Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Wagoneer?!

Yep. I bought one. I know. Let me explain.

This isn't mine. But it's virtually identical. I'll have to take
some pictures of my G-Wag later.
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas I saw it outside an auto repair shop on Western Avenue: A dark maroon 1989 Jeep Grand Wagoneer. I’ve liked them for as long as I can remember. A friend’s family had one in the mid 1970s. They sometimes gave me a ride home from swim practice in it. Another friend’s family had one that I rode in on a church trip in 1978. I saw Wags everywhere in New Hampshire and Maine when I went on vacation there in 1980. Then something happened that made an indelible impression.

My college roommate and I both played football, but we really just wanted to hunt and fish. His uncle (an avid fly fisherman and bird hunter) invited us to go grouse hunting with him. My roommate and I drove to his cabin near New Tazwell. He had two cars: a Porsche 911 and a fairly new Jeep Grand Wagoneer. So cool! We tied flies (it’s a trout fishing thing) until late, woke up in the morning and loaded the Wag. You’ve got to understand, even in 1988, the Wagoneer was a relic of days gone by. Conceived in the late 50s, the basic design had not changed since its debut in 1963. It was like an old-school station wagon—woodgrain sides and all—only it had four-wheel-drive and the masculine face of a truck. If you weren’t around in the 80s, you must know that small cars like the VW Rabbit and Honda Prelude were the trend. Even the trucks were smaller and their weakened engines were choked with CAFE-mandated catalytic converters and smog equipment. So we loaded the guns and Pointers (bird dogs) in the custom-caged back and hit the road. I was surprised at how well it rode and the comfort of the leather-couch seats, yet the big, smooth AMC V-8 engine sounded like a muscle car and effortlessly pulled up steep hills. When the road ended it crawled up the side of Clinch Mountain without spinning a tire. That was when I thought, “I want one of these.”

I met Darla that year, and a year-and-a-half later I graduated and we were married. Every car decision we’ve made since has been, well, practical. Reliability, reasonable gas mileage, affordability, and adequate space for our growing family have been the determining factors. That is until a couple of weeks ago.

So in the weeks preceding Christmas, that ‘89 Wagoneer on Western was whispering my name. I thought, “I wonder if it’s for sale.” It was. Weeks went by. “I need that like a hole in the head!” I said to myself whenever I drove by. Then I inched closer: I stopped just to look in the window. “It must be rough on the inside or have rust.” Nope. It was in excellent shape inside and out! Weeks went by. “They must be asking too much for it.” I looked online to see what similar Wags were selling for. They were hard to find. Most available ones are trashed. But good ones were going for 7k to 9k. Some really nice or restored ones were going for 40k! A guy in California is restoring them better-than-new with all the modern conveniences and fancy engines for 130k+!!!

Then I did it. I went inside the place and asked how much they were wanting for it. I don’t want to divulge details, but let’s just say I was surprised...pleasantly! “Something must be wrong with it or someone doesn’t know what these things are worth.” It seemed too good to be true. Turns out the guy who owns the shop (a really good guy) was selling it for his friend who he said took meticulous care of it. So I drove it. I got my buddy Brett (a real car guru) to check it out with me. I asked a mechanic friend to check it out, too. Everyone was saying, “Looks good to me.”

Meanwhile, I drove Darla insane. Over Christmas and New Year’s I couldn’t get my mind off it. “It would be so cool...Drew and I can work on it...I can always sell it if we need the money...I don’t really have a hobby...It would be cheaper to keep it running than to buy a new car...” Much to my surprise, she said, “Why don’t you just buy it.” [It was like that moment in Rocky II when Adrian awoke in the hospital and said, “Win.” Bonggggggggggggggg.] I made an (even lower) offer. Yikes! A woman had just offered full asking price for it. She didn’t come through. The Wag was mine.

“What have I done?” I thought as I drove away. A couple of days later I got gas (it’s pretty thirsty!). A guy at the next pump who saw the temporary tag in the window asked, “Did you just buy that?” “Yep,” I said not knowing whether to feel proud or embarrassed. “How much did you pay?” I laughed, “I’m not telling you that!” He replied, “Would you be interested in selling it? I’ve been looking for one of those.” I wasn’t. Perhaps I should have at least seen what he would pay! Crazy!!!

Again, not mine. This one's a tad lighter maroon and has
white wall tires. Awesome!
Was that confirmation that I had made a good deal? Or was God showing me mercy—giving an opportunity to get my money back before it was too late? I don’t know. What I do know is there are lots of little things to fix: rattles, the radio, a finicky dash light, the power seats and door locks... But it is soooo fun to drive! Taking it to the office is like a 15-minute vacation—or like a time machine back to a simpler day. For some crazy reason, I LOVE driving it.

I know. Most who read this still don’t understand. And I’m not sure I do either. 

Friday, January 4, 2013


I’m gearing up for Romans!

So far, I’ve amassed 16 commentaries and 8 sets of study notes for Romans. Some of these include works by Swindoll, Sproul, Stott, MacArthur, McGee, Moo, Carroll, Luther, Constable, and E.F. Harrison, to name a few. Tony (Providence Jeff. City campus pastor) and BP have got a few more that I will be able to share as well!  Online commentaries are a great resource, too. There I will likely tap into works by divines like Calvin, Wesley, Charles Hodge, and Schaff among others. Even early church guys like Chrysostom, Thomas Aquinas, and Augustine have commentaries on Romans that are available online! Awesome.
Sketch of Luther translating the
NT into German in Wartburg Castle

I’m also dusting off my Greek resources and tools. My desk is a heap! A big, beautiful heap. I just want to be kidnapped and confined in Wartburg Castle (that’s a Luther reference) with my Bibles & books so that I can marinate alone in all the truth! Yikes!...I’m shaking my head trying to wake up from the preacher-nerd trance. This is the kind of studying that I love most.

The actual desk where Luther worked.
Ahhhh... Romans. I’ve been scared and intimidated, but since going public that we’re going to do it, I’m becoming more and more excited. While I was in seminary John MacArthur came to speak and was asked during a Q&A about preaching through Romans. He quipped that a pastor should not attempt such a feat until he is at least 45 years old! It occurred to me last year when I was sensing God’s pleasure regarding us doing Romans that...that’s my age. Coincidence?
Wartburg Castle today
(and yes, that's where Wartburg,
Tennessee got its name)

Seriously, here’s the danger that many pastors fail to avoid: getting too caught up in delicious theological detail. Romans is to expositors what the Great Smokies are to botanists: a rich garden of interesting discoveries waiting to be found. I’ve been surveying how other pastors have led their congregations through Paul’s great letter. Most of them focused on doctrine and quoted lots of old theologians (see my list of commentators above!) and bored their people to death! What a shame!!! In the words of Young Life founder Jim Rayburn, “It is a sin to bore kids with the Gospel.” I would say it is also sinful to bore adults with the Gospel. And that’s what Romans is essentially about: The Good News—why we need it, how we get it, who makes it happen, and what happens to the lives of those who find it. Is it practical? Oh yes...yes it is.

And it offers our church many great opportunities to invite friends. Something that makes Providence different is our dogged commitment to creating an environment where new folks will feel at home. We do this in order to remove barriers so that people can hear the Good News. We’re going to work extra to make sure this is the case during Romans. Providence folks: build relationships and bring your friends. We’ll do our job. You do yours!

And God will do his.