Saturday, December 29, 2007

Love the Lord Your God

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.” Mark 12:30

These are the qualities that set us apart from the rest of creation. The presence of heart, soul, and mind show that we are created in the image of God. These are the attributes that make it even possible for us to love God. Going a step further, these are also the attributes that were corrupted when sin entered the world through the disobedience of Adam and Eve.

All was good and perfect in the Garden of Eden before the fall. But once sin entered the world, Adam’s heart, once full of innocent and sincere love of God, became a source of fear. His mind became a battleground where the knowledge of what was right would constantly struggle against the inclination to turn away to pride and disobedience. His strength would now be expended in painful toil. His soul became doomed to eternal death.

Every one of us shares in Adam’s fate. So how can God command us to love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength? Can the source of our weakness and failure be redeemed enough to give God even a fraction of the love he deserves?

Only through the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf can the answer be yes. By paying our debt and conquering death, he made it possible for us to become new creatures. We have been reconciled to God through no merit or action of our own. Now, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can love God with our whole being and live to give him glory.

Friday, December 28, 2007

A Thought

If you always give children all the solutions they need, they will never learn creative problem-solving skills.

Bethlehem Crowd

I think I'm glad I wasn't at the Church of the Holy Nativity in Bethlehem on Christmas Day. I'm glad, though, that it's peaceful enough in the West Bank this year for so many people to be able to go there.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

December Newsletter

Merry Christmas to all our dear loved ones!

From Laura, 8 ... Last night our family did a reenactment. We had two acts. The first act was the one with Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem, and the angels/shepherds part. The second act was with Herod and the wise men. I was a shepherd and Herod. Anna and John were my fellow shepherds. I liked being Herod because it made me feel important. Becca and Seth were the angels. They both covered their faces with cloths. Also, they shined flash lights on the ceiling so that it reflected on them.

From Becca, 11 … Recently Laura and I made a gingerbread house. We didn’t want to be in each other’s way and I wanted it to have a unique look, not like the box, so she decorated half and I did the other half. She used coconut and powdered sugar to look like winter and I made the other side look like spring, with green coconut and flowers. Unfortunately a few days ago the roof fell off. It wasn’t exciting though. It just slid off smoothly. Anna thinks it’s the humidity.

From Seth, 14 … I have decided that it is high time the U.S. converts to the metric system. There have been several laws made about it, but, for the United States to fully switch over, the American people will have to cooperate with the conversion. The metric system is better than the English system because you can express small units, like millimeters, together with large units, like kilometers, in one number as a decimal. You can’t do that with the English system because it is based on fractions. With that in mind, please everybody start looking at the kilometers-per-hour gauge in your car, asking how many centimeters tall a person is, weighing your new baby in kilograms, boiling water at 100 degrees Celsius, filling your car with liters of gas, etc.

By the way, if anyone was interested, I’m 188.59 centimeters tall right now.

From Anna, 17 … I’ve finally gotten behind the wheel now! Papa and I found a deserted parking lot to practice in on Thanksgiving Day, and we went out again on Christmas Eve. I actually got out onto the street the second time. The scariest part was having to accelerate all the way up to 20 right away, instead of creeping along for several feet. I am starting to have a better feel for steering and braking, and how the vehicle responds. I’m getting ready to start the classroom portion of driver’s ed., so I’m on track to get my license when I turn 18 in March.

From John, 23 … I have been reading a book about the plight of the Jews in Germany and Eastern Europe during the reign of the Nazis. One thing in particular struck me as I read. German anti-Semitism did not begin in the 1930’s. As early as the mid-19th century, some German politicians, philosophers, professors, and economists were openly blaming the Jews for whatever woes befell the German states. In the first two decades of the 20th century, those who espoused persecution and disenfranchisement of the Jews were tolerated and dismissed by the moderate majority. However, the young minds of many of Germany’s future rulers and voting public were poisoned by anti-Semitic propaganda in the 1910’s and 1920’s, and when power was in their hands, they acted out their ideology with deadly enthusiasm. Here is where I am troubled. Young people in America today are taught by government schools and the media that fundamental Christianity is the enemy of liberty and progress. They learn the worst of the Pilgrims and the best of the Indians. They are taught to have more reverence for Margaret Sanger than for Jonathan Edwards. The Holocaust showed us what humans are capable of doing to each other. Don’t think that it can’t happen again. Struggle for the minds of the next generation!

From Katie, 25 … I learned a Greek word recently while listening to a sermon. The word is “tetelestai,” and it is translated as “It is finished” in the account of the crucifixion of Jesus. The word came from the Roman criminal justice system. When an offender was brought to trial, his crime and the required punishment were written on a scroll. After the fine had been paid, the lashes given, or another requirement satisfied, then the person would come before the court again. The scroll with his offenses would then be stamped with a seal saying the crime had been paid for. The man was no longer held guilty, and he was once again given the full rights of citizenship. And so Jesus gave that seal to each of us. Your sins have been paid for, you are no longer held guilty. By no merit of your own, you are now given the full rights of citizenship in the kingdom of God. It is finished.

From Judith … My twin brother and his wife came to visit last Thursday and Friday as part of a larger trip in Texas. We were quite honored to have them in our home. We know that Houston is not on the way to much, so it’s special when anyone makes the swing down our way. Not only are we in a far-flung location, but there also isn’t much about this place to attract people here. Though quite pleasant during our brief “winter”, it’s swelteringly hot most of the year. There are no mountains or other natural wonders in this very flat city. The highest hill around is an overpass! All that to say that we know the only reason for our friends and family to come here, unless they’re headed to the Gulf of Mexico, is to visit us! We do appreciate the time and expense required for our loved ones to get here, and try to make their visits meaningful and memorable.

From Gerald … We went Christmas caroling again this year. On Saturday, we went out to our neighborhood with some friends from church and then just our family went out again on Sunday. This has been a family tradition since we lived in Wyoming. (Believe me, it is much more pleasant, weather-wise, to do in Houston, than in Casper.) It is always such a blessing to see the joy that this brings to so many people. Each year, we prepare small gift bags to give at each house where we sing. We include some sort of edible treats and a gospel tract. Going door-to-door caroling seems to be a lost practice. One lady we sang to this year said that she has lived in that house for sixteen years and no one has ever come to sing to her before. It’s a simple thing to do, is lots of fun for us, is meaningful for the folks who hear us, and there is always a chance that someone will be impacted by the tract we leave with them.

Our Love, Gerald, Judith, Katie, John, Anna, Seth, Becca, and Laura

What song is this?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Family Christmas Play

What a cute couple.

King Herod and his bodyguard/servant/sidekick.

"You don't look like a wise man, you look like a girl."

Angels are scary, right?


Sunday, December 23, 2007

From the Manger to the Cross

The pastor at our church gave a fascinating sermon this morning about the crucifixion of Jesus. He said that Roman crucifixions had four purposes: to brutalize, to humiliate, to punish, and to kill. We usually focus on the first two, the brutality and the humiliation. We read the account emotionally and focus on the horrors that Jesus experienced. It makes us feel more loved by God. The gospel writers, however, did not focus on the brutality at all. That is partly because the people at that time were very familiar with what it meant for someone to be crucified. But the primary reason is that the physical suffering was not the main point. The crucifixion was really about punishment and death. God placed upon his sinless Son the sins of each one of us, then carried out the punishment our sins deserved.

The glorious news is that just as our sins were imputed to Christ, the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us. Our guilt is gone, and our debt paid. That was exactly what Jesus declared when he said, "It is finished." The original Greek word there, tetelestai, came from the Roman criminal justice system. When an offender was brought to trial, his crime and the required punishment were written on a scroll. After the fine had been paid, the lashes given, or another requirement satisfied, then the person would come before the court again. The scroll with his offenses would then be stamped with a seal saying this crime has been paid for. This man is no longer held guilty. He is now given once again the full rights of citizenship.

And so Jesus gave that seal to each of us. Your sins have been paid for, you are longer held guilty. By no merit of your own, you are now given the full rights of citizenship in the kingdom of God. It is finished.

As we celebrate the birth of Christ this week, it's important to remember the purpose for his coming. Without the cross, the manger is meaningless. If you look around and wonder why so few people seem to care about the birth of Christ, it's because they have rejected the sacrifice he made on the cross.

Take time this Christmas to say to the Lord, thank you.

Colors of Christmas

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Gift Exchanging

December is usually a quiet, calm time here at the Pedersen home. Each year I find myself recalling why that is. Simply stated, it’s largely because we don’t exchange gifts within our immediate family, which tends to shock people when they learn that about us. Many years ago we decided to go that route.

With Christmas, we really want to keep our focus on Jesus coming to earth in human form in order to die on the cross for our sins and be resurrected, thus providing the way of salvation. That’s the significance of Christmas and we don’t want it lost in the shuffle. We want our time leading up to Christmas to be a joyful, undistracted time of celebration. If certain activities are going to overload our hearts and our time, then we avoid them. We dress up the time with special food, music, and decorations (including a Christmas tree), and devote a portion of our daily family worship to Jesus’ coming. We enjoy fellowship with loved ones, go caroling around our neighborhood, and take part in whatever else will enhance our remembrance of this important aspect of Christianity.

Back to the subject of gift-giving… It’s risky business and potentially problematic. What are the chances of getting it right? Is it the right color, size, style? Will she want to put this up in her house or on her body? Is this just the right item needed for his hobby, sport, or collection? Sometimes a gift actually creates a burden when an obligation is felt to put an unwanted item to use or at least find storage for it. Items that go away in time are safer, like flowers or food. Generally speaking, we Americans have an excess of stuff already overloading our houses, our time, and our attention. This heavy feeling of gift-giving obligation, that drives many people to spend more than they can afford, is a killer. Is gift-giving required in our relationships for confirming our mutual love? Aren’t there many, many other ways we can and do express our affection?

Regarding gift-giving in the Gerald Pedersen family, let’s do the math. There are eight of us. If each one of us buys a gift for each of the other seven, that is 56 gifts. That number doubles to 112 for the year if you take into account birthday gifts. Consider how many outings it would take to achieve that and factor in that four of us need a chauffeur to go anywhere. Then there is the difficulty of keeping all the gifts secret until Christmas. It’s especially difficult if the gift is something being made at home. (By the way, the volume of gifts and secret-keeping stress can be greatly reduced in “largish” families by drawing names, so that each person gives to only one other.)

We do exchange gifts with a handful of loved ones outside of our family. Any money gifts received by our four youngest are put into a personal household account for each of them. All through the year, as they think of things they want, they draw from their accounts to make the purchases, recognizing (with reminders sometimes) that those items are gifts and should be acknowledged with thank-you notes. Gerald and I provide necessary items for them, such as wardrobe basics, so that they can use their gift money exclusively for the extras. If the children didn’t receive money gifts, we would gift to them the extras they want and desire, but not necessarily in association with birthdays or Christmas. Our children actually have few desires, partly due to minimal exposure to advertising, and partly due to a home already amply stocked with dolls, stuffed animals, games, puzzles, books, costumes, and other items to stimulate their creativity and aid them in their play.

I guess I got a bit long-winded, but perhaps a few folks will find this piece interesting or thought provoking. We realize that we are going against the flow, but we’re at peace with this decision.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Church of Many Colors

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. Acts 2:5-6

After the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples at Pentecost, they began to boldly preach the truth that Jesus was risen from the dead. As the verse above says, each person miraculously heard the words in his own language.

Ever since the Tower of Babel, language has been the ultimate divider of one people group from another. The Lord confused the languages that day to humble mankind and to force the people to scatter, fulfilling the command to "be fruitful and multiply."

On the day of Pentecost, God took away the language barrier in order that the church might be born from people of every race. Once divided, mankind was now brought together to hear the glorious news that Jesus had risen. All were able to hear and understand the truth, and the church grew from 120 to over 3000 in just one day. Astounding as it was, however, an even more glorious day is coming, when God's people will be gathered in heaven to praise him forever.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" Revelation 7:9-10

Monday, December 17, 2007

How to Change the World, According to WORLD

"After building strong families, the surest tactic for winning the culture war is plain: Give your kids a better education than their secularist peers.

When Christians are better educated than the non-Christians, Christians will become the major culture-shapers."

See the rest of this excellent WORLD Magazine article here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Philosophy of Prisons

Abolish them.

No, really, it's not as off-the-wall as it sounds.

First, is there a problem with the current system? Or, in other words, is it accomplishing its purpose? The purpose of any judgment meted out by civil authority (fines, prison, capital punishment, etc.) should be:

1. To punish the wrongdoer.

2. To discourage the commission of crime in the first place by making the consequences of so doing very undesirable.

Does it work?

1. Going to prison is certainly not something most of us would choose, but, still, inmates have a variety of privileges and opportunities, all paid for by taxpayers. There is very little embarrassment or shame inflicted, and many inmates are provided with free room and board without having to so much as lift a finger. This is why we now hear of people breaking in to prison.

2. Not only do we have ever-increasing crime rates, suggesting that the current punishments are not a deterrent, but we have extremely high recidivism rates. Prison isn’t a deterrent even for those who have already experienced it.

So yes, there is a problem. Obviously, though, we have to have something to replace the current system. Depending on the crime, there could be three possible punishments.

1. Death. This would be for serious crimes only.

2. Restitution.

3. Corporal punishment. This would be used for crimes which did not merit death, but for which restitution is not practical. It could also be used in conjunction with restitution. This has the immense advantage over prisons in that it does not require a long-term taxpayer investment. Countries with caning or flogging have significantly lower crime rates, showing that it is a more effective deterrent to crime than prison.

Another possibility would be to publish in the local newspaper the names of convicted criminals, or all those sentenced to corporal punishment. This would introduce an element of public humiliation.

Granted, we would still need jails in order to hold criminals until they can stand trial, but this would be nothing compared to our burgeoning prison system.

Although the civic law prescribed for the nation of Israel is no longer binding on us today, it is interesting to note that there were no prisons.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Work Paradoxes

Here's one my father heard from students when he was a high-school teacher:

Why do you have a job?
So I can pay for my car.
Why do you have a car?
So I can get to work.

Then there are the people who work so they'll have money to spend on entertainments that help them get their mind off their work.

It's a sad way to live, isn't it? It sure is easy to fall into that way of thinking, though.

"Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward." Colossians 3:23, 24

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Elusive Christmas Spirit

I've had a tough time getting into the Christmas spirit ever since I moved to Texas. Maybe it's the warm climate or the fact that flowers are still blooming. Maybe I'm just getting old and grouchy. Speaking of which, our family just coined a new word: Scroogitude. I'll let you figure it out. Be watching for it in the next edition of the dictionary.

It also bothers me that Christmas seems to start earlier and earlier. It seems that the retail industry is trying to milk the season for all it's worth, and it just extends the time that we have to struggle with materialism and excess. I found myself slightly offended when a business associate gave me a candy cane in the middle of November.

However, once Thanksgiving is past, I say go for it. So, I've been trying to get myself into the Christmas spirit. Putting up decorations, listening to Christmas music, and getting out my Christmas socks all help. Another big boost came today when I remembered one of the things I love about Christmas: the stores play songs about the coming of Christ! I know it's becoming less common, but lots of places still play the traditional carols. For one month out of the year (almost two), the message of God's love is allowed back into our secular world.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Becca's Avocado Farm

Lesson at the Garden Tomb

When I was in Jerusalem, I had the opportunity to visit the Garden Tomb, one of the possible sites of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. It was an amazing place, because it’s still a garden with a genuine first-century tomb that is at least exactly like the one where Jesus was laid. As our guide said, the important thing is not whether this is THE tomb or not, but the fact that it’s empty.

It was very memorable to get to see the tomb and go inside. The group I was with even sang “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” while we were in there. What an amazing place to sing that song! Whether that was the actual tomb or not, having such a great visual reminder of the fact of Christ’s resurrection filled me with joy. I could relate to the excitement of the women who first discovered the empty tomb.

As I sat in the garden thinking about it, I was jolted out of my reverie by the Muslim call to prayer, coming from a nearby mosque. I’ve heard it many times, and it never fails to haunt me. It was particularly jarring at that time and place, though. It was like the Lord wanted to remind me that it is not enough to bask in the joy of knowing His risen Son. It was easy to be comfortably happy in the joy of my salvation, and in the privilege of all that I had learned while in Israel. But why did God allow me to have such a time of growth?

Remembering the joy of our salvation is extremely important, but we can’t stop there. There are people everywhere who do not yet worship the risen Lord. We have been blessed in order to be a blessing to others. We are here in this world to make disciples, and to let our light shine.

So there in the middle of a busy city filled with people in darkness, I sat in a peaceful garden next to an empty tomb. Much as I would have liked to have stayed inside, I knew that I was not to become a happy hermit, but a newly equipped and inspired soldier of the cross.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

November Newsletter

November 26, 2007 -- Pedersen Family Newsletter

From Laura, 8 … On October 25th and 26th our church had a Family Integrated Church (FIC) conference. (Read more here- the Editor) Our family was doing the registration table. We got about 100 registrations and about 335 people. Pastor Paul Renfro spoke first on Friday night. Then Pastor Matt Bullen spoke Saturday morning. After his speech the breakout sessions began. There where eight sessions. After the breakout sessions ended, the hotel, where the conference was held, served lunch. Part of the meal was a whole half chicken! Becca had blood in her chicken. In the afternoon Pastor Voddie Baucham spoke.

From Becca, 11 … I have decided to start an avocado farm. I have three avocado pits and I’m going to stick toothpicks in them and plant them in glasses of water. Whenever I get a pit I’ll start it growing until we have so many sprouting pits that they look like a bush growing out of the kitchen counter. I’m not completely positive it will work because the one pit I’ve planted hasn’t sprouted. I think it will, though, because it is cracking open a little at the bottom.

From Seth, 14 … One of the two books I am reading right now is called What Jesus Demands of the World by John Piper. Mr. Piper read through the gospels listing and categorizing the demands of Jesus, and then wrote a book that goes through the demands and expounds on them. It’s an excellent book that I would recommend to anyone. I hadn’t really thought about it as I read the book, but today, in the chapter on the demand about anger, Mr. Piper made the point that none of these demands are possible for us to do apart from God’s grace. I thought that was really good.

From Anna, 17 … I’ve really been enjoying chemistry lately. I love how everything works out so logically and precisely on the molecular level. It’s given me a greater appreciation for the intricacy and order in God’s creation. The periodic table of the elements aptly demonstrates this, since men didn’t just come up with an organization system to keep track of the different elements; they discovered the order that God had already put in place.

From John, 23 … After four and a half years in the homebuilding business, I finally got to watch a foundation pour for the first time a few weeks ago. We actually poured two slabs a week apart, so we will conveniently have two houses progressing in step with each other. With those two, another just finishing trim, and a fourth almost ready to break ground, my boss and I are going to be busy. Personally, I think it’s exciting.

From Katie, 25 … The most exciting part of the past month for me was definitely the study tour of Israel. You can read about it on our blog. It was an amazing time, and I’m very thankful for the opportunity I had to go there. I learned so much, and found the Bible really coming to life. I’ve done other traveling this month, also. I went on a short business trip that ended up being quite stressful. It didn’t help that I was simultaneously in the throws of post-vacation blues after my Israel trip. John and I also went to our annual folk dance camp, which was a lot of fun, in spite of the awful weather. So, I guess I’m a Bible-studying, folk-dancing business traveler.

From Judith … Well, I graduated from the forties to the fifties last month! I guess being fifty really doesn’t mean much to me. I’m the same me that I have always been. What is different is that there is plenty of gray hair to see in the mirror, and other physical evidence of my age, and I have a long history of marriage, parenting, and life experience. I have been growing in my mind, heart, and soul everyday and hope to continue so throughout the rest of my life. Gratefully, God has taught me many lessons over the years, shaping and molding me for his purposes. As a result, I’m more formed than I used to be. It’s really just the same me, though. Ultimately, there are only two reasons I can think of that the aging process matters at all to me. One is that each day gives me more lessons from the Lord that I can share with others. The other is that each day brings me one day closer to eternity with the Lord.

From Gerald … Our family was quite involved in the conference mentioned by Laura. Our church conducted the seminar and our family handled the registrations. It was held on a Friday evening and all day Saturday with presentations by each of our elders/pastors and breakout sessions led by various church members. We had attendees from all over the country who came to learn more about the family-integrated church model. God has given to parents the responsibility of training and discipling their children. In a family-integrated church, families worship, learn, and minister together, and there is an emphasis on training parents to carry out this responsibility.

Our Love, Gerald, Judith, Katie, John, Anna, Seth, Becca, and Laura