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September 05, 2008

For sheer entertainment value, I think American politics in general, and Presidential campaigns in particular, are about the best bang for my buck, even as a non-American. For little more than the cost of an internet connection I can spend endless hours being amused. This 2008 campaign may be the most entertaining yet. While I rarely use this blog to discuss politics (and especially when I’m as ignorant of a topic as I am with U.S. politics), today I’ll make the rare exception. Over the past few days I’ve bookmarked a whole lot of links and today will try to tie a few of them together.

Sarah Palin is undoubtedly the most electrifying and polarizing figure we’ve seen in U.S. politics for a long, long time. She has completely changed the face of election. A week ago the media could not break away from Barack Obama. Today Sarah Palin is dominating the discussion. She was the perfect foil; if anyone doubts McCain’s smarts, I’d say he has proven himself the wily veteran with this pick. This has become an Obama vs. Palin election. At least for now, McCain is taking a back seat in his own Presidential election campaign. It’s all about Sarah. Chuck Colson’s article on clashing worldviews is interesting reading. “In the life of Sarah Palin, we see the clash of worldviews playing out before our own eyes. Consider every major controversial issue in American politics and culture right now … and somehow, they touch her personally.” Everyone can either love or hate Palin; few are ambivalent.

It’s little wonder that many evangelicals are quickly learning to love her. The little boy Piper Palin spit-shined in front of the nation is living, breathing proof of Palin’s commitment to life—probably the single most important issue to a vast number of Christians. In an age when 90 or 95 out of every 100 children with Down Syndrome are destroyed, Trig is, well, alive. That, in and of itself, is almost miraculous today. Asked about her brother’s Syndrome, Palin’s daughter Willow said, “I don’t care - he’s my brother and I love him.” Trig is exactly who God made him to be and he is a gift to that family.

But the greatest source of Palin’s appeal must be her sheer normalcy. She is exactly the kind of pit bull hockey mom you’d meet anywhere in Alaska (or Canada). She’s so unlike the majority of the politicians who strive for the White House. It seems almost a mistake that she is up on that platform.

People on the Loony Left know they hate Palin but they are struggling with how to hate her. They turned first on her children, insisting that her infant son could not possibly be her own. They smeared her for having a baby in her “old age” (as if they all had their families in their prime child-bearing years) and determined that the baby must be her daughters’. The stupendous stupidity of leveling and believing such a charge showed just how far people would stoop to attempt to discredit her. Of course the controversy was quickly resolved when the McCain campaign announced that Palin’s daughter was pregnant with a child of her own. Perhaps worst of all, she was going to keep the baby and will marry the father. While I read many articles assuring the American public that Palin was lying about being the mother of Trig, I don’t recall reading nearly so many retractions or apologies.

Things got even weirder than this. Liberal feminists (is that redundant?) began to turn on Palin. You would think women would be thrilled to see a woman who is poised to rise higher in government than any woman before her, but this was not the case. While these feminists would have cheered Hillary Clinton as President or Vice President, Palin was not exactly the woman they had in mind. Not the hockey mom, church-going mother of five who is undoubtedly a better shot than Dick Cheney! And not the woman who is a powerful figure while remaining feminine and attractive. Stand to Reason says “One of the things that bugs me about the Feminist movement is it seems to tell women that they have to act like men to be equal to them. And in the process women are no longer feminine and instead take on some of the worst aspects of masculine nature… Gov. Palin seems to have a feminine appeal while displaying her capability and strength.”

And so feminists wondered if she could possibly take care of her family while dealing with her responsibilities as Vice President. The feminists said this! Eventually there was something of a backlash and prominent feminists were forced to speak out. But the damage had already been done—we had seen another example of how far the left is willing to go to discredit this McCain/Palin ticket. They’ll gladly violate their own principles to keep McCain out of the White House. It truly was a shameful week for the press.

Interestingly, while feminists have been asking whether Palin can care for her nation and her family, Christians have been wondering the same. Is it right for a woman to take on a position of such responsibility? Is it right for her to assume a position of leadership? No sooner had Palin been announced than Voddie Baucham wrote a much-publicized article in which he said this: “My point is simple. The job of a wife and mother is to be a wife and mother. Anything in addition to that must also be subservient to it. There is no higher calling. Moreover, I believe Paul’s admonition [in Titus 2] should lead us to reject any notion of a wife and mother taking on the level of responsibility that Mrs. Palin is seeking.” Baucham believes that the pro-life party is using Palin as a pawn in a move that is distinctly anti-family. Those who know of Baucham will know that he is very conservative when it comes to the role of women (going so far in The Return of the Daughters to suggest that women should probably not go to college).

Other more moderate conservative Christians spoke up. Writing for the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, David Kotter asked, “Does Sarah Palin Present a Dilemma for Complementarians?” He answered very well, saying, “From the outset we must remember that on November 4 the voters will not elect a national minister or pastor in chief. A president is not held to the same moral standards as an elder of a church. While it is a blessing from God to have ethical or even Christian political leaders, the Bible places no such requirements on secular governments. Even though the Bible reserves final authority in the church for men, this does not apply in the kingdom of this world.” Al Mohler agrees, saying “The New Testament clearly speaks to the complementary roles of men and women in the home and in the church, but not in roles of public responsibility. I believe that women as CEOs in the business world and as officials in government are no affront to Scripture. Then again, that presupposes that women — and men — have first fulfilled their responsibilities within the little commonwealth of the family.”

One blog I appreciated was Amy’s (which has 173 comments and counting). Amy takes issue with the automatic assumption that a woman’s highest calling is to be a wife and mother. “Being a wife and mother is a good and noble thing, but it is not the highest thing.”

And I firmly agree with Amy and Mohler and Kotter. While Christians do want to maintain the focus on the family we have to be careful about stating categorically that a woman has no business running for Vice President. Palin’s decision is one to be made with her family and with counsel from her local church. Beyond that we, as Christians, have to trust her judgment in this kind of disputable matter. Far be it from us to declare that she cannot do both and that she cannot do both with excellence.

The timing of this campaign is interesting since we are likely to be facing an election here in Canada in the weeks to come. Palin is an unique figure and for so many reasons. Her husband is a snowmobile racer, for goodness sake. I wouldn’t be surprised if she gets a few write-in votes in our election.

September 03, 2008

Talk!Admiral Lord Nelson once said, “Every sailor is a bachelor when beyond Gibraltar.” They are profound words and ones well worth thinking about, and especially so in our modern context. I’ve written in the past about issues related to accountability and anonymity. Lately, though, I’ve been thinking a bit about these issues in a way strikes a little closer to home.

I recently had a discussion with a friend who was asking if I think husbands and wives should keep secrets from each other or if they should even have private realms to their lives. This is a broad topic, but to narrow it down, we discussed just the issue of email and asked, “Should husbands and wives have full access to each other’s email accounts?” Obviously this might not apply to pastors or counselors or spymasters who may have a special need for privacy. But for the rest of us, I think it is a question worth asking and I’d love to get your feedback.

Should husbands and wives offer each other free and open access to their email accounts? Or should there be an implicit level of trust that makes such a measure unnecessary or perhaps even just plain wrong? Let’s talk!

Incidentally, this is the first of what I hope will be many opportunities to discuss topics in a more interactive way.

August 30, 2008

I don’t know what the Catalyst Conference is and I don’t know how they know who I am. A few days ago I went to my post office box and found there are a rather large package. I do not receive a lot of large boxes at the post office—it is usually either books or mysterious letters from conspiracy theorists who just *have* to let me know who is taking over the world and why (no joke). The rather large box contained a strangely-shaped triangular box which, it turns out, was an advertisement for this upcoming Catalyst Conference. Because of the sheer originality of the package, I snapped a few photos and figured I could post them here.



So here is the funky triangular box that was inside the rather plain brown shipping box.



And here is a close-up of one of the sides of the box.



Cracking the box open, I found all kinds of interesting things.



And here they are. A basketball and hoop, magnets, fliers, temporary tattoos, paper footballs, some kind of weird foam stuff, a deck of triangular cards and so on. Almost all of it was branded with the Catalyst name and logo.

I don’t think I’m going to be heading to this conference. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m too old to do so. But at the very least, I’ve got to give them kudos for the originality of their advertising…

August 21, 2008

This morning brings us to our sixth reading in Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections. This week we had a rather long reading of the first sign of authentic affections—the first chapter where we really get to the heart of the book.

Summary

This week’s reading dealt with the first authentic affection. Here is what Edwards sought to prove: “Affections that are truly spiritual and gracious do arise from those influences and operations on the heart which are spiritual, supernatural and divine.” It took him forty pages to do so!

Discussion

This chapter surprised me a little bit. While this was to be the first of the “positive signs” and the first to follow the section dealing with the many “signs of nothing,” the chapter had a clear negative tone to it. It seemed that Edwards proved “something” primarily by disproving “nothing.” That may not make much sense but perhaps you see what I’m getting at. He proved his point by spending page after page disproving other things. It seems that the back story for this chapter involves people in Edwards’ day attempting to prove they were true Christians by stating that God had given them such knowledge, through feelings or through Scripture or through any other means. He responds by showing that such means can be brought about even in unregenerate men. Thus true affections can only be brought about by truly spiritual, supernatural and divine operations.

Edwards distinguishes here between the spiritual man and the natural man. Those who are spiritual are those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit; all other men are natural. The Holy Spirit may influence them in various ways and even work certain things in their hearts and minds, but they are not men who have undergone that supernatural act of regeneration. This is a good distinction to make in our day as we live at a time when anyone who acknowledges some kind of a deity or who has some kind of faith is called spiritual. Oprah Winfrey is as “spiritual” a person as you’ll find, but she utterly rejects Christianity. Edwards reminds us that no one can be spiritual unless he is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Hence we can acknowledge other people as religious, but, when we look to Scripture, must deny that they can be spiritual; there is no Spirit in them.

This is not to say that the Spirit is unable to influence people who are unregenerate. “The Spirit of God, in all His operations upon the minds of natural men, only moves, impresses, assists, improves, or some way acts upon natural principles; but gives no new spiritual principle.” In other words, He can work even in natural men by using natural means. “He only assists natural principles to do the same work to a greater degree which they do of themselves by nature.” This was something I had never really considered in the past and I found it valuable to think about.

Now maybe I missed something in this chapter—maybe my mind was mush by the end, but I found few points of application. Perhaps it is that I have never really encountered people in life whose claim to Christianity is some inward voice or the fact that verses of Scripture have come to their minds. But somehow I struggled with really applying this portion of the book to my own life. I am hoping that someone can leave a comment offering a few points of application.

Next Time

For next week we will read the second distinguishing sign of truly gracious and holy affections. This is quite a bit shorter than this week’s reading, so should not pose quite as much of a challenge. In my book it comes out at only fourteen pages.

Your Turn

As always, I am eager to know what you gained from this part of the book. Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you can only say anything if you are going to say something that will wow us all. Just add a comment with some of the things you gained from the this week’s reading. To this point the discussion has been very helpful and engaging.

August 20, 2008

I made my children cry. A short time ago my son and daughter came to me and Abby, representing both of them, I suppose, asked the kind of question little girls ask. It was a question they must have been thinking, or perhaps arguing, about. “Daddy, who do you love more, Mommy or us?” I thought for just a moment and told them the truth. They cried.

The fact is, I love their mother more than I love them and I told them as much. I did so gently and lovingly but with confidence that I am right to feel this way. I love my children desperately. I love them with the kind of love that wants only the best for them and which seeks to protect them from the pain and anger and evil that are so prevalent in this world. I pray for them continually, asking that God would protect them even from me and from my ineptitude and sin and ignorance. I never chose to love my children. From the moment Aileen and I learned that they were growing inside her, I loved them. I spoke to them and sang to them and prayed for them before they were born; I walked the house with them night after night when they were tiny; I love them fiercely and love to spend time with them. And still their mother has first place in my heart.

There are undoubtedly different kinds of love and we cannot necessary equate the passionate, romantic love I have for my wife with the parental love I have for my children. Where I never chose to love my children, I did choose to love Aileen, or I did as much as anyone can exercise his will in such matters of the heart. There came a time when I set my heart on her and committed myself to loving her for better or for worse.

When my children asked me who I loved more, I explained to them that the primacy of my love for their mother is a good thing that will give stability to all of our lives. They may be too young to really understand this, but some day it will make sense to them. If I were to love my children more than my wife, I might allow them to stand between me and her; were I to love them more, I might allow them to disrupt my relationship with my wife and divide our family. I have seen that happen in too many families. Because mom and dad are not first and foremost committed to each other, a child can stand between them and divide them. Too many family have been torn apart in exactly this way. Mom chooses daughter over dad and the family is ripped apart.

But I am not going to allow this to happen in my family. Because Aileen is my first love, I will not allow anyone or anything to stand between us—even people we love as much as our very own children. Our love for each other does not enter us into some kind of competition with our children; rather, it is an expression of our love and concern for them. It is exactly what they need most to grow up in a stable home where mom and dad will remain together, committed under God to each other and to them. And I pray that some day they will find loving spouses whom they love more than us and more than anyone else.

So tell me. Would you have answered the question as I did? Or is it really the kind of question which, because it crosses categories, should not be answered at all?

August 15, 2008

On Wednesday evening I was coaching first base when, from behind me, I overheard a chat between two of the parents from other team. “That first baseman was so nice. He would tell our guys, ‘Nice hit!’ even though he is on the other team. What a nice boy!” With just a bit of pride I smiled, knowing they weren’t talking about just any first baseman; they were talking about my boy.

It was a bit of a tough season for Nick. It started off well enough, with him collecting a few hits over his first couple of games. This year his team was facing a pitching machine flinging the balls at 40 miles per hour. It was a big adjustment from the year before when the boys saw nothing more than soft tosses from their own coaches. But once they made the adjustment, they began to hit well. I worked hard, with the other coaches, to help them work on their swings and by the end of the season we saw some remarkable progress. But Nick struggled. Around the mid-point of the season our team was playing the Red Sox when one of their players, a friend of Nick’s from school, was hit by an errant pitch (though, honestly, the machine threw it straight—it was the kid who stepped in front of the plate and hence in front of the pitch). There was no great damage done to the boy, but something clicked in Nick’s mind and he determined that the machine was out to get him. For the rest of the season he struggled to hit, subconsciously stepping away from every pitch, obviously worried that he would be hit as well. He collected a few hits through the rest of the season but mostly he flailed away, striking out time and again.

We prayed with him a lot. We assured him that God cares even for things as silly as little league baseball. We did not want him to become too discouraged with striking out and prayed that God would let him hit, at least occasionally. Nick is an above average fielder and loves playing defense. He often wished that his team could have a designated fielder just like American League teams have a designated hitter. But if he wanted to play, he would have to bat. And so he did, facing that machine three or four times every game. Mostly he struck out.

If Nick became discouraged, he did not often let it show. The boys on the team would occasionally tease him about his inability to hit, but he would brave it out. He was the boy on the team with the best head for the game and he was the one with the most enthusiasm. While his teammates were goofing off behind the bench, Nick was cheering for the one at bat and the one or two on base. When the boys came off the field after striking out, Nick would give them a high five and tell them, “Nice try!” He cheered the loudest and the longest. But still he struck out.

With only a couple of weeks left in the season, the head coach announced that he was going to hand out three team awards. He wanted the boys to vote for one another to decide who would win the award for the Most Valuable Player, the Most Improved and the Most Sportsmanlike. He gave no stipulations—just that the boys could not vote for themselves and that they had to realize that these awards meant a lot because they came not from the coaches or the parents but from the boys themselves.

Wednesday’s game was a tough one. It was the last game of the season and one we would need to win to have any hope at all of making the playoffs. Even then it was a long shot. The boys played well but faded at the end, unable to hold off a stronger offense. Twice Aileen heard boys on our team making fun of Nick, laughing at him or calling him names for his inability to hit. Twice Nick choked back tears and put a brave face on, continuing to cheer for his teammates.

At the end of the game, a loss, the coach handed out the awards. The MVP went to the obvious candidate—a boy who was our best hitter and among our most skilled fielders. The Most Improved went to a boy who had a lot of trouble throwing and catching at the beginning of the season but, who by the end, was hitting regularly, making solid contact; his fielding had improved significantly as well. And then it came time for the Most Sportsmanlike award. I’m not one of those parents who values sportsmanship above all else; I don’t adhere fully to the “as long as we all have fun” philosophy. I figure that if we are going to play sports, we ought to try our hardest and do our best. If I held to the “as long as we all have fun” philosophy in web design, I would not run a successful business! When Nick plays baseball, I expect that he will give it his best effort. Yet sportsmanship matters. It is the award that reflects character more than skill. And as a Christian parent, I value character much more highly than skill.

TrophySure enough, when the coach announced the winner, he announced Nick’s name. Taunting comments were forgotten, at least for a few minutes, as Nick accepted his trophy and accepted applause from his team, his coaches, and the parents. Though his teammates may have made fun of him at times, they had to acknowledge his love for the game, his loyalty to his team, and his character. As we walked off the field and headed home, Aileen and I told him how proud we were. We told him that we would much rather have a son who shows character—who stands brave in the face of trials and who is encouraging to his friends—than a kid who can hit the ball all over the diamond (though we wouldn’t complain if he could do both!).

It was a tough year for my boy, but a good one in which he showed a lot of growth. As Aileen said afterward, Nick is learning a skill, and that is being encouraging teammate with a good attitude and strong character. And really, that is going to get him a lot further in life than hitting a baseball out of the park. Of course this won’t keep us from spending some time in the batting cages during the off-season…

August 04, 2008

It is a holiday in most parts of Canada today. It is known as the “Civic Holiday” throughout the nation and may have other names assigned locally (such as “Simcoe Day” in Toronto). It is one of those holidays that seems to have been created mostly just for the joy of having a summer day away from the office. We’re not complaining. We’ve decided to make this a quiet day and we have no plans to run to any of the area’s tourist attractions, the only kind of businesses that will be open today.

Last week we actually made a rare venture to one of these spots. Marineland is Canada’s answer to SeaWorld. It combines roller coasters and rides with dolphins and whales. After riding the coasters and ferris wheels you can feed the bears and watch the dolphin and whale shows. (You can buy Corn Pops to feed the bears—throwing it down on them from about 15 feet up. Poor bears) It’s a fair bit of fun as it needs to be when it costs a family of four $160 to get in. I had no intention of riding the roller coasters or going on any of the rides. But we had a young Aussie guy hanging out with us for a few days and he wanted to ride a coaster—the world’s largest steel roller coaster, apparently. I told him I’d walk with him to the start of the ride to gauge how long the wait was going to be. After I walked all the way up there I was feeling too prideful to walk the pathway back, with all the people no doubt laughing at me as if I’d been too scared. So I rode the ride after all and even enjoyed it a bit. But my favorite part of the day was watching those whales and dolphins performing. It is amazing to me that with nothing but a whistle and a hand signal, humans can make whales and dolphins and seals and walruses and just about any other animal do the craziest things.

Throughout the summer those of us who attend Grace Fellowship Church have been enjoying a summer series on the book of James. The pastor’s assistant Julian is preaching in the absence of our pastor who is on sabbatical. In the last couple of weeks we’ve been studying the well-known words of James 3. “For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” I couldn’t help but think of those words as I watched the whales jump and splash and kiss spectators. And I couldn’t help but think of those whales as we read the words in church yesterday morning. Human ingenuity has taught us to tame even whales so we can climb into a pool and swim with them and so with nothing more than a whistle we can make animals so much vastly bigger and stronger than we are do our bidding. And yet, as we saw those whales obey the command to splash the crowd, we heard swearing and cursing; we saw people lashing out in anger and frustration. Everywhere we looked we saw the evidence that James is exactly right.

Every beast and bird, every reptile and sea creature can be tamed. But that tongue remains a “restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

August 03, 2008

It was been far too long since I’ve had a new King for a Week around here. King for a Week is turning into King for a Month or more. Somehow it just seems to skip my mind. But today, because of the insistence of some friends and their reminders that I really do need to update this feature, I’m nominating a new King for a Week. If you’re new to these parts you should know that King for a Week is an honor I bestow on blogs that I feel are making a valuable contribution to my faith and the faith of other believers…or sometimes just because I really like them. It is simply a way of introducing my readers to blogs that they may also find interesting and edifying. Every now and again I select a blog, link to it from my site, and add that site’s most recent headlines to my right sidebar. While this is really not much, I do feel that it allows me to encourage and support other bloggers while making the readers of this blog aware of other good sites.

The new King for a Week is Take Your Vitamin Z, a blog owned and operated by Zach Nielsen. The blog is something like a Jr. version of Justin Taylor’s Between Two Worlds, but with a greater range or variety in the articles. Zach scours the Internet and finds all kinds of interesting articles to point to. They range from theology to music, from comedy to consumerism. I try to check his headlines each morning before I post A La Carte as I often glean some interesting news from his blog. He has a ridiculous man-crush on John Mayer, but if you can see past that, I’m sure you’ll come to enjoy his blog as I have.

In the coming days (and/or weeks) you will be able to see the most recent headlines from this blog in the sidebar of my site. I hope you will make your way over to look around.