Pro Life

Today is Sanctity of Life Sunday, so it seems appropriate that I am thankful for life. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for wanting me and raising me to adulthood. Thank you, Kathy, for carrying and birthing my five children, and for helping me to raise them!

I love these kids, every last one of them, with not even a couple of exceptions.

I love these kids, every last one of them, with not even a couple of exceptions.

I’m also thankful for a church that unabashedly preaches that abortion is sin, and yet offers a hand of help for Moms with unexpected (and maybe unwanted) babies, and healing for those who seek to repent from this terrible ‘choice’. Pastor Reg did a nice job of talking about how being pro-life also affects our attitude toward slavery, human trafficking, and others who cannot adequately defend themselves (like the handicapped).

Before the sermon began, the chairman of our board of elders stood up and told the congregation that this message expressed the position of our church, and was not just the opinion of the preacher. I really appreciated that — I like to see some steel in defending the doctrines of the church against the political correctness of our culture.

More than fifty million unborn Americans have been aborted murdered since Roe v. Wade. This is a death toll worse than the the atrocities of Stalin, worse than Hitler’s holocaust by a long shot.

One of my favorite local organizations that helps single moms and encourages them not to abort their babies is Care-Net. In past years we have helped to outfit their store with dozens of newborn and small baby clothing items — there was an Oshkosh B’gosh outlet near my office, and I used to snap up a lot of their bargains. Care-Net offers free pregnancy tests and ultrasound technician training, but they also address the long-term care of the baby through parenting classes and other resources. Sadly the outlet closed — I need to find another source of baby clothes. I really like the image of a scared new mom shopping in Care-Net’s store and walking away with clothes that reflect God’s love and support for both the mom and her new little son or daughter.

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Pistachio Poltroonery

For many years, I’ve been teaching Sunday School with one of my best friends, a man named Tung (pronounced a little like ‘tome’, for those Westerners who can’t manage the Vietnamese ‘ng’ sound). We make a great team: Tung is a gracious, articulate and intelligent man, while I, um, well, I might have to think about that for a minute. I suppose at least I provide comic relief and serve as a whipping boy for his sense of humor.

Tung and his beloved family ...

Tung and his beloved family …

In the last couple of years, we’ve expanded our class to include kids as young as fourth or fifth grade, which adds a certain amount of challenge. While some adults can handle 80 minutes of inductive study of a chapter of the Bible, most kids are looking for a little more interaction. So we add movie clips, skits, crossword puzzles, quizzes — whatever it takes to make it more interesting and endurable for the younger set. Truth be told, the grown-ups like it, too.

Recently we’ve been studying the book of 2 Samuel, and (as often happens) it was my turn when a difficult chapter rolled around. For some reason, this seems to happen a lot — I get all the circumcision chapters, the genealogies, the gruesome stories of child sacrifice, anything that might be R-rated, or at least PG-13. It always seems to be Tung’s turn to teach when the chapters are chock-filled with deep spiritual truths; I haven’t yet figured out how he does it. Maybe he actually reads ahead?

Anyway, chapter six rolled around, in which David, recently made king of all Israel, decides to bring the Ark of the Covenant to his new capital of Jerusalem. There is a huge celebration, but along the way, one of the men improperly tending the Ark touches it, out of fear that it will fall off the cart, and is struck dead by God. Talk about a ruined party! It is a strange and difficult story, especially if you don’t have a high appreciation for the Holiness of God.

Not the actual Ark of the Covenant ...

Not the actual Ark of the Covenant …

I was trying to decide how to bring this lesson home, and it happened that the day of the class fell on Tung’s 40th birthday. Soon, my fertile brain was a-scheming, and a plan was born.

I introduced the passage in the usual way, by having the class members read verses aloud. I had them answer some of the questions that dealt with the early part of the chapter, and we watched several video clips about ruined parties — like the birthday scene for Leo Marvin in What About Bob.
Then I paused. I made a short speech about it being Tung’s birthday, and how he had served the church so well as an elder, small group leader, Sunday School teacher, etc. I unveiled a fancy cake I had bought for the occasion, and asked him to come up to cut it. On the table, I had a bowl of unshelled pistachios, by pre-arrangement.

Not everyone can wear reindeer antlers with distinction ...

Not everyone can wear reindeer antlers with distinction …

Standing in front of the class, about to cut the cake, Tung suddenly stopped. He angrily pointed at the pistachios.

“Pistachios? Seriously?” Tung nearly shouted.

I made embarrassed and apologetic noises, backing away slightly.

“I can’t believe you would offer pistachios at my party when you know I hate them,” Tung snarled. Then he picked up the bowl and savagely flipped all the pistachios into my face. They rained down around my feet as silence fell on the classroom like the blade of a guillotine.

No pistachios were harmed in the writing of this blog post.

No pistachios were harmed in the writing of this blog post.

Then he spun on his heel and walked out of the room without looking at anyone. I stared after him, speechless for a full five seconds, then I bent down and began to pick up the pistachios, face red.

“Tung is under a lot of stress right now with his job as a principal,” I mumbled. “I should have remembered that he didn’t like pistachios.” I blinked my eyes as though fighting back tears.

No one moved. People furtively glanced at one another, unable to believe that my effort to honor Tung had gone so badly wrong. After what seemed like several minutes, but was really less than 30 seconds, I walked over to the door and motioned for Tung to come back in. He came back in, smiling, and we served the cake as I explained how this was a word picture, and that Tung actually liked pistachios.

In all seriousness, it must have been terrible for David, trying to honor God, to have his celebration go so wrong, even to the cost of Uzzah’s life. I’m sure he did some serious soul-searching in the months that followed.

As for me, I chortled for the rest of the day, about how effectively we had fooled the class, especially some of the younger kids, who were aghast at Tung’s conduct. I found out later that Daniel was so affronted at Tung’s treatment of me, that he was formulating plans to ‘take Mr. Tung outside’ if needed.

We are still good friends -- indeed, Tung would take a pie for me, as he did for this AWANA special event.

We are still good friends — indeed, Tung would take a pie for me, as he did for this AWANA special event.

Nobody ever said Sunday School had to be boring, but I may have overshot the mark on this one and traumatized a few of the younger kids. Hopefully the therapeutic counseling fees won’t be too expensive.

Tomorrow I’m teaching on chapter 8, in which David slaughters captive Moabites and hamstrings horses. Any ideas?

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Steps to Freedom

I slipped quietly through the front door, noticing the peaceful and settled feeling of the house. The Christmas lights welcomed me home cheerfully, blissfully unaware that the holidays have long since passed. The kitchen counters gleamed, signs that a thoughtful teen had worked hard in my absence.

Quiet lights at night

Quiet lights at night

There is nothing quite like a sleepy, hushed house to wake my night owl spirit. I love to read, write, study, even work on projects late in the evening. With teenagers in the house and a busy life full of homeschooling and ministry responsibilities, those quiet hours are often few in number and hard to find.

Tonight my mind is mulling over this week’s Bible study lesson. At first glance the study, Enhancing Your Marriage by Judy Rossi, looks to be one about marriage (um, yeah, hence the title), and indeed it covers attitudes in marriage, communication, romance, prayer, and so on. But really the heart of the book is our relationship with Christ. Nearly every lesson so far has dealt with understanding and knowing God better. It is a profoundly moving study.

This week we have been studying the Process of Change – seven steps that offer the opportunity to walk towards freedom and away from sin. It’s such a powerful collection of steps that I want to savor and absorb the teaching. I don’t want to zip through my lesson (as I’ve done, oh too many times) and walk away unchanged. I want to take my journal and pen and figuratively sit down on each step, studying, learning, listening, growing.

My heart rejoices to see my children following after the Lord.

My heart rejoices to see my children following after the Lord.

Step 1 : Recognize Your Inner Enemies as Sin

I want to be quick to recognize the darkness in my life, in my soul, in my heart. I want God’s light of truth and righteousness to so flood over my soul that I am blinded by His glory. I don’t want to hold onto any little sins – ones that I ignore, excuse or defend. This means I must be willing to say, like King David,

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! Psalm 139:23-24

Step 2 : Deny Yourself

“Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’” Mark 8:34

How would denying myself, taking up my cross, and following Jesus change how I’m living? How would it change my marriage? How would it impact my parenting? My relationships with those in my life?

I am a DEEPLY selfish person. I like things my way. I like to be in charge. I like to spend my time the way I like. And I definitely like my coffee strong with cream and served often. The more my eyes are on me – the less able I am to deny myself and follow Jesus with a whole and sincere heart.

My favorite boys!

My favorite boys!

Step 3 : Confess, Repent, and Receive God’s Forgiveness

These three things are crucial and inseparable in dealing with sin. In confessing my sin, I am agreeing with God that something within me MUST CHANGE. In repenting, I am responding with godly sorrow and humility and expressing a willingness to CHANGE. In receiving His forgiveness, I am accepting His love and cleansing, and I am moving forward with Him in FREEDOM from my sin.

These three steps are so moving, so profound and impactful, that I want to pause, reflect, and just breathe in deeply. But overcoming sin (or confronting the “Canaanites” as author, Rossi, puts it) doesn’t stop here.

Step 4 : Trust God

It’s the Lord and His Holy Spirit that does a transforming work in my life. It’s not my own strength, power, or will. On my own, I bring nothing to the table, filthy rags perhaps, but no lasting change. As I walk through these steps to freedom, I trust that God will make my paths straight. I trust that He will keep me in perfect peace. I trust that He will bear good fruit in my life.

Sarah displays a beautiful trust in the Lord in her walk with Him.

Sarah displays a beautiful trust in the Lord in her walk with Him.

Step 5 : Wait for God

This is difficult. It means waiting with expectancy. Waiting with a faithful, trusting, listening heart. Waiting with the knowledge and assurance of God’s involvement – in our lives, in our transformation, in our freedom.

Step 6 : Rejoice and Pray with Thanksgiving

I love this step, even though it is often extremely difficult. I love it because over and over I have seen the amazing power of living this out. Rejoicing in sadness. Rejoicing in loss. Rejoicing in difficulty. Nothing has changed my heart and brought me greater joy than keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus, no matter what the circumstance. Thanking Him amidst my tears. Listing the ways I am thankful when I am discontented and grumbling and grumpy. There NEVER FAILS to be a change in my heart when I remember to rejoice and thank the Giver of All Good Things.

I am deeply thankful to have a husband who loves the Lord, faithfully serves Him and selflessly loves our children.

I am deeply thankful to have a husband who loves the Lord, faithfully serves Him and selflessly loves our children.

Step 7 : Obey

“If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” John 15:10-11

The last of these seven steps calls for our obedience. I love the picture of joy and love and obedience all swirling together in a beautiful radiance of a changed life. I don’t obey out of my own strength, but in the power of the Holy Spirit. My obedience is born from my love for Jesus and His love for me.

After our study time, my small group met together. As we sat in the dimly lit foyer, shivering in the cooler part of the church, we walked through these seven steps together. Vulnerable and honest, we each bared a little piece of our individual struggles. We sketched a picture of what confession, forgiveness, trust, and obedience looks like in battling things like anger, despair and lack of self-control.


Like a subtle but undeniable fragrance that fills a room, a spark of HOPE lit inside of each of us. We long to be better wives and mothers. We cry for peace and ache for true joy in our lives. We want to walk in Freedom.

These seven steps offer a tangible, concrete, and scriptural way to experience God’s power and healing. Thank you, Judy Rossi, for sharing your heart and wisdom with us.


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A Dream Fulfilled

In some ways, I am a very simple man. And some of my aspirations are pretty straightforward, too. One of my prosaic dreams has always been to have a wood stove or fireplace in my home.

Some friends or relatives who have been to my home might remark: “Um, Tim, you have a fireplace.”

This is technically true — we do have a gas fireplace in the family room. But it fell into disuse and I suspect some animals have blocked the chimney — it has been years since we were able to use it. The last time we tried (during an extended power outage) it filled the whole house with an unpleasant oily smell. Even back in the day when the fireplace did work, it wasn’t very warm — seemed like most of the heat went straight up the chimney.

This year marked the culmination of years of doing absolutely nothing in my pursuit of this dream, yet somehow I have achieved it. It all started in the days after Thanksgiving, when I began to troll the pages of for their Cyber Monday deals.

I was happily scrolling through dozens of things I suddenly ‘needed’ (yet had never before known existed) when I saw it: a cute little electric stove. It was marked down about 40%, and I with a click of the mouse, it was shipped to my home! (Amazon’s Prime shipping and one-click shopping is WAY too easy.)

A man and his stove are not easily parted.

A man and his fake electric stove are not easily parted.

As it happened, I was home alone on the day the large, indiscreet Duraflame box was delivered, so I secreted it away in the garage behind rows of bins and random furniture, intending for it to be rolled out on Christmas morning.

Sadly, I am not as young as I once was, and my memory is far from perfect. Christmas came, and Christmas went, and I forgot all about my little treasure.

About a week ago, on the eve of Rachel’s rescheduled birthday party, I suddenly remembered it. Rescuing it from garage oblivion, I installed it happily in our living room, where it fights valiantly against the moaning of the wind and the loss of heat through our poorly-insulated windows. Finding one more Christmas present so long after the holidays proved to be a cheerful respite from January blues.

Now we tend to sit in the living room staring at the fake little electric ‘flames’ and feeling the warm air pour out from the fan at the bottom of the heater … it is a perfect size and capacity for our room, and lends our home a warm, inviting ambience.

Now if I can just remember where I put some of the other presents I bought …


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Goals, a 2014 Reprise

One thing for which I am particularly thankful is a church that encourages goal setting (and accountability). Just this morning as I was leaving Sunday School, my wife sat down with three or four of the women from our class to begin encouraging each other on their pursuit of this year’s goals. Since I hadn’t written mine yet, I pretended to have urgent business elsewhere. Besides, it was only for girls.

Our Pastor is particularly disciplined and aggressive in setting goals for himself, and many of the church leaders set a very good example in this regard. Each year I make a list of goals, seeking to ‘run in such a way as to get the prize’ (1 Corinthians 9:24). And each year I fail in many ways; yet somehow this is not discouraging to me. Perhaps this is because I compare it to the failure I would have if I set no goals at all.

My nephew Samuel and I probably should set goals for winning a game of Eclipse.

My nephew Samuel and I probably should set goals for winning a game of Eclipse.

Last week at AWANA, I offered the kids a revised version of last year’s Goals Worksheet and encouraged them to bring a completed copy to AWANA next week.

“If you bring it back completed, I will give you a wooden nickel,” I promised.

Forgotten is the sage advice you may have heard from your grandfather, “Don’t take any wooden nickels!” Kids today gladly accept them, possibly because of their worth in comparison to our debt-devalued currency, or (more likely) because I redeem them for a free can of pop (most of ‘em prefer root beer).

Don't take any wooden nickels ... unless they are like this one!

Don’t take any wooden nickels … unless they are like this one!

Then, as often happens, my mouth ran away without my brain in attendance. “And if I don’t have a copy of MY goals completed and ready to show you by next week,” I shouted, “I’ll give you ALL a wooden nickel!”

So much for my wily plan to drag out my goal-setting until people stop asking me about my goals. These AWANA kids are ruthless and relentless. They will stop at nothing to squeeze a wooden nickel out of me. I guess I’d better trot out a list of goals for the year, before Wednesday arrives and I am bankrupted.

A quick word about goals. I think they should cover as many areas of your life as you can — so I usually divide mine up into Spiritual, Marriage, Parenting, Personal and Administrative goals. Then I add an extra category for Fun goals, and (if I feel brave) one more category for BHAGs (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals).

Maybe not as big and hairy as my beard ...

Maybe not as big and hairy as my beard …

So here are my goals. I’m not trying to brag, as those of you who know how I actually perform on my goals can probably attest. I’m just trying to respond in thankfulness to my God whose mercies are new every morning (and every year) and who gives me the power to attempt great things for Him.

  • Spiritual Growth & Maintenance
    • Pray through the church prayer letter, weekly
    • Pray for my AWANA leaders by name, weekly
    • Pray for each of my family members, daily
    • Read my Bible plan for 280 days (finish current year’s plan + 180 days on a new plan)
    • Teach a Resolution class for men
    • Attend the Perspectives missions class in the Fall with Kathy
    • Recite & track my commitments every day (I have a personal statement of faith and intent)
    • Write an encouraging note, card or e-mail to someone, each week
    • Write a blog post about something I am thankful for, each week
    • Listen to one ‘extra’ sermon a week
  • Marriage
    • Pray with Kathy 2x/week
    • Go out on a date with Kathy at least 1x/month
    • Have a ‘home date’ with Kathy 3x/month
  • Parenting
    • Celebrate Special Days™ in some form (at least one child per week)
    • Read some kind of Bible devotional to my kids 3x/week
    • Discuss at least one of my Convictions™ with my kids each week
  • Personal
    • Write two blog posts each week (in addition to thankful blog)
    • Exercise 4x/week, 25 minutes minimum
    • Reduce weight to 203 lbs
  • Administrative
    • Review my goals weekly
    • Report on goals via e-mail to my ‘boys’ weekly
    • Continue using my TaskList™ application at work to be accountable for my performance
  • Fun & Family
    • Play at least 1 board game/week with my family
    • Go camping as a family at least once
    • Vacation in Turks and Caicos with my family
    • Complete a working game prototype with Joshua (Ziba)
    • Finish my skit collection website
  • Big Hairy Audacious Goals
    • Increase tithe/offering to 25% of my gross income

Some of you may wonder why these goals bear a striking resemblance to some of my previous year’s goals. This is no coincidence — these are the things that I (a) think are important, and (b) have difficulty performing. It should be no surprise, that some of them would crop up on my list of goals, year after year.

Joshua was certainly surprised when Kathy and I resumed writing our blog ...

Joshua was certainly surprised when Kathy and I resumed writing our blog …

One of my best college friends recently commented on an earlier blog post, questioning whether personality type is a major factor in a person’s willingness and decision to set goals or not. She suggested that people who tended toward ‘Perceiving’ on the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator (vs. ‘Judging’) might find it more difficult and less rewarding to set goals than those on the other end of the spectrum. Unfortunately, my most recent test results on that measure were exactly divided between ‘Perception’ and ‘Judgment’, so that doesn’t really give me an ‘out’. In any case, I found this article interesting and informative on that question, particularly this paragraph:

Sometimes people feel they have both. That is true. The J or P preference only tells which preference the person extraverts. One person may feel very orderly/structured (J) on the inside, yet their outer life looks spontaneous and adaptable (P). Another person may feel very curious and open-ended (P) in their inner world, yet their outer life looks more structured or decided (J).

I am thankful that 2014 gives me a fresh start on my desire to be disciplined and to live my life in a way that is pleasing to God. All my pathetic 2013 failures are hereby washed away (if only to make room for my 2014 pathetic failures) and I am excited to see what God will empower me to do this year.


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