Keeping the Bond of Peace

Ephesians 2:14-16
"For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, 15 having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, 16 and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity."

When we give or believe bad reports about others without warrant, without doing the hard work of confronting sin, or without covering it completely in love, then we hinder communion. We are putting up walls, or leaving up what others put up. Jesus took down walls of hostility. God’s toward us in our sin. Our hostility toward God. And our enmity that grows like weeds against each other if we let it.

This table also reminds us that God DID arise in His anger and judge His enemies, as David asked in Psalm 7 [sermon text], and He did this at the cross. The Son of David took all God’s anger and judgment on Himself, though He was perfectly innocent of every charge. The punishment was fully deserved by us, and taken by Him.


Smooth going down

Proverbs 5:1-4
    My son, pay attention to my wisdom;
          Lend your ear to my understanding,
    2      That you may preserve discretion,
          And your lips may keep knowledge.
    3      For the lips of an immoral woman drip honey,
          And her mouth is smoother than oil;
    4      But in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
          Sharp as a two-edged sword.

The specific case here is the immoral woman who tempts you. But all sin is like this. It feels right in the moment. It’s honey and oil, sweet and smooth. But it’s bitter and sharp in the end. It reminds me of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when the bad guy drinks from the cup seeking eternal life. Sin offers such great promises, and delivers none of them. Sin is trading what you want most for what you want now.

We now have a time to tell God where we fell for this trap, and to ask Him to show us where we are STILL falling for it.



Review: Abortion: A Rational Look At An Emotional Issue

Abortion: A Rational Look At An Emotional Issue
Abortion: A Rational Look At An Emotional Issue by R.C. Sproul

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sproul calmly and persuasively argues for the pro-life position.

The strength of this book is that he does not preach to the choir, but assumes his audience is either on the fence or pro-choice. Sproul first sets forth his position, delving into issues of law, when life begins. He then answers the pro-choice arguments: a woman's right to her body, dangerous black-market abortions, inconsistency with capital punishment.

The take I appreciated most was the critique of the middle-ground position, that if I'm not sure abortion is morally right or wrong, then I default to let a woman choose. The change to this position from the default of life was made in the 1970s, both before and after Roe v. Wade. Sproul answers this ably, and calls on us to speak with those we know on the fence.

One of the failings of the church has been to only preach to the choir. We just get angry at people who are really unsure about this issue. We have little patience with them. So how can we possibly persuade them?

But Sproul gives us Biblical, sound and useful arguments to bring to friends, congressmen, etc.

He also includes a chapter gracefully asserting that abortion is not the unforgivable sin. Guilt is real and can be an overwhelming feeling, but it can be removed in God's sight.

There is a long and interesting appendix about whether frozen embryos are alive, or should be treated as persons.

This is must reading for pastors and pregnancy center volunteers, and anyone who finds they have pro-choice friends open to talking about it.

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What Are Your Children Reading?

I review a lot of children's books on this blog.
If you wonder why, the Wall Street Journal's Children's Book Reviewer has a good answer for you.

"Books tell children what to expect, what life is, what culture is, how we are expected to behave - what the spectrum is. Books don't just cater to tastes. They form tastes. They create norms."

She has an excellent argument against the dark and gothic novels for teens.
While trying to acknowledge the reality of awful things some teens go through, we are normalizing dysfunction and pathology.

Earthly Things Point to Him

Luke 16:9 - "make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home."

God asks us to make friends using earthly things.
God draws us to Himself using earthly things. 

He points you to Himself with food, family, weddings, clothes, rainbows, water, bread and wine. The very rocks will cry out in praise of God if we do not praise Him. The heavens declare the glory of God. Food reminds us of our dependence on His provision, that He made our stomachs. Children remind us we are His children. Husbands remind us Jesus is the groom. Wives remind us we are loved by God, being made lovely by Him. Weddings remind us of His coming for us, of a relationship long enjoyed and the anticipation of consummation of all creation in Christ. Clothes remind us of our shame from sin, but also of our covering by Christ, with creativity and dignity. The rainbow reminds us of God’s promise to preserve the world for us to live on. Water reminds us of cleansing. In baptism we are cleansed and united with Christ. 

Bread and wine remind us of sacrifice that satisfies and sustains. The body and blood of Christ were broken, He bled, to satisfy God’s justice against our sin. And to sustain us forever in living union with Him. 

We remember past propitiation. 
We enjoy present Communion. 
We anticipate future consummation.


Bringing Ourselves up Short

As always, we pause early in our worship service to acknowledge our sins to God. It is far more important to do this, to interrupt ourselves in praising God for a moment, than to gain some kind of emotional momentum with a continued series of songs. 

This is probably a significant difference in our worship experience compared to other churches. We aren’t stoics who deny emotion. But we don’t want to be carried away by our feelings, either. Some believers chase that feeling, that ecstasy. We are glad when God gives us happiness and emotional joy. But we seek its source more than the feeling or the musical vehicle that produces the feeling. 

The source of joy is confessing our sin. Blessed is the one whose sin is forgiven. Our bones grow old when we keep silent, when we don’t confess, when we hang on to sin. It is a blessed relief to confess sin honestly to God, and to be forgiven. Come receive that blessing now.


Praying for Presidents

This was a good article on praying for politicians.

"It is surely the duty of every church in the United States... to pray for President Obama - and let me dare to suggest that it not be a 'smite the Amalekites' style of prayer."


Review: Between Babel and Beast: America and Empires in Biblical Perspective

Between Babel and Beast: America and Empires in Biblical Perspective
Between Babel and Beast: America and Empires in Biblical Perspective by Peter J. Leithart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

America is not the savior of the world. But we often assume it to be true, functionally.

Leithart describes Babel and Beast Biblically, showing the pros and cons of empires as a political reality. Part of his point is that empires aren't always bad. Then he fits America onto the grid. The result is fascinating.

The book is a heavily foot-noted footnote itself to "Defending Constantine." Some of his language is deliberately provocative (America is a "heretic nation") designed to get you think. I'm afraid it will turn off and turn away too many.

I found it a helpfully objective view of America, even if one-sidedly critical at times. He will give one paragraph to the merits of America in some aspect, and the rest of the chapter catalogs our violations of justice or Scripture on that point. The section on our foreign policy supporting democracy is excellent, and applies directly to Egypt right now.

As often with Leithart, there is much very insightful Biblically, and then a couple points where he is stretching to make a point that probably isn't there.

Most provocative perhaps is his point that the American experiment stumbled when it put the church in the backseat. The first amendment essentially dilutes the church's needed voice, to speak God's Word to a nation which claims to be "under God." This can sound like he wants the church over the state, which he doesn't. But it's helpful to get us thinking about the role of the church in public policy.

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Review: By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me

By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me
By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me by Sinclair B. Ferguson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Ferguson hits a double or triple every time. Maybe not out of the park, wow, but always useful. His work is Biblically accurate, doctrinal and helpful.

Chapters address freedom from bondage, unconditional love, Christ's passion, our security in God's favor, and being dead to sin so we can live for God.

I read this at the same time as DeYoung's Hole in our Holiness. DeYoung is a more interesting writer. Ferguson lingers longer on each topic, which can lessen interest, but is more helpful pastorally at points. The fiery darts from Satan in chapter 5 were really good.

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Review: The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness

The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness
The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness by Kevin DeYoung

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kevin DeYoung is a balanced, Biblical, lively and pointed writer.

He nails the balance between receiving grace and striving for obedience, between declarations of grace to us and decrees for us. He roots our holiness in Gospel grace, union with Christ, and gratitude.

He references a lot of Scripture, and it is always used appropriately, to make his point, which is that Scripture's point, too. This is rare, these days!

He is interesting. From camping to Star Wars to donuts, DeYoung can show that he is normal, AND pursuing holiness. This is important. Too often we think holiness is just for super Christians like missionaries and pastors. But every believer is to pursue godliness. People who like Superman ice cream can be holy? Yes!

He is specific. He doesn't leave things at the general platitude level, but gets down to brass tacks. The chapter on sexual morality was especially good, without being salacious.

It helps that he's a Michigan RCA guy, as I used to be!

I would have liked to see a bit more church-oriented chapter. He addresses fellowship and sacraments as means of grace, but teasing out how fellowship prods us on to holiness is needed these days.

Also, there was surprisingly little on our desire for holiness, which he says up front is the hole in our holiness. Still, an excellent reminder of what God saved us FOR.

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Here's Your Sign!

Psalm 86:15-17
          "But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, 
          Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth. 
    16      Oh, turn to me, and have mercy on me! 
          Give Your strength to Your servant, 
          And save the son of Your maidservant. 
    17      Show me a sign for good, 
          That those who hate me may see it and be ashamed, 
          Because You, LORD, have helped me and comforted me."

We seek a sign that the Lord has turned back to us, from rebuke and chastening to favor and forgiveness. Faithful parents show their children this turn, they show love, encouragement, and assurance when the child turns back toward the right way. God gives this to us, in His Word and here at this Table. Here is your sign for good from God. The Heidelberg Catechism asks why God speaks of this meal as participation in the body and blood of Jesus. It answers with assurance. God wants to assure us that as surely as this bread becomes part of you, you have part in Christ and His salvation. No matter how discouraged or despairing you have been or are right now, trust and rest in God’s promises for your good.


Time to Wake up

Luke 13:1-9
There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And Jesus answered and said to them,  “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? 3 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” 
6 He also spoke this parable: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’ 8 But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. 9 And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’ ” 

Again we have heard of natural disasters, tornadoes in Oklahoma, taking the lives of adults and children. There are moral evils, like Pilate brutally killing Pharisees to make an example of them. And there are natural evils, like tornadoes and hurricanes. We know that God is in control of all things, that God is good and not the author of evil. We know that all evil is rooted in sin in some way, and that we can’t always trace a direct cause from that sin to this tornado. These are mysteries hard to understand. Jesus gets practical, instead of philosophizing: use such things as a wake-up call to repent. You don’t have all the time in the world to repent. God is patient, but there is an end; a time appointed to cut down the trees not bearing fruit.


Women Prospering in the Church

This is a great interview with the Housewife Theologian.
Find your identity as a woman, not in a career or in your housekeeping or in your marriage, but in Christ.
On patriarchy and modesty at 16:50-19:50.
On the ministry of the church for women at 21:00-23:50.


Review: Pastoral Graces: Reflections on the Care of Souls

Pastoral Graces: Reflections on the Care of Souls
Pastoral Graces: Reflections on the Care of Souls by Lee Eclov

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nothing in here really wowed me, but it was a refreshing read, intended as such for weary pastors, the back cover said.

The emphasis on ministering grace and being a "wordworker" was really good.

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Review: The Path Between the Seas

The Path Between the Seas
The Path Between the Seas by David McCullough

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Here was some "change-of-pace" reading for me.

The historian who brought you 1776 and John Adams was already at it 25 years ago, writing of the Panama Canal. What a fascinating story!

A French visionary had the idea first, but he was an idealist and the huge scheme ran out of money, leaving many French bankrupt for his pains.

The Americans took it over, at Teddy Roosevelt's behest. The intrigues are wonderful. Although the French had begun in Panama, most Americans wanted a canal through Nicaragua. (It was closer for American trade.) The vote in the Senate was 42 to 34 for Panama over Nicaragua.

But then Colombia played hardball, and got greedy. So TR welcomed a Panamanian revolution, bringing better terms for the US of A.

Then there was the building itself. The work was of such a scale that the main thing was not the main thing. Digging was pressed over everything else at first, mainly by TR, but it backfired. Provision for workers via the infrastructure was chaotic, morale poor, and disease high.

Once the leadership gave the doctors free reign to combat the mosquito, everything turned around. 5600 died from disease and accident under the Americans, and 20-25 thousand altogether - 500 for every mile of the canal.

262 million cubic yards of earth were moved, four times the original estimate.

$639 million dollars were spent, which doesn't seem like much now. But all national territorial acquisitions up to then (Louisiana, Florida, California, Alaska, etc) was $75 million, combined! Wages for the low level digger were 10 cents an hour, 10 hours a day. 61 million pounds of dynamite were used.

The locks are 110 feet wide, 81 feet high walls, and 1000 feet long, making the largest equipment there look miniature in scale. It took 2 million cubic yards of concrete poured. The engineering feat was marvelous.

The First World War broke out just as the canal was finished.

Today, the canal handles about 15,000 ships a year, over 100 million tons, collecting $100 million in toll revenue.

The engineer for the Sault Ste. Marie locks worked on Panama, too.
One of the CEOs of the project went on to reorganize the Trans-Siberian railway later.

The fascinating facts go on and on.
This was not just a wow from the technical and engineering side, but also very interesting from the sociological aspect of nations and banks involved in visions cast of the largest of projects.

Recommended reading!

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Review: Hurry Home, Candy

Hurry Home, Candy
Hurry Home, Candy by Meindert DeJong

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are only two books I've read aloud to my children, where at the end I was laughing and crying at the same time and could hardly finish, I was so moved. The Lord of the Rings, and Hurry Home, Candy.

Meindert DeYoung is highly recommended reading for young people... and adults!

This is DeYoung's home run. It was read to me by Mr VanWyngarden in fourth grade, after recess (settle-down reading time). It is probably my best memory from elementary school.

The stray dog, Candy, meets with lots of troubles and heartaches as he seeks a home. Two children take him in, but he isn't quite housebroken. Their mother gets angry and swats and pokes him with a broom when he messes the floor. He is traumatized, from being punished, for the rest of his life.

But the "great, good man" enters his life, and things change.

This is a Gospel-saturated story, exploring how we fear and are reluctant to accept grace. How we have a hard time getting over condemnation.

Please read this book! If you struggle with the truth of Romans 8:1, you NEED this book.

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Review: Shadrach

Shadrach by Meindert DeJong

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Meindert DeYoung is excellent reading for read aloud to children or the 8-13 age range. Fine for adults, too!

A Dutch Reformed author from 50 years ago, his worldview is Gospel centered, and leans away from the "too strict" camp.

In Shadrach, a father promises his little boy a pet rabbit. The whole book is an exploration of the boy's hopes and fears in expecting the rabbit. It is a well done look at how expectations can be shattered, diminished or adjusted by others or by events.

DeYoung really captures the way children think well, and guides them (and their parents!) in a good direction as far as handling disappointment, honoring and keeping promises, avoiding deception and the idolatry of overly desiring something.

The part about father and son missing church ("let the preacher preach") was delightful.

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Review: The House of Sixty Fathers

The House of Sixty Fathers
The House of Sixty Fathers by Meindert DeJong

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Meindert DeJong is excellent reading for young people. He uses a simple writing style that repeats and reinforces main themes. And the themes of his books are glorious.

In House of 60 Fathers, the Japanese are attacking the Chinese, and a little Chinese boy, the main character, gets separated from his family. The Americans are involved, portrayed positively, and help bring him back.

If you have seen the Pianist movie, it reminded me of this (except age appropriate for young people and without gratuitous violence). Hapless person caught in the middle of the ravages of war, finds mercy and redemption.

Highly recommended to introduce children to the evils of mankind.

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Overly Nice

Listening to World Magazine's take on the BBC/PBS documentary on Islam coming out tonight.
More double standard treatment between Islam and Christianity.
Christianity would never get such a positive and softball analysis, like Islam does.


Pray for the Persecuted Church and their Persecutors

I've been getting the newsletter from International Christian Concern for a while, now.

The August 2013 issue is an excellent real-life look at persecution happening in Egypt, Tanzania and elsewhere. It pulls back the veil on Islamic attacks on Christianity. The picture of the Tanzanian pastor standing smiling next to his burned-to-a-shell car is jaw-dropping priceless.

Sign up for it here

Democracy and Its Ills

I subscribed to Chronicles magazine for a year, a few year back. I never renewed, but the consistent bright light was Thomas Fleming. His article on the Nov 2011 issue theme, “The Tyranny of Democracy,” provokes thought.

Pure democracy is a nightmare, the thought of which horrified the founders of America. It is nothing but mob rule, where 51% can trample the rights of the rest, with no moral brakes.

If we truly reject this, as I believe we should, we need to face an uncomfortable question. What keeps the majority from imposing its will?

Legally, a constitution does. Culturally, there are often lines a majority won’t cross, even if they could. What this does is deal a death blow to egalitarianism. There is some authority to which the majority must defer. The people are not supreme to decide whatever values they want. This would lead to the biggest faction in a country bullying the rest. Instead some moral compass generally guides a group.

On the pro-democracy side, a minority view should not be allowed to hold the majority back from prevailing, using procedure or politics, if there aren’t moral boundaries crossed. The majority view should generally prevail, given moral and procedural restraints are observed.

When is it right for a majority to simply outvote the rest, and when should you work for greater consensus first? How does a group of people function when a general consensus or will cannot be ascertained?


Transformation or Preservation?

An interesting comparison:

Carl Trueman's more pessimistic take on Christian interaction with culture.

Douglas Wilson's response, more optimistic.

Should we just preserve the faith in the church and expect little cultural change toward Christianity?


Loving to be first; Leadership Lust

Peter Jones quotes
Peter Leithart commenting on Diotrephes in III John 1:9-10 in his book From Behind the Veil. 

Though the specific situation of Gaius' church is not replicated in every church, the threat of prideful members and leaders like Diotrephes is a perpetual threat. John instructs churches of all times to pay attention and watch out for men in the church who lust for leadership. Watch out for the ambitious man. Watch out for men who refuse to bow to authority, take advice and counsel, resist necessary rebukes and exhortations. Watch out for the men and women in the church who fill the church with gossip and evil words about the leaders in the church. Watch out for people John says, who refuse to receive brothers, who close themselves off from Christians who are not part of the in group. Watch out for these Judaizing tendencies. 
 This is all the product of pride, of wishing to be first, and it destroys the fellowship of the church. This is evil conduct of the most serious nature. If we are going to be judged by how we treat the "least of these my brothers," then we had better be very careful to avoid pride, ambition, gossip, slander, evil words, and resistance to counsel. We ought instead to be cultivating humility, service, edifying speech, and submission to the authority of those set over us. 


The Spirit Does It

Romans 8:12-17
"Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together."

The big thing we seek to do at this time is to have our thoughts on the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the Spirit who aids us. We cannot work up such thoughts and feelings on our own. He makes possible personal fellowship with the Lord. He makes possible a transformed life of purity and joyful obedience. He makes possible an assurance of the reality of God and His salvation of us at the cross of Christ. We are adopted children of God, and we will never be forsaken by Him. Abide in Christ now, by the Spirit’s work.

Record lows

God through Isaiah rebukes Israel for seeking ease and being at ease in their sinful ways. When you get comfortable with the sin you are supposed to fight, then wasting desolation comes to your soul, to your family and to your nation. We can no longer hear God’s voice, the GDP and the Dow drop to record lows. Let us be troubled, not for our retirement plans, but that we have wandered so far from the Lord.


The Assyrian Threat of God's People

Scripture spills a lot of ink on Hezekiah and Assyria’s siege of Jerusalem. Isaiah, Kings and Chronicles each devote 1-4 chapters each about it. (2 Kings 17-20; 2 Chronicles 32; Isaiah 36-39). As I read some of them just now I realized part of God’s purpose.

Israel needed to know that the moving of armies and changing of governments was directed by God, not the movers and shakers of the world. They were tempted to fear Assyria instead of God, to trust Babylon or Egypt or their own preparations for disaster (2 Chronicles 32:3-7), instead of trusting God (2 Chronicles 32:8).

Whenever the fragility of the world order becomes obvious, this temptation gets stronger. God gives us this story to remind us that He is in charge, we need not fear, and He will provide for His people.


Abuse in the church

Here is a helpful podcast on spousal abuse and child abuse.

What are we doing if we ignore this? 4:10
Is spousal abuse desertion that Biblically justifies divorce? 5:00
Do you call the police? 16:00


Vacation 2013

The Hemmekes are back home in Virginia, after a two-week vacation:
- over 3,000 miles and about 50 hours of traveling around Lake Michigan and up to Lake Superior
- 6 nights camping
- 3 hotels
- 3 books finished
- 1 sock knitted
- eating fresh whitefish from Lake Superior at Whitefish Point, WAY up north.
- biking around Mackinaw Island (Steve’s first time)
- Fort Michilimackinaw (kids played baggatiway/lacrosse outside the fort just like the Indians, French and British did in the mid-1700s)
- church in Mackinaw City
- Great Wolf Lodge
- Grandma’s house!
- 2 birthday parties
- stargazing in Grandma’s backyard with Zach
- fireworks!
- church in Hamilton, MI – Ray VanderLaan preached!

Here are pictures, if the link works

We saw
- huge wind turbines in Ohio and Pennsylvania – each blade 112 feet long!
- helicopters crop-dusting in Indiana
- several near-accidents in Virginia; road rage in Michigan; construction and a long backup on the toll road
- an otter in the wild on Lake Winnebago
- deer in the wild on a hiking trail in Peninsula State Park
- a sign inviting us to a bear ranch in the U.P.
- Lake Michigan from the Wisconsin side
- Green Bay
- Traverse Bay
- the Mackinaw Bridge from our campsite for four nights in a row!

We were in/on
- a tent that stayed dry enough through several nights of rain
- Lake Superior during a downpour
- The Dogpatch restaurant in Munising, MI
- 3 great lakes
- a 75 foot watchtower over the tops of the trees to overlook Green Bay.

We almost missed our Lake Superior boat ride, because we forgot the time change from Wisconsin to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

We finished reading (out loud to the kids) Hurry Home, Candy, a precious book that really captures the Gospel well.

This was a change-of-pace kind of trip, enjoying God’s glorious creation, getting our minds off of routines and stresses. In spite of the long distance and much done, I realized that vacation is as much mental as anything. Your mind can dwell on stress in the most serene and remote setting, if you let it. But I was able to reset, unwind, rejuvenate, disconnect (no computer the whole time), reconnect with family. I was reminded that temptations to sin do not go away just because you are on vacation. Living in closer quarters with family that long will test you!

God has been very good to our family, giving us a generous church providing us the time off, a loving and fun extended family to go back north to, and the Spirit of love, joy and peace in sharing life together as a family. Soli Deo Gloria!


Dangers of Corporate Repentance

Excellent article here on when confession of sin goes awry.

Those who enjoy confessing the sins of the nation may have a problem...