Monthly Archives: November 2008

What should we give thanks for?

A Thanksgiving Day celebration poses one of those difficult dilemmas. Before digging in to the turkey dinner, a well-meaning relative usually asks the question, “And what are you thankful for this year?” Most people automatically head for the old standby answers–family, friends, health, etc.

As I contemplated that question this year, I came across Psalm 113 which states that we should praise God (verses 1-3) for his greatness (4-6) and his grace (7-9). On Thanksgiving Day, and every other day of the year, we should give thanks for who God is and for what he has done in our lives.

The psalm begins and ends with the instruction, “Praise the Lord.” As the psalmist explains, those of us who serve God have the first responsibility to praise him (verse 1). Since God’s name reveals his character, we should give thanks for who he is. While Thanksgiving Day is a great time to praise God, our praise should not be limited to only that day. In fact, there should not be a day or time when we do not give thanks (verse 2b-3).

In verses 4-6, the psalmist explains that we should praise God for who he is. We should give thanks for his greatness. He is greater than the nations. He is greater than the creation (4). Verses 5-6 summarize the main idea of this psalm. While God is exalted over all, he cares about people and meets them right at their point of need.

In verses 7-9, the writer gives two examples of how God demonstrates his grace. He lifts up the poor (7-8) and gives children to the childless (8-9). God does marvelous and mighty deeds for those in need and distress.

In terms of literary devices, the psalmist uses a parallel structure in verses 4-6 and 7-9. God is exalted (4). He exalts the poor (7). God is seated in the heavens (5). He seats the poor among the powerful (8). God stoops down to serve (6). He meets the lowly at their point of need (9).

If you run out of things to give thanks for tomorrow, start praising God for who he is and what he has done in your life. PRAISE THE LORD!

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Posted by on November 26, 2008 in Personal growth, Theology


How can you know there is a God?

How can you know there is a God? How do you know whether or not the Bible is true? Why does God allow pain and suffering? Will everyone make it into heaven? How could a loving God send people to Hell?

How do you find answers to these questions? How can you help someone who is asking the questions to discover the truth?

Bill Kraftson & Lamar Smith have developed a set of six audio Cd’s entitled, “The search for meaning: Two friends discuss honest questions about God.” The series is published by Search Ministries. The Cd’s complement the book, I’m glad you asked, by Ken Boa and Larry Moody.

I found the series to be helpful on two levels. One is that they provide answers to the basic questions that people ask about God. The second is they model how to have an open and honest dialogue with someone who is asking those questions.

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Posted by on November 25, 2008 in Apologetics, Books, Theology


The Mission of the Church

“The church is the only cooperative society in the world which exists for the benefit of its non-members.” Archbishop William Temple

“‘Mission’ arises, then, from the biblical doctrine of the church in the world. If we are not ‘the church,’ the holy and distinct people of God, we have nothing to say because we are compromised. If, on the other hand, we are not ‘in the world,’ deeply involved in its life and suffering, we have no one to serve because we are insulated. Our calling is to be ‘holy’ and ‘worldly’ at the same time. Without this balanced biblical eccelesiology we will never recover or fulfill our mission.” 

Both quotes are taken from Chapter 3, “Evangelism: Mission through the local church,” in The living church: Convictions of a lifelong pastor, by John R. W. Stott

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Posted by on November 23, 2008 in Books, Church, Quotes


The misery continues

How bad can Seattle sports get? Have we hit bottom yet?

This week, we were profiled in the NY Times, “At a time of loss, Seattle fans hold on to hope.”  We’re so bad we’ve become a national laughingstock or symbol of pity.

The NBA Oklahoma City Thunder, stolen from the city of Seattle, fired their coach for a 1-12 start. I suppose we could gloat at someone else’s misery, but it’s a bit like hearing that an old girlfriend who jilted you just got a divorce. Are you supposed to gloat because she’s in pain or feel relieved that the divorce didn’t involve you? Either way, you’re left with a bitter taste in your mouth.

The most “rotten” of Apple Cups just ended with the UW Huskies losing 16-13 to the WSU Cougars on a missed field goal in the 2nd overtime period. UW is the worst team in college football.

And tomorrow, former Seattle Seahawk Jim Zorn’s Washington Redskins are favored to beat the Seattle Seahawks. We can be stomped on by a member of our own Ring of Honor. I can hardly wait to watch.

PLEASE, no more!!!!!!!!!!!

At least the 2009 Seattle Mariners are undefeated.

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Posted by on November 22, 2008 in Culture, Sports


When you don’t know what to say, listen to the Holy Spirit

Last night I received a call that an 89-year-old gentleman was nearing his final hours on planet earth. The doctors had said it was time to gather the family because he might have only two days or perhaps two weeks left. The gentleman, who was a long-time believer and saint, had expressed concern about the assurance of his salvation and wanted to confess his sins. The family had assured him that everything was OK, but he wanted to talk to a pastor.

As I was driving to the nursing home, I prayed that God would guide me and help me to minister to both the man and his family. But I had no idea or plan of what I would do or say.

When I arrived, the gentleman was asleep. I asked the family if he had any favorite passages of Scripture that I could read to him. They suggested John 14:1-7 and Jesus preparing a place for us in heaven; Psalm 23 and the Lord being our shepherd; and Philippians 4:10-13, that we can do all things through Christ. As I contemplated what to do next, I thought of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and the promise of the Rapture. I read Psalm 91 and God’s protection for those who dwell in him.

About this time, the gentleman woke up and I was able to talk with him about the fact that God had forgiven his sins as John 3:16 promised. I read Revelation 22:1-6 and the picture of what awaits us in heaven. We had a good conversation about his hope of heaven and seeing Jesus face to face. One member of the family asked if there were any passages about the pain he was feeling. I was reminded of 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10 and how our pain is temporary and light in comparison to the glory that awaits us. I also turned to Romans 8:18-39 that describes the glory that is waiting for us and how nothing can separate us from God’s love.

As I drove home, I felt good that God used me to bring encouragement. I also realized that none of it came from me, but I had experienced the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

In Matthew 10:17-20, Jesus instructed his disciples how to respond when they were on trial for their faith. While ministry to a dying man and his family pales in comparison to being in courtroom or facing a firing squad, there are similarities, especially in what the Holy Spirit does. In verses 19-20, Jesus said, “. . . do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

The words that I spoke did not come from me. The Scriptures I turned were not ones I thought of. The Holy Spirit directed my thoughts to the passages he had picked. The Spirit formed words in my mind that he knew would bring comfort. In my moment of trial, the Spirit of the Father spoke through me. Thank God for the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

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Posted by on November 17, 2008 in Holy Spirit, Ministry, Theology


A little word makes a BIG difference

Interesting news article out of Great Britain – “Prince Charles to be known as Defender of Faith.” 

“The Prince of Wales, who is 60 today, is planning a symbolic change when he becomes King by taking the title Defender of Faith to reflect Britain’s multicultural society. The move would mean the monarch, as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, would no longer be known as the Defender of the Faith for the first time since the reign of Henry VIII.”

At first, I didn’t understand what they were talking about. It took three readings of the article to realize he was taking the word, “the,” out of his title.

So what’s the big deal? It’s only a little word.

The big deal is that by changing from “Defender of THE Faith” to “Defender of Faith” England in general and the King in particular no longer believe that Christianity is preeminent. Instead, Christianity is now seen as one religion among many. By defending all faiths, the king devalues the one true faith.

Little words make a BIG difference when it comes to what we believe. In Matthew 5:18, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”

While England may remove a single word from the King’s title, not one letter or dot will disappear from Scripture until all is completed. The Bible is more dependable and will last longer than the monarchy of Great Britain.

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Posted by on November 14, 2008 in Culture, Theology


Reclaiming my prophet badge

By this point in my ministerial career, I expected to pastor a church like those found in the first half of the book Acts. Perhaps not explosive growth, but certainly steady growth. Maybe not 3,000 trusting Christ at the altar call from one message, but why not 30 over the course of a year, or at least 300 over several years? Maybe not stadium evangelism, but certainly fruitful personal evangelism.

Instead, I find myself pastoring the church in Laodecia–comfortable, complacent, self-satisfied, and lukewarm. OK, I admit I’m exaggerating and it’s not quite that bad. But there are Mondays I want to pack up my books, turn in my preacher’s badge, and become a ride operator at Disneyland. At least there people would be happy to see me, or so I tell myself when I am most fatigued.

Perhaps this is why I was so encouraged by Maxie Dunnam’s article, “A prophet among you,” in The art & craft of biblical preaching, edited by Haddon Robinson and Craig Brian Larson.

In Ezekiel 2:4-5, God gives Ezekiel his marching orders. “The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn.” I can certainly identify with that part of his call to ministry. There are days when I know those people’s names. ;-} The passage goes on to say, “Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says.’ And whether they listen or fail to listen–for they are a rebellious house–they will know that a prophet has been among them.”

It was at this point I had to take a deep breath. I needed to stop focusing on the outward results. Instead, I needed to remember that I represent God among his people. When I move among the congregation, when I preach, when I counsel, when I lead a business meeting, do people sense of man of God, if not a prophet of God, has been in their presence? That’s pretty convicting stuff.

That thought is pretty intimidating. I would be tempted to say, “That will never happen,” and not even try. But as Dunnam points out, God gives Ezekiel three instructions which will help him to carry this assignment.

The first instruction is to listen for God’s instruction. “He said to me, ‘Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you'” (2:1). As a pastor, I need to listen to what God has to say. Instead of handing God my agenda, I need to ask him, “What do you want me to do? What do you want me to learn?”

The second instruction is to realize I don’t serve in my own strength. Instead, I minister in the power of the Holy Spirit. “As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me” (2:2).

The third instruction for faithful ministry is to internalize the Word of God and make it part of my life. “And he said to me, ‘Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel.’ So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. Then he said to me, ‘Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.’ So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth” (3:1-3).

On the one hand, I can identify with Ezekiel’s call to ministry and the people he was sent to serve. On the other hand, do I live and speak in such a way that people know a prophet has been among them? Rather than worry about results, I need to be faithful to the task. I need to declare God’s Word and call people to repent and change. Whether or not they respond is not in my control. My task is to represent God and be faithful to his call on my life.

As Dunnam closes, “When what you say to the people for God resonates with how you live among them as an imitator of God, they will know that a prophet has been among them.”

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Posted by on November 13, 2008 in Books, Personal growth, Preaching, Quotes



This past weekend, Carol and I attended the annual Pastor’s & Wives Retreat of the Pacific Northwest District of the Evangelical Free Church, held at the Sun River Resort in Oregon. Beautiful location. Relaxing schedule. Catching up with friends and fellow workers.

The highlight of the weekend for us was hearing from Pastor Kent Hughes. I served with Kent at College Church in Wheaton from 1986-89. He is now retired and living in Spokane, WA. Though I only spent three years on staff with Kent, I still consider him one of my mentors. He demonstrated what it meant to be a hard-working pastor. Through his sermons and commentaries, he showed me how to prepare and deliver a message that balances explanation and application. He and his wife, Barbara, exhibited and loving marriage and a healthy family.

The first day of the conference, Kent shared his perspective on success in ministry, which he wrote about in Liberating ministry from the success syndrome. Far too often, pastors measure success by the “Big 5”–Baptisms, Bucks, Buildings, and if you are really successful, Books & Broadcasts. None of those, however, are biblical. Instead, God’s measure of success includes faithfulness, loving God with all your heart, prayer, serving, and a good attitude. Having struggled recently with trying to measure my own success, it was a reminder I needed to hear.

The second day of the conference, Kent spoke from 2 Corinthians. Speaking from 3:4-6 and 12:1-10, Kent explained that God’s plan has always been to demonstrate his power through our weakness. His final message was taken from Jeremiah 29:10-11. He explained that whatever we go through–good, bad, positive, negative, painful, joyful–are all part of God’s good plans for our lives.

As always, Kent was challenging and encouraging. He ministered to us from his knowledge and experience. He was used by God to meet us at our point of need. Thanks, Kent.

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Posted by on November 12, 2008 in Mentors, Personal growth


Dreaming of white stuff

Mt. Bachelor, near Sun River in Central Oregon, is not open for skiing yet, but that didn’t stop some die hards from getting in some early season practice.





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Posted by on November 8, 2008 in Oregon


Sun River, OR

Carol and I attended a Pastor’s & Wives Retreat at Sun River, OR, this weekened, hosted by the Pacific Northwest District of the Evangelical Free Church of America. We had a beautiful view outside our room.






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Posted by on November 8, 2008 in Oregon