Monthly Archives: February 2010

Has the world lost its mind?

A smattering of headlines from this past week reinforces a statement once made by a friend of mine, “Why be surprised when the world acts like the world?”

  • “Ain’t no party like a gold medal party” – Account of the Canadian women’s hockey team celebrating their gold medal victory by drinking champagne and beer and smoking cigars on the ice. It’s curious to see the varied responses–from the SI reporter saying it’s no big deal to Gilbert Felli, the IOC’s executive director of the Olympic Games, saying, “It is not what we want to see. I don’t think it’s a good promotion of sport values. If they celebrate in the changing room, that’s one thing, but not in public. We will investigate what happened.” Ron Judd of the Seattle Times made one of the more insightful comments, “However you feel about the celebration, note the non-apology apology: We’re sorry if anyone was offended by our actions. Translation: We’re not sorry, get over it. It’s all the rage these days.”




  • “US emerges as winter Olympics behemoth.” Does anything promote nationalistic pride like the Olympic Games? Steve Kelley made one of the funnier statements as he took a swipe at the Canadians when he said, The USA “is leading the medal count. Maybe it doesn’t own the podium, but with a week to go, it has a signed a lease and has an option to buy.”


  • “Plushenko spoilt my moment: Lysacek.”  Has anyone ever shown less of the Olympic spirit and more of a sour grapes attitude than Yevgeny Plushenko did when he dissed Evan Lysacek following the men’s ice skating final?

What a strange world we live in!

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Posted by on February 26, 2010 in Culture, News stories, Sports


The Big 10 (Minnesota version)

A friend sent me the Minnesota version of the 10 Commandments.

  1. Der’s only one God, ya know.
  2. Don’t make that fish on your mantle an idol.
  3. Cussin ain’t Minnesota nice.
  4. Go to church even when you’re up nort.
  5. Honor your folks.
  6. Don’t kill. Catch and release.
  7. There’s only one Lena for every Ole. No cheatin.
  8. If it ain’t your lutefisk, don’t take it.
  9. Don’t be braggin bout how much snow ya shoveled.
  10. Keep your mind off your neighbor’s hotdish.

There’s gotta be a Ballard version of this somewhere in Seattle.

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Posted by on February 26, 2010 in Fun


The Ten Commandments of Preaching

J. Tyler Scarlett wrote an insightful article, “The Ten Commandments of Preaching,” in the March/April 2010 issue of Preaching magazine.  Here is a condensed version of his list:

  1. Thou shalt not put words in God’s mouth. God doesn’t need our help to add to or take away from his word.
  2. Thou shalt prepare and preach every message as though it were thy last. Regardless of the size of the crowd, don’t take any opportunity lightly. It may be your last sermon or the last sermon someone listening ever hears.
  3. Thou shalt not present the Word of God in a boring and non-compelling manner. If someone falls asleep during your sermon, it’s not God’s fault. Plead passionately and desperately with those listening to hear and heed God’s word.
  4. Thou always shalt point to Christ in thy message. Seeing that Christ is the focal point of every passage, he should be the focal point of every sermon.
  5. Thou shalt edify they hearers to faith and obedience. Remind people that whatever the issue or doctrine at hand God and his word are reliable.
  6. Thou shalt not be one kind of person and another kind of preacher. Don’t live like the devil during the week and expect to preach with the tongue of an angel on Sunday. Don’t try to imitate other preachers; be yourself.
  7. Thou shalt not open a commentary until thou hast read the passage 100 times. The truth is most powerful when it is from the lips of a person whose heart and mind have marinated extensively in God’s Word.
  8. Honor thine context above all else, so that it may go well with thee in thy message. Don’t ever lose the context.
  9. Thou shalt make the point of the text the point of the message. Don’t dumb-down the Bible; smarten-up the people. The Bible is the most relevant thing in the universe because God is the most relevant Being in the universe.
  10. Thou shalt preach and teach doctrine above all else. Many churches are weak and lifeless because they have spiritual anemia–they lack doctrinal iron in their bloodstreams.
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Posted by on February 25, 2010 in Preaching, Quotes


What Tolkien taught me about facing the future

I have long admired and enjoyed J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I have read each of the books several times. Last week I completed yet another journey through the audio book version. I have also watched the movie version of LOTR several times as well. I’m impressed with and appreciative of what Peter Jackson did with LOTR and look forward to his handling of The Hobbit. 

As much as I enjoy the story, J. R. R. Tolkien also taught me a great deal about facing the future through the actions of Theoden, Denethor, and Aragorn.

Theoden was King of Rohan, the horse people. He hid in the shadows of his hall avoiding change. He resigned himself to dwindling health and power. He spent far too much time listening to the whispers of the enemy, believing that he was too old, too feeble, too outnumbered. He bought into the lie that there was nothing he could do to change things anyway.

Denethor was the Steward of Gondor, the white city on the edge of Mordor. Denethor grasped onto his position and clung to his power. He resisted change and refused to acknowledge or recognize the new king. He would not yield his rule to another. Having listened to the dreams of the enemy, he gave into fear. Believing that hope was gone and doom was inevitable, he counseled others to die in the way that seemed best to them.

Aragorn saw the challenges of the future. He recognized the strength of the enemy. He knew he was outnumbered and outgunned. Yet he willingly struck out on a dangerous journey. He relied on the help of trusted friends. He counted the cost and set his hand to the task for which he had been called. He pursued his destiny with all the strength he could muster.

I first reflected on these contrasts 6 years ago when I was on the verge of leaving a secure position as an associate pastor to pursue an unknown road of becoming a senior pastor. On February 4, 2004, I wrote these words to some close friends, and later recorded them in my journal: 

These days I feel like Aragorn of the first two books of The Lord of the Rings–haunted by the failures of the past, fearful of making the same mistakes, reluctant to take on the role for which he was born. I want to be Aragorn of the third book–stepping boldly into leadership, bringing encouragement to the fainthearted, leading a fellowship of people to victory. My fear is that if I stay at (my current ministry at that time) I will either become Theoden–listening to the whispers of the enemy and becoming a shell of a man, or Denethor–grasping onto a position of power, marking time, whose senses were dulled to the truth of his situation.

I want to live boldly and follow God’s path for my life. I don’t want to settle for the safe, easy choice. It would seem that the best course of action would be to remain in the crucible of this trial for a while longer. While I want to remain faithful at (my ministry at that time) while I wait, I need to press forward and reach toward that which I believe God has called me to do.

Six years after writing those words, the characters of Theoden, Denethor, and Aragorn continue to warn and inspire me.

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Posted by on February 22, 2010 in Books, Character, Personal growth


The closer you get to the light, the more you see the dirt

Sunshine.  50 degrees. Blue, cloudless skies. A gorgeous February day in Seattle. You can see the Olympic Mountains in the west and the Cascade Mountains in the east. There’s not many places prettier.

Unless, of course, you are looking at that view through dirty, spotted windows. Then the blessing of sunshine becomes a curse. The sunshine reveals the dirt hidden through a long, gray winter.

Which explains why I found myself atop an extension ladder this morning washing our windows. I got tired of the dirt and decided to remove it from my sight. It’s amazing how much clearer and prettier the world looks when you clean your windows.

For the same reason, I washed my car this week. When I go to work in the dark and come home in the dark and it is gray and rainy all day long, I don’t notice the dirt. But when the sun came out, I realized, “Yuck!” (My motivation was helped because I was doing a funeral and did not want to drive up to the graveside service in a filthy car.)

One of the properties of sunshine is that it reveals dirt. The closer you get to the light, the more you see the dirt. The same thing is true of relationship with God.

The apostle John described God by saying, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). As we grow in our relationship with God, we become more aware of the dirt in our lives. The brightness of his holiness exposes how unholy we really are. We need someone to wash the windows of our soul, as it were. Fortunately for us, God offers to do that on a regular basis, provided we acknowledge the spots, dirt, and sin. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Is it time to wash your windows?


A legacy to celebrate

This week I had the privilege of doing the funeral for a 92-year-old Proverbs 31 woman. One after another, her children and grandchildren sung the praises of her character and love for Jesus. One told how her life reflected the 3 F’s–Family, Faith, and Food. Another spoke of how she wrote encouraging letters that arrived just when they were most needed. Still another told of how he always felt she had time to listen. One mentioned that she prayed for each of her children and grandchildren and told them she hoped to see them in heaven. Her daughter said she rejoiced in December when one of her great-grandchildren trusted Christ as Savior. After a life well lived, her children and grandchildren were rising up and calling her, “Blessed.” What a great, encouraging example!

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Posted by on February 20, 2010 in Character, Funerals


Crisis du jour

In a discussion about sermon preparation, one person asked me, “What is your normal schedule? What does your average week look like?”

I laughed and said, “I’m not sure there is a normal week for a pastor. There are certain priorities I try to maintain, sermon preparation among them. But how I spend my week depends on the crisis du jour (crisis of the day).”

This week’s crisis is a funeral. A long-time member of the church went to be with the Lord early Monday morning. The memorial service was on Thursday. Since Thursday comes before Sunday, I focused on preparing for the funeral before working on my sermon for Sunday.

Last week’s crisis was computer repair. Two of the office computers were giving new meaning to the term “snail mail.” So I did some research and discovered they only had 512MB of RAM. I ordered the appropriate parts to upgrade them to 2GB, and when they arrived, took the computers apart and installed the RAM.

During January – March, I spend time with the Nominating Committee discussing, choosing, and recruiting folks to serve in leadership positions for the next year. During the same time frame, I work with the staff, elders, and finance team to plan and put together the budget for the next fiscal year.

That being said, I suppose my normal week is one filled with various and sundry tasks. Some days I function as a Senior Pastor, other days like an Executive Pastor, and still others as a Counselor, Teacher, and/or Administrative Assistant. Life in a small church is never dull.

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Posted by on February 19, 2010 in Church, Ministry


Secret sins don’t hold water

“I can see the water, but I can’t see where it is coming from,” I said to my wife. “I don’t know where it is leaking.”

My wife was moving things underneath the kitchen sink and discovered water where it shouldn’t be. It’s not like there was standing water threatening to drip down through the floor and into the family room below. It’s not like we needed to get the waders out. But there were enough drips to cause concern and cancel my immediate plans.

I examined all of the elbows, joints, traps, and connections from the sink to the garbage disposal. Everything was tight. They were wet, but not leaking. I checked the sink drain itself. It seemed to be ok as well. A bit loose, but nothing serious. The next time I was at the hardware store, I told myself, I’ll pick up some plumber’s putty and reseat the drain. I was mystified. I could not see any leaks. I gave up and started fixing lunch.

Meanwhile, my wife filled the sink with water in order to soak a plant. Can you say, LEAK!?!?

I put my lunch fixings away and headed to the hardware store for plumber’s putty and plumber’s tape.

Arriving back home, I starting taking the sink and drain apart. Whereupon I discovered the real culprit–A flange that secures the drain to the sink had a tiny crack in it on the backside of the sink. The crack was just big enough to loosen the drain seal and allow water to leak through. But it was small enough so it was not visible until you dismantled everything and brought it out into the light.

One more trip to the hardware store to buy the appropriate flange.

Once everything was retaped, reputtied, and tightened down, the water stayed where it was supposed to–in the sink and in the pipes, and not on the floor.

I wonder how many people have secret sins that are draining the vitality from their lives. I wonder how many simply live with a leak instead of trying to find the culprit and fix it. I wonder how many try to plug the holes with putty and patch the cracks with tape instead of replacing the cracked portion of their lives.

Who knew I would discover a spiritual lesson underneath the kitchen sink?

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Posted by on February 17, 2010 in Character, Home, Personal growth


Birthday traditions

Cake. Ice cream. Blowing out the candles. Balloons. Party hats and favors. Gifts. What more could you ask for in a birthday celebration? What other traditions do you need?

Our family practices three traditions when it comes to celebrating birthdays. They have been practiced through the years, though geography is now making them more difficult.

One tradition was that I took each of my children out to breakfast on their respective birthday. I started when they were perhaps 3 or 4 years old and continued until they left home for college. In earlier years, it was breakfast at McDonalds for the two of us, before they were dropped off at school. As they grew older, their tastes (and mine) grew more elaborate and expensive. We moved from McD’s to IHOP or Village Square Cafe in Redmond. It was a great way to start their day and honor them as special. With the kids away at college, I’ve had to settle for a phone call instead of a meal. A good thing, but just not the same.

Another favorite tradition was the birthday dinner. The birthday boy/girl/mom/dad got to determine the menu of their choice, regardless of what it was. Needless to say, favorite foods made the list. The birthday person’s meal was served on a red, “You are special” plate. Most years, it included me making a chocolate swirl cheesecake as the birthday cake of choice.

A third family tradition is one that only I have had the privilege of enjoying. In 1994, when our children were 8, 6, and 4, Carol bought a journal and had each one of the kids and herself write a note to me on my birthday. For some reason, we missed 2009, but each year since ’94, I’ve received a handwritten entry from each of the kids and my wife. When they were small, Carol played the role of scribe and the child  scrawled their name at the end. This week, each one sent their note by email and my wife cut and pasted them into the journal. It has become the favorite part of my birthday, much more so than any present I’ve been given.

Thanks, guys, for keeping the tradition alive.

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Posted by on February 12, 2010 in Family & Friends, Fun


Why didn’t I listen to my father?

In his later years, my father would often say, “Mark, never get old.” As it turns out, I didn’t listen very well.

I can now order off the senior’s menu at Denny’s. I have been on AARP’s recruiting list for the past five years. My age is now the same as the year of my birth. The next time I renew my driver’s license will be when I turn 60. I can now get on the waiting list for a retirement community.

Perhaps I dozed off at some point, but when did I get old?

If I listen to the culture around me, I will conclude that my life is over. I’m on the downward slope towards obscurity. I better start shopping for hearing aids, bifocals, rocking chairs, and a quiet retirement community where others can take care of me while I fill my days with leisure and golf.

If I take my inspiration from the pages of Scripture, however, I will conclude that my latter years could be the most fruitful years of my life. Moses was 80 when he stepped into his first ministry as the deliverer of Israel. Joshua was 65 when he led Israel in conquering the Promised Land. Caleb was still a warrior in his 80’s when he asked Joshua for the most challenging parcel of land in Canaan. John was possibly in his 80’s or 90’s when he wrote 1, 2, & 3 John, and the Book of Revelation.

While I cannot obey my father and not grow older, I can listen to his advice and not get old. Rather than start sliding for home, I want to listen for the call of God and follow him wherever he might lead.

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Posted by on February 10, 2010 in Character, Personal growth