Monthly Archives: November 2009

He died climbing

According to Deuteronomy 34:1-5, the last thing Moses did on earth was climb a mountain.

1 Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land, Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, 3 the Negeb, and the Plain, that is, the Valley of Jericho the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. 4 And the Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your offspring.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.” 5 So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord, (ESV)

The summit of Mt. Pisgah reaches a height of 4,500 feet above the Dead Sea. That’s almost a mile. Not too many 120 year old men can climb a mountain almost a mile high and live to tell the story. I’m not even half Moses’ age, and I was huffing and puffing trying to negotiate a step ladder today.

Yet here was Moses, 120 years old, scaling the heights. I don’t know for sure, but perhaps climbing Mt. Pisgah was part of Moses’ bucket list.

What I do know is that verse one is a fitting metaphor for Moses’ life. He wasn’t satisfied with status quo. He wanted to change things for the better. He wasn’t content with his people being slaves in Egypt. He wanted to deliver them from bondage and bring them back to the Promised Land. It took longer than he wanted, but in God’s time, Moses accomplished that goal.

Moses wasn’t satisfied with having a nice, average Bible study and prayer time each day. He wasn’t content with spending seven minutes with God. He wanted more of God. He begged God, “Show me your glory.” Moses wanted a better, deeper, stronger relationship with God. He wouldn’t settle for just OK.

Moses wanted that same depth of relationship for his people. He was frustrated when they refused to believe God’s promises and when they quickly went back to idol worship.

It’s fitting that his last act was to climb a mountain. Moses died the way he lived, climbing ever higher.

That’s the kind of model I want to pattern my life after. That’s the kind of man I’d like to be.

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Posted by on November 14, 2009 in Character, Passion, Personal growth, Scripture


Don’t let inhibition keep you from creativity

“Instead of planning a typical worship service, what if we ‘staged’ a funeral? I wonder if we could borrow or rent a casket and have it on stage? No way! Those ideas are absurd. What would people think? I’d never get away with it. I could never do that!”

Ever have an argument with yourself? Ever witness a debate between the creative side of your brain and the logical side? Which side wins? Ever talk yourself out of a risky venture because you were afraid of the perceptions and opinions of others?

For the past several weeks, I have been preaching on The life of Moses. This Sunday November 15, I was scheduled to preach on the death of Moses in Deuteronomy 34. As I delved into the passage, I wondered how to teach the passage so that people would remember the message long enough for it to impact their lives.

I recently read the book, Made to stick: Why some ideas survive and others die, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. The authors state that “sticky” ideas have six common characteristics: They are Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, and use Storytelling. At the same time, I started reading The power of multi-sensory preaching and teaching: Increase attention, comprehension, and retention, by Rick Blackwood. Blackwood’s premise is that the more of an audience’s senses you can touch, the more memorable and effective your sermons will be.

As I studied Deuteronomy 34, I thought, “A casket would be a powerful visual aid. It would certainly be unexpected. Staging a funeral for Moses would tug at people’s emotions. Maybe we could write some ‘remember when’ stories like at a regular funeral. That would employ storytelling as well as make it more interactive. By structuring the entire service around the topic, it would be simple and concrete.  This could be a powerful, moving experience.”

I was almost convinced to do it . . . until my inhibitions started screaming, “What will people think? You can’t change the order of worship. That’s, like, sacrilegious!”

I was almost convinced not to do it . . . until I realized that if didn’t plan a creative service, I would know that I chickened out and gave in to fear. I needed to slay that giant.

Fortunately, as I shared my idea with others in the church and enlisted their help in pulling it off, they all thought it was a great idea. Or, as one person expressed it, “That is ridiculously cool. I can hardly wait.” 

Creativity wins!

Hopefully, this will be more than JUST a creative exercise. Hopefully, it will be a service that captures people’s attention and speaks truth to their hearts. My prayer is that the death of Moses will challenge us how to live today.

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Posted by on November 13, 2009 in Books, Church, Personal growth, Preaching, Scripture


Wise words from random sources

“Never laugh at a live dragon.”

Bilbo Baggins, The Hobbit

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Posted by on November 11, 2009 in Books, Quotes


Breaking down the dividing wall

Yesterday, the eyes of the world focused on Berlin as Germany celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. As one writer described the event,

“Thousands of cheering Germans re-enacted the electrifying moment the Berlin Wall came crashing down — toppling 1,000 graffiti-adorned 8-foot-tall dominoes that tumbled along the route of the now vanished Cold War icon, celebrating 20 years of freedom from separation and fear.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel — the first east German to hold the job — called the fall of the wall an “epic” moment in history. “For me, it was one of the happiest moments of my life,” Merkel said.

Within hours of a confused announcement on Nov. 9, 1989, that East Germany was lifting travel restrictions, hundreds of people streamed into the enclave that was West Berlin, marking a pivotal moment in the collapse of communism in Europe.

20 years ago, the Berlin Wall fell and freedom and unity were now possible.

Almost 2,000 years ago, an even more significant barrier was torn down. It was the wall that divided God and men and women. Through his death on the cross, Jesus Christ removed the barrier that existed because of sin. By dying for our sins, Jesus made it possible for us to experience peace with God. Sin could be forgiven. Those who were once God’s enemies could be reconciled.

As the apostle Paul explains in his letter to the church in Ephesus,

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility (Ephesians 2:14-16).

 When the Berlin wall was torn down, East Berliners and West Berliners could be united as “Berliners.” When the wall of sin was torn down, men and women could become members of the family of God.

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Posted by on November 10, 2009 in News stories, Scripture, Theology


Who determines the role of the church?

What is the role of the church in today’s world? What on earth is the church supposed to accomplish?

As important as that question is, perhaps a more foundational question is, Who decides that role? Who is in charge of setting the course for the church? Who determines what the church is to be and to do?

There are several places and/or people one could turn to for answers to that question.

Community – You could survey the neighbors who live near the church and ask them what they want to church to do. A pastor friend gets suggestions from his neighbors because they have the word “Community” in the name of the church. The neighbors feel they should be in charge.

Culture – A church could take its cues from newspapers, television, radio, movies as to what its role should be. You could follow the latest trends and fashions in determining your programs and lessons.

Christians – You could survey other Christians and see what they want in a church.

Chain of Command – This could take different forms. You could follow a “state church” model and let the government determine the role of the church. You could employ a hierarchical model and follow the dictates of a particular denomination. You could allow the leaders of each respective church determine their own destiny.

Champions of the past – Another source of authority might be the traditions handed down from past generations. “If it was good enough from them, it should be good enough for us” might be our theme.

Christ – Rather than turn to any number of possible authorities, we could recognize what the Scriptures say, that Christ is the head of the church (Colossians 1:18). As such, he has already revealed the nature and purpose of the church in the Bible.

To answer the question, “Who determines the role of the church?” we have to ask a second question, “What does the Bible say? What did God reveal in Scripture about the nature of the church?”

 Whom we recognize as our authority makes a huge difference in the answer to that question.

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Posted by on November 9, 2009 in Church, Ministry


Missed opportunities

Which is worse–to live with unrealized potential or to suffer the pain of missed opportunities? After watching the University of Washington Huskies lose by 1 to the UCLA Bruins this afternoon, I agonized over that question.

When UW defeated USC back in September, the Huskies were blessed with potential. After three football games in the 2009 season, we had won 2. Only four more wins and the Dawgs were bowl-eligible. Now six games later, UW is mired at 3-6 and their pockets are stuffed with unrealized potential. Yes, if the Dawgs win their three remaining games, a bowl is still within reach. But only the staunchest fan would believe the Dawgs will beat OSU, WSU, and Cal. The fat lady may not be singing yet, but she is warming up in the wings. SIGH!

The UCLA game this afternoon was a clinic of missed opportunities. A defensive stop here, a third down conversion there. Make the field goal instead of missing it. Score a touchdown or two instead of kicking three field goals. Don’t throw an interception in the final minute. Kick the field goal in the closing seconds. If UW scored touchdowns instead of field goals, it could have 35-24 on the final drive and the interception would have been moot. If we had only made the one field goal we missed, the score would have been 26-24 on the final drive. If we kept the ball and kicked a field goal in the final seconds, we would have won. If, woulda, coulda, shoulda. SIGH!

I’m not sure which hurts more. Unrealized potential and missed opportunities both sting quite a bit. SIGH!

Sounds like there may be some life lessons here.

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Posted by on November 7, 2009 in Culture, Personal growth, Seattle, Sports


The “after-life”

“When one thinks about the world, certain dates come to mind which forever changed the course of history; dates on which we declare ‘before’ and ‘after.'”

So begins the opening sentence of “Are you living the after-life?”, an article written by my son, Jonathan. It appears in the Opinion section of The Chimes, the student newspaper of Biola University. If I may say so myself in a proud-fatherly-sort-of-way, it is pretty insightful and thought-provoking.