Sunday, November 28, 2010

"O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree!"

Today was Christmas tree Sunday! For the past several years my family has begun the Christmas season by cutting our Christmas tree at the Lee farm on Thanksgiving weekend. But on this occasion, after five years of doing this, I was filled with such a deep sentiment that I thank God. For the first time we participating in Tina's tree cutting custom, since Matthew is gone this year and could not cut it himself. Each year Tina and her children go out and sift through their 32 acres to find that one special tree for their Christmas adornment. This year was also the first time we cut a tree for my son Joseph and his girl friend, Abby. Joseph was away for the day, but Abby was able to join us. Here are some pics from today's tree cutting venture...

Tina and her children picked out one special tree from the many sections of trees on their 32 acre farm. Here they are ready to have the tree cut.

I cut the tree down fast and the kids cavorted with joy.

This is the tree Pam and I would put in our apartment. Last year, when we were living on the farm we had a very large tree, because the farm house we lived in had 10 foot high ceilings. This year we decided to "down size" for our comparatively small apartment.

We carried our trees out to the truck for transport.

I think the kids enjoyed the participation of carrying out the tree together.

Once the trees were loaded in to the truck we headed across the property to the Lee house to set up the tree in their living room. I know the kids look pensive here, but they were having a great time during the entire process; from cutting, to transporting, to setting up.

The tree was now ready for decorating!

This year size doesn't matter. Pam was pleased to have our little tree for the season. It's a beautifully symetrical Noble Fir and Pam will decorate it with style, as she does every year.

OK, so this is not Abby with her tree! We didn't get a pic of her with her tree, even though we cut her and Joseph a nice bushy 7' fir tree and brought it to her house. I don't know why we didn't get pictures of her tree. However, before we went out to cut the tree she enjoyed getting to know our weanling, Percy. At least we got these pictures! Perhaps we took these pics because it was the happiest time of the day for her. Llamas have a way of bringing joy in to our lives!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Why Pray?

My recent blog poll on prayer was not answered as I had expected. I put the poll up because I was curious to know if people thought the way I do about prayer. Evidently most people don't. 22 people took the poll and the results showed me how out of step I am with how people think. I didn't list every possible answer one could choose, but the four answers I provided were typical reasons people give for not praying.

When I posted the poll question I was thinking about the spiritual discipline of regular prayer, not the kind of prayer we do as we walk down the street on our way to work. It was my assumption that people would understand it that way, but I wasn't able to put it in the question, so some people understandably did not get what I was trying to get at. The spiritual discipline of prayer is the practice of prayer as something we do in the "prayer closet," wherever and however that might be. An example would be how my grandparents prayed. They would kneel down before their bed every night and pray out loud with each other.

From time to time I struggle with this kind of prayer for each of the reasons I provided. Sometimes I am well intentioned, but I get so busy I blow it off. Sometimes I get so weary of unanswered prayer that I don't bother.

Usually, however, my Calvinistic Christianity kicks in and I reason that God does not answer my prayers because His mind was made up before the creation of the world. After all, He is sovereign and his plan will be carried out just as he wants, so what makes me think I can get him to change his mind? Oh yes, the theological answer is, "God uses our prayers as PART of his plan to fulfill his will. Therefore, Joe, your prayers are meaningful." But, for me that's about as motivational as telling me I should vote for a candidate the day after the election.

Of course some people don't believe God predetermines anything at all. The universe is open ended and therefore our prayers will have an effect upon God's will for the "undetermined" future. If this is true I would be on my knees night and day. I suppose I'm too far gone as a Calvinist and rational Biblical thinker to accept that God is not so sovereign.

To be honest with you I think people might agree with me more than they are willing to admit.

I know, I know, I know... the Bible bids us to pray and we must accept the exercise of prayer on faith alone. But, I'm looking for motivation to pray. I want to be inspired.

Well guess what! I found it! The best motivation I know of is simply this, and it happens to be true, prayer is an important exercise because it humbles me before the will of Almighty God. The Christian philosopher, CS Lewis, put it this way, "prayer doesn't change God, it changes us." When we pray the most important effect that it has is it's effect upon my acceptance of God's will. You won't find a paticular Bible verse for this, but it is based on who God is and how He works with us.


Monday, November 22, 2010

Rusty Just Arrived!

Our newest llama was born November 18th to the miracle llama, Rainy. While Rainy was lost in the Mount Hood Wilderness this past summer she was carrying little Rusty without our knowing it. In fact, we didn't know she was pregnant until the vet came to do our annual llama herd check a month ago! He felt around her belly and said, "she's dropped and the baby will be born at any time." When he arrived last Thursday we named him Rusty due to the blotchy rust colored patches he has in his wool. Rusty's sire is Apollo and he carries many of the characteristics of his sire, especially his black rusty coat. He also takes after his older brother, Nicky, who was born last October to Rainy. The only difference I see between Nicky and Rusty at birth is that Nicky was pure black when he was born, whereas Rusty is already showing his rust. In the recent picture of Nicky below you can see that he now has a lot of rust tint in his wool. It is our experience that llama wool colors change a little with time; usually lightening. Therefore, I anticipate that Rusty will be a very rusty llama! Also, If he's anything like his brother, he'll also have nice body conformation with a handsome face.

Rusty at one day old

Brother Nicky at One Year Old

Pam with one day old Rusty. Notice the intense look on Pam's face? They're pretty squirmy when they're crias and it's hard to hold on!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Down Town Ministry in Portland Oregon

It’s been said that there are more dogs on the streets of Portland than there are Christians. At least that’s what one church planter in Portland has said. Portland has long been considered a bastion of political liberalism, social progressiveness, and eclectic spirituality. It’s a tough nut for Conservative Christians to crack, but it’s not without hope. No matter what the lay of the land is like, Christianity always has a place at the table, even in the most vile places. When the chips are down, both socially and spiritually, Christianity shines. Darkness is ubiquitous in down town Portland. On the one hand there is the darkness of spiritual wickedness, which manifests itself from the “rebels without a cause” who roam the streets from Burnside to Clay, to the surreptitious business man who plans his next scam while walking through Washington Park. On the other hand there is the darkness of spiritual oppression, which can be found from the down and out drug addict living under the Burnside Bridge, to the up and out high rise executive who has everything, including an empty soul. Christianity is a light for such darkness and in down town Portland there are several light houses bringing the light of Christ in to this darkness.

One such place is Grace Bible Church on 12th and Clay, led by Pastor Ken Garrett. It was during a dark time in my life when I met Ken Garrett on the streets of Portland doing one of the things he loves most, street ministry. At the time, I was renovating a 13 story apartment complex across the street from the church. It was a Saturday, which happened to be both a work day for me and for the church. I was on the street supervising the placement of several pieces of mechanical equipment on the roof of the apartment complex, which required a massive crane that blocked the entire street, and Ken was on the sidewalk supervising a work group from the church performing a variety of exterior fix-ups around the building. We had an instant connection as we met on the street to discuss our common roll on the street that day. As we talked in the midst of the activities going on around us we found out that we had a lot in common, including a common Seminary heritage. I had coffee with Ken the following week and told him my story, which at the time involved some pastoral disappointments that were eating me up inside. I had a few issues to work out with God and Ken helped bring the light of Christ to bear upon my issues and my heart. It was a pastor pastoring a pastor. But, that is what Christians do and that is what churches like Grace Bible can be for places of darkness like down town Portland. Pam and I now call Grace Bible church our home church and place of service. It is truly a light house where the people of God are living testimonies of darkness turned to light. If you need the light of Jesus in your life, or if you need a place where you can join with others shining the light of Christ, come and check out Grace Bible Church.