Saturday, March 28, 2009

Rangers Blog

I've enjoyed reading the Dallas Morning News Rangers Blog since I got back from Spring Training. They have regular news updates on the team, reports on spring training games, and reports from fans that are out at Spring Training. Looking forward to opening day!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Spring Training Day #3

Another great day at Spring Training.

The Rangers won 11-5, showing off more batting power and another good pitching start from Harrison. The game today was Tucson, so we had to drive 2 hours each way. But it was good talk time in the car with dad, and it was great to see another stadium and another team, the Colorado Rockies.

We got back tonight around 8:00pm, and I decided to go work out and go for a swim. After the swim, I jumped in the hot-tub to relax my muscles. Not long after, two young college-aged guys came and sat down with me. We started a conversation about family, home, and life in general. Eventually, we started talking about spiritual things and I was able to share my testimony with them. They both come from a Lutheran background in Wisconsin, but don't have a personal faith in Jesus. I was excited to talk to them about the gospel of grace, that God forgives us and accepts us in Jesus and changes us from the inside out.

God was so good to send me tonight to talk with Dave and his friend Dan about the gospel. Pray that God would open their eyes to their need for a personal faith in Jesus.

Flying out early tomorrow - what a trip.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Spring Training Day #2

Day 2 of spring-training 2009 was awesome! The Rangers were playing at their home field today in Surprise, AZ, which meant that they would be practicing on their practice fields before the game started. The games are at 1:00pm and practice is from 10:00-11:30am. The gates to the practice fields open at 10:00am for the fans to enter the practice area and watch the players. Dad and I arrived right at 10:00am and were part of about 300 fans (estimate on my part) who came to watch practice. It is such a cool experience, being close to the players as they take batting-practice, field balls, do calisthenics, etc. But the neatest part is talking to the players, walking with them between fields, and getting their autographs. Dad and I both filled up a baseball with the autographs of many of the Rangers star-players.

After practice, we again had great seats for the actual game. The Rangers won again (8-5) with some great hitting and some good pitching down the stretch. And to top off the experience, about 15 minutes into the game, Nolan Ryan came and sat down about three seats away from us (we were sitting in the first row behind home plate). I talked to him briefly, and he was very nice to both of us, even signing one of our baseballs.

Today will be hard to beat - it was a great day...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Spring Training Day #1

Today, my dad and I flew to Phoenix, Arizona to enjoy three days of the Texas Rangers in spring-training. We get to see them play three different teams at three different stadiums. Today, they played the San Diego Padres in Peoria. The weather was awesome, the seats were a gift from a friend, and the Rangers looked really good. Their major bats were hitting like crazy - both Ian Kinsler and Josh Hamilton had three hits by the end of the fourth inning! Their starting pitcher (which everyone was watching closely - as every year with the Rangers, their season will rise or fall on their pitching staff) was a young guy named McCarthy who pitched four innings of no-hit baseball. Of course, the Padres looked terrible, so I don't know how much of McCarthy's performance was good pitching or awful hitting. Either way, we knew the coaching staff was pleased to see their young starter perform well.

Tomorrow, we head to the Rangers' actual spring-training complex in Surprise, Arizona (another 15 minutes or so away from the game today). We're going to start our day tomorrow early so that we can see them practice in the morning before they play their exhibition game against the Oakland Athletics, a divisional rival. It should be another great day! I'll post some more thoughts tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Book Review: What Hath God Wrought (5/5)

Daniel Howe's Pulitzer-Prize-winning history of antebellum America (pre-Civil War) is a massive read (850 pages) which took me three months of periodic reading to complete. I started off strong, pushing through 300 pages in a couple weeks, but then took time off as my interests turned to other books. However, each time I came back, I immediately jumped back in to the story line and got lost in the history.

Howe's work is so helpful and impressive for three different reasons.

First, this work is one of the best researched history books I have ever read available for a popular audience. Each page is meticulously footnoted to show Howe's sources, and the book ends (after 850 pages) with another 50 page bibliographical essay where he interacts with sources at a critical level. This may be one reason that this book took me so long to read - every page has three or four footnotes with insight from Howe into their usefulness in studying that topic. In topics that especially interested me, I found myself looking through Amazon for his footnoted resources. The span of this book is massive (covering 1815 to 1848), and the amount of research available on this period is overwhelming. If you want to get your arms around this little-known period of American history, start with Howe's book.

Second, and seemingly contradictory to my first point, Howe's book is extremely readable. I have read many history books over the years and while some have mastered the facts of their era, they have obviously not mastered the English language. Howe's book is unique in his ability to not only master the relevant information (see point 1), but his ability to make the history come alive on paper. I appreciated that Howe's was not uncritical in his approach to the period, giving his opinions along the way. I know that historians are supposed to just give the facts and not share their personal views, but in reality this is impossible to do and makes history extremely boring to read. Howe walks the line well between telling the story and analyzing the story. With so much up-heaval during this period, he has plenty of material to work with.

Finally, I appreciated Howe's work because of the significant space he committed to discuss the impact of and changes in the religious fabric of American life. I have rarely interacted with a scholar of Howe's pedigree who is so conversant in religious history. He gives several chapters to looking at the impact of the Second Great Awakening (occurred during these years) and the impact of religious creativity (Mormonism and other sects were born during these years) on American culture. It would have been easy to write about this period simply from a political perspective, covering the great expansion of the United States, the interesting presidential elections, and American involvement in war. Instead, Howe gives us the street-level view of life and especially of religious life.

In closing, please note that this book is one volume in a series of American history books called The Oxford History of the United States, where each volume is written by a different author. The only other work in the series that I have read is James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom, the history of the Civil-War (the book picks up right after Howe's ends). McPherson's work is also amazing in it scope, though the number of years it covers is less because the details of the Civil War take up so much space. I currently have another volume from this series on my nightstand called Freedom from Fear, the story of America in depression and war (1929-1945). I really want to read it (to see the parallels with our economy today), but I'm working myself up to starting another 800+ page book on American history.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Elders' Decisions

Just a quick review of what I announced yesterday in church for those who missed. After fasting and praying last week, our elders made the following decisions in leading our church...

(1) Facilities: We decided to continue our relationship with the YMCA and utilize the new gymnasium as it becomes available later this spring. We had thought originally that the space may have been ready by Easter, but now we are hearing that it may be later in the spring. After looking at other space in the city, our board feels like God has given us this space at the YMCA for this season to continue to grow and work on other priorities.

(2) Staffing: The elders had decided to set aside money in the 2009 budget to hire a full-time small-groups pastor in the fourth quarter of the year. After seeking God during this week of fasting and prayer, the elders approved a plan to use that money to hire a part-time student ministry pastor starting in May and then give Nick more responsibility with the small-group ministry as he is able to offload the student ministry responsibilities. We are very excited about this direction with our staffing - please pray that God will provide the right student pastor to fill this role.

(3) Church-planting: We are very excited about the team that God has put together to plant our first church in September of 2009. Josh and Amber Cagle are doing a great job of building their team, and we are excited to see what God does through their missionary work in East Round Rock. Our prayer and fasting for last week was centered on the question of when our next church plant would occur. Our elders felt like it was best to wait to plant our next church in 2011 instead of planting another church in 2010. This will give us the opportunity to make sure we can coach and help Josh's plant be healthy, and it will help us prepare new leaders who will be ready to go with the next plant in 2011.

Thanks again for your prayers - we are so thankful to lead such a great church family.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Lessons from Fasting

"The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all."
Psalm 103:19

So after a week of no television and spending more time in prayer with God, what have I learned? Well, a few observations from this week:

1) I've been reminded that God is available all the time. I know that sounds weird, but every time I wanted to watch TV in the evening, I would think about talking with God. And I was reminded that He's always open to talking with me.

2) I've been reminded that I have so much more PEACE in the midst of a stressful job and a crazy family when I am spending time talking with Jesus. Jesus says that His yoke is easy and his burden is light, but I only really experience that when I'm spending daily time in prayer.

3) I've been reminded that I get uncomfortable with long times of silence with God, mostly because He prods into the depths of my soul and shows me hidden areas of sin that I need to confess. Those times of hearing His voice and feeling that conviction can be unnerving, though so powerful.

SO, what did you learn during your week of fasting?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Fasting on Thursday

Spent time reading Hebrews 11 this morning. Always moved by the list of those from Scripture who walked in great faith before the Lord. I wonder again out loud if our generation will miss being used by God in amazing ways because our faith was too small (see Matthew 13:58 to make your stomach turn from a different text). Not that God won't accomplish His purposes - Jesus said the gates of hell will not prevail against the church - but that He won't do it with us. Have we dreamed big enough for what God wants to do?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Fasting on Wednesday

"Fasting is a physical expression of heart-hunger for the coming of Jesus."
John Piper, A Hunger for God

Reading 2 Kings 18 and 19 today, hoping to learn from Hezekiah to trust in the Lord when everything seems lost, the opposing army is yelling at your people in their own Hebrew language, and you've run out of water and food. You wait on the Lord, and when He moves, the entire enemy army is gone in one evening.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Fasting on Tuesday

Reading 1 Kings 18 this morning, praying about what great faith looks like from the life of Elijah. Here's the great question for today's reading - why did he order water to be poured on the altar? And why then did he order it to be poured on there three times? Is there something to making a situation harder for God in order to show Himself sovereign?

Monday, March 02, 2009

Fasting on Monday

Spent time reading and praying through Numbers 13 and 14 this morning, asking the Lord to show me the difference between bold faith and foolish presumption on our part. We want to be a people marked by great faith, but not by foolish, arrogance presumption. How do we know where the line is between the two?