Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Vacation - a relaxing time so far.

I'm enjoying a rare "staycation" this week. Usually when I take a vacation, it means travelling somewhere. Those times are enjoyable too, but there is something particularly relaxing about having some time off at home.

But, it's not as though we've been idle. So far this week we've gone bowling and ice-skating, played at "Bouncing Bears" (an indoor playground for kids), and visited the Iditarod museum. Robyn and I left the kids with Gran and Papa one night and had a nice dinner together. And tomorrow we're having a large group of people over for Thanksgiving.

But it's been a lot of fun to spend more time with the kids as usual, and to have my parents visiting. Here are some pictures from the last couple of days.

This is Moriah's first day of ice-skating. We figure kids growing up in Alaska ought to learn how to ice-skate.

Meredith has come a long way since she first started ice-skating.

I'm also proud of the way Maggie has improved.

The same goes for Sander.

Gran and Papa Paul with the kids at the entrance of the Iditarod Headquarters.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sunday recap, and the first day of vacation

Yesterday was a particularly busy Lord's Day. I taught the adult Sunday School class in the morning before the service. The passage was Genesis 9:18-29, which includes the famous - or infamous? - verse in which Noah curses Canaan to be a "servant of servants" for his father Ham's sin. Incredibly, this verse was often used to defend the slavery of blacks, on the supposition that Ham's descendants included black Africans. This is a good example of an abuse of Scripture, and thankfully this interpretation has long been discredited.

The morning service was special for a couple of reasons. First, a new family formally became members of the church with their profession of faith. Second, I had the honor of baptizing two little girls. One was the baby of the family we had just received as members, and the other was our very own Monica. What a privilege it is to apply the sign and seal of God's covenant promises to the children of God's people! Some people were surprised at how much water I applied to their heads. I used a handful of water for each word, "Father," "Son," and "Spirit." So, the babies got fairly doused. But, as the water signifies the washing away of our sins by the grace of God, why not use a lot of it?

Here is a picture of the two girls. Monica is the one sleeping!

After having company over in the afternoon, I then preached at the evening service. By the end of the evening, I was exhausted. But today was the first day of a week-long vacation. I've been looking forward to this week off for a while now. I can use the break. Here is a picture of our family after the morning service.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Moriah's baptism, and a rat

Tomorrow I have the great privilege to baptize our fifth child, Monica. Not only is it a blessing to have Monica receive the sign and seal of God's covenant mercies, but it is a great honor to be the one to administer the sacrament to her.

The only other child of ours that I personally baptized was Moriah, our fourth. That was in 2007, when I was still serving as the pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Norman, Oklahoma. Here I am holding Moriah, with elder Dave by our side.

The baptism itself went well enough, but I'm afraid the the day will always be remembered for something far less auspicious. It was the day the rat appeared at church.

After the service was over, some of the kids were playing in the dining hall behind the sanctuary when they saw the grey rodent scurrying across the floor. The kids were besides themselves with excitement. They were not afraid, mind you, just delighted to see a rat running around dining hall. I grabbed a broom with every intent to kill it. But the children would have nothing of it. At first I ignored their protests, but then I figured the spectacle of my bludgeoning a little furry creature to death could create a scene so unpleasant I would soon regret it. So, I opted for a more palatable way to deal with the rat. With help from others, I managed to trap the little rodent it in an empty garbage can. We then drove it out to a field and let it go.

I hope nothing like that happens tomorrow. I'd like to remember the day Monica was baptized simply as the day Monica was baptized.

Here is the little creature who got far better treatment than he deserved.

Friday, November 20, 2009

"Where is your treasure?"

Every year at this time, as I'm thinking about my message the Sunday before Thanksgiving, I recall the sermon I heard many years ago that pricked my conscience and increased my desire to learn more about the Christian faith.

It was 1992, and I was living in Lexington, Kentucky, where I was wrapping up a master's degree at the University of Kentucky (I still root for the Wildcats in basketball). I was 23 years old and not a believer at the time. But God was at work on my heart. I started to take a real interest in Christianity, remembering some of the Christian friends I had in college and wanting to know more about their faith in God (I recognized they had something within that I lacked). So, out of the blue, with no invitation or encouragement from anyone, I up and visited a local Presbyterian church. I was disappointed in the message, though. Even though I knew next to nothing about Bible, I recognized something wasn't right about the sermon. It didn't scratch where I itched.

A friend in school then invited me to a church he attended on Sunday mornings. I don't remember for sure, but I think it was a Presbyterian church as well. However, unlike the first church I attended, the preacher spoke as though he had a message from God to deliver. I don't remember much of the sermon, but I think the general theme was thanksgiving. What I do remember very clearly was him saying, on the basis of Matthew 6:21, "Where your treasure is, there your heart is also. Where is your treasure?" This last question drilled right into my heart. I couldn't stop asking myself, "where is my treasure, after all?" I knew it wasn't in heaven, and that that wasn't right.

Within a few months' time, after more study and after hearing more good preaching (though at a different church, because I soon moved from Kentucky to Missouri), I became a believer in Christ. As I think about that Sunday, though, I am struck by a couple of things. First, it is fascinating to me that of all he said in the sermon, it was one simple question that took hold in my heart. It wasn't even the gospel itself, but a word that spoke to my conscience and was instrumental in leading me to accept the gospel. Every sermon should center on Christ and the gospel, of course, but God may take one truth or one question and use it to speak to a sinner's heart. Second, I am reminded by the power of preaching. I don't think reading the same words would have had the same effect. There is just no replacement for the preaching of God's Word.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Gran and Papa Paul's visit

Today my parents, a.k.a. "Gran and Papa Paul", arrived today from Missoula for a ten-day visit. Their visits are a win-win-win situation for all involved: they get to spend some time with the grandkids, the grandkids get to spend some time with them, and Robyn and I get spend some time together.

Here they are yukkin' it up at the airport:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A thought on Romans 8:18-25, and dipnetting

I just finished preparing a sermon on Romans 8:18-25. In the course of thinking and writing, dipnetting - of all things! - came to mind. "Dipnetting" is catching salmon by extending a large net into the river. Alaskans have the privilege to dipnet on a few different rivers during the summer. The purpose is not so much the sport of catching the fish, although it's a blast, but to stock the freezer for the winter months.

After a very productive day of dipnetting last summer, we gave thanks to God for his bounty. And, we marveled at the way God, through the natural workings of his creation, provides such an abundance to meet our needs. While all of this is true, my passage in Romans brings another thought to mind.

According to Paul, creation, because of man's sin, has been "subjected to futility" (Romans 8:20). The apostle was thinking of the curse God put on the earth after Adam and Eve's sin, that the ground would not readily yield its fruit for mankind. Rather, "cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; the sweat of your face you shall eat bread..." (Genesis 3:17-19).

In the light of these verses, perhaps our success at dipnetting that day also should have reminded us that such tremendous bounty is the exception, not the rule. Usually, the earth yields its fruit, whether its grain or fish, only after much painful toil. How many places in the world are there in which you can catch dozens of large, delicious fish in a hour or two simply by scooping them out of the water? Precious few, I would guess. No doubt our success was a great blessing from God. But it was an exception to the way things usually are; it was the exception that proves the rule, and the curse. Most of the time, creation yields its fruit only with great difficulty.

And this brings to mind a not-too-serious question, but one which may concern many Alaskans: will there be dipnetting in the new creation? I say yes, on the basis of John 21. The Lord, in his resurrection body, commanded his disciples to cast his net on the side of the boat. The haul? 153 fish, "large fish" to be precise. Need I say more?    

John Murray on Romans (with a baby picture to boot)

At the Sunday evening services, I've been preaching through the book of Romans. Unlike my preparation for the morning sermon, which is far more comprehensive and thus takes much more time, I'm relying almost entirely on one commentary. And that is John Murray's The Epistle to the Romans.

In my opinion, this is a great commentary for several reasons. First, Murray writes so clearly. He makes it very easy to follow his reasoning, thought for thought, as he considers the meaning of any given verse or phrase. He's also succinct. It seems most newer, scholarly commentaries spend more time commenting on other commentaries than the text itself. To some extent, Murray does so as well, but always in a helpful way. I get the sense that he's writing to the pastor or interested layman, and not to the scholarly guild.

Maybe most importantly of all, he seems to strike the perfect balance between a rigorous exegesis of the text at hand, with a sensitivity to, and respect for, the Bible's teaching as a whole. Again, modern commentaries often fail to do this, even those written by evangelical scholars. They tend to isolate the text under consideration from the rest of Scripture. It's as though it's wrong to bring any other biblical teaching to bear upon a given text or verse in order to help clarify its meaning. But no one who takes the Scripture to be God's Word actually reads the Bible in this fragmented way. No doubt the fact that Murray was both a exegete and a systematic theologian enabled him to strike this right balance.

In any case, it's been a blessing to work through Romans with Murray as my teacher.

Now, here is the picture of Monica. As you can see, it was taken just a few minutes ago right as I was about to start this blog. This is one of the few pictures we have of her smiling!