Gleason Family Christmas Letter—2006
It hardly seems possible that it’s time to write another Christmas letter, but the calendar tells me that it is. 2006 was an exciting and fulfilling year in a number of respects for us as a family as well as for Grace Presbyterian Church in Yorba Linda, California. I’ll start with the family and work to the congregation.
2006 marked the birth of our eleventh grandchild: Emma Gleason. She is the fifth daughter and seventh child of our second son, Geoff (sometimes known as Shep or Chef. It seems that few can pronounce his name—but I’m getting better at it!) and his wife, Lisa. Sally and I have not yet seen Emma, but are eagerly looking forward to a visit to Canada—where all our grandchildren live—as soon as it thaws out up there.
Life in the Tundra: The Family in the Cold North
Since I’m on the subject of children and grandchildren, let me tell you a little bit about what’s going on with our married children, both of whom live in the frozen north. Ron and Jenn are doing very well as are their children, Laura (or Lorah—it’s pronounced like Geoff), Avery, Cailen, and Cole. Laura and Avery are thinking about going to college, but they keep spending all the money they’ve saved on clothes and shoes, so they’re hoping to start college somewhere around 2050. Sally and I are praying that they’ll both attend Providence Christian College out here in SoCal so that we can see them and spoil them. Cailen is, like her sisters, growing into a beautiful young godly woman. We tend to think of her as the quiet one in the family, but I’m not sure we’re right. She’s looking to take Michael Flatley’s place in Riverdance. Cole isn’t playing hockey this year for the first time in a long while. He turned fourteen this year. His voice is “weird” from time to time and he’s coming to the stage where he no longer believes that girls have cooties. Ron and Jenn just returned from a cruise on the Caribbean. They left the children at home but I called a few times and the house received no severe damage. Cole and Cailen burned down the family aquarium and apart from some sleep deprivation the children did fine. Oh, yes: they did manage to clean up a day before dad and mom got back. Ron and Jenn home school the kids. They are both strong Christian models and leaders for their children. Ron manages a large farm north of Toronto and is doing very well.
Geoff and Lisa are also quite busy. They have to care for and feed Rachel, Laken, Naya, Sawyer, Noel, Marin, and Emma. Geoff and Lisa home school as well. Geoff did a recent remodel on their kitchen—installing such fine touches as electricity and running water. Remember: life in an igloo isn’t always easy. In addition to his job, he has his own graphics company, and he’s planning to attend Reformed Theological Seminary in a couple of years. In the meantime, he’s taking courses from RTS—Virtual and enjoying them. He recently was the recipient of around 1,500 hundred theological books. An acquaintance of mine bequeathed them to him. Now he just has to read them—but we all know that seminary students rarely read anything except the assigned texts. They just put them on their bookshelves to impress others! Lisa, of course, is quite busy as well, but manages to teach piano and is a garage sale aficionado. I once made the mistake of standing between her and an item that she considered a “good buy.” I still have a slight limp. Rachel is a teenager and she and Cailen are planning a visit out to SoCal to see us. The sooner the better! Sally and I cannot understand why the parents are so hesitant to let us take care of them for a while. Laura and Avery came out for a visit and they’re okay—sort of. For the life of me I still can’t understand what’s wrong with ice cream for breakfast. Some parents are just too strict. Rachel reads Latin, Greek, Dutch, Swahili, and does Tibetan throat chanting. Her academics are on par with a post-graduate student and I’ve heard that she’s going to be the next ambassador to Switzerland. Laken is the “jock” of the family—she must have gotten it from me because her father has no coordination at all—and loves the trampoline. I asked her recently, “Are you enjoying school this year?” She answered, “Not really.” I pressed on: “What are your favorite subjects?” Answer: “Lunch and recess.” She definitely has my genes. Naya is our “little Sally” with her red hair. She generally bosses every around and rearranges the layout of all the Playmobile toys. Naya has a great future as an air traffic controller. Sawyer and Noel share a room, which is a recipe for disaster. As the nursery supervisors used to say to Sally and me when Ron and Geoff were younger, “They’re all boy, aren’t they?” It didn’t take a rocket scientist to translate that! But they are good boys—is that an oxymoron?—and a lot of fun. Sawyer has a flair for the dramatic and Noel knows where to find the brownies after everyone else in the house is asleep. We haven’t seen Marin since her baptism, but we understand that she’s a sweetheart and has dad wrapped around her finger. Shep sent some pictures of Emma—once. We’re taking up a collection at Grace to buy him a new digital camera so that he can send the grandparents some more pictures!
Janneke is twenty-nine now and remains our happy camper. (In fact, we still have three children living at home with us.) She works at a workplace for the mentally and physically challenged called Real Challenges. She loves her work and does an outstanding job, whatever she’s doing. Janneke is very upbeat about people, life, and being God’s child. I always get a chuckle when we have visitors at Grace—which is often—and she starts singing. Since she can’t read, she sings from memory. It is not uncommon that her singing is accompanied by a little hand clapping. The congregation loves to hear her sing and there are lots of smiles all around. Her Sunday School teacher is Dana Randall, one of our Elders. No, it’s a guy’s name too! Janneke is always quick to tell us what Mr. Randall taught her in Sunday School. She can also remember most of the sermon. We’re teaching her the catechism and she does very well at it. Janneke and our German Shepherd, Hosanna, have a wonderful relationship. She loves Hosie and Hosie loves her. Janneke’s social calendar is off the charts and she keeps us hopping. She also looks forward to her Saturday trips with dad to the local Barnes & Noble.
Nicky really loves her job working in the law office of Klein and Wilson in Newport Beach. She enjoys the atmosphere in the office along with her work colleagues. Right now she and Danielle Curtis are looking to move into an apartment together until Danielle’s wedding in June 2007. The two of them flew to Paris, France for Thanksgiving this year and had a blast! Nicky’s schedule is busy and she is a very talented Christian woman. I never cease to be surprised what a godly young woman she is. Her education at Covenant College equipped her with a solid Christian worldview and she knows how to put it into practice. Nicky remains our sole female teacher at Grace, teaching the Primary class. Her students love Miss Nicky and she does a great job with them. She is still looking for “Mr. Right.” Finding someone who is Presbyterian or Reformed in SoCal narrows the field down substantially—the same holds for finding Ms. Right out here for guys. But she is a principled woman and refuses to compromise. Nicky sang at the International Women’s Conference of the PCA held in Atlanta in 2006 and I believe her soprano voice was very much appreciated. She is still in the throes of trying to decide precisely how to use her soprano voice to the glory of our Lord. Her voice teacher from U.S.C. is on sabbatical this year, so occasionally Nicky trots up (read: drives) to LA.
Hans, the youngest, turned twenty-four this year. Yikes! A few days ago he received word that he had been accepted at the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s next police academy. He has pursued his desire to be a law enforcement officer for a while and now he has his opportunity. I am certain that he would very much cherish your prayers as he attends this six month academy. He chose Orange County Sheriff’s because it is the toughest one. He will not necessarily end up with the Sheriff’s Department; they simply run the academy.
He also just received a letter from Laguna Beach PD inviting him to an interview before the police academy starts. He’s very excited, but I don’t think he’d look all that good in a pink uniform. Just kidding! Please pray that one of the police departments in our area would pick him up while he’s attending the academy. In preparation he spends time memorizing police codes, running, exercising, and doing kick-boxing and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He practices all of his choke-out, tap-out moves, and arm bars on Sally.
Speaking of Sally, she is doing very well. Her free lance writing with Wycliffe Bible Translators has rolled back a little, which is a good thing, because she is busy writing a book on biblical relationships. Well, that’s not exactly what it’s about. We discussed it last evening and got into a huge fight. Then she informed me that the book deals with hostility and I’m the main character. If I’m not mistaken, it will be about how God heals our brokenness and broken relationships, even, or especially, with him.
She also serves on the national board of the Women in the Church in the PCA and gets to make trips back to Atlanta. In 2006 she led a seminar on what we can learn as Christians from our handicapped brothers and sisters. She maintains a living correspondence in America, Canada, and Europe/Asia. Since we moved out to Southern California in 1994, Sally has become very much acclimated to our new digs. Anytime the temperature plummets below 70◦ she pulls on her sweats and builds a fire in the fireplace. She now considers 65◦ the “freezing” mark. I know this because every time it drops that low she reminds me that it’s freezing outside.
Quite recently, Sally and approximately eleven other women from Grace completed an all-day Saturday gun safety course. The ladies went out shooting and loved it. One member even brought her target to church to show off and another has hers on the family fridge. She took down all of her children’s drawings to make room for her target. Just kidding. Her husband took down the kids’ finger painting and put up mom’s target. “See, kids, what might happen if you disobey mommy!” For a present, I got Sally a Smith & Wesson.357 magnum. She walks around the house mumbling, “Go ahead. Make my day,” in a whispering voice. Mom Yopp, Sally’s mom, is in a nursing home in Charlotte, NC and has Alzheimer’s. Whenever she can, Sally flies back to see her mom. Fortunately, two of Sally’s brothers live in Charlotte; another brother is in Macon, GA; and Sally’s sister, Amy, lives on Long Island, but makes frequent trips down as well.
The “Bride of my Youth” and I enjoy walking in the morning with Hosanna as well as our Friday date days at Huntington Beach. Sally continues to aid me in our pre-marital counseling classes at Grace and with all our young families, we stay busy! She is rapidly becoming a sought-after conference and retreat speaker and always receives very positive feedback about the material she presents. Next year the Beach Babe and I will be married forty years! Forty years? How is that possible? Anyway, we’re tentatively planning an excursion back to Charleston, SC, where “it” all began. We want to tour that beautiful old ante-bellum city, take in a concert or two, take the boat trip out to Ft. Sumter, tour the old city, and enjoy some of Charleston’s succulent seafood.
As for me, I’m chugging along. I’m preaching through the book of Romans for the first time in my life. I have preached from it before, but not through it. It has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life! It is a wonderful book and I am thankful that I providentially waited until I was sixty before I started preaching through it. I have pastoral experience that is invaluable to bring to bear on such a glorious book of Scripture. Our church theme in 2006 was “Equipping God’s Saints for Service” and for 2007 it will be, Lord willing, “Conformity to Christ’s Image.” In 2006 I undertook a project that I had been planning to do for quite a while: to write a biography of Herman Bavinck. I have begun in earnest and am probably enjoying myself too much. It’s my plan to dedicate this book to Dr. Roger Nicole, who was my mentor at Gordon-Conwell. While his Byington Teaching Fellow Dr. Nicole he introduced me to Bavinck and started me reading him in Dutch! With the encouragement of both Nicole and R.C. Sproul I ended up living in Holland for almost ten years and wrote my doctoral dissertation on Bavinck. It is only fitting that Dr. Nicole’s Presbyterian, non-egalitarian student should dedicate this work to him. I’m frantically looking for a publisher so I can get my royalties and purchase my Lear-Jet. It’s already on order, so someone had better step up to the plate—quickly!
I am also co-editing an upcoming work on postmodernism and post-evangelicalism with Dr. Gary Johnson from Phoenix. Gary is a Warfield scholar and I’m looking forward to perhaps doing more with him on Bavinck and Warfield. Dr. David Wells has consented to write the Introduction to the book that will include contributions from international scholars and pastors. If all goes well, Crossway will publish the book and it should appear sometime in mid-2007.
My Ethos articles continue to occupy me and require me to meet a weekly schedule to get them out on time. There is hardly a week that goes by that I don’t have more enough material for discussion. Reality truly is stranger than fiction. In all my writing I keep coming back to a statement made by Sydney Alhstrom in his book A Religious History of the American People, when he said, “No factor in the ‘Revolution of 1607-1760’ was more significant to the ideals and thought of colonial Americans than the Reformed and Puritan character of their Protestantism; and no institution played a more prominent role in the molding of colonial culture than the church. Just as Protestant convictions were vitally related to the process of colonialization and a spur to economic growth, so the churches laid the foundations of the educational system, and stimulated most of the creative intellectual endeavors, by nurturing the authors of most of the books and the faculties of most of the schools. The churches offered the best opportunities for architectural expression and inspired the most creative productions in poetry, philosophy, music, and history. A more specific element in the religious background was Puritanism itself, which even under Queen Elizabeth began to be a powerful factor in the transformation of English society and government” (p. 347. Italics mine). It is high time that the Church began to exert some influence upon society rather than simply following society.
The nurturing Alhstrom describes means that the Church has a decided task in preparing Christians to enter into the various disciplines he mentions. It is not enough for someone who is a Christian to make a movie. I believe Thomas Manton captured this notion most aptly in his epistle to the reader of the Westminster Standards where he reminds us that the family is, as he calls it, “the seminary of Church and State.” What occurs and is taught in the family must find unity in the Church. So if the children are being taught Scripture and catechized in the homes, the Church should augment this teaching by its preparation of young men and women for both “Church and Commonwealth.” This is going to be a long road back. It isn’t impossible, but it will not be easy. I have no magic formulae other than we begin the process one family at a time, one congregation at a time, starting with us and our local congregation.
My mom continues to do quite well. She lived with us for five years, but is now living in a assisted living facility about five minutes from us. She has her own room and we get to see her frequently. Mom still misses the South. She turned eighty-two this year.
News from Grace Presbyterian Church
This coming year will mark my twelfth year at Grace. As sinners we still struggle with our own sins as well as the sins of others and the effect of sin upon the created order. Nevertheless, the Lord allows me to continue to minister fruitfully and joyfully in this congregation. I am constantly humbled when I realize that he allows me to be the pastor of such a fine, really unique congregation.
In January 2006 by God’s grace we launched our third church plant. Doug Abendroth, who had interned with us for approximately six months, left with around thirty-five to forty members and planted a PCA church in the Tustin/Irvine area. The Lord has added to their numbers, but most importantly, he has grown the congregation spiritually. The plant regularly has seventy or more in attendance and we are still able to keep in touch. For example, this Christmas Eve at our Lesson of Readings and Carols service Doug and some members of his congregation will join us at Grace for a combined worship and Doug will deliver the message.
We also support a church plant work in Temecula Valley where Eric Landry is the planter. Eric is also a gifted young man who is going through the throes of “birth” as far as church planting is concerned. At first, he simply struggled with a common SoCal problem: finding a place to meet. Once you find a place, it seems that Satan does everything he can to derail your efforts. Thankfully, they seem to have found an adequate place to meet—God’s provision—and are moving along.
Our third, and oldest, church plant is in Palm Desert where Clayton Willis is entering his fourth year. (Clayton is also in the process of changing his name to "Awillis" so he doesn't always have to be discussed last alphabetically.) The desert presents some unique challenges. First, it is filled with a large number of retirees who want to stay warm and golf. Staying warm in the summer is no problem when the temps can hit 120-degrees! Then Clayton has a reverse snowbird problem. When it gets that hot, about half of his congregation seeks out cooler environs. Second, there is a rather large homosexual population in that area, which also presents some unique challenges/opportunities. Clayton, too, has had his location problems. They are now meeting in their third different location, but it appears that this one is a good fit.
What warms my heart about all three of these plants is that the men who are the pastors are solidly and unashamedly PCA. When you look at them, each has its own distinct looks and characteristics, but in the final analysis they also look like the mother church—Grace—with a truly Presbyterian liturgy. We understand that Presbyterianism isn’t for everyone in SoCal, but we are also thankful that our Lord continues to send us those who want to be.
Grace also had the privilege of mentoring and then helping send a missionary couple, Karl and Sun Dahlfred, to the mission field in Thailand with Oversees Mission Fellowship. We have absolutely nothing against the PCA’s Mission to the World, but when Karl and Sun arrived they had already made their plans with OMF. Like our three church planters, Karl attended our Deacons and Sessions meetings, taught Sunday School, and preached for us. We also ordained him in a special service at Grace after he had successfully completed the ecclesiastical examinations in South Coast Presbytery. Karl and Sun are currently in language school in Singapore before they travel on to Thailand. Did I mention that I also got to baptize their son, Joshua?
We had three New Member classes at Grace this year. We only had one in each class but it sounds better if you say you had three. Seriously, the Lord has blessed us with a number of truly fine Christians. Even after Doug Abendroth’s church plant began we noticed that we were still having a “space” problem so we did a remodel of the sanctuary. We took out some walls and cut the “stage” back to “chancel” size (removed the drum sets and cages filled with white doves) I kept the plexi-glass that surrounded the drums. I always thought that it was for the acoustics, but I found out it’s also bulletproof so the Session keeps it around me when I preach. I tried to carry the dove cages out after one service and several of the women that had attended the gun safety class pulled revolvers and semi-automatics out of their purses, plus a couple of the older members ran to their trunks and took out shotguns. I finally had the Deacons carry the cages out. Most of them are out of the ICU now—the Deacons, not the doves.
We had an excellent marriage retreat in April where Sally and I spoke. We’re still trying to figure this marriage thing out (which one are we becoming?) but many were kind and acted as if we actually helped them. I had just arrived back in Orange County the day before from an excellent Twin Lakes Fellowship Conference sponsored by Twin Lakes Fellowship in Jackson, MS. A number of my Elders went along with me and we were blessed spiritually.
We currently have three women’s Bible studies going at Grace and I just finished a six-week Wednesday night Men’s Bible Study on male spiritual leadership that was well received. Lord willing, we will start up again in January 2007.
Our small groups continue to do well and grow. An Elder facilitates each group and typically the discussion is based on questions I put in the Worship Folder about the sermon. My own group, which is facilitated by an Elder, has been studying the Westminster Shorter Catechism.
Speaking of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, I started a class for young people over twelve and all of a sudden it has become the Adult Sunday School class! It’s been fun. Another Elder teaches the Westminster Shorter Catechism to those under twelve. As I have written a number of articles recently based on John Leith’s very provocative book, Crisis in the Church, one of his laments as a PCUSA pastor and professor was that theological students were appearing on the doorsteps of various seminaries without any preparation in terms of a thorough grasp of English Bible and the Westminster Shorter Catechism. I took that to heart and so we are now making a concerted effort to remedy that situation out here in SoCal.
We were able to hold our very first Vacation Bible School in 2006 since Grace has been in existence. Will “The Thrill” Jones found his niche and hit the ground running. He had a large number of very able assistants and VBS was a huge success. In keeping with our church policy, we used the material from Great Commission Publications and loved it. We’re excited about next year already!
Finally, we had two different sessions of our Son-Flowers and Youth Wrestling programs this year. Son-Flowers was under the able guidance of Danielle Curtis, Nicky Gleason, and Angela Nowlin. The young women learned crafts, cooking, and Bible lessons. We had a huge turnout for Youth Wrestling and all of the wrestlers did well. As the coach, I was pleasantly surprised at the progress the young men made. I’m looking forward to both programs again next year.
2006 was an exciting and fulfilling year at Grace. The Lord continues to add to the numbers and I am amazed at the type/quality of person he keeps sending our way. Grace is truly a very unique congregation in a number of ways. Right now we have a large number of young families, young children, and ethnic diversity. We have never set out to “target” a particular group or age spread. We have preached, striven truly to be Presbyterian, and have left the rest up to God.
I know I speak on behalf of my family and Grace Presbyterian Church when I wish you all a very blessed Christmas and New Year. May the blessings of our Lord be yours in abundance.