CoffeeSwirls

heart. soul. mind. strength. gospel.

In Tribute to John Piper

In Tribute to John Piper

In Tribute to John Piper

Life

Most of the people who read this blog are very familiar with the work of John Piper. John is the pastor for preaching & vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is also the author of many books and other resources, all of which I recommend to you without exception. He is most noted for the book “Desiring God” which asserts that the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.

Pastor John is in his final year in his current role at his church, and there is already a successor in place to continue the ministry of Bethlehem Baptist. He isn’t going to disappear, but with his ministry behind the pulpit winding down, I wanted to share just a few thoughts.

I first encountered “Desiring God” when I had been a Christian for less than a year. I was zealous and hungry and wanted to learn all that I could about this God who I had misunderstood for so long. A friend of mine invited me for coffee and began speaking things to me about God that I had no categories for. I understood God is good, for example, but this man was telling me that God is happy, God is sovereign, God is the one thing that we all must crave, and not just His gifts. We are commanded in scripture to delight in God alone and to seek our highest joy in Him. To be engulfed in the joy of the Lord.

For someone new to the faith, that was mind blowing. I had been reading my Bible and blogging through it, but these were things that defied my comprehension. So I went out and bought the book. The introduction alone challenged me so much that I actually made several unsuccessful attempts to read it.

Enter our good friend, Tim Challies. He came along beside me and offered to go through the book with me. He would post his thoughts to his blog and I would post mine. I could send him an email when I got stuck on a concept and he readily responded and helped me understand what was being communicated. As I look at my archives from this blog’s earlier days, there is a definite change in the quality of my writing before this event and after. And as those around me can attest, this change in writing was caused by a change in what kind of a worshiper I was becoming through the refining of my understanding of God. This would not have been possible had Tim not been there to answer my questions and my objections.

I have heard John Piper preach many times since then, mostly at conferences and on his podcast. The time that stands out the most to me, though, is when I visited his church to see him on a typical Sunday. His schedule had him at one of the satellite locations of his church in a high school auditorium. We sat in the room with 100 or so other people, sang with them, prayed with them, Pastor John took prayer requests and prayed for specific people in the congregation, including names that weren’t brought up that morning. After the service, he stayed at the front and anyone could go up to him just as your pastor makes himself available after a service. He was, and is, a pastor first and foremost. He is NOT a celebrity by any stretch of the imagination.

John Piper is authentic. When you look at the core vision and values of his ministry of preaching the supremacy of God in all things, I can bestow no greater compliment. Thank you Pastor John, for presenting a joyful pursuit of God to us in your books, your messages and your life. I trust your retirement is only the beginning of a whole new chapter of ministry. You have had a profound effect on my walk with God and I praise Him for your joyful work. Thank you for teaching me that God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him.

Naked and Unashamed

Life

Without question, the book of the Bible I’ve read the most times has to be Genesis. This is for a number of reasons. To my credit, I love the book and love to explore various questions that come up as I read it both on my own and with others. To my shame, it is the first book in the Bible and I have numerous failed attempts to re-read the Bible from cover to cover. That’s one way to get really familiar with Genesis!

One question that has been nagging at my brain is the concept of Adam and Eve being naked and unashamed. Don’t worry, by the way, I plan to keep this post rated G. Having said that, I’ll ask again. What does it mean to be naked and unashamed?

Of course there is a literal aspect to this. Our first parents had no clothes and were not bothered in the least by it. After the fall, they sought to find their own substandard coverings until God covered their nakedness.

But what about pondering another angle of what it means to be naked and unashamed? There is a lot of symbolism going on in this part of Genesis that is manifested in literal actions and events. God providing a suitable covering when the leaves wouldn’t do is both a literal and a symbolic act for example, and is meant to give a small glimpse of the gospel to come. Humans will try to cover their own shame but only God can provide the covering we all need. And that covering is obtained only by blood. The gospel isn’t explicitly stated in the covering provided only by God, but make no mistake. It is there.

So, aside from the literal answer, what does it mean to be naked? And why is being naked presented as a good thing before the fall, but as a bad thing for the rest of the Bible?

Job 1:21  (Job 1)

And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Job 24:7  (Job 24)

They lie all night naked, without clothing,

and have no covering in the cold.

Looking at the book of Job, being naked implies a lack of possessions and a lack of protection from the elements. Naked = exposed

Hebrews 4:13  (Hebrews 4)

And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Hebrews shows us that being naked before God means that we cannot hide any of our deeds. Naked = exposed

Revelation 3:17  (Revelation 3)

For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

Revelation 16:15  (Revelation 16)

(“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”)

In the book of Revelation, being naked is shown as a state of being oblivious to the fact that you are unprepared and in dire need. And again, naked = exposed.

So Adam and Eve were naked in the garden and they were unashamed. Or you could say that they were exposed, but they were not ashamed by this and did not see any reason to protect themselves from the elements.

Aside from the elements, how else were Adam and Eve exposed without worry? Sin had not yet entered the world, that is an important fact to remember here. They had nothing to hide whatsoever, from each other or from God. They had full communion with one another. No emotional scars from previous arguments. No self-serving plans to hide from the other. They were exposed to each other in all ways, able to speak whatever came to mind, knowing that the other would not take it badly. And they were exposed openly to each other with no reason to be ashamed.

As you read the flow of the Bible, much of what once was will one day be restored in this world. There will be a New Heavens and a New Earth. Our rightful place of intertwining work and worship will delight us to the glory of God forever. And yet we will no longer be naked. We will be given our clothes from the same savior who earned our salvation. I believe that these clothes will be an ever-present reminder of the worthiness of Lamb who was slain and who now is enthroned and is Lord over all.

Soli Deo Gloria

Blogging Intentionally

Life

In my reboot post of this blog, I did something I hadn’t done before. I laid out the focus of my blog. In the past, I kept it pretty vague, as if that would give me license to write about things outside of a set of parameters. To be honest with you, I set up needless boundaries for myself all too often and I tear down important boundaries too often as well.

I think that one helpful way to live within the good boundaries of life is to live intentionally. And one helpful way to live intentionally is to come out and say that this is your goal. There are many ways to do this. I know many families from church who have a household mission statement displayed in a prominent place in their homes. If you ask any of them, not a one of them will say that they wish they hadn’t put their intentionalities on display.

The closest thing to this commonly found in a blog format is in the tag line. Look around at your favorite blogs. The blog name is usually followed by a short, pithy statement intended to hold a lot of meaning in just a few words. Kind of like Twitter, I suppose.

My original tag line is kind of embarrassing now, but at the time I thought I was pretty clever.

CoffeeSwirls is the minty fresh blog of Doug McHone, which snaps back wash after wash!

Yeah. Pretty lame. I kept that for a while. Then I changed my focus in life and spun some rhetorical hula hoops and came up with the tag line that I kept for several years.

Walking the Path of Least Resistance

It was shorter, which is good. It was provocative, which can be good. The trouble is, I spent more time defending it than I should have. I eventually wrote a post for the sole purpose of defending an admittedly poorly written tagline. But, to quote the great prophet Tom Petty, I was a rebel without a clue, and I enjoyed the mental gymnastics. Shorter, good. More complicated, bad.

So for this relaunch, I looked to Mark 12:28-31 as a good tagline inspiration and went with the tagline “heart. soul. mind. strength.” for almost 24 hours. Why would something that concise, biblical and simple only last that long? Because it is incomplete.

Loving God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength and loving your neighbor as yourself are wonderful goals that everyone should have. But let’s not forget that Jesus described these commandments as the linchpin statements that hold the entire law together. Jesus was speaking to the experts in the Mosaic law, men living under that law, having no other option because their sins had not been placed upon Jesus on the cross. The law had not been fulfilled in Christ. The gospel was still a promise.

On this side of the resurrection, we have the fullness of the gospel to fall upon when we fail to meet the good standards of the law. To say that my only focus for this blog is to follow the law is dishonoring to the savior who took my sins upon himself. And to be clear, saying that I should sin that grace may abound is just as dishonoring to my savior.

So for the time being, the tagline of CoffeeSwirls will be thus:

heart. soul. mind. strength. gospel.

I think it celebrates the newness of life that is a parallel to the fresh start that my life is undergoing. I like it. What do you think?

Has it really been four years?

Life

If you are reading this post because it just popped up in your RSS reader, that’s wonderful but you may want to go through your reader and remove the old links. Just sayin’. Allow me to re-introduce myself. My name is Doug McHone and this is my blog. This blog has taken me from my home in central Iowa to conferences as close as Cedar Rapids, Iowa to Minneapolis and as far as Los Angeles. I was never as happy in my life as I was when I was reading and meditating about biblical matters and blogging my thoughts.

I used to think that my blogging time was fairly recent until I reactivated this website and pondered bringing in my archives from before. I was shocked to see that my last post was in 2008. 2008! Are you serious? Where did the time go? Because of this, I have decided to rethink my approach fully.

“Choose your ruts carefully, you will be in them for the next 200 miles.” -Some supposed road sign in Alaska

I am currently in the process rebooting my life. There are things that have taken place in my life during this four year void that will not be discussed in this public blog. That is a huge change from my transparency stance in the past. I remain transparent to the man at church who is directly discipling me and to the eldership in the church. To reflect my rebooting of life, I’m also rebooting the blog. Fresh start. That is, I am not bringing a full archive of my past back.

But what about that one post covering a certain topic that was so good? I will periodically bring in certain posts from before into this blog. If you have a favorite, I can look for it and bring it in. But let’s face it. I had more whiffs than hits back in the day.

Also, I will not even try to adhere to the schedule of blogging I once had. I was a daily blogger once upon a time. Often more than once a day. No more. I can’t keep the edifying content going like that the way Tim Challies can.

So I’ve discussed my reboot at a slower pace than before. Now everyone tells me I need to have a focus in what the blog is about. A lack of focus seemed to work pretty well for me back in the day though, right? OK, you’re out of practice recognizing my sense of humor. I do have a focus, but I reserve the right to post outside of that focus for any reason. Such as a description of how good my prize-winning smoked chicken tastes.

The focus of this blog is as follows:

Mark 12:28-31

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”  Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

In my life reboot, I see a lot of areas in my life where I have failed to love the Lord in those ways. I want to love Him with my whole heart, I want to love Him with my entire soul and I want to love Him with my mind. Finally I want to love Him with my strength. This vertical focus of loving God should manifest itself also in a horizontal way as I relate to people in the ways that God would want me to.

So tell your friends that I’m back, but don’t expect a high frequency of blog posts. I plan on covering topics raised in Church, my life group, my discipling lessons and in my own reading and pondering. If you want to get in touch with me outside this blog, the best place to do so is on Google+. I also have a twitter and a facebook account, but those are willfully neglected for the most part. Give Google+ an honest try! And do let me know if you post an awesome picture of your breakfast on facebook so I can log in and check it out.

The Path of Least Resistance

Life

Doug-Wondering why your tagline says that you are walking the path of least resistance? Please explain and use Bible verses before I start using some of my own! :-)

Amy recently asked me what the big deal is about walking this path of least resistance that I bring up from time to time. On occasion, I will ask someone about something they have blogged about and get that sort of response, so I’ll just provide such a link (done) and try to explain where I’m coming from.

 Psalm 25:4-5
Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.

If you take the word “way” out of many of the Psalms, and insert “path” or “trail,” the meaning is essentially the same. This trail is comprised of the pre-ordained steps that are prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10), not those sidesteps and shortcuts that we choose to take on our own from time to time. This imagery of a trail is one that I have used since my blog first began. If I’ve encountered a rough period in my life, I will say that I am in a valley and when all is well, I may say that I am at the top of a hill. It’s all imagery.

For this imagery to work, you have to realize that everyone is currently walking a path. I am not referring to the wide and narrow paths that Jesus spoke of quite so much as the personal paths for each one of us. They are paths that represent our lives. The paths have periods of difficulty and ease, beauty and wretchedness, pride and shame. The paths of our lives intersect each other at certain points. There is room for us to move about on the path, but certain things are destined to happen.

For example, if God has elected some before the foundation of the world, it makes sense that He made sure your parents met each other. And your grandparents. And so on and so forth. If God knew you from the beginning, He had to have a direct hand in making sure that you would be here. In short, you are not an accident. You are not some chance occurrence. An unplanned pregnancy is only unplanned by the parents, but this is an event that God had determined eons ago. This does not absolve us of any responsibility regarding premarital sex or any other sin, but it does mean that God is in control.

Everybody’s path of life is unique to the individual, though most paths have similar events that are found at different points, depending on the path you are on. Each path has landmarks, some more than others, and anything that can be considered a life changing event is a landmark. A marriage, the birth of a child, a permanent change in health and more are examples of landmarks. When I looked down a few weeks ago into the coffin of a man my age, I looked face to face with my own mortality. I am the same man that I was, but there has been a change in me. This is a small landmark when compared with my conversion to Christianity, but it is there all the same. My marriage is a large landmark. So is the day I was tested and cleared of epilepsy.

Psalm 25:8-10
Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

The paths we walk also are marked out for us. We are on a marked trail, just as the settlers on the Oregon trail were on a trail that was marked. There are times that I don’t know which way to go in certain situations, and I can turn to my Bible and see the trail markers more clearly. Society has been moving the boundary stones of the righteous path for generations. Inch by inch they have been moved without too much fuss from the church, but now they are moving far enough that Christians are becoming emboldened by the stakes we fight for. We didn’t change anything about marriage, neither did we defend it. Now we can see that we were wrong not to fight for the first inch that the boundary marker was moved. The trail markers have become covered in moss and many are almost invisible. You have to kneel down with the word of God and look for them, but they are there. God placed them there and nothing society can do will ever change that. All it can do is make the path harder to see and less attractive to walk, but Jesus never promised that following Him would be easy, did he?

This is where you may think that a path of least resistance would be found in leaving the trail that God has laid out for me, but that is not so. You see, I just subtly mentioned that I have a guide on my trail. He is the one that knows how to get where I need to be and how to get there. When I stumble or veer off the trail, He gathers me back up and gets me moving again. I can resist Him for a time, but that is never a fruitful proposition. If I am to walk my trail of least resistance, I need to walk in the path that I am called.

 Romans 6:20-23 
When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

If I am truly a slave to righteousness, I would resist my new nature by acting like a slave to sin. Sadly, we all do that from time to time and those who are in Christ realize it, often before and during the sinful act. There is no such thing as a good shortcut on the trail of life. The only good path to follow is the one God has placed before me. I long to remain on this path no matter the cost, and am comforted that He will get me back on the path when I do fail to stay there on my own. Stating this in my tagline is more than just a way to build conversation. It is a healthy reminder that I use to maintain my focus on the trail boss.

Introduction

Life

Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise: seek what they sought.
-Basho

I debated the use of a non-Christian quote to begin this post, but it really sums up what I am doing here. I could follow the book I’m reading and trust in John Piper’s wisdom in what he says and I can trust that the Biblical passages he cites are accurate, or I can follow along in my Bible and see where his information is coming from. I do trust the word of Mr. Piper, but I don’t want to follow in his footsteps. I am seeking what he once sought.


The Introduction to Desiring God is entitled, “How I Became a Christian Hedonist.” I will admit that I was a bit guarded at that title of choice, and I am sure that Piper has encountered questions over his choice in self-description. Admittedly, had I not explored his website and had there not been several recommendations from trusted brothers in Christ, I would never have had the desire to read this book. A hedonist is often thought of as a selfish glutton, even to the point that a person’s religion was the pursuit of their carnal pleasures. Piper has chosen to give us a taste of what he means by this declaration to help us understand his self-depiction.

According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever. Many people separate those two fundamental ends of God in their own understanding, when their separation was not the intention of the scholars who wrote the catechism. How can we say this so boldly? The scholars who assembled these foundations made it their life’s joy in the subtleties of language. An entire sermon (and more) can depend on the tense of a verb or the choice of one word over another, when both words mean almost the same thing. These scholars did not say that “the chief ends of man are to glorify God and then to enjoy Him forever” as if they were two separate things. They used singular terminology in this catechism. Glorifying God and enjoying Him are one end, not two!

With that knowledge, rest assured that John Piper hasn’t changed anything by changing the wording to “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” All he has done is clarified the semantics for a generation of believers who grew up watching their parents attend church out of the obligations to them as their children or to avoid disappointing the generation before them. I have never visited any church that didn’t have somebody there who looked grumpy. They may not truly desire to be there, for whatever reason, or perhaps they feel that a somber stonewalled look is the most appropriate expression for worshiping God. Maybe it is just the way they were raised! This is a cycle of gloom that could be detrimental to a curious unbeliever, so I say that it is paramount that these church families lock arms and have a revival of praise!

As the book progresses, Piper will show that it is both unbiblical and dangerously arrogant to try to worship God for any other reason than the pleasure to be had in Him.

Christian Hedonism is a philosophy of life built on the following five convictions:

The longing to be happy is a universal human experience, and it is good, not sinful.

While in college, Piper had a philosophical notion that so many people are burdened with. He thought that if he did something good because it would make him happy, the goodness of the act would be lost. That thought is reworded to say that the goodness of any moral action is lessened to the degree that pleasure is a motivator. The higher the activity, the less self-interest should be involved, and worship became a duty to be performed. The very heart of worship is removed when this is the case.

We should never try to deny or resist our longing to be happy. Instead, we should seek to intensify this longing and nourish it with whatever will provide the deepest and most enduring satisfaction.

From the sermon, “The Weight of Glory” by C.S. Lewis: If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not to be too strong, but too weak. Humanity is busy wading through the muck of our own design and looking for contentment in the acts of man.

The deepest and most enduring satisfaction (happiness) is found only in God. Not from God, but in God.

I just mentioned the muck we wade through on our never-ending quest for satisfaction. This fool’s errand has us so busy that we often overlook the infinite satisfaction that is found in the Lord. Our undeniable yearning for happiness should not be suppressed, but needs to be consumed in God. We need to feast on Him to the point of gluttony!

The happiness we find in God reaches its consummation when it is shared with others in the manifold ways of love.

Praise is not foreign to our lives. I remember witnessing a sunset on the western beach of Key West, Florida twelve years ago. I stood there in awe at the beauty and majesty of the sun as it seemed to sizzle into the unreachable depths of the waters. My heart was moved and I spoke about it for many days after that. When the Green Bay Packers won their Super Bowl against the New England Patriots, I jumped and shouted for joy. This morning, I told my wife how beautiful she is. We delight to praise what we enjoy! Stifled praise is conflicting, while expressed praise completes our enjoyment. So how could God be worshiped where He is not treasured and enjoyed? How can we just sit there with our arms crossed in church and say that we are praising Him? If we are not enjoying God, we are dishonoring Him. To allow something else to satisfy our desires more than Him is a sacrilege. It truly is as simple as that! Joy and awe are not options during worship. They are essential components of our worship. And to try to give praise without pleasure is hypocrisy.

To the extent that we try to abandon the pursuit of our own pleasure, we fail to honor God and love people. To word this statement positively: The pursuit of pleasure is a necessary part of all worship and virtue.

The Psalms are filled with hedonistic scripture! Do note that in all of these passages are a few important consistencies:

  • God is not the means to an end, but He is the end of our search for pleasure. He doesn’t reveal treasures to us, He is the treasure!
  • This Christian Hedonism does not make a god out of pleasure. The Christian Hedonist worships that which gives the most pleasure, and there is nothing that can give a fraction of the pleasure that we gain from God.
  • The Christian Hedonist does not put oneself above God by seeking Him out of self-interest.
  • Christian Hedonism is not a theory of moral justification. An act is not right because it provides pleasure. Joy is not a moral criteria. The goal is to proclaim that joy is a moral duty in all true worship and virtuous acts.
  • The distinguishing feature of Christian Hedonism is not that pleasure seeking demands virtue, but that virtue consists essentially, but not only, in pleasure seeking.

We are commanded to act out of joy in situations that the world does not often recognize. As followers of Christ, we are to:

Christian Hedonism is not a distortion of the earlier-mentioned Catechisms of faith.

The underlying questions of those statements is truly, “What is the source of my comfort and happiness?”

Jesus tells us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Him. When we deny ourselves, we are denying the carnal joys of the world in favor of the limitless pleasures of following our Lord and Savior in the gratification that only He can provide.

Preface

Life

The following post is the beginning of a project to read through the Book “Desiring God” by John Piper along with a dear Brother in Christ by the name of Tim Challies. I expressed to him my frustration with this book, as it is much deeper reading than anything I have read since college. It is not spiritual milk, it is spiritual meat. In fact, I have referred to it as a full-course meal, and it is a book that I would experience some difficulty navigating without a wingman.

Tim has set an example for me by offering to read it with me, so we can discuss some of the points of the book. At the present, I have only read the first few chapters, but I can already see that this is a book that can change a person’s life! The premise is simple:

The chief end of man is to glorify God
BY
enjoying Him forever.

If you own this book, please read along. If you don’t own it, I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy as the truths within the book will enrich your life and your sense of praise and worship!

Oh, and Tim… Thanks!

Why did you buy the books that are on your bookshelf? Is it from the recommendation of another? Does the bookstore display or the artwork on the cover catch your eye? Does the synopsis on the back of the book pique your curiosity? Is the title thought-provoking? Is the price right? When I picked up my copy of Desiring God by John Piper, all of these factors were in place. I had just chosen my new Bible and was walking toward the cash register, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw the book up on the shelf. The picture on the cover has changed from the earlier editions, but the title is the same. Thankfully, the message is the same as well, and based on conversations I have had with others (most effectively with a board member of my son’s school) I grabbed my copy while it was on sale and rushed to the front of the store!

Why do you read the books on your bookshelf? No, I’m not throwing curve-balls here. It’s a legitimate question. I know people who buy expensive hardcover books for the simple reason that they like the way these books look on their living-room shelf. Some of the books are read, but the dust jacket is usually removed to preserve the look when the book is returned. I purchase books because I want to read them, but I do find myself basing my zest for a book by judging the Preface quite often. If the Preface is bland, the book could return to the shelf for a later date.

A Preface should give the reader a few good reasons to read the book and should also be a primer for the book itself. In Desiring God, the primer is both of these and neither. John Piper takes the kid gloves off from the outset with Psalm 37:4.

This verse is both a promise to us and also a commandment to us. We are commanded to delight ourselves in the Lord, and in exchange He will give us the desires of our hearts. Does this mean that the Lord will give me a million dollars, a muscular physique, and a pony? Not at all! As we delight in the Lord, our priorities change, and the desire of our hearts becomes… Him! A win-win scenario becomes a snowballing cycle of joy!

Joy in the Lord is absolutely vital in the struggle to break the power of sin in our lives! (Nehemiah 8:10) As we find that our satisfaction in the Lord is superior to our satisfaction with worldly matters, we see that our tastes change. Sin begins to leave a bitter taste in the mouth and glorifying God begins to be a rich, sweet joy. As this cycle continues, our passion to be satisfied becomes God’s passion to be glorified! Or as John Piper puts it: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.

God Loves You More Than Pickle Juice

Life

My son loved pickles when he was younger and still does. Pickles were actually the first thing he asked from Santa, and you better believe he had a big jar of pickles under that Christmas tree!

A few years ago (has it been that long?) my son and I were talking about God’s love. I told him that no matter what we’ve done, no matter who we are, God would always love us more than anything in the world. He turned to me and said, “Even more than pickle juice?”

“Yes Ben,” I answered, “Even more than pickle juice”

The look in his eyes told me that the message had gotten across. That evening I wrote this story after reading him a book before bedtime.



Farmer Ron loves pickles. Each spring, he goes out to his garden and plants cucumbers in his garden. He makes neat, straight rows in the ground where he knows the cucumbers will get just the right amount of sunlight and rain. When he has finished this job, he goes up to the house and drinks a big glass of lemonade, because planting seeds in the garden is thirsty work!

Throughout the spring and summer, Farmer Ron goes out to the garden every few days to check on his cucumbers. He wants to be sure that they are getting just the right amount of sun and rain and he especially wants to take out any weeds that decide to live next to his cucumbers because that just wouldn’t do. When this job is completed, it’s back to the porch for more lemonade, as the summer is heating up! Since all is well in Farmer Ron’s garden, he treats himself to a pickle from the refrigerator, but only one! His grandson, Ben, loves pickles too and Farmer Ron is not doing all of this work only for himself!

Ben came for a visit today and is out with Farmer Ron picking the cucumbers that are ready. Because Farmer Ron has been hard at work all summer, this doesn’t take too long. Ben looks at the cucumbers and is amazed at how small they are! Back at the porch, over lemonade and a pickle spear, Ben asks his Grandpa Ron why these cucumbers are so much smaller than the ones Mommy buys at the grocery store for her famous salads. With a chuckle, Farmer Ron tells Ben that these cucumbers are special and will make better pickles when they are done with all of the work.

Since they are done with the day’s work, they go to the neighbor’s pond and spend the rest of the day fishing and eating ham sandwiches that Grandma Irene packed for them. And boy are they good!

After a wonderful fish supper, Ben looks into the kitchen and sees that his grandma has out some things he is sure he has never seen before. She has jars and lids, a big pan on the stove, certain spices and even some onions!

Ben sees all of the care she takes as she puts each cucumber into a jar with different spices and types of vinegar and seals it tight. “These should be ready in about a week” she says, but Benjamin has waited long enough. Before he gets too upset, though, a wonderful green pickle from the refrigerator is held up in front of him and soon pickle juice was dribbling down his chin! Grandma keeps right on working into the night, even after Ben was carried out the door to go home.

A week later, the pickles were ready and Ben was anxious to get out to Grandpa and Grandma’s house. When they arrived, Ben went running in and soon he was enjoying samples of the different kinds of pickles that Grandma made. He had no idea of the time Grandpa spent getting the garden ready and weeding it throughout the spring and summer. He didn’t know that Grandma was up into the night making pickles. All he knew was that he had his pickles.

Persnickety

Life

At first I thought it wasn’t a real word. It was just something that came to mind-probably due to an overabundance of the Nickelodeon cartoons that my son can?t get enough of.

Persnickety.

An odd enough sounding word that would fool my 4-year old son in a way that I felt necessary.

Persnickety.

My greatest triumph as a father and also my biggest failing, for I allowed my morals and the upbringing of my child to be compromised.

Let me explain…

My son is a good boy. He minds my wife and me. He picks up after himself (with a little prodding). He even minds us when we’re out in public. But a few months ago, someone told him that is was fun to use certain words that I don’t choose to use in this website. I tried punishing him to no avail. He just cursed more discreetly. I tried to ignore it, but that just grated on my nerves. Something had to give. Enter persnickety.

Let me introduce to you Merriam-Webster?s definition of this word.

Main Entry: per?snick?e?ty
Pronunciation: p&r-’sni-k&-tE
Function: adjective
Etymology: alteration of pernickety
Date: circa 1905

  1. fussy about small details : FASTIDIOUS (a persnickety teacher)
  2. having the characteristics of a snob
  3. requiring great precision (a persnickety job)

My son was out playing and he hurt himself. He came to me crying and I caught a few of those words that had been driving me up the wall, so I took that moment as my time to shine.

    “Hey Ben, that really hurts, doesn’t it? I’m going to tell you a word that I use when something really hurts, but you have to promise me that you won’t say it unless something hurts so bad you can’t stand it, because it is the worstbad word out there and you could get in a lot of trouble if you say it when you’re not at home. That word…is persnickety. Why don’t you try it out?”

”OK, persnickety… Hey, I feel better! Persnickety, persnickety, per…”

”Whoa, whoa, whoa! You only say that terrible word when something hurts so you can feel better, then you have to stop. If you keep on saying it, you could get in so much trouble, and don’t tell your mom that I told you that word, either. I don’t want her to get mad at me! It’s our secret.”

And it has worked for us for over a year now. Either that, or my son has gotten extremely good at hiding his cursing. How do I know it works? He heard a boy saying a bad word at the park and let him in on our secret. The boy looked at him funny, but he walked away feeling good about his better mastery of “dirty” vocabulary. That’s one way I know it worked.

The other way involved a case of the stomach flu Ben had just a few months ago. He was in the bathroom in the middle of the night. He sat on the toilet and held a bucket under his chin, rocking back and forth with the pain. I felt so sorry for him. Then, out of the blue, he started whining, “Persnickety, persnickety,persnickety, persnickety…I’m sorry mommy, but it hurts so bad. Persnickety, persnickety,persnickety!”

Maybe I made up a new bad word, maybe not. But I feel pretty good about this aspect of my parenting.

A Hatched Egg and a Planted Potato

Life

This was written by my uncle Ray Nickel, who passed away in his sleep December 26, 2008.


Have you ever gone to the farm, a fair, or a zoo and watched those white-pearl eggs in the incubator under the glowing lamps and waited for a yellow fluff of a chick while it pecked from within its brittle prison, jiggling it almost imperceptively and you could hardly wait till it broke free so you could see it wet and new to the world wobbling on its new found legs and peeping its new song? Or, have you ever cut up a potato tuber, careful to get at least two to three eyes per section, buried it eyes-up beneath the crumbly prepared musty earth in faith that it would sprout and in a few weeks you would harvest some white cobblers, or smooth reds or Idaho baking russets?

I am always impatient for new life. Spring can never some too soon; flowers take too long to bloom; babies take too long to be born. I can hardly resist nature’s course and have, at times, helped the petals open on a flower or rushed planting in the spring. I’ve even helped those chicks hatch by picking away at the crack of an egg and I’ve even stolen out to the garden and carefully scraped away the dirt from where I planted those potatoes to find little marble-like new potatoes amazingly growing out of that old, shriveling, rotting, slice of potato.

I recently stood beside the shell of a man lying in his casket. They did their best to make him “look natural,” but the shell was cracked, the slice of humanity was shrunken, destroyed by those frightening, out-of-control cells. In these last few months he was pecking away at this mortal life longing for the eternal. His body was shriveling while he longed for new robes of righteousness.

He said, “It’s steep.”
“What’s steep?” I asked, “The pillows too high under your head?”
“No, the last mile is so steep, but I see beautiful places in my dreams. I didn’t want to come back. It was filled with azure skies and looked like the majestic mountains of Colombia.”

He often said, “What am I going to do?” as the shell crumbled or “Help me!” as the flesh dissipated. But then it dawned on me that he didn’t want help to stay but help to go, not help to remain but help to step over. He said, “I accept what God has for me. I don’t want to fail Him in the end and complain.” He beat back the doubts of the enemy. He examined his life and cleared his conscience of all things. He exaulted in the truths of the Bible. He comforted in the old hymns in the night. He grasped the hands of friends. He prayed with all who visited. He prophesied to his children as Jacob of old. He encouraged many in the faith. He wept for those who didn’t believe. He gave his last advice. He set his house in order. He was chipping away at the shell of mortality. The old was dying, the new was sprouting.

As I stared at his shell in the coffin, I realized he had taken refuge under the almighty wings. New fruit was forming in the lives left behind. Somewhere he was enjoying resurrection life because of death. Jesus’s death. Than man lying there…didn’t want me to weep for the death but celebrate the life. This man taught me how to live and now he had taught me how to die. That man was my father.