Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God."

This article I found over at Between Two Worlds, comes from London's Times Online. Here is a snippet:

"Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good. "

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Gifts for Dad

Often when the kids have asked me what I want for Christmas or for my birthday I have echoed the oft heard response from my father, "Just give me your obedience." Nothing would be more delightful as a gift than for our daughters to be joyfully obedient to our desire to shepherd them toward God. With this in mind I listened to a short podcast from a former professor that I thought was a great remembrance for parents at Christmas.

Here is John Mark Reynold's podcast. It's only 2 minutes so give it a listen.

My daughter the Theologian

This morning Haley and Darcy were writing a little note to stick in their stockings about what they wanted to give to God for Christmas this year (Annie's idea). Darcy said she wanted to give Him a Bible. Haley's note was a bit more insightful. "I want to give you my love, ...which means that I need to obey you," was Haley's response; a simple rehearsal of the words of Jesus, "If you love me, keep my commandments." I do not know that she had Jesu's words in mind when she made the declaration; it is highly unlikely. Instead, in a child-like straight-forward way, she understood that to claim love for God without obedience is no claim at all. 

The New-found Joy of Digiscrapping

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tis the Season

This Christmas, my friend Melissa sent me the "Advent Jesse Tree" to use with the kids this season. It includes 25 devotions and 25
 ornaments that correspond to the devotional theme. The kids love opening a new gift every night and this will be a fun tradition for all the years to come.

We also got to do our first Gingerbread house together (thanks, jennie!). For some reason, blogger takes forever uploading pictures..facebook is fast, so I'll upload more there (C'mon, know you want to requ
est me as a friend...).

Monday, December 15, 2008

Still looking for that perfect Christmas gift?

I have wanted to post this video for a few weeks now, but haven't done it for a few reasons:

1. I don't know how to post a video.
2. Colby is always on the computer. (that's neither true nor a good excuse).
3. I don't want to be misunderstood.

I think giving gifts is fun and I truly appreciate all the gifts I receive every year. At the same time, I think there is a danger of making Christmas the opposite of worshipful. This video does an excellent job heralding a strong message that we need to be reminded of.

If you are looking for a meaningful gift for someone who "has it all" (and/or has a small living space!), try looking here or here. Thanks to my sister-in-law, Jennie, for this website and her alternative gift ideas this year!

Win Some Books!!

Trevin Wax at the Kingdom People blog is doing a nice little book giveaway between now and Christmas. He is giving away his ten favorite books from 2008. You can click on the link on the blogroll and check out the giveaway yourself if you would like. If you win because I pointed the contest out to you, it would only be right that you share the love.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Jingle Bell, Jingle, Bell, Jingle Bell, Run

Annie, Brooke, and I headed out early this afternoon to join 1300 others for the Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis 5K, sponsored in part by the Lancaster Orthopedic Group; the employer of this guy. We had PR's all around; Annie (22:46), Brooke (22:20), Colby (19:03). For three sweet miles you could hear the jingling of the bells as the runners made their way through the course. 

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Defining Ourselves

I think this billboard may say as much about Starbucks as it does about McDonald's. Sometimes our lives can be the same way. We define ourselves by becoming reactions to the people or challenges in life that bother us the most.

There's a Lion in the Streets!

If you are familiar with the Proverbs you may have recognized the title. The proverb reads:
The sluggard says, "There's a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets." Prov. 22:13
Faith-filled journeys require courage and sanity. After reading this proverb we quickly want to distance ourselves from the sluggard and recognize how foolish it is to use such a lame excuse. We say to the sluggard, "Enough with the excuses, go get a job, do something productive. Be done with squandering your life." It is not totally irrational. I guess there could someday be a lion outside. But we recognize it is so unlikely that to live like it is true would be irrational and non-sensical. 
But I think there are times for all of us when we share in the sluggards way of thinking. There are things that we would like to do or maybe now wish we had done, but we found a convenient excuse because the risk was more than we wanted to take. Maybe there have been times where felt the Spirit of God calling us to come and follow and we found a reason to stay comfortably inside the house. Churches do it often as well. What if we don't have the money? What if our plans fail? What if we encounter unexpected obstacles that we are not prepared for? There is only one cure for this way of thinking. Go outside! Out there you will find that even if your plans fail or you encounter unexpected obstacles it is far more interesting than staying behind. And hey, even if there is a lion, you might just be in for the encounter of your life. In my moments of clarity I absolutely love where God has our family right now;  uncertain, unexpected, dependant, hopeful, expectant. In the words of the great theologian Matt Eachus (pronouncd a-hos), "This is the stuff memories are made of!"

Monday, December 8, 2008

Big Update....

Well, guys, here's the deal: Our Residence Permit application has been denied.
We will be entering an appeal to the decision. The guys who represent us in Iceland think there is a good chance that the appeal will go in our favor and we have sent him some more information. This is a critical time to be praying as the application will be reviewed over the next few weeks.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Icelandic Cultural Tidbit

I found this article and the accompanying video about paganism in Iceland interesting. Here is a quote:

Members of Ásatrúarfélagid, a religious association which honors the old Norse gods, celebrated Iceland’s Sovereignty Day on Monday by honoring the country’s protective spirits, thelandvaettir as described in Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla. 

One website says the pagan organization has 1000 members.

The Time is Near!

I just got off the phone with a representative at the Immigration Office. I was told that a decision letter would be sent out by the end of this week or on Monday! The representative said she could tell me nothing else, like what the decision would be, but she did know that it was happening very shortly. Please pray for the workers at immigration to have favor on us and open the way for the big move. Our friend who will receive the letter for us in Iceland should have it by early next week. I am filled with the excitement and nervousness you get when very big things in your life are beyond your control, you know they are about to be unveiled, and you can only wait. 
I know that some of you are thinking, "What is so exciting about this, I thought it was given that you would get residence permits and visas?" The answer is that although we have no reason to think we would be denied, one can never be sure. The longer you wait the more nervous that you get and so much rides on this one thing. So please pray with us these next few days as we await the decision.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I Love a Good Surprise!

I had a most wonderful experience tonight. I have two people to thank for it. First I thank the incomparable Clinty Clint Clifton for inspiring me to create an Amazon Wish List and add the button to my blog. Second, I have to thank Kevin Dowker for being the first person to use my wish list as an opportunity to shower me with the love of Christ during this fine holiday season. 
As the mail came I saw that there was an Amazon box with my name on it. I had forgotten that I even had a wish list and quickly began to wonder what I had ordered and could not remember. I had never really given thought to the idea that the wish list would actually get used, until my sister said, "Well I remember that I saw an Amazon Wish List on your blog." In a moment I was filled with rapturous joy to the extent that my sister began to wish she had been responsible for this great moment, but alas she was not. Kevin, I wish you could have been a fly on the wall to see the excitement a simple Christmas gesture can bring. Thank You and Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Job, A Proverb, and the Shack

Well I thought I would wrap up a few strands of posts all in one shot. I have been reading Proverbs over the past week and came across a witty saying about God's justice that relates very well to some of the posts on Job.

"A just balance and scales are the Lord's, all the weights in the bag are His work." Prov. 16:11

Job: Job learns this lesson through his encounter with God. The big message of Job is that the same ire we turn on his friends for dealing so foolishly with him in his suffering, we should turn on ourselves when we attempt to charge God with injustice in his dealings with us or others. Job's friends are clearly wrong about the "why" of Jobs suffering. Job is clearly wrong to call God into account in the manner which he did. He commits the same error as they did. They did not have the information with which to make a judgment of this sort against Job. Job did not have the information to make a judgment against God. All of his begging for a trial would be a waste of time. He hasn't a bag of weights or scales with which to weigh the case. 

The Shack: I generally think the view of God presented in the Shack is lacking in depth and Biblical support, but there is one chapter that I think I would recommend for reading. It is a chapter where Mack (the main character) is brought in before Lady Wisdom (a personification from Proverbs). When he enters the cavern, it is a courtroom. He thinks that he is about to be judged, but in turn she calls him to be the judge over God and begins to press Him with questions much like God does to Job. The result is a new humility in the character that is part and parcel to his transformation. Again the message comes forth, Mack does not have a scale or weights with which to judge the events of the history of the universe.

There is a deep mystery to the justice of the created world as the purpose of many events remains veiled to us. In this we should find humility and understand our place in God's story, lest we are tempted to exalt ourselves above what we are fitted for. We are all tempted to  question God, His righteousness, His purpose and will. In these moments the writer of Proverbs has a word for us to remember. God is the only one who can weigh the great and the small moments of our vast history. We do not have a scale or the weights for the task.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Best Daddy Ever

While the girls were extolling my virtues for gifting them with a new set of watercolor paints this morning, I took the opportunity to lead them in a, "Daddy is the best!", cheer.
After doing so, I asked the question, "Is there any Daddy better than this Daddy?"
"Do you mean in the whole world?, Haley inquired.
"Well of course, is there any better?" I responded.
Without giving it a thought Haley quickly informed me, "Well...yeah."
"Who is it?", I wondered aloud.
Haley paused for a moment looking a bit uncomfortable, "I don't think I want to tell you..."
After assuring her that I wouldn't be offended I pressed for an answer, "It's OK, you can tell me; I would love to learn from such a wonderful father!"
"Well Ok", Haley began, "It's Mr. Jason [Pelt]."
I gathered my composure, I was...I was..., convinced that she must be right. She has made a simple observation of his superior wisdom and joyful fathering and I must agree with her, thankful to be consider in the same breath. I was not finished with the conversation and had to know, "What is it that you like so much about Mr. Jason?" As though there was no real debating she answered, "Well, it's because he..."

For those of you who know Jason, how would you fill in the rest of this sentence?

The Burke Manor Road Show

The Burke Manor Road Show is coming to Lancaster, PA this weekend. It will be great to spend a couple of days with such great friends. Below is a pictorial highlight from a previous trip together.

Guest Blogging

I have been invited to be be a guest blogger for the prestigious Clint Clifton while he is out of the country. My post will go up on his blog today. Clint is one of the most creative people I know, so hop on over and and read his blog when you get a chance.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Ever wonder what a diaper is made of?

The other day, we discovered why Darcy always does this when she has to go potty:
We were in the car driving across town to visit Colby's brother when Darcy announced to us that she had to go potty. We told her the same advice that we always give: "HOLD IT, Darcy!" However, this time, she cried out, "I Can't...I holding my book!" She had a rather large Elmo book in her hands, and therefore was not able to "Hold IT." She somehow managed to stay dry till we got to our destination where we then took the time to explain to Darcy that "Hold it" is just a figure of speech....not a literal command.

Darcy has done an amazing job this month and now is totally potty trained. She has blown me away by not needing a pull-up for naps or night-time anymore. This is a huge answer to prayer and, for the first time in 4 years, we no longer have diapers on the shopping list. We celebrated by having a potty party with the Garman clan. Festivities included a cake, "No more diapers for you" to the tune of "Happy Birthday," and Colby's dramatic presentation of ripping a diaper in half with his teeth. It was meant to signify the end of diapers in our home, but was rather frightening for poor Darcy and the rest of us who were covered in fiberglass-like particles for the remainder of the evening. Nonetheless, we are very proud of our little 2 1/2 year old and it was all worth the celebration.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Did you know that Mr. Rogers was from Pittsburgh?

...well, neither did I. But, now that I have gone to the Pittsburgh Children's Museum I can answer any Mr. Rogers trivia questions you might have. We got to see the original puppets from the neighborhood of Make-Believe, his original blue loafers and sweater, and play in King Friday's castle. Like an idiot, I failed to take any pictures of this part of the museum, but did manage to capture the rest of the exhibiits. This was the best children's museum we have ever been to (and we have been to a lot). Pittsburgh, anyone?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

Just in case you're wondering what to get me for Christmas I put this little wishlist widget on the side panel. Thanks in advance for your wonderful generosity.

Video of Protests in Iceland

Faith Community Church-Lakeside

Over the past weekend we traveled to the Pittsburgh area to speak at a church there. The church has a great story of God's faithfulness and a vision for church-planting that reminded me of Stafford-Pillar-Quantico-Lakeside-Etc. We arrived at the home of Larry and Melanie Hart on Friday night after an icy slide on some back roads and were quickly warmed by their hospitality and generosity. Faith Community Church, a three year old church plant, joined together in the past year with Lakeside Baptist Church, a small Southern Baptist congregation of 25 at the time. The result is a great church with some faithful leaders focused on missions and church planting. Larry and Melanie are NAMB personnel who have faithfully served Lakeside BC over the past decade and trusted that God would provide wisdom for the future. All that I can say is that God has rewarded their faithfulness and our family had a great time on Sunday.
On the family fun side, Larry and Melanie took us to the Pittsburgh children's museum on Saturday. It is the best Children's museum we have been to and the girls had a blast for five hours. We are so thankful for the people and churches God has bought into our lives while we have been waiting for our residence permits. 

My Trip to the Shack: Part 2

I mentioned some things I like about the book, The Shack, in some previous posts. My goal in this post is to simply point out some things in the book that alarmed me and remind that I should not build my Theology of God on a fiction novel.

1. Through the characters in the book the author communicates a deeply negative view of authority, going so far as to have Jesus assert that authority is, "one reason why experiencing true relationship is so difficult for you, Once you have a hierarchy you need rules to protect and administer it, and then you need law and enforcement of the rules, and you end up with some kind of chain of command or system of order that destroys relationship rather than promotes it." In the book, authority is almost always looked upon as a power grab. 
Now, I will gladly admit that abuse of authority is a regular part of our human experience as fallen, sinful creatures. We have all suffered under authority wrongly used, and I would submit that we all have improperly used authority at some point and time. But let us take caution before we embrace a view of life where there is a complete absence of authority. The Bible communicates that there are proper uses of authority that are ordained by God. The most obvious ordaining of authority by God is in the Parent-Child relationship. I would suggest that the proper understanding of authority has enriched my relationship with my children and given them a sense of freedom and security in which they can grow as a child. The view of the author seems to be that authority causes relationship to crumble into rules and enforcement rather than love. This can be true, but it does not have to be. Do I have rules for my children? Yes! Do I use consequences to enforce the rules? Most Certainly! Has our relationship crumbled into an empty performance of duty and enforcement? I would venture to say, No! As parents Annie and I strive to help our girls see our good, protective, loving purposes for our rules and enforcement. We strive to instruct the children that we want them to develop character (ingrained habits) that help them see others as people to be served and cherished, rather than as objects for our pleasure. In parenting we use consequences that enforce and teach a love of virtue rather than vice while the stakes are low, punishing what is rude, self-serving, and evil while encouraging that which is good. In so doing we are lovingly helping them to develop character that will keep them from the harsh consequences of wickedness in adulthood. Serving the children this way takes far more time and energy than just getting out of the way and it is an act of our love for them which we try to help them sense and understand in the manner and attitude we bring to situations of discipline; not an angry explosion, but a loving, purposeful correction. If they embrace the wisdom that we have gathered in life I believe they will be more equipped to flourish in life. 

2.  The negative view of authority applies to the way the author views the relationship between God and humanity. I would suggest that the Bible teaches the view of authority I outlined above and roots the pattern of parental authority in the character of God and his love for us. Although having a relationship to God is not entirely about keeping rules and following duties out of fear of judgment, we must not forget the God has given us rules for living that cannot be ignored without serious consequences. If you take the Bible seriously you cannot get around the fact that God has woven consequences into the fabric of the universe and that he also exercises providence over the events of life to bring correction at times. In certain parts of evangelical Christianity, rule keeping has been over-emphasized to the neglect of the development of virtue and a worshipful love for Jesus, but this does not mean that a healthy view of our relationship with God means that we must jettison any idea of authority for the foolish sense of freedom suggested in the book. God has communicated the basis for human flourishing, encourages that which is virtuous, commands against that which is vice so that we might enjoy the freedom for which he has created us under His authority.

3. In the book I felt somewhat concerned with how the author places his own views in the mouth of God. I guess if I believed that what he was saying resembled and represented the truth of scripture I would not be so alarmed, but I found it uncomfortable to hear "Jesus" speak ideas that I think he would ultimately disagree with (I say this on the basis of what He does say in Scripture).

Icelandic Protesters demand PM Resign during Violent Protests

Here is a link to the article at the France 24 news website about some of the unrest in Iceland as the financial situation continues to unfold. Please continue to pray for Iceland and its people and also pray for a spiritual awakening in the hearts of those we will be going to minister to.

Monday, November 24, 2008

First Snow...

Residence Permit Update

Well today we found out where our application for our residence permit is. It has made it to the desk of the Immigration Lawyer. Now in the Garman family we like a good lawyer, and often take them to be our dearest friends, so we have much confidence that the invitation to Iceland is within our grasp. But let us not be too hasty, for it seems as though our friendly immigration lawyer is on a journey abroad until December 1st. This light and momentary affliction doth not deter our hope that we may soon depart, nor covereth our thanksgiving with doubtful gloom, but only giveth us a more exceeding reason to rejoice with the great Apostle that, "το γαρ παραυτικα ελαφρον της θλιψεως καθ υπερβολην εις υπερβολην αιωνιον βαρος δοξης κατεργαζεται ημιν".

Friday, November 21, 2008

Livin' it Up

It has been so....different to just exist in Pennsylvania and wait for our VISAs. There have been some days that I feel ready to GET OUT and get settled in Reykjavik, but most mornings I am just grateful for this season of our lives. Here is what this season has included:

*Reading books I've always wanted to read (Nouwen, Ortberg, Dobson just to name a few)
*Learning to play the guitar
*Going through an amazing curriculum with the girls (Five In a Row by Jane Claire Lambert; check it out...good stuff)
*Running more than normal
*Catching up with old friends
*Creating a prayer support network (email us if you want to get updates!)
*Studying Icelandic in a low-stress environment
*Spending a quantity of quality time with Colby's family
*Traveling to different churches and sharing about The Iceland Project
*Being a tourist in Lancaster and surrounding counties
*Endless rounds of "Name that Tune"
*Family devotions (The Jesus Storybook Bible....great resource!) complete with worship and interpretive dance by the kids.
Colby has been enjoying the retired life at age 29. He keeps ordering books from Amazon (he is now a platinum member and gets free shipping) and devouring them. In addition to learning the art of a good afternoon power nap, he has also been enjoying extra time in his life to run and cook (can't beat that).
The girls have caught on to this new schedule. Last Thursday, the girl's cousins Bailey and Sophie were over for lunch. Darcy leaned over the table to Sophie and inquired, "Hey Fosie...Wherew you-ah Dada?" I smiled and told Darcy that most Daddies have to work during the day. Haley and Darcy looked at each other and exclaimed, "Not our Daddy!"
"Yeah...Not anymore" Haley added.
So, yes...we are all really enjoying this gift of time without responsibilities, but are really anticipating the next stage as well.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Communion with Kids

So, last Sunday we visited a new church in the area that was affiliated with Sovereign Grace Ministries. When we arrived, they instructed us that the children were to stay with us for the first part of the service and then would be released before the sermon. The kids enjoyed participating in worship and it was enjoyable to have them there with us. We then sat down and the pastor began to prepare the congregation for communion. He started by talking about the plagues and the bondage of the Israelites in Egypt. We have been reading these stories to the kids, but I was surprised when Darcy showed her comprehension level and blurted out, "Hey! Dat man say PLAGUES!" We tried to simultaneously quiet her and encourage her to keep listening. The pastor went on about the passover, the symbolism of the blood of the lamb, and the elements of communion. When the plates were passed and the juice and crackers were in hand, the girls were intensely interested. "Mommy, can I have some?" Haley kept inquiring. "I'm thirsty...I want some juice."
The whole time, Colby and I were trying to be sensitive to their first encounter with communion and explain the symbolism, the purpose, and the significance. Colby, with Darcy on his lap, was trying to make the connections for her about the passover and Jesus. This was all too much for Darcy to bear. With her cute raspy voice, she finally blurted out, "Daddy, why you DINK dat Blood of zuh laaamb?" With growing concern, she again persisted..."Daddy, NO!! DON'T DINK IT!" Colby and I buried our heads in our laps as we tried to not make a scene. Symbolism is apparently too abstract of a concept for a 2 year old.

My trip to "The Shack": Part 1 -

The Shack is a recent best-seller by William Young in which a father, named Mack, is invited by God to return to the shack where his daughter had been previously murdered during a family camping trip a few years earlier. At the shack Mack meets God in the three persons. There is Papa (the cheeky, jovial black woman), Sarayu (a mysterious representation of the Holy Spirit), and Jesus, all gathered together for a weekend dealing with the tough questions at the root of Mack's lingering depression over the loss of his daughter.

I thought I would begin today by mentioning one thing I appreciated and enjoyed about reading The Shack, and two additional reasons I think it has been popular. 

The Shack serves as a metaphor for the place of our deepest pain. It is at the place of our deepest pain that many people feel completely abandoned by all hope in God and can be plunged into despair. The Shack asks the question, What if God is more present in "The Shack" than we ever imagined? Through the character of Mack, Young wrestles with what it is that can help us experience the depths of God's loving presence through our own shack, and be willing to walk through the door to revisit it and be transformed from bitterness to hope. The questions he deals with are honest and raw, and the character of Mack expresses many questions and emotions that any believer in God may experience in the face of sorrow and evil. For this reason I enjoyed reading the book and experiencing the journey along with the character. I will consider what I thought of the content of the conversations and explanations in a future post.
I would suggest that there are two other reasons that the book has been popular. Those who have read the book are welcome to agree or disagree. First, it is intensely critical of the church, a popular target of criticism in our culture. Of course some of the criticism is deserved, and others is a thin caricature of reality. I have no intent in the post to go into a theology and defense of the church as a whole, but I do recognize that there is an appeal to many in hearing Jesus say in the book that he never intended for anything remotely like what we have today, and simply wanted a connection of loving relationships among people. Second, I think the book has been popular because the view of God presented in the book is highly relational and pictures the Trinity in loving, unimposing relationship to one another. For someone who has never thought of God as fundamentally relational (and very good at it to boot) this is surprising and refreshing. Further, the approach of God in relationship in the book seems quite suitable to modern notions. Nevertheless I think these two features add to the appeal of the book in the wider culture. There is another reason I think the book is appealing, but I will save that for another day.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Worship Through Scripture

This post is for all my worship leader friends out there. I highly recommend you use this Graham Kendrick song in your churches. You can find the music here or listen to it here.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Garman Bunch

  Can someone please edit out the tree that is growing from my head?  Thanks.

LanCaster County: Where All Your Dreams Come True

Thanks, Brooke, for the hook-up!  


Since we are still in PA with nothing to do but wait, we decided to fly my parents over with our free USAirways reward tickets.  Haley and Darcy had no idea they were coming until the doorbell rang and Helen busted through with her typical, fun, loud kids songs.  Poor Darcy; she was so confused.  Still trying to process what had just happened, she asked, "Are we in Wisconsin?" --as if that is the only place that Nonny and Poppy can exist.  
This whole visit was a huge blessing since we thought we had already said the big goodbye in June.  But, like the song I have been singing for the past 2 months, "This is the good-bye that never just goes on and on my friends...
Regardless, the visit was wonderful and full of fun times at the LanCaster market, the Hershey Chocolate World, and other local attractions.  The last time we had been to Chocolate World was with the Pelts in 2005 after Jackson was born.  I celebrated the nostalgic moment by wearing the same outfit.   

For Better or Worse, 'Til Death Do Us Part

I went to a wedding yesterday. Events like this always get me thinking and cause me to reflect. Few moments in life are as momentous as the wedding day and we should tremble in awe at the goodness of God in giving us such a truth-revealing experience as marriage. Wedding days are momentous, but marriage is even more momentous.

1. Despite the cultural assumption that marriage is primarily for happiness, for some people marriage is momentously terrible for their happiness. Certainly for those who have been through a divorce or sometimes wish they could there is no secret that marriage can greatly endanger your happiness.

2. Marriage is momentously humbling. In our most honest moments, loving a person through the seasons of life will most certainly cause us to recognize our own deep inadequacies and self-centeredness. The face-in-the-mirror experience of having to love another human being in such an intrusively intimate relational setting is .

3. Marriage is momentously transforming. Marrying Annie has distinctively determined the trajectory of my life in ways that marrying someone else or remaining single would have not. For me, marriage has brought into my life some things that I desired, some things that I did not desire but am thankful for, and some things that I did not desire and am not thankful for. The intertwining of two lives creates an indelibly unique combination and effects change in our lives as individuals like nothing else would. The transformation can be good or bad of course, which only makes marriage more momentous.

4. Marriage is momentously honest. In a popular culture that strokes our egos, tells us were all wonderful inside, and is wrecklessly committed t0 a belief in the inherent goodness of humanity, marriage stands as a weather-worn pillar of testimony to our need to be transformed by the Spirit of God to love another person with passion, selflessness, understanding, service, gentleness, respect, support, truth, and sacrifice.

For all the reasons above I love marriage and I love being married to Annie. I also find a deep joy in the reality of marriage that cannot be found in the fleeting promises of the shear delight of unmitigated Romanticism. Romance is good. Romanticism is mostly bad. Marriage is divine, momentously divine.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Misunderstanding Job

Disclaimer: I am going to critique a song below. I in no way think that the artist's intention was to write a song that misrepresented the truth.. The song is simply an example of what happens when we do not pay attention to genre in our reading of the book of Job.

Song: Waters Gone By
Album: Glory Revealed
Artist: Hyperstatic Union, Shawn Lewis

If you put away the sin in your hand
And allow no evil to dwell
If you devote your heart
And stretch out your hands to Him

You will lift up your face without shame
You will firmly stand with no fear inside
You will surely forget your troubles and pain
Recalling them only as waters gone by

The song comes almost word-for-word from Job 11:13-20, which is in keeping with the goal of the album, to use the word of God in musical worship. But what is the context of the passage in which the words find their meaning? The lyrics are a part of the accusations and advice of one of Job's friends. He is in essence telling Job that he has obviously sinned in some way against God that has brought on the horrible suffering Job has faced. His advice is - if Job would put away the sin and allow no evil to dwell, then he will have no reason to fear and the memory of this time will be like water under the bridge. Unfortunately, the friend is dead wrong in his assessment. Once you know that bit of info, it is hard to rejoice much in the message of this song, even if it sounds like it is good.

Job as Literature 3: Inerrancy and Poetic Language

I just thought I would raise an interesting issue with the book of Job that should help us think a little about how we read the Bible. I'll start by affirming up front that I believe strongly in Biblical Inerrancy. Now the problem with such a term is that it has to be understood and people who like to use Straw Men characterizations of Christianity love to take a book like Job and attempt to make the idea of Inerrancy look stupid. 
For example, in the book of Job we have speeches and conversation that take place and I think we should think of them as true, accurate representations of what actually happened. But interestingly, all of the conversation take place in the form of poetry. Now, the last time I checked, five guys sitting around talking about suffering and evil do not do so in Iambic Pentameter off the cuff. So, some would suggest, then we must give up the idea of Inerrancy because the book represents the speakers in a way that did not actually take place. I would argue that we imply must define what we mean by inerrancy, because it is only a word meant to capture what we actually believe about the Bible. 
So what do we believe about the nature of the Bible? The question we are dealing with in regards to inerrancy can help us clarify what we believe about scripture and help us in interpreting and understanding the scriptures. The idea of the incarnation of Jesus provides what I think is the best rubric for also thinking about scripture. In the person of Jesus we believe that the very nature/word of God took on human form and became flesh. God who is transcendent stooped himself to human forms and revealed himself in the clearest way possible, Jesus. The person of Jesus did most completely, what the scriptures also serve to do. They bring the divine word and truth into human forms. Therefore, words that find their ultimate source in the nature of God, take on human forms to reveal God in the midst of human, experiences and issues. The book of Job has a very human form of dramatic poetry, which is used as a vehicle to unleash God's wisdom in our heart. Now when we read dramatic poetry of the biographical sort that Job is, we would expect the poet to represent the conversations in a truthful manner, but we most certainly would not expect the writer to pass along word-by-word journalistic reporting of the type we might see on FoxNews or in a court report.  Language exists in context and form, and discovering the context and form is part of our task in studying and understanding the scriptures. Doing this will help us avoid the error of quoting a statement one of Job's friends makes about God as though it is meant to be understood as a true statement about God, rather than understanding that what is true abut the statement is that it represents what the friend actually said. In the next post I will show an example of what happens when we ignore the work of understanding the human form that God has placed his words into.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Job as Literature 2

Turnabout is fair play, or so the saying goes. Irony and turnabout are often elements of the kind of stories we enjoy and serve as some of the most effective techniques of slipping past our defenses and presuppositions to deal a deathblow to our pride. One of my favorite literary features of Job is the use of Irony in the story-line.  Given what was written in yesterdays post maybe you could begin to put together some of the irony in the story.
As the reader of the conversation we are in a position to assess the conversations between Job and his comforters. With each cycle of conversation they become increasingly aggressive with their accusation that Job is a fool for not recognizing that God is trying to get his attention in regards to some particular sin and turning to him in repentance. Job continues to maintain his innocence and the accusations heighten. The problem is that we know that the friends are wrong because we have been clued in by the introduction. So it is clear to see that the message of the book has some to do with the friends judgment that is based on a lack of understanding about what God is and is not doing in this situation. They have judged harshly, failed to comfort their ailing friend, and do not have access to all the information necessary to understand the situation. 
Because of the perspective the reader has been given it is easy to relate to Job in the midst of the accusations saying, "Hey guys, you should probably withhold your judgment, you do not have all the information. If you did, you wouldn't be so quick to impugn his character." By the end of the cycles of conversations it is like the narrative is just provoking us to have this thought, and we most certainly should. It is an awful thing to judge someone before the evidence is in. Our entire legal system in the U.S. is based on the all important principle of "innocent until proven guilty." If there is reasonable doubt we recognize that we should withhold unwarranted judgment.
So is this the message of the book of Job? Most certainly not or the book would end with the conversations between the friends. But the narrative continues and so does the lesson and wisdom. The last section of the book is the conversation between God and Job. In the conversation, which is really two declarations by God, Job comes to find out that he really knows very little about how God created and governs even the simplest things in the natural world. If he cannot understand the simplest things which God has created and governs he can hardly stand and judge the creator Himself in some instance of suffering. You see all along Job has been calling God's character and justice into question and impugning His character. Unfortunately Job does not have all the information about how God governs the world or what in the end he may be up to. He has no footing on which to stand to give him the full perspective of time and space that God alone has. It is as though God is saying, "Hey Job, you should probably withhold your judgment. You do not have all the information or understanding that I have. If you did you probably wouldn't impugn My character." Now I think we are a bit closer to the central message of this remarkable book from the most remarkable library.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Job as Literature

I have Dr. Branson Woodard from Liberty University to thank for being the first to introduce me to seeing literary technique and beauty in Scripture. His course The Bible as Literature was so compelling and eye-opening that I have never forgotten the important things I learned. When we read the Bible with literary quality in mind we may ask the question, how did the author write the book to assist the reader in understanding and experiencing the main overall point of the story?
In Job this is particularly important because it yields a hint into the overall meaning of the book. As we begin we have the most well-known portions of the book. Through a glimpse into a conversation between Satan and God we come to find out that Satan will have permission to bring a testing against Job to try and prove that people are only faithful to God if prosperous. After an unsuccessful attempt to prove his point Satan returns to gain further permission to afflict Job personally. Interspersed in the scenes is an account of the calamity that comes upon Job. The particular portion is short and to the point and moves the reader quickly to the main portion of the text which is the cycle of conversations to follow that involve Job and four friends who have come to "comfort" him. 
As you move into the conversations, you as the reader have an advantage in assessing what is going on  (which is what you should be doing as you read the conversations). The three friends will be making attempts to tell Job why this has happened to him and you have information that they do not. From the very introduction of the book in this manner you can know one thing, the calamity that comes upon Job is not God's judgment on some particular evil in his life. Much is said and dissected in regards to the introduction, but this seems to be the main purpose: to give the reader a different perspective than the characters in the text so that you can see how wanting their arguments are. In my best assessment, the overall message of the book has something to do with showing the difference that a little piece of information can make.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

So, what is the book of Job all about?

I wouldn't pretend to understand it fully, but I decided to read the book of Job last week as I continue my enjoyment of Old Testament wisdom literature. I am starting to think that Wisdom literature is my favorite genre of the Bible. After reading Ecclesiastes I headed for Job with the aid of the new ESV Study Bible, which I received as a gift courtesy of Jeremy Morrisey.
Job is a book that is highly regarded as valuable for it's wilingness to honestly address the issue of suffering. If you are a part of a church or have studied the Bible long you have heard someone make reference to his life and his resolve to trust God in the midst of suffering. Trusting God in the midst of suffering is good and all, but I went into the reading thinking, "There's got to be more meat to the story than that." Usually the Bible has a lot to say about how we could do such an impossible task, or provides some sort of perspective that can prepare us to handle the storms of life even if ours pale in comparison to Job's (and they most certainly will, which is part of the book's value).
In an effort to keep the posts short I am going to use a couple of days to post the thoughts I have about the book and share what I learned over the past week in my own reading. If you do not currently have a part of the Bible that you are studying or reading, plan to read Job this week and you can decide whether I am way off on my take on the piece or not. So, I will begin the posts the way I began my reading. Given what you may already know about the story of Job, what specifically do you think is the message or central argument of the book? I would suggest that this is the way that we should read any book of the Bible, beginning with a desire to understand the one thing that the whole thing is saying, and then understanding the parts in relation to the whole. Yes, Job is about suffering, but more importantly it is a book about God, and tomorrow I will try to unpack what we can learn from it.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


I better blog about last weekend before it's too late...
This year Haley insisted that she wear her hand-me-down, ripped, purple princess dress despite the fact that she has many new, sparkly dress-up dresses.  Oh well...I am trying not to be a controlling mother.  She was thrilled with her whole get-up, and proudly announced to every neighbor that her hair was Jasmine hair and her body was the princess from Magic in Pegasus (I have no idea what she was talking about....Elizabeth Fauth must know).  Darcy was her trusted steed and galloped from house to house.  Having Jeremy and Bobby-O along for the festive weekend was especially fun.

Monday, November 3, 2008

At the Restaurant: Part 2

I sat down to do some Icelandic self-study today through the online program Colby got us called "Before You Know It."  Here were the flash cards I studied:
sviðin-  singed sheep heads
hakarlinn-  rotten shark
hrutspungarnir-  ram's testicles (kept in sour milk)
skatan-  fermented skate
sviðasultan-  sheep head jelly

My new life is going to be so weird.  

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Alpaca Annie

Eastland Alpaca Farm

This morning we headed out to the Eastland Alpaca Farm for an agri-adventure.

Q and A Ecclesiastes

In the Comments for the last post I answered the basic question below. I wanted to include the answer on the main page so here it is.

Q. "Are we to see the blessings we have here and imagine that they pale in comparison to heaven's blessings awaiting us...
i dont a way it makes sense to me that true satisfaction in anything wont come until we go to heaven"?

A.I think the way to think about is that there are two categories of desire. First the desires that God created us with and intends to fulfill through natural means. An example of that would be hunger, and the means would be the provision of food. Other desires like this may be, the desire for companionship, the desire for meaningful work, sexual desire, or the desire for meaningful thought and understanding. The second category is eternal desire for God himself that He has placed in our hearts for the sake of eternity. All of the above desires find a certain fulfillment in the regular course of life, but also leave us aware of a particular desire that remains unfulfilled, at least in its fullest extent. The eternal desire is so much deeper and more important to our sense of well-being that the lack of its fulfillment would render everything else meaningless.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Navigator: C.S. Lewis, Guide to the Galaxy

If our desires for things present are like signposts pointing us to the Eternal city, then I have found few writers to be as good a navigator for the journey as C.S. Lewis. There is something particularly insightful about his understanding of desire and the inability of lesser goods to ultimately fulfill them that serves to echo the voice of Ecclesiastes better than anyone I have ever read. On of the ways he deals with the tension of there being some good present in things like family, work, wealth, long life, and nature is to take serious what the Bible communicates to us about here we have come from and where we are going. Bruce Edwards in reflecting on Lewis describes it this way: 


Ours is the story of three worlds:

The world we left behind in shame, Eden

The world we occupy in struggle and doubt and turmoil, Earth

The world that impinges in fleeting glimpses of wonder, glory, and joy, Heaven


 The primary concern of the writer of Ecclesiastes is to help us reckon with the world we occupy and awaken a desire for the one that impinges. In his epistle, James writes that every good an perfect gift comes down from the Father of Lights in whom there is no shadow of turning. The good that we experience in life is  gift of God that is really the manifestation of his divine quality through creation. Our sin and the curse of Genesis 3 has not emptied the world of its created beauty, such that the Psalms and the Prophets can declare that the whole earth is filled with the glory of God. Most importantly to the writer of Ecclesiastes, we must not confuse gift and giver or else the gift will not be enjoyed for what it is and simply crumble to dust as a flower cut off from the life-giving nourishment of its roots.

 I can remember several years ago when I read Lewis's fictional tale The Great Divorce twice over a period of 12 months. The first time I tried and tried to make sense out of it and couldn't. The second time it sprung to life and I could see in the characters a vivid description of what it looks like to remain among the signposts of desire and miss the Eternal city. It was not until just the other day that I would have described it this way, but my recent fascination with Ecclesiastes finds a concrete fictional description in the short novella that had so puzzled me. If you haven't read it, put it near the top of your list.

 The connection between Ecclesiastes and Lewis hit me the other day when I was writing the first post and I remembered a passage from The Weight of Glory that I recognized had prepared me to think with the writer of Ecclesiastes. It is an oft quoted pice of Lewis's work and I will leave it with you and let you ponder the connections and ideas.

“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.”



Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Signposts of Desire: To the Eternal City

First, a word about reading the Bible. I think that a lot of people who read the Bible can miss two very important things. First that the Bible is made of a diversity of theme and parts the create a greater whole. Each book plays a role in building a clearer picture of God's redemptive work in history. This will help because it can make you thankful for a book like Ecclesiastes which leaves you wishing you could hear a little bit more about what life IS about, and a little less about the fleeting value of things that seems so important to us. In the symphony of truth, Ecclesiastes plays the dirging Bass note and does so beautifully, only leaving a glimmer of hope. Second, the different authors and genres of the Bible speak to different parts of our human condition and experience. A book like Ecclesiastes in the genre of wisdom literature helps to take knowledge and bore it into the soul of our being and experience. We can feel the truths it addresses while we bring the ideas before our mind and this is much different than reading a narrative like The Acts of the Apostles.

So, if the conclusion of the matter is that all of the aspects of life addressed by Ecclesiastes are a meaningless chasing of the wind, how do we hold that in tension with our recognition that there does seem to be glimpses of beauty and meaning in family, justice, work, wisdom, and such. As I said yesterday, we seem to reach into these boxes of life because there appears to be something promising about them, the fulfilling of some deep longing that we have. Further the very real experience of life is that some of these things seem to deliver on the promise of meaning and life, even if not totally satisfying and eventually fading. I sit in nature and I don't feel the endless circulation of the water cycle, but instead a certain discernable goodness and beauty that I long for and can almost feel. At the birth of a child and in the love of a wife and family I do not immediately feel the closeness of death and the immediacy of being forgotten by a fickle world. Instead I sense that there is something real here, something particularly right, even if I know that death can come without warning. Eventually, death will come to all, riches will fade, honor and glory will be forgotten, and The Teacher of Ecclesiastes is right to warn us not to place our hope in these things.

Ecclesiastes instructs us in an important theme. The idea is that these lesser "goods" are not ultimate and cannot bear the weight of the eternal desire for God that has been placed in our hearts. Ecclesiastes 3:11 seems to capture the truth of the book in one simple statement and this seems to be the meaning of the idea that God has put eternity into man's heart. The lesser goods are signposts of desire, but always leave us longing for the country to which they point. For this reason they are good, but they do not complete life in such a way that we can just remain with them. In the eyes of Solomon, it is a tragedy for us to stop on the road to the eternal city to remain forever among the signposts.

As I thought about this idea the other night I thought of one of my favorite writers. Tomorrow I will look at this idea through his eyes and share some of the connections with Ecclesiastes.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Empty Box

I have had some thoughts from Ecclesiastes stirring in my heart and mind the past two days since Annie and I had the chance to participate in Brett and Jen's small group study on Sunday Night. Every now and then I seem to come back around to this mysterious little book and discover it like new all over again. If you have never read it, I would encourage a full sit-down read sometime. Taking a couple of weeks to go verse-by-verse can be good, but we must not neglect to read the whole or we run the danger of dividing a meaningful journey into hard to discern little visits.

Have you ever felt like we spend a lot of our life looking for something that we cannot quite put our hands on, and are not even sure how to describe. It is like a child going from box to box at Christmas looking for THE gift, but the box never quite has what he was looking for. We may call it satisfaction, but then we never really know whether we are satisfied and quickly long for something else, something more, something exciting, something different, something permananent. We open box after box, hoping to find the gift to end all gifts, the key that will unlock the meaning to everything else in life. We eagerly open the box of a new relationship. We look for it in productive work. We search for it vigorously in health and long life. We expect to find it in significance or honor. We open the gift of knowledge and wisdom. We hope for it in justice. And we thirst for it in celebration, but it is always so elusive. The emotion fades or the lover dies. The wealth and production of work causes worry, and produce spoils before we can consume it or is left to those who follow after to enjoy. The disease breaks forth uncontrollably despite the best efforts of doctors. The fifteen minutes of fame and honor are followed by an eternity of forgetfulness and the trophies of accomplishment tarnish with each passing day. The knowledge and wisdom we do gain only serve to awaken us to how little we actually know and we despair because of what we do. The righteous often suffer and the wicked prosper, and the cry for justice can never satisfy our own guilty soul. This is life under the sun and Ecclesiastes reminds us that our search for that which will end all searching isn't to end in acquiring any one of these. It's not there; the box is empty. It is a vanity of vanities...a chasing after the wind.

The power of Ecclesiastes is that the writer is not quick to rescue us from this despair. He works harder and harder to underscore it and make it more palpable and real with every line and chapter, offering only a mall concession here and there that things are not as bad as they could be. Even in the end we are not so sure we are glad to have taken the journey in verse, because for all the artful display of the inherent meaninglessness of every aspect of life, we are left with a seemingly terse instruction.

Maybe tomorrow I'll try to be more positive. To be continued...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Pictures and Places

I took this picture...
at this beautiful place...
on a two-day date with this beautiful woman.

Good News/Bad News

After Haley's birthday party, we made our way up to Galeton, PA to visit Colby's parents and his home church. Watching the leaves change on the drive north was gorgeous, and the ride was peaceful until we started smelling burning rubber. The unfortunate part was that we did not make it to Galeton before our clutch gave out....fortunately, we broke down by a fun pile of leaves to play in.

Happy 4th Bday Haley

Since Haley and Bailey are exactly 365 days apart, we had a combined birthday party. We managed to mesh the themes of My Little Pony and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse quite well. Good times had by all...

Mommy-Haley Date

Living in Lancaster County is feeding Haley's horse addiction quite nicely...

Friday, October 17, 2008

"So, what have you guys been doing up there?"

We've been asked the question more than once.  We are enjoying a gift that I constantly crave, but no amount of money cannot buy: the gift of time.  More specifically, time together.  It is truly a gift from God to be here with no responsibilities or expectations...nothing on the to-do list but learn to love and serve each other better.  Okay, I shouldn't say there is nothing on the to-do list...but it certainly is less.
This week, I thought it would be fun to take turns taking the girls out on dates.  On Wednesday, Darcy and I enjoyed some special mommy-daughter time drinking smoothies, playing catch, having a picnic and blowing bubbles.  The whole time, I couldn't stop staring at her and thinking that she would never be two years old again.  I tried as best as I knew how to capture
 the moment and mentally preserve her precious little voice, her sweet touches, and her soft curls.  Of course, having the Nikon on hand aids that process quite nicely.  

Saturday, October 11, 2008

International Gospel Blimps Inc.

Sometimes a little fiction is just the trick to get you thinking. In this book a group of friends desiring to reach their neighbors for Christ take on the monumental task of starting a non-profit organization that utilizes fly over blimps dropping literature and gospel advertising sign trailers to get the job done. It is a tale of sacrifice, hard work, prayerful dedication, hardship, and of course...well I'll let you read it to guess how I would complete the list. The little story, which is in itself only 60 pages, begs the question, "If Christians desire to bear witness to the truth of the gospel to their friends and neighbors, what might be the best and worst ways to go about it?" First published in 1960, Joseph Bayly saw the present and the future with a razor sharp clarity that may allow this story to be more important today than it was almost 50 years ago. I hope you're intrigued, you can order it on Amazon.

Thursday, October 9, 2008