Donald Miller, bestselling author of Blue Like Jazz, was on The Diane Rehm Show today talking about his new book, Father Fiction. The interview was excellent. He did a great job. His book is about his life growing up without a father. He talks about his issues, and the healing brought about by learning to forgive. My favorite part was hearing him speak courageously and positively (without being weird at all) about the church--the first place he says he received really positive affirmation. He's started a mentoring program for youth, and he's using the infrastructure of the church to pull it off. He speaks warmly of his pastor who taught him how to forgive his Dad. It made my day to hear the church spoken of so warmly on the radio. He's articulate, nuanced, and representing very well. Thank you, Don.

Adam Jones is a friend from church. He's studying medieval church history at SMU. He's an excellent thinker, teacher, and writer. He and his wife Christine are tremendous musicians, and we feel very grateful to the Lord to have them ministering with us at HBC. Check out his blog. He'll make you think, and if you have any sense of humor at all, he'll make you laugh out loud too. Enjoy.

This is our seventh summer in Dallas. Until this point, I have not been a big fan. It's just too dang hot. Now that I have children however, and we have moved to a different apartment, my attitude is changing. We're having a blast. It's so fun to watch the kids having such a good time with bikes, pools, and ice cream. We've especially enjoyed getting to know our neighbors, the Watsons.

We've hit it off. We have a lot in common: little kids, a love for ice cream, and the Christian faith. Kevin is working on his PhD at Perkins Seminary at Southern Methodist University. So, we love chatting theology while we laugh our heads off at the hilarious things our kids do.

One of the many running gags as been about our little Ecumenical movement. Though barely, since we are both Protestants (he's a Methodist, and I'm a Baptist), it's been fun to compare notes and discuss issues from our different perspectives.

Kevin gave me a copy of his book, A Blueprint for Discipleship: Wesley's General Rules as a Guide for Christian Living. It's a short work, 128 pages including the appendices. It's set up in nine chapters and is designed to be used in a small group setting. Kevin is an excellent writer with a gift for clarity and accessibility. You could totally hand this book to a brand new Christian without worries that he or she would be lost in the concepts or vocabulary. Each chapter has a nice review of the previous ground, which is especially helpful if you are going to use this over the course of nine weeks.

Watson's goal is to introduce and recommend John Wesley's method for Christian discipleship which is summarized in Wesley's essay entitled The Nature, Design, and General Rules of the United Societies (often referred to as "The General Rules") The essay is printed in its entirety in Appendix A.

Watson begins by giving the reader some historical background to Wesley and the Methodist tradition. He talks about Wesley's system of tiered meetings of small (band), medium (class), and large groups (Society). He continues by unpacking the General Rules of which there are three: (1) Do no harm; (2) Do all the good you can; and (3) Attend upon the ordinances of God. Watson shows the Biblical basis for these rules, restates them in contemporary lingo, and includes plenty of interesting illustrations to captivate the reader and to show the relevance of Wesley's outline to our present-day context.

Though Watson's intended audience is obviously the Methodist tradition of which he is a part, there are plenty of take-aways for Christians of other stripes. Wesley was an organizational genius, and a brilliant theologian. His wisdom still applies today. Though Protestants of other traditions won't agree with everything, the principle thesis should be universally accepted: Christian discipleship occurs best in gracious, but deliberate and disciplined community. It is not enough to fill our heads with Bible knowledge or drift from worship service to worship service. We must be intentional about asking one another the critical question in the context of loving relationships: "How is it with your soul?"

This book is challenging and convicting. And now that I'm getting to know its author, I appreciate it even more. He loves the Lord and His Church. Thanks, Kevin.

One of my best big brothers is Dr. Paul Gray. We had the privilege of meeting about seven years ago, attending the same church in Dallas, TX. He and his wife Becca (along with their two gorgeous children) have since moved to Ethiopia to serve as medical missionaries. Paul is a surgeon and Becca is a dietitian. You can read about their adventures here.

Paul and Becca are a constant source of encouragement to me. That may seem a bit backwards, since it is we the stateside "supporters" and "prayer partners" that are supposed to be the constant encouragement, right? Hardly.

(I know I'm going to get in trouble for this--Paul is not a fan of people singing his praises. He's one of the humblest men I've ever met, which makes me want to sing his praises even more. Sorry Paul, I'm not a very good friend.)

They walked away from the so-called "American Dream" for the sake of the advancement of the Gospel in Ethiopia. This made absolutely no sense at all to his surgical colleagues here in Texas. Why waste your life? It's a great question. And it's one that Paul has wrestled with in gut-wrenching honesty, an honesty that I deeply appreciate. He'll be the first to tell you he's no super-Christian. The thing that seems to motivate him to work countless hours "peeing in the ocean" is a rare and inspiring, tenacious faith in the Call of God for the sake of the Gospel. He sees some pretty horrible stuff over there. Sometimes, I can barely read his posts (which should tell you something, since I'm a surgical nurse myself. I'm supposed to be able to stomach this stuff). He works on--doing the best he possibly can with the resources he has to heal bodies and souls. Additionally, he is training and discipling Christian surgeons who will continue to extend their ministry of redemption to Ethiopia and other countries in Africa.

So they come to Texas a few months ago to have their daughter. They make the rounds, and we get to spend an afternoon visiting. Paul asks me how I'm doing (crazy doctor, won't let you get off with "I'm fine." He really wants to know and will continue asking diagnostic questions until he knows the state of your soul--because he cares and loves like Christ). I tell him it's tough being out of seminary, yet still working in the hospital, with no full-time church ministry. Worse, after the hours spent at the hospital, church, and family, I feel like I have no time to continue learning (and retaining) the things I learned in seminary. The fear of attrition and stagnation has me by the throat, with no end in sight. He asks, "What is it you'd like to be reading?" I tell him I've been thinking about this volume on church history that has been taunting me from the bookshelf for months. So he's like, "So read it. You've got to make the time." I'm like, "Paul there is no time." He's like, "Dan, there's never going to be time." He's right. Dang surgeon.

Haunting words. True words. Encouraging words. Good brother. I'm reading. I'm writing. I still have a lot of balls in the air, and I drop a few sometimes. But he's right. There's never going to be time. Of course, he'd acknowledge that life has seasons of ebb and flow. The time right after a new baby is not the same as the time when that baby is finally sleeping through the night, and is toilet trained. But the point still stands. Good intentions must be actualized by hard work and discipline. And sometimes you need a good brother to say, "Read the book." Thanks Paul. I love you. May the Lord bless your work and give you strength.

My Grandpa died Sunday, November 22. I flew home Monday the 23rd to be there for the viewing and funeral. My Dad's Dad, Grandpa was a career missionary. He spent thirty years in India, seven in Sri Lanka, and one in Guam. In his retirement he was active in his church, serving as a pastor to senior citizens among various other ministries, including a writing ministry through which he published two books, The Call of Net and Johnnie's Little Potato. He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Helen, along with four adult children, six grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren. I had the privilege of saying a few words at his funeral. I felt impressed upon to share the distinctly Christian concept of grief and hope in the face of death. Here's what I read:

As a Children’s Pastor, I like things that are easy to remember. The great truths of Scripture are easier to remember in groups. And, as Trinitarian Christians, of course we like things to be grouped in threes. So, when I ask the kiddos who the three persons are in the One True God I want them to answer: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. If I ask “What is the threefold office of Jesus Christ?” The answer, hopefully, is “Prophet, Priest, and King.” When we ask, “Who are the three great enemies that Christ has conquered?” The answer is “Sin, Death, and the Devil.”

Today we are witnesses at the funeral of an amazing life, a heroic life. A life saturated with the Graces of Christian virtue. When attending Christian funerals we are reminded that we do not grieve like others who have no hope. For Christians, our grief is mingled, even eclipsed at times by a profound hope––our loved one is with the Lord. This hope brings joy, and allows us to celebrate the fact that our loved one is no longer suffering, that he is in the presence of the Savior, that the sacrifices of his life are being rewarded in glory, and that his death will, someday, be undone when Christ returns and raises the dead.

But the Christian does still grieve. Not as one who has no hope, but grieve they do, nonetheless. Why? Because Death is one of the three great enemies. It reminds us that all is not well in the world. That Man, created out of the ground to rule over the ground should die, and be placed back under the ground he was created to tend is an unspeakable tragedy––one of the consequences of humans rebelling against our benevolent King––the Creator of the Universe, the world, and of Human beings. God warned our first parents in the Garden “the day you eat of it you shall surely die.” Here, a twofold separation is threatened: spiritual death––that is, a separation in the harmonious relationship between humans and God––making enemies out of intimate friends; And physical death, the tearing apart of our bodies and our souls. So, as Christians, we do not speak of death in friendly terms. Death is not our buddy. Death is not our pal. Death is not salvation, or release from the “prison cell” of the human body. Indeed, it is offensive to refer to our physical bodies, which our Creator called, “very good” as a “prison cell.” No, death, if we are to speak distinctly Christianly is one of the three Great Enemies. Paul says in his famous resurrection passage in 1 Corinthians chapter 15:

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Grandpa has succumbed to death--a great enemy. But the reason we do not despair in our grief is that our Savior and our God, Jesus Christ, conquered death. Spiritual death, by providing reconciliation with God by taking the punishment for our rebellion on the cross. And physical death by coming back to life. His resurrection body proves that he can and will resurrect the dead when he returns: physically, materially, hair, toenails, all of it will come back to life. Not saggy, not frumpy, but glorious, and beautiful.

So we may grieve. We hate death. Death is our enemy. We miss Grandpa. His seat is empty, and it makes us sad. Our grief is appropriate. But we do not despair in our grief. Because Grandpa is with the Lord, and because Grandpa’s body will one day be reunited with his soul and he will come back to life, as a beautiful immortal, physical Grandpa. This is Resurrection Hope. This is Christian Hope.

Grandpa exuded hope––he was so incredibly optimistic. Always whistling, always thankful, rarely, if ever, complaining. This hope fueled an incredibly generous life of self-sacrifice for the sake of advancing the Gospel. Going to his house meant entering into a world of hope.
Grandpa & Grandma’s house, especially as a young child was a bit magical. Grandpa’s enthusiasm and love for us was expressed in all kinds of creative adventures. He had a workshop next to his study down in the basement. This workshop was crammed full of all kinds of tools he would use to create special times for us. From making enormous kites with personalized reeling spools to handcrafting a chess set––He made things for us, and we were captivated by his creativity.

Going to his house also meant getting a glimpse of what made Grandpa tick. No, I’m not talking about his undying love for licorice, jelly beans, cherry pie, and all manor of sweet treats. No, I’m talking about his hopeful love for the Savior. During the cold months you could set your clock by the sounds of crumpled newspaper, the gentle thud of firewood and the scrape of an iron poker as he built his fire in his wood burning stove. Then you’d see him in his chair by the fire reading the Scriptures. In the evenings before bed we always had family worship which consisted of a Bible story, prayers, and songs. So from an early age, he instilled an idea of consistent and disciplined practices that expressed a love for the Savior––a love he very much wanted his grandchildren to embrace. Never weird, never pushy, just fun, optimistic, creative love for us, and for His Lord.

Later, in my own life, as I considered a long move down to Texas, contemplating his life gave me courage. For Grandpa, the call of the Gospel meant steaming away on a ship, leaving close family for five years at a time without airplanes, email, or affordable telephone to shrink the distance. His calling also meant saying goodbye to his children for significant periods of time as they went off to boarding school. Comparing our move to Texas, (a mere thousand miles away––and with all the conveniences of air travel, email, cell phones, and now Skype) to his journey to India helped me to gain an appropriate perspective on what it means to follow one’s calling for the sake of the Gospel. He lived a beautiful life of courageous sacrifice. I want to be like him. I want my son to be like him. I would call John Henry Blosser a good man, worthy of honor, and acclaim. But his consistent, humble spirit, would always deflect such accolades to the Savior he loved, not in a manor smacking of false humility, but in gentleness and authenticity. I love him and I miss him. I look forward with confident hope that I will see him again, whole and glorious, and hopefully with a kite in hand and a playful grin on his face.

Oct 9, 2009

Still Life

My wife and I share a growing interest in photography. Over the past eight years of our marriage, we've owned several cameras. Each time one "dies" usually after considerable use, we modestly upgrade as our budget allows. Our current camera, a Canon S5 IS has served us well as we continue learning the basics of photography.

Recently some friends asked my wife if she would be willing to shoot some pictures of their musical instruments. They want to make enlargements to do some interesting photo-decor in one of the rooms in their house--the practice room. My wife volunteered, "Well Dan can do it--he's more of the still-life guy. He has more patience with the tripod." This gave us both a chuckle, as neither of us has ever actually vocalized this distinction. It's true that she takes most of the people pictures, and I take most of the "thing" pictures. Anyway, I thought it would be fun to post a couple of our favorites. I'll post the originals and the "photoshopped" edited versions. You may think this is "cheating," but the truth is that most (if not all) professionals do some simple things in some sort of photo editing software to make their pictures "pop." We currently use iPhoto, but plan to upgrade to Photoshop Elements in the near future.







Oct 7, 2009

Church Discipline

This is always a sticky subject. No one likes doing it, but as Calvin points out, church discipline is an absolute necessity to maintain the health of the church:

Accordingly, as the saving doctrine of Christ is the soul of the church, so does discipline serve as its sinews, through which the members of the body hold together, each in its own place. Therefore, all who desire to remove discipline or to hinder its restoration––whether they do this deliberately or out of ignorance––are surely contributing to the ultimate dissolution of the church. For what will happen if each is allowed to do what he pleases? Yet that would happen, if to the preaching of doctrine there were not added private admonitions, corrections, and other aids of the sort that sustain doctrine and do not let it remain idle. Therefore, discipline is like a bridle to restrain and tame those who rage against the doctrine of Christ; or like a spur to arouse those of little inclination; and also sometimes like a father's rod to chastise mildly and with the gentleness of Christ's Spirit those who have more seriously lapsed. When, therefore, we discern frightful devastation to threaten the church because there is no concern and no means of restraining the people, necessity itself cries out that a remedy is needed. Now, this is the sole remedy that Christ has enjoined and the one that has always been used among the godly.
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book IV, Chapter XII, I.