Monthly Archives: September 2009

What’s the point of preaching?

As you drive home from church on Sunday afternoon, how can you tell if you have heard a good sermon or not? How can you evaluate the quality of the message?

In his book, Why Johnny can’t preach: The media have shaped the messengers, author T. David Gordon provides three helpful questions to ask to get at the heart of a sermon.

I’ve really desired something fairly simple for my family: to be able to talk intelligently about the sermon on Sunday afternoon or throughout the week. And to do this, all I really desire is the ability to ask three questions: What was the point or thrust of the sermon? Was this point adequately established in the text that was read? Were the applications legitimate applications of the point, from which we can have further fruitful conversation about other possible applications?

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Posted by on September 29, 2009 in Books, Preaching, Quotes


I can’t hear you

On occasion, I have to ask people to repeat what they say to me. It seems I don’t always hear clearly. Now I know why.

As part of the ongoing testing to discover the source of my dizziness and lack of balance, I was sent to an audiologist to have my hearing tested. Part of the testing confirmed that my left inner ear is not functioning properly because of a viral infection. But the testing also revealed that I have lost some of my hearing. The doctor who went over the results with me this past week said it was probably due to being in an industrial setting. Sure enough, he was on the money. I spent seven years during and after college working in a steel fabrication shop.

Now it’s one thing when you are unable to hear. It’s quite another matter when you choose not to hear.

In the Old Testament, the prophet Zechariah explained that God spoke to his people Israel on a number of occasions. He encouraged them to be honest, kind, and merciful (Zechariah 7:9-10). Sadly, the people did not listen. 

But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the Lord of hosts. (Zechariah 7:11-12, ESV)

It is not that they were unable to hear the message. Rather, they made a conscious choice to ignore what God said. It was as if the people stuck their fingers in their ears and sang, “La la la la,” so as to drown out the words of God. It was as if they encased their hearts in Kevlar vests to prevent themselves from feeling sorrow over their wrongdoing.

People might become frustrated if they have to repeat themselves a few times because an individual cannot hear their words. But God becomes angry, and rightfully so, when we choose to ignore what he says.

May we have ears to hear and hearts to obey what God instructs us to do.

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Posted by on September 28, 2009 in Personal growth, Scripture, Theology


Going beyond “I’m sorry”

Whenever my brother and I did something wrong when we were growing up, our mother and/or father would ask in their sternest voice, “Are you sorry for what you did? Or are you just sorry you got caught?”

I thought of that question when I read Joel 2:12-13 recently.

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.

I was struck by the phrase, “rend your hearts and not your garments.” The one speaks of repentance; the other of remorse. The one is internal while the other is external. One reflects devotion to God while the other is merely a duty. The one is being sorry for what you did, while the other is being sorry you got caught.

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Posted by on September 22, 2009 in Personal growth, Scripture, Theology



“You don’t have to get better to be well.” Martin Luther

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Posted by on September 19, 2009 in Quotes


Stop working so hard

Spending the past 5+ weeks dealing with and recovering from vertigo has been the worst/best thing to happen in my life.

Besides feeling like Bambi on ice, it’s been extremely difficult because I have not been able to accomplish anything. I have been limited in my abilities and actions. For someone who sets goals, measures progress, actively pursues achievement, and strives for improvement and excellence, being confined to the disabled list is not an altogether enjoyable experience. Nerve racking, frustrating, discouraging, #@**^@#, and so forth would describe my feelings about my stint on injured reserve.

Despite that, the past few weeks have been the best thing for me. I have received the ministry of others. Bob & Alan Butcher stepped up and built my deck. Floyd Gustafson and John Hawkinson offered to stain it this next week. I have felt the prayers of many, along with their words of encouragement. I have received grace and strength for each day. I have had more time to read during my forced sabbatical than I do during my normal schedule.

This morning I was reminded during my Bible reading that God is not impressed by my performance. Instead, he looks at my heart and measures my relationship with him. In Hosea 6:6, God says, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

Instead of doing things for God, I need to focus on spending time with God. If that is the only thing I learn through this experience, the time has been well spent.

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Posted by on September 18, 2009 in Personal growth, Scripture


Enough grace to get by

Four weeks and counting, and I remain somewhat unbalanced (insert own joke here). I’m not ready to call my inner ear condition  a “thorn in the flesh.” I’m not ready to conclude my lack of balance is a messenger of Satan sent to keep me humble (2 Corinthians 12:7). But though I, and many others have prayed, God has not yet taken it away (2 Corinthians 12:8). So, I find myself clinging to the same promise God gave Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9a).  If God’s power is best seen in those who are weak, then here I am (2 Corinthians 12:9b-10). Bring on the grace!

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Posted by on September 14, 2009 in Personal growth, Scripture, Theology


The best team in baseball?

NBCSports did a series of articles examining what every Major League Baseball teams “roster would look like if given only the players it originally signed.” The author concluded the Seattle Mariners would have the best roster in baseball. You can read the article, Restoring the rosters: No. 1 – Seattle.

Wow, that’s depressing! Think how many great players Seattle traded away, or rather, how many left Seattle and went on to be great somewhere else! The author’s conclusion is even more depressing:

So, the No. 1 team in baseball at producing talent hasn’t gone to the postseason since 2001 and has never played in a World Series. Since a strong four-season run that ended in 2003, the team has finished in last place four times. This is shaping up as just the second season over .500 in six years.

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Posted by on September 10, 2009 in News stories, Seattle, Sports


No whining aloud

I don’t like whining. I get weary being around whiners. I become irritable when I listen to whining. Yet I am afraid I am becoming one. The longer my period of imbalance lasts, the more I feel the siren pull towards the shores of “It’s not fair” island. The more my head pounds, the more I am afraid of running aground on the “Woe is me” reef.

It’s a good thing I am preaching this week on Moses’ song of praise in Exodus 15. I need to be reminded to turn my attention for woe to worship, from being me centered to being God centered. I need to remember what God did for me in the past because it will help me trust him for what he will do in the present and in the future.

After Israel passes safely through the Red Sea (Exodus 14), Moses breaks out in song (Exodus 15), celebrating the power and greatness of God.

The theme of the song is found in verse 1—Praise God for his triumph!

In verses 2-18, Moses sings three stanzas. The first one looks backwards and praises God for what he did in the Red Sea (2-6). The second stanza is more theological and praises God for who he is (7-11). The third stanza looks to the future and praises God for what he will do in bringing Israel back to the Promised Land (12-18).

Following Moses’ lead, his sister, Miriam, echoes with her chorus (19-21).

As Moses demonstrates, praising God for what he did in the past helps us trust him for what he will do in the future. I need to hear that reminder each and every day.

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Posted by on September 9, 2009 in Personal growth, Preaching, Scripture


Repairing a deck

Thanks to Bob & Alan Butcher, with an assist from Jonathan Wheeler, my deck is now repaired. I completed about 2/3 of the demolition prior to my encounter with vertigo. Since I could barely leave the couch, let alone climb a ladder, Bob & Alan stepped in and offered to do the work. THANKS!


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Posted by on September 7, 2009 in Family & Friends, Photos


Submitting to Scripture

In the same way that doctors are not necessarily the best patients, and English majors don’t always use the best grammar, so pastors can sometimes operate independently of authority. Those who teach accountability and submission don’t always practice it themselves, either in relation to Scripture or to other elders. Thus, it required a choice on my part to do both last evening.

After my initial episode of vertigo on August 15, I have had ongoing dizziness and lack of balance. As I shared this with others and asked them to pray, one friend said, “I’m sure you have already called for the elders to pray for you.” To be quite honest, I had not. I could excuse myself for being in a fog the first few days. But now that it was brought to my attention, would I follow the instructions in James 5:13-15, and call for the elders to pray for me?

James 5:13-15 (ESV)
13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

I realized I had a choice to make. I could choose to act independently and take a “me and God are enough” approach. I could choose to be stoic, and “patiently endure to the end.” Or, I could admit my inability, lay aside my pride and independence, and obey Scripture by asking the elders to practice their role as intercessors, which I quickly and willingly did.

Prior to their arrival, I tried to examine my own motives and expectations. I did not see this time of prayer as a “magic bullet” that would guarantee immediate and complete healing. The if & when of healing is still in God’s power and timing. I also did not see this as a last resort–“we’ve seen the doctor, run the tests, and done everything we can and it hasn’t worked, maybe we’d better pray” approach. Instead, I saw it as a step of obedience on my part.

Because verse 15 includes the forgiveness of sin, I also asked God to search my own heart and see if there was any issue on my side that needed to be dealt with. Receiving a “No” answer, I had to trust that God had something else in his plan and purpose for me at this time.

So the elders came last night, laid hands on Carol and me, and prayed for us. As I listened to their prayers, I offered one of my own. Having become discouraged of late, I prayed, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

Am I completely healed? Not yet. But for the first time in many days, I am hopeful. That in itself, is a step in the right direction.

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Posted by on September 2, 2009 in Character, Personal growth, Prayer, Scripture