Back to School

Well, at least back to teaching at Westminster Academy in Memphis, TN. This is the first week of school. I got a lot of work finished on our new house, but we still have to finish things up inside: doors, trim, paint…that’s where we are. Most of my summer was consumed with the house. It will be nice once we are done, but it is exhausting right now.

With the beginning of school I plan to write more on the blog. We have some good reading lined up for the upper school students: Lewis’ Mere Christianity, Augustine’s Confessions, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and several others. Hopefully I will be able to post some thoughts on the readings and discussion.

A Personal Note/Update

Just a little update on my family and current work. Last week I finished up my second year of teaching part-time at Westminster Academy in Memphis, TN. I had to finish grading the finals and wrapping up various other items. I will be back at Westminster for the upcoming school year. It has been a good experience.

I’ve also been busy with the work of building a house. We have been planning this for a few years, and will be finishing this process up within the next two months. The convergence of pastoring, end of school year work, and building a house has been too much lately!


After a break…

Well, I had planned on taking a break with the blog during August. I’m teaching at Westminster Academy again, and it was a good time to take a break, prepare for school, and get the first two weeks accomplished. August, however, turned into September with Labor day weekend, two birthdays in the family, starting soccer, and other issues in life that have caused me to start up now, as we are about to enter the last week of September. But it is time to settle in and start writing (I hope!).


Summer Update

Last week I finished my year of teaching at Westminster Academy in Memphis, TN. I enjoyed the year, and I will be back next year teaching Theology I and Theology III (which basically means Doctrine of God/Christ & Doctrine of Church/Culture). Westminster is a Classical School connected with ACCS. Hopefully next year I will do better with managing my time between school and church, leaving more opportunities to blog. But now that summer is here, I plan to catch up on some writing and the stack of book reviews I have put off. Hope you enjoy your summer!

The Flooding of the Mighty Mississippi

I live about 40 miles from downtown Memphis and the Mississippi River. As you are probably aware, the Mississippi River crested at almost 47.9 feet, just under the record of 48.7 feet set in 1937. Although this has caused flooding all along the river, Memphis itself is built on a bluff, so the downtown area is basically safe. But the area North and South of Memphis, as well as Mud Island and the riverfront area at the base of the bluff is mostly under water. Below is a good video of the flooding in the Memphis area:

Aerial View of Mississippi River Crest:

The Storms in the South

This has been a crazy week. I live outside of Memphis, and it started storming Monday evening, and it didn’t stop until Wednesday afternoon. We lost power multiple time, had several trees uproot near the house due to water saturation and wind, and have been facing the rising water in local rivers and tributaries heading toward the Mississippi River. We are thankful that no tornadoes hit our area, but I grew up within 10 minutes of Ringgold, GA, the town in North Georgia that was devastated by the tornado. It is hard to believe that the storm was so bad and that it lasted so long over several states before it stopped. In times like this, I am reminded of the words of Psalm 46:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though hits waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

Westminster Academy & Classical Christian Education

Westminster Academy is a Classical Christian School located in Memphis, TN. I have known some of the teachers there since I moved to the Memphis area back in 2003, but last year my friend Tim Russell became the headmaster, and we planned something like a monthly study seminar at my church that met once a month. A teacher from Westminster came out to lecture on the idea of Classical Education or a particular topic (literature, art, science, etc.) from a Christian perspective.

This year as we were finalizing the plans for our this monthly study, Tim approached me about the opportunity to teach at Westminster. This was a delightful development, and now I am the 11th Grade theology professor. This course covers the church, its purpose and ministry, and its relation to the culture. I’ve enjoyed it so far, not sure about the students in my class…

The Apocalypse is upon us…

I’m not talking about this (which is really funny and a sign of the end of days), but the forecast in Memphis, TN. We are expecting to hit around 100 degrees today, but this is good news! This is a cooler forecast than yesterday when we hit 104 in certain parts, with a heat index of 115-120, and humidity over 80%. It is 10:30am right now, and the temp is already 93, but it feels like 105. Thankfully there is more cloud cover today than yesterday. I am tempted to say that someone opened the gates of hell in Memphis, but if that were the case, things would be far worse. I often wonder, however, if there is any correlation between the this type of weather and the spiritual condition of our city/region…

Which brings me to another point. I’ve been reading Steven J. Keillor’s book, God’s Judgments: Interpreting History and the Christian Faith. This has been on my reading list, but every time I start reading it, I keep thinking that I need to spend some more time thinking through his arguments.  Keillor argues that divine judgment is an important category for a Christian view of history, and our modern notions of worldview thinking have pushed this notion of historical judgment aside. When I finish it, I’ll provide a review, but there have been several sections that have made me realize I haven’t been as faithful to the Biblical text regarding historical judgments.

So…maybe God is speaking to us in the midst of this heat.

Back from the East Tennessee Mountains

I grew up in North Georgia, just outside of Chattanooga, TN. The skyline was filled with mountains, and rivers meandered through the land. Now I live in near Memphis, TN, and although we still have some rivers, we have no mountains.

When we visit family in East Tennessee/North Georgia, I always enjoy the mountains. This time we were able not only to spend time with family near Chattanooga, but take a short trip up to Gatlinburg, TN. Although the heat index has been over 100 degrees lately, the Smokey Mountains provided several cool 70 degree evenings.

We are glad to be home, in spite of the sweltering heat and humidity of West Tennessee. But I sure wish I could see the Tennessee River and Lookout Mountain out my back window.

Hope your summer is going well!

Timmy Bishop (1999-2010)

I first met Timmy Bishop in January of 2004 when he and his parents, Tim and Jennifer, came to our house for a meal. Timmy was four at the time, and Tim was something of a new Calvinist looking for a Reformed-type church, so we invited them over to talk.

In the process of the conversation, Tim and Jennifer explained that Timmy had a rare nerve disease. This disease was causing his body to break down. At that time, Timmy could crawl and talk, and he had a small vocabulary, but over the course of the next six years, Timmy’s body started to deteriorate. He stopped talking and crawling. He also lost the ability to eat and needed a feeding tube. He lost his hearing and sight, and in 2008, he had surgery to remove one of his eyes.

That summer, we talked about Timmy’s life and his future death. We talked about his funeral and things that would take place when Timmy finished his course in this life. Tim and Jennifer also asked about the possibility of baptizing Timmy. I didn’t have a problem with it and thought it was an important decision. So on August 9, 2008, we had a baptismal service for Timmy at our church. It was a wonderful service, and it stands out as one of the most significant worship experiences of my own life.

Last Tuesday, April 13, 2010, around 3:15 pm, Timmy finished his course in this life. He was eleven years old. I was with Tim and Jennifer when Timmy died at the hospital, and although the grief was real and painful, it was very obvious that they had a hope beyond what others could see. Back in 2008, they had decided to stay with Timmy and his body until the end, so in the hospital, we explained to the nurses that we would wait until the funeral home arrived before we left. This came as a surprise to the nurses and some of the doctors. They thought this would be too hard on the parents. But with a quiet confidence, Tim and Jennifer explained that they had taken care of this little body for eleven years, through sickness and pain, and they were going to stay with him until he was transported to the funeral home.

Once the funeral home arrived, they followed the body out of the hospital until the funeral director left. The next day we met at the funeral home. They brought Timmy’s clothes and made the arrangements for the funeral, which was held at our church on Friday. Jennifer fixed Timmy’s clothes and hair, and the funeral home brought Timmy’s body to our church on Thursday afternoon, where he remained through the night. Tim and Jennifer had decided back in 2008 that they would also remain with the body that evening. During that time, they decided to cloth him with the baptismal robe we had used back in 2008. It was a special moment because that baptism defined Timmy and this moment more than his sickness or death. The funeral was Friday, April  16th, at 2:00 pm.

Why did Tim and Jennifer care for the body of their son, even after his spirit had departed? What was the point or reason for all of those decisions? As Christians, we believe in the resurrection of the body, the body that was cared for in the hospital and at the funeral home and at our church. We believe that Timmy’s body, the body that was broken and weak because of his sickness, that body will be raised from the dead to a new life, with strong bones and strong muscles. Tim and Jennifer’s care for that body is a witness to the resurrection. As they walked down the hall of the hospital, they were witnessing to the resurrection. As they dressed him for the funeral, placing his baptismal robe on him, they were witnessing to the resurrection. And as we finished the ceremony and placed him in the tomb, we were witnessing to the resurrection. The tender care of that dead body was a witness to the resurrection at each step of this journey.

Timmy’s body is now resting until the day that Jesus returns and makes all things new. On that day, Jesus will wipe away the tears from Timmy’s eyes, and Jesus will wipe away the tears from his parents’ eyes. On that day, there will be no more pain or dying, for those things will have passed away. But until then, may God the Father, who created his body, may God the Son who by his blood redeemed his body, may God the Holy Spirit who by baptism sanctified his body to be His temple, keep his remains until the day of resurrection and provide hope for his parents to trust their Heavenly Father and be confident in the hope of the resurrection accomplished by Jesus Christ.

Thoughts on a New Week (and the end of a really hard week that went out of control and….)

I have been trying to change my perspective on how the week starts by constantly reminding myself that Sunday is the beginning of the week and not the end of the week. When it rolled around yesterday, I was glad to see it. It really does change the way I view the week and my own life if I see things flowing out of Sunday.

For me personally, last week went off track. I had several projects that needed desperate attention, and I had planned to focus on them, but providence dictated otherwise. Instead of my projects, which included some significant writing on a manuscript that is due toCrossway in the immediate future, the week took an unbelievable turn: plumbing problems, church matters, personal issues, and on and on we go.

Usually when a week goes that way, I can recover on Saturday and focus my attention on the Sunday service, even if everything else didn’t go quite right. This weekend was different. I took my elders and deacons to an intensive one day officer training at a local church in Memphis from 9am until 4pm on Saturday. I wonder, why is it that the planned event on Saturday happens at the end of the difficult week? Why not the next week? Or the week before? Or something else?

When it rains, it pours, and part of the problem this past week is that it did literally rain a lot. So not only was water coming from the heavens, but because of my plumbing problems, water was coming from the earth too! And while I was working on it, all I could do was sing the hymn by Martin Luther on Psalm 130 that we are learning this month at church: “From the Depths of Woe I Cry to Thee, Lord hear my Supplication!” 🙂

It really was one of those moments when I thought the day would never end. You know what I am talking about, right? Those kind of prayers where you are telling the Lord, “Please, please, get me out of this. Will this day ever end?” I know, I know, my problems are very small compared to what many people face, but at the moment it never seems small. Thankfully the Lord hears our prayers in those moments, and he doesn’t neglect us no matter how big or small our problem is. He provides, and in this case, the sun came up, and a new week dawned, which reminded me that one day, the Son will arise, and he will make all things new, both great and small.

Roe v. Wade’s 37th anniversary: A Personal Reflection

On January 22, 1974, the Supreme Court legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade, and this has resulted in the death of almost 50 million unborn babies. I have several links to post about this later today, but I wanted to take this moment to reflect on what was happening in the life of my family last year at this time.

In December of 2008, my wife Brandy was almost 24 weeks along in her pregnancy for our third child. She started having contractions early on a Monday morning, and this started a long 3 month process of Brandy on bed rest, visiting the doctor(s), staying in the hospital, and numerous visits to the ER when contractions started up.

My wife and I were doing everything within our power and ability to keep our third child in her womb for the last three months. Last year during the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we had been struggling through the ordeal for 39 days, and during that time there were approximately 144,300 unborn babies killed in the United States and 4,485,000 in the world. It is staggering to realize that while we were saving our unborn baby, many others in the womb were lost.

Nate was eventually born in March 2009, and he is almost 10 months old. Here is a picture:

He is healthy and growing, and we are so thankful for the grace that God provided for us during that trial. Let us pray that the Lord will strengthen his church to do the hard work of saving the lives of these innocent children.

My Grandfather’s Faith

Henry Earl Waters was my (maternal) grandfather. He died on Wednesday, November 25, 2009. He was 83 years old.

We called him Granddad, and when I was little he took me fishing and camping. Some of my early memories involve him and my granny. On Sundays, we would go eat at their house. Although he wasn’t a Christian, he would often cook for the whole family on Sunday. Then we would go over to their house after church.

My granny was a faithful Christian and had been praying for him all their married life. My wife and I were married in 1997, and I introduced my granddad to the minister who did our wedding. His name was Brother John. I explained to John that my granddad was not a Christian, and it was a deep burden on my heart.

Beginning in 1997, John started visiting granddad. He would just drop by the house to have coffee with him. He would pray, and he would tell granddad what he had preached the week before at church. This continued on until the March of 2001. One evening John came by to tell granddad about the sermon from John 6 the week before, and by the time John finished, granddad was crying and ready to confess his sins and trust Jesus.

I baptized granddad in April of 2001. That means my grandfather was only a Christian for 8 years. I think he made slow but good progress in the Christian faith. He was slowly changing and growing in his faith and knowledge of Christ, but I will not pretend that Christian growth is neat and clean. In fact, it is very messy because we are messy people, and that is no different with my granddad.

But there is something very specific that stands out for me regarding my granddad’s faith. This took place a few days before his death.

He didn’t know that he had cancer until Monday, November 23. After taking it in for a while, he decided to sit at the table and talk to us. He started out talking about his life, how he had lived a long time and how thankful he was for how God had blessed him and the family. But the words that stand out most to me from that night were about his doctor.

He made the comment that perhaps, if his doctor had been on top of things, he might have done something about this sooner.

Now I have heard that many times. I have thought it myself. And those words by themselves can turn into bitterness and anger. And the man my grandfather was before April of 2001 would have stopped there. He would have been angry about the doctor and frustrated about the whole situation.

But the man sitting across from us at the table on that Monday evening didn’t stop with those words. My granddad continued to say: “Well, this is the Lord’s will and I will trust him.”

“This is the Lord’s will, and I will trust him.”

Those words are only spoken if you believe the gospel, the good news that Jesus has conquered death and has set you free from the fear of death.

Those words are only spoken if you trust in a good and loving heavenly father, who is infinitely wise and powerful, and he does all things for your good.

My grandfather was confident in what previous generations, including his, once called the providence of God, that God provides for his children; that God watches over and takes care of his people. And that no matter what we face, we can trust our loving heavenly father.

William Cowper said it this way in a poem that we now sing as a hymn:

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

My granddad understood, in his 8 short years as a Christian, that he could trust the Lord, that he should not judge what the Lord had done by his own feeble sense, but my granddad chose to trust God for his grace, because he knew behind this particular frowning providence, God was hiding a smiling face.

My granddad’s faith is a testimony to the loving and patient compassion of God, who in just the span of 8 years taught my granddad to trust His will. This wasn’t always the case with my granddad, but I am thankful that as he finished his course in this life, that God’s grace was obvious to those who could see it.

The Gospel and Death

The more I face trials and suffering and loss in this world, the more it becomes obvious to me that one of the most significant roles of the church is to prepare people for death. The gospel, the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us, really comes home to us when we face death. Of course we must grow and live in light of the gospel throughout our life, but it is even true that the most immature and young Christian can face death confidently with the power of the gospel.

This week my family and I traveled to Chattanooga. We were going to come for Thanksgiving, but we had to make an early trip. We left Sunday morning after I preached. My grandfather, who is 83 years old, had a biopsy for cancer last week. Near the end of the week, his health started to deteriorate. My wife and I loaded up the kids and made it in time on Sunday night to see him.

Monday he was able to get up and around more than he had for a few days. He sat with me at the table and we talked. After lunch we received the call from the doctor that confirmed our fears: granddad did indeed have cancer, and it was not good. That afternoon, his wife and three daughters (one of them my mother) gathered around him as we explained what the doctor said.

Granddad sat there and didn’t say much. I think it is important in a moment like that to let the person think and allow the conversation to sit on us, but we often cannot bear the weight of that moment. After a while, granddad got up to sit at the table with us, and he talked about how long he had lived, about his family, and about his life.

He eventually became too tired to sit up anymore, so we put him to bed. After everyone left the room, I took a moment to pray for him: for strength and for faith, for confidence in the face of death. After I finished praying, he told me how thankful he was that the Lord saved a wicked person like him. He has only been a baptized Christian for 8 years. He talked about how the Lord had always taken care of him and granny and the family, even when he didn’t acknowledge God’s blessing, and he trusts the Lord now in the face of death.

Late last night he passed from this life into the next, and he is with Jesus now. I miss him. He brought great joy into my life and the life of my kids, and they miss him too. But we have hope; we have a hope that cannot be taken away from the curse of this world. That hope is in the gospel. When we sit there beside those we love, and we are looking at death, the only comfort we have is the gospel. We simply forget that it is also the only comfort we have in every moment of our life.

What does that say?

My six year old son Trey was holding our 6 week old son Nate this evening. Nate has an outfit on that says, “I Love Daddy.” Trey asks his mom: “What does that say?” Brandy starts to help Trey read it by pointing at the “I” and asking Trey what that is. Then Brandy said, “L-O-V-E…D-A-D….” at which point Trey interrupts: “Don’t you know what it says?”