Monthly Archives: July 2008

Engaging the culture

One of the challenges facing Christians today is how to make sense of the times in which we live. How do we understand, let alone address the cultural issues of the day? How do we remain faithful, yet thoughtful followers of Jesus Christ in a world of swirling moral relativism?

In Culture shift: Engaging current issues with timeless truth, author R. Albert Mohler, Jr, addresses a number of the most important cultural issues in a biblical manner. Among the topics he addresses are Christian faith and politics; the role of the Supreme Court; terrorism; public schools; grade inflation; abortion; Christian response to global tragedies; and others. The chapters are all fairly short, which allows you to ponder and digest the information. While I did not agree with everything he said, he did force me to think deeper about the issues.

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Posted by on July 30, 2008 in Books, Culture


The pain of brokenness

Why is brokenness so painful?

I realize that is a dumb question. When something breaks, it hurts. Maybe the question that should be asked is, Why is brokenness so necessary?

Yesterday afternoon, I had one of those “I wonder whatever happened to . . .” moments. I turned to the magic of Google and searched for a former classmate. I knew he had been a pastor in Pennsylvania which helped narrow my search. But when I got to the church website, he was not listed among the staff. I once again googled his name and came across a blog with the right name, picture, and background. I discovered that after two decades of church ministry, he was now teaching at a school in New Zealand. As I continued to skim through his postings over the past several months, I read of several surgeries–some successful and some not, the pain of leaving friends as well as adult children and moving to the other side of the world. His blog tells of brokenness and the lessons God has taught him through the pain.

While I am encouraged by his story and challenged by his faith, his experience puts mine to shame. Yes, I have left family behind to follow God, but we still live in the same time zone and on the same coast. I know the pain of losing my father to cancer, my brother to an industrial accident, and and my step-father and my mother to the ravages of dementia and old age respectively, but it seems to pale compared to my friend’s experience. Yes, I live with nagging middle-age health issues, but I don’t walk with a limp due to nerve damage like he does. Yes, I have moved cross-country after being forced out of a church, but it was a welcome relief to get away from a difficult situation, not a tearful good-bye after two decades and fruitful ministry.

I wrestle with why brokenness is so necessary. Oh, I can find intellectual answers in the Scriptures. I can turn to 2 Corinthians 12 and read of Paul’s thorn in the flesh and the promise that God’s pours his strength into weak people. I know that God’s plan has always been to use the weak things of the world to shame the strong (1 Corinthians 1:27). I know that our trials are light and temporary in comparison to the glory of God and the rewards that await us (2 Corinthians 4:17). I know that God uses trials as a catalyst to produce greater endurance and proven character in our lives (James 1:2-4; Romans 5:3-5). I know that God has to prune both bad and good from the vine in order to produce greater fruit (John 15:1-11).

While I know that the Scriptures are true and that God can be trusted, it doesn’t change the fact that brokenness hurts. Maybe that is the crux of the matter. While I want the benefits of proven character and more fruitful ministry, I don’t want the pain of trials and brokenness to get there. I’d rather learn vicariously from someone else’s pain than experience it myself.

And yet, I am confronted with the fact that God only uses broken people. And so I reluctantly, and with great fear and trepidation, say, “Lord, I belong to you. You have permission to do with my life whatever you want. Please do whatever it takes to make me holy. Please produce your character in my life. Please allow me to live a fruitful life.”

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Posted by on July 27, 2008 in Personal growth, Theology


Building a team

Coach Mike Kyzyzewski knows a thing or two about building winning basketball  teams. As the head coach of the Duke Blue Devils, he has won NCAA championships. As the coach of the USA Olympic basketball team, he is trying to elevate the team back to the gold medal status they used to enjoy.

In an article in Sports Illustrated, Coach K made an insightful comment about the process of building a team. “From Athens we learned we need time to develop camaraderie,” Krzyzewski says. “We have to be committed to one another before we can be committed to the team. We’re developing a program, not ‘selecting a team.’ No one ever ‘selects a team’; you select people and hope they become a team.”

In Acts 2:42-47, Dr. Luke explains that the early church practiced the same principles Coach K discovered are important in basketball. The first century Christians were devoted to “the fellowship” (42). They spent time together in public and in private, in the temple, and in homes (46). They practiced the principles of mutual ministry found the “one another” passages of the New Testament.

Just as a winning basketball team follows the coach’s direction, so the early church was devoted to what the apostles were teaching about Jesus (42). They were also committed to a common purpose of sharing the message of hope with those around them. They gained favor with the people and more and more people believed the message of the gospel (47).

Whether or not the USA basketball has the same measure of success on the world stage remains to be seen. But they could learn from the experience of the first century church. And perhaps the 21st century church could learn a little bit from basketball as well.

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Posted by on July 26, 2008 in Church, Culture, Quotes


Life’s unanswered questions

This week I am preaching on Psalm 8, which raises the question of “Why does the God of creation care about puny, little humans?” So, it seems fitting to begin my message with some of life’s unanswered questions. Here are a few I may use, as well as a Baby Blues cartoon on the subject.


1.      Why is vanilla ice cream white, when vanilla extract is brown?

2.      If laughter is the best medicine, who’s the idiot who said they ‘died laughing’?

3.      Why are there interstate highways in Hawaii?

4.      What do Greeks say when they don’t understand something?

5.      Why does a round pizza come in a square box?

6.      Why do superheroes wear their underwear on the outside of their clothes?

7.      Why don’t woodpeckers get headaches when they slam their head on a tree all day?

8.      Why is the man who invests all your money called a broker?

9.      Why do croutons come in airtight packages? It’s just stale bread.

10.  Why do we buy hot dogs in packages of ten and buns in packages of eight?

11.  Why is there an expiration date on sour cream?

12.  Why is it that when the batteries in your remote control wear out you just push the buttons harder?

13.  Why do they use artificial lemon juice in bottled lemon juice and use real lemon juice in dish soap?

14.  Why don’t they make the entire airplane out of the same material that the indestructible black box is made of?

15.  Why do people have worthless junk in the garage and leave their expensive car in the driveway?

16.  Why do tourists go to the tops of tall buildings and then put money into telescopes so they can see things on the ground close-up?

17.  Why do people sing “Take me out to the ball game” when they are already there?

18. Why does Mickey Mouse wear pants and no shirt while Donald Duck wears a shirt and no pants?



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Posted by on July 23, 2008 in Fun


Mixed messages

There’s something that has bothered me for the past couple of weeks. I drive by a certain church on my way to the office each day. They have a reader board in front of the church on which they place announcements, witty sayings, quotes, etc. The current message is a quote from Gandhi.

While I recognize that Gandhi was a wise person and a world-class leader who accomplished much in India, I am curious why a church would give a prominent position of influence to a Hindu leader. In my simple way of thinking, it presents a mixed message to passersby.

Late in life, Gandhi was asked if he was a Hindu. He replied, “Yes, I am. I am also a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist, and a Jew.” Gandhi believed all religions to be equal, and rejected all efforts to convert him to a different faith. That stands in stark contrast to what Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

While I believe that all truth is God’s truth, and that we can profit from what others teachers say, I am also cautious about building my philosophy of ministry solely on what the Word of God says. While other teachers may be wise, the Scriptures are the only thing that promises to change lives.

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Posted by on July 22, 2008 in Church, Culture, Theology


Not all leadership books are created equal

As the previous post indicates, I am planning on teaching a course this fall on “The leadership principles of Jesus.” The focus of the course will be a study of the Gospel of Mark, taking particular notice of how Jesus related to people. Since Mark’s gospel presents Jesus as a servant, it will no doubt bring out the quality of servant leadership.

As part of my research and preparation this summer, I have been reading several books that claim to be on the subject. But as is often true, not all books are created equal.

C. Gene Wilkes wrote Jesus on leadership. Since the subtitle of the book is “Discovering the secrets of servant leadership from the life of Christ,” he places a particular emphasis on that type of leadership. In Wilkes’ study of the gospel, he came up with seven timeless principles for leadership:

  1. Jesus humbled himself and allowed God to exalt him.
  2. Jesus followed his Father’s will rather than sought a position.
  3. Jesus defined greatness as being a servant and being first as becoming a slave.
  4. Jesus risked serving others because he trusted that he was God’s son.
  5. Jesus left his place at the head table to serve the needs of others.
  6. Jesus shared responsibility and authority with those he called to lead.
  7. Jesus built a team to carry out a worldwide mission.

While the book was helpful, it reminded me a bit of the adage, “If all you have in your hand is a hammer, you tend to treat everything as if it were a nail.” He uses the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet as the model for servant leadership. While it is certainly true, it felt like he was forcing some of his principles to fit into that model rather than letting them stand on their own.

Charles C. Manz wrote The leadership wisdom of Jesus: Practical lessons for today. The book is aimed at those who are concerned with moral and humanitarian issues in work and human relationships. This was, by far, the least helpful of all the books I read. I was disappointed because it did not live up to the title. Rather than presenting how Jesus led people, it is a collection of business principles with a Scripture verse tacked on. He seems to treat the Scriptures as merely a collection of wise teachings. While the author quoted Scripture at the beginning of each chapter, he seemed to use the verse or passage as a launching point for what he wanted to talk about. I felt like he was prooftexting–using a Bible verse to back up his main point. 

Bob Briner and Ray Pritchard wrote The leadership lessons of Jesus: A timeless model for today’s leaders. Of the books I read, I found this one to be the most helpful. Rather than being an in-depth study of the topic, the authors present 75 principles or lessons taken from chapters 1-10 of the Gospel of Mark. Most of the lessons are 1-2 pages in length. Each principle is followed by a story or idea about how to apply it in daily life. The book is clear, concise, easily read, and very practical.

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Posted by on July 18, 2008 in Books, Leadership


Leadership Principles of Jesus

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Posted by on July 18, 2008 in Leadership


A passion for the gospel

Dr. John Geddie went to Aneityum (the southernmost inhabited island in the Vanatu archipelago) in 1848 and worked there for God for 24 years. The island had a population of about 3,500 when he arrived. On the tablet erected to his memory these words are inscribed:

“When he landed, in 1848, there were no Christians. When he left, in 1872, there were no heathen.”

J. Oswald Sanders in Spiritual Leadership

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Posted by on July 17, 2008 in Books, Leadership, Passion, Quotes


Send someone else

There are days when I agree with Calvin, “Here am I Lord, send someone else!”

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Posted by on July 17, 2008 in Fun


Preparing to preach

Coach Bob Knight has stated, “The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to prepare to win.”

With a few modifications, I think you can adapt his quote to preaching. To preach effectively, you have to be willing to prepare to preach. I certainly can affirm that truth, having learned the hard way what happens when I try to merely “wing it.”

Most of my preparation has been in two areas. The primary one takes place in the study during the week. I was always taught that you have to discipline yourself to spend time immersing yourself in the text so that you know what it means and how to explain it to people. You have to study your audience in order to know how to apply the specific truths from the passage to their lives. My preparation includes understanding the text, thinking through my introduction, illustrations, applications, and conclusion. Since I include visuals in my preaching, my preparation also includes preparing my PowerPoint slides. Maybe I am too detailed or perhaps I just have a healthy fear of embarrassment, but I want to know where I am going and whether or not I arrive at my destination.

In addition to preparing the message, I was also taught that you have to prepare the messenger. St. Francis said, “The preacher must first grow hot within before speaking words which in themselves are cold.” Phillip Brooks put it like this, “Preaching is truth mediated through personality.” While the preacher is not the message, he is the vital medium through which the message is delivered. Thus, my preparation must also include character development, confession of sin, prayer, and my relationships with others.

Many people often ask, how much time do you spend preparing a message? They expect an answer of 15, 20, or 30 hours. Since you have to prepare not only the message, but also the messenger, the real answer is “a lifetime.”

I have recently added a third element to my weekly preparation–preparing the place. I had come across the idea of praying for the facility and the people who would be there on Sunday. About a month ago, I started going into the sanctuary on Friday afternoons to preview my PowerPoint slides. I discovered the colors are sometimes different when projected than they are on my computer screen. So I needed to double check that everything looked good.

After previewing and making the necessary changes to the slides, I started walking around the sanctuary to pray for the people who would be seated in the pews on Sunday morning. As I stand in the front of the auditorium, I pray specifically for the worship team and the musicians. As I walk through the balcony, I pray for the sound people and the technical equipment. As I have walk up and down the center aisle and around the room, I pray that God would bind the enemy, remove distractions, and open people’s hearts and minds to hear the truth. I pray that God would use each teacher and helper to connect with their students. I pray that God would use me and the message to meet people at their point of need. I pray that the message would bring hope to those who are discouraged, conviction to those who are in sin, and encouragement to those who are ready to give up. I pray that people would understand and believe that God can be trusted. As I pace through the aisles and around the sanctuary, I pray that God would bring revival to our church.

On the one hand, I don’t know that I can attribute my success and accomplishments to my efforts in preparation. On the other hand, I have received several comments from people over the past month saying that the sermons spoke directly to them. Initially, I attributed the comments to the sermon series on the life of Joseph in Genesis 37-50. Joseph dealt with real issues and problems and people can relate to him. But I am beginning to wonder if the comments are the initial signs of God beginning to answer prayer and bring lifechange.

To preach effectively, you have to be willing to prepare to preach. Prepare the message. Prepare the messenger. Prepare the place. And pray, pray, pray!

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Posted by on July 14, 2008 in Prayer, Preaching, Quotes