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Monthly Archives: March 2011

Where did the years go?

Our family milestones are piling up this year. Caitlin turned 21 years old today, and is progressing through her junior year at Gordon College in Wenham, MA. Amanda turned 23 last week. She is now 3/4 of the way through her CPA exams, and is successfully navigating her first tax season at Deloitte. Jonathan will turn 25 in October, all the while balancing work, life, and studies at Talbot Seminary.

Looking at their photo and reflecting on their birthdays, I’m struck by random questions: Wasn’t it just yesterday . . . I graduated from high school? finished college? said “I do”? started seminary? began my first job in ministry? brought my first child, second child, third child home from the hospital? took the training wheels off their bicycles? took each one to school for their first day of kindergarten? rejoiced when they trusted Christ as Savior? watched with pride as they shared their testimonies and were baptized? celebrated with them for getting their driver’s license? gave them the keys to the car for their first solo voyage? moved them into their dorms and left them alone at college?

I am grateful for three kids who love Jesus! I am proud of who my children are and who they are becoming. But rather than take credit, I think they have turned out well in spite of me, rather than because of me. My sense of parental pride is coupled with a humble sense of gratitude because I recognize it’s all because of God’s grace.

Thanks Jon, Manda, and Caitlin for making me proud. Thank you Jesus for what you are doing in their lives!

But again, where did the years go? When did I grow up, I mean, get old?

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2011 in Family & Friends, Photos

 

A half truth or a whole lie?

I pass a reader board on my way to the office each day. It generally has a pithy phrase that is banal and forgettable. It often reminds me of cotton candy–sweet and tasty, but with no nutritional value. The current saying, however, is one that provokes me because it is a half-truth that leads to the wrong conclusion.

The board reads,

The only road to heaven is the road of service.

The second half of the statement is certainly true. The apostle Paul exhorted his readers to use their freedom to “serve one another” and that “the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Galatians 5:13b-14). Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) to illustrate what it meant to be a good neighbor and how to love one another. In fact, Jesus said that a life of service is why he came to earth. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45).

While the reader board is half true, it is also half wrong.

Jesus goes on to finish his statement by saying, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus came to lay down his life for us. His ultimate act of service was to die for our sins. In so doing, he provided the way to heaven. He said so in John 14:6, “Jesus stated, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

While service will not get us into heaven, it demonstrates we are on the right path. Paul explains in Ephesians 2:8-10 that we are saved through faith in Jesus Christ, which then results in good works.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Based on the statements of Jesus and Paul, to say “the only road to heaven is a life of service” is not just a half truth, it is a whole lie. Yes, we are called to serve. But our service will not get us into heaven. Only Jesus and his sacrificial death on the cross can do that.

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2011 in Scripture, Theology

 

Can capitalism and Christianity work together?

Doing Virtuous Business

Book Review: Doing Virtuous Business: The Remarkable Success of Spiritual Enterprise, by Theodore Roosevelt Malloch

Is it possible to operate a successful business if you don’t put profit first on your priority list? Is it possible to create wealth through virtuous means?

These are the questions tackled by Theodore Roosevelt Malloch in his book, Doing Virtuous Business. His contention is that “the creation of wealth by virtuous means is the most important thing we can do for ourselves and others, for our society, and for the world at large.”

In my analysis, the book can be divided into three parts. In the first two chapters, he lays out his model for using “spiritual capital” on which to establish a business. He describes 14 virtues which make up a business’ spiritual capital—faith, honesty, gratitude, perseverance, compassion, forgiveness, patience, humility, courage, respect, generosity, discipline, chastity, and thrift. To be honest, this was the hardest part of the book for me to wade through. It felt too theoretical and textbook-ish for my taste. I kept wishing for real life examples to flesh out and prove his theory.

The author seemingly heard my concerns and provides numerous examples in chapters 3-5. In this section, he illustrates his concepts in the lives of several different corporations, business people, and CEOs. I believe this middle section is the strength of the book.

In the last third of the book, Malloch tries to answer the questions and concerns of those who might be cynical and resistant to his beliefs.

Once I got through the first 45 pages, I found the book to be rewarding and helpful. I came away convinced that faith can and should play a vital role in the leadership and operation of a successful business.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com http://BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2011 in Books

 

A royal failure

2 Samuel 11 is a watershed in the life of King David. Up till now, he has been a man after God’s own heart. He was portrayed as the ideal servant of the Lord, scrupulously obedient to every point of the Law and zealous in his execution of each command.

 However, he makes a series of poor choices and enters the downward spiral of sin, during which he breaks three of the 10 Commandments. While he will repent and receive forgiveness, the consequences will plague him the rest of his life.

 I put together the following chart to help me understand how David got into trouble, and to understand how I can avoid his mistakes. (The numbers in parenthesis are verses from 2 Samuel 11).

 

Downward Spiral of Sin

Avoiding Sin

Lack of discipline (1)

 Instead of leading the army into battle as the king normally did, David was lounging around the palace “killing time.”

In The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, the hobbit, Pippin, tells Treebeard, the Ent, “The closer we are to danger, the farther we are from harm.” While they may sound like convoluted logic, it is very wise. The safest place for a follower of Christ is to be in the battle.
Idleness (2) 

 Our greatest battles don’t usually come when we’re working hard; they come when we have leisure, when we’ve got time on our hands, when we’re bored. David belonged in the battle.

Be purposeful in how you live. When we have time on our hands, we are more apt to get into trouble: channel surfing on TV; surfing the internet; comparing ourselves to others; coveting what we see in store windows; gossiping about others.
Second look (2)

 A glance becomes gaze, a look becomes a leer.

Recognize when/where you are tempted. Go out of your way to avoid it. Anticipate when you are vulnerable and seek to guard against it.

If necessary, wear blinders so as to limit your field of vision and input.

Curiosity (3) 

 David goes beyond a look, and wants to know who the woman is so that he can get to know her better. Blinded by desire, his imagination takes off.

David is breaking the commandment, “Do not covet” (Exodus 20:17)

Filter your input. You don’t need to see/know everything.
Rejects reason (3) 

David’s servant offers a subtle warning—she’s married! Not only that, she is the son of one of David’s mighty men (2 Samuel 23:34) and the granddaughter of one of his trusted advisors (2 Samuel 16:23; 23:34). David should know better.

Remember who you are related to. Think about how your actions will affect them.

Think about the consequences. If you make this choice, how will it affect your career, family, neighbors, relationship with God?

Memorize & quote Scripture.

Adultery (4-5)

While Bathsheba’s morality can be questioned, the author places the blame squarely on David’s shoulder. The king was abusing his power and position. 

David is breaking the commandment, “Do not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14)

Flee temptation. Run like the wind and never look back!
Cover up & compromise (6-13)

At this point, David has two choices. He can admit his sin and confess it, or he can go the route of deception and hypocrisy. 

Ironically, Uriah demonstrates more integrity while drunk than David does while sober.

Confess sin & repent. Stop what you are doing. Turn around and run the other way.

Practice honesty and integrity.

Murder (14-25)

Since all lesser measures failed, David was now faced with the horrible choice of admitting his moral failure, or ordering the death of one of his most trusted soldiers. 

It wasn’t just Uriah that died on the battlefield. Many paid the price for David’s sin.

David breaks the commandment, “Do not murder” (Exodus 20:13)

Say “NO!” to temptation.
Hidden secret (26-27a) 

It seems as if David’s sin is kept secret. Uriah is dead, David comforts the grieving widow, and the child is born.

Confess sin & repent.
God was not pleased (27b)

No matter how honorable and magnanimous David’s actions may have appeared to some, God was not pleased. The Lord looked at David’s heart and saw the despicable deed for what it was.

If you get this far, you can still seek forgiveness. But there will be consequences. You will reap what you have sown.

 

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2011 in Bible Study, Personal growth, Preaching, Scripture

 

Dying to glorify God

I was asked to speak to a gathering of seniors at our church later this spring. It’s their annual Spring Fling and they wanted me to speak on the theme of leaving a legacy. While I haven’t started outlining my talk, it is on the back burner of my mind. The heat is still turned off, but the pot is out and ready to collect thoughts. That being said, I think I may have found my opening statement. If not, certainly a few quotes I can include in the talk.

I started reading a book entitled, Stand: A call for the endurance of the saints, edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor. It contains the talks given during the 2007 Desiring God conference. One chapter that intrigued me is, “Getting old to the glory of God” by John Piper. Piper contends that

getting old to the glory of God means getting old in a way that makes God look glorious. It means living and dying in a way that shows God to be the all-satisfying Treasure that he is. So it would include, for example, not living in ways that make this world look like your treasure. Which means that most of the suggestions that this world offers us for our retirement years are bad ideas. They call us to live in such a way that would make this world look like our treasure. And when that happens, God is belittled.

Getting old to the glory of God means resolutely resisting the typical American dream of retirement.

I know too many seniors whose life consists of cruises, ski trips, grandkids, and Sunday brunch. The typical American dream of retirement is focused on personal pleasure and doesn’t include service, because after all, “we’ve done our share, it’s time for the younger generation to step up and do their turn.”

The problem with this approach is that we live as if we don’t believe that heaven is real.

How many Christians set their sights on a “Sabbath evening” of life–resting, playing, traveling, etc.–the world’s substitute for heaven since the world does not believe that there will be a heaven beyond the grave. The mindset of our peers is that we must reward ourselves now in this life for the long years of our labor. Eternal rest and joy after death is an irrelevant consideration. When you don’t believe in heaven to come and you are not content in the glory of Christ now, you will seek the kind of retirement that the world seeks (emphasis mine). But what a strange reward for a Christian to set his sights on! Twenty years of leisure (!) while living in the midst of the Last Days of infinite consequence for people who need Christ.  What a tragic way to finish the last mile before entering the presence of the King who finished his last mile so differently!

This certainly gives me some food for thought as I plan this talk. It also challenges me to live intentionally as I move further into the second half of life. I want to live and die for the glory of God.

 
 

Grace is for nobodies

The term “grace” means many things to many people. Grace can mean coordination of movement such as displayed by a ballerina. It can mean a prayer, such as saying grace before a meal. Grace can refer to the dignity and elegance that the Queen of England brings to an event.

More importantly, grace can mean unmerited favor—extending special favor to someone who doesn’t deserve it, hasn’t earned it, and can never repay it. For this latter definition, 2 Samuel 9 is one of the best illustrations of grace in all the Old Testament—King David extends grace to Mephibosheth, the grandson of his enemy.

In verse 1, David asked, “Who can I show grace to?” At some point in David’s reign, he reflects on his friendship with Jonathan and the promises they made to each other (1 Samuel 20:13-17). He also remembers the promise he made to King Saul (1 Samuel 24:20-22).

David doesn’t ask, “Is there anyone qualified?” or, “Is there anyone worthy?” He simply asks, “Is there anybody still living who ought to be a recipient of my grace?”

Mephibosheth was the least likely candidate for special favors. Normally, when a king came into power, his first order of business was to eliminate all the members of the former royal house. He would get rid of any and all rivals. When Mephibosheth was summoned to the king, he probably thought his life was over. He probably expected to be executed.

On top of that, Mephibosheth was a nobody from nowhere. His servant, Ziba, doesn’t even call him by name (3). He was living at Lo-debar (5) which means “no pasture.” One writer calls it a howling wilderness, an obscure, barren place of unimaginable desolation.

Worse yet, Mephibosheth was a cripple (3b), the result of a childhood accident (2 Samuel 4:4). In answering David’s inquiry, Ziba seems to be saying, “Are you sure you want to do something for this person? He’s a cripple, after all. He’s not going to look very good in your court.”

David doesn’t ask, “How badly is he hurt?” He doesn’t even ask how it happened. He only asks, “Where is he?”

In their encounter, David illustrates the characteristics of grace in his treatment of Mephibosheth.

  • Grace is not earned or deserved (6, 8). Mephibosheth assumed a position of humility before David. He referred to himself as David’s servant and a dead dog.
  • Grace comes through others (7a) David acted for Jonathan’s sake.
  • Grace involves restoration and a new position (7b, 11b, 13) David restored all the land that previously belonged to Saul and invited Mephibosheth to join him at the king’s table and become one of his sons.
  • Grace provides what we need (9-10). Being handicapped, Mephibosheth could not manage the estate David gave to him. Ziba was appointed as Mephibosheth’s servant. He and his sons would farm Mephibosheth’s land for him.

Grace for Today 

Then

Now

Mephibosheth once enjoyed fellowship with his father, Jonathan, the son of King Saul. Adam and Eve walked with God in the Garden of Eden and enjoyed uninterrupted fellowship.
When disaster came, the nurse fled in fear and Mephibosheth suffered a fall. It left him crippled for the rest of his life. He lived in fear as an outcast. When they fell into sin, Adam and Eve hid in fear. Because of their sin, men and women became spiritual invalids.
Out of sheer love for Jonathan, David demonstrated grace to his handicapped son. God, out of love for his Son, Jesus Christ, and the penalty he paid on the cross, demonstrates grace to the believing sinner.
Mephibosheth had nothing, deserved nothing, and could repay nothing. He was hiding from the king. We had nothing, deserved nothing, and could offer God nothing. We were hiding when he found us.
David took Mephibosheth from a place of barrenness and gave him a place of honor. God takes the broken, handicapped person from a barren hiding place and brings us to a place of plenty, right in the courtroom of the king.
David adopted Mephibosheth into his family, and he became one of the king’s sons. God adopts the believing sinner and makes us sons and daughters of the king.
Mephibosheth’s disability was a constant reminder of grace. Our ongoing struggle with sin is a continual reminder of our need for grace.
At the table of the king, Mephibosheth was treated like any other son of the king. At God’s banquet table, we are equal members with Peter, James, John, Elizabeth, Paul, Dorcas, Augustine, Calvin, Martin Luther . . .

(Chart adapted from David: A man of passion & destiny, by Charles R. Swindoll, Dallas, TX: Word Publishing, 1997, pgs. 176-178.)

It will take eternity for us to adequately express our thanks to God for choosing us in our sinful and rebellious condition, taking us from a barren place and giving us a place at his table, and, in love, allowing his tablecloth of grace to cover our sin.

God’s grace is truly amazing!

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2011 in Bible Study, Preaching, Scripture

 

Surving an exile experience

My brother-in-law, Dan, is a church planting missionary in Japan. Living just outside of Tokyo, their lives have been shaken and stirred in recent days. Shaken through the earthquake and continuing aftershocks, and stirred through the sense of overwhelming grief and fears about the future. Do we go or do we stay? Do we set aside our current ministry and focus on relief, or do we try to continue with “life as usual”?

My wife, Dan’s sister, encouraged him to continue teaching his ESL classes, which is part of their ministry. Carol’s reasoning is that “returning to a rhythm of life (including ESL classes) is helpful for children to adjust to the crisis around them. It gives them something to focus on and it can be a safe place to express their fears and concerns (without stressing their Dads & Moms).” Dan wrote about that idea in his blog today and talked about normalcy.

Carol’s advice and Dan’s post reminded me of a sermon I preached several years ago on Jeremiah 29. It is God’s instruction to those who were in exile in Babylon. I’ve included the outline I used below. I also wrote a chapter on the subject in my book manuscript.

“When you’d rather be voted off the island” – Sermon outline on Jeremiah 29

In 597 BC, 10 years before the destruction of Jerusalem, 3,023 Jews were deported to Babylonia (see Jeremiah 52:28). They included the cream of Judah, the priests, the prophets, and the royal household. Forced to be where they did not want to be, with a people they did not like, this Jewish community was consumed with false hopes and perpetual discontent. So Jeremiah wrote to the exiles (Jeremiah 29) and challenged them to make the most of exile.

After reading this chapter and talking with people, it is my conviction that each of us either has, are, or will experience exile—a time when we don’t like where we are or what is happening to us. In chapter 29 of his book, Jeremiah provides some practical advice on how to survive such an experience. He suggests three ways in which we can endure and triumph in the midst of exile.

  • Recognize that God is in Control (29:4)
    • God sometimes allows difficult circumstances to come into our lives
    • If God is behind it, our responsibility is to submit
  • Go on Living (29:5-7)
    • Settle into the rhythm of life (29:5-6a)
    • Continue to grow and mature (29:6b)
    • Minister to others (29:7)
  • Base your Hope on God’s Promises (29:8-14)
    • Beware of false hope (29:8-9)
    • Exile is part of God’s plan to give us a hopeful end (29:10-11)
    • God carries us into exile so that we can know him better (29:12-14)

C. S. Lewis once said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, and shouts in our pain. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” May we learn the lessons of exile in order to better walk with God and serve our Savior.

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2011 in Personal growth, Preaching, Scripture

 

We need a daily dose of grace

It seems that many people I talk with feel as if they are living in the book of Lamentations. Whether through unemployment, illness, accidents, broken relationships, or natural disasters, many feel as if their lives have fallen apart. For those who lived through the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, their lives have literally been shaken and crumbled; for others, it seems as if that was true. They feel like the prophet Jeremiah, weeping uncontrollably as disaster is piled on top of disaster.

When the storms of life dump buckets on our heads, a small umbrella will not keep us dry. A rescue boat will not be enough to ferry us to safety. Ironically, the safest place for us is in the eye of that storm. It is there we will discover the place of quiet calm in a sea of turbulence. It is there we will find hope. 

It was in the midst of a national disaster that the prophet Jeremiah found his hope. The book of Lamentations records his weeping, or lament, as he watches Jerusalem being destroyed. And yet, buried in the center of Jeremiah’s cry are words of hope and encouragement.

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. (Lamentations 3:22-26)

In the heart of the storm, the grace of God is waiting to be discovered. When we feel like we cannot face another day, we will find a new portion of grace that will sustain us. It will be just the right amount to get us through. Because of that, we can put our full confidence and trust in him.

Great is his faithfulness!

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2011 in Character, Personal growth, Scripture

 

Reversing a downward trend

Book Review: The Fight of our Lives: Knowing the Enemy, Speaking the Truth & Choosing to Win the War Against Radical Islam, by William J. Bennett & Seth Leibsohn

Ten years ago, when radical Islamist terrorist used three U.S. airplanes to kill nearly three thousand of our countrymen, America was angry. It was a justified anger that gave focus and generated clear objectives and a willingness to meet them. Through ten years of practiced tolerance, political correctness, appeasement, and complacency, many of our nation’s top political and military leaders will scarcely utter the word “terrorism” or the ideology that fuels it, “radical Islam.”As Bennett and Leibsohn explain, that conviction is what prompted them to write their latest book.

The book sounds a wakeup call alerting America to the danger in our midst. The authors weave three primary goals throughout the book. The first is to be clear about whom they describe is our enemy. Using current events, quotes from journalists, politicians, and military leaders, the authors describe the nature and goals of radical Islam. The second goal is to generate some anger. Not rage or violence, but rather an anger that forces a certain clarity. Their third goal is to call people to rediscover their American heritage. By regaining these three things, the authors believe we can win this war.

The book is strong, direct, and hard hitting. You may not agree with everything the authors say, but they will open your eyes and make you think.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com http://BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2011 in Books

 

Dawgs go dancing!

Congratulations to the UW Huskies men’s basketball team. They successfully defended their title as Pac-10 Tournament Champions. In doing so, they punched their ticket to the Big Dance. WOOF!

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2011 in Sports

 
 
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