6 am, not quite ready for a new day.

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Sometimes you find strange bedfellows in the course of publishing. Fearless is a book published by an overtly Christian publisher. It is the story of Adam Brown, a Christian who served on Seal Team Six. It was written by Eric Blehm, who doesn’t seem to be a Christian, but who specializes in books about military men and exercises. So it all works.

“Adam was a friend, teammate, and brother in arms. Adam was a husband and a son and a father. Adam will always be a hero. His actions on his final mission were indicative of the way he lived his life. Fearless.” Adam’s CO in Afghanistan

Eric Blehm keeps the pacing of Adam’s story moving. He does not linger too long in any one place.  He is honest about Adam’s life. Early on he seems bigger than life, as the qualities that made him a Navy Seal reveal themselves in his childhood. He was tough, relentless and kind-hearted. Adam stuck up for the little guy.

But, like many, he needed direction. Soon after graduating from high school, a dating relationship would lead him down a bad road that would long outlast that bad relationship. She would introduce him to drugs, including crack. This is the drug that nearly cost him everything.

Adam’s story is about 2nd and 3rd chances. After a few arrests, time at Teen Challenge and yet still struggling with addiction he decides he needs to enter the Navy with a long term goal of becoming a Navy Seal. It is then that someone takes a chance on him- Captain Buschmann, the father of one of his best friends.

It is the story of love, perseverance and faith. His parents, siblings and wife struggled to love him because of his addiction. It never completely went away. Like most addictions, it re-surfaced at inopportune moments.

Not only did they have to persevere with Adam, but Adam had to persevere through numerous injuries that would have forced a lesser man to give up. He had a high pain threshold, to say the least. Being a Seal takes a tremendous toll on your body due to the physical conditioning necessary (at one point he had a 4 inch long bone chip removed from his ankles, and should have had the bones fused). He would suffer freak injuries to his right eye and hand that should have resulted in him being washed out to the Seals. But he learned to shoot left-handed and passed the training and tests to join the elite Team Six despite them. He was prone to accidents as well. He could have (should have?) taken disability long before his final deployment. But that just didn’t fit who Adam was.

In his youth his grandmother would bring Adam and his twin sister to church since he parents didn’t go to church. He prayed that God would save them. He would bring them to saving faith, and the means was Adam’s destructive addiction to crack. Broken, Adam would eventually reaffirm his own faith in Christ. He was not a Bible-thumper, but loved the men he worked with and invited many of them to church. After Adam’s own death on a mission, one of his best friends came to faith. Six weeks later, that Seal was with the others on the CH-47 that crashed.

“Are we going to abandon our faith, or apply our faith?” Adam’s father Larry Brown

Blehm tells a very engaging story about a unique sort of man. Passionate in his love for his country, an expert in warfare, Adam was also a goofy dad who loved to play with kids at church and while in the field. Seeing Afghan children without shoes and winter approaching, he started a drive that provided over 500 shoes for children. His was not a merely intellectual faith.

The book is understandably short on mission details. Most of his work is still classified. But the book relays lots of information about the final mission that took his life. It was his last deployment. He’d just received his bachelor’s degree and hoped to get an MBA. He was ready to settle in at home with Kelly and the kids. His death rocked the faith of his whole family, which is understandable. Their faith didn’t present them easy answers. They struggled.

Mild Cautions-

First, there are aspects to their faith that come across as more superstitious than biblical. I’m not saying they aren’t Christians, I think they are. But the idea that someone is “with you” or “present” after death is contrary to Scripture. Christians are in the presence of Jesus and did not suddenly become ubiquitous.

Second, since it deals with military culture there is some off-color language and experiences that most non-military people like myself don’t get. For instance, he takes a bet to place his scrotum (Blehm used the more common slang term) on a fire ant hill for 30 seconds. Having been bitten by fire ants often, I’m not putting the most sensitive part of my body on a hill to be attacked.  Especially as my friends watch, or hold me down.

There was much to like about this book. I’ve read other books by and about the Seals and Delta Force. This was up there with Marcus Luttrell’s Lone Survivor. You get a glimpse into the training and personal lives, shaping influences and more. You are left with a deep appreciation for the work they do for the other citizens of the country they love.

[I received a promotional copy of this book from the publisher for the purposes of review]

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