Friday, March 30, 2007


Some good news to report:

1. This blog has officially logged over 500 independent hits since I started counting hits almost exactly 6 weeks ago. There are a lot of you reading, so why so few comments of late? Have I ventured onto topics you find boring? Or has spring sprung and you're all too busy? ... Regardless, it's nice to know that my ramblings are at least worth reading for a number of people.

2. I've just heard back from a church that has put me on their short list of candidates, and it's a church I find particularly appealing! Pray for wisdom on the part of them and me as we both seek to discern if our working together is the LORD's will.

3. I finally received BibleWorks 7 in the mail the other day and installed it last night. To borrow and overused word - it's amazing. I'm presently just scratching the surface of the program and I'm already impressed. Thank the LORD for His unexpected blessings!


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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Something Good at the Ooze

As my regular readers will know, I don't generally find much over at the Ooze that I'm very fond of. [This old post illustrates that point, in case you're curious.]

But even though it routinely annoys me, I still find myself reading things over there now and again. And today I stumbled across an article that I actually found very good. The link is here, but I'm also going to quote from it extensively on the next page...

If you've followed the link and read the article, great. If not, it's entitled What's Wrong with Church?, and it expresses the great (and painful) difference one man felt between his home church services and those of a Mexican church he visited while on a short trip. His critique is, unlike so much at the Ooze, fairly balanced. He points out, for example, that those in the emerging camp spend a lot of time arguing about what "being saved" is or isn't. Meanwhile, the Mexican church is just working on Go-ing and Make-ing Disciples. Anyway, on to the details:

Our culture, especially twenty-somethings, esteems individualism far too much. Whether we can afford it or not, many of us live on our own. Those of us who are Christians believe in biblical principles, but almost equally so, we believe in our independence. Private living. Private worship. Private faith.

Excellent point! My cross-cultural studies have driven this point home for me. Sadly, we Americans can't see that we have a cultural bias toward Individualism. We look at more collective cultures and mock them as "antiquated" or "backward". Then we look at the cultural context of the New Testament... very collective, very NOT individualistic. Our American "rugged individualism" is a HUGE obstacle toward authentic Christian community. And it's so ingrained in all of us that we have to consciously fight the urge to fight for "our rights". I do. If you're honest, you'll admit that you do, too. But if we want real community, we MUST fight this tendency.

In Mexico, by the time the preacher went up to preach, we were all sweaty and disgusting and didn’t realize that an hour of the service had already passed. The sermon did not have three points; there was no Powerpoint or fill-in-the-blank bulletin; and it did not stay in the 30-40 minute window. It was long, passionate, and sloppy. And ten people got saved.

The Mexican culture is WAY more collective than ours, so it's no wonder they seem to routinely have better Christian community. What's remarkable about this quote, though, is the author - an Individualist American! - was able to enter into the community whole-heartedly. He was outside of his American context, and was able to adapt to the culture around him for the purpose of community and corporate worship. But to be honest, this isn't unheard of. Lots of folk go to another country for a short-term missions trip and come back with idyllic visions and memories than wouldn't necessarily stick if they were in the country longer. But then...

It was a breath of fresh air to visit the Hispanic service at my church a few weekends later. It was my second time attending the service, and I was, admittedly, attempting to relive my experience in Mexico by surrounding myself with the culture.

The guy (who's name, incidentally, is Jeff) was able to take set aside his Americanism while still in America by attending an Hispanic service! This tells me that authentic Christian community in an American context is not a pipe-dream. But it will takes LOTS of work...

We're not supposed to come together and take a passive stance, being talked at and taught, so that we can store up clever cliches and acronyms with little practical value. Worship is work.

I believe this passionately! I'm SO tired of hearing "I'm not being fed at my church, so I'm leaving...". As if the reason the local church exists is for you - you know, the average Christian American with 5 Bibles, a zillion free Bible studies on the Internet, wads of expendable cash [relative to most in the world] to spend on books and study tools, and a pastoral staff just waiting for your Bible questions - the local church exists to feed you?!? Most of the Christians in my circles are getting fat on Bible study - we don't need less of it, we just need to apply what we've learned and burn off some of the spiritual calories we're taking in!

We can learn a lot from our Hispanic brothers and sisters when it comes to community (and probably much more). It will take work, but if we really want to be effective in this postmodern, post-Christian America we'd better roll up our sleeves.

But here's the secret: the hard work is the most rewarding you could ever do. Once you've even just tasted deep Christian community you'll agree with Jeff:

It wasn't eloquent or well-orchetrasted, but it was fellowship. And now, I'm hooked.


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The Pope Gets a Couple Right

[Disclaimer: Do not take what I'm about to write as endorsing the Roman Catholic Church in any way, shape or form.]

For all the false statements the various Popes have made over the years, it was kind of nice to hear that the new guy's got a couple of things straight. He is acknowledging the reality of Hell and (in the very end of the article) the fact that Limbo is merely a "theological hypothesis". Even that's stretching it, but still - encouraging news, eh?


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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Book Review: The God of Promise & The Life of Faith

I really hate it when you take a class, only to discover that the professor has assigned one of his own books as required reading. It always seems at least a tad shady to me - you have to wonder what the motive really is. Well, this book was one of those - I'm taking a Biblical Theology course (via extension) presented by Dr. Scott Hafeman and he assigned his own book.

So right off the bat we're off to a less-than-glorious start, as far as I'm concerned. I didn't get much better from there...

Don't get me wrong, the book's not bad. I've had the privilege of listening to Hafeman lecture on a similar subject and have found him to be a very engaging and passionate speaker. His writing... not so much. Some folk are simply better writers than others. Hafeman is a fine man, but writing is just not his forte.

Having said that, I should also note that I fundamentally reject his paradigm for doing Biblical Theology. He has specifically set himself up as neither Dispensationalist nor Covenant, rejecting both primarily because of both systems present a Law/Gospel contrast that he maintains is false. Without getting into too many of the particulars, Hafeman (like Covenants) fails to distinguish between Israel and the Church in such passages as Jer. 31:31-34. As a Dispensationalist (Revised, if you wish to further categorize me), the distinction between Israel and the Church is one of great importance. I'll admit that in the past (and even now) there has been an over-emphasis on this distinction (hence my position as Revised, not Classical), but it's still a distinction I find Biblical.

Hafeman does make some excellent points in his book, and it got better as it progressed - one of those "hard to get into" kind of books. For example, this (from page 175):

Modern and postmodern culture revolves around a this-world orientation; the only long-term "future" our culture hopes for is retirement. This pervasive preoccupation with living as long as possible, as healthy as possible, and as wealthy as possible [this last of which, I should note, is a more modern than postmodern phenomenon] has dramatically influenced the church in the West.

Or this (from the next page):

The future, then, the kingdom of God, has already broken into this "present evil age", but because it is not yet here in all its fullness, our complete enjoyment of God's perfections must wait until the future... Only with such an "already-but-not-yet" view of the kingdom and salvation will we be able to resist the world's temptations.

All said, I can't really recommend this book, but neither would I recommend people stay away from it. How's that for a politically correct review?


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Saturday, March 24, 2007

... of good posts and sad stories

I was browsing through Challies'
excellent blog
a bit ago and stumbled across a link to a site
I've not previously visited. On it,the author (Lydia) talks about the Christian virtue of modesty, but not in the way you might expect...

talks about how modesty should and must mean so much more than just
what we wear. It should refer to our entire demeanor - the way we
relate to other people. We all know somebody that routinely opens up
the floodgates of their emotions to virtual strangers, and we know the
awkwardness that creates. But more than just social discomfort, these
sorts of immodest behaviours can lead us to places we ought never to

This leads me to the sad story. [To protect the people
involved, I'm not using names or specifics.] I know a guy that should
have read Lydia's post some years ago. He's a Christian, a graduate of
a Christian college and was working in vocational Christian ministry.
His wife (also a Christ-follower) is a lovely woman in every sense.
Their children are adorable. They lived a life very much like mine -
rural, family- and faith-centered. Long story short: he became "best
friends" with a married lady that worked with him. As best I can tell,
their relationship never became physical - in fact, he is adamantly
convinced that to characterize their relationship as anything other
than 'perfectly acceptable' is wrong. He is so much convinced that
having a woman other than his wife as his best friend is fine and
healthy that he and his wife are presently separated. I hurt for this
couple - especially the wife, to be honest. For reasons I still don't
pretend to understand, he - like most, I suspect - holds to an
understanding of modesty that limits itself to clothing...

Pray for them, please. And pray that we all might remember the Christian virtue of modesty.

My thanks to both Tim (Challies) and Lydia.


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Friday, March 23, 2007

BibleWorks is on the way...

After a L O N G wait (insert various unexpected medical/home repair/automotive expenses here), I've finally been able to order BibleWorks 7!!!

For those of you unfamiliar with BibleWorks, visit the link and check it out. Quite simply, it is the best Bible study software available. Period. The only thing even close is Logos, but by the time you buy all the modules that Logos needs to make it more-or-less like BibleWorks, it costs more and still isn't quite BibleWorks. I have an old version (thanks Dan!) that I've been using since 1998. The new version represents (as you can imagine) HUGE strides in technology. Frankly, the old version I was using (4.0) is really impressive. Version 7 is outstanding. I can't wait to get it in the mail and installed!

Praise God for another undeserved gift. I was really beginning to wonder if I'd see the day when I would be able to get this software, but (as He so often does) the LORD surprised me!

Incidentally, I've got a guy (my pastor) probably interested in buying my version 4. If for some reason he decides against it, I'll let you know. Maybe one of you might benefit from it (except for Dan).


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Missional Goes Mainstream?

My wife called me this morning from the road to tell me that the local fairly-conservative Christian radio station was talking about postmodernity and missional living. I was surprised, to say the least. But the surprises were magnified once I turned on the radio...

It seems that none other than Gloria Gaither (wife of Bill Gaither) was on the radio talking about McLarens's A New Kind of Christian. I missed much of the conversation she was having with the local radio host, but I think I might see if I can find it on their website later today.

I guess it just goes to show those that think terms like "postmodern", "missional" and "emerging" are isolated to a fringe movement that they're wrong. These are terms and ideas that we all would do well to get familiar with, pull the good from and recognize the potential pitfalls of... When an icon of "good ol' gospel music" is talking about Brian McLaren in a positive way (and admits that she's read Blue Like Jazz and other emerging/missional books) perhaps we should take notice, eh?


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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Lately the LORD has been teaching me...

Unlike my usual posts, I don't want to blab on and on about this or that right now. Can you believe it?

I want to give you all (lurkers included) a chance to briefly (no pressure to write something profound) share something the LORD has been teaching you.

Click the title (Lately the LORD has been teaching me...) and let's encourage one another, eh?


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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Book Review: To Alaska on a Tractor

Yes, I've been reading a lot lately.

Yes, I actually read a book called To Alaska on a Tractor.

No, I'm not crazy.

The book was, believe it or not, one of those "can't put it down" reads...

I'll admit it - I stayed up too late last night to finish reading this book. I just couldn't put it down. I read the entire book in one sitting.

The book is the story of a married couple (each in their 60s) who decided to drive their old two-cycle John Deere model B tractor from their home in Ohio to Alaska (and back) in an effort to raise awareness and funds for missions. Their local church funded the trip, though many, many people along the way gave them things (meals, camping, etc...) for free as well.

What's endearing about the book is its simplicity. The wife wrote the book herself, and hers is a grateful tale of a Christ-follower willing to do something way outside of the box for His glory. She merely records the highlights of their days, mentioning people and places by name and always with thankfulness.

I guess what I like most about the book is two things: 1) The many, many stories of the "small ways" the LORD provided for this couple. Needs and wants were met over and over again by their great God. 2) The true spirit of Christian community that this couple experienced as they travelled and came across people with nothing in common but the cause of Christ. Christians invited them into their home. They fed them. They encouraged them. They trusted them. All in the name of Jesus. It was a wonderful testimony to the truly universal bond in Christ.

It's a short book (less than 150 pages), so you have little excuse not to go out and read it! Trust me, it's worth the time. You'll be encouraged and perhaps motivated.


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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Book Review: Divorce and Remarriage

This was yet another book required for a counselling course I'm about to take (early April). But that doesn't mean I wasn't looking forward to reading it. I've long had a pretty good feel for what I agree with and what I can agree to disagree with, but this book sharpened both of those categories for me.

This is one of those multiple viewpoint books. In this case, four views are shared - each authored by a different gent. Each has a chance to respond to the other, also. The four views, in this case, were:

1. No divorce, no remarriage
2. Divorce in cases of adultery, no remarriage
3. Divorce and remarriage in cases of adultery or desertion.
4. Divorce and remarriage for a variety of reasons.

I don't want to get into the particulars of each view, but rather just to make some observations in general. If anyone has a specific question about the book (or the issues in general), post a comment and I'll try to address it.

Sadly, one of the things that most stands out for me was the less-than-loving tone of Dr. Thomas Edgar (from Capital Bible Seminary, where I studied for a few years before transferring). I don't remember having a class with him, but I did talk to him on occasion and always found him to be kind and pleasant. His tone in this book is not. He is aggressive and not nearly as gracious as the other three authors.

The other three authors show great grace in their presentations and were well worth reading. Edgar's presentation, incidentally, is really more of a refutation of other views than a positive presentation of his own - another odd point. The final author of the book (Larry Richards), for all his grace and kindness, really ends up saying "divorce and remarriage is always sin, but we should just recognize that God forgives and move on" - not a particularly Biblical (or helpful) construction. The first two authors present the "no divorce, no remarriage" and the "divorce for adultery, no remarriage" views and are - as you can imagine - very close to the same basic presentation. Both interact well with all of the various Bible passages, both OT and NT. They are, frankly, much more thorough in their research than either of the other authors (who mainly focus on NT texts only).

In the final analysis, it seems that one's fundamental view of marriage - what it is and what it isn't - is really the deciding factor for most questions concerning divorce and remarriage. Do you believe that marriage is fundamentally an indissoluble institution, or not? That question alone makes most of the difference.

This is a good read, whether you're convinced of a particular position or not. It's always useful to read the opposing views of others, especially when they are crafted with grace. Even Dr. Edgar's chapter, though not as kind as the others, is by no means a mere rant.


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Thursday, March 8, 2007

Poll update

In case any one is curious, according to my first poll the vast majority of you are NASB fans. On to the next poll!

Incidentally, will the lone NIV fan please identify him/herself?


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Saturday, March 3, 2007

A Theology of Community (part 2)

Having summarized the contents of 1 Thessalonians with regard to community, let me turn to Paul's follow-up letter.

As you might expect, 2 Thessalonians continues to process of teaching us a theology of community. It starts in chapter 1, verse 3:

We ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith flourishes more and more and the love of each one of you all for one another is ever greater.

So right off the bat, Paul has let us know that the authentic sense of community found in Thessalonika (that we read about in 1 Thess) is not only alive and well, but growing!...

Chapters 2 and 3 relate more information to put into what I'm calling a "theology of community". First, in chapter 2, Paul relates much more detailed information about the "end times" than he did in 1 Thess. Remember, I'm suggesting that the very reason Paul chose the Thessalonians to reveal this truth to has everything to do with their deep sense of community. So it should come as no surprise that Paul relates even more information to them here - especially since he's learned that their bond of loving community is growing ever stronger. Had he heard that they were losing this sense of community, I doubt very highly that this "end times" teaching would have taken priority for Paul - he probably wouldn't even have addressed it, instead admonishing the Thessalonians to restore their Godly community.

So again, I'm left with the strong hunch that the teachings of Thessalonians (both 1 and 2) regarding the "end times" were given by Paul primarily because of their deep community.

Chapter 3 reveals even more information for forming a theology of community. In it, Paul focuses on this command:

But we command you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from any brother who lives an undisciplined life and not according to the tradition they received from us. (v.6)

What exactly does Paul mean? He explains himself more fully a few verses later:

For we hear that some among you are living an undisciplined life, not doing their own work but meddling in the work of others. (v.11)

In other words, there were some folk who were free-loading in the Thessalonian church community. They weren't working, but were taking hand-outs and busying themselves in the affairs of others instead of "work[ing] quietly and provid[ing] their own food to eat" (v.12). These are the kind of people that are always "suggesting" ways for you to live your life better, but never living those standards in their own life. My study Bible notes that "there is a play on words in the Greek: 'working at nothing, but working around', 'not keeping busy but being busybodies'."

Returning to verse 6, what does Paul mean by "keep away from any brother" who lives this way? He spells it out in verse 14b-15:

...take not of him and do not associate closely with him, so that he may be ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

So let's recap. The Thessalonian church had a deep and abiding sense of community. There were some that wanted to enjoy the benefits of that community without really contributing to it. They wanted to be around this community - who wouldn't?! But they didn't want to be obedient (v.6, v.12) to at least one of the sometimes difficult commands that are prerequisites for authentic community. They wanted to cheat - enjoy the benefits of deep community without the hard work. But Paul commands those in deep community to "not associate closely" with them, not in hopes of selfishly "preserving" their community, but in hopes that the offenders might repent and enter into the deep community the right way.

So, we now have two points to work with in our growing "theology of community".

1. Deep community is a prerequisite for full understanding of certain teachings. At least it was in the case of the Thessalonians.

2. Deep community is to be guarded, but not in an exclusionary sense. Christians are to be encouraged to do the hard work necessary to truly enter into deep community by those already in deep community.

Anybody agree or disagree at this point?


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Thursday, March 1, 2007

Toward a Theology of Community

I've been thinking a lot about Christian community lately (there's an understatement, eh?). As I've posted about numerous times, I think we're missing the boat somehow. We talk about "fellowship" and pretty much mean "superficial opportunity to consume food and leave without taking my mask off". Okay, not all of us mean that, but I think most do. We still talk about "church" and mean the building, not the people. I don't want to harp on conventions of language, but I think it's telling that so many of us routinely speak of "going to church" on Sundays.

Persecuted people seem to "get it" better than we Americans normally do. So do postmodern people in general. More to the point of this post, pre-modern people understood community much better than we do today. So I wondered to myself if the pages of Scripture might help me catch a fresh vision of authentic community. The answer, of course, is an absolute "YES"...

I know that Bible has tons to say about community, both implicitly and explicitly. So I just started wondering to myself, "where might I start looking?". Many scholars have long maintained that the "best" church referenced in the NT was the church at Thessalonika - they seem to have the least problems. So I simply read through the book of 1 Thessalonians and made mental notes of portions that dealt with community. My theory going in was that the "best" NT church would likely manifest a really good sense of community. What follows is simply my general observations.

Chapter 1 After heaping much praise on the church, Paul puts a fine point on it this way:

As a result you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For from you the message of the Lord has echoed forth not just in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place reports of your faith in God have spread, so that we do not need to say anything. For people everywhere report how you welcomed us and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.(v.7-9)

Obviously it was their faith that drove the message home, but I had previously missed this little nugget about how their sense of community had played a role as well.

Chapter 2 After speaking about how well the Thessalonians had received Paul and the Gospel before he had to leave, we read an emotional section on just how much Paul missed this local body of Christ-followers:

But when we were separated from you, brothers and sisters, for a short time (in presence, not in affection) we became all the more fervent in our great desire to see you in person. For we wanted to come to you (I, Paul, in fact tried again and again) but Satan thwarted us. For who is our hope or joy or crown to boast of before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not of course you? For you are our glory and joy!(v.17-20)

I have no doubt that part of the reason for this "joy" had to do with their faith. But this section cannot be minimized to merely joy over doctrinal purity. Paul clearly loved being around these guys. They were the kind of company you don't want to leave. I don't think they could have been so loved without doctrinal purity, for sure. But because of that purity (and other factors) there is authentic community at work here, and Paul longed to be a part of it. Note, too, that it was Satan who thwarted Paul's presence in this community...

Chapter 3 Since Paul simply cannot get to them himself, he sends Timothy to the Thessalonians to check up on them and make sure they haven't lost their passion. When Timothy returns to Paul with his report, we read:

But now Timothy has come to us from you and given us the good news of your faith and love and that you always think of us with affection and long to see us just as we also long to see you!(v.6)

As we might expect, Christians involved in authentic community get hooked! They longed for Paul's presence in their community as much as he.

Chapter 4 As Paul settles down to the instructional section of his letter, he admonishes the Thessalonians to continue to live in a way pleasing to God. When he gets to the matter of love:

Now on the topic of brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another. And indeed you are practicing it toward all the brothers and sisters in all of Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more...(v.9-10)

Here's where I'm getting a bit more speculative. I wonder if the reason why Paul chose his letter to the Thessalonians as the place to reveal his most extensive teachings about the Rapture (v. 13-18)had a lot to do with their sense of community. It makes sense to me. He begins his teaching on the Rapture with these words:

Now we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest who have no hope. (v.13)

Doesn't seem only natural that Paul would be most concerned about these particular Christians precisely because they had such an authentic sense of community? They were connected in a way that most Christians merely play at, and therefore the pain of separation (by death) was felt all the more acutely by them. So Paul feels compelled to not leave them in the dark - he wants them to know that their community will be reunited with the Almighty some day soon. He's certain these words will be a comfort to them, too (v.18). The Thessalonians, by virtue of their deeply cultivated sense of community, were in a unique position to truly appreciate the teaching of the Rapture. Their minds were ready for it, no doubt, because they had also cultivated a deep faith in the Word. But I think it was their community they provided the impetus for why Paul chose them to deliver this message to.

Hopefully I'm not overstating my case. I do not believe that "community" comes before "doctrine" or "holiness". I once left a church because the pastor believed that "love and unity come before doctrinal purity". What I do believe is that the natural outworking of "doctrine" and "holiness" should be deep community. But it often isn't. We let our arrogance get in the way of community. Each of us has decided that we have a lock on absolute truth - if you don't agree with me, you're wrong. Simple as that. We've lost the art of "agreeing to disagree" - we no longer think there's even a time or place for such a notion, calling it "wishy-washy" or "liberal".

I desperately want the kind of community that the Thessalonians had within their local body. Paul wanted it to. Do we thirst for it? If Piper's right and we "glorify God by enjoying Him forever", then doesn't it make sense that this thirst is God-given?

Are we passionately pursuing deep community or merely going through the motions of fellowship?


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This time it's personal

I hate to do this, since my blog has really never featured anything particularly personal about me. But I've had a number of people ask me about the veiled allusions to my back problems these last two weeks. So permit me a brief update, please.

Short version: I officially have either arthritis in, or a stuck or fused SI joint. No one is really sure exactly what the diagnosis is. The x-rays show no space between the two sides of the joint on one side - either a stuck or fused joint. There's also a good possibility that I have arthritis in the joint as a result of years of improper joint function.

The end result is pain. But the blessings have been many:

- I definitely don't have a disc problem (something I had long feared and that would likely end in surgery)
- I am no longer using crutches to get around
- I can walk just fine most of the time
- I'm seeing a decrease in required pain meds (Vicodin) every day
- I've had lots of time to read in the last 10 days
- I've gotten somewhat ahead of my class load (the most courses I've ever taken in one semester)
- I've had lots of extra time to be around my family
- My employer has been various gracious and understanding
- I met a very nice guy in my physical therapist
- Most importantly, I've been graphically reminded of my total dependence upon the Almighty

I thank you for your prayers and look forward to continuing my recovery.


PS: If any post in the last two weeks has been in any way lacking - blame it on the Vicodin!

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