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Monthly Archives: August 2011

The joy of finishing a project

One of the challenges and tensions of ministry is that ministry is never complete. You never feel like you have arrived and you are never quite done. The minute you finish preaching a sermon you start preparing the next one. You lead a person to faith in Christ, and then start helping the person take steps towards maturity.

In the same way that a parent’s job is never finished no matter the age of their child(ren), so a pastor’s job is never done, no matter the size or maturity of the congregation. People are always in process and someone is always in crisis.

I’m not complaining, at least overly much. That’s just the nature of ministry. There are moments of satisfaction, but there are many more times of knowing that you have so much more to do and so much further to go.

Perhaps that’s why I find home improvement projects a good form of therapy. I can see a problem, design a job, demolish the old, purchase the materials, build and install the new, take the trash to the dump, and then step back and say, “I accomplished something.”

From Memorial Day to Labor Day this year, I have refinished a dining room set, stained and waterproofed the front and back decks on the house, and remodeled the laundry room. I don’t know if I needed more therapy this summer, but it is nice to build something from start to finish and feel a sense of “doneness.”

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2011 in Ministry, Personal growth

 

Home makeover – Laundry Room edition

I’ve spent the past two days of my vacation remodeling the laundry room in our house. New paint, tile, cabinets, and sink/cabinet. Here are some before & after photos to show the drastic difference.

Before

After

It took me half a day just to pull up the old tile, which was at least 20+ years old. It was chipped in places and pretty worn out. After pulling up the tiles, I had to use a chemical stripper to get the old adhesive off the concrete. It seemed an appropriate illustration of the need for regular confession of sin. If you let sin build up in your life, you have to work that much harder to clean it out and rid yourself of the gunk it leaves behind.

In laying down the tile and installing the cabinets, I discovered two additional quirks/problems. The concrete floor was not level and the walls were not true. I was reminded of the Old Testament prophet Amos when he watched God drop a plumb line in the midst of the nation of Israel to illustrate that they had drifted away from God and were no longer true to him (Amos 7:7-9).

It is amazing what you can learn while working on the house.

 

Come apart before you come apart

For the first time in six months, I am not preaching, leading, or even attending church today. (Shh! Don’t tell anyone.) I’m on vacation.

During the first week, my son and one of my daughters was in town. The four of us attended Les Miserables and a Seahawks game the day before my vacation. I spent three days helping my daughter shop for a car. She didn’t purchase one but did narrow her focus and identify what she wants. The two of us spent Friday riding a ferry and exploring Seattle. Yesterday, my wife and I bought paint, tile, and cabinets to remodel our laundry room. That project will take the first half of this week. Then Carol and I will head to SonScape in Colorado for an 8-day retreat focused on renewal–physical, spiritual, emotional.

In the midst of three weeks of vacation, conferences, family activities, remodeling projects, and spiritual renewal, it was appropriate that I read a quote by Richard Foster this morning. It is cited in Gordon MacDonald’s latest book, Building Below the Waterline: Shoring up the foundations of leadership.

Spirit of the living God, be the Gardener of my soul . . . Clear away the dead growth of the past, break up the hard clods of custom and routine, stir in the rich compost of vision and challenge. Bury deep in my soul the implanted Word, cultivate and tend my heart, until new life buds and opens and flowers.

That certainly expresses the prayer of my heart for my time off. I want to step away from my normal routines so that God can refresh and renew my spirit.

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2011 in Books, Character, Personal growth, Quotes

 

Touristy Seattle

Amanda and I went touring in Seattle today. We started out by riding the Seattle – Bainbridge Island Ferry.

 

 

 

 

That allowed us to gain some unique views of the Seattle skyline.

 

After the ferry ride, we cruised through iconic Pike Place Market, which again provided some unique photos.

 

 
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Posted by on August 26, 2011 in Family & Friends, Photos, Seattle

 

Wowed and entertained by a new author

Book Review: The Realms Thereunder: Book 1 of the Ancient Earth Trilogy, by Ross Lawhead

A fine beginning to a thrilling tale.

The Realms Thereunder is the first book in a compelling new trilogy written by Ross Lawhead. Having long been a fan of his father, Stephen R. Lawhead, I was curious to read Ross’ work. I certainly was not disappointed.

Complicated, but compelling are the words that come to mind in trying to describe the book. It features the adventures of Daniel Tully, a homeless young man, and Freya Reynolds, an Oxford University student. Eight years previously, they disappeared from a school field trip in England and entered Nidergeard, an underground world where there is a battle raging between good and evil. Daniel and Freya have not seen each other in several years. But now they are being drawn back together to finish the adventure they started previously.

On the surface, the book is a thrilling tale of science fiction and fantasy. On that level, it certainly does not disappoint. Under the surface, it tells the struggle between good and evil. The characters who are good try to carry out their task with both honor and integrity. The characters that are evil use manipulation, deceit, and violence to try and thwart Daniel and Freya.

Swidgar, a knight from Nidergeard, who helps Daniel and Freya describes the choices that face each person and how they impact not just ourselves, but the world as well.

“Such is the universe,” Swidgar resumed. “A vast multitude of spheres all spinning and dancing in the most intricate and bewildering patterns. At the right time, and in the right place, when the spheres are close enough, a man can step from one to the other, as easily as crossing a brook.

“So it is vitally important to be aware of those times of ‘evening’ in your life,” he said gravely, “and to consider carefully which path you decide to take, for the path will change not just you but your entire world.”

Modwyn, another character in Nidergeard, explains to Daniel and Freya the nature of the spiritual battle we find ourselves in.

“The battle against darkness is not our battle alone. Whether that darkness be within him or without, it is a war that man has fought since first he awoke. It is the most sublime battle in the universe, and it brings freedom to whoever fights in it, to whatever effect. Although our suffering may be greater than another’s, so also is our blow against the oppressor, and our victory and reward the sweeter. For this reason we were placed in this life to fight, and we are fighting as best we can. It may be dark now, and it may be darker henceforth. Our strength may leave us, but what we achieve will not be insignificant, and it will not be unnoticed. The greater the toil in our agony, the greater our glory at the last.”

A great beginning. I can hardly wait for Book 2.

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 August 25, 2011 in Books

 

Of cars and car salesmen

Yesterday my daughter Amanda took me along as she shopped for her first car. Not quite ready to buy, she was in research mode. She was the shopper, and I was along for a sounding board, moral support, and crowd control if need be. She wanted a late model used car rather than a new one, and had already narrowed her list of prospective vehicles to a Honda Accord, a Nissan Altima, a Mazda3, and a Hyundai Sonata. We mapped out the closest dealerships to our home and off we went.

Our first stop was Honda of Bellevue, where we met Eddie. He was by far the best salesperson we met at the five dealerships we visited. He was friendly, attentive, asked good questions, and listened to our answers. He engaged each of us in conversation and paid attention to our answers. He asked Manda’s preferences and showed her only the cars that met her criteria.

Our second stop was (Intentionally left blank) where we met Lawrence, who was by far the worst salesperson we met all day. (I left the dealership blank because I don’t want to cause trouble for Lawrence, but I also don’t want to send him any business.) While Eddie wanted to sell a car to AMANDA, Lawrence wanted to sell a CAR to Amanda. Huge difference. We started off on the wrong foot when Lawrence asked if Amanda wanted a used car or a new one. Amanda said used, but not older than an ’08. Lawrence asked if she was a college grad and then launched into all the incentives on buying a new car. I stepped in and played dad and said, “She said she wanted a used car, not a new one.” As we went on a test drive, Lawrence spent the whole trip talking about himself–how he used to own his own business; how he hated working for someone else; how he had only been at the dealership for two months and would probably quit in another two months and back go into business for himself; how his wife wanted him to stay home that day and vacuum the house and how he told her he was going to work and she could vacuum the house herself. The longer he talked, the lower our opinion of him dropped. At that point, all we wanted to do was finish the test drive and get the heck out of there.

From there, we went to dealerships #3 & #4. Three’s salesperson was knowledgeable, friendly, and appropriately attentive, without being pushy. #4′s salesperson did not seem to take us seriously. While he let us test drive the car, he offered no more information than necessary.

Because Lawrence turned us off so much, we could not decide if we didn’t like the car or just didn’t like Lawrence. So we drove a half hour out of our way to another dealership of the same make as #2 to test drive  the same car. We concluded we liked the car. The problem was Lawrence.

It was a case study in salesmanship and customer service. Definitely a learning experience.

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2011 in Character, Family & Friends

 

Scarcely enough

I suppose I shouldn’t be, but I am surprised at how many Christians operate more out of fear than of faith. It is often reflected in a “glass-half-empty” approach to life, or a scarcity mentality.

“I can’t give to God. I barely have enough money to pay my bills. . . . We can’t upgrade our church facility. There’s not enough money to do extra projects. . . . We can’t start a new program. There’s not enough people to staff it. . . . I can’t go on a short-term ministry trip. I don’t have enough vacation time. . . . I can’t change this habit. I don’t have enough energy to make a change like that.”

While we say we believe that nothing is too hard for God, we live as if God and his power is limited. And the limit usually falls just short of what we need. While we say we believe that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, we live as if “all things” comes with an exception clause that rules out our need. While we claim to believe that God is Jehovah Jireh, the Lord who will provide, we live as if our needs are beyond the scope of his ability.

I believe that we need to follow the instructions of Dr. R. Kent Hughes who often taught that we need to believe what we believe. If “nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37), then we need to trust God to do great things in our lives. If God is Jehovah Jireh (Genesis 22:14), then we can pray with confidence that he can and will provide for our needs. If God’s grace is sufficient, and his power is best shown in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9), then we can have confidence we have all that we need and are not lacking in anything important.

Rather than a scarcity mentality, we need to approach life with an abundance mentality. According to Ephesians 3:20, God’s power is not limited by our needs . . . our problems . . . our trials . . . our requests . . . or even our imagination.

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us.” (Ephesians 3:20, NASB)

We need to believe what we believe. We need to live as if these things were true.

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2011 in Bible Study, Character, Scripture, Theology

 

Are we hiding the cross?

A gentleman visited our church yesterday for the first time. He normally attends another church nearby, but wanted “to see how we did church.” He was friendly enough until he walked into our sanctuary. He noticed that our projection screen was covering up most of the cross. (We use PowerPoint in our worship service and unfortunately, the screen is in front of the cross.) He went off on a rant about how churches are hiding the cross. In his opinion, churches are becoming social clubs. I mentioned it would be interesting to hear his comments after the service. He said he wouldn’t have any comments, only opinions. It was a bit of an odd way of starting the morning, but there you have it.

It did make me think about our church, our worship service, and our ministries. Is the cross visible in what we do, say, teach, and how we live? While fellowship is certainly part of what we do, are we more than a social club?

Ironically, I am currently preaching through the gospel of Mark. We wrapped up a section (Mark 2:1-3:6) where Jesus created controversy because he changed the old way of doing things. The Pharisees taught that you had to be good enough for God. You had to live by their rules and regulations in order to be holy, or at least, that’s what they taught.

When Jesus showed up, he made changes, both in how we relate to God, but also in how we live. Jesus replaced religion with a relationship; he replaced the Law with grace. He demonstrated that he was Lord over all. He was the Lord over sickness and sin (2:1-12). He was the Lord of redemption, calling the least and the lost to himself (2:13-17). He was the Lord over change (2:18-22). He was the Lord over the Sabbath (2:23-3:6).

While the wooden cross may be partially hidden behind a screen at United EFC, the teaching of the cross was certainly on display and up front.

Afterwards, the gentleman said that our worship service was “nice.” I guess he did keep his opinions and comments to himself. I hope he finds what he is looking for.

 

A well-rounded day

Yesterday, Carol and I enjoyed a fun day in Seattle with Jon & Manda. Too bad Caitlin couldn’t join us as that would have made it a perfect day.

We started with a matinée at the Fifth Ave Theater where we saw a spectacular production of Les Miserables.

Afterwards, we headed south of downtown to CenturyLink Field where we watched the Seahawks play the Vikings in an NFL preseason game.

We felt like true renaissance people–a little theater, a little football, a little culture, a little sport. Then I got up this morning to preach. How much more well-rounded can you get?

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2011 in Family & Friends, Fun, NFL, Photos, Seattle, Sports

 

Fasting revisited

Book Review: Awakening: A new approach to faith, fasting, and spiritual freedom, by Stovall Weems

How do you break out of the routine, average experience of Christianity and truly experience all that God intended? How do you set aside the distractions of life in order to hear from God? According to author and pastor Stovall Weems, the answer is found in practicing a lifestyle of fasting and prayer. Then you can experience the breakthrough you are hoping for.

There are sections of the book that I liked and found helpful. There are other sections that raised yellow flags of concern because they either go too far or don’t go far enough.

The book places a healthy emphasis on the importance of surrendering your life completely to God, experiencing a sense of passion for worship and God’s presence, rediscovering God’s grace and goodness, and cleaning out the gunk and distractions in our life so that there is space for God to fill. I found the first half of the book to be helpful and encouraging. These spiritual disciplines will help draw one closer to God.

The second half of the book where the author focuses on fasting left me with some concerns. He takes a practice that is mentioned in Scripture and makes it a mandate for everyone to practice. Instead of practicing it in secret at Jesus taught (Matthew 6:17-18), he turns it into a public program, continually referring to his church’s “Awakening: 21 Days of Prayer, Fasting, and Personal Devotion.” While I have found fasting to be a helpful spiritual discipline, I think the author takes it farther than Scripture does.

I found it odd that while the author says Bible study is a key component along with fasting and prayer in an awakening lifestyle, he spends all his time promoting fasting, but says little about how to study the Scriptures. He includes a number of Scripture references as well as a devotional to use in conducting a 21-day fast, but he doesn’t explain how to study the Scriptures. This would seem to produce more of an experience-based relationship with God rather than one grounded in the Word.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2011 in Books

 
 
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