The Things of Earth (Part I)

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The first book I read this year was The Things of Earth by Joe Rigney. The book is going to probably in the top five of my lifetime reads when I gauge how reading a book has shaped the way I view and live in this world daily as a follower of Jesus Christ. Desiring God by John Piper, Heaven by Randy Alcorn, Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung, and Bloodlines by John Piper are currently the other four.

Just going through my highlights in the book make me overwhelmed with wanting to wrap my head more around what is in it. Rigney covers a lot of topics (the trinity and sovereignty of God vs. free will just to name  two topics) but each of them is used to build on the other and make the point that we are meant to enjoy God by treasuring his gifts. Chapter 4 and 5 were the home runs for me. They were the chapters that fundamentally changed the way I think.

I highlighted the major points through the chapter so that I could go back and more quickly read his arguments. My brain forgets quickly, so for the sake of repetition, I’m going to write out what I highlighted. Maybe you can benefit from getting a quicker overview here, but you’d serve yourself well to buy the book and read it from front to back; then read it again.

“Here is the fundamental challenge: if we believe that we should value things according to their value, and if we know that God has infinite value and everything else has finite value, then we begin to feel that, if we are to be faithful Christians, there must be an infinite gap between our love for God and our love for everything else. Our enjoyment of God must infinitely surpass our joy in his gifts (in our family, for example)(Pg. 89).”

“A subtle sense of guilt arises because we know that our joy in Christ (however great it may be) is not infinitely greater than our joy in our family (Pg. 90).”

“Now there are a number of false and unbiblical notions in this application of the principle of proportionate regard. The first is viewing love for God and love for creation exclusively in comparative terms. Might there be another way to relate to God and creation? (Pg. 90).”

“One of the primary aims of this book is to put to death all false guilt flowing from our existence as creatures…finitude and limitations are not defects; they are designed. Meeting needs and giving joy through creation was God’s idea, and despite the ways that we’ve misused and abused his good gifts, he hasn’t rescinded the offer or the gifts (Pg. 90).”

“To love God supremely is to love him above all else, to place him at the pinnacle of our affections…To love God fully is to max out our capacity with love for him. Whatever capacity we have to love, be it with heart, soul, mind or strength, we should give God our all…Finite creatures are naturally incapable of loving God infinitely. But we do have the natural ability to love him supremely and love him fully (Pg. 91).”

“The Great Commandment (Love God fully) leads straight into the second greatest: love your neighbor as yourself…love for neighbor is not at odds with full love for God…I believe this principle can be extended beyond neighbors to every other good thing that God provides. What does full and supreme love for God look like when it meets one of his gifts? Glad reception and enjoyment of his gifts (Pg. 92).”

“This is what it means to be a creature: finite, temporal, limited, but very good, with needs met both directly by God and through the manifold gifts that he supplies. We are God’s priests, his kings (and queens), and his prophets, and he has lavished us with gifts beyond our imagining, both for our glad-hearted enjoyment and for the fulfillment of his great and glorious mission. We are valuable because God values us, and we ought to value him according to his value. Nevertheless, we banish every form of false guilt that condemns us for being creatures and for failing to love God infinitely. Instead, our love for God should be supreme, full, and expanding forever (Pg. 94).”

Chapter 5 will be next.

 

 


When It All Comes Together

I was sitting in my squad car in my driveway close to the end of my shift. The radio had been quiet on a Sunday morning, not much happening, my bed was sending out a warm invitation. I was jolted back to the reality that my shift wasn’t over until the clock strikes 6:00AM.

An alarm had tripped at a house which had been the location of burglaries in the past. The owners of the house had moved out and was trying to sell it. A vacant house, valuable tools in the basement, and a rural location was a tempting prize for burglars to hit. And they had- twice in fact.

The chances were good that this alarm indicated that the burglary was currently happening and the suspects were still on sight, looting the house. The chance of catching them in the act made my adrenaline flow. Nearly all the time, cops simply respond to burglary calls to take the report, snap pictures, list the items that had been stolen and pass it on to an investigator. Maybe this time it would be different.

The location of the house was in a rural area. Houses are spread out and there are plenty of places to hide a vehicle and spend time stealing items from a house without being noticed. I cut the headlights on my squad car and parked about 100 yards from the house. My plan was to walk up on foot, make any observations that I could, and wait for other deputies to arrive and set up a perimeter.

I had scouted the house during the daylight on the previous day to familiarize myself with the location if such a situation like this would come up. I knew a large pickup truck was parked in the driveway that belonged to the owner and I planned to use that for concealment. I had the cover of darkness to move up to the truck without being seen.
As I took a knee behind the truck, I looked through the windows and could see flashlights sweeping back and forth in the house. I relayed this information to the other deputies over the radio as they were racing towards the house like Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde descending on Pac-Man all at once. We were going to lock the house down in a perimeter and make sure these guys didn’t slip the through the net we were going to lay.

My first partner arrived, moved silently passed me in the driveway and setup on the backside of the house (we refer to it as the 3 side as each side of a house is numbered to avoid confusion). A full minute passed and the plan was to wait for at least one more deputy before making the next move. As the adage goes, however; “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”

I heard the garage door open. With my vantage point and the darkness that was still present I could not see who had opened the garage door or where the person was. I had correctly assumed that one of the suspects had opened the garage door manually from the inside. The third squad was still 30 seconds out. Not enough time to wait.
I stepped out from my position behind the truck, drew my handgun, and flipped on my TLR-1 light mounted beneath my Glock 19. The light flooded the garage area and I could see the man turn around and face me, clearly stunned that someone had just interrupted his second degree burglary. I pointed my gun at him, began closing the distance between the two of us, and gave him commands to get on the ground.

Either he was intentionally not complying with me or his OODA loop was frozen and his mind couldn’t process what was happening. I told him three times to get on the ground and the final command was followed by a squarely placed Danner boot planted on his sternum. He dropped to the ground and my partner, hearing the cacophony of noise, came from the back of the house to make sure I was ok. It was the right move, but it collapsed the already weak perimeter that we had set up.
Knowing that there was more than one person in the house, I left suspect number one with my partner. I went into the house, started clearing rooms, and looked down the stairwell into the basement. I saw a flash of a black sweatshirt as suspect number two ran out the back door. Within a few seconds it was all over. One of them was in custody and the other was on the run through the back country of the township.

During the ensuing minutes the day shift came on duty, we setup a wider perimeter with squad cars, and called out a K9 deputy to begin a track for suspect number two. Usually that would be the end of the story, but this call was the one where it all came together. The one where fortune was on the side of the good guys for a refreshing change.
We never located suspect number two. We weren’t able to pick up a track on him and that was aggravating because we felt like we had established a solid perimeter within a few minutes after he ran out the back door. Two days later he was picked up. He told an investigator that he wished he would have not ran because he spent hours walking up lonely roads in frigid temperatures. He had ran through a swamp and the wet clothes did not help his situation. I call that providential street justice.
Suspect number one started complaining about chest pain as he sat in handcuffs. He wanted to know who it was that had kicked him because, “That guy kicks like a ninja.” A day shift deputy eventually transported him to the hospital to be checked out by a doctor.

While at the hospital he had the handcuffs removed while laying in a bed and waiting for an X-ray. His injuries must not have been that debilitating because he tried making a break for the fresh air of freedom. He tried running away from the deputy, hospital gown flapping in the wind, not realizing that the swift justice of an unsuspecting hospital nurse would derail him and add an additional criminal charge.

As he rounded a corner in the hall he ran face first into a nurse. The nurse was holding a hot cup of coffee which spilled onto her as they both crashed to the ground. The nurse got some slight burns from the coffee which gave suspect number one an assault charge on an emergency care provider. It was also discovered two days later that he had given a false name to us. Another charge. Boom.

And then there was suspect number three. He was the driver of the vehicle and had parked behind a detached garage. Like a solid, reliable criminal he had fallen asleep while his two friends were ransacking the house. We found him sleeping in the driver’s seat with burglary tools spread throughout the back seat. A felony.

I had the car towed to our district office where an investigator would write a warrant for it two days later. Once the warrant was signed and the vehicle was cracked open the icing on the cake was enjoyed. The trunk contained a mobile meth lab and a shotgun. Since the driver was a convicted felon it was illegal for him to be in possession of a firearm. Two additional felonies.

The icing on the cake was delicious. It was the one that all came together.


The Cops You Don’t Read About

This is a quote from Bob Schieffer, the former host of Face The Nation on CBS, who worked part of his career as a beat cop reporter.

I want to add a paragraph or two to the rash of stories lately about cops gone wrong. This is not about them. This is about all the cops you don’t read about. They deal much of the time with the dregs of our society. The schemers, the murderers, those who prey on the weak. And most of the time, the police deal with them humanely, and as they should.

“What we overlook is just how difficult that can be sometimes. It’s not easy to remain passive when a child-beater looks you in the eye and tells you–you have to understand, the kid was keeping him awake. It takes a lot of professional training and strong character not to respond in anger. I know, because I spent my early years [on the police beat] listening to some of these awful people. Sometimes I wanted to hit them myself. I didn’t, but it helped me understand how hard it is to do a cop’s job right. As hard as it is, the great majority of our cops still do just that.


I Am A Sheep First, A Sheepdog Second

I am 32 years old…or am I 33? I am at that point in life that I need to start doing the math to be certain. As I get older and the creases start to form on my face (my hair has already been intentionally removed with the help of Wahl) and the years pile on to years, things start to happen. Some things become more complicated for me. Things I thought of as clear cut and simple have different sides to them. Other things become more clear and I can feel my soul grip them tighter.

One thing that falls into the latter category of these two is the answer to the question Who am I? Plenty of toe crushing books have been written on the matter but the answer to that for me has become crystal clear and continues to give me rock solid confidence. That confidence is not in me but in Jesus Christ.

What I mean by this is that ultimately, decisively and most importantly my identity is found in being a follower of Jesus Christ. This takes priority over being a man, husband, dad, son, brother, elder, deputy sheriff, runner, photographer, or whatever other roles or interests I enjoy or do. At the center, I am his. Jesus Christ left heaven, became a man, lived the life I could never live, died the death I should have died, conquered death, rose again, and is now reigning as King of this universe. And he did that for me.

Identity is huge in America. We all shape our lives around what we think defines us. Identity is huge in law enforcement. Their are books, t-shirts, gear and pictures that tell us we are to be sheepdogs. Sheepdogs are those who have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens.” They are the ones who protect the sheep. The sheep are the ones who are productive members of society but do not have an ability to be violent. Sheepdogs are the ones who want to intimidate those who intimidate others, and the ones they want to intimidate are the wolves. The wolves are the ones who also have a capacity for violence yet use it against the sheep.

I do love this metaphor. I think of myself as a sheepdog and have seen sheep do nothing and have seen the wolves prey on the sheep. God has established government to have a monopoly on force and be the sword by which he avenges his wrath on the wolves (Romans 13). This is right and true, I believe. Yet, with any good thing, if it becomes the ultimate thing, it is a bad thing.

Before I am a sheepdog I am a sheep.

“My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me.” John 10:27

I could never sheepdog my way out of my sin. I needed a shepherd who laid down his rights and went to the cross. While I think each night before my shift starts that I could be killed, laying down of my life could never save anyone from their sin. The shepherd willingly laid down his life and picked it back up. I have heard that voice and I follow it as a sheep. This is what defines me ultimately, decisively and most importantly.

And being a sheep first, makes me a better sheepdog in the end when it is all done for his glory.


A Confidently, Content Exhortation

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” Hebrews 13:5-6

This morning I would like to use this exhortation to not only remind us of our need for Jesus, but to pray for a family that has been very special to Grace Church. We have many new families that have come here over the past two years so a quick history lesson is in order.

Daniel Patz was the pastor of this church for ten years. He and his wife Molly labored faithfully here and their family grew to five kids during their time here. Daniel was a loving shepherd to this people. He left two years ago after we as elders confidently, yet with sadness, affirmed God’s leading of him and his family away from this church and to Northland International University in Dunbar, WI.

He has led the school for the last two years through some extremely difficult times. Their situation looked hopeful last year as they received the backing from another, larger institution that agreed to take them under their umbrella. Last week, abruptly, they received news that this larger institution was rescinding their support. No doubt this has created confusion, frustration and worry.

I bring this to our attention this morning because I want us, as a body of believers who love the Patz’s and are thankful for their work at this church, to pray for them. Let us pray that the students, staff and leadership would have wisdom for their future and trust for their provision. Let us pray that they would not be bitter as they experience feelings of hurt and betrayal. Let us pray that in their sorrow they would be rejoicing.

Our Fighter Verse this week is fitting for this. At its core is the command for us to be content with what we have and where we are. That core is bursting with the promise that God will never leave us and that he is our Helper. That promise is so massive that we do not need to fear anything that this world can throw at us.

The most powerful forces of this world have nothing on us as children of God, bought by the blood of Christ. The strongest man cannot ultimately overcome us. The most powerful ruler cannot definitely enslave us. The worst financial depression cannot ultimately bankrupt us.

Oh, we can indeed lose everything in this life Grace Church. Cancer can eat our body. A terrorist can take your life. A loss of a job could cause you to lose your house. Yet in all of this, the best is yet to come. Why?

Because God is our helper, we will not fear, what can man do to us? If God is for us, no one can be against us.

Let’s pray.


Cards, Math and 121 Holes

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Cancer is a pirate. In the waining days of my Grandpa’s life, bone cancer ravaged his body and turned him into the shell of a man he once was. A body that carried an extra 20 pounds was now depleted to mere skin and bones. A black tongue. A brain that was no longer present. The cancer took away the Grandpa I once knew and left us with six months a slow, life-draining death.

My Dad, Aunt, Uncle, their spouses, my brothers and sisters and our cousins, would take turns providing 24 hour care so that he could stay in his home and die surrounded by joyful memories. I remember him having dreams of being a young man still working at the paper mill he poured 30 years of his life into. His hands would make movements as if he were still operating the machines- the machines that nearly caused him to lose an arm once when it was sucked into a roller. I remember laying on top of him as he would weakly hit me and swear at me because he wanted to get out of his hospice bed; fully convinced he needed to go to work. I remember him snapping out of the hallucination and crying. I remember him asking me to forgive him for what he had just did and said. I remember crying.

Cancer is a pirate. Although these bitter memories are clearly lodged in my mind, the scales still weigh heavy in the balance of the joyful memories I have of my Grandpa. He was a generally happy man that loved his children and loved his grandchildren. His house was a hub of family gatherings in which coffee was always available, cribbage was just around the corner, laughing abounded, and love ran thick. I loved going to my grandparents house. Christmas was off the charts awesome.

His first day of retirement was marked by taking my brother and I to a Minnesota Twin’s game. He and Grandma never moved to warmer lands because to do so was to leave their grandkids and that was just out of the question. I remember their house being a crash site while going to college. Chocolate cake was always on standby as I walked through the door after a long day at work and long evening at school. These memories are the ones that rise to the surface. I remember hearing my Grandpa pray. The quiver in his voice only came on during prayer time and I imagined it was a result of a profound thankfulness to God for justifying him from his sins through the work of Jesus Christ at the cross.

Each year our extended family gathers to honor my Grandpa in a unique way. Our Grandpa gave us all a unique gift- he taught all of our cousins and myself how to play the game of cribbage. The memories abound surrounding this game of fifteen two, fifteen-four and a pair is six. Cutting, dealing and pegging were staples at my Grandpa’s house and he spread his love of Cribbage to us all.

Now, after his death, we gather once a year for a family tournament. It’s an excuse to get together. It’s a special way to remember my Grandpa and Grandma. I love how a simple game has been the catalyst for so much happiness among our family. I love that we serve a God who gives us simple gifts like cards, math and 121 holes as way to create that happiness and family unity. Cancer is a pirate but God is the giver of all good things that far outweigh any temporary pain that he experienced.

I’ll see you soon Grandpa. Not because sentiment says so but because you trusted in the rock solid, complete work of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Thanks for pointing me to him.

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The Comfort of The Gospel

“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom shall I see for myself and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” Job 19:25-27

I read this passage during my devotional time this week and had a soul-satisfying time thinking about what it means for me. Grace Church, today, right now Jesus lives. We can know that our Redeemer lives and at the end of this story we are living in, he will stand up on the earth.

Often it doesn’t feel like that. Ten people die in an attack at the Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli, Libya. Two thousand people were killed by Boka Haram in Nigeria with most of the victims being women and children. Our sinful flesh persists as we do things we don’t want to do. Loved ones die. Sickness cripples. Our bodies are slowly wasting away. In the midst of all this tragedy and ongoing decay, where do we find comfort?

Where did you go for comfort this week when you chose to sin? Where did you go for comfort when you were blind-sided by depression or frustrated with a co-worker or angry at your spouse or just plain tired at the end of a long day? Did you find comfort in food or Netflix or exercise or sleep or anything else besides the gospel? If your soul first and foremost went to anything less than the truth and joy of the gospel of Jesus Christ, your soul was choosing to quench its thirst by drinking from a tobacco spitter instead of the clear and refreshing water that Jesus Christ offers. Anything less than Jesus cannot and will not satisfy because nothing is more real and more true than the fact that Jesus lives and he stands ready to forgive.

Come to Jesus this morning. Behold his face and not another. The only reason you can be acceptable to God this morning and removed from his wrath for your sin is by drinking from the water of Jesus Christ’s grace and mercy through the cross.


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