All posts by Tim

Mercy for Foolishness

More than two years ago, flush with success from my first adventure in real estate investing, I bid on a house that was up for auction in Tennessee. At the time, we thought that Joshua and Kelsie and their family might be staying in Tennessee, and we were eager to help them into their first home.

Truth be told, though, at the actual moment we bid, we knew that they were strongly considering a move to Idaho, so that Joshua could be part of the Greyfriars Hall pastoral training program.

But we went ahead and bid on the property anyway. “What could possibly go wrong?” I assured Kathy as I happily confirmed my bid.

Turns out a LOT can go wrong, starting with the fact that we ‘won’ the bid. The previous owner (who was still living in the house) insisted she had been defrauded in the foreclosure process, and promptly sued every bank that had any involvement. Once she found out I was the new owner, she tried to add me to her lawsuit, too, demanding $4.4 million in damages.

After almost a year, we reluctantly hired a lawyer. After sixteen months of patiently waiting for everything to be resolved and continued refusal on her part to communicate or work with us, we decided to proceed with eviction, eventually gaining access to the house around this time last year.

The house was a disaster. The woman who had been squatting there had been involved in heavy alcohol and drug use, and only one room was remotely habitable. Entire sections of the flooring had caved in, and much of the house had been gutted. Termite and water damage was extensive. Lawyer bills continued to pile up, and (by this time) Joshua and Kelsie had already moved to Idaho.

Some people really like their houses to have floors.

Some people really like their houses to have floors.

I tried dumping the project on my middle son, Daniel, who was living in the area. Strangely, he was less-than-eager to take on a complete from-the-studs remodel of an entire house in his spare time. He did work on the house quite a bit, but it was soon clear that the project was beyond either of our abilities, especially with me living 2000 miles away.

A real estate professional who looked at the house gave me some sobering advice: “If you’re lucky, you might get about half of what you paid for it, because of the value of the land.”

I wasn't sure which was worse, the water damage or the termite damage.

I wasn’t sure which was worse, the water damage or the termite damage.

Fast-forward to January. There was a guy who had been keeping his goats on the land before I bought the house, and we had allowed him to continue that practice. This generosity was well-rewarded when he called to tell me that a man who lived nearby was interested in buying the property. A few quick phone calls and a deal was struck — he agreed to buy the house (and the coveted land) for about $3000 less than my total investment.

Not wanting to defraud the potential buyer (as I felt I had been tricked by the banks) I was very frank and up-front about the condition of the house and the litigious former owner. I made our entire legal record available to his lawyer, and sat back to wait for him to back out. But in the course of time, I got a call from his lawyer who assured me that the buyer valued the land and was eager to close the deal, with his eyes open to the potential risk. I was delighted.

It might seem strange to be so jubilant about losing money, but as a good friend told me, “You’ve gotten much more value than a measly $3K in life experience!” I was so grateful to God to be let off so easy for what had been a rather foolish business mistake. In retrospect, it bordered on crazy to buy a house without seeing the inside condition.

God has been good to us. Last Thursday, the check came and we rushed to deposit it. Now the question remains … what to do with the money? As it turns out, the house next door to Rachel may be coming up for sale. This time, I’ll employ a bit more due diligence, I think.


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Lights of Wonder

I spent part of the afternoon with my youngest grandson. (Did you see how I needed to smugly differentiate BETWEEN my grandsons?) He is seven months today, and is at that delightful stage where each moment is filled with new joy, discovery and wonder. He smiles and laughs most of the time — I like to tell him that he’s probably never met anyone who didn’t love him.

Sometimes I think this is what Jesus meant when he said (in Matthew 18:3):

Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

I would imagine it would be a great joy and delight to the Holy Spirit if we approached each experience in life like a 7-month-old (at least, when we weren’t tired, cranky or needing a diaper change).

Kathy and Rachel were off shopping, and so I spirited little Davothy (as I call him) off to my office. As it began to get dark, I turned on the Christmas lights over my window, and we stood at the window and looked at the lights. I let my young grandson grab the string of lights a couple of times, but I set my face like styrofoam (I’m too much a softie to set my face like granite) against putting them in his mouth.

For a long time he and I just stood as he looked at the lights and admired their beauty. I mostly watched his face and experienced his wonder vicariously, which was a considerable joy and marvel to me. How can I be so blessed as to hold my daughter’s son in my arms? How can I love him so much when I’ve only been with him three times, and his life has been so short?

My youngest grandson thinks the world is his plaything.

My youngest grandson thinks the world is his plaything.

These are the sort of good things I’m on the lookout for, this year. God has been so good to me — placed me in a godly family, and then allowed me to build my own generation, and now I am still alive to see my children’s children! When I think of David Timothy’s future I am so hopeful and joyful, it helps me forget (for a little while) what a mess our sin has made of this sad world.

One of the most famous verses about the value of having lots of children can be found in Psalm 127:

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

In these times, we are going to war (whether we like it, or not) as soldiers of Christ, in a spiritual battle that is becoming very real to many of us. How delightful to have a quiver full of children and grandchildren to confound the enemies of God in the gate!


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The Best Is Yet To Come

About a week ago I was driving somewhere and heard a song on the radio by Ben Rector: “The Best Is Yet To Come”. As I listened, I resonated to these lines:

It’s been the kind of year I’d be fine if I forgot
But I’ll never forget it as long as I live and that’s saying a lot
The wildest menagerie of unfortunate crazy things and now its all over
So raise up your glass here’s to brand new beginnings
And leave in the past all the things that are ending
‘Cause tomorrow will bring us a new morning sun
My friends I believe that the best is yet to come

Not a particularly deep or spiritual song, but it made me think about the sour way I’ve been looking at events in this country in the past year. As I consider the birth of new grandchildren and the joy of seeing them grow and learn and (with considerable effort on the part of their parents) becoming better little humans and lovers of God, I realize that the unstoppable grace of God continues in His work in many ways. Sometimes He is subtle, and sometimes His arm is there for everyone to see, but as I remember my faith, I can confidently affirm that the best is, indeed, yet to come.

So I plan to restart this online journal in a more hopeful, faith-full way, highlighting the good work that I see God doing in His sovereign will. After all:

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

— Hebrews 11:1


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End of an Era

Today is the last day of Donald Trump’s presidency, but more importantly, it marks the end of another era: my tennis supremacy within the family.

Today, my youngest son defeated me in a set of tennis, 6-2. This hasn’t happened to me in a long time.

One man's victory is another man's crushing defeat.

One man’s victory is another man’s crushing defeat.

As it turns out, youth, physical fitness, reach, ability and stamina DO overcome an unscrupulous tendency for weasel-shots. Who knew?

I suppose I was warned — we played tennis while visiting Rachel and Tim in Louisiana, and I noted David’s skill and ability at that time. I guess I just never thought that the “student would become the master” with so little warning. One minute David was a little fella, riding on my shoulders and generally being as cute as the day is long, and the next he’s mopping the court with me.

Truth is, I’m very proud of Dave. I can see if I want to remain even competitive, I’m going to have to play more often. Either that or go into stasis for forty years. I’ll keep you posted on my efforts in either direction.


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Unity is the New Tolerance

When I was a younger man, the word ‘tolerance’ began appearing in workplace training. I was encouraged to ‘tolerate’ others’ viewpoints and life choices so that ‘we could all just get along’. There was a cheerful, campfire sort of feeling about it — look how happy we could be, to be so supportive and kind to each other!

For a little while, I bought it. I was new to the workplace, and a bit naive. Who wants to be a bigot? What does it matter, in the office, if you’re of one political party or another? Who cares, in the context of work, if you’re married or single, Muslim or Christian, gay or straight? It seemed a very American sort of fair deal — I tolerate them, and they tolerate me. So far, so good, right?

I didn’t realize until much later that I had been effectively and efficiently silenced; as a person who knows the Truth of the Gospel, I could have spoken into some of my co-worker’s lives, if I had been bolder. But I believed the subtle, unspoken lie that the principles of my faith had no place in the secular marketplace.

Over time, the rules changed. Tolerance continues to be taught (well, mandated) for anyone except anyone who subscribes to any absolute view. If you believe in such outmoded concepts as the existence of God, Good and Evil, Right and Wrong, or even logic, then you are exempt from the benefit of Tolerance. Today, if you speak up and insist that the definition of marriage is ‘a sacred union between a man and a woman’, you will be silenced, labeled as a bigot, and (maybe) fired from your job.

(This actually happened to Brendan Eich in 2014, who had the temerity to donate a grand total of $3100 toward California’s Proposition 8, more than four years earlier. Even after slavishly apologizing, he was forced to resign after only 11 days as CEO of Mozilla Corporation.)

So I cringe whenever I hear the word ‘tolerance’, because I now recognize it as a clever (but dishonest) mechanism to silence unpopular viewpoints, especially those of Christians.

Fast forward to the present day, in the context of the Church. The value of “Unity” is much bandied-about by church leaders. I suspect that the word ‘Unity’ in the modern American church has become a club to silence those who might make others uncomfortable with hard truths from Scripture. At the risk of being clubbed myself, let’s look at what Unity is, and what it is not, according to Scripture.

Scripture (ESV) What Unity Is What Unity Is Not
1 Corinthians 1:10 — “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” Commanded for believers, achievable, resulting in the same mind and same judgment Agreeing to disagree
Acts 4:32 — “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” Having the same goals and allegiances, expressed by love in the form of sharing with each other Divorced from action
Philippians 2:2 — “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” Same as 1 Cor. 1:10 — commanded, achievable, reflecting people completely ‘being on the same page’ An automatic state of the Church, as opposed to something that involves a conscious choice and effort
Romans 14:19 — “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” Requires pursuit
Has an end result of making the church stronger
Is characterized by peace
An automatic grant of being a believer in a church
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ … Involves diligence and work to equip the entire body of Christ, needing many spiritual gifts to achieve Something that can be attained by immature, unequipped Christians

There are a LOT of passages in the Bible about Unity — I’ve only listed a few, and I don’t claim this is an exhaustive treatment of the term. But it is interesting to note how many of them include some variant of the phrase ‘same mind’. While it is true that Romans 14 teaches that some minor differences can be resolved through grace and maturity, many disagreements are about critical truths, closely connected to the ‘essentials of the faith’.

While road-tripping recently, Kathy read to me a chapter from Tactics, by Greg Koukl. I found a few of the things he wrote to be especially pertinent:

“If the notion of truth is central to Christianity, and the ability to argue is central to the task of knowing the truth, why do some Christians get upset when you try to find the truth through argument and disagreement? Two things come to mind that are especially applicable to those in a Christian setting, usually a church environment.”

“First, some fear division. When people are free to express strong differences of opinion, especially on theological issues, it threatens unity, they say. Consequently, the minute a disagreement surfaces, someone jumps in to shut down dissent in order to keep the peace. This is unfortunate.”

“True enough, Christians sometimes get distracted by useless disputes. Paul warns against wrangling about words and quarreling about foolish speculations (2 Timothy 2:14,23). But he also commands us to be diligent workmen, handling the word of truth accurately (2 Timothy 2:15). And, because some disputes are vitally important, Paul solemnly charges us to reprove, rebuke and exhort when necessary (2 Timothy 4:1-2). This cannot be done without some confrontation, but disagreement need not threaten genuine unity.”

Just a paragraph later, Koukl writes:

“There’s a second reason why Christians resist arguments. Some believers unfortunately take any opposition as hostility, especially if their own view is being challenged. In some circles it’s virtually impossible to take exception to a cherished view or a respected teacher without being labeled malicious.”

“This is a dangerous attitude for the church because the minute one is labeled mean-spirited simply for raising an opposing view, debate is silenced. If we disqualify legitimate discussion, we compromise our ability to know the truth.”

It seems clear to me that unity is not something the Church already has by default — it is a gift of God that can only be attained through obedience, united purpose and humble submission to the Holy Spirit. It is the result of a sustained, faithful effort, not achieved by simply silencing anyone who sounds the alarm. In the past year, the unity of my home church has been damaged by one-sided discussions on race, social justice and our response to COVID-19.

I use the term one-sided because (as in the case of workplace ‘tolerance’) the very rules of discourse seem to have pre-supposed that some arguments and positions are invalid, before they can even be heard. If I were to argue that racism in America has been largely eradicated, or that social justice shouldn’t involve stealing from the rich to give to the poor, or that masks don’t really protect us from COVID-19, I would be labeled as a racist bigot, an oppressor of the poor, and a hater of the vulnerable elderly.

Koukl ends his argument with these final remarks:

“When the church discourages principled debates and a free flow of ideas, the result is shallow Christianity and a false sense of unity. No one gets any practice learning how to field contrary views in a gracious and productive way. The oneness they share is contrived, not genuine. Worse, they lose the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff. Simply put, when arguments are few, error abounds.”

As believers, our unity must be centered on the gospel and the truth of God’s Word. It should draw us closer to Him and to each other. It should point people to Jesus. Above all the unity of God’s people should bring Him honor and glory. As Paul wrote:

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. (Romans 15:5–7)

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