Monthly Archives: September 2010

The Woodcutter’s Wisdom

I was sharing with a friend that my hair was continuing to fall out. To encourage me to maintain perspective, they sent me the following Russian tale.

Once there was an old man who lived in a tiny village. Although poor, he was envied by all, for he owned a beautiful white horse. Even the king coveted his treasure. A horse like this had never been seen before—such was its splendor, its majesty, its strength.

People offered fabulous prices for the steed, but the old man always refused. “This horse is not a horse to me,” he would tell them. “It is a person. How could you sell a person? He is a friend, not a possession. How could you sell a friend?” The man was poor and the temptation was great. But he never sold the horse.

One morning he found that the horse was not in the stable. All the village came to see him. “You old fool,” they scoffed, “we told you that someone would steal your horse. We warned you that you would be robbed. You are so poor. How could you ever hope to protect such a valuable animal? It would have been better to have sold him. You could have gotten whatever price you wanted. No amount would have been too high. Now the horse is gone, and you’ve been cursed with misfortune.”

The old man responded, “Don’t speak too quickly. Say only that the horse is not in the stable. That is all we know; the rest is judgment. If I’ve been cursed or not, how can you know? How can you judge?”

The people contested, “Don’t make us out to be fools! We may not be philosophers, but great philosophy is not needed. The simple fact that your horse is gone is a curse.”

The old man spoke again. “All I know is that the stable is empty, and the horse is gone. The rest I don’t know. Whether it be a curse or a blessing, I can’t say. All we can see is a fragment. Who can say what will come next?”

The people of the village laughed. They thought that the man was crazy. They had always thought he was a fool; if he wasn’t, he would have sold the horse and lived off the money. But instead, he was a poor woodcutter, an old man still cutting firewood and dragging it out of the forest and selling it. He lived hand to mouth in the misery of poverty. Now he had proven that he was, indeed, a fool.

After fifteen days, the horse returned. He hadn’t been stolen; he had run away into the forest. Not only had he returned, he had brought a dozen wild horses with him. Once again the village people gathered around the woodcutter and spoke. “Old man, you were right and we were wrong. What we thought was a curse was a blessing. Please forgive us.”

The man responded, “Once again, you go too far. Say only that the horse is back. State only that a dozen horses returned with him, but don’t judge. How do you know if this is a blessing or not? You see only a fragment. Unless you know the whole story, how can you judge? You read only one page of a book. Can you judge the whole book? You read only one word of a phrase. Can you understand the entire phrase?

“Life is so vast, yet you judge all of life with one page or one word. All you have is a fragment! Don’t say that this is a blessing. No one knows. I am content with what I know. I am not perturbed by what I don’t.”

“Maybe the old man is right,” they said to one another. So they said little. But down deep, they knew he was wrong. They knew it was a blessing. Twelve wild horses had returned with one horse. With a little bit of work, the animals could be broken and trained and sold for much money.

The old man had a son, an only son. The young man began to break the wild horses. After a few days, he fell from one of the horses and broke both legs. Once again the villagers gathered around the old man and cast their judgments.

“You were right,” they said. “You proved you were right. The dozen horses were not a blessing. They were a curse. Your only son has broken his legs, and now in your old age you have no one to help you. Now you are poorer than ever.”

The old man spoke again. “You people are obsessed with judging. Don’t go so far. Say only that my son broke his legs. Who knows if it is a blessing or a curse? No one knows. We only have a fragment. Life comes in fragments.”

It so happened that a few weeks later the country engaged in war against a neighboring country. All the young men of the village were required to join the army. Only the son of the old man was excluded, because he was injured. Once again the people gathered around the old man, crying and screaming because their sons had been taken. There was little chance that they would return. The enemy was strong, and the war would be a losing struggle. They would never see their sons again.

“You were right, old man,” they wept. “God knows you were right. This proves it. Your son’s accident was a blessing. His legs may be broken, but at least he is with you. Our sons are gone forever.”

The old man spoke again. “It is impossible to talk with you. You always draw conclusions. No one knows. Say only this: Your sons had to go to war, and mine did not. No one knows if it is a blessing or a curse. No one is wise enough to know. Only God knows.”

The old man was right. We only have a fragment. Life’s mishaps and horrors are only a page out of a grand book. We must be slow about drawing conclusions. We must reserve judgment on life’s storms until we know the whole story.

We don’t know where the woodcutter learned his patience. Perhaps from another woodcutter in Galilee. For it was the Carpenter who said it best: “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” (Mt. 6:34)

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 30, 2010 in Character, Personal growth


New ways to lose

How in the world do you lose a baseball game on a game-ending strikeout? The Seattle Mariners achieved a new low in doing so this afternoon.  Unbelievable. This might make SportsCenter, but not under the Top 10 Plays.

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 29, 2010 in News stories, Seattle, Sports


Pastoral musings

How do you transform a church culture from being inward focused to outward focused? How do you get people to leave their friends and welcome newcomers? How do you engage people in worship when they don’t like the music? How do you get people off the sidelines and into ministry? How do you change a culture from being passive reactors to being proactive initiators? How do you help people believe they can do it when they have been told they are not qualified or good enough? How do you transform uncommitted attenders to committed members to faithful servants to sold-out followers of Christ? How do you move individuals from having Christ as “a priority” to becoming “THE PRIORITY” in their lives? How do you help people grow up, from being dependent on spoon-feeding to being able to feed themselves spiritually? How do you move people from resisting change to welcoming change and to desiring change? How do you convince people to let go of anger, grudges, and resentment and to pursue forgiveness and reconciliation? How do you transform people from listeners to learners, from disciples to disciple makers? How do you transform a culture from being satisfied, content, and complacent to desiring to become all that God intended them to be?

What will it take for the Spirit of God to break through? Where do I need to change in order to be more effective and fruitful?

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 29, 2010 in Church, Ministry, Passion, Personal growth


Don’t wait for when

How often do I get into the trap of waiting for when . . . , then . . . ?

  • When the kids are home, then we’ll talk about this issue.
  • When I preach the right sermon, then people will change.
  • When I change churches, then I can truly worship.
  • When I get a better job, then I’ll think about remodeling the house.
  • When I lose weight, then I’ll have more friends.
  • When my hair grows back, then I can be more outgoing.
  • When I get a bigger house, then I can invite people over.
  • When we get out of debt, then we can give back to God.
  • When my kids come back to my church, then we’ll be a family.
  • When other people change, then I’ll finally be happy.
  • When I finish school, then I’ll think about leading.
  • When I retire, then I can serve.

Rather than wait for when, how can I enjoy God’s blessings now? How can I serve God right now? How can I inject more “life” into my life today?

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 28, 2010 in Personal growth


A day of firsts

Saturday, my wife and I did the Puyallup. For the first time in 20 years of living in Seattle, we actually attended the Washington State Fair. We watched mutton busting–6-year-olds riding sheep, saw the draft horse wagon pull–pretty impressive, walked through several exhibits, and enjoyed a scone and some tasty barbecue. Afterwards, I commented that it was the first time in quite awhile we did something together that did not involve church, working on the house, or the kids. Hopefully, we won’t wait quite so long for the next one.

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 27, 2010 in Family & Friends, Washington State


Killing giants

Preparing to preach on David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17), I asked myself the question, “What are the giants that people face today?” I came up with a list of the usual suspects–worries about health, finances, future, relationships, job, raising children, aging parents, etc. Then I started thinking, “How do I face my own giants?”

My Goliath stands between me and success in ministry. He tries to get me to doubt myself or turn and attack those who did not choose me or slighted me in some way. I face my giants of rejection, discouragement, and disappointment at every turn. He whispers I’m not qualified, gifted, or wanted. He tells me to give up and not try rather than fail and be disappointed. He tells me I’m not adequate or worthy.

But like David explaining his qualifications to King Saul, I am reminded that God uniquely created me, gifted me, and wired me with the right personality, passion, style, and temperament. He has made me competent. God blessed me with enough education and broad experience. He granted me unique experiences which shaped my perspective and philosophy. God has given me enough success to develop confidence, and yet enough failure to develop humility and brokenness. My challenges and experiences have taught me to depend on him for strength and power. He called me, prepared me, and placed me where he wants me. He also placed much needed giants in my path to test me and teach me to rely on him for deliverance.

“Blessed be the name of the LORD from this time forth and forevermore! From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the LORD is to be praised!” (Psalm 113:2-3)

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 26, 2010 in Character, Passion, Personal growth, Scripture


When God answers prayer, Celebrate!

I prayed specifically about an issue for several months. God answered clearly and did not stutter. His answer was an unmistakable “No.” Rather than whine, complain, and feel sorry for myself, I stopped at the store and bought some steaks so my wife and I could celebrate God’s answer. God is good!

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 25, 2010 in Character, Personal growth, Prayer


Giant lessons

The story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17 is one of the best known of all the stories in the Bible. Being so familiar, however, we often miss what it is talking about. As I studied the passage this week, here are 11 giant lessons I learned.

This battle was unnecessary. It should have been resolved much earlier (1 Samuel 14). The battle against the Philistines could have been won decisively by the Israelite army except for an edict which Saul foolishly declares forbidding any of his soldiers food before evening. The weariness of the soldiers due to their hunger keeps them from fighting well as the day drags on. Further, the extra time it takes to properly prepare food for this famished army of Israelites cost Saul and his men the window of opportunity for a decisive and final victory over the Philistines.

Both fear (11, 24) and faith (52) are contagious. Be selective who you listen to. On the one hand, Goliath intimidated Israel twice a day for 40 days. As time went on, people began to believe the message—we have no chance against the giant. Fear spread throughout the camp and infected everyone. On the other hand, when David cut off Goliath’s head, his victory inspired the army. They chased the Philistines all the way back to the cities.

A giant’s chief weapon is intimidation (1-11). Intimidation is the major challenge when we face giants. When they intimidate us, we get tongue-tied. We lose our train of thought. We forget how to pray. We focus on the odds against us. We think of all the reasons we are doomed to fail. We forget whom we represent, and we stand there with our knees knocking.

If you tolerate a giant, he will take more and more of your territory (25). Verse 25 contains a curious question, “Have you seen this man who has come up?” Goliath had now crossed the ravine at the base of the valley and is coming up Israel’s side. If you tolerate a Goliath, he’ll take over your territory. He’ll move into your camp. He’ll take your thoughts that normally ought to be on God, and he’ll focus them on himself. We can’t afford to tolerate giants; we have to kill them.

Others may criticize you for tackling a giant (28) or tell you “it can’t be done” (33). There is a Civil War legend that tells of a confused soldier who put on the Confederate gray coat, and the Union blue trousers. From his appearance it was impossible to tell where his sympathies were. So when he went into battle he got shot at from both sides! The Federals shot him in the coat, and the Confederates shot him in the seat of the pants!

While we expect the enemy to shoot at us, there are times when our “friends” and “supporters” will also take shots at us. If we take a stand for faith or want to do something for God, we may embarrass those who are sitting on the sidelines doing nothing. Whether they are intimidated by the enemy or merely comfortable, they may not take kindly to our desires for change.

God uses little tests to prepare us for bigger battles (34-37). God brings small tasks into our lives to prepare us for larger assignments. He brings small challenges and enemies to get us ready for greater ones. We need to remember what God did in the past because it will give us confidence for the future. Too often, we remember the defeats and forget the victories. We remember what we should forget and forget what we should remember.

Keep the giant in perspective (36-37). Having fought a lion and a bear, David saw Goliath as just one more predator. If God delivered him from those, what’s one more?

Don’t rely on other’s weapons. Use ones you have confidence in (38-40). Don’t put on someone else’s armor. Don’t rely on other people’s faith. Don’t rely on their weapons. Study, prepare, learn, and develop confidence in your own resources and weapons. God provides unique techniques for unique people.

Keep your focus on God, not the giant (41-47). No matter how big the giant might be, God is greater.

When God is on your side, you are never outnumbered (45). David had a sling and five stones against a heavily armed giant. On the one hand, he had no chance. On the other hand, he did not put his trust in his weapons; he put his trust in God.

Deal with giants decisively (48-51). Don’t tolerate giants of worry, fear, intimidation, and sin. Put them to death. If you don’t, they will continue to plague you.

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 24, 2010 in Character, Passion, Personal growth, Scripture


Effective communicators

There is a great difference between merely being a good speaker and one who really knows what he’s talking about. In his book, Everyone communicates, Few Connect, author John Maxwell tells the following story about the great actor Charles Laughton.

It’s said that Laughton was attending a Christmas party with a family in London. During the evening the host asked everyone attending to recite a favorite passage that best represented the spirit of Christmas. When it was Laughton’s turn, he skillfully recited Psalm 23. Everyone applauded his performance, and the process continued.

The last to participate was an adored elderly aunt who had dozed off in a corner. Someone gently woke her, explained what was going on, and asked her to take part. She thought for a moment and then began in her shaky voice, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want . . .” When she finished, everyone was in tears.

When Laughton departed at the end of the evening, a member of the family thanked him for coming and remarked about the difference in the response by the family to the two recitations of the psalm. When asked his opinion on the difference, Laughton responded, “I know the psalm; she knows the Shepherd.”

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 23, 2010 in Books, Preaching, Quotes


Invoking the Klinger defense

I received a note from someone explaining he and his wife were leaving our church because they preferred a more contemporary style of ministry. While I was sad to see them leave, I could not argue with their reasons. I too prefer a more contemporary approach to music and ministry. I recognize that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to ministry. Not every church can minister to every person. You need to find a church where you feel at home, where you can grow, and where you can contribute to the ministry.

If he left it there, I would be sad but understanding. It was when he invoked the Klinger defense that my eyebrows were raised.

Corporal Maxwell Klinger was a character in M.A.S.H. who feigned insanity as a strategy for being sent home from the Korean War. However, the fact he could think of ingenious ways to appear insane demonstrated he was in his right mind.

My friend said that he and his wife were younger followers of Christ who needed a more contemporary approach to grow spiritually. A more traditional approach to ministry “blocked” them from hearing the message of Christ. Therefore, we should allow them to find a church that caters to their preferences.

The problem with that argument is the fact that in developing it in the first place proves the individual is not as immature as he lets on. That’s high level reasoning. Instead of being excused for being immature, he should be held accountable for the fact that he knows better.

If you have a preference for a style of music and ministry, be honest enough to admit it. Just don’t invoke the Klinger defense and justify it with creative rationalizations.

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 22, 2010 in Character, Church