Monthly Archives: January 2010

What should I preach next?

This week I begin a new sermon series on “The letters of John.” I will spend the next 5+ months preaching through 1, 2, & 3 John. I suppose a good question to answer is “Why?” “Why this book?” “Why now?” As an NFL referee might answer, “Upon further review,” my answer is one which has multiple parts.

Prior to becoming the Senior Pastor at United Evangelical Free Church in Seattle, I spent 18 years serving as an associate pastor in two churches. In both of those churches, you could leave your Old Testament at home and seemingly never miss it. The pastors in those churches spent almost all their time in the New Testament.

If I ever became a senior pastor, I told myself, I was going to preach the whole counsel of God. Rather than allowing that sentiment to be empty rhetoric, I’ve tried to follow that approach. My goal is that over time, I will find a balance between Old Testament book studies, New Testament book studies, and topical series. Over the past year and a half, I preached a topical series on “Growing a great church” a character study on “The life of Moses,” and an exposition of “The Sermon on the Mount.” Whether I preach a book study or a topical series, I preach expositionally–explaining the meaning of the Scripture passage and how it relates to daily life.

In one sense, preaching through 1, 2, & 3 John is a choice influenced by my philosophy of ministry. It comes from a different part of the Scriptures. It exposes the congregation to a different author and a different type of literature. It also stretches me because didactic material is preached differently than narrative.

Choosing this series is also a practical choice as well. I see people who chronologically are old in the faith. They have followed Jesus for many years. But from a growth and maturity standpoint, they appear to be young in the faith. They appear more like an infant or adolescent than a seasoned saint. 1 John provides a barometer to measure the depth of one’s fellowship with God. It gives indicators as to what promotes greater growth as well as what hinders growth.

If I want to a deeper, richer, more meaningful and fruitful relationship with Christ, this is a book that I need to learn from. From a practical viewpoint, this series will not only benefit the congregation individually and corporately, it will benefit me personally.

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Posted by on January 31, 2010 in Personal growth, Preaching, Scripture


Whatever happened to winter?

Last year at this time, Seattle was stuck in the throes of a Narnian winter–“always winter but never Christmas.” This year, outside of one week in December when the temperature was in the teens, winter has gone missing. It’s even been in the 50’s this past week. Today, I actually worked in the yard. Trees are starting to bud. Day lilies are poking up through the ground. My grass looks like it needs to be mowed. I feel like I should have a conversation with the trees and flowers, “Don’t you know it’s only January 30?”

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Posted by on January 30, 2010 in Fun, Spring


A role model worth following

ESPN writer Howard Bryant authored a well-written article on Tony Dungy, entitled, “Higher Calling.” It describes the impact that Tony is having today after retiring from football. Two sentences jumped off the page and illustrate why Tony is able to touch athletes, coaches, owners, prisoners, and the average person on the street.

“In this time of Tiger Woods, Rick Pitino, Mark McGwire and all the others who have turned out not to be what they seemed, moral clout is Dungy’s capital.”

“Tony’s always been a guy with great vision and great integrity, a man for whom the words and the life match up.”

Tony Dungy’s impact is because of his character. We need more role models who demonstrate integrity and character.

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Posted by on January 28, 2010 in Character, News stories, Sports


Headlines make me curious

“O’Brien seals $45 million deal to quit ‘Tonight”; Host walks away with $33 million, staff splits $12 million.” Getting paid millions to quit work? Where do I sign up for a job like that?

“Tim Tebow, James Dobson team up for Super Bowl ad. This can’t end well.” When athletes make the news for acting badly–Plaxico Burress and Gilbert Arenas for carrying guns; Tiger Woods for sexcapades–why do we question one who takes a positive stand for the family?

“Disaster do-gooders can actually hinder help; Univited volunteers, useless donations can cost money, time–and lives.” You mean that good intentions and a compassionate heart are not enough? Why do I need a plan? Why should I coordinate with the authorities? I’m an American, and I know best! Funny how that approach doesn’t always work.

“Four Bellevue boys, one 11, arrested in armed robbery” What were they thinking?!?! How come mom didn’t know what her two boys were doing? Kudos to the police for being so connected to the community that they recognized the boys in the video.

“Obama seeks tighter limit on banks’ reach.” If the government can tell banks they can’t grow any larger, who tells the government they can’t extend their reach?

“Local attorney aims to name sewage plant after Lane Kiffin.” I wonder how the people of Knoxville, TN, feel about Lane Kiffin’s coaching legacy?

“Felix Hernandez on brink of superstar deal.” With Felix soon to sign a long-term deal, and the trade for Cliff Lee and the signing of Chone Figgins, is it too soon to vote for Mariners GM Jack Z as “Executive of the year”?

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Posted by on January 22, 2010 in Culture, News stories


The FAQs about baptism

This Sunday, five people will be baptized at United Evangelical Free Church in Seattle. They are taking this step because they want to be obedient to the commands of Christ and to tell their family and friends that they want to be known as a follower of Jesus Christ. Prior to the event, I meet with them to make sure they understand the meaning and significance of baptism, and to ensure that they know what they are doing and why they are doing it. During my meeting with them, I cover the FAQs (frequently asked questions) about baptism. Here is a copy of the handout I give them: The FAQs about baptism.

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Posted by on January 21, 2010 in Church, Spiritual disciplines


Politics and pendulums

Yesterday’s election in Massachusetts once again signaled how reactionary the American public is, and how impatient we are in wanting true change.

14 months ago, the American people elected Barack Obama as President, in large part because people were dissatisfied after eight year’s of President Bush’s policies. The pendulum clearly swung towards the left. Now, the pendulum appears to be swinging back in the opposite direction. People are dissatisfied with how President Obama has handled the economy, the war in Afghanistan, and especially his proposed health care reform. In November, Republicans were elected as governors in Virginia and New Jersey. The pendulum swing continued yesterday as the people of Massachusetts elected Republican Scott Brown as senator, in large part because of his stance on health care. Reports indicate that Brown won because he was able to unite the independent voters in the state.

Will the trend continue? Will the pendulum swing back toward the right? Or will the independents of the country say “Enough with pendulum swings” and unite in the middle? Either way, we are in for a turbulent ride.

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Posted by on January 20, 2010 in News stories, Politics


War, earthquakes, & famine, oh my!

The eyes of the world are focused on the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti this past week. As we read the stories and watch the news, we alternate between horror, anguish, shock, grief, and compassion.

The shock continued when news broke that another earthquake occurred, this time centered off the coast of Venezuela.

The earthquakes in the Caribbean pushed the ongoing war in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other parts of the globe to the back page for a few days. They took our minds off the continuing famines in Africa.

As I pondered these stories, I was working on a sermon on the Great Commission. Matthew 28:16-20 and Acts 1:6-8 record Jesus’ last words to his disciples. After his resurrection and prior to him returning to heaven, Jesus gave his followers the task of taking the good news of the gospel to all the world. They were to proclaim the message that forgiveness of sin was possible. Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, we could have peace with God.

While the Great Commission is certainly important, I wondered if we should drop everything we are doing and focus entirely on sending relief to Haiti or Southeast Asia where they are recovering from the typhoon in August 2009 or the U.S. Gulf Coast where they are still recovering from Hurricanes Ike (2008) and Katrina (2005).

As I wondered how to respond, I was reminded of a similar discussion that Jesus had with his disciples in Mark 13:1-13. Jesus’ disciples were asking how they would know when the end of the age was close at hand (verse 4). What were the signs and when should they start panicking?

Jesus gave a curious response, especially in light of current events. He explained that war, earthquakes, and famine were all signs that the end was coming soon (verses 7-8). Rather than indicating an immediate end, however, they were more like the start of a pregnant woman’s labor pains (verse 8). The end is coming, but there may be hours, days, or weeks of anguish yet  to come (especially in the case of false labor).

In verse 10, Jesus adds an interesting comment. Before Christ returns, the gospel must be preached to all the nations. Rather than panic and abandon our posts, followers of Christ need to stay alert and faithful to the task we have been given. 

In light of all this, how should a follower of Christ respond to the needs of Haiti, or any other area of the globe in crisis?

First off, we should practice compassion. We should help out financially. We should give of our resources. If available, we should go and give of ourselves. Our church, United Evangelical Free Church in Seattle is going to take an offering that will be used to aid our ministry partners in Haiti. We are also considering whether or not to partner with Missionary Construction Teams to send a team to Galveston, TX to serve those who are recovering from Hurricane Ike.

Second, we should not abandon or be distracted from our primary task of sharing the gospel and making disciples. Our church is still moving forward with sending a short-term ministry team to Japan this summer to help our ministry partners in that country share the gospel.

Far too often, we view ministry as an either/or decision. Do we share the gospel or serve the homeless? Do we preach Christ or practice compassion? Do we offer forgiveness and hope or do we offer food and health? Whatever we choose, we cannot lose sight of the fact that the answer is “YES!” Rather than either/or, the answer is both/and. We are to practice the Great Commandment (love God, love people) and the Great Commission (share the gospel and make disciples).

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Posted by on January 16, 2010 in Church, Ministry, News stories, Scripture


What if churches operated like an NFL franchise?

Like most Seattle sports fans, I spent the weekend with one eye on the internet and the other on ESPN, and one ear tuned to the radio checking for the latest rumor, news, rumor, update, announcement on the Seattle Seahawks – Pete Carroll – USC saga.

On the one hand, I was pleased that the Hawks signed Pete Carroll. He is a good coach who did a wonderful job rebuilding USC football from the ash heap it had become. Pete will bring a new enthusiasm, intensity, and approach that the Hawks desperately need. (It also gets him out of USC which benefits the University of Washington Huskies.)

On the other hand, I was disappointed in the way the scenario played out. If you believe all the rumors, the Seahawks started courting Pete Carroll 2-3 weeks before they fired Jim Mora. Now I agree that a change needed to be made.  Mora did not do a good job motivating and coaching the team and somewhere along the line, they stopped playing for him. But if you’re going to make a change, fire one coach before courting the next one. And that doesn’t even address whether the Hawks truly honored the process of the Rooney Rule, or simply paid lip service to it.

Following the story made me glad that churches don’t operate like an NFL franchise. Could you imagine an ownership group (congregation) deciding to fire the General Manager (Chairman of the Elders) and the Coach (Senior Pastor) because the church did not put up enough Wins (salvations and baptisms) the past year? Perhaps the owners decide there were too many workdays and not enough potlucks, too many expository sermons and not enough topical series, too many altar calls and not enough hospital visitation. Whatever the complaint, the “owners” of the franchise decide they want “to go in a different direction” and decide to make a change. Perhaps they secretly visit the successful church planter across town, and through an intermediary, gauge his possible interest in changing churches. Maybe a booster (a large giver or two) decide to withhold their contributions until a change is made, or perhaps they promise to increase their giving if a big name “coach” (preacher) is recruited as the next pastor.

Wow! It’s a good thing the church doesn’t act that way.

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Posted by on January 11, 2010 in Church, Ministry, News stories


Kodak moment

Before the kids headed back to college and grad school, we took a family photo. Mittens even made an appearance.

Jonathan will be starting at Talbot Seminary. Amanda begins her final semester at Biola University. Caitlin is in her second year at Gordon College. Mark & Carol are working hard to pay the bills. Mittens does whatever she wants.

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Posted by on January 8, 2010 in Family & Friends, Photos


How does a busy pastor keep growing?

Pastors are tasked with the responsibility of equipping God’s people for service (Ephesians 4:11-12). But who equips the pastor? Assuming the pastor arrives fully equipped at his church, how does he keep his skills sharp? How does he keep growing in his knowledge of God? How does he deepen his character? How does he develop and sharpen his ministry skills? Who can mentor a busy pastor?

I recently discovered some valuable resources on iTunesU. A number of colleges and universities offer online courses that can be downloaded to your iPod. I was pleased to discover that Dallas Theological Seminary, where I received my master’s degree, was on the list. I listened to a course on Leadership from Dr. Howard Hendricks. It was a good reminder of some of the things I learned while a student at DTS. In addition to Dr. Hendricks’ course, I also downloaded courses by Dr. Pentecost and Dr. Toussaint.

Another helpful resource on the same list is “Preaching Points” from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. “Preaching Points” is a weekly podcast from the Center for Preaching at GCTS. There are over 100+ recordings, most in the 5-6 minute range. The topics are all related to preaching–preparation, delivery, audience, etc. I listen to 2-3 per day, and it gives me food for thought.

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Posted by on January 7, 2010 in Personal growth, Preaching