Friday, December 31, 2010

The Love Letter

If you've ever been in love, you've no doubt exchanged mushy love letters with your beloved.  I remember the giddiness I felt opening those from my bride-to-be, or the joy that welled up inside me as I wrote her my replies.  Love letters are an outward expression of powerful emotions, heartfelt promises, and undashable hopes. While they may serve as weapons of harassment by curious parents or annoying little siblings, they really only carry a meaning for the two of you.  No one but you can find the little nuances of meanings between each hand-written line, or laugh at the cute inside jokes you two share.  Farrah and I recently rummaged through some of our old letters and cards, and I found myself reliving that same familiar giddiness.  How powerful is the written word, when you know it was penned by your beloved!

We were in a restaurant recently, when I overheard someone at another table recommend to another that they read the Book of John.  The young woman's reply was something like, "Yeah, I got a kids' Bible for my son and read it."  I don't usually eavesdrop, but this conversation got my attention for a couple reasons.  First of all, my soon-to-be-father-in-law, a pastor, asked me to read the Book of John, after I told his daughter that I wanted to know more about Jesus.  He told me that it's the most appropriate of the four Gospels for new converts to read.  Our own pastor recently echoed the same statement.  Second, I recognized my (old) self in the woman's attitude toward the Bible: that a (paraphrased) kids' version is equivalent to God's Word.  I was intently listening to see if I could pick up more, but to my disappointment, the conversation soon turned a corner and moved on.

As I thought about their short exchange, I started to realize something I hadn't thought of before: God's Word, embodied in the pages of the Bible, is His love letter to His Bride, which is the true church, the collection of all the born-again Christians who are saved by the blood that He shed on the cross for us.  And like other love letters, it holds no meaning or significance for those who have no relationship with Him, nor are seeking one.  "For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18).

I was an atheist for the first two decades of my life.  When I was in high school, I unwittingly became involved with a Christian youth group (Young Life).  Though I made some fond memories while I was a part of it, I disliked all the Bible studies, Sunday schools, and homework I had to do.  I tried reading the Bible, but it was dry and pointless to me.  It did not speak to me, the words did not jump out at me, God did not reveal Himself to me at that time, because I was not yet ready.  Just as I would not expect my young son to receive love letters from the little girl who will one day become his wife (I trust and pray that she's out there, being raised by Godly parents, in the nurture of the Lord), God did not yet address His love letter to me.

So what's my point?  Here's the crux of the matter.  Telling someone just to go read the Bible (as I have often done myself) could fall on deaf ears, if we do not also stress that the goal is a personal relationship with its Author.  His words are meaningless, unless He draws us to Him and we seek to know Him and become His bride-to-be, His dearly beloved.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Cul-de-Sac of Power

Merry Christmas, everyone!  As has been my Christmas blogging tradition, I'd like to share something from my life.  A few blocks from our house is a lane with about 12 houses, which ends in a cul-de-sac.  Every December, all the houses but one go out of their way to decorate for Christmas.  There is even a Jewish family that gets into the spirit.  The picture above is a full-on view of what we like to call, "The Cul-de-Sac of Power!"  I'm sure the local power company just LOVES these guys!  ;)

It's become a family tradition for us to drive down their street at least once a year and take in the sight of this free light display.  Yeah, so it's the commercialization of Christmas, taken to a high degree, but it's also a testament to the closeness that these neighbors probably share.  Our cul-de-sac decorates, too, but not to this degree.

I wish you all the very best of Christmases and a New Year filled with the joy and peace that only our Savior can give!  Merry Christmas, everyone!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Why Are We Here? (Part II)

And now, without further ado, here is the conclusion to my recent Sunday message.

1 Tim. 3:1-5 (qualifications for a bishop’s office)

A church leader must first be a good family man, successful head of his own home. That doesn’t mean bossing everybody else around, but being the spiritual leader of the family. It’s important for all of us to raise our children well, because they are the next generation. As parents, God has put us in charge of raising our kids to follow Him. There is no greater responsibility, and no greater failure, in our society today.

Gen. 3:17-19 (God’s curse on Adam)

I think of this verse whenever I’m out doing some hard task in our back yard, with the hot sun beating down on me. But the fact is that the man’s primary task is to provide for his family. We need to put food on the table, but the nature of how we work is very different today than it was in the days when Christ was on Earth. Instead of working our own field or applying our trade in our own little shop, most jobs today involve working alongside dozens or hundreds of others. Now, more than ever, we have a daily opportunity to live out our faith at our workplace and witness to our co-workers. Unfortunately, the flip-side is that many employers have strict rules that ban proselytizing, in the name of political correctness, of course. Likewise, the wife’s traditional duty is to be keeper of the home and be the children’s primary instructor. Our society today, led by the feminists of the latter half of the 20 century, has pressurred women to leave the home and enter the workforce, leaving the most important duty on the planet to daycare and television. Combined with the ever-increasing costs of living and the recent recession, today’s man has to work all that much harder, if he wants to be the sole breadwinner in his home.

Matt. 28:18-20 (The Great Commission)

Some say that the Great Commission has already beel fulfilled, because you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn’t heard about Jesus. But did Jesus say, “Make sure everyone heard of Me”? No, He said “teach” and “baptize”. The teaching requires perseverence and commitment. Baptism implies conversion, not by threats and intimidation, but a genuine conversion that comes through patience, love, and a faithful presentation of the Gospel. I think it’s harder to do this here, in a country where an overwhelming majority already claim to be Christians, but have a skewed vision of Jesus and God’s plan of Salvation. It is harder to undo the brainwashing of our own society than it is to present the Gospel to a pagan people, whose minds have not been already corrupted with wrong ideas.

Luke 22:24-27 (Serve!)

This might seem simple, but when you boil it all down, each one of us is here to serve others. What better way to follow Jesus Christ’s own example? We lead our families by serving. We instruct our children by serving. We put bread on the table by serving (literally and figuratively!). We submit to our spouses by serving. We witness to the unsaved by serving. But if we sin, we only serve ourselves. If we willfully neglect our duty as a servant, it is to serve ourselves, which benefits no one.

So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do” (Luke 17:10).

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Why Are We Here? (Part I)

I'm not an ordained minister, neither do I possess any degrees in theology, but I am a child of God, and I like to preach at our church, on occasion.  Recently, the Lord led me to address a question that many ask of God or the universe: "Why am I here?"  I've been having issues with making videos recently, so instead, I will share my notes with you.  Because my notes are usually quite lengthy, I'm splitting this post into two parts.  Enjoy!

This is a classic worldview question, and one of the most important. A worldview is a system of beliefs, assumptions, or doctrines that we use to interpret the world around us. Everyone has a worldview, whether they know it or not. The man-on-street’s answer to this question will quickly reveal what he thinks about God. One might talk about the Creator. Another about karma. Still another about primordial soup and random mutations.

But the man of God should probably rephrase the question to a more personal level: God, what is Your purpose for me? What do You want me to do with this life You have given me? Doing so, we not only acknowledge God, our Creator, as a personal being with Whom we can converse, but also recognize that He has a Grand Plan for His creation, and each one of us fits into it a little differently, like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle.

1 Cor. 3:10-15 (wood, hay, and stubble are burned up)

I have a giant to-do list. I was reading these verses last week and started to think about the items on that list. Which are gold, silver, and precious stones? Which are wood, hay, and stubble? As big as that list is (over 70 items!), and as little time as I always seem to have, I can’t afford to work on things that will be burned up at the last day. Ironically, some tasks that seem like gold are actually stubble, and vice-versa. Let’s get some examples and guidelines from God’s Holy Word.

Matt. 25:14-30 (parable of the talents)

God blesses each one of us with abilities and possessions of various kinds, but it is our responsibility to use these blessings responsibly and in a way that will bring glory to God and further His Kingdom. Squandering what He has given us, including the very breath that fills our lungs, makes us like the slothful servant who hid his lord’s money in the ground. Ask God how He wants you to use what He’s given you.

Ex. 3:1-10, 4:10-12 (God calls Moses)

Moses was about 80 years old when God finally called on him to bring the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. What does that teach us about patiently waiting on the Lord? Moses must have felt that he was special. Out of all the Hebrews, he alone was called the Pharaoh’s grandson. He even tried to be a judge for his people, but the plan backfired, and he had to flee. He spent much of his adult life as a shepherd. Ever wonder what he thought of his life and if he thought God had given up on him? I wonder how many nightmares he had about his Jewish brethren, who were suffering under the yoke of the Pharaoh. And yet, God used this time to prepare Moses for the task that lay ahead.

John 21:1-22 (Peter, the fisher of men)

After Jesus’ resurrection, Peter and six other disciples went back to being fishermen. This might have been fine, except it wasn’t what Jesus wanted for them, particularly Peter. You might’ve noticed, but Peter seemed to have a hard time even finding the fish, without Jesus’ help! Jesus asked Peter not once, but three times if he loved Him more than fishing, and asked him to feed His sheep. Putting God first means not letting our own interests keep us from doing His work.

To be continued...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Calvinism and Arminianism (Part III)

This is the conclusion of my series on Calvinism and Arminianism. If you do not yet know very much about these Christian theologies, each portrait links you to the respective Wikipedia articles.

Now that I've discussed the fundamental issue that I believe the two theologies are trying to address, let me answer three other very critical questions:

Does God hold us accountable for our actions? Calvinism, if taken to an extreme, might be interpreted to teach that what we do doesn't matter. If God decides who is saved and who isn't, then what I do has no bearing on my salvation, and witnessing to others is unnecessary, since their standing at the Judgment was pre-determined before the beginning of time (predestination). However, James' exhortation to bear the fruits of our salvation and Jesus' Great Commission are fully valid and cannot be ignored. No matter what roles election and free will play in salvation, we cannot shirk our responsibilities as children of God.  Jesus said, "It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come!" (Luke 17:1).  And of Judas Iscariot, He said, "The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It had been good for that man if he had not been born" (Matthew 26:24).

Can we ever lose our salvation? If I hear "once saved, always saved" one more time, I think I'm going to hurl. Oops! I just typed it again! Excuse me a sec.... Seriously though, I don't like this term because it suggests that we can do whatever we want, and we'll still be OK.  Add to that pastors and ministers of almost every denomination declaring over and over that "we're all sinners", and any hope of victory all but vanishes.  Of course, we've already established that taking it to that extreme is foolhardy, but it puts us on a slippery slope that I prefer to stay off of.  Anyway, this doctrine is probably most directly derived from John 10:28 ("neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand") and Romans 8:35-39 ("[nothing] shall be able to separate us from the love of God").   If there's enough interest among my readership, I could probably spend an entire post (or two, or three) on this question alone, but for the time being, I want to try to guess how our two theologies would answer.

I think the Calvinist would take us back to election and say that it's really a moot point.  Since salvation is something that was decided before God even gave Adam breath, the elect will bear fruits worthy of repentance and the unsaved (even if they once claimed to be saved) were never actually saved in the first place.  On the other hand, the Arminian would point to free will and state that since we are always free to obey or disobey God, salvation is something that can be refused (through the rebellion of sin) or reclaimed (through the obedience of repentance).  This latter view is what I believe, but I also know that (1) God wants us to be assured of our salvation, and (2) He doesn't want us stuck in an endless rut of sinning and repenting.  That's why I also believe that through the Holy Spirit, He gives us the power to resist sin and live free of its grip.  But that's a topic for another post. :)

And finally, how do the Calvinist and Arminian differ in their Christian walks?  Short answer: they don't... or at least they shouldn't!  Regardless what one believes about election and free will, we have a duty to live by Jesus' two "love commandments", spread the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth, and live each day as if He's returning tomorrow.  The Calvinist and the Arminian both repented of their sins and forsook the things of this Earth for the treasures that no moth or rust can corrupt and which no thief can lay a finger on.  The same Holy Spirit dwells in both of them and gives them reassurance of their salvation.  They both bear the fruits of the Spirit and are a shining light for God wherever they go.  They will both be dressed in robes of white in that Beautiful City, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, singing, "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty!"

Doctrinal discussions (among the saved) are good if they edify, but if things get heated, take a step back and remember that you both serve the same mighty God, Whose Holy Spirit dwells in you, and you are brothers and sisters, through the One Who purchased your salvation with His very blood!  Now, who can argue with that???

"And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ" (Eph. 4:11-15).

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Calvinism and Arminianism (Part II)

Well, since I have written a lot more than I initially planned, and I like shorter posts anyway, I decided to milk this topic for a full trilogy. How else am I going to build my average back to 2 posts a month???  ;)  Each portrait still links you to the respective Wikipedia articles.

"If God is Love, and He created us, why doesn't everyone go to Heaven?" How Calvinists and Arminians answer this question sheds some insightful light into the fundamental differences between the two theologies.

Arminianism holds that God loves everybody, but that not everyone accepts the Gift of Salvation. God knocks at people's doors, but He will not force Himself upon them. They have free will to reject Him, and the cost (if repentance is never made) is an eternity in Hell. If we dig deeper, we extract a second layer of doctrines, which teach that Jesus died for all humanity and that salvation, though not dependent on works, can be lost through unrepented sin.

Some insist that pure Arminianism promotes a works-based salvation, but that is a misinterpretation of its teachings; Jesus (see the Gospels and Revelation) and Paul (see Romans 11) were very clear that sin, if not repented of, results in loss of salvation. Arminianism is also criticized for teaching uncertainty in one's own salvation, but I see it simply as motivation to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). Romans 8:16 assures us that "the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God." Therefore, by the Holy Spirit's witness, you can know that you know that you're saved!

Calvinism all but denies the existence of free will, focusing instead on election (a concept well-founded in scripture; again, see Romans and the Gospels).  God loves only the elect, which are those whom He wills to save. Although Jesus' blood on Calvary was certainly enough for all humanity, it covers only the elect. Else, why would the "unsaved" be sent to Hell, if their sins were already paid for? Repentance, then, is not an act of free will, but rather an irresistible response to the moving of the Holy Spirit in one's heart. Instead of a turning point in one's life, that marks the "decision for Christ", it is a fruit of the Spirit in one who is already saved.

In Romans 9, Paul declares that some are created for salvation and others for damnation. He also addresses the question of fairness, stating simply that God is sovereign, and therefore is the one to decide what's fair.  That may sound like a cop-out to some, but I believe it's true. Think of when you were a child, and your parents (probably) made you go to bed while it was still light out, wouldn't buy you the candy you wanted, spanked you when you were bad, made you eat broccoli, sent you to school, and forbade you from getting that skull tatoo. At the time, you probably thought it wasn't fair or that they were being mean, but you hopefully realize now that it was for your own good.  Likewise, I believe when we go to be with Him, all will make sense... either that or being in His presence will be so awesome, I won't even care!  :)

To be continued...

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Calvinism and Arminianism (Part I)

John Calvin and Jacobus Arminius. Click on each, to go to their respective Wikipedia articles.

I had already been saved for several years and thought I knew a lot about Christianity and the Bible, when I began fellowshipping with one of my colleagues at work. He was a very sincere Christian and devout Biblical scholar, but some of his views were so contrary to mine, that I was taken aback. The points he was making and the terminology he used were like second-nature to him.  So much so, that neither of us seemed able to understand where the other was coming from!

That was my first exposure to Calvinism and Reformed Theology. I did not grow up in any church, and when I got saved, I was mentored with (I would later discover) an Arminian worldview. But at the time, I did not know that's what it was called, or even that there was another view, some of whose doctrines were diametrically opposed to mine... but yet, well-founded in scripture.  Since my initial discovery of the two views, I have had numerous deep discussions with Calvinists.  I still lean Arminian, but can definitely see both sides of the coin.

Recently, I had a run-in with a young and very zealous Calvinist, who pretty much picked a Theological argument with me.  He didn't say anything I hadn't heard before, but he knew his supporting scriptures much better than I knew mine, so I just backed out of the discussion.  I couldn't help but rehearse the experience over and over in my head, until I came to two revelatory conclusions, which I would like to share with you now.

I will not try to summarize the two beliefs here, but you can click on either portrait above (even though they may not look like links), to read Wikipedia articles on the theologies these men ignited. (If prompted about scripts or active content, please allow them to run.) Instead, I will focus on some core concepts and leave the deeper digging to the curious.

Both belief systems hold that humanity is inherently sinful and, but for the Grace of God, unable to seek reconcilliation with God. This is called total depravity. Closely tied to this concept is the idea that no works of man can atone for his sins and earn him salvation from an eternity in Hell. Jesus' blood is the only atonement, and a calling from God is the only way one's eyes are opened to the unmerited Gift that is free for the taking. These ideas are well-founded in scripture and you will be hard-pressed to find a Calvinist and an Arminian who will disagree on these points.

However, where the two will greatly differ is in answer to the question, "If God is Love, and He created us, why doesn't everyone go to Heaven?" Perhaps they don't consciously think in these terms, but a lot of the doctrinal differences appear (to myself, at least) to stem from their differing answers to this single question.

To be continued...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Greg's Life and The Light

Posted by: Farrah

I don’t know when Greg is going to post, and seeing as I don’t keep up my own blog anymore, I thought I'd come write one for him. Makes perfect sense! But first, I’ll give an update on his life. Maybe we’ll hear from him in the comments? :-)

Praise God, he likes his new job! The down side is that he has less free time. There are a variety of reasons for this: more driving, more hours, less flexibility.

He created a program for our homeschool co-op last year and has slowly been adding new features and making improvements. Since we are about to start back up, he’s been working on that and other related tasks. He taught LEGO classes four times this summer, we began attending a church, and then there are the needs of his family . . . yes that's me! And Sonshine! And relatives!

Now for a quick praise report from last week: we were driving along in late day, when the sky before us showed several brilliant streaks of light bursting through the clouds. At exactly the same time, this song came on the radio. As always, God's timing is perfect.

He lights up my sky.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day!

Posted by: Farrah

Today I praise our Creator for His beautiful creation!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Change We Can Believe In

Sorry that I haven't kept up with my blogs, recently. With my current job coming to a close in a month, I've been really busy wrapping up my work there and looking for new employment. And since my brain has a hard time staying focused on more than a couple things at a time, blogging has taken a back seat.

You probably recognize this blog's title as one of our current President's campaign slogans. While I'm not here to discuss the recent passing of the health care bill or the way Mr. Obama has been leading this country, I thought his old slogan was quite appropriate for the real subject of this post (and it's not French money, either!).

Mainstream Christianity often says that God loves us just as we are. We can be free to be ourselves and know that as long as we believe in Jesus, we are assured a home in Heaven. And no matter what we do, what mistakes we make, or what sins we commit, Jesus will greet us with open arms.

While there is some truth in those statements, it is not the whole truth.

God is not some giddy schoolgirl, infatuated with the hunky guy in the third row; He knows the corrupt hearts of men. When He created Adam, He was not a dreamy-eyed boy, receiving his very first puppy, and utterly unaware of the responsibilities and challenges of taking care of it. He knew full-well what He was in for. He knew all the heartache mankind would bring Him. He knew that one day soon, all too soon, He would have to hang on a blood-stained cross, for His creation. He knew all this, and yet went through with it, because He had a purpose and a plan for us.

The truth is that God is a god of change. He designed us in His image and wants us to be more like Him. He also provided us the catalyst and the power to change, by allowing His Holy Spirit to dwell in the hearts of His children.

Mainstream Christianity says that if we just believe in Christ, we will be saved. But there is so much more implied in that. Jesus said that unless we repent and become as little children, we cannot be saved. In fact, He told Nicodemus that we must be born again; we must be born of the Spirit, in order to gain eternal life. Paul says that if a man is in Christ, he is a new creation, that old things have passed away, and all things become new. I imagine a larva going into its cocoon and coming out a butterfly.

God is a god of change.

This is apparent even in human physiology. Are we born fully grown (as Adam and Eve were), able to walk, talk, and reason? No. We enter this world entirely weak and helpless, utterly dependent on others for our very survival. It then takes us a good couple decades to mature into fully functional members of society, able to bear the responsibilities and challenges of adulthood.

Likewise, Paul says that we must mature in Christ. The life of the saved is one of constant change. We grow not only in the knowledge of the Holy, but also in righteousness, as the Holy Spirit moves in our hearts. We must not remain in the sins of our youth (literal and figurative). We must believe that God has the power to cleanse us from all unrighteousness and form us into His Holy image.

There is more, so much more, to all this. I will address it again, in my upcoming study of Paul's epistle to the Romans.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Waiting to See My Father

Yesterday marked 25 years since my mom and I came to the US.

I was born in communist Romania, where the oppressive dictatorship prevented people from even leaving the country (unless, of course, you were a member of the Communist Party). My dad was determined to get us out, so that I would grow up in freedom. After many attempts at getting his research papers accepted at conferences in the West, he finally succeeded in leaving. I was really close to him, and it was indescribably hard to watch him walk down the airport terminal... and I thought he was leaving for only TWO WEEKS!!! The government had spies everywhere, and in order to ensure that I wouldn't say anything to anyone, my parents didn't tell me that my dad was not planning to return.

Romania had signed a Family Reunification agreement with the West, that if a family became separated, they were to make every effort to allow them to leave, so they could be reunited, sort of like a rubber band. But it wasn't until 18 months later that my mom finally got through all the roadblocks and red tape, and we were allowed to leave.

The picture above was taken shortly before we left Romania. I think it's very interesting how happy and excited I looked, while my mom seemed to be light-years away. Maybe she was thinking about all that she would be leaving behind, including her mom, aunt, and brother. All I knew was that I would get to see my dad again; it probably didn't much occur (or matter) to me that I may never see my other family again.

I've got to tell you that the moment that I saw Dad for the first time, at JFK International, was one of the happiest and memorable moments in my entire life. I was so happy to see him, that all those months that we were apart didn't even matter anymore.

The next few months were filled with the excitement of living in a new place, discovering new things ("You mean I can wear regular clothes at school?!?!") and learning a whole new language.

The Bible describes another tyrant who tricked humanity into the oppression of sin. We were unable to escape by ourselves. Our Heavenly Father, however, had a plan to get us out, which is why He came to die on the cross. But while He was still with His disciples, He told them, "I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also" (John 14:2b-3).

So now we wait. Paul says that the whole of creation groans, yearning for His return. Those of us who are His children will rejoice to see Jesus again, to take us to that new land of freedom, and all the time that we spent waiting will cease to matter. Oh, what a glorious day that will be!

Friday, February 19, 2010

It's-a Mario Party 10! Wahoo!

You might be wondering why I was away from blogging for so long. If you're a regular visitor, you might remember that I go on hiatus every January (December, too), due to the enormous time and effort that it takes to plan our son's birthday parties. Here is what we did last year.

Well, since Kylen loves video games so much, and Mario in particular, we thought it would be great fun to have a Mario-themed party. We bought LOTS of Nintendo paraphanalia, decorated the walls of our unfinished basement to look like the classic Super Mario Brothers games, and I even created a PC program, to keep track of the kids' scores, during the party games. Here are some pictures, to give you an idea of what it was like. Enjoy!

What do you get when you cross a computer nerd with a video game character? You got it! That's me, as Luigi, Mario's skittish taller brother. I'm sitting in a corner of our basement, operating the scorekeeping program I wrote. A projector displayed the status on a handmade screen.

Here is what much of our basement looked like. The walls were decorated with rolls of plastic tablecovers and computer printouts of Nintendo characters. Hey, when the images you find on the internet are 2000x3000, even a full-size print on an inkjet looks professional!

The Chain Chomp on the left side of your screen is a 3-foot Big-Uns ball, covered with two yard trash bags. The teeth and eyes were cut out of printer sticker sheets. I also recorded some dog barks on a CD and hid the player behind the Chomp, for added realism.

In the back, you can see a Sandbag, which is, in fact, a real punching bag that we've had for years, covered in a large sheet of white craft foam.

This picture really does NOT do the cake enough justice. Although we joked that we had made it, our co-op's lead organizer made it for us. Isn't she talented??? She has her own cake-decorating business, so if you live in the Inland Northwest, we HIGHLY recommend her!

The original post had a YouTube video, but Farrah reminded me that some parents are really sensitive about how visible they are on the internet, so I took it down. If you were at the party and would like to see the video, please e-mail me.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Book Review: The Princess and the Kiss

My cute and wonderful wife loves to change the decor in our living room every month or two. As part of that, she puts out collections of books and magazines, related to that particular theme. Last weekend was the big Valentine's Day push. Our house is now exquisitely arrayed in reds, pinks, and purples (very manly, I know!). On a lampstand sit several love-themed picture books, including this one: The Princess and the Kiss, by Jennie Bishop. What it lacks in action, it makes up for with a strong Biblical view of courtship and a heartwarming story that brings tears to our eyes, every time we read it together.

In the story, a baby girl is born to a King and Queen. God entrusts the new parents with a most precious gift: their daughter's First Kiss. As she grows, they dilligently guard their daughter's treasure, until she is old enough to be entrusted with it. Suitors then come, asking for her hand in marriage, and the story tells the tale of how she finds the only one to whom she will trust with her most treasured possession.

It's simple, but sweet, and appropriate for any age. It reads like a fairy tale and manages to teach a moral without sounding preachy. Our son loves to hear it each year, and I think it's a great opportunity for us to impart our views of dating, on to our son (even though we did not follow those protocols ourselves).

Now, for some background...

Although our son is not yet a teenager, it's never too early to develop a Biblical model of dating, for your children. Dating and relationships are difficult topics for parents to discuss, and Farrah and I want to avoid the mistakes that we feel our respective parents made when raising us. So, a couple years ago, we attended a talk on courtship, given by a pastor in our area, and our eyes were opened.

The Bible has lots of examples (good and bad) of how men and women got together (Adam and Eve, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel and Leah, Sampson and his women, David and his women, Solomon and his women, etc...), but there is no single recipe for how God specifically wants his people to handle courtship.

While parents implement it to varying degrees, courtship is somewhere between the sterility of arranged marriages and the emotionally clouded, modern dating model. The basic idea is that the parents are responsible for their children's purity, and need to guide the process by which their children select a spouse.

Some of the guidelines include:
  • A minimum age for courtship (possibly old enough to marry)
  • Boy asks parents' permission first
  • Boy and girl do not "go out", but get to know each other only as part of family activities
  • Boy and girl study the Bible together with the families
  • Affectionate behavior, including the first kiss, reserved for marriage
This may sound strict and maybe unrealistic, but it represents the moral high ground that our children and society so desperately need. Divorce rates are at an all-time high. Teen and out-of-wedlock pregnancies are rising. Domestic and same-sex "partnerships" are getting footholds as acceptable "lifestyles". If we are to salvage what's left of the traditional family and Biblical marriage as its cornerstone, we must make the effort to pass on those values to our children.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Judge Not?

My friend Jim recently did an editorial on what the Bible says about judging, which reminded me that I had been wanting to post on this subject, for some time. At his urging, I am doing so now.

"Judge not, that ye be not judged" (Matthew 7:1). We've all heard and read this scripture. In fact, the world has drilled it into our heads so much, that many of us are beginning to apply it to every situation. It's the Biblical justification for political correctness and the mantra of "live and let live."

But it's a lie, my friends. The world of sinners is using this quote by Jesus, taken out of context, to disarm true Christians and prevent them from pointing out sin. Here, I will attempt to put the verse in context and provide you with several other verses, with which you can build a defense shield, against the fiery arrows of the enemy.

First, read Matthew 7:1-5, to see what Jesus' point was. It becomes apparent that He was talking to hypocrites (v. 5), who point out people's flaws that they themselves also suffer from. It's like one alcoholic telling another to stop drinking. What's Jesus' solution? "First cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye." So He's saying, "don't judge, until your own judgement is cleared of the same sin."

This sets up His next statement, in v 6, "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine...." So, he has us purify our hearts, so that we may be able to tell the deaf ears from the ready hearts.

In vs 15-16, Jesus warns us about false prophets, "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits." So clearly, we are to judge who is a false prophet, and He even tells us how: by their words and deeds.

But what does it mean to judge? In the Bible, this word has two connotations. The first is discernment, telling good deeds from evil deeds. Even without studying God's Word, most people can do this, to a certain level. Any rational being will tell you that stealing and murder are wrong. Even if we're trapped by sin, we usually know that we are doing wrong, for our conscience pricks us. But to tell it to another person, who knows that we are trapped in the same sin is hypocritical and would have little effect on that person.

The second meaning is that of condemning someone for their evil actions, as in a court of law. Obviously, only God will ever have the power to actually sentence someone to an eternity in Hell. However, we have the right to tell a sinner, "Jesus says that if you do not repent, you will die in Hell" (Luke 13:3,5).

So can we really judge? Are there other scriptures that support us (provided we have searched our hearts and found them free of clouding of sin)? You bet!

Proverbs 26, for example, has plenty to say about how we should deal with fools. But how can we tell if someone's a fool, unless we judge them a fool?

"But truly I am full of power by the spirit of the LORD, and of judgment, and of might, to declare unto Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin" (Micah 3:8). This is one of my favorite verses, which assures us that the Holy Spirit gives us the power and authority to point out other people's sins. Obviously, this should be in a loving attitude, in an effort to steer them back to the Light.

Paul also has a lot to say about hypocritical judging, in Romans 2.

And perhaps one of the clearest encouragements to judge others in righteousness, is found in Lev. 19:15: "Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour."

The picture above was copied from a similar article on judging, from the Word Incarnate blog.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Just Jump In, Already!

"He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap" (Ecclesiastes 11:4).

We took a mini-vacation for our anniversary, to a relatively new hotel only 20 minutes from our house. The highlight was spending a total of 5 hours in the pool. Much of the time, we were the only ones there! As part of that, we decided to have my wife take pictures of Kylen and me doing cool jumps into the water. We spent quite a bit of time trying to capture the perfect pose, or the perfect splash, or....

I cannot tell you how many times we tried getting a shot of Kylen and me jumping in together, at just the right time. We had a really hard time synchonizing the camera with the jump, especially when taking into account the camera's own shutter delay. My arms got so tired, climbing out of the pool so many times! But we wanted it to turn out a certain way and our stubborness pushed us to do quite a bit of extra work. We never did get a satisfactory shot.

The experience reminded me of times in my life when I wanted to get into something new, but didn't, because I wanted to do it a certain way or kept waiting for just the right time to do it. My current dream of launching my own software business is just that way!

How many times have you over-analyzed or over-planned something, and eventually either lost the nerve, interest, inspiration, or opportunity to do it?

So quit analyzing and just jump in, already!

By the way, the shot above was the first one Farrah took of me, and we loved it!