Monthly Archives: August 2008

Plymouth, MA

This morning Carol and I visited Plymouth, MA, where we toured the Mayflower 2 and the Plimouth Plantation. We were struck with two responses. We were impressed with the commitment of our forefathers to leave their homes behind and set sail for a new, yet unknown world. Their dedication, perseverance, and endurance is certainly inspiring. We were also struck with the humor of the situation, considering these were all disgruntled church members who created the first church split (?). They started the Baptist method of church planing. (As a Baptist pastor, it is hard to miss the humor.)  ;-}


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Posted by on August 21, 2008 in Massachusetts


The birthplace of freedom

Carol and I are in Boston for a few days of sightseeing before we head for Gordon College, where our youngest daughter will be starting her college education.

Today we walked the Freedom Trail. Many of the sights gave us a greater appreciation for what our founding fathers gave and did so that we can enjoy freedom.

Inlaid symbol on the Freedom Trail

Inlaid symbol on the Freedom Trail


We saw the gravestone of Paul Revere as well as a statue honoring him.

Paul Revere's gravestone

Paul Revere's gravestone


The U.S.S. Constitution was also an impressive sight.

We also drove out to Lexington & Concord where we saw the place where the shot heard ’round the world was fired. We saw the monument honoring the Minutemen.

Minuteman statue

Minuteman statue

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Posted by on August 20, 2008 in Boston, Massachusetts


I want to be like Mike

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then we are flatterers par excellance. We love to copy. We buy reproductions of famous paintings. We carry designer handbags (knockoffs of course) and impress our friends with our genuine (imitation) Rolex watches. We sport designer suits and shoes which we judicially purchased at an outlet store that specializes in seconds. We even buy genuine imitation vanilla flavoring.

Growing up, I had a brother who was one year older and six inches taller than me. If Paul played the piano or joined the band, then I wanted to play an instrument too. If he went out for the basketball team, I started dribbling a ball and shooting baskets.

When the San Francisco 49ers won the Super Bowl using the West Coast offense, the following year every NFL team (or so it seemed) ran the same offense. Nike built an empire on the slogan, “Be like Mike” (Michael Jordan). Now everyone wants to head for the pool to be like the new Mike (Michael Phelps). After one record-setting gold medal race, a Canadian broadcaster quipped, “Superman is now wearing Michael Phelps underwear.”

In the lead up to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, many commentators made an issue out of Phelps’ goal of surpassing Mark Spitz’ record of 7 gold medals in the 1972 Games in Munich. Phelps made one of the wiser and more profound statements when he said, “My goal is not to be the next Mark Spitz. My goal is to the first Michael Phelps.”

While we want to look, sound, dress, act, talk, and be like our heroes, our task, as Michael Phelps so wisely stated, is to be ourselves.

In 1 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul compared the church to a body. If our role is to be an eye, we shouldn’t listen in and try to be an ear. If we are the ear, we shouldn’t look around to see what others are doing and act like an eye. If we are the hands, we are to give hugs and clap and encourage, rather than walk around like the feet.

It has taken me a long time to learn this lesson. I don’t want to be like Paul (my brother). I don’t want to be like Mike (Jordan or Phelps). I don’t want to be like Kent, Todd, Jerry, Chuck, Bruce, or John (other preachers I have known or heard). I want to be like me, because that is who God has called me to be.

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Posted by on August 18, 2008 in Culture, Personal growth


Is anybody praying for your preaching?

“Who is praying for you as you preach? Have you recruited anone to support you through the ministry of prayer? Do you keep them informed of your sermon themes and the needs of your listeners so that they can pray more meaningfully?

Spurgeon was once asked the secret of his preaching power. In answer, he took the inquirer down to the ‘engine room’ of the church, where more than five hundred people were praying for the sermon half an hour before the service began.”

Kenton C. Anderson, in Choosing to preach: A comprehensive introduction to sermon options and structures.

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Posted by on August 15, 2008 in Books, Prayer, Preaching, Quotes


Waving the flag

Amongst the pursuit of gold medals and world records, the Olympic games provides a unique opportunity, and sometimes burden, of representing your country before a watching world. Because of their unique positions, the athletes serve as ambassadors for their country.

For many of the athletes, they speak with pride of the privilege of wearing their country’s colors. Those who carry the flag in the opening ceremony speak of the honor they feel in representing their team and country.

A few athletes feel the burden of representing their country when it is being criticized. Russian athletes are asked to defend their country’s invasion of Georgia. Chinese athletes are asked to explain why the organizers used lip-syncing and digitally enhanced fireworks in the opening ceremony. They are forced to defend the ages of their women’s gymnastic team. The Swedish team has to answer questions about sportsmanship after wrestler Ara Abrahamian threw aside his bronze medal because he was upset over the officiating and disgusted he did not win the gold medal.

The USA men’s basketball team has been given the nickname, Redeem Team. Not only do they want to win the gold medal, but they desire to redeem the image of US basketball being the best in the world. That image became tarnished due to the lackluster efforts of previous teams.

As Christians, we know firsthand the privilege and burden of being ambassadors for the Kingdom of Heaven. A such, we are all members of the true redeem team. In 2 Corinthians 5:18-20, the apostle Paul explained,

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

Rather than represent our country once every four years, believers represent Jesus Christ every day. We carry the flag of the Kingdom of Heaven. We are called to live in such a way that people want to know more about the Savior that we represent. We have been given a message of hope–it is possible to have your sins forgiven and be in right relationship to God.

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Posted by on August 14, 2008 in Culture, Theology


Which is more effective–Preaching or Teaching?

In his book, Choosing to preach, author Kenton Anderson compares the merits of preaching and teaching and finds they have much in common.

“Take the question of preaching and teaching. Many have tried to distinguish between preaching and teaching as if teachers share information, while preachers change lives, but that distinction might not actually be helpful. When someone says, ‘George is a better teacher than he is a preacher,’ we think we understand. When pressed to articulate the difference, however, things become more complicated. It may be George is a little dry in his presentation or perhaps he is lacking in passion. That might leave him deficient in the preaching category, but does it automatically mean the man can teach?

One of the reasons preachers are unappreciated in contemporary culture is that they keep trying to change people’s lives. Teachers are better accepted because they are thought to be benign. The teacher shares information but isn’t concerned about persuading anyone, or so it is thought. Put it like that to a real teacher, however, and see how he or she responds.

Any teacher worth her whiteboard wants to change lives. Great teaching is not solely about information transfer, as if the lecture were a biotechnical cognitive download. There is that, of course, but teachers want so much more for their students. Teachers want to be dangerous. They actually want to change lives–just like preachers.”

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Posted by on August 13, 2008 in Books, Preaching, Quotes


The pursuit of gold

Like millions around the world, I have planted myself in front of my TV to watch the spectacle that is the Olympic games. What a great excuse for being a couch potato! Life cannot get any better. ;-}

On Sunday, I was entertained by the USA-China basketball game. I was amazed that beach volleyball was played in a downpour. I watched the women cyclists ride cautiously, but aggressively in a driving rainstorm. I was riveted by the Men’s swimming 4X100 freestyle relay when they came from behind to beat the French team.

Technique was certainly a factor in yesterday’s swimming events. USA swimmer Katie Hoff lost her race by .07 seconds because she touched the wall with the palm of her hand rather than reach with her fingertips. Jason Lezak helped the USA win the 4X100 freestyle relay by .08 seconds by drafting the French swimmer Alain Bernard. He allowed Bernard’s wake to carry him along and help him make up ground and then he out-touched Bernard at the wall. These two races were both won and lost by a hairbreadth because of minor techniques.

In an interview with USA swimmer Michael Phelps, he talked about his whole focus being swimming. He eats, sleeps, and swims. It caused me to reflect on how these athletes train for four years for a single event that may last only a few seconds or at best, a few minutes. Incredible focus and commitment.

Watching the Olympics made me realize that rewards should play a greater role in motivating us to grow in our faith. The apostle Paul uses the Olympic games as a backdrop to encourage believers to pursue the goal of spiritual maturity (Philippians 3:12-14). The phrase, “the upward call of God” pictures being summoned to the judge’s stand to receive the victor’s wreath.

I once heard a speaker say that the New Testament describes three methods of motivation for the Christian–Relationship, Punishment, and Rewards. Relationship would be represented by Christ’s statement, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Punishment would be the idea of discipline (Hebrews 12:4-11) or loss of reward (1 Corinthians 3:15). Rewards would include the various crowns mentioned in Scripture (2 Timothy 4:8; 1 Peter 5:4). The speaker said that more is said in Scripture about rewards than relationship and punishment combined.

While I have not researched that statement in depth, I suspect it is true. If so, it surprises me that rewards are taught so little in today’s churches. It seems we are so afraid of being perceived as having mixed motives that we don’t talk about rewards at all.

Shouldn’t believers be more motivated to receive the crown of glory than Michael Phelps is to receive 8 gold medals? Shouldn’t we dream of the day when we hear the words from our Savior, “Well done, good and faithful servant” as much as an athlete dreams of being on the medal stand?

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Posted by on August 11, 2008 in Passion, Personal growth


Why do guardian angels look so wimpy?

If you came face to face with your worst enemy, would you entrust yourself to a protector that looks like a cute little baby with wings? Would you want a girly-looking wood nymph to fight your battles for you? I don’t know about you, but these images don’t exactly engender confidence in my heart, let alone strike fear in my enemy’s heart.

I am preaching on Psalm 91 this Sunday, focusing on the security that God provides for us. One element of our security involves angelic protection (verses 11-13). Not only do angels protect us, but they allow us to be victorious in difficult situations. I was looking for some art to picture a guardian angel. But I was sorely disappointed in what I found. All the pictures I found make angels look like wimps.

Scripture teaches that God uses angels to minister to his people (Hebrews 1:14). But where are the pictures of angels with flaming swords that guarded the location of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:24)? What about the angel with drawn sword ready to bring judgment on the wayward prophet, Balaam (Numbers 22:22-35)? Where is the angel that encouraged and fed Elijah during his period of depression (1 Kings 19)? Where is the angelic army with horses and chariots of fire that camped around Elisha (2 Kings 6:17)? Where are the angels that protected Daniel by shutting the mouths of the lions (Daniel 6:22)? What about the angel that brought comfort to Daniel, but only after doing battle with the prince of Persia for 21 days and being rescued by Michael, an angelic prince (Daniel 10:10-13)? We haven’t even mentioned the angels that bring judgment in the book of Revelation.

Scripture certainly portrays angels in a much more positive light than the namby-pamby effeminate ones we find in art. The angels found in Scripture give me confidence that I am protected by my heavenly Father. He has sent them to help me accomplish the task he has called me to do. The ones found in art are like eating a bowl of sugar–overly sweet and less than satisfying.

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Posted by on August 6, 2008 in Culture, Theology


Emptying the nest

This week begins a new phase of life as my younglings start leaving the nest. This post finds me driving to Los Angeles with Amanda, our middle child, as she heads to Biola University for her junior year. Since she has to be there early for R. A. (Resident Assistant) training, I am helping her drive the car that she and her brother share while at college. The end of the week, my wife and I will put our youngest child, Caitlin, on a plane to Boston, where she will begin her freshman year at Gordon College. She has to be there early to participate in La Vida, an outdoor education program required of all incoming students. Later this month, my oldest child, Jonathan, will head to Biola University, where he has three more semesters before finishing his undergraduate studies.

As I contemplate this time of transition, I appreciated Gary Thomas’ description of his feelings as his oldest daughter left for college, which he recorded in The beautiful fight. As he explains,

“My goal, with all my children, has been to raise sons and daughters of Levi. Malachi gives us a picture of what a godly child is: ‘[Levi] revered me and stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin’ (Malachi 2:5-6).

According to this passage, God wants us to maintain families that teach our daughters and sons to

  • live in awe of God,
  • revere his Word,
  • walk with him in fellowship,
  • live peacefully with others, and
  • turn others from their sin.”

I echo Gary’s sentiments. My wife, Carol, and I have done what we could in raising our children. Now, Jon, Manda, and Caitlin need to leave our home in order for God to complete his work in them. While we have missed some opportunities, we have caught many others. Rather than focus on what we have left undone, we are reminded of what God is still doing.

As parents, there is a sense in which we function as an assistant coach talking with the head coach about how we’ll get this player ready–not for a game, but for life. Carol and I can rest, realizing that God has plans and a purpose for each of our children and that he is taking the initiative. We planted a tiny seed; God will make it blossom.

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Posted by on August 4, 2008 in Books, Family & Friends, Quotes


A revealing personality

“We go to church hoping that Christ will appear in the ‘temple’–a church building–but all the while God is looking at us and hoping that Christ will appear in us–the true temple of God.”  –  R. T. Nusbaum

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Posted by on August 3, 2008 in Quotes