The Necessity of Church – Part 1 of 4 – Adoption As Sons and Daughters

Author’s Note: I wrote this short devotional, not for this blog, but for some friends of mine who I felt needed to understand the necessity of church. I’m not putting this on here to invite discussion, but rather to edify those whose hearts God is moving toward a proper view of the bride of His Son. I may respond to comments on this blog, or on the Facebook post which I will link, but then again, I may not. I don’t have a great deal of time for online discussions and debates these days.
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Creating Community in the Church

I attend a church that is big on community. The very model of the church is one that fosters this type of community, and it really is rare in this day and age to have a church which is focused on the shepherding to the extent that my church is. It’s built into the process of becoming an elder by the denomination. It really is refreshing to see a group of elders seeking to shepherd the families in the church. The Lord’s Day worship service is also designed to foster this sense of community. We recite the covenant promises back and forth to one another. We confess sin corporately as well as privately. We partake in the Lord’s Supper corporately as families, including the children. (A discussion for another blog post.) After the regular worship service, we have our family-integrated Sunday school, all together.  And finally, every week we have a potluck-style meal where we sit down, break bread, and then spend time fellowshiping with one another. Community is clearly very important to our body. However, there are always people who have unmet needs, no matter how focused the church is on any given topic. That’s what I want to talk about today.
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Wisdom for my Son: …do all to the glory of God.

This is another in a series of posts wherein I put down some things I’d like to eventually have the chance to teach my son. Life has reinforced to me of late that none of us really know how much time we have. Lord willing, we will have the chance to pass on the things we want to pass on. In case He is not willing, this is my effort to put it out there.

1 Corinthians 10:31 – “For whether therefore you eat, drink, or whatsoever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

This was the first verse you ever memorized. When you memorized it, you were 2, I believe, and had no idea what I was making you memorize. You just had such an amazing memory that we started working on the catechism questions with you, and this proof text to the first catechism question is an important one, so I made you memorize it as well. What I want to make sure you understand is why it is important, and what it means.

I named my home brewery 1031 Brews as a reference to this verse. It is clearly a command to the Corinthian church, so we need to make sure that what we do, we do to the glory of God. Likewise, what we choose not to do, we choose not to do it to the glory of God. It’s a convoluted bit of language, I know, but stick with me, here. When I turned 21, I resumed drinking alcohol. I did it primarily to be argumentative, I think. The prevailing beliefs of the church I was attending at the time were that drinking alcohol in a bar was not the business of Christians. I had an understanding of Christian liberty, and was desirous to stand upon that, getting in the face of all who opposed me. Did I drink to the glory of God? No. This is an important distinction I want to highlight. There is nothing wrong with drinking in moderation. Christ drank. Christ gave the wine He created to a bunch of drunk people. There is NOTHING wrong with drinking…if it’s done to the glory of God. Was there something wrong with MY drinking? Well, there was definitely something wrong with my attitude, and that’s what made it wrong.

See, our actions are only a problem when they reflect a problem in the heart. Not all actions can be done to the glory of God, but the real sin lies in the attitude and focus of the heart. This something I’ve come to understand only recently. It’s a heart issue, and it always has been. Sure, there are some actions that cannot be done to the glory of God, and the heart which desires to do these actions is sinning against God. But even actions which are lawful for a Christian, which CAN be done to the glory of God, are still sin if the attitude of the Christian is not seeking God’s glory in all things.

I mentioned that some actions cannot be done to the glory of God. One cannot murder to the glory of God. One cannot practice homosexuality to the glory of God. For various reasons, God has commanded that these things must not be done. One cannot willfully disobey God to His glory. This is one reason why it is so important that Christians read the Word…know what God has commanded. It is not enough to have good intentions. Intentions without purposeful action are worthless. Intentions that drive one to act are what matters. Seek out the knowledge of God. God has condescended to teach us things about Himself, and it is our responsibility to learn those things.

So, whether therefore you eat, drink, or whatsoever you do, do all the to glory of God. If you choose not to eat, do THAT to the glory of God. If you choose not to drink, do THAT to the glory of God. The action is only important insofar as the heart is the wellspring of life. Your words and deeds are the overflow of your heart, but it is the attitude of your heart that God is MOST concerned with.

It takes two to tango

Ah, how to begin a post like this, which is likely to anger many of the people who will stumble across it, but nevertheless is the truth. I’ll start by saying this: marital infidelity is wrong. Do NOT misunderstand me, here. Marital infidelity is wrong. There is no excuse for it, and no reasoning is sufficient to justify it. END. OF. STORY. As you get further in this post, please refer back to this paragraph when you feel that I am excusing infidelity…I am NOT. The word “seduce” comes from a Latin word, which means “to be led”. Man’s role in the family is to lead. He is to be a leader in all he does. What he does when he is being seduced is shirking his responsibility, not just to be faithful to his wife, but his God-mandated responsibility of leading his family. I hope I have been clear. When a man is unfaithful, he is essentially giving up his manhood, repudiating what it MEANS to be a man. No excuse at all. Having said that, as my post title indicates, it takes two to tango. If that statement just caused your blood pressure to rise, please read the first paragraph of my post again. Marriage is work. Anyone who tells you otherwise cannot be trusted. Marriage is about compromise, hard work, and for the man, dedication to leadership. Not a single one of us is a perfect husband or wife. To varying degrees, we miss the mark of what we are called to do in our marriages. None of us loves selflessly enough, works hard enough, serves our spouse enough…none of us is what Christ is to the Church. These shortcomings, small though they may sound in a vacuum, are often what forms the basis for driving a marriage apart.

Here’s a little scenario describing what I mean: John and Jane got married because they were in love. John works a difficult job, which is physically taxing. When he gets home and on his weekends, he tries to spend time relaxing. He enjoys watching sports, and Jane doesn’t mind sports either. However, Jane wishes he’d do more around the house. She starts reminding him that the lawn needs to be mowed, the siding needs to be repaired, the BBQ needs to be cleaned, etc. He gets up and mows the lawn. He comes in covered in grass bits and sits on the couch again, exhausted. She chides him for getting grass on the chair. He goes to take a shower. He gets out of the shower, realized the game he’s been wanting to watch is on, goes back out to watch the game, and is reminded by a frustrated Jane that the siding is still not repaired, and that it’s supposed to rain next week. At this point, due to Jane’s frustration, her voice is less kind. He feels as though he is being nagged. She feels as though he’s not doing his job. The reality is they’re both right. Imagine this scenario playing out day after day.

Now, our nature as humans leads us to look at actions. Guys say “Hey, he mowed the lawn, lay off him. There’s nothing wrong with watching the game, is there?” Women say “Jane is being practical. These chores need to be done.” There is nothing wrong with the activities. There is something wrong with the heart. “Six days shalt thou labor.” Inherent in the command to keep the Sabbath holy is another command to work six days. I’m not arguing for a change in the traditional work week, but rather calling us to recognize the fact that Saturdays cannot be lazy days. I am guilty of this, myself. However, while John is certainly causing some issues with his shirking of his responsibilities, Jane is causing problems with her constant reminders that he’s not being the man she needs. Enough of this kind of interaction, and his working relationships with women at his office will begin to seem more attractive to him than going home to be nagged. Of course, he’s ignoring his own contribution to the problem, and I’m not excusing his eventual unfaithfulness. However, both John and Jane need to look carefully at how their actions and attitudes are contributing to what will eventually lead John to sin, and that is why it takes two to tango.

Again, because I can already hear the complaints. I am not excusing John’s sin. What’s more, I am arguing that if John’s heart were in the right place and if John sought to labor at work and at home as unto the Lord, there would be no issue. I firmly believe that pretty much all family problems originate with the husband. When the husband does not lead as he ought to lead, plenty of problems can occur. However, this is not to say that problems could not have been mitigated with a meek attitude and loving discussion as opposed to constant “reminders” which can easily be interpreted as nagging. Certainly, if John’s heart had been in the right place, then Jane wouldn’t have felt the need to remind him of his duty, but the attitude which she had in doing so also contributed to the problem. John’s sin does not excuse hers. If she had sat down with him after the kids were in bed and brought up the topic, how much different would things have been? If she had not waited until the moment he sat down and exhaled a sigh of contentment, would things have been different? And again, if this happened every day, how much more frustrating would this be on all sides? Marriage is work, not just for the man in the relationship. Marriage is not defined as “The man doing everything in his power to make his wife happy while his wife accepts his efforts as her just reward.” Men have to work to act contrary to their sin nature just as women do, but it is certainly work on both sides. Furthermore, if one accepts that we ought to work to be servants of others, this makes the compromise far easier than when we are all working to merely satisfy our own lusts and desires. When a man begins his Saturday by asking or even spending time thinking about what he could do to make his wife happy, and a woman starts her Saturday in the same manner, how much different would our above scenario have turned out? John would have planned out his day so that he could mow the lawn, fix the siding, and maybe schedule the BBQ for the next week (or maybe a weeknight), letting Jane know of his plans. If John didn’t follow through, maybe Jane could have made the effort to have some meaningful conversation with him that night, discussing root causes of her frustration instead of just reminding him whenever it looked as though he might be taking his ease. I’ve had those conversations with my wife. They’re not fun, but they’re certainly better than constant nagging, and they’re a DARN sight better than infidelity. Truthfully, nothing beats communication for preventing problems down the road.

So I’m not excusing cheating…it’s unacceptable, and any man who has cheated on his wife is no man. But ladies, look at your own actions and character. Do you find yourself making snide remarks or snapping at your husband? When you think of your husband, what goes through your mind? Do you win the battle of your thoughts, taking every thought captive and making it obedient to Christ? Do you strive to be the woman no man in their right mind would think about leaving? We’re not going to ever be free of sin, brothers and sisters, but we must die to ourselves every day; we must run the race. We must seek to be more humble, more of a servant. We must look to others first and thereby become the kind of servant Christ was. The King of all, washing the dirty feet of His disciples. If anyone deserved to be treated like royalty, Christ did. Let’s let Christ be our example in our marriages and strive to be the man or woman of our spouse’s dreams.

Finally, I fall in this area. I tend toward slothfulness on my weekends. When I write about John’s tendencies, I’m writing about my own. This is an area I have had to consistently work on so that my wife doesn’t feel like she has to “nag” me. She is a lovely, gentle woman, and I’m blessed to even know her, let alone having the honor of loving her as her husband. But I have to constantly work to remember that I can’t relax every evening AND every weekend. There are responsibilities I have to get done, including ones I despise, like lawn work. My wife has told me on many occasions that she has to work on her own tendencies to “nag” me, and we’ve had our disagreements about what is nagging and what is not. If there’s any area in which we can lead by example, however, it’s in communication. We’ve had the talks about needing to buckle down and do some work around the house. We’ve had the conversations where we have explained what’s going on in our minds and hearts. You know the conversations; the uncomfortable ones where one of you starts off with, “So…about our plans this weekend…” I thank God for a wife who is willing and able to gently remind me of my responsibilities when I falter without nagging.

Wisdom for my Son: Leadership

This is the first in a series of posts wherein I put down some things I’d like to eventually have the chance to teach my son. Life has reinforced to me of late that none of us really know how much time we have. Lord willing, we will have the chance to pass on the things we want to pass on. In case He is not willing, this is my effort to put it out there.

Leadership is often considered something that some people have and others do not. We categorize people into leaders and followers, as though leadership was similar to eye or hair color. This is not God’s vision for leadership, Iain. Allow me to explain what I mean.

Some people naturally assume a leadership role when it comes to playing games as children. Some people gravitate toward the role of Gamemaster when it comes to role-playing games.  In sports, a team chooses a team captain based on qualities they assume will help them to be successful in their chosen sport. Some people choose to be politicians because they think the point of a politician is to be a leader. Misguided, as they seem to have forgotten the term “civil servant”, but I’m not going to get into that here. All of these roles have things in common with the type of biblical leadership that God has in mind for every man who marries and starts a family, and that is more what I have in mind when I talk about leadership in this blog post.

The man is the head of the family. It’s taught all throughout Scripture, and I’m not going to spend time “proving” it. It doesn’t need to be proven, but a couple points. The covenant God first made with Adam (the covenant of works) was not made with Adam and Eve. It was not broken when Eve sinned first. The covenant was made with Adam, and through his breaking of it, sin entered the world.

Rom 5:12-19
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned — 13 (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. 16 And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. 17 For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.)

18 Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. 19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.
NKJV

Sin and condemnation was a result of breaking the covenant. The covenant was well and truly broken by Adam, according to Romans. (Also evident in Genesis 3, when God does not arrive to punish until after Adam sinned.) Adam is thusly called the Federal Head of our race. His decision to break the covenant brought judgment upon us all.

God deals federally with His people. Job sacrificed for his family (Job 1:4). The priests made sacrifices for Israel. Moses pleaded for God’s leniency when they were bringing judgement upon themselves for the calf. Prophets continually interceded for God’s people. The Passover involved the family putting the blood of the lamb on their doorposts, not on each person. We also say that God deals covenantally with His people. When He makes covenants, it is with one person, but involves descendants, (as with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

As we look and see God’s plan for the families of His people, we see this pattern continued. The man is the head of the family and leads them. He teaches his wife and children about spiritual things, worldly things, about a trade, about life. The man is to make decisions concerning his family’s direction, worship practices, doctrinal positions. The man is to be very involved in discipline, instruction, and practice. All of the things that the modern Christian family seems to want to outsource to various institutions is the job of the parents, and the responsibility for ensuring these things are done is laid on the shoulders of the man. We Christians seem to like to outsource the academic and civics instruction of our children to the State, or to private schools. (When we do this, we also outsource their instruction in morals, discipline, and all manner of other things to the State, but we don’t like to think of that much.)  We like to outsource the preparation of our children for the workforce to state-run or private colleges. We like to outsource their religious training to Sunday School teachers and pastors. We like to outsource their very entertainment to television networks and movie studios. We relegate our responsibilities in almost every area of their lives to anyone and everyone we can. This is unacceptable, and is not God’s pattern for biblical leadership.

There are some things I am pointedly not saying. I am not saying that the man is to singlehandedly do everything. If he did, there would not be time for work. I am not saying that he can or ought to provide every aspect of training and nurturing. That’s not how the family is designed. Just as in the military, the generals do not do all of the fighting. In a corporation, the executives do not do all of the work.  Ultimately, however, the success of these two bodies fall on the shoulders of the leadership, and that is very much God’s vision for the family as well.

Iain, I hope to model these things for you as you grow up. You’re four years old right now, so you don’t see a ton of it, but I hope that in the years to come, you see me modeling these things and ensuring these things are practiced in our home. I hope that as you grow up, you see the distinctions in the roles of your mother and I, and how God put the family together to be a wonderful ministry to you and those around us. I hope that in everything I am tasked with doing, you see my love for God, for your mother, and for you shining through. And I hope to have the chance to explain these things in more of a capacity than just my example, but also through the pages of Scripture.

I love you, kiddo.

People don’t like to be reminded of the sovereignty of God.

Another election has come and gone. As I predicted way back in the day, we got Obama for another two years. I’m not surprised, though I am disappointed.  This year, the GOP put Governor Mitt Romney up against President Obama. Not a surprise that he lost, either. The GOP message is fragmented. They like to advertise that they are the party with the answers, but they can’t frame their answers so as to actually attract people. The Democrats can frame their message so it fits in a soundbite.  Here it is:

We’ll take care of you, and you won’t have to worry about anything anymore.

You can see why it’s appealing, right? It’s certainly easier to understand than the response about personal responsibility, Anyway, my point is not the theory to why the GOP can’t win an election. My point is that even though Obama won, and I consider this a bad thing for America, I can say in the same breath that we got the leader that God wanted us to have. Yep, no matter how any given election turns out, we get the leaders that the Lord wants us to have. This is really a big discussion, far beyond the scope I intended for this post, but here’s the way the Westminster Shorter Catechism sums it up, and I like it.

Q: What are the decrees of God?

A: The decrees of God are, his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of His will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.

It’s a pretty simple concept. God accomplishes His will. This is true in salvation (He saves those whom He wills to save), and it’s true in history. When the Jews needed some chastising, God gave them leaders who were bad leaders.  When God’s enemies needed punishment, God used His people to pour out the cup of the wrath of God. Whatever God wills is what happens.

It’s not always a fun teaching, I know. When we get that new, better paying job, we like to think that’s God’s will. When we get laid off, not so much.  When we get that unexpected tax return, we praise God. When we find out we have to pay even more unto Caesar, we like to blame Satan. After all, he’s the dude with the horns, right? The fact is that even when we are scourged by Satan, a look at Job’s life reminds us that ultimately, it’s God we ought to look to as the cause. When Job talked about what befell him, did he blame Satan? No, in his mind it was clear.

The LORD giveth and the LORD taketh away; blessed be the name of the LORD.

No confusion there. And let us recall, Job was an upright man.  Anyway, this fact is never any more true than in an election year when nearly half the country is bemoaning the impending end of the world. (Tongue planted firmly in cheek there.) Oh woe is us, the great Satan hath been elected. (Am I laying it on thick enough?)  At any rate, we need to be reminded that God is still in control. God has placed a leader in the White House that He wants to be there. It isn’t as though God woke up after a hard night of partying and said “Wait, what? WHO got elected? Oh man, I turn my back for one night, and BOOM, the kids elect my sworn enemy. THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS!” No, God knew precisely who was going to be elected because He accomplished it according to the counsel of His will.

But people don’t like to be reminded of that.  I was reminded of this fact, myself, when I interacted with someone for whom I had genuine affection. This young man had recently joined the military, and was lamenting the fact that people voted for people who weren’t even in the “Big 2″ parties. In his mind, this was the cause of Obama’s re-election. (The math doesn’t add up to demonstrate this, but let’s not let numbers get in the way of melodrama, ok?) I interjected that we ought to take a deep breath and be still a moment. You know, know that He is God?  Well, this young man attempted to school me on how God foreknew Obama would be re-elected but that we were given a choice.  Thing is, I know how this young man was supposed to have been taught. I quoted the above catechism, and I don’t think he accepted this in the spirit in which I quoted it. I KNOW his father didn’t.

Shortly after I unpacked the fact that God is still sovereign, and always has been, the young man’s father steps in. I have affection for this man, as well. It saddened me that rather than affirming the great historic doctrines of God, he explained that I was being insensitive, and should understand that military men have some strong emotions on the subject.  So when I see emotion promoting a view that God is not in control, I should clearly not seek to guide that emotion within the bounds of historic orthodoxy. The sad thing is, before this man sought to chastise me, I’d have said he agreed with me on this point.

I defended what I said as the truth, and indicated I would not reply further. The young man’s father replied further that I should have spoken the truth in love. Odd, I thought that’s what I had done. I fail to comprehend how Paul’s admonishment to speak the truth in love is really a call for us to water down the truth, or preferably not to speak the truth at all. It is sad to me that this kind of thing is what the Church today, even the Reformed church, is turning out. I still have affection for this man and his son, but am unsure at this point how to interact with them in the future. They have clearly reacted in a hostile manner to the truths of Scripture, and have indicated that my proclaiming them is not welcome. These are Christian brothers, and yet they clearly don’t want to be reminded of the truth.

The point? Not sure. I suspect they won’t be speaking with me much in the future. I’m saddened by that, but don’t see how I can change it.

A loss of life…a life lost…being lost

I want to preface whatever I’m going to say here by saying that insofar as anyone can be ok with the loss of one’s best friend, I’m ok with this. I am not railing against God, for His plan is perfect. I am not losing my faith, for He is sovereign, and there are no mistakes. But the human part of me weeps.

You see, I lost my best friend. You can read back on this blog to see posts from him. Often, they were antagonistic; just how we rolled. What you may see is that Gabe was my brother…my friendship with him was such a large piece of my life that I can’t believe how often each day I think about him and the things we used to do together. I don’t know why we clicked.  Maybe it was the similar views on liberty, though I kind of doubt it, since both of us morphed into what we were on July 17th when he was killed by a truck driver who pulled out in front of him.  Maybe it was our religion, though I kind of doubt it since he wasn’t into church when we rekindled our friendship, and as of the day he was yanked harshly from our lives by the inattention of another motorist, he’d not come to church in weeks.  I don’t know why we were friends…I don’t know why we were so close, but we were, and I feel as though my right arm has been blown off.  I have to continue my life, but I have to do so without the comfort, the fun, and the closeness that was my friendship with Gabe. I can still enjoy a beer, but I have to learn how to do this activity without Gabe.  I can still play video games, but…you get the picture.

So what do I have to say?  I don’t know.  The pain is easier to bear some days.  Much harder on others. I want to write, because he always told me he enjoyed my writing, but when it comes down to putting fingers to keyboard, I don’t want to bother because he’s not going to be around to read it.  I want to play video games, but I know I’m not going to enjoy the wildly off-topic and often-inappropriate conversations we used to have while playing.  I want to take pride in my work, but I find myself in moments wanting to turn to IM to tell Gabe what I just had to deal with, or the interesting way I just solved a problem.  Just had one of those moments a couple of hours ago.  I’d tell him, and he’d say “Way cool, man.”  It meant a lot to me, and I’ll never hear that again.

But I’m not angry.  I’m not angry at the man who was driving the truck.  His inattention took my best friend from me, but I don’t want to seek the dude out and ask him why he couldn’t have just taken a couple seconds and really LOOKED at the motorcycle that he SHOULD have been able to see. I’m not bitter, even though it sounds like it.  I’m a logical guy, and logic says if he’d looked, he’d  have stopped, and I wouldn’t have had to write my best friend’s obituary.  But the truth of the matter is that things happened the way they happened because God wanted it to happen that way.  That’s right, I said God WANTED to take Gabe from us in such an abrupt manner. God WANTED to leave Gabe’s widow 5 months pregnant with a child who will never meet his or her father.  God WANTED this to happen.  Why?  Well, that’s the question of the hour, isn’t it? And I don’t know.  Ultimately, God works all things according to the counsel of His will, and does so to bring about His greatest glory. We don’t always see how the various parts we play work together to form the perfect symphony that is God’s greatest glory, and that’s ok.  It’s ok because we’re supposed to live by faith.  We’re supposed to remember that God is infinitely good; nay, He is the very DEFINITION of good. We’re supposed to remember that, even more so than our earthly fathers, our heavenly father knows how to give the very best gifts. We do not serve a capricious God, who acts in a random fashion.  We have to remember that this was ALWAYS God’s plan, though we didn’t know it.

When I started attending a Reformed church, I noticed people saying “Lord willing” all the time. I thought it sounded nice and archaic. “Lord willin’ and the crick don’t rise,” right? Nice and Mayberry-esque. Something God taught me is that “Lord willing” is an important phrase…if you believe it.  See, if I say to my co-worker, “See you tomorrow”, I say it with the surety that I will see you tomorrow. And the reference to God’s decrees may not be appropriate for work, but it IS appropriate to think. Because what you are acknowledging with that phrase is the very real possibility that God is NOT willing. See, I remember saying this to Gabe when I was in Cambria the night before his death:

“I got some beers that we’ll have to share when I get back.”

I shouldn’t have said that.  I should have appended “Lord willing” to the end of that phrase, because it turned out that God was NOT willing that I share these beers with my best friend. It turns out that I would drink these beers with another close friend while we mourned Gabe’s loss together. It turns out that the last beer I would ever share with Gabe would be the last beer he helped me brew. It turns out that the writing talent of mine that Gabe claimed to enjoy would be put to best use in the last couple months in helping people remember some funny stories about Gabe, would help others know how special Gabe was to we who remain in his (very long) obituary, and will eventually help Gabe’s child come to know what a special person their father was to his friends and family. It turns out that I would soon get a lesson in why we need to remember that God is not always willing that things continue how they are.

But like I said, I’m not bitter. I’m really not. But I am sad. I miss my friend. I thought I was over the crying phase of my grief, but I’m not. I don’t know when I will be, but I do know that I want everyone who sees this to think about the people they love most, and then have a long thought about what your life would be without those people. Then I want you to remember what it means to live every life as though it were your last. I don’t mean that you should throw all caution to the wind.  I don’t mean that you should live recklessly. But I do mean you should make every moment with your loved ones count.  Hug them. Tell them how much they mean to you. Spend time with your groups of friends. Do this because you never know when you might get a phone call that the non-spouse you love the most in the world is now no longer with you. You will think about those good times, and they’ll be a comfort. But you’ll wish you had more. You’ll always wish you had more.  I have no real regrets. Gabe and I didn’t always get along, and there were months when we didn’t talk.  Sometimes it was me, sometimes it was him.  But the times we spent together were great fun. Sometimes we pissed off our wives. Sometimes we did dumb things. But I still laugh about most of those times, and the laughter helps.

So hug your wife, clap your best friend on the back, and pick up your kids when you get home. Realize what is important to you. And give God the glory.  He giveth and He taketh away, and every day you have with your loved ones is a chance to make memories that will comfort you if they’re taken from you.  I pray it doesn’t happen to you, reader…Lord willing…

A Fatal Substitution

I have a Facebook page that I update on occasion, and another blog I write in quite frequently about topics widely divergent from what I used to write about on here. So I don’t often find the time to write in this exceedingly neglected blog. I won’t say that this is a beginning of my attempt to reverse this trend.  I don’t know if I’ll ever write in here again, but something has been annoying me about the modern church, and this seems like a safe enough place to write about it.

I don’t know if it’s our consumer culture, our ADD culture, or whether this trend is far older than the Baby Boomers, but over the last several years, I have noticed a trend in the modern church to accept any trend so long as it can be labeled “new” or “fresh”. Traditional liturgies, hymns, or preaching are eschewed as outdated, while new ways of worshiping God are lauded simply because they are new. Not only is there very little of the testing such as that for which the Bereans were commended, but a practice’s newness or novelty seems to be all anyone needs to ensure a speedy adoption. The church seems to substitute novelty for quality, never mind the fact that there is truly nothing new under the sun.  Never mind the fact that we are encouraged to be distrustful of anyone coming to us preaching a new doctrine, different from that which we were taught by the Word of God. So there’s the problem…doctrine.

Now, I’ve lamented the lack of doctrine in churches for many years, and the church seems to be only lessening her scholasticism rather than showing any move to return to it. But it seems as though the church has decided if they ignore doctrine and don’t make an effort to truly determine what they believe, they can’t be accused of preaching a different doctrine. The problem, of course, lies in the fact that we all believe in doctrine whether or not we call it that.

So the Word of God must be updated; must be kept “fresh” and “new” and all of those buzzwords that imply without stating directly that the clear Word of God is essentially worthless. If we’re talking about the plain word of God, we’re talking about a boring, irrelevant text. It can’t really be applied to us, because we’re clearly so much more modern than those ancient fossils in the Scriptures. I could point to all sorts of examples, but I’m not really interested in pointing fingers.

What I am interested in, however, is seeing the chuch return to a love of the Word of God. Not new studies, not new preachers with new topical plans. Not a new, fresh take on a tired old book. But rather, I would like to see the church return to her first love. I would like to see the church return to an integration of the family, not segregate it more and more with additional “programs”, such as Youth Groups, teen Bible studies, etc. These segregations of the family serve to split the family rather than causing the family to serve together, to come together and study.  Sunday Schools seek to be relevant to teens, relevant to pre-teens, relevant to children. Games, which are clearly not boring, contests, rock music, anything to avoid introspection and conviction by the Word of God. Nothing wrong with rock music, games, contests, etc. But in many cases, these replace clear teaching and challenge by the Word of God.

Are we to leave church feeling uplifted, and feeling good about ourselves? May it never be. We ought to leave feeling blessed, feeling as though the Lord has condescended to meet with us, and if we have trusted in Christ for our salvation, we ought to feel grateful for His mercy by which He cleanses us before God. But ought we feel good about ourselves? Not if we’re honest. Does that mean all good preaching is fire and brimstone? No. A good sermon is one which reminds us of our dependence upon Him. It reminds us that we need a Savior. It reminds us that we are NOT basically good, that we have NOT sought after God as we ought. It reminds us that on our own, we are inadequate…we fall short of the standard of perfection.  It then goes on to remind us, if we have trusted in Christ, that we HAVE been made holy; that our scarlet sins have been washed away and we have been made white as snow. THAT is the good news. We confess our sins before God; we acknowledge that we fail daily. And then we are uplifted, not in ourselves, but uplifted by grace. We are uplifted because we know that god’s grace is totally undeserved…that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

None of this is new. This has been the liturgy of the Church for centuries. There is a coming together of the body, a confession of sins, and a repentance. Then there is the sermon, urging us to trust in Christ if we have not yet. We learn what duty God requires of man. We are taught about grace. And then we are shown that this relief is only for those who trust in Christ. At this point we are encouraged, if we have not done so, to repent of our sins and trust in Christ.  THAT is the good news. THAT is what church is about.  (That and fellowship with the body of Christ, which is the Church.

Novelty cannot last, because novelty is not new for long. Novelty wears off, and if novelty confers benefit, then it can never satisfy. However, the Word of God is timeless. The Word of God is the only thing that can satisfy, and even then not permanently. If we truly read the word of God, and if we are truly saved, we will long for the consummation of God’s promise. Only that will provide eternal peace. Until then, even church is only a slight taste. Novelty for novelty’s sake is worthless. Stop seeking it, Christians. Seek after the Word of God. Seek to know more of God’s truth.

Just finished reading Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn; the first book in the Mistborn Trilogy…

First, the verdict, because I can not wait any longer to get it out there. This book is freaking EXCELLENT!  There, if you read nothing else, go get the series and read it.

If you want to know why, read on.

I like fantasy books, but after awhile, many of them sort of fall into a rut. There’s elves, dwarves, humans, some magic, an overshadowing force of evil, etc.  Some books attempt to break out of the mold.  Wheel of Time has no elves or dwarves, and the magic system is interesting.  George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire also has mostly humans, and magic is undefined and dark…the evil is less defined, and his politics are absolutely stunning.  But many other works are exceedingly derivative of Tolkien, etc.  Granted, I’ve not read as much fantasy as many people I know, but I’ve read a great deal.  So I am always pleased when I can find a series that breaks the mold, and does so successfully.  Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy is one of these, and is well worth reading.

To begin, there are only humans in this series. Nothing spectacular there.  The books take place (from what I can tell) on a different world, far removed from ours.  The time period is a little harder to pin down.  The people sometimes have things like watches, and the humans’ skill in building is certainly more than medieval stonemasons could boast, I think. However, in Sanderson’s world, ash falls from the sky, and has done so for hundreds upon hundreds of years. Every night, the mists rise, and the people seem to be frightened of them, almost universally. There is what appears to be an omnipotent tyrant on the throne, who rules with an iron fist. Oh, and it’s basically a heist novel.  Intrigued?  I was.

The other thing about these novels that is exceedingly well thought out is the magic system.  However, I don’t want to spoil it, as I feel Sanderson does such a fantastic job of explaining it in his own time. Speaking of being well thought out, that pretty much describes Sanderson’s writing to a “T”. Sanderson appears to me to be a very careful writer.  This is not to say he does not take risks in his writing, but rather, he appears to have approached this novel from the standpoint of developing rules for how his world works, and has been very careful to stick to those rules.  Unlike, say, Terry Goodkind, who seemed to re-invent how magic worked in each chapter, keeping you wondering what his system of magic could and could not do, Sanderson is quite clear (though he may not always be completely forthright about each detail until its proper point in the story) that if anything defined Allomancy (one of the systems of magic in the world) it is rules which are inviolable, as far as most people are concerned.  In reading through the action scenes (which rely VERY heavily on his descriptions of the characters’ use of Allomancy, and are SUPERB), I was struck with how well this system would translate into a video game or even a tabletop RPG. While characters don’t necessarily think in terms of spell points or numbers, the system as Sanderson has written it would translate very well into a numbers-based abstraction of how the magic could be used, and honestly, I would love to play such a game!

I spoke about this novel being a heist novel.  This was, I have learned, his intention.  When I read some of the opening chapters, I immediately thought of some of the early scenes in Ocean’s Eleven. This was definitely intentional on his part.  The characters all have nicknames, as you might imagine master thieves would call each other by when meeting to discuss a new, visionary job. Do you remember in Oceans Eleven when Danny and Rusty get together to discuss the various roles they will need to accomplish this daring job?  Here’s the scene I’m talking about:

Rusty: You’d need at least a dozen guys doing a combination of cons.
Danny: Like what, do you think?
Rusty: Off the top of my head, I’d say you’re looking at a Boeski, a Jim Brown, a Miss Daisy, two Jethros and a Leon Spinks, not to mention the biggest Ella Fitzgerald ever.
(Copied and pasted from IMDb.)

Sanderson has a scene like that.  They’ve got themselves a Soother and a Thug (or Pewterarm), but they’re going to need a good Smoker.  Add to that some well-written, witty dialogue like what you see in Oceans Eleven, and you end up with an excellent author who has written a VERY, VERY entertaining book.  Kelsier (the Danny Ocean of the novel) is running the whole shebang, but doesn’t it seem a little like he’s running something on the side?  Is he ready to doublecross his own crew, or is he just dreaming bigger than any of them can imagine? The suspense keeps up until the very end.

Another thing that I think is AWESOME about Brandon Sanderson is his openness with his fans.  When he writes, he does so methodically.  He is a workhorse, setting goals, and meeting (or missing them) quite publicly.  When he sets out to write a book, he estimates the amount of words he plans to write.  Sometimes the story takes him less or more, but he has that estimate, and with it he sets up a counter of sorts on his website.  Go there now, http://www.brandonsanderson.com, and see the counters on the left side of the screen. This is a tremendous amount of openness that most writers, even when they have a good relationship with their fans, do not usually trouble themselves to attempt. Another thing he does is write annotations on each of his chapters as he writes and re-reads them, and posts them on his website.  This is akin to the director’s commentary you might find on a DVD, but for EACH CHAPTER of his books.  I mention that the Ocean’s Eleven similarities were intentional.  I know this because I read some annotations of the earliest chapters, and I read it from his own hand. He does these chapter annotations so as to avoid spoilers as much as possible, so people can finish a chapter and can go immediately read some of what was going on in the author’s head.  Talk about openness!!  I’ve never heard of another author doing this, and it endears him to me.  He is rapidly becoming my favorite current author for this reason primarily. I love going to read the annotations and see some of the things he was considering, and why he chose to do them the way he did.  Character developments that changed over time, or were dropped entirely, and why.  Some deleted scenes. It provides us with a glimpse into the forge of the author’s mind, and it really is quite fascinating. In an early chapter, when you meet one of the major characters, Sanderson writes that he was pressured by his editor to write out a description of a scene that he let occur “off-screen”. He explains why he chose to resist and why he feels it’s more dramatic for the scene to occur where the reader cannot read it. He also explains a technical reason for omitting the scene, namely that he relies a great deal on detailed descriptions of Allomancy to fuel his actions scenes, and such a scene would have required too much detail in such an early scene. Such a description fits much better a little later in the novel.

Those are the pro’s, and the con’s are relatively few. Perhaps it is because I can’t imagine living without a certain level of trust in my life among the people about whom I care deeply. Maybe it’s because I’ve never imagined feeling any other way, but I feel that trust is essential.  One of the man characters, perhaps the main character in the novel, Vin, is a little too…persistent in her distrust of people.  It annoyed me at first, when the crew seemed so worth a great deal of trust. However, this is a large part of her character development, and as with everything in this novel, it’s done masterfully.  Anything else?  No, not really.

To close, I really enjoyed this novel, and am looking forward to the other two.  I don’t want to give anything away, but not all is as it seems, and the characters of the novel end up with a good many of their assumptions challenged or shattered by the end. I’m eager to see what else Sanderson will reveal about his epic story in the next two books, and which of my own preconceptions and assumption he will shatter, with me as a willing participant in the process. I HIGHLY recommend this novel to anyone who likes fantasy, even a little, as a masterful telling of an excellent, engaging story.

Reviewing Brian Sussman’s Climategate

Originally published in the Institute for Principle Studies’ Principle Perspective, Summer 2011 issue. I am re-publishing the text as originally submitted. This may not reflect editorial changes by the staff of IPS.  In other words all errors, spelling and grammatical, are mine, and should not reflect upon the excellent editorial staff at IPS, an organization for which I have a profound respect. Many of you have heard me talk about the direction of this nation, and my dissatisfaction with its departures from the Constitution and its founding principles. The only solution is education, and that is not happening in public schools.  It is in the government’s best interests to ensure the population remains relatively ignorant of the principles which founded this nation, for then they can take it in whatever direction they wish. The enemy to tyranny has always been the tyrannized, but only when they are educated and passionate about this nation and the principles upon which it is founded. To that end, I beg of you to donate and support the work of the Institute for Principle Studies. Their home on the web is http://www.principlestudies.org.  I thank you in advance for your generosity. Now, the review:

In journalism, it is imperative to answer the “five W’s” (and an H), to ensure the whole story is presented. Who did what? When and how did they accomplish it? Perhaps most importantly, especially in a criminal investigation, why did they do it? As an emmy-winning journalist, meteorologist, and conservative talk show host in San Francisco, Brian Sussman sets out to dramatically answer all of these questions in Climategate.  In turning over the stones and exposing the ugly underbelly of global warming debate, Mr. Sussman cannot help but throw in a few jabs with some vitriolic language, designed to inflame. This is not a tame, dry science book. In the Foreword to Climategate Mr. Sussman immediately reveals his own political viewpoint with a brief, but scathing explanation of Marxism and its creators, Friederich Engels and Karl Marx. Indeed, anyone unsure of the author’s political leanings need only note that the topic of global warming does not appear until page seven of the eight page Foreword. According to Sussman, the genesis of anthropogenic global warming is Communism, and he wants his readers to be informed of the evils of this political system as he begins to unveil his case against the proponents of what he calls “the scam of anthropogenic global warming.” (“Anthropogenic” is a word of Greek origins which means “man-caused”.)

As a primer on Communism, it is not without its own bias. In the first two sentences, Sussman writes that Marx had a “twisted mind”, conceived an “atrocious plot”, planned to “infect the world”, and calls Marx a name which questions the legitimacy of his parentage. This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an unbiased book. Sussman aims in this Foreword to show that Communism’s goals are to control and reduce the populace such that the leaders of such a system obtain power in perpetuity. The path to fooling the populace into thinking their actions control what is the realm of God alone is a convoluted one. Mr. Sussman’s aim in answering the Why before all else is for clarity’s sake. In reviewing the large body of evidence that has been suppressed because it did not conform to the concept of anthropogenic global warming, the question arises: Why go to great lengths to create such an elaborate fiction? By giving a brief explanation of socialism and its aims, Sussman provides a framework upon which we can begin to hang the evidence he will provide.

The science he presents usually takes the form of a call and response, using Al Gore (and others) as the call and presenting contrary studies and reports as the response. From the impending doom of the polar bears, to the fact that the 1930′s was actually the hottest decade in the last century, Brian Sussman sets out to show that the evidence presented by anthropogenic global warming is not accurate, complete, or free of bias and special interest. According to Sussman, we are actually in the midst of a slight cooling trend and have seen far hotter years, such as the Medieval Warm Period in which average temperatures around the globe were 2°F higher than they are today despite the lower amount of anthropogenic CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere. Sussman challenges the claims made by global warming promoters and presents a large number of footnotes for the reader to check. (After all, as Sussman reminds his readers, challenging the hypotheses of others is the foundation of the scientific method.)

After having exhaustively attacked the claims of global warming, he moves on to the claimants. Here, Sussman attempts to further answer the Why of global warming, involving politics and money. Al Gore, according to Sussman, is not only a consistent embellisher of the truth, he will make a great deal of money if anthropogenic global warming is the prevailing scientific opinion. Certainly, those who would promote government as the ultimate solution for population control, climate control, and overall control of the lives of all people stand to increase their power significantly if anthropogenic global warming deniers are silenced. In addition, to those who subscribe to the problem and solution created by Karl Marx, global warming is a means to the end of bringing socialism to the United States of America.

Of course, for anthropogenic global warming to become the prevailing scientific opinion, those scientists  who dissent from this view must be converted, silenced, or ignored. Currently, according to Sussman, the game plan is the latter. Despite loud claims of scientific consensus, a significant number of deniers have signed petitions such as the Heidelberg Appeal and the Oregon Petition. The Oregon Petition alone, a response to the Kyoto Protocol penned in 1997, has been signed by over 30,000. There are a number of scientists who do not agree with the concept of anthropogenic global warming, though these scientists do not tend to get much airplay in the media today.

From discussing global warming in terms of its science, supporters and sycophants, Mr. Sussman moves to discussing climate change in terms of an action plan. Not surprisingly, he points the finger at the legislation of obvious liberal politicians, from the Clintons to President Obama. Also not surprisingly, for those who are aware of the shift from national sovereignty to an increasing focus on globalism, the other means for action he points to is the body known as the United Nations. Beginning in 1976, Mr. Sussman points out some of the agenda items and resolutions released by the U.N. that have led the United States down the path of concessions to what is now known as climate change. From these beginnings, he begins to cast an increasingly wider net until the culprits include most of President Obama’s cabinet, including “Energy Czar” Carol Browner, along with quotes from their most climate change-friendly statements, replete with more footnotes.

In an interesting chapter, Brian Sussman also details why alternatives to fossil fuels are not being promoted as assiduously as one might think. Indeed, if fossil fuels are to be eliminated as quickly as possible, one might think the environmentalists would be beating a path to renewable, alternative energy sources, such as wind, solar, and water. This does not appear to be the case, as Sussman demonstrates, since environmentalists have been some of the biggest opponents to wind farms, solar plains, and hydroelectric dams. Nuclear power has been off the table since the late 1970′s, with no new nuclear power facilities being built or planned. Of course, despite environmentalist opposition to alternative energy, coal and natural gas are not considered safe alternatives either. Ultimately, Sussman points out, all of this is because it is not the socialist’s goal for society to have inexpensive power.

The only solution being promoted by proponents of global warming, Sussman concludes, is that of controlling the consumption (and by extension, well-being) of the population. If no currently viable power generation is palatable for the environment, and alternative sources of energy are also untenable to the wildlife, what else is there to do but to mandate control of consumption and Americans are already seeing this plan put into action. Sussman explains that new appliances are already being implemented in test markets that respond to signals from SmartGrids, or power grids that do more than simply provide power. These SmartGrids monitor and, depending on logic built into these monitors, can signal receptive devices that usage thresholds have been reached. Couple this with the proposed “Cap-and-Trade” legislation of which President Obama is so fond, and a pattern of liberty elimination immediately emerges.  All of this monitoring and usurpation of individual liberty, Sussman adeptly demonstrates, is completely unnecessary because it is all predicated on the assumption that climate change is scientific fact.

From a Christian’s perspective, Brian Sussman appears to believe in God, though the substance of that belief is not fleshed out, nor does it need to be in a book of this type. He does make mention of “old-earth” timeframes in discussing age in terms of geology, though this is not unexpected. The book contains very limited swearing, mostly involving the word “damn”. Prayer is encouraged, alongside calls to political action by conservatives. An aspect of the book that could potentially have been expanded is that of the Lord being sovereign over all things, including the climate of the planet He created. However, this book makes no claims to being a religious treatise of any sort.

By and large, this is a book centered around politics. Brian Sussman’s response to anthropogenic global warming is a heated, but eminently readable, rebuttal to the claims made by its supporters. It is loaded with rhetoric and ridicule, to the point where he finally compares the current direction of the United States to Germany’s descent into Nazism. Sussman makes no claims in this book to objectivity, and the politically and emotionally charged presentation of the science and evidence will necessarily turn off any left-leaning climate change-supporting readers. Still, looking past the rhetoric, this book provokes a great deal of thought on a topic that ought certainly be of concern to those who support individual liberty and Constitutional government. Ultimately, this is certainly a book worth reading, if for no other reason than it is one of the most complete expositions of the opposite viewpoint from the mainstream media available. The entire point of the journalistic media is to present the news from an unbiased perspective, but the only viewpoint on anthropogenic global warming one can find in the media is that being pushed by those with something to gain from its broad acceptance.  From what this reviewer has been able to corroborate, the scientific claims made in Climategate are accurate and complete, which is something the alarmist global warming proponents cannot boast. To that end, it is an important work in its own right as one of only a few efforts to stem the tide of mindless agreement with a politically-motivated agenda. It is highly recommended reading for those who would like to see why every climate scientist does not agree with the findings of Al Gore.

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