Monthly Archives: June 2008

Understanding sovereignty and free will

In his book, Paradigms in conflict: 10 key questions in missions today, author David J. Hesselgrave offers some insight on how to balance sovereignty and free will.

“The best way to deal with the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility is to go to the biblical text and, employing sound principles of exegesis, attempt to see what the text actually says. . . Philip Schaff long ago wrote, ‘The Bible gives us a theology which is more human than Calvinism, and more divine than Arminianism, and more Christian that either of them.” (p. 36)

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Posted by on June 30, 2008 in Books, Quotes, Theology


Strolling on a Sunday

As we were driving to church this morning, we encountered the Seafair Marathon. The race started at the University of Washington Husky Stadium and then proceeded eastbound across SR 520 into Bellevue. Since we were headed westbound across Lake Washington, we got a good look at the second half of the runners in the race. Those towards the front and/or middle of the race were determinedly running hard. Those in the second half were plodding along, alternately running and walking. Those in the very back appeared like they were out for a Sunday stroll. Some looked like they were only concerned about having a good conversation with friends and getting their T-shirt. At the very end of the runners were two women chatting up a storm as they walked across the 520 bridge. Behind them was a phalanx of police cars with lights flashing, serving as the rear guard. It almost communicated a sense of “Get a move on, ladies, before we ask if you want a ride.”

The funniest incident occurred when a large yacht or small cruise ship went under the bridge at the west high rise. Two runners walked over to the guardrail, took out their cameras, and snapped pictures. We laughed at the sight. I know that times have changed, but when I used to run 10K races, I stripped down to the bare essentials. These runners had cameras in their pockets to record their journey!

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Posted by on June 29, 2008 in Culture


Preach what you practice

“My worth to God in public is what I am in private.” – Oswald Chambers

“If a man teach uprightly and walk crookedly, more will fall down in the night of his life than he built in the day of his doctrine.” – John Owen

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Posted by on June 27, 2008 in Preaching, Quotes


Don’t forget to grow your character

In his book, The great omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s essential teachings on discipleship, author Dallas Willard makes the case that those in ministry need to keep growing if we want to minister to others.

“The people to whom we minister and speak will not recall 99 percent of what we say to them. But they will never forget the kind of persons we are. . . So we must never forget that the most important thing happening at any moment, in the midst of all our ministerial duties, is the kind of persons we are becoming.”

He later adds, “The real question is, will we take time to do what is necessary for an abundant life and an abundant ministry, or will we try to get by without it?”

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Posted by on June 26, 2008 in Books, Personal growth, Quotes


The bothersome necessity of repentance

When I got into trouble as a child, was caught and then had to say I was sorry, I remember my mother or father asking, “Are you sorry you did it, or just sorry you got caught?” At the time, I probably said the former, but oftentimes it was closer to the latter. If I didn’t get caught, I wouldn’t have had to go through the ordeal of saying I was sorry. With that kind of twisted logic, it’s only the grace of God that kept me from a life of crime.

As a pastor, there are occasions when I hear people say, “I am sorry,” after they have been caught in a sin. I’m tempted to respond with my parent’s penetrating question. While I want to believe they are truly sorry, I sometimes wonder if the scene will be repeated any time soon.

I think that part of the problem stems from a misunderstanding of the nature of repentance. According to dictionary definitions, there are at least two parts to true repentance. The first part is to feel sorry for what we have done. The second part is to feel so sorry that we actually change our mind about what we did. The biblical idea of repentance could be summed up in the words of the apostle Peter in Acts 3:19. “Repent, then, and turn to God.”

The problem many of us get into today is that when we do something wrong and get caught, we feel bad and apologize for our actions. But the reality is that we don’t feel bad enough to actually change our behavior. Sometimes, our apology sounds more like an excuse as we pass the blame on to someone else. How many times have we read a public apology that said, “I’m sorry if I offended anyone”? Once it is interpreted, this apology really means, “I’m not sorry I did it, I’m just sorry you feel bad.” With repentance like this, it is no wonder we end up repeating our actions a short time later.

If we want to discover and enjoy lasting change, we need to:

  • admit and own our sin
  • feel sorry about our actions
  • turn away from our sin
  • turn to God

If we stop at just feeling bad, then we are only sorry we got caught.

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Posted by on June 25, 2008 in Personal growth


Where did all the convictions go?

I was curious to read the report released this week by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The results were described in an article entitled, “Religious Americans: My faith isn’t the only way. Survey shows growing religious tolerance when it comes to different faiths.” The report confirms what many have felt for some time, that “evangelical Christians” are becoming more and more biblically illiterate. Consequently, we have no firm convictions about what we believe, so much so that we feel that every belief is no more or no less valid than the next.

“57 percent of evangelical church attendees said they believe many religions can lead to eternal life, in conflict with traditional evangelical teaching. In all, 70 percent of Americans with a religious affiliation shared that view, and 68 percent said there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of their own religion.”

“The survey shows religion in America is, indeed, 3,000 miles wide and only three inches deep,” said D. Michael Lindsay, a Rice University sociologist of religion.

While not surprising, the findings certainly are disturbing. I think we have arrived at this point because, as Dallas Willard points out in The great omission, we stopped reading the Bible.

“Well, you see, in the evangelical churches the big secret is that few people actually read their Bibles and pray. The reason they don’t is because it isn’t presented as an essential part of an overall life that is highly desirable and that we must approach in a certain way. Christians who do read their Bibles often don’t know their Bibles. The reason why they don’t know their Bibles is because they don’t really read their Bible as a treatise on reality, as something that brings change and transformation of our lives. For instance, many people read their Bibles on a schedule. You really only have to look at them to know what their aim is: to read the whole Bible in a year. What that plan is good for is that at the end of the year you can say you read your Bible. It’s a legalism. (Of course, some people are significantly benefited by it.)”

Because we stopped reading and believing the Bible, we no longer know what it means to be an evangelical. Originally, the term came from the Greek word “evangelion,” meaning “the good news,” or more commonly, the “gospel.” Now the term has been stretched so broadly, it has become an elastic term which means nothing. As the Pew survey indicates, many “evangelicals” have stopped believing that there is only one way to heaven, and instead believe that all roads lead to the top.  


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Posted by on June 24, 2008 in Culture, Theology


Style vs. Substance

I came across an ad in Preaching: The professional journal for preachers for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary that had this tag as a catchphrase, “You’ll know the preacher is one of ours when he’s in the pulpit, but all you see is the Bible.”

Having attended two other seminaries myself–Dalas Theological Seminary and Talbot School of Theology at Biola University, I wasn’t ready to enroll or endorse another school. But the catchphrase caused me to ponder what people see when I am in the pulpit. It made me think of some bothersome questions I should probably start asking myself each week before I begin preaching:

  1. When I preach, do the ideas and principles come from Scripture or are they merely my own?
  2. Am I teaching the Bible or am I merely pontificating on the issues of the day?
  3. As I prepare, do I spend more time reading the Bible or more time surfing the Internet looking for riveting illustrations?
  4. Do I preach the timeless truth of Scripture, or the opinions of TIME magazine?
  5. Do I teach what the Bible says or merely state what I think?
  6. Does my main idea come from the passage I have asked people to turn to, or am I using the Scripture verse as a launching point for what I really want to talk about?
  7. Do my applications come out of the Scripture passage or am I merely revealing my personal biases and hobby horses?
  8. Am I stating, “Thus saith the Lord,” or “Thus thinketh Mark”?

When I am in the pulpit, what do people see?

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Posted by on June 24, 2008 in Preaching


The perils of church growth

On the subject of church growth, Reggie McNeal stated, “Unfortunately it (the church growth movement) fell victim to an idolatry as old as the Tower of Babel, the belief that we are the architects of the work of God. As a result we have the best churches men can build, but are still waiting for the church that only God can get credit for.”

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Posted by on June 23, 2008 in Church, Quotes


Helping the blind see

How do you deal with a blind spot, especially when you can’t see it? How do you remove a blind spot when you don’t even know you have one, let alone know where it is?

If we’re honest, we will start by admitting we have a blind spot. The problem is, most of us are not honest.

Oh, we will admit to a physiological blind spot where our optic nerve connects to our eyeball. But since we cannot see it ourselves, we have to take someone else’s word for it. We will admit to having a blind spot when we drive a car. We will look forward, check all the mirrors, and even turn our head and body to make sure we see everything around us.

But when it comes to issues of character and growth, we don’t have a blind spot, or so we delude ourselves into believing. When someone points out a character flaw to us, we dismiss them as a critical person. When they bring up an area where we need to grow, we tell them they are mistaken and are blowing things out of proportion.

When we refuse to listen to correction, not only are we blind, but we are foolish as well. Rather than being my opinion alone, this view comes from Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived.

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.” (Proverbs 12:1)

A fool spurns his father’s discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence.” (Proverbs 15:5)

A mocker resents correction; he will not consult the wise.” (Proverbs 15:12)

If I want to avoid being a fool, I need to listen to those who point out areas where I need to grow. I need to consider what others say when they speak to me about my character. Rather than reacting defensively, I need to ask God, “What do you want me to learn from what this person is saying? Is there any truth to what they are pointing out?”

“Lord, open my eyes to see the areas where you want me to grow. Help me not to be a blind man about my own character.”

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Posted by on June 22, 2008 in Character, Personal growth


The day of reckoning

It is a brutal time to be a sports fan in Seattle. I feel like I need a shower every time I read the local sports page.

The Mariners are absolutely dreadful. It is painful to watch a baseball team play without passion. Management is starting a purge and has fired the hitting coach, the general manager, and the field manager. While everyone agrees the players are ultimately responsible, the leaders are the ones held accountable. And the rumors of which player(s) will be released next only heightens the cry for accountability. 

The Seattle Sonics are spending more money on legal fees than player salaries and more time in the courtroom than the NBA regular season lasted. They are dragging themselves and the city through the mud on their way out of town. Each day brings new revelations about this damaging email or that smear campaign. The owners and the city leaders are both taking it on the chin. No one will come out clean in this mud-fight.

The Seattle Seahawks cannot start NFL training camp soon enough.

Perhaps because of the Mariners demanding accountability for a season gone awry, and the Sonics daily revelations of dirty dealing, I am struck by what the author of Hebrews said in chapter 4, verses 12-13.

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

Actions in the baseball clubhouse become common knowledge through diligent reporting. Performance on the baseball field is magnified to the world by blogs and scribes. Hidden emails come to light in the courtroom by challenging lawyers. Deceptive plans and negative campaigns are proclaimed publicly through newspapers and websites. How much more will the word of God reveal the attitudes of our hearts? If the world learns of the plans and decisions of baseball and basketball teams and demands accountability, how much more will God hold us accountable when he reveals the sins that we think we have secretly hidden away?

The media may have sharp pens, but they are nothing compared to the pointed, double-edged sword of the word of God. When God starts probing with his scalpel, there will be no hidden sins. Perhaps it is time to clean our own house.

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Posted by on June 21, 2008 in Personal growth, Theology