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Monthly Archives: April 2009

A little shampoo is not enough

I spent the morning shampooing the carpets. To my jaded, cynical eye, cleaning the carpets is an exercise in futility. After all my hard work, the carpets are still not clean. Oh, they are cleaner. The dirty water that came out of the carpet cleaner testifies to that fact. Yet, while the carpets are cleaner, they are still not clean. And frankly, they never will be. Too much life has been lived on these carpets. Too many footprints; too many paw prints; too many late night conversations; too much playtime; too many guests; too many kids; too many sleepovers under the Christmas tree; too many books and newspapers read while lying on the floor; too many picnics in the living room; too many study sessions; well, you get the idea. If I wanted to spend the money and hire a professional to clean the carpets, they might do a better job than I can. But the fact remains that while the carpets might be cleaner, they will never be clean. The only solution is buying a new carpet.

Isn’t the same thing true of life? I can attend the latest seminar by the hottest speaker. I can buy the recent best seller offered by the book-of-the-month-club. I can use the principles touted by the newest self-help guru. But the reality is that I am only making cosmetic changes to the outside of my life. I am merely reforming a few bad habits. I might be cleaner and more attractive and perhaps even winsome. I may be able to win friends and influence people. But deep down inside I still have dirt wedged into the fibers of my life. No amount of shampoo and self-help practices can steam it out. The only solution is to admit my inability to change my life and ask God to transform me.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV)

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2009 in Personal growth, Scripture

 

Concerned about worry

I’ve been thinking a lot about worry this past week. No, I’m not anxious. I’m not unduly concerned. I’m not worried or frazzled. I’m concerned because worry is the topic of my sermon this week. I’m preaching on Matthew 6:25-34 where three times in the passage, Jesus says, “Do not be anxious, worried, overly concerned (insert your favorite word for worry).”

As I thought about the passage and the topic, I kept coming back to the question, “What’s the point? What is Jesus trying to communicate? Why is he addressing this issue in his sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7)?”

I think that chapter 5 is focused on what a follower of Jesus Christ looks like. Jesus describes the character (3-12), the impact (13-16), and the heart attitude (17-48) of a true disciple. Chapter six then describes the potential distractions that try to keep us from following Christ–worship (1-18), wealth (19-24), and worry (25-34). Worship is a distraction when we are more concerned about who is watching than who we are worshipping. Wealth blurs our vision by making us think our worth is determined by our bottom line. Worry keeps us tied up in knots instead of focusing on God’s agenda.

The point of 6:25-34 is not that worry is bad for us. It is true that worry can shorten our lives instead of lengthening our lives (6:27). The point is not that we should cast all our cares on God because he cares for us (6:26-30; 1 Peter 5:7). Yes, God values us even more than his creation because we are created in his image, but that is not the point here.

The point of the passage is that we should stop worrying so we have the time and energy to pursue God’s kingdom. When we are consumed with worry, life is all about us. When we get caught up in living for the next meal, shopping spree, vacation, car, tool, job, relationship, or any of a number of wants and desires, we have no time or energy to be concerned, let alone active in pursuing God’s kingdom purposes.

We need to understand that God takes care of the basic needs of life so that we can focus on what is more important. Rather than be consumed with worry, we are to pursue the things that God is concerned about.

 
 

Budding beauties

Spring always looks spectacular, especially after a long, gray winter.

Cherry blossomsimg_10431

Wildflowersimg_1045

Coral bark maple treeimg_1046

Day liliesimg_1049

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2009 in Flowers, Photos, Spring

 

Don’t let false guilt move in

Watching CSI: Crime Scene Investigation last night, I heard some profound words of wisdom on the subject of false guilt. It was yet another “illustration in search of a sermon.” In the episode, “If I had a hammer,” a man who had been in prison for 18 years is trying to win an appeal. His case is based on demonstrating that Catherine Willows had not done a good job of collecting evidence. Det. Jim Brass tells Catherine, “His whole case is based on getting you to doubt yourself. Don’t let him have free rent in your head.”

How often does our Adversary bring up decades old failures and accuse us over and over again? “You’ll never change. Once a loser, always a loser.” How often does he try to get us to doubt ourselves? “Who do you think you are, trying to tell that person how to behave?” How often does he try to convince us to give up and quit? “It won’t do any good. Why bother trying?”

If we have failed, then we need to confess it, seek forgiveness, and move on. If we have already done that, we need to hang a sign outside our conscience that says, “Forgiven.”

Tell the Adversary there is no room for false guilt. Your sin has been forgiven by Jesus Christ.

 
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Posted by on April 24, 2009 in Culture, Personal growth, Theology, TV

 

Thoughts on effective ministry

A collection of random thoughts on what makes a ministry effective. Some are original, but most are principles I gleaned from things I’ve read and/or heard mentioned by wiser people than me.

Ministry is more effective when it is . . .

Rather than when it is . . .

Organic – grows up from within the church Imported – the latest “idea of the month club” fad
People oriented Program oriented
Vision driven – based on purpose, values, intentionality Tradition laden – we’ve always done it this way
Personal invitation General announcement – an announcement to everyone is an announcement to no one in particular
Holistic – whole life related Compartmentalized – addresses needs in isolation
Lay led – someone with personal passion Professionally led – someone paid to do the job
Focused on depth – builds deep people Focused on breadth – mile wide and inch deep
Dependent on God’s power Dependent on my skills
Based on Scripture Based on personal experience or cultural trends
Challenges, encourages, and expects people to grow Allows people to remain unchanged
Incarnational – lived out in real life Attractional – if you build it, they will come
Team-based One-man-band
Grace oriented Rule oriented, legalistic
Flows out of devotion Flows out of duty
   
   
 
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Posted by on April 22, 2009 in Church, Ministry

 

Do not dare not to dare

During my daily commute, I tend to listen to audio books more than I listen to the radio. I have a few favorite book series that I listen to at least every other year. One of them is C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. Probably my favorite version is a set of audio book cds where each book is read by a different British actor.

Yesterday, I finished listening to The horse and his boy. There is a scene towards the end of the book where Aslan, the great lion who is the son of the emperor beyond the sea, meets the horse, Bree. Throughout the book, Bree is a rather proud character with an overly inflated view of himself. After failing to live up to his claims, he is dejected and sulky. Aslan calls him to come forward so that he might set the horse to rights. Bree is reluctant and hangs back. Aslan calls him a second time with the words, “Do not dare not to dare.”

What a great statement of encouragement! It’s one that I need to hear often.

God calls each one of us to experience a truly abundant life. In John 10:10, Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” He wants us to experience a richer, fuller, more vibrant, exciting, fulfilling, fruitful life than we ever dreamed possible.

Far too often, however, we hang back and make excuses. Like Bree, it may be a result of failure. We believe we are losers and God could never love us. It may be pride that keeps us from admitting we don’t have it all together. It may be complacency or a resistance to change. It may be fear of the unknown.

Whatever the case, God calls to step forward and be transformed. He encourages us to take a risk. He tells us to set aside our fear and take the first step of faith, and then to follow it with further steps of faith.

“Do not dare not to dare.”

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2009 in Books, Personal growth, Quotes, Scripture

 

The law of unintended consequences

There are times when someone asks a question or makes a comment that forces you to reevaluate one of your firmly entrenched habits. Yesterday, my wife did just that with a passing comment. She made an observation that very few people bring their Bibles to church, or if they do, they don’t open them during the worship service.

Hmmm. Am I contributing to the problem? I think I am, though that was certainly not my intention.

Each week, I include a sermon outline in the bulletin so that people can follow my message and take notes if they so desire. The outline includes the Scripture passage I am preaching from. I have done this for several years to help new believers or those who may not own a Bible. In addition, I include the Scripture passage in my PowerPoint slides so that people can both see as well as hear the message.

The problem is that I have unwittingly contributed to the law of unintended consequences. Instead of encouraging people to open their Bibles and read the Scriptures, I have told them that they don’t need to bring their Bibles with them. Instead of equipping them to study the Bible on their own, I have taught them to be dependent upon me. Instead of helping them to see the passage in its context, I have taught them to read the passage in isolation. Instead of putting the Bible in the hands of the people, I have unintentionally taken it out of their hands.

If I want to live with intentionality, I may have to rethink my practice. At a minimum, I need to make people aware of my observations and encourage them to get into the Scriptures on their own.

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2009 in Church, Preaching, Scripture

 

The best seat in the house

One of the benefits of being a pastor is that you get to be up-close-and-personal-and-front-and-center when people make significant commitments. You witness the blushing bride and the joyful groom during a wedding ceremony. You have the rare privilege of holding an infant and listening to the fearful determination of first-time parents as they commit to raise that little one in the fear of the Lord. An even greater joy is when you help people come to know Christ as savior and/or deepen their relationship with him.

This morning I was privileged to baptize five men across the spectrum from elementary school age to senior citizen. Regardless of their age and life experience, all of the men were confident that God had forgiven their sins and saved them by grace. Each one was firm in his resolve to declare his faith before his family and friends. Each one wanted to know God better and grow in his faith.

Days like this make ministry a joy!

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2009 in Church, Ministry

 

Changing seasons

As I look out the window, I can see that we are on the verge of spring. The daffodils are in full bloom. The buds on the trees are almost ready to break out. The dandelions are sprouting in the lawn. It may be snowing in Denver, but Seattle seems to be on the doorstep of spring.

After returning home from taking my daughter to the airport today, I realize I am entering another season as well. My son and oldest daughter were home from college this week on spring break, while my youngest daughter was back east because her school has a different schedule. Amanda was flying back to school today because she has a meeting tomorrow, while Jon goes back Sunday. Caitlin will be home in three weeks, but only for a short time before spending the summer at an outdoor education program in New York. Amanda will spend six weeks in Africa this summer. Jon may be working in L.A.

Reflecting on everyone’s schedules, I realized that my wife, Carol, and I are entering a season of life where our family may not be together again. Or if we are, it may only be for a few days or weeks at best. Our children may come home to visit, but not to live. We will have more conversations over the phone, texting, or email, than perhaps we will in person. We need to learn to share in their adventures vicariously, because we won’t be present to share in them personally.

My task as a parent is not complete. My children will always be my children. But I have to adapt and find new ways to encourage and invest in their lives. And I need to transition from a parent/child relationship to a peer/friend relationship.

I enjoy spring. The green trees, yellow daffodils, and red, purple, and orange tulips look spectacular after the grayness of winter. But I am also enjoying this new season in my family’s life. I anticipate the growth God will produce in my kids. I am and will continue to celebrate as I watch Jonathan, Amanda, and Caitlin blossom into the people that God has created them to be.

It’s going to be a great season of budding, blooming, and blossoming.

 

Well hidden talent

I am not a fan of reality talent shows. I stopped watching American Idol a few seasons back. I can’t bring myself to watch Dancing with the stars or any other star search talent show. It’s not that I’m against discovering new talent. It’s not that I dislike programs that favor the underdog. I suppose I just don’t like seeing people be made fun of. The stars of these shows are not the hopeful wannabe, but rather the sharp-tongued, acerbic judges. Too often, it seems like the shows profile the train-wreck-of-the-week so everyone can have a good laugh at that person’s expense.

So you can imagine my shock at watching the video of Susan Boyle, who sang on a U.K. TV show, Britain’s got talent. I saw her picture on several news websites and naturally assumed she was being made fun of. After all, she is a frumpy, middle-aged woman from a small village who’s “never been kissed.” You could see the locomotives steaming on a collision course from a mile away. But once she started singing, well, my mouth was as wide open as the rest of the judges. I was dumbfounded! Unbelievable talent! On top of that, the song she sang, “I had a dream” from Les Miserables, was certainly apropos. She is living a dream come true.

It once again proves the adage, you can’t judge a book by its cover.

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2009 in Culture, News stories, Videos

 
 
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