Wednesday, December 28, 2005

extra pan de sal

Well, I guess I'm a regular enough customer at the bakery now that the girl can just say, "How many?" And I answer "5" as I do most mornings. But, as always, when I get home, there are 6 pan de sal in the bag. I guess that's one of the benefits of having a suki (sp?).

Today, Mdm. Merly asked me to be involved in tonight's school promotion at the CLD youth camp.

Monday, December 26, 2005

This is non-involvement?

Tiffany went to Manang Rebecca's today to explain to her that we were willing to be her companions to the youth convention in NWLD tomorrow but that we didn't want to have a high level of involvement. This is because we've never done school promotions like this, nor have we ever been in a gathering like this. Tiffany returned to the house with the news that Rebecca wanted me to preach the sermon. She told Manang Becca that I might be over shortly to protest.

Shortly, I was. Manang Becca was visiting the Bermudezes and was sitting in their front yard.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

massage appointment

It's Christmas Eve, and there's not too much happening on the campus. I thought it might be a good day to get a massage. I called the fitness center for an appointment, because the receptionist told me yesterday that they only have one therapist. I couldn't really tell if the receptionist on the phone was telling me that the therapist was available or not. She kept saying something about the masseuse going to Manila to celebrate.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

test preparation

This morning, I wrote my pre-lim exam for my missions 2 class. I'm always "hard up," as they say here, when it is time to write the exam. The students do best at recognition tests or at memorizing lists, but I can't help but challenge them to critical thinking. So, I've written the exams as mostly short answer and essay, which I may yet regret. I copied the exam to a disk and took it to Mayette, the helper for the blind students. Within a few hours, she had returned the disk along with two copies of the exam in braille.

Madam Virgie was the speaker in chapel this morning. She gave her personal testimony. When she came here as a student, she came against her father's wishes and with no financial support. She talked about how she could not even afford soap to wash her clothes. Still, her bill was always paid, although she never knew who was paying it. She also told about how Pastor Alex had chosen to marry her, even though the doctor said she could never have children. God has blessed their marriage with three kids. It's always funny to see the students' reactions when anyone talks about boyfriends and girlfriends, even when Virgie talked about God giving her Pastor Alex. There are always giggles and little shrieks and the obligatory "Wooooooowwww!"

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Here's a little piece I wrote for our school newsletter:

Waiting. I’m not very good at it. Waiting for the bus, waiting in traffic, waiting for the salesman to test and package the item I’m trying to buy. I don’t like to wait. I come from America, where time is very important, and when I’m waiting, I can almost feel the seconds being stolen from me. In fact, I have a friend named Darrell, who absolutely refuses to wait. He says that he waited in so many lines when he was in the army that he won’t stand in any line again . . . ever. Any place that requires you to stand in line, he stays away from it.
But waiting is what the Advent season is all about. We love to focus on the story of Christmas Day, with the Christ child and the shepherds and the angels. But we often forget about the waiting. You see, hundreds of years had passed since God promised in the Garden of Eden that he would send One who would crush Satan under his heel. And all that time, Israel (and the rest of humankind) had been waiting. For ninety years, Sarah waited for the child she was almost sure would never come. For forty years in the desert, Moses waited to see if God could do anything with a man who had thrown his future away. For another forty years, Israel wandered in the wilderness, waiting to see if God would really bring them into the land he had promised. And for a thousand years, Israel continued to wait as prophet after prophet foretold the coming of a Messiah. I’m sure that many echoed the psalmists and the prophets who moaned, “How long, O Lord? How long?”
Until finally, “in the fullness of time,” the Scriptures tell us, there was just one more wait. An unmarried teenager named Mary was waiting nine months to see what God would look like as a baby. Of course, the waiting ended in a way that nobody expected. Everyone was waiting for a king; few noticed the baby born in a manger. Everyone was waiting for the warrior who would overthrow the Roman Empire; it was easy to overlook the humble Jesus.
But a few did notice. I think especially of Simeon in the temple. “He was waiting for the consolation of Israel,” Luke tells us. God had shown Simeon that he wouldn’t die until he had seen the Messiah. When he looked at Jesus, only eight days old, Simeon knew that God’s promise had been fulfilled—the wait was over.
Or was it? After Jesus had been on earth for 33 years, his disciples were ready to crown him king. He had been crucified, resurrected—surely, the time had come. The disciples asked, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus’ response: “Wait! Stay in Jerusalem until you receive the Holy Spirit.” And then he returned to his Father, leaving the disciples waiting for the Comforter.
No, the wait was far from over; in fact, it was only beginning. We are still waiting. We are waiting for Christmas. Like little children, we look forward to celebrating that most amazing miracle—God putting on human flesh, lying down in the animals’ food trough, and beginning the awesome task of redeeming the world.
But we also wait for the return of Jesus in glory. When he came the first time, Jesus ushered in the kingdom of God, but “this present evil age” did not end. So, we live in an “in-between” period. We are members of the kingdom but we’re surrounded by a world that is an enemy to that kingdom. We wait for God to come and set things right. The eighth chapter of Romans reminds us that even “creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.” And we also “groan inwardly as we wait for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Even the last chapter of the Bible reminds us of Jesus’ words, “Yes, I am coming soon.” And with John, we say, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”
Jesus could come back today; he could have come back a thousand years ago. Why does he keep us waiting? First, waiting teaches us to patiently trust God. Peter reminds us that God is not slow in keeping his promises; he is patient with us, not wanting anyone to perish. Can we trust God that his timing is better than ours? Can we remember that while we only see what is right in front of us, he sees the whole parade? Can we be patient enough to wait for God’s calling, to wait for God’s choice of partners for us, to wait for God’s provision for our needs?
Waiting also teaches us both confidence and humility. It helps us to remember how small we are; we cannot make time move by one second faster. We have no power over history’s timetable. But waiting also reminds us of how big our God is. Remembering that God is in charge of this world’s “game clock” gives us a positive outlook on life and an eager anticipation of the future he has planned for us.
Finally, waiting teaches us to hear God’s voice. When we are trying to control the circumstances of our lives, we get so easily distracted by the size of the task, by the advice of others, by the worry that we will not be able to accomplish our goals. But when we are forced to wait, we begin to get quiet before God. And once we are quiet, he can speak to us and know that we will hear his voice.
In this holiday season, we can get overwhelmed by busyness, and that can make us cynical, or worried, or even apathetic about the whole story. Or we can wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. When we maintain that joyful attitude, welcoming Jesus into our hearts and our homes, it keeps us ready for Christmas; it keeps us ready for Christ’s return.

Monday, December 05, 2005

car repairs

We had our 5:00 a.m. core group meeting again this week. They seemed to participate a little better in the singing. Someone even mentioned how things had picked up as they learned the new songs. They used it as an example as to how we ought to introduce new songs to our congregation. I think we made some strides this morning, if any action is taken on the things we came up with. I need to figure out some way to encourage greater training efforts; I did push them a little today toward greater organization of the worship program and greater emphasis on the monthly themes.

Saturday afternoon, I noticed that the right CV boot on our vehicle was torn. Pastor Alex looked at it yesterday and said that I should take it to the dealership. I was pretty scared about what it was going to cost me, but Pastor Alex said nobody around here would know how to replace that. Madam Becca suggested that I have a Filipino take the vehicle to the dealership, so that I wouldn't get ripped off. So this morning, I headed over to Pastor Gacal's house. I called out "Apo," was invited in and told to take my seat. I started right in to the topic at hand then interrupted myself to ask Pastor Gacal about his weekend, what classes he was teaching, etc. He actually seemed anxious for me to get to the point. (Maybe he's used to dealing with Americans, who don't know any better). So I told him the situation. He said he would take it to the dealership for me but could look at it to see if he could fix it himself. I assured him that it would be best to just take it to the dealer. In retrospect, that may have seemed insulting. I was really trying to save him the trouble of getting into a very difficult job. He said he would come soon to get the vehicle. I asked permission to leave and headed back to the house. Soon the pastor was there for the car. I showed him the problem. He acted like it wouldn't be a big deal, but I kept arguing that it would be a difficult job. I told him to just drop the vehicle off and I would pay his fare back. He said he would just stay if the job could be finished before 5:00 today. I gave him 21000 pesos to make sure there was plenty for the bill. He looked at me like I was crazy and peeled off only 2000. He said it wasn't safe to carry that much. I finally convinced him to take 5000. Sure enough, it cost less than 2000 and only took an hour or so. Live and learn, or live and just keep being stupid (as I generally choose).

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Floating holidays

This morning, our chapel service was a thanksgiving service. It lasted quite a bit longer than a normal chapel with lots of special songs, instrumentals, testimonies, etc. I missed most of the sermon because Tiffany was sick and I had to try to get Elijah to take his morning nap. I did get back in time for the announcements at the end of the service, though.

November 30 is Bonifacio Day in the Philippines. The President has decided that it will not be celebrated on the 30th this year, however. Instead, it will be on Monday, December 5. But our students didn't need a day off on December 5. They have a variety show to prepare for Friday night. So our academic dean moved the holiday back to the afternoon of December 1 and the morning of December 2. This has been our experience with holidays here. It's not a holiday until the President says it is, and she doesn't usually announce it until the day of the holiday or the day before.

Even when we first arrived in the Philippines, the people we talked to weren't sure if there would be a day off for their Independence Day or not. They were waiting on the President's announcement. If I recall correctly, there was no Independence Day holiday this year.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Cultural comparison

This morning, I began with teaching my church planting course some rather Western perspectives and strategies on life management which I don't practice and which I'm not sure totally transfer to this culture. But I hit my stride the next hour in my missions class, because we were talking about one of my favorite subjects--cultural diversity. I was just trying to broaden the students' horizons to see a little more of how different we all really are. For comparison, I was using Gailyn Van Rheenen's descriptions of the Kipsigis of Kenya, the students' descriptions of Filipino culture and my descriptions of American life.

We talked first about nonverbal aspects like gestures. In Africa, it's common for men to hold hands with men, and for women to hold hands with women. When I intimated that the same kind of thing takes place here, I got winces or looks of puzzlement. So, I amended my statement to say that women hold hands here and men walk around with their arms around each other. In the US, those kinds of actions are generally an indicator of homosexuality. When I shared this, the students seemed genuinely surprised.

In the same area, we talked about how to motion someone to come to you. Our textbook gave an example from Thailand, where an American student gestured a two-year-old to come to her by curling her index finger upwards. For this insulting gesture, she got a punch in the arm. That's how you call an animal, not a person. I tried to explain the other day that this was the way Americans usually beckon someone but the students all seemed rather blase about it. Today, when I mentioned that it was offensive in Thai culture, the students volunteered that it is also offensive in Filipino culture. I had read this, but it was the first time someone here had actually verified that to me. I explained to them that their way of gesturing (palms down, bringing the fingers to touch the palms) would actually confuse an American. For example, traffic policemen here will often raise their hand in a symbol that looks to me like "Stop!" and then sweep it down to their side to tell me to proceed. This is repeated, appearing to me as, "Stop! Go! Stop! Go! Stop! . . . "

Monday, November 21, 2005

Rainy Days and Mondays

Today began, as most Mondays do for me, at about 4:30 AM, when I rise to prepare for the core group meeting on our porch at 5:00. As they have been recently, they were early. I popped in an iWorship DVD to start our meeting with a few songs. Now, granted, I think that 2 of the 3 songs were new to the group, so I can understand a little hesitancy on the part of some to join in singing. But the other song was "How Great Thou Art." The arrangement's a little different than we normally sing it, but we just sang it this way 2 weeks ago. But most of the students sat in silence and just stared at the screen or looked like they were having trouble keeping their eyes open. This was ironic, because the subject we were tackling this morning was the passivity of the church members, especially during the singing. There was a part of me that wanted to shout, "Hey! Maybe this is why the members are passive; we're passive!" but I restrained myself. I tried to give a few points on leadership and talk to the group about setting SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, result-oriented and time-bound) goals. Then we started our discussion about improving the worship in our church. It usually takes some time after I ask a question before I get any response. I try not to call on someone to answer a question, but that seems to be the most effective way to elicit a response. It strikes me that each of the students has an answer on the tip of his or her tongue but will not volunteer that answer unless they are specifically called upon. They did manage to come up with a goal, though. "We will have a congregation that worships in Spirit and in truth. Everyone is participating in singing, listening attentively, bringing their Bibles (?), and participating in church vision and ministry. By the end of 2005, we will have designed a worship service that fits our people." There are several of the SMART criteria that this goal fails to meet, but I really had to press them for specifics to get this much done. Sometimes, I feel like the group members leave out important details, but when I make a statement based on the information I have been given, they courteously correct my misunderstanding about the details. We still made a little progress and decided to do some informal surveying of the people in the preaching points regarding their worship style preferences and hopefully educating them both about worship and the importance of their finding a place of ministry in the local church. Frankly, I'm still a little reluctant to pose the question that probably most needs to be asked: "What do we want our church to look like?" I'm afraid that I will hear that they want a megachurch. I'm not really interested in building that kind of ministry, but it seems that is where our methodology is headed. If they are bold enough to say that is what they want, I may be bold enough to recommend that they find a different mentor.

I had 2 boys come and work for me at 4:00 this afternoon, a rare thing indeed. I told them that I needed one to burn the trash and the other to cut the grass on the west side of the house. While I went to get a bolo and matches, they began to quarrel about who would do what, but they had it worked out before I reappeared. I didn't check on them for several minutes. When I came out, the one who was supposed to be cutting the tall grass and weeds was actually digging up every plant on the side of the house, grass and all. I explained to him that I only wanted the broadleaf plants removed, but he still was preparing to dig up grass. So I sent him over to the area with taller vegetation and told him to chop with the bolo.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Disciplinary meeting

Tonight, following the students' prayer meeting, we heard the report from the disciplinary committee. We do this about monthly. The acting president of the college went to the front and began to read the list of offenders. I think there were 8 this time. Three couples were named who had violated the school's social policies. Generally speaking, they had engaged in prolonged conversations, texted each other on cell phones, or, in one case, the boy had given the girl a gift. The other offenders had left campus last Saturday night without obtaining permission. Each name was read, one by one, followed by the list of offenses, sometimes containing language of shock that someone would dare to violate these rules (despite the fact that it happens almost continuously). Then, the punishment, er, disciplinary measures were read. Every offender was required to give a public apology, extra work assignments were given to all (digging a 5x5x5 pit, making & maintaining a garden, cleaning the tabernacle, washing dishes, etc.), the couples were forbidden from any contact with each other for the next month, and the gift that was given was to be returned. In addition, four of the students were given a "WARNING FOR SUSPENSION." These were, I believe, repeat offenders. Six of the eight students were first year, the usual suspects. But there were also 2 third years on the list this time--a rarity, as they are supposed to be beyond this by now. Even while the acting president was reading the report, I noticed one of the couples talking to each other, mere moments after it had been announced that they were to have absolutely no contact with each other. So I moved up and sat down by the boy, a third-year student. He immediately hung his head in shame and never looked up again. When the report had been read, those being disciplined began to get up one at a time and give their public apology. Some were in English, some in Tagalog. Most sounded like Academy Award acceptance speeches--I'd like to thank the discipline committee for their understanding, etc.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Thanksgiving service

I've noticed that Filipinos celebrate things that are, um, "different." On Saturday, we went to a birthday party for someone we didn't really know, but that was okay because we went with people who did know the celebrant. The thing that was different was that the celebrant had been dead for a year. Today, we went to a thanksgiving service held in the home of a person with whom our only connection is that we recently ran into him with our school vehicle. In fact, all of the victims of the accident were present.

Thursday, February 17, 2005


As days go, yesterday wasn't terribly disappointing, but I really feel that it could have gone better. Tiff and I had a good time of sharing in our devotions, and I kinda came clean with some of the stuff I have been talking about in here. But I was really hoping and praying that we could have a good time of authentic, open sharing in our small group. And, frankly, it just didn't happen. The leader didn't even ask some of the most probing questions, and the ones he asked, he quickly reworded so that they didn't ask us about any personal issues. As we usually do, we spent a lot of time chasing rabbits. I wish we could focus on the issues at hand.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Practicing the presence of God

Our small group has just started a new study, and as a part of that study we are to be working on doing everything in our lives just as Jesus would do them. In principle, I agree strongly with this idea. I think every Christian ought to live every moment as an act of worship, live every moment on purpose. Yet when it comes to actually applying this to my daily life, I seem somehow intransigient. It's not that I don't want to live daily in God's presence (I don't think), it's just that . . . I don't know, maybe it seems like a lot of work or that it will keep me from doing what I want to do. Is that not the height of arrogance--to think that my idea of how to spend my time is somehow superior to God's plan? It reminds me of that quote--was it by G.K. Chesterton?--"Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried."

This morning I was reading about the cloud that rested over the tabernacle in the wilderness. The sons of Israel seemed completely content to follow it without question. If it moved, they moved. If it hung out for a week or two, they hung out for a week or two. If it moved within a few hours, they moved within a few hours. For a stubborn and rebellious people, they seemed remarkably in tune with God's leadership. Now granted, the Holy Spirit is perhaps more subtle than a visible cloud. It may not always be quite so obvious when it's time to move. But I'm guessing I might not see the cloud move in big ways, because I've never learned to follow the gentle nudges.

I don't want to admit how wrong I am in this area. My self rears up and says, "Oh, come on! You have the right to live life the way you want to. Where's the me time if you're going to always be focused on God? That's just gonna be a lot of work." And yet I know that there's no way I could spend my time more profitably than just in following God's plan.

I know introspection is not always healthy, and I especially tend toward the morbid.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005


It's interesting to read the prohibitions in Leviticus. One kind of caught my eye this morning. It said that you were not to curse a deaf person or put a stumbling block in front of the blind. Well, duh! It's kind of sad that you have to spell out every possible kind of meanness, or else humans will see that as a loophole and try to find a way around it. But, really, that's what we've done, isn't it? We have somehow found loopholes for even those things that are expressly forbidden in Exodus. God prohibits homosexuality, but we say a God of love would want loving couples to be together regardless of gender. God prohibits bestiality, but we say God would not want to place restrictions and limitations on our sexual freedom. God prohibits incest, but we say that love is more important than rules. God prohibits sacrificing to the goat demons, but we say that everyone should worship their own god in their own way.

It's no wonder really that the new dispensation is a whole new way of thinking. God recognized that people would always find a way around the written rules, so he designed a better path. The "new and better way" was a relationship, a friendship with One who would steer us away from self-destructive behavior. Instead of focusing on the do's and don't's of a rulebook, we would be obey out of a desire to please our Friend, who had done so much for us.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Clergy-laity distinctions

I just finished reading about Aaron's ordination, and I'm suddenly feeling like my own wasn't a very big deal. Aaron had fancy clothes, bits of blood & oil scattered here and there, and waved some big chunks of meat in the air. I just got prayed for and handed a Bible. Okay, so I'm being a little facetious, but it does make you stop and wonder . . . have we gone a little too far in eliminating the clergy-laity divide?

I understand that we are in a different dispensation now, and I know that there is a sense in which we are a priesthood of believers. We no longer offer blood sacrifices, we no longer have to go to a certain place to worship and we no longer depend upon another human to mediate with God for us. So, does this mean that those who provide spiritual leadership or religious assistance must necessarily fall in prestige?

I certainly think that it is healthy that the laity have been encouraged to step and shoulder part of the load. There is definitely a responsibility for them to be actively involved in evangelism, in Bible study, in prayer, in the exercise of spiritual gifts, and on and on. However, there is a different and specialized role for the clergy. These are the men and women who have received a special call from God to have the ministry of equipping others, so that the body of Christ may be built up. Have we not downplayed their role in the process of empowering the laity?

Paul clearly made distinctions between the clergy and the laity. He said we ought to give triple honor to those among us who minister the Word to us. He said that the worker (the clergyman) was worthy of his hire. He held the clergy to a higher standard and discouraged people from entering the clergy who did not feel a call from God and a commission from the church to do so.

How does this play out in modern Christian life? Well, the clergy probably do not need the elaborate costuming of the priest, but there is something to be said for a style of dress that distinguishes the sacred from the secular. Obviously, the animal sacrifices are not relevant to our culture or historical setting, but perhaps the member of the clergy needs to take more seriously the trust that has been placed in him or her by the church. If there was some more symbolic way to do this within the setting of an ordination ceremony, it might well be worth the inclusion.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Unintentional sin

It amazes me how much space is given in Leviticus to unintentional sin. Over and over it says "If a man sins unintentionally and later finds out about it . . . "Always, a sacrifice was required to cover that unintentional sin.

As a Wesleyan-Arminian, I tend to define sin as "a willful transgression of a known law of God." However, it's obvious that the biblical definition is much, much broader. Wesley, of course, did say that even our unintentional sins are in need of Christ's atonement, but it seems that we always cut ourselves some slack in that area. It seems, though, that, if we lived more carefully, more consciously in the presence of God, even unintentional sin might not be so frequent.

I often feel that I am not sufficiently contrite for known sin. Would it be possible to live so close to God that even a new awareness of a past unintentional sin would send me running to his throne to plead his mercy?

Friday, January 28, 2005

Aaron's "leadership"

I think there is a part of all of us that dreams of being Moses. Maybe it's not even an inherent dream; it may be foisted upon us by those around us. We are expected to lead; we are expected to go forth and do great exploits. But I wonder if I don't prefer the role of an Aaron or Hur instead. Is it a character flaw to desire the ministry of holding up someone else's arms?

Maybe it's fear that keeps me from pursuing Mosaic leadership. I look at the flat-out fights Moses had with God, and I don't want any part of it. Moses seemed to have to bear an incredible amount of responsibility; half of the time God refers to Israel as Moses' people. I feel like I can barely shoulder responsibility for my own life, let alone for 2 million other people. But Moses seems to hardly stumble under the weight. It never dawns on him to share leadership; he just struggles manfully onward. His father-in-law has to give him a wakeup call to even bring it to his attention.

But Aaron and Hur seem to be content with relatively little responsibility. Were they leaders? I suppose, in their way, they were. They weren't political like Moses or military like Joshua, but Aaron was about to become the high priest. But right now, they seem to be content with helping their leader out, with supporting him, with making him look good.

Usually, when I push myself to the front, it doesn't look that good anyhow. I think I've been so hammered with the importance of leadership that I feel like I have to always be in control, always be inspiring all the followers around me. And then, when leadership faces its battles, as it always does, I am disappointed and my self-image is damaged. I think I need to come to terms with the fact that a desire for control is not the same as the gift of leadership. It is okay to have a gift for helping others fulfill their God-given vision.

I cannot let this deteriorate into a rationale for indolence, but I can rest easier knowing that I do not have to be the front man. I can support someone with a bigger dream.

Friday, January 21, 2005

The Plague of Frogs

My favorite part of the story of the plague of frogs used to be the part where Moses asks Pharaoh when he wants the plague of frogs to end. Pharaoh foolishly answers, "Tomorrow." Why on earth would someone want to spend any more time with God's judgment than they had to? Why not say, "Now! Yesterday!"?

But today, I think I have picked a new favorite aspect. Moses and Aaron have just brought the plague of frogs on Egypt, and Pharaoh summons his magicians. Do they cast some magic spell that makes the frogs go away? No, they do the same "magic" that Moses and Aaron do--they create more frogs.

I don't have any evidence on hand for this, but I think I've heard that there was some kind of frog deity in Egyptian mythology. God kind of stood that thinking on its ear by sending the frogs to execute His justice. The magicians were not able to stand up against God; they were only able to imitate Him.

The same holds true today. Satan isn't really able to reverse God's plans; he can only come up with poor substitutes. What God decrees is unalterable. It's interesting; maybe the Egyptian magicians were trying to cast a "frog removal" spell, but it had unintentional results. Satan has been given quite a bit of power and he can put on quite a show. But when we really sit back and study it, we see that it's really just his attempt to impersonate God.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Weak Faith

We're getting ready to leave for a couple of services out in central Kansas, and I have to admit my faith is pretty weak. Am I just going through the motions?

Thursday, January 13, 2005

The Dysfunctional Patriarchy

Can Jacob have been too surprised at the way his family turned out? Here is a man who has been brought up in the most dysfunctional of circumstances. He and his mother had connived to rob his brother of his father's blessing. He had run away to live with an uncle, who both cheated him and was cheated by him. He returned home to a tenuous peace with his brother. And now . . . it's time for the chickens to come to roost.

Rachel nearly gets him killed by her father. His daughter is raped. Two of his sons massacre the local populace. His oldest son sleeps with one of his concubines. His favorite wife dies in childbirth. Intense sibling rivalry emerges in his family. His son dreams of the day his brothers and Jacob will bow down to him.

Certainly, Jacob had a rough start. But it was a series of bad decisions that would lead him down the road. What an awesome responsibility a father has. God, help me to make good decisions, decisions that will protect me from such awful consequences.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Jacob the Deceiver

Sometimes I wonder why Jacob is still such a popular name for boys. Probably most people don't know its meaning and are ignorant of the earliest famous Jacob. Jacob bin Isaac was almost vicious in his deceit. Sure, he was put in a rough situation when he lived with his Uncle Laban, but is that any excuse? It seems that he felt he had gotten a rough shake in life (for which he had only himself and his mother to blame), and he was bound and determined that he was going to get the upper hand, no matter who got hurt in the process. Revenge, greed, deceit--can you find a worse role model, a worse namesake?

Yet God saw something in Jacob. Before Jacob was even born, God chose him to be the father of a nation. Sure, he gave him a better name (well, maybe), but God chose him and kept him even while Jacob was doing some pretty nasty things. Maybe I'm no Jacob, but I've done my share of deceiving, even self-deceit. Maybe God can still use me too.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Genesis 1 & 2

Last night, at Duct Tape Bible Fellowship, we looked at the first couple of chapters of Genesis. Granted, those chapters are foundational, and our worldview would suffer mightily if we did not have them. However, it's a little difficult to draw meaningful real world application from these chapters. A couple of things stood out, though.

We were challenged to think about the significance of creation to us and to recognize what it is about creation that causes us to give thanks to God. The simple answer, of course, would be to quote the lyrics of "How Great Thou Art." But as I reflected on it, I thought about how some of my upbringing caused me to doubt that the creation was really something to be enjoyed. There was almost a Gnostic bent to some of the teaching I received, where I began to perceive all matter as evil or sensual. But somewhere along the line, my dad pointed out that God went to all the trouble to create this wonderful world for our enjoyment. The material may not hold a candle to the spiritual, but it is here for us to enjoy.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Finding God's Willl

We think that we have figured out all the key ways of discerning God's will, and we put out our little lists of how God works. But the Bible seems to show God revealing Himself in an infinite number of ways. How many of us would trust God to reveal Himself the way that Abraham's servant trusted? I would feel like I was putting God in a box, making Him perform according to my plans.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Bargaining with God

Well, the past few days have been interesting. A couple of snow days and a little sickness have conspired to, more or less, knock me off of my well-laid plans. In fact, I have gotten back into the habit of watching movies and doing life during the commercials. I should have known that a schedule allowing so little recreational time was not going to work. Ah, well! Perhaps I will still get more done than I was doing last year, since I have my "commercial" activity planned a little better.

I was reading this morning the story of Abraham bargaining with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. An interesting story, that! But what am I to draw from it? I wonder about Abraham's relationship with God. Granted, we don't have a lot of details, but I suppose I have always assumed that Abraham's understanding of God was very primitive, strongly influenced by the Chaldean worship with which he grew up. And yet, his faith in God was strong enough to inspire him to pack up and move across the world; it was strong enough to convince him to sacrifice his son.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Of mice and men

I guess the Lord's Day really can't go wrong, although it does have a nice try at it at times. I knew that yesterday would be a little out of the ordinary, but I didn't realize how variant it would be from my schedule.

The morning rolled along pretty well as expected. We attended the parenting Sunday school class taught by Bill Rose, although there wasn't a lot of teaching. It was more or less a brainstorming session as the teacher tried to determine what direction to take the class in coming weeks. I missed about half of the class, changing Elijah's diaper and trying to get him to take his bottle, to no avail.

In church, Pastor Paul preached on starting the new year off right, mostly goal-setting and the like. I don't have a real clear picture of all of his points, because again I was in the lobby trying to get Elijah to eat. This time he finally wore out and took it. It was good to chat with members of our small group, Dwight, Jonathan and Darla, etc.

We had Mom and Dad down for lunch. It was an enjoyable time of visiting, and we played a game of Oink! and by time they left, it was nearly 3:00. I lay down in front of the TV and watched the Chiefs' poor imitation of a football game. Fortunately, I got a little nap in there because I was really dragging.

Shortly after halftime, it was time for Tiff and I to go on our date, postponed because of the New Year's Eve party we had attended on Friday. After leaving Elijah with Mom and Dad, we went to Cascone's Italian Restaurant and then to the Kansas City 18 Cinema to see Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. Tiff's parents called us on our way home. We arrived home a little after 10:00, so I recorded our finances, had family devotions and went to bed.

So, once again, I had no time for reading, for focused time with Elijah or for exercise. I didn't even get my shower. I pushed that off until this morning because I didn't have to go to work.

I don't see any pressing reason why today shouldn't go reasonably on schedule. I do wonder when I'm going to run some of my errands, but I have a 2-hour block this afternoon when I would normally be at work. Maybe I'll make a cake.

I'm having a little trouble drawing devotional thoughts from the stories in the early parts of Genesis. My mind tends to pick out the problematic verses, rather than seeing God's overarching scheme. I think I do recognize those themes that are always brought about in discussions of these passages, but I would like to glean some new gem, specifically something that could be directly applied to my life.

This morning I read the story of the flood. I'm not sure if it's more a story of God's provision or His judgment. Maybe it doesn't have to be either/or. Something in me rebels against the idea that Noah was saved based on his righteousness and against the idea that his sons were saved on the basis of their father's righteousness.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

One day in

So, I've had a chance to start my new year off right. And, while it didn't go exactly according to plan, I can't say that I was too disappointed with the day's progress. It was a Saturday, so that threw a monkey wrench in the plan right off. Then, of course, because it was New Year's Day, we didn't get up until after 10:00, so that makes it pretty hard to keep to a schedule.

I got to have a good devotional time, and I feel like I really touched heaven (or vice-versa) during my prayer time. It was good to sit down and do some Scripture memory as well. I am trying to read through the Bible this year. I had some software issues yesterday that took quite a while to correct, but I think I finally have the big issues resolved.

I told Tiff I wanted to have my parents over for dinner today, so we had a little housecleaning to do. It's still probably not up to their standards, but it's really about hospitality not impressing anyone. I helped do up the dishes, mop the kitchen and clean up some of the clutter.

I did get to spend some time with Elijah, reading poetry and doing tummy time. But he got so fussy, that I had to just pick him up and walk around. I don't think he was feeling well. He's sitting in my lap now, and I'm not sure he's crazy about it.

I knew we had some shopping to do yesterday, so I figured my schedule would be a little off anyhow. I didn't really anticipate the scope of the trip, though. I thought we were making a few returns, getting different sizes, etc. It turned out that the bulk of the trip was Tiffany trying on shoes. I probably should have anticipated that and brought something to read, but I didn't. Both Elijah and I got pretty worn out.

I spent a good chunk of the evening, sorting out our financial situation. I have abandoned the envelope system and am going to track things electronically again. This means we probably won't have a budget for a while, but I think/hope we can keep spending under control.

I don't think I let my frustration get the best of me. For the most part, I didn't let my eyes or mind wander where they shouldn't. I spent time with God and my family. And I didn't spend time with the TV or video games. All in all, not a bad record for the first day. Let's go for two in a row!

Saturday, January 01, 2005

New Year

Well, here it is, another new year, and what am I going to do with it? I've really become disenchanted with the whole idea of new year's resolutions, which is why I have largely ignored the whole idea in recent years. Even this year, I'm not really making resolutions or setting goals so much as I am just trying to make my life count a little more. I know the way you're supposed to do it. You're supposed to sit down and figure out what you want your life to look like six months from now, and then you set goals for yourself, and then you develop an action plan to meet those goals. But, I don't know, that just doesn't seem to fit my personality. I have no idea where I will be in six months, let alone what I want my life to look like. And I don't really have a problem with that. I can be a pretty inflexible person. If I make my goals and action plans too rigid, I become very uptight when those plans get upset. I understand the whole argument about failing to plan is planning to fail, but somehow I don't think planning always has to be done in the prescribed way. In fact, I wonder sometimes if our plans don't get in the way of God's plans for us. I don't know that this has been a big problem for me, but I could see how it coiuld become one. I think it has been a problem with my family at times.

So, even though I'm not following the usual planning process, I do have a few ideas for this new year. I would like to drop about 35 pounds. I don't have any definite ideas about diet, although I think I will try to eat less and better. Maybe cutting out grazing would be a good first step. I do plan on working some exercise into my schedule. I'm setting apart a definitive hour for personal devotions, as well as time for family devotions. I have time specifically designated for reading and interacting with Elijah. I'm moving my clean-up time to the evening so that I will have a little less crazed morning. I'm hoping to add a little sleep to my schedule this year as well. Another big change is the addition of an hour of reading time each day. There are quite a few things I would like to read, but I usually spend so much time on TV and video games that I don't get much reading done. I have not really allowed myself much other leisure activity during the week, so that may be problematic. I guess I will really have to maximize my Sundays as a day of rest. That can be a problem, too, on those Sundays when we hold missions services. I think on those weeks I had better make a Sabbath of my Mondays.

The hardest part of my new schedule is that so much of my day is tied up with missions fund-raising activities. I dread almost every part of this process, but if I don't just bite the bullet and do it, we will never get to the field. Hopefully, if I go at it hot and heavy, 3-4 hours a day, we will have our church schedule filled up, and I can do some other activities during my day.

I can tell already that when Monday rolls around I'm going to want to watch movies and just do these other things as time and commercials allow. I simply cannot afford to fall into that trap. I cannot let another year slip away. I'm already approaching the top of the hill, and I have accomplished so little of value. I want my life to count this year.

I have some other goals. I would like to run our financial records a little differently this year. I want to be able to file my taxes with greater integrity. I want to be more hospitable, a better family member and a better friend. I need to better communicate with Tiffany if that is going to happen, and I need to be more of a contributing member of the family with household chores.