Monday, December 20, 2010

Welfare Queen Wants Our Money

Take a good look at the picture above. According to, this woman in the photo was unable to be one of the "lucky" people to receive a federal assistance for her heating bill, which she is holding in her hands. The article described the assistance, how it's been cut this year, and a few words with her (she's not happy) and one other fellow who was able to receive some help.

What the folks at didn't mention was that large 55-or-so-inch-TV in the background. And if you look carefully, it appears that a game console is hooked up to it.

Thanks to theblogprof for bringing this example of injustice to my attention.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Barack Obama Birth Certificate Jokes

Here is a small collection of humor on the above theme:

Q: What is the difference between President Obama and his dog Bo?
A: Bo has papers.

Q: Where does the CIA keep their most tightly guarded secrets?
A: Right next to President Obama's birth certificate.

Q: Why isn't the Obama administration taking a harder stand against the Wikileaks releases?
A: Rumor has it they found President Obama's birth certificate.

Got any more good ones? Please leave a comment with the humor below.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Happy Thought

Pittsburgh 13, Baltimore 10.

The first half was anything but a serenely enjoyable football game for me, but the way the Steelers hung in and played a great second half was wonderful. The key turnover in the late fourth quarter, followed by Roethlisberger's pushing off Suggs to save a sack and then Redman breaking tackles on his way into the end zone on 3rd-and-9...these are serene, yet exciting, thoughts.

The Steelers are in position to gain the #2 seed in the AFC if they can beat the Jets and win at least two of their other three games. The despised Patriots, though, are poised to be the #1 seed. This could get interesting....

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

The word "doxology" comes from the Latin (and, ultimately, the Greek) words for "glory" (doxa-) and "word" (-logia). Its definition is "an expression of praise to God, especially a short hymn sung as part of a Christian worship service."

The words of the famous doxology above date to 1674 and are attributed to Thomas Ken. The tune, the "Old 100th," dates back another century further. But even though this is a very old piece of music, its truth is everlasting: Praise God! All blessings come from Him; all creatures benefit and should return praise; even the heavenly angels must praise Him. Much of the book of Psalms repeats this very same refrain.

Thanksgiving is this week, and gives us an annual reminder that we have much for which to be grateful. But we must praise God every day; "doxology" should be constantly on our lips and in our hearts. Let us not be negligent to praise and thank Him from Whom all has been given to us.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Michael Vick: My Thoughts, Three Years Later

Back in 2007, Michael Vick was convicted and imprisoned for several crimes related to dog fighting and mistreatment of dogs. Unlike many people, I thought he got a punishment appropriate for his crimes; furthermore, the loss of public esteem and untold millions of potential earnings heaped even further punishment on his head.

I blogged about this in August of 2007 (here and here), and pointed out that while Vick's crimes were barbaric, that they are no more barbaric than the "legal" practice of abortion that goes on daily in this country.

Vick has served his time. He continues to give speeches against dogfighting and, if anything, has raised public awareness of this vulgar activity. Now that his punishment has been served, we as citizens need to accept his public confession and allow him the opportunity to function as a member of the community--just like any of the rest of us.

Think about what God has done for us. We were wicked, vile, and vulgar sinners, deserving of a punishment for our sins. But God offered us His Son, who paid that punishment--it is done. Those of us who have accepted His offer of salvation can see that price only in the rearview mirror of our lives.

I don't know if Michael Vick is a Christian or not, but we must treat him as God has treated us: As a sinner who had a sentence to serve--and that sentence has been served.

And those abortion doctors, by the way....they need salvation, too. And if one of them gets saved and repents of his sins and turns from his wickedness, then we have to love him as a Christian brother, as God commands.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

These Kids Are Good!

Tonight was "Fine Arts Night" for me and my wife. The first part of our evening was spent at our eldest daughter's junior high band concert. There were two groups, actually: An all-strings ensemble and then a more traditional band, in which my daughter plays the trumpet.

The strings group was composed of 18 violins and violas (and for two pieces, two high school cellists joined them; evidently, there are no junior high cellists at the school). They were, in a word, good. I mean, really good. As in, most high school string groups of this size would have trouble rivaling them.

My daughter's group was composed of 34 instrumentalists, including 12 trumpets. I'm not sure if this group had fewer experienced kids, because they weren't quite as polished as the first group—but they were still good. And they've only been together for three months.

It made me glad my children go to school at BJ.

My wife and I left that venue and walked five minutes across campus to Rodeheaver Auditorium where we enjoyed a production of The Tempest by the University Classic Players. We fully expected a first-class production, and we were not disappointed. Each of us participated in a Shakespearean play while we were students at Bob Jones University, so we have some idea about what to anticipate.

The acting, staging, and special effects were all very good. The Classic Players always does an excellent job, and I am glad I could enjoy a "date" with my wife to this performance.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Book Review: Head Stuffing Doesn't Work by Donovan Hadaway

My friend Donovan recently released this book on the Kindle platform. You can preview and/or purchase it at this link.

Donovan's main thought is related to the title of the book: A good education is not the result of stuffing heads with facts. For a teacher to be effective, he must learn some simple philosophical concepts of learning that are—all too obviously—at odds with today's political correctness and public education establishment mentality.

Donovan sprinkles (heavily) his text with humor, sarcasm, and wit. It is an easy read, but it is a good read—essentially, the kind of book all teachers should both want to read and find time to read.

I haven't finished mine yet, but I hope to complete it soon. I encourage you to get a copy as well.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Why We Should Sing Hymns

A lot of people—especially those younger than me—either do not go to church or do not attend churches where hymns are sung. I think this is a shame.

There are several important reasons why Christians should sing hymns. Here are a few.

1) The Bible commands us to sing hymns (Col. 3:16).

2) Good hymns (and there are many) remind and/or teach us important doctrinal principles.

3) Good hymns encourage the soul. They can be particularly comforting in times of distress, sorrow, and fear.

4) The music of nearly all hymns is inherently good. It is the kind of music that we should be filling our minds with, and is infinitely better than much of what is called "Christian music" today.

5) Good hymns are conducive to an atmosphere of worship.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Congratulations, Michigan!

Congratulations, Michigan. You were not so "blown away" that you couldn't get to the polls and vote for the "right" kind of change. You were not so foolish as to think that more years of democrat control in Lansing would somehow be helpful. You managed to exercise your vote well.

For your efforts, you now have a Republican (if not actually conservative) governor, a Republican House, and a two-thirds Republican majority in the Senate. You have installed a Republican Attorney General, Secretary of State, two Supreme Court justices, and members of higher education boards. You sent a couple new Republicans to Congress. You installed Republican officials at a variety of other levels of government.

You are off to a good start...but you aren't done. You need to pressure your elected officials to support (i.e., vote for) smaller government, lower taxes, fewer regulations on business, and the return of authority, where appropriate, to local units of government. You need to continue to keep local citizens informed and, like yourself, active. You need to consider who is going to run for office in 2011 and 2012, and start now to prepare for the election of additional, freedom-loving, conservatives in the days ahead.

Keep up the good work.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rich Rodriguez: Republican vs. Democrat Perspectives

Rich Rodriguez is the third-year head football coach at the University of Michigan. He arrived as something of a foreigner, having left his previous job under a cloud of controversy. Nevertheless, when he arrived in Ann Arbor to take his job, he was greeted with much jubilation and high hopes for success.

The results: His football team, since 2008, has an overall record of 13-19. Big Ten Conference record: 4-16. He is 0-3 against Penn State and 0-2 against Ohio State; two of those four wins came against Indiana. He has lost home games to Toledo, Purdue, and Northwestern...but did get a 63-6 win over Delaware State last season. Furthermore, his mostly-ethics-free approach to the coaching profession has brought NCAA investigations to U of M. In short, his time as leader has been something like a train wreck.

Republican Perspective: Rich Rodriguez has had the opportunity to lead successfully and he has not. He has demonstrated poor ethics. He does not seem to grasp the magnitude of his, or his team's, failures. He has displeased his constituency. In short, he needs to be replaced at the next appropriate opportunity.

Democratic Perspective: He's beaten Indiana twice! And wasn't that a great game against Delaware State!?! Let's elect this guy as governor!

So given the liberal atmosphere in Ann Arbor, he might just be there for years and years to come, much to the delight of Nittany Lion and Buckeye fans.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Father...Thy Will Be Done

In Matthew 6:9-13, we find the Lord's Prayer, one of the best known passages in the entire Bible.

9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
As Christ teaches us to pray to the Father, notice the highlighted words in verse 10.

On Friday I was reading Matthew 26 and encountered the following excerpt from Jesus Christ's time in the Garden of Gethsemane, hours before His crucifixion:
42 He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.
Notice the highlighted words. In the Greek, they are also identical phrases. As Jesus taught us to pray for His Father's will to be done, so He, too, prayed for His Father's will to be done.

Notice, too, that the will of the Father was not something to be "enjoyed," in Christ's case: He was about to suffer the punishment for the sins of all mankind. The will of God in our lives is not always something we look forward to with glee and anticipation; it may be something difficult or painful. However, if it is God's will, it is the best thing we can experience at that time. Whenever He brings challenges or trials into our lives, it is for our good and for His glory.

So at all times, let us, like Jesus Christ, say "Thy will be done."

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Get Out And Vote!

Elections are on November 2. Plan to vote on that day at your local polling place.

This is the time of year when we are all reminded that elections have consequences. That every vote counts. That they who do not vote should not complain about the results. One of the [inaccurate] retorts is that "My vote doesn't make a difference." Baloney!

Every vote counts. We, the people, need to send a very loud message to those whom we send to Lansing, Columbia, every other state capital, and Washington D.C.: Repudiate, Repeal, and Renounce the foolishness of the past two years! Repeal Obamacare! Get the budget under control! Reform and/or remove entitlement programs!

Your vote for candidates who support these positions just makes the collective voice a little bit louder. Together, all of us can scream loudly and clearly that we are severely displeased with the unconstitutional direction our government has taken, and that we expect our elected officials to turn it back in the right and constitutional direction.

It is only an educated, moral, active electorate that can be trusted to choose leaders of integrity, honesty, and competence. Do your part.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Warnings for Homeschoolers: Arrogance

This is the fifth in a series of posts about homeschooling. If you haven't read the first four, you may want to do that first, but here are a few theses about what I'm going to write both now, and in any posts to come:

  • Children must receive an education based on the Word of God.
  • Parents must be involved in their children's education.
  • I believe that if a person decides that, after wisely considering the options, praying, and researching, that they ought to homeschool their children, I am OK with that, and I wish them well. These posts are written in the spirit of graciously warning them about some perils in the path.
  • The key question: What is, in the will of God, the best option for providing quality Christian education to my children?
I want to distinguish here between "wholesome pride" and arrogance, so there is no confusion about what I am describing.

"Wholesome pride" is the emotion which takes a justifiable pleasure in something done well. It is not primarily selfish, nor does it gloat. It is the emotion a parent may feel when his child wins a contest, makes a big play in a ball game, or does something kind and selfless for another person. One can have a wholesome pride in his country (and for those of us who live in America, we should), in the military, in his favorite ball team, in his alma mater, or in his own accomplishments. "Wholesome" connotes that it is not sinful.

"Arrogance," on the other hand, is primarily selfish. It comes with the attitude of "Look what I [or my child, or my husband, etc.] have done, and envy—or be humbled. I [or the other person] can do this better than you." It is quite similar to the pride spoken of in Scripture, in passages such as Proverbs 8:13, 16:18; Daniel 5:20; and Obadiah 3. "Arrogance" is always sinful.

Most homeschoolers I have met fit into one of the two categories. Those in the first category may say (or silently communicate) such thoughts as these, in a humble tone:
  • I am so glad to be able to homeschool my children.
  • My child is now able to ____.
  • Homeschooling has allowed our family to ____.
Furthermore, as they communicate with others about homeschooling, they will exhibit gratitude for the opportunities, blessings, and results which accompany it. If Christian, they will thank God for what happens.

The other group, however, tends to exhibit their arrogance in ways that betray what they are doing. Here are a few common illustrations:
  • "My child can ____." [Comment delivered in a prideful/overbearing tone] Sure, overbearing parents exist in every form of education. But when it's the teacher/parent who is prideful about what his child can do, the impression is compounded.
  • "No one can teach my children better than I can." Maybe so. But there are two big assumptions underlying the statement: You know your child and his educational strengths and weaknesses better than anyone, and you have the pedagogical skill to help him learn better than any other teacher could. The first, to be honest, is likely. The second is not. And on top of it all, your pride will make you a weaker teacher. Humility tends to help us see our own weaknesses more successfully—so that we can improve them.
  • "We do a better job teaching our child than ____ School would." Or, "Our child gets better achievement test scores than the kids at ____ School." Again, that may be true. If "the local public school" goes in the blank, well, you should be disappointed if you aren't. Be careful about comparing your child to the "average" student of any school, though; all schools have their higher achievers as well as their lower ones. Comparisons should be cautious at best.
Most importantly, though, arrogance has a disconcerting way of seeping down to the next generation. If your children see you being arrogant, whether about your skills as the parent/teacher or about their achievements, the seeds of pride will be sown in their own hearts. If your child grows up to be prideful, then were you really the best teacher he could have had?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Warnings for Homeschoolers: Socialization

This is the fourth in a series of posts about homeschooling. If you haven't read the first three, you may want to do that first, but here are a few theses about what I'm going to write both now, and in the posts to come:

  • Children must receive an education based on the Word of God.
  • Parents must be involved in their children's education.
  • I believe that if a person decides that, after wisely considering the options, praying, and researching, that they ought to homeschool their children, I am OK with that, and I wish them well. These posts are written in the spirit of graciously warning them about some perils in the path.
  • The key question: What is, in the will of God, the best option for providing quality Christian education to my children?
This is by far the most overblown warning offered by those who don't homeschool. The problem is that there are just enough examples out there to provide the anecdotal evidence some people want to see.

The simple fact is that young people in all sorts of educational settings—public, private, homeschool—range from the unnaturally shy to the abnormally gregarious. Most likely, they would demonstrate the same personalities regardless of the schools they attend.

And of course, for every example of a strange homeschool kid who doesn't know how to act around his peers, there will be another example of one who not only socializes well, but also interacts maturely with adults, with children—with people of any age.

This warning is a simple one: If you homeschool, take care to do two things.
  1. Give your children opportunities to constructively interact with others their own age, as well as others both younger and older than themselves. These opportunities could come at church, in Little League, with the neighbors, or in community organizations. It is true that kids should learn how to interact with others, and it is important that they get practice doing so. A well-rounded child should be able to interact with normal people younger, older, or similar in age to himself.
  2. Teach your children social interaction skills. Manners aren't dead; courtesy never goes out of style. Model proper interaction when your children are present. Critique what you view together on TV (where you will certainly see plenty of examples of how not to behave in social settings). Share suggestions at meals on proper table etiquette. Remind children that they need to consider the feelings and emotions of others.
Really, these things apply to all of us who have children, whether we homeschool or not: If we give our children these opportunities and teach them how to interact socially, they will likely do quite well.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Warnings for Homeschoolers: Curriculum

This is the third in a series of posts about homeschooling. If you haven't read the first two, you may want to do that first, but here are a few theses about what I'm going to write both now, and in the posts to come:

  • Children must receive an education based on the Word of God.
  • Parents must be involved in their children's education.
  • I believe that if a person decides that, after wisely considering the options, praying, and researching, that they ought to homeschool their children, I am OK with that, and I wish them well. These posts are written in the spirit of graciously warning them about some perils in the path.
  • The key question: What is, in the will of God, the best option for providing quality Christian education to my children?
Once the decision is made to homeschool, one of the biggest decisions—and one of the hardest—is deciding what curriculum materials to use. The reason it's hard is because most parents are not curriculum experts. Here are some common options (but certainly not the only ones):
  • Curriculum materials from Christian publishers, such as BJU Press, A Beka, and others
  • Curriculum materials from secular publishers
  • Online/video courses from a variety of sources
Some parents may choose to use one publisher exclusively for all (or most) subjects; others may choose to be more eclectic. Then, of course, deciding how the curriculum is going to be unveiled to the student:
  • Will the parent "teach" in a traditional sense, lesson-by-lesson?
  • Will the parent supervise as the student learns, for the most part, on his own?
  • Will the parent be completely hands-off and rely upon videos, online classes, etc.?
The materials used to educate your children are very important. [Disclaimer: I work for one of the largest Christian textbook publishers in the country.] Let me begin by listing some reasons parents should not use for choosing any particular curriculum over another:
  • This is what my friend recommends. That's nice, but is your friend an expert on how to educate, or more to the point, how to educate your children? A surprising number of decisions seem to be made based on nothing more than an informal suggestion.
  • This is what the salesperson told me would work best. Keep in mind: They are salespeople. They are compensated based on their ability to convince you of this. Again: Does the salesperson know what's best for your children?
  • This curriculum is cheaper. That might be true of the milk with tomorrow's "Sell By" date, too, but that isn't necessarily a good reason to buy it. Sometimes you get what you pay for.
Here are some things I think every Christian homeschooler must consider before making curriculum decisions:
  1. Research extensively. What works for your best friend's kids may not work for yours...and that's OK. You need to go to trade shows, visit conferences, get on the internet, physically look at the books, and-yes-talk to the salespeople, etc., in order to get a good feel for what is out there. And the less you know about pedagogy, the more research you need to do. Ask for the opinions of those who have wisdom and knowledge in the field. If you do not know anyone like that, hunt them down. Plan to spend serious numbers of hours on this; it could be one of the biggest homeschooling mistakes you make...or one of the best decisions.
  2. Use Christian materials to the greatest extent possible. There is a place within the curriculum for age-and-maturity-appropriate exposure to classical literature, current political events, and so forth. For the most part, however, quality Christian curricular materials are available for every major subject, and should form the core of your homeschooling curriculum. If you really expect to give your children a Bible-based education, you should use Bible-based materials in each subject.
  3. Know your limitations as the teacher. Not a chemistry expert? Can't remember a thing about geometry? Then take this into account when choosing curriculum. There is a saying that says something like, "The parent just has to stay a chapter ahead of the child." Baloney. Then the child will remain one chapter behind you. If you cannot teach it with confidence, consider how you could get your child to learn the material more successfully.
  4. Try to avoid "hands-off" options. This is the balance to the previous point. Some parents leave their children in a room with a screen to "watch school." This is not ideal. The parent, no matter what his or her knowledge level in a given subject, needs to stay involved and aware with each lesson, so as to best help the child when it's needed. Even if the parent isn't a chemistry expert, he or she should still be keeping abreast of the coursework the child is completing.
  5. You may have to stay cognizant of state requirements, but it's often OK to think outside the box. This is particularly important if you have several children being schooled at the same time. Can two or more children be working on the same coursework? Is one able to help (note: I did not say "teach") others who are younger? Don't go overboard, though: Reading, math, science, and history—and, of course, the Bible—are all still critical elements of a proper education; don't leave them out.
Remember that the key is to help your children receive the best possible, quality Christian education that you are able to provide. It will take research, time, and effort. It won't always be fun. Choosing the best curriculum for your children will go a long way to that end.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Warnings for Homeschoolers: Making the Decision

Why homeschool? My wife and I got this question back in 2008 when we began homeschooling our two eldest children. It is not a decision one arrives at lightly.

Let me list what I believe are not key reasons to choose to homeschool. They may be "contributing factors" to such a decision, but should not be the "key reason:"

  • Money: Either the cost of homeschooling materials, or the cost of alternatives, such as Christian school, is often used as a reason to homeschool or not to homeschool.
  • Personalities: I don't like so-and-so at that school/I don't think so-and-so is that good of a teacher.
  • Convenience: Homeschooling can be convenient: The schedule is flexible, you won't need a lot of gasoline, and snow days aren't really an issue.
Here is what I believe is the key question around which the decision to homeschool centers:
  • What is, in the will of God, the best option for providing quality Christian education to my children?
"Quality," in line with a post I wrote several weeks ago, implies that the education is both thoroughly Christian (i.e., from a Christian, Bible-based worldview) and academically challenging.

Some people have no other quality Christian education option in their geographic area, so the decision to homeschool may not be difficult. Others will have one or more Christian schools from which to choose. This is where the "best" part comes in. It may be that a local Christian school will be able to provide a more thorough, educationally robust Christian education than the parent can. And that's OK.

Most importantly, the will of God must be discerned through prayer and counsel.

My parents provided an excellent example of this. They had Christian school options. They realized that neither of them really knew much about teaching or education (in an academic sense), so they never gave homeschooling much thought. They knew that, in the will of God, the best thing, for their three children to get a quality Christian education, was to send them to a local Christian school. They sacrificed to get the money, they didn't let personalities interfere, and convenience wasn't allowed to be an issue. For this, I and my brothers must be ever grateful.

Two years ago, when it came to our turn to make this decision, we went a different route: We concluded, in the will of God, that the best decision for our two eldest children, for them to get a quality Christian education, was to homeschool them. For our two youngest, we continued to keep them in a local Christian school, for the same reasons.

And now that we have moved to a new state, the decision has changed again: All four children are in an excellent Christian school, where they will get a quality Christian education. We believe that, in the will of God, this is the best choice.

Who knows? Maybe this will change again some day, but we will always be looking for the will of God to be done, so that our children can get the best quality Christian education we can provide.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Warnings for Homeschoolers: Introduction

I know a lot of people who homeschool; we homeschooled two of our children from 2008-10. I know that many people do a great job educating their children in this way; there are also quite a few who do not. And I also know that I am passionate about children getting the best possible education their parents can provide.

When it comes to homeschooling, there are two principles that I think are inviolable:

  • Homeschooling is not for everyone. Or in other words, there are some parents who would be wise not to homeschool their children.
  • Not everyone who decides to homeschool knows how to do it well.
The decision to homeschool is never one to be taken lightly. It is a decision which should be preceded by large amounts of both prayer and research. And whether parents decide to homeschool or not, they must remain involved in their children's education.

I intend to write a group of posts related to warnings for homeschoolers. They are mainly aimed at those who enter into the homeschool venture with less than a full understanding of what they are getting (or, have gotten) themselves into. I think that homeschoolers tend to make the most major mistakes in three key areas:
  • Curriculum: What should be covered? What textbooks/materials will I use to teach my children...or will I use videos or online education?
  • Socializing: Yes, the media has overblown this...badly. But it seems that a lot of homeschoolers err on both sides of this issue.
  • Arrogance: Some homeschoolers will tell you that there is no one that can train their children better than they can...or if they don't say it (because they have some degree of tact), their attitudes give it away. Maybe they're right—but pride can be a dangerous element in the homeschool environment. Many spurn the well-intentioned and wise advice of others. This is not good.
Please be assured that if a person decides that, after wisely considering the options, praying, and researching, that they ought to homeschool their children, I am OK with that, and I wish them well. These will be written in the spirit of graciously warning them about some perils in the path.

Monday, September 27, 2010

China Got Something Right

Background: In 1999, there was a fad for counting down the days, hours, minutes, and seconds until the start of the year 2000. Along these lines, for Christmas 1998 someone bought me a "Countdown to the New Millennium" clock that counted down the days, hours, minutes, and seconds until the beginning of 2000. For 372 days, it ran smoothly. Once 1/1/2000 arrived, it could be converted into a typical clock.

Apparently some capitalist (whether American or Chinese, I know not) realized that people were amused by these and repurposed them into "Countdown to Retirement" clocks after the year 2000 had arrived. Someone bought my father one during 2000; at that time, he had almost six years to go. It kept time smoothly until the date he set in 2006. He actually waited several months longer to retire, but after he did, he gave the clock to me, figuring that as the oldest child, I might actually retire first.

As of today, the clock reads 10,000 days. Tomorrow, it will read 9,999...and so forth.

The surprising thing is that both these clocks are still running after over a decade of use...on the same batteries! Neither one has had the batteries changed since they were purchased. Both of them say "Made in China" on the back.

So what we have here is a Chinese-made product of a high level of quality. Incredible.

Penn State's Big Ten Football Schedule

Now that Penn State has opened with a 3-1 record, here is the Big Ten portion of their upcoming schedule:

Oct. 2 at Iowa
Oct. 9 Illinois
Oct. 16 Open
Oct. 23 at Minnesota
Oct. 30 Michigan
Nov. 6 Northwestern
Nov. 13 at Ohio State
Nov. 20 at Indiana (Landover, Md.)
Nov. 27 Michigan State

Pittsburgh Steelers 2010 Schedule

The Steelers have three games behind them now; here's a look at the rest of their schedule:

Sunday, Oct. 3, 1 p.m.: Baltimore
Sunday, Oct. 17, 1 p.m.: Cleveland
Sunday, Oct. 24, 1 p.m.: @Miami
Sunday, Oct. 31, 8:20 p.m.: @New Orleans (NBC)
Monday, Nov. 8, 8:30 p.m.: @Cincinnati (ESPN)
Sunday, Nov. 14, 8:20 p.m.: New England (NBC)
Sunday, Nov. 21, 1 p.m.: Oakland
Sunday, Nov. 28, 1 p.m.: @Buffalo
Sunday, Dec. 5, 8:20 p.m.: @Baltimore (NBC)
Sunday, Dec. 12, 1 p.m.: Cincinnati
Sunday, Dec. 19, 4:15 p.m.: New York Jets
Thursday, Dec. 23, 8:20 p.m.: Carolina (NFL)
Sunday, Jan. 2, 1 p.m.: @Cleveland

Games are on CBS unless indicated otherwise.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The IRS Gets Something Right, But....

One of the obscure benefits of being a tax preparer is getting regular e-mails and news releases from the IRS. At least 90% of them are irrelevant to me or repeat things I already know well, but Friday saw the arrival of some important news. Here is the quote:

Individuals and business taxpayers will no longer receive paper income tax packages in the mail from the IRS. These tax packages contained the forms, schedules and instructions for filing a paper income tax return.

The IRS is taking this step because of the continued growth in electronic filing and the availability of free options to taxpayers, as well as to help reduce costs. In early October, the IRS will send a postcard to individuals who filed paper returns last year and did not use a tax preparer or tax software. The information will explain how to get the tax forms and instructions they need for filing their tax year 2010 return. The forms and instructions will be available in early January 2011.
This will probably save the IRS—in other words, the taxpayers—tens of millions of dollars, and for this I applaud them. The IRS is also making a similar change for businesses, although relatively few businesses use paper returns. Of course, nearly all tax forms and their (sometimes voluminous) instructions are available on the website, further reducing the need for paper forms to be mailed.

So the IRS got one right. They also got one wrong. Included in the same e-mail news was the following:
Publication 4845, Key Points about Residential Energy Credits, is now available in Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Russian. The flyer highlights key points about the Nonbusiness Energy Property Credit and the Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit.
So our tax dollars were spent writing a document in languages which it need not be written in. This also gives immigrants (legal and otherwise) one less incentive to learn the English language and better assimilate into our culture. Of course, if English were the official language, this would be much less of an issue.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Decline of the Christian School Movement

I was reminiscing with someone earlier this week. Fifteen years ago, as a young math teacher with just two years' experience, I was looking for a different Christian school at which to teach. Even though I had only listed my name with my alma mater's placement office—and had done very little active searching beyond that—the contacts from schools were frequent. For a season, it seemed like I heard from another new school every day or two. The maxim that "Math teachers are always in high demand" never seemed more true.

By 2010, as a much more experienced teacher with a far more impressive resume, the opportunities were few, and generally so low-paying as to not be options at all. Now I work at BJU Press (which, I hasten to say, I enjoy very much), possibly having left Christian school teaching behind for good.

In the 1980's and 1990's, Christian schools were often growing. Today, few are.* Why is this? I would like to offer several key reasons that I have seen from my own vantage points.

Parents: Sadly, fewer and fewer parents view the financial sacrifice of Christian education as worthwhile for their children. While the next two points below may have something to do with that, even those parents with good Christian school options in their area are often passing up the opportunity.

Many of my parents' generation decided that, no matter what, their children would not receive the humanistic worldview and education found in the typical public school classroom. They wanted a better education, one centered on the Bible and free of the politically correct and godless brainwashing so prevalent in public education. Today's parents are more convinced that they can somehow counter what their kids absorb in public education.

Parents also have a responsibility to instill a desire for excellence and a love of learning into their children, and to model such things in their own lives. This seems to be less common than it was when I was a kid.

Lowering of Standards, both academic and otherwise: This, quite frankly, is a terrible shame. A Christian education should—must—be both thoroughly Christian and academically excellent.

Some Christian schools have bought into the idea that if they stop teaching about certain potentially controversial Bible principles, or if they open up their admissions policies to accept students from families that do not have similar beliefs, or if they lower their dress and behavioral standards so that carnal fashions and behaviors aren't rebuked, they will retain students and/or grow. Decades of observations seem to tell us the opposite: You can't have much of a Christian school [as defined for this post] by doing so. Furthermore, you certainly can't expect God's blessing on it.

The lowering of academic standards is shameful. Just because we live in an age where parents will howl if their precious little one doesn't get the honor roll grades they feel they so richly deserve [when, in fact, they are not deserved] does not mean we need to make it possible for all kids to find their names on the honor roll. Christian schools should be trying to provide quality faculty with a desire to shape young minds both spiritually and academically—and then making sure that academic quality is a part of the picture. Christian schools may brag that their test scores are better than the public schools' scores, but this is a bogus comparison. They ought to be far and away better than the public schools, first because they are not accepting every kid in the district, but primarily because the quality of the education is high.

What parent is going to sacrifice for a Christian education if the "Christian" is diluted and the "education" isn't strong?

Mismanagement: The majority of Christian schools have not been run well. In many cases, they are (a) led by pastors with somewhat autocratic authority, who have no training or experience in running a school and usually don't supervise its day-to-day operations anyway; (b) run by school boards comprised either of parents [who, in most cases, cater to the whims of the students, wanting to "keep them happy"] or of a generally uninvolved group of church leaders; or (c) led by administrators who are not trained in school administration. The number of Christian school administrators/principals who got the job simply because they were a relative or friend of the pastor or another church leader is an absolute outrage.

Furthermore, it seems that too much administrative effort has been put into placating parents and pleasing students, and too little put into improving the academic and spiritual climate of the school.

Christian schools would do well to figure out who they are, and then strive to do what they do better. Their leaders should ask, "Is this what we believe the Bible teaches? Is this the kind of education we want to provide?" Once those sorts of questions are answered, then stick with it, and quit trying to pleasing everyone.

Homeschooling Movement: I have no problem with those who, out of conviction, choose to homeschool their children, thinking it to be the best way to educate their children, and doing so with all the skill they can muster. I have no respect for those who make it into a glorified form of truancy.

On the one hand, there are those who have taken their children out of good, solid Christian schools to homeschool them anyway. (I am not at all convinced that the majority of them have righteous motives for doing so. I'm thinking of writing a series of posts on problems with homeschooling, too.) Some feel that they can do a better job, but if the Christian school is providing the kind of quality education it should, that's a pretty tall order that most parents, toiling alone, cannot do.

On the other hand, there are those who have seen mismanagement and lowered standards and decided that they can indeed do a better job. Perhaps they can.

Whether or not the homeschool crowd is doing a good job is not the point in this post. The point is that students are being taken out of Christian schools to be homeschooled...and that's hurting Christian schools of various types and qualities.

*The definition of Christian schools, for the purposes of this post, is somewhat limited to those that openly and literally believe the Bible as the authoritative Word of God, that hire only teachers with similar doctrinal beliefs, and that seek only students from families and churches with similar doctrinal beliefs. "Christian schools" of a more ecumenical nature, which hold other doctrines, or have more "open" admission policies are not in this discussion.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

South Carolina DMV, Part 2. And Part 3.

Last Saturday saw my wife and I spending about an hour and a half just getting our shiny new SC driver's licenses, good for ten years, at a cost of $25 each. One afternoon this week, on an extended lunch break, we headed back to Greenville to get our license plates.

The trek did not start with the DMV. No, our first destination was the county building, where we had to pay our taxes on our cars. In SC, taxes are assessed based on the value of the car—which, thankfully, meant we didn't have to pay too much. [Comparison note: What we ended up paying by the end of the day was comparable to what we paid for the same cars in Michigan each year. However, it appears new/newer cars are taxed more severely in South Carolina.] But even this stop was not singular: We first had to have a tax bill for each car generated by one clerk, who then sent us to another room where we paid the bills.

The DMV is across the street from the county building, so we headed over there and took a number...and waited...and after sitting for about a half hour finally got to the counter. We chose the "In God We Trust" license plates [Note to other states: No additional charge] because the Bob Jones University license plates cost an extra $70—each. This choice meant waiting for another clerk. After being separated from more of our money, we left with license plates in hand. The total time spent: About another hour and a half.

Some final comparisons:

  1. When it comes to one-stop shopping, Michigan has South Carolina beat easily.
  2. Our costs were comparable to what we paid before in Michigan, but the time factor is won by Michigan.
  3. Michigan probably would win the cost comparison if we had a newer car(s).
Maybe next year I can re-register my cars by mail. I sure hope so.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

MI Secretary of State Office: Something I Never Thought I Would Miss

This morning, a Saturday, I and my lovely wife went to the only South Carolina DMV office in the region that is open on Saturdays in order to get new driver's licenses. Once again we arrive from out of state, so a comparison is in order:

Michigan: Go to Secretary of State Office, with all appropriate documents in hand. When it's your turn, go to the counter and transact business to get MI driver's license, title, and car tags. Leave; put tags on car; wait for license to arrive in mail soon thereafter. Tags are renewed annually; driver's license is good for four years.

South Carolina: [Step 1] Go to SC DMV office with all appropriate documents in hand. Get in line in order to identify the type of business you have and get a number. Sit and wait (in our case, nearly an hour) while reading whatever literature you brought with you. When it's your turn, go to the counter and transact business to get your driver's license. Wait a few moments, claim your license, put it in your wallet, and depart. The driver's license is good for ten years.

[Step 2] Go to county office and pay taxes on your car (a task for next week).

[Step 3] Return to DMV with all appropriate documents in hand. Transact business to get SC titles and car tags (also a task for next week).

Now aside from the fact that my driver's license is good until 2020, I think I like the Michigan way better. Of course, I haven't learned how much $$ I will part with in Step 2 yet....

Friday, August 27, 2010

Churches, Pastors, E-mail, and the Great Commission

Now that I have moved to Greenville, begun a job, and gotten my kids into school, one of the remaining big decisions is choosing a church. This is not as easy as it may sound. There are a plethora of Bible-preaching churches here in the Greenville area. I have already visited ten, some of them more than once.

I obtained a list of churches concerning which I had some confidence in their doctrine. They were from a variety of denominations, although most were independent and the majority were Baptist. After whittling the list down due to geography and other factors, there were still more about which I had interest.

Visiting a church by yourself, or with your spouse alone, isn't too bad. But when you have four children to farm out to Sunday School (or whatever childrens' ministries may be planned for that time), it's a bit more complicated. And quite frankly, I don't want to spend all of 2010 visiting more churches and making this decision. So for churches I had not yet visited, I decided to check out their websites for additional information, and after writing a generic letter with several key questions (designed to eliminate churches which were unlike what we are looking for), planned to send it to another ten churches.

That's when the problems began.

Of the ten churches, it appears five do not have websites.

One of the churches with a website had no contact information beyond the church address and phone number and service times.

Another church—and this was annoying—did not contain an e-mail address but instead had a place to type your message and send it on one of the pages. Trouble was, I had to enter a six-character security code to send the message...and it wouldn't let me! So that church hasn't heard from me.

So if you're keeping track, that means I sent three e-mails at approximately 11:00 p.m. yesterday. Here are the results:

One pastor responded about an hour later. He wrote a message of near-sermon length which, indeed, sounded like a sermon transcript on ecclesiology (the study or doctrine of the church). The whole tenor of the response, though both thorough and innocuous, was vaguely disconcerting. Perhaps we will visit this church. Perhaps not.

A second pastor responded the following afternoon. This was the polar opposite of the first response: Curt. He did not answer some of my questions, yet threw in some information I had not asked about. We will not be visiting this church.

The third pastor has not responded yet. [Update: The third pastor gave me a phone call the day after I wrote the original post, answering my questions in a friendly and helpful way. We will likely visit his church.]

So what have I learned from this?

The first thing I learned is that if I ever become a pastor or leader of a church, there will be a website and it will have every possible means of getting in touch with our church. This is not simply a matter of convenience; it is a means of fulfilling the Great Commission. If I am a pastor, and there is someone out there who is actually seeking a church (and especially if they are asking questions relevant to their faith), don't I want to be doing whatever I can to draw them to my church like a magnet draws iron?

The first pastor who responded to me, to his credit, seems to understand this. He wasted no time—writing near midnight—responding and inviting me to his church. The second pastor does not; his response came across as, at best, dutiful; at worst, annoyed that I would bother him.

But apparently at least six other pastors also do not understand this...the ones whom I could not e-mail. Surely we all must recognize by now that so many people who don't care to darken the door of a church will still use e-mail to communicate! The lost can be reached this way—why are pastors and churches not taking advantage?

If you are a pastor (or you have influence on a pastor), I implore you: Get a website and a church e-mail address. Emblazon it upon all your materials, from bulletins to tracts. Let the world know how, even if in the privacy of their own bedroom, they can contact you. And if you have a facebook page, a blog, or a Twitter feed, so much the better. You can still give your address and phone, draw a map, and give the service times, but take advantage of 21st-century technology to reach the world around you.

Friday, August 20, 2010

So Is He Muslim or Not?

Much has been written this week in the news that one-in-five Americans surveyed believe President Obama is Muslim. He, as he has always done, denies this and claims to be a Christian.

I am really curious to know how many Americans think he is a Christian.

Thankfully, as always, we have the Bible to give us insight about things like this. Let us begin with a passage from Matthew 7:

15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
The whole context is provided, but focus on verse 20: A man is known by his "fruits," the evidences that his life provides to the world. So let's summarize some of our president's "fruits."
  • He shows great reverence and friendliness to Arab and Muslim leaders, not wishing to offend them or their beliefs. Meanwhile, Israel is snubbed (ask Mr. Netanyahu) and other nations with historically Christian backgrounds (think: England) are treated in a second-tier way diplomatically.
  • He shows deference to Islamic practices and participates in their events. Meanwhile, the National Day of Prayer events at the White House are canceled.
  • He has no problem with a mosque being built in lower Manhattan.
  • Church attendance: Obama has hardly been to church since becoming President. Prior to 2008, he attended a church that was supposedly Protestant (in a very stretched-out definition of that term) and had a pastor whose anti-American rants became legendary...yet he stayed there until political expediency drove him out. This "pastor" (again, the definition—a biblical one—must be stretched) married him and his wife and was referred to in high praise by our president before his reputation became national.
  • On the other hand, our president does not openly participate in Islamic worship, either.
My assessment of this: Our president seems to be un-religious, but prefers Islam to Christianity. He is clearly not devout to either one. But my deeper question: Is he a Christian?

Let us look at 1 John 2 for further guidance:
3 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.
4 He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
5 But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.
6 He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.
Verse 4 is very troubling. The context, and centuries of consistent exegesis, tell us that "keepeth not his commandments" refers more to a pattern of life than to individual, moment-by-moment decisions; all of us "keep not" God's commandments from time to time. The "keepeth his word" in verse 5 holds a similar idea, as does "also so to walk" in verse 6. Is the pattern of our president's life that he strives to keep God's commandments and to walk as Christ walked? Or does he not consistently strive to keep the commandments of God? Again, a look at the fruits:
  • Our president is openly pro-abortion, and has a voting record to back it up (the blogprof blog has done a great job documenting this over the past two years, with this as a recent example).
  • Unlike Jesus Christ, who regularly spoke out against sin, Obama seems perfectly OK with homosexuality, immorality, and other sins in our society.
  • Has he spent his free time with Christians, or with former terrorists and others who are openly hostile to the Bible?
Unfortunately, aside from his own weak proclamations and White House statements of his Christian faith, I cannot see any evidence from the Bible that our president is a Christian. We need to pray for him to repent, accept Jesus Christ as his Savior, and do what is right.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Eternal Importance of Christian Education

A friend began a facebook discussion today on the general topic of placing one's child in the government's care (read: public school, day care) for such a large portion of that child's life. She took the very sensible position that God does not give children to parents for that purpose.

This stimulated further thought in my mind for much of the rest of the day. There are the usual list of reasons why you should give your children a Christian education, such as:

  • Superior academic education, compared to public schools in general
  • Less dangerous environment
  • Doctrines like creation and salvation are taught, not stifled
Today, however, I was on a deeper wavelength. I want to communicate on this deeper level now.

God has given me and my wife four wonderful children (my friend is anticipating her fourth's arrival within the next several months). The moment we conceived them, they became our responsibility—a profound responsibility—to rear, to discipline, to love, to train. They are not, nor ever have been, nor ever will be, the government's responsibility. In order to fulfill the God-given responsibility, there are a number of things we must do; one of these is to provide them with Christian education.

[Parenthetical: Some parents will choose to homeschool their children in order to meet this responsibility. As long as the education they provide is both thoroughly Christian and strong in academics, I have no problem with that. Others, including us, will choose to partner with a Christian school that will teach the Scriptures in all subject areas and support our family and our values as Christians. Such a Christian school needs to be both thoroughly Christian and strong in academics, too.]

The child, ultimately, will be inevitably impacted by the education he is provided. If a strong Christian education is provided, then he will be more likely to follow in the path of Christ-likeness and go on to serve God for the rest of his days on earth. He will be more likely to avoid the guilt and consequences of sin. He will probably have more joy and peace in his life, and if he marries someone else who loves and serves God and seeks to be more like Christ, he will likely have a happier marriage than most.

But more importantly, if a child is provided a Christian education—particularly at a young age—he is much more likely to accept Jesus Christ as his Savior and spend eternity in heaven. That is not something most day cares or public schools are going to encourage; indeed, the truth will most likely be stifled or ignored.

If you have children, make up your mind: Are you going to take the responsibility to provide your child with Christian education that will positively impact their lives both now and for eternity, or are you going to hand over your responsibility to the government, leaving them open to temporal misery and possibly eternal damnation?

NOTE: I certainly don't want to imply that eternal damnation is the certain fate of those who attend public school today. Please understand that my meaning is that the risk of a child turning away from God and Truth is heightened when the child is put into an environment where God's truth is maligned, ridiculed, neglected, or blasphemed. For a parent to consciously take that risk with his child's soul is inexcusable.

And on the other hand, there are certainly Christians among the many public school teachers out there, who are striving to be lights in the midst of darkness. May God bless them and give them success as they try to reach out to the students in their care.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Greenville Restaurant Review: Economy Version

I have been living in Greenville for almost five weeks now, and since I have spent most of that time away from my wife, I have taken several opportunities to sample the local fare. And since I don't have a lot of money, I have stayed mainly in the "low-budget" or "economy" class of restaurants.

I also like BBQ and southern fried chicken, so with Greenville's abundant restaurants, I have had plenty of options. Here are some that I have visited:

[Note: I went to McDonald's, too. Service and food quality about the same there as any other typical American city. Moving on....]

Chick-fil-A: Do you own a restaurant? Are you concerned about the quality of customer service at your store? Then get yourself to either of the two Greenville-area Chick-fil-A stores that I ate at recently (Woodruff Rd., Cherrydale). The service is of the type most fast-food restaurant owners only dream their employees are providing (I say most, because some don't even dream that it would be this good). That alone would be enough. But...

The food is good, too. Both times I ordered the same thing, a Chicken Sandwich meal (#1 on the menu board). The sandwich consists of the following:

  • Bun
  • Sizable piece of hot chicken
  • Two pickels (and I don't even like pickels)

This, alone, makes a great sandwich. If you like ketchup or mustard, use it sparingly so as not to disrupt such a fine sandwich.

The waffle fries are great, too. And there's refills on the Coke. You have to go to the counter for the refill, but in both cases there seemed to be one employee who was taking most of the responsibility for doing this with a smile on her face.

Should I ever find a town with both a Culver's and a Chick-fil-A, I will consider moving there.

Grade: A+

Zaxby's: This chain has gotten 500 stores in 20 years throughout the South, and it's not for nothing. I ordered the grilled chicken sandwich meal (fries, drink). I had only ever eaten at a Zaxby's once before, about a decade ago, so I was eager to visit again.

I used the drive-through, which may have been a mistake. By the time I got back to my place, the fries and bun were a bit damp from the condensation inside the styrofoam-like container they were found in. I'm also not convinced the fries were terribly hot when I got them at the window, either. The chicken was good, but I would have preferred a lot less of the mustard-type sauce they slathered on it.

Nevertheless, the meal was pretty good and the girl at the drive-through was quite friendly.

Grade: B

Henry's Smokehouse: This was the first BBQ place I visited after arriving in Greenville, at the advice of a good friend. It was good advice. I was encouraged to try the BBQ on a bun with slaw (I am still uncertain what possessed me to agree to this, unless it was the radiant looks on the faces of the clerk and my friend), and to my surprise, it worked. Quite well. Three days later I visited with other friends who served BBQ sandwiches, with the BBQ bought at Henry's. This time I ate it without slaw, and it was again good.

The only downside was that the BBQ was a bit drier than I prefer. The atmosphere was, shall we say, what I think of under "small-town redneck." But it worked.

Grade: A-

Sonny's: I have already blogged about Sonny's, which I never cease to enjoy. I visited with two friends who enjoy it, perhaps, even more than I do.

The food was as good as I expected. The prices have risen noticeably since my last visit in late-2007, however, which did not make me smile. The service, too, was good; but again, not as good as my last visit (see linked blog post). This will likely not be in the category of "inexpensive family-of-six eating out destination" any longer.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Not By Chance, Chapter 13: Providence and Prayer

One of the age-old questions regarding the Christian faith surrounds the issue of prayer: If God has indeed determined what is to occur, then what need is there for intercessory prayer? In short, why should we ask God to do anything? (This is a paraphrase from p. 214 of the book Not By Chance).

The short answer, of course, is that God commands us to pray. Repeatedly, in fact. Even that most famous of prayers, the Lord’s Prayer of Matthew 6:9-13, begins in verse 9a with the verb “pray,” a present, imperative verb that is, essentially, a command. This final chapter of Not By Chance provides us with three primary reasons, in the context of God’s providence, why we should make requests of God.

I. Prayer Glorifies God for His Providence. The overarching purpose of all prayer is the glory of God. This is perhaps more obvious of prayers of thanksgiving, praise, repentance, or worship than it is of intercessory prayer. Prayer should draw attention to the fact that it is God who does things—not us, and not chance.

The example of Zacharias and Elizabeth is used for illustration. They had prayed for a child, and God answered their prayers in His timing, in such a way that the glory was clearly given to Him. God’s answer was a part of the providential plan of history and prophecy.

II. Prayer Adjusts Us to God’s Purposes. It is not always easy to adjust to God’s purposes; we frequently look at prayer as a tool by which to get God to adjust to ours! Several examples are cited:
· Isaiah 60-62: God has already promised deliverance and blessing upon Israel, and yet He tells His people to pray ceaselessly for it to come.
· II Peter 3: Our prayers can be “instruments for furthering the divine purpose” (p. 223).
· Matthew 6:9-13: We are commanded to pray for God’s Kingdom to come
· Revelation 22:20: John prays, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
“Rather than being consumed with our personal material needs in prayer, we are to make God’s kingdom and righteousness the central focus of our prayers.” (p. 224)

Some effects of providence-focused praying:
· Prayer is a divinely determined means for effecting His purposes. God has chosen to allow us—indeed, to command us—to participate in this way; what an honor!
· Prayer is a divinely determined means for focusing our attention on God and His purposes. He doesn’t need us for anything; we are to be focused on Him.
· Prayer is a divinely determined instrument for changing us. What ultimately, is God’s goal for our earthly lives? It is not comfort, health, financial independence, smooth circumstances, or to get projects done—it is that each of us be changed, to be conformed into the image of Jesus Christ! Theologically, we call this sanctification.
“Yes, we are invited and encouraged to make all our requests known to God, to unfold our heart’s desires freely and frankly to him. But a biblically informed view of providence should guide what and how we pray. And a biblically informed understanding that there are specific objects—present promises and future events that are certain—that God intends to govern our prayers will guarantee that He is unmistakably glorified and that we, as prayer participants with Him, are changed in the process.” (p. 227)

We are also reminded of the example in Daniel 9. Here, Daniel is studying the prophecy of Jeremiah and realizes that the restoration of Israel is about to occur (vs. 1-2; there is an excellent discussion of the dates involved in the footnotes of the book). What does he do? In vs. 3-15, he confesses the sins of himself and his people. In vs. 16-19, he asks God to do what God has already said He would do. Jeremiah 29:10-14 also puts an emphasis on the prayers of God’s people. Daniel illustrated the three purposes of providence-focused praying given above.

III. Prayer Checks Our Presumption on Providence. It is our natural inclination to trust upon our own decision-making. David, in II Sam. 5:17-25, faced two nearly identical situations, and twice prayed to God seeking His will—and God told him two different responses, both of which were successful. What God wanted you to do in the past may or may not be what He wants you to do now.
“Seemingly providential circumstances alone are not trustworthy. We do not look at our surroundings for signs of direction without prayer to God for guidance, even in situations we think we can figure out because we have faced them before.” (p. 232)

How should our knowledge of providence affect our prayer life? Certainly, it should “invigorate the prayer life and motivate” us to pray, with confidence in God. We should not be preoccupied with material concerns, but with God’s concerns. (This, among other reasons, should drive us to study His Word!)

Prayer changes things, but more importantly, prayer changes people; let prayer change you.

For previous chapters:
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Not By Chance, Chapter 12: Providence and the Church

Again, I apologize for the delay in completing this series of posts. The book Not By Chance by Layton Talbert is an excellent study of the providence of God and I highly recommend it to you. Chapter 13, the last chapter, will be coming shortly.

Chapter 12 deals with Providence in the Church, and is a survey of how God’s providence was seen in the book of Acts, in the early church. Here are the main points:

· God may intervene directly in the affairs of His church and in the individual lives of His people (Acts 5:1-11). This passage also illustrates that He can do this in both “negative” and “positive” ways.
· God is free to alter circumstances in ways that are humanly impossible (Acts 5:17-24). He may not always let us out of prison—but He can!
· God may preserve or deliver His people through aid even from our enemies (Acts 5:33-40). The apostles were facing severe anger in vs. 33, and Gamaliel, if you notice carefully, isn’t actually looking after the apostles’ best interests. His pragmatism, however, is what God used to allow to go free that day.
· God may choose not to intervene even in behalf of His choicest servants (Acts 7:54-60). John the Baptist, James, and countless others were martyred throughout the history of the church. The five missionaries in Ecuador were cited among those who have given their lives (or otherwise suffered) for the cause of Christ. God’s will is always the best place to be—but it isn’t always the safest place.
· God is capable of working in people we would never expect, even through events that seem to us tragic, senseless, and counterproductive to the cause of Christ (Acts 7:58-8:3). If Saul had not been the persecutor that he was, would he have become the apostle he was?
· God uses persecution and affliction to accomplish His purposes for and through us (Acts 8:3-4). History and Scripture both teach that persecution often serves to spread the Gospel all the more!
· God may direct us to minister in unpromising places and unlikely situations, with apparently minimal potential, for His own purposes (Acts 8:26-40). How many missionaries and preachers do we know who serve in such places today? How clear is it, in retrospect, that God set everything in place for this encounter between Philip and the eunuch, including even the translation of the Scriptures he was using?
· God may intervene in the lives and affairs of people in spectacular, unexpected, extraordinary ways if He chooses (Acts 9:1-8). Most of us didn’t “meet God” like Saul did on the road to Damascus—but God can do that.
· God can intervene in humanly hopeless, dangerous, and even life-threatening situations (Acts 12:1-19). Peter had every reason to believe he would follow Stephen and James to martyrdom…but God delivered him. Interesting thought: What were the people at the house praying for that night: Deliverance, or boldness?
· God can use human disagreements as the catalyst for diversifying the ministry and more effectively accomplishing His purposes (Acts 15:36-41). The disagreement between Paul and Barnabas was significant; both were seeking to do God’s will. The Bible does not tell us who “was right.” Disagreements between believers do not mean they cannot be used by God in the future.
· God may close the door on seemingly logical or needful ministries, only to redirect later into the paths of His choosing (Acts 16:6-10). We may wonder why God allows ministries to close down when they are doing His work—but that is His decision. God may want His servants to minister in other places.
· God may allow us to suffer wrongfully in order to bring us into contact with certain sinners (Acts 16:16-34). Joseph provides a thorough O.T. example of this.
· God is in sovereign control of the elements; natural disasters are His tools to shape His purposes (Acts 27-28). Various O.T. passages (e.g., Job 38; Nah. 1:3) speak to the fact that God can and does use the “elements” to accomplish His will. History provides numerous other illustrations.
· God preserves the life of His servants until their work is done. All the things that happened to Paul…and yet, at the end of the book, he is still alive and serving God!
Lessons for life: We must humbly yet confidently put our faith in the power of the King of Kings. We must realize that it won’t all be a “bed of roses.” What God allows us to experience is for our good and for His glory!

For previous chapters:
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Who I'm Voting For, Part 2

80th House District: Aric Nesbitt

There are two candidates in this six-way race that stand out to me: Aric Nesbitt and Frank Thompson. I think that both of them can be fine representatives for the people of Van Buren County.

Frank's background is business-oriented. He has been a small-business owner in our county for a long time; he's a family man (married for 42 years); he takes a good stand on the issues. I certainly won't begrudge anyone who wants to vote for him.

Aric's background is somewhat different. He is much younger; I believe he is still single. He has spent most of his working life in the political world. He also takes a good stand on the issues and shares my values. His one liability, in my book, is that he has spent most of the past decade working outside of Michigan and in DC, which is not necessarily an asset.

But Aric has one big advantage in my book, too: He has demonstrated that he will reach out to others. He has both called me personally and visited my house last Saturday (disclaimer: I think he was just working his way through my neighborhood, as opposed to seeking me out individually) and discussed the issues with me. And if you know me, you probably realize I would ask him straight questions. I liked his answers, and I like his energy.

Governor: Pete Hoekstra

As in the state House race above, I see two candidates who stand out above the rest: Pete Hoekstra and Mike Bouchard. I think either one would make a good governor for Michigan. I give Hoekstra the nod in my book.

A word on the other candidates: I have not been pleased with Rick Snyder's avoidance of taking good positions on social conservative issues. His economic ideas seem sound (something that's true for all five GOP candidates), but I can't say too much else in his favor. Mike Cox has demonstrated a penchant for "being a politician" and has already behaved badly with some of his misleading advertisements against Hoekstra. Tom George, who is from Kalamazoo and whom I know personally, has not convinced me of his fiscal conservatism, demonstrated oh-so-terribly with his tax hike vote a few years ago--a vote that helped swing the critical Senate vote to the democrats.

Bouchard has a lot going for him. His stands on the issues are solid, and his experience in Oakland County will be valuable. Pete Hoekstra, however, has demonstrated a very strong friendship with pro-family and pro-life groups, including reaching out to homeschoolers and supporting local control of public education. He also has a long record in Congress; most of it is very good.

The other races in my precinct are uncontested. Make sure you vote on August 3!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Who I'm Voting For, Part 1

Very soon I will be voting, probably for the last time, in a Michigan election. There are several important primary races where I live:

U.S. Representative, 6th District
State Senate, 20th District
State Representative, 80th District

Here's who I am voting for, and why:

U.S. Representative: Jack Hoogendyk

Hoogendyk is looking to upset incumbent Fred Upton, and I hope he does. Hoogendyk has a record, from his six years in the Michigan House, of sound fiscal and social conservatism. He is a Christian man who has shown that he will vote as he speaks. He is predictable; he does not seek which way the wind blows before deciding how to cast a vote. You know what you are getting...and in his case, I like it. A lot.

Upton, on the other hand, has been a case study in political expediency. He is not reliably conservative. He has voted with the democrats too many times on issues that matter, such as the surge vote several years ago, the TARP bailout, and the Cash for Clunkers bill (a failure of which he was one of the leading cheerleaders).

Republicans have a clear choice, and they need to make the most of it.

State Senate, 20th District: Tonya Schuitmaker

Tonya is another politician who has put her votes where her mouth has been. She is consistently conservative, pro-life, and fiscally sound. She has done a great job, worked hard, and reached out to her constituents (including me) during the past six years she has served in the State House. In short, Michigan needs her and 147 similar people in the Legislature.

I have not been impressed with Lorence Wenke's credentials as a conservative, although he (or Larry DeShazor) both would be vastly superior to the candidate running on the other ticket. DeShazor seems like a good guy but for the most part his record is not as long as Tonya's.

Next post: Thoughts on the other two races

Monday, July 5, 2010

Greenville-area Highlights

There are advantages to living in Michigan, as I have the past six years (for instance, the relative lack of stifling heat in June and July), but there are advantages in South Carolina, too.

Today, I ate lunch at Chick-fil-A. The food was good, and the service was unusually good for a busy fast-food restaurant.

And there's Zaxby's, Sonny's, various other BBQ joints, fried chicken places, etc. There is no high-end BBQ in Michigan that I am aware of.

In general, there are more shopping options here than in the Kalamazoo area.

There are two banks and a credit union within one block of where I work. The elementary school for three of my children is, quite literally, next door.

I must see what else I can discover.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Not By Chance, Chapter 11: Providence in the Passion of Christ

The death and resurrection of Christ are the pinnacle of the Bible story. We have learned in earlier chapters of Not By Chance that God's providence still reigns, despite man's deepest and most evil designs, and hedges man's depravity. The events surrounding the crucifixion of Christ demonstrate that God can transform man's worst depravity and vilest plans into the service of His plans! Consider the implications of this!

Throughout the life of Christ, there were those who wanted to kill Him. Herod tried to slaughter Him as a baby (Matt. 2:13-18). There was an attempt on his life in Nazareth (Luke 4:28-30). There are a number of references to serious plotting against His life throughout the Gospels, and particularly during the Passion Week. In none of these, however, was Christ's life threatened; if anything, the "fear of the people" hindered those who sought to kill Him.

Christ was delivered into the hand of the Jews in God's time. They didn't want it to happen on the feast day, but God did. Pilate, whose power was from God (John 19:10-11), received Christ, delivered into his hand at the time God wanted him there.

As most people familiar with the Bible know, the death of Christ also fulfilled a myriad of prophecies. In our Sunday School class, we focused on these, particularly from the book of Zechariah:

  • Zechariah 9:9—The King will come, riding upon an ass (Matt. 21:1-9)
  • Zechariah 11:12-13—He will be sold for thirty pieces of silver, later "cast" in the house of the Lord; the money would be used to buy the potter's field (Matt. 27:3-10)
  • Zechariah 12:10—His body would be pierced (John 19:31-37)
  • Zechariah 13:7—His followers would scatter from Him (Matt. 26:31)
  • Isaiah 53:9—He would be buried with the rich (Matt. 27:57-60; consider how unlikely this was!)
One of the marvelous things about Christ's passion is that Satan was used as the tool of Christ. Satan tried to use Peter to hinder Christ's mission (Matt. 16:21-23), but Christ rebuked Peter. Satan entered into Judas (twice: Luke 22:3-6; John 13:2, 27). Satan sought—and obtained permission—to sift Peter and the other disciples (Luke 22:31-32). He was even given "power" over Christ (Luke 22:52-53). Satan was deluded into thinking that he could "get away with" this...but not so!

The latter part of Chapter 11 describe some of the elegant extra touches that God included in the events surrounding Christ's crucifixion. They give evidence to the fact that there was no way that man could have done what was done. They are, in essence, the "fingerprints" of God, showing "His hand" in the work.

Here are a number of ways Dr. Talbert described God's providence during (and leading up to) Christ's passion:
  • Providential Symbolism: The timing of the crucifixion was Passover Week. What, after all, did Passover foreshadow for 15 centuries?
  • Providential Training: The disciples were given specific—and quite honestly, rather odd-sounding—instructions regarding the provision of the colt and the upper room. Christ gave them "odd-sounding" instructions to follow, and they obeyed and witnessed God's provision and blessing. Later, they would receive other "odd-sounding" instructions, and the world would be changed.
  • Providential Prophecy: The counsel of Caiaphas in John 11:47-53 is most interesting. His motives for Christ's death are almost strictly political: He wants no problems with Rome. Yet, the words that he spoke are theologically accurate—despite the fact he never intended them that way.
  • Providential Cue: The cock the very moment Christ said it would (Matt. 26:34, 74-75).
  • Providential "Coincidence": Herod's visit to Jerusalem (Luke 23:7) was timely. Pilate would have been very tempted to stall a decision about Christ pending an appeal to Herod, but God didn't want Pilate to stall. Herod was in town already.
  • Providential Warning: The dream of Pilate's wife (Matt. 27:19), while seemingly irrelevant to the main plot, adds yet another layer of evidence that God was at work.
  • Providential Parable: The exchange of Barabbas (Matt. 27:15-26), a rebel and murderer, for the sinless Savior was a literal "death as a sinless substitute"—and what a picture for us! Also of interest: The literal meaning of the name Barabbas is "son of the father."
  • Providential Irony: Thorns were a result of the curse which Christ put upon earth for sin; then, He wears a crown of thorns upon His own head as he suffers for that very sin. Indeed: Christ became a curse for us (Gal. 3:13).
  • Providential Means: Christ was crucified upon a cross; this was the only way He could have fulfilled a myriad of Old Testament prophecies. He also prophesied about His own crucifixion (Matt. 20:17-19; John 3:14, 8:28, 12:32-34). The Jewish leadership wanted it for a variety of reasons, but especially for the shame.
  • Providential Proclamation: The superscription Pilate ordered to be placed on the cross ["This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews"] annoyed the Jews—and not just because it was truth.
  • Providential Picture: There was midnight at noonday. This could not have been a solar eclipse. The Jewish calendar is lunar, so Passover happens around the time of a full moon; solar eclipses happen when the moon is new. Christ is the Light of the World; His death brought darkness upon that world.
  • Providential Witnesses: The Roman guard was placed at the tomb (Matt. 27:62-66) in order that there would be no "faked" resurrection. It was also interesting that these unbelievers remembered something Christ said, in part because....
  • Providential Dullness: Why did the disciples not comprehend what Christ said? Why did they not remember His repeated and clear assertions that He would rise from the dead on the third day after His death? Talbert goes into this at some length, but a main point of the discourse is that the disciples, by their "dullness," could not and did not cast any doubt on the authenticity of the resurrection.
God, the Sovereign, was in control of everything surrounding Christ's death (John 19:11; Acts 2:23). As we read on p. 188, "If God can so sovereignly control such combined, focused chaos and hatred, is it possible that He could for a moment lose control over the affairs of your life?"

For Previous Chapters:
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10

Monday, June 7, 2010

It's Time For Me To Leave Michigan, Part 2

As I wrote in my prior post, I am moving out of Michigan this month to take a position at Bob Jones University Press in Greenville, SC. While I believe this is the providential plan of God, and am therefore happy to go, there are some lessons here to be considered for the folks in Lansing.

1. The job environment, quite frankly, is poor. Those of us who want to live here—including people like me with multiple college degrees—are having a difficult time finding jobs that pay enough to support our families. Much of the blame for this belongs in Washington D.C., but the policies that flow out of Lansing have not helped much and have hurt plenty.

2. The job environment is poor because the business climate is poor—especially in comparison to other states. One thing I did some research on was starting my own business (a non-starter due to a lack of capital, especially after Fall, 2008); and even I, as a tax preparer, found much of the paperwork to be boggling.

3. With Granholm in office, there is simply no reason to be hopeful of improvement. Thankfully, she will be replaced with someone else in several months; but if that someone is another like-minded democrat, hope will again evaporate, and many others (like me) will head to greener pastures.

Perhaps I will add more thoughts on this later.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

It's Time For Me To Leave Michigan

For those of you who don't know, I have lived in Michigan since 2004, when I came here to take a math teaching position at Heritage Christian Academy in Kalamazoo. I was laid off from that position in 2007, and for the past three years, have held an interesting array of part-time jobs. The most stable has been a case manager position at Youth Opportunities Unlimited, where I have been for nearly two years.

I have been offered, and will be accepting, a position at Bob Jones University Press in Greenville, South Carolina, in product development. My responsibilities will primarily include preparing digital media to accompany textbooks and teacher materials. (Apparently my job description is still being ironed out.)

We have enjoyed living in Michigan. We love our church, we have a nice home, and we are very content with this corner of the world. We have met new neighbors and gotten involved in the political scene. But God's good plan for us involves moving...again. We look forward to Greenville, a city with which we have familiarity and where we have family. Our four children will be able to attend one of the finest schools in America—one that will be literally walking distance from my office. We will again have health insurance and other job-related benefits.

My first day on the job is currently scheduled for June 29.

We ask your prayers for several things:

  • The prompt sale of our home in Michigan.
  • For our children, that they will make this transition well. Their comfortable little world was rocked by this news, and although we think they will do just fine in the long run, the short run may be a little tough.
  • That everything which needs to be done this month will get done this month.
  • That we will find a good church that God wants us to be a part of. There are many good churches in the Greenville area, so it's a bigger decision than you might think.
And pray for the BIG MOVING SALE, which will be on June 19. All are invited.

Not By Chance, Chapter 10: Providence in the Incarnation of Christ

"But when the fulness of the time was come,
God sent forth His son...."
Galatians 4:4, quoted above, reminds us that God the Father sent His Son, Jesus Christ, at the very time that had been prepared for His arrival. This preparation for His incarnation can be traced back for centuries before His birth, and right up unto the year in which He was born of Mary.

The word incarnation means, in this context, that God "took flesh upon himself" and became a man. Although still fully God, He became fully man in order to fulfill the prophecies and purposes related to His atonement for mankind's sins.

This chapter deals specifically with lessons from history and Scripture that point to God's providence in preparing the way for Christ's coming to earth as a man.

Lessons From History: Setting the stage for Christ's coming
  • Political Developments: A succession of empires (Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Greece, Rome) had come, grown, and gone in the eight centuries prior to Christ's birth. By the time of the Roman Empire of Christ's day, most of the western world was under one government. The Pax Romana provided ideal circumstances for the spread of the Gospel. Even the famous "decree from Caesar Augustus" (Luke 2:1) was a part of God's providential plan.
  • Developments in Commerce: Rome had advanced systems of communication and transportation (for its day), and God used Roman infrastructure to spread the Gospel.
  • Language: After Alexander the Great brought the Greek language throughout the New Testament world in the 4th century B.C., God directed the translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew to Greek (today known as the Septuagint, or LXX). This enabled New Testament believers to have a widely accessible Bible, since Greek was far more common than Hebrew in the Roman world of the apostles.
  • Philosophy: The Greek-influenced world was accustomed to the debates of ideas (even in the year 2010 A.D., there are many places in the world where ideas inconsistent with the societal norm are scorned), making many more people receptive to at least hearing and thinking about the Gospel message. Both Greeks and Jews had ideas about logos (the Word, which is the literal meaning of logos, is a frequent biblical reference to Christ) that pointed in the general direction of Christ. See the book Not By Chance for a lengthy elaboration on this point.
Lessons From Scripture: The implications of Providence in the matters surrounding Christ's birth are unmistakable.
  • The timing of Zachariah's lot (Luke 1:9) was perhaps his only chance—in his lifetime—to offer the incense, and God had an announcement for him!
  • The conception and birth of John (Luke 1:5-7, 24-25, 57-66) was a miraculous fulfillment of prophecy. Like Sarah, Elizabeth was well past the age of childbearing.
  • The respective lineages of Mary and Joseph were planned (Luke 3, Matthew 1), and they brought up in the same town.
  • The conception of Jesus (Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38) was timed in such a way, especially in relation to the betrothal, that Joseph was clearly not the child's father.
  • The ordering of the census (Luke 2:1-6) is clearly a circumstance Mary and Joseph could not have manipulated! No one could accuse Joseph of fabricating anything to make sure that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, as prophesied.
  • The birth of Jesus (Luke 2:6-7)—the where, when, how, etc.—was all arranged to happen in a place for cattle.
  • Visits by the shepherds (Luke 2:8-20) and Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:25-38) were all planned by God to happen at precise times.
  • The Magi (Matthew 2:1-12) had knowledge of a prophecy of the birth of a king, and saw something in the night sky which was not seen or understood by everyone else, that accurately pointed them toward that king. They were first pointed to Jerusalem, then Bethlehem, in order that Herod learn of the event; then they were directed away from Jerusalem for their return trip.
  • The massacre of the infants (Matthew 2:13-23) was a horrible tragedy, and in truth, a rather inefficient way for Herod to try to eliminate the baby Jesus. Nevertheless, prophecies were fulfilled by this action (Hosea 11:1; Jeremiah 31:15).
There are some lessons for us to take away from this chapter. God can, and does, direct and control all affairs of government, commerce, etc. God can, and will, lay the groundwork for the Second Coming of Christ. In short, God can, and will, do everything He has said He will do!

For Previous Chapters:
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9