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Monthly Archives: January 2011

Having eyes that see

I am intrigued by Sherlock Holmes. Watching the 2009 movie twice in the past month probably did it. Listening to the audio version of The Complete Stories of Sherlock Holmes certainly contributed to my interest. What strikes me as the secret to his success is not his intellect or his ability to tie loose ends together. What stands out is his ability to observe and see things that others miss.

In the opening scene of the 2009 movie, Holmes prevents Dr. Watson from charging Lord Blackwood and impaling himself on a glass blade. Watson asks, “How did you see that?” To which Sherlock Holmes replies matter-of-factly, “Because I was looking for it.”

When Holmes meets Mary Morstan for the first time, she comments that seeing little details are not that important. Holmes replies that the little details make all the difference in the world.

What is true for crime fighters is also true for Bible study. During Dr. Howard Hendricks’ course on Bible Study Methods and his book, Living by the Book: The art and science of reading the Bible, Prof Hendricks emphasized the importance of observing the Bible passage to see what it says. “The more time you spend in observation, the less you will need in interpretation, and the more accurate your interpretation will be,” he said over and over again.

Instead of merely reading a chapter a day to keep the devil away, spending seven minutes with God, or rushing through our devotions to check it off our list, we need to slow down, open our eyes, and really read the Scriptures. It takes time, effort, and diligent study to really learn. We need to ask questions–Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How? in order to discover the meaning of the text.

The same thing is true for getting to know God better. In his book and study, Experiencing God, author Henry Blackaby makes the point that we need to look for where God is already at work. His point is that God is active in our world. If we want to know him better, then we only need to open our eyes and look for him.

Like Sherlock Holmes, the only way we will see the meaning of the Scriptures, the only way we will see where God is at work, is if we are looking for it.

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2011 in Bible Study, Books, Movies, Theology

 

Contentment

“If we have not what we desire, we have more than we deserve.” Thomas Watson in The Art of Divine Contentment

In one brief sentence, this Puritan writer sketches the kind of perspective I desperately need as I live in a materialistic, consumer oriented culture where your value is measured by your “stuff.” Convicting, thought-provoking sentiment, indeed. May this perspective be true in my life!

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2011 in Books, Character, Quotes

 

30 Days to Russia

Carol and I leave for Russia in less than one month. Here is a copy of our most recent letter to our supporters. Please join us in prayer for this ministry.

     

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2011 in House of Grace, Ministry, Russia

 

Redefining success

I used to play trumpet in our high school marching band. Half-time shows were fun. Parades were good, too. But the least favorite part of both was marking time. You expend a great deal of energy and go nowhere.

That same attitude creeps into my philosophy of life. I want to go somewhere and accomplish something. I don’t want to settle for mediocrity. I don’t want to be content with “good enough.” I don’t want to mark time.

Perhaps that is why God gives me periodic timeouts in his waiting room. According to author Dave Harvey, God uses waiting to help redefine our definition of productivity.

We live in a world where time is money, so speed is essential. We define our success by how “productive” we are, and productivity is wrapped up in activity. We develop daily lists that would take months to accomplish and strive to achieve what no man or woman ever could. We lay our heads on our pillows at night, discouraged about our failure and driven to try harder tomorrow.

God defines productivity differently. For God, productivity is wrapped up in transformation, in who we’re becoming, not in what we’re accomplishing.

Waiting is often God’s reorientation program aimed at our definition of success. He lovingly empties our misguided preoccupation with accomplishment and fills it with ambitions to know him and be like him. God isn’t beyond slowing our walk to remind us that only he is omnipotent, and we’re not; only he is omnicompetent, and we’re not; only he exists without need for rest, and we don’t.

From Rescuing Ambition, by Dave Harvey.

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2011 in Books, Quotes

 

Seahawks “shocking” upset

It turns out the Seattle Seahawks victory over the New Orleans Saints in the first round of the NFL playoffs really did “shock” the world. During Marshawn Lynch’s touchdown run, the stadium was rocking so much that it created a seismic event. Seismologists at the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network detected activity at a sensor that is just west of Qwest Field. The energy was equal to a magnitude 1 or 2 quake, basically a small earthquake though very localized.

Seattle Times writer Danny O’Neill tells the story in a blog post, “The one where the 12th Man shook the earth,” and “Seismic timeline of Marshawn Lynch’s touchdown run,” and an article cowritten with Sandi Doughton, “Seahawks fans’ frenzy felt by seisometer.”

The 12th Man always felt they played a role in the outcome of Seahawks’ games. Now, it has been confirmed that they will move heaven and earth for their team. No doubt, the story will grow into mythic proportions.

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2011 in News stories, Seattle, Sports

 

Don’t ignore the distractions

I lost my entire audience even before I opened my mouth to preach. They were so distracted, I had absolutely no chance of communicating anything worthwhile. So I prayed, and prayed, and prayed, and prayed. And then I acknowledged what everyone already knew, and encouraged them to keep on praying.

During the final worship song before my message, an older gentleman in the congregation collapsed in his pew. Sitting in the front row, I was oblivious to the entire event. But since he was only two rows behind me, the eyes of the entire congregation were on him. Every medical professional in the building converged so as to offer assistance. At least three people were on cell phones calling 911. One person Facebooked the event and asked for prayer.

During the last verse, one person came forward and whispered to me what had happened. 30 seconds later, the worship song ended, and I was to start preaching. Good luck with that!

Normally, I offer a pastoral prayer prior to my message. So I started praying. Admittedly, it was a challenge because I was talking with God while at the same time keeping one eye on the events taking place two rows away. Someone brought a wheelchair down the aisle to try to transport the gentleman to the foyer. They turned around and took it away, and then brought it back. Meanwhile, I’m doing my best imitation of a Senate floor filibuster. I’m praying for the needs of people, corporately confessing our sins, offering praise to God for provision, and asking for open hearts to hear from God. At the same time, I’m thinking, what if they are still working on him when I run out of things to pray for? Do I suggest we sing one more song?

Fortunately, they were able to get the individual into the wheelchair and back to the foyer where the paramedics had arrived and set up shop. But I still needed to regain people’s attention before preaching. So I addressed what was on everyone’s mind. I talked about the person’s medical condition–he has cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy. He has been anxious to get back to church to say “Thank you” for those who have prayed for him. And I encouraged folks to continue praying.

It was only then that I began my message. Was it any coincidence that the message was on how to worship God with our time? Was it any coincidence that one of the principles was that our “times are in your hands” (Psalm 31:15) and that life is short (Psalm 90:10, 12).

Amazing what God chooses to do to capture our attention and teach us what we need to learn. I learned how to deal with distractions in preaching while the congregation learned that because our time is short, we need to live wisely and intentionally in order to accomplish what God wants us to do.

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2011 in Ministry, Prayer, Preaching

 

When you only do one thing

This past week, I drove from Seattle to Los Angeles with my son. Now, no trip to SoCal is complete without at least one meal at In-N-Out Burger. What is unique about In-N-Out is they only do one thing–burgers. Granted, they offer fries, shakes, and soft drinks, but that is the extent of the menu. No hot dogs, pizza, chicken sandwiches, tacos, burritos, or salads. No mochas, smoothees, muffins, or scones. They don’t try to please and/or attract everyone. They are not trying to be all things to all people. All they do is burgers, burgers, burgers.

When you only do one thing, you get pretty good at it. Consequently, In-N-Out is universally acclaimed and well-known. People will drive (or fly) out of their way to get a double-double.

Ironically, my son and I were having the same conversation about life. Rather than try to please everyone, find the one thing you are passionate about and pour your heart into it. Do one thing and do it well. It is a great lesson for life and ministry.

 
 

The incredible shrinking power of ambition

Dave Harvey has written a thought-provoking book on the subject of ambition entitled, Rescuing Ambition. The theme of the book is to reach further and dream bigger dreams for God. Before getting to that theme, he points out what happens when we become relentless self-promoters rather than promoting God’s glory. Instead of expanding our position, “We grow small trying to be great.”

In his description of the incredible shrinking power of ambition, Dave provides an insightful, and humorous description of the nature of sin.

Earlier I mentioned my struggle with the wrong kinds of ambition. I call them “Davebitions.” So often I’m Davebitious. I assume that my family would work much better if they all majored in Daveology. Friendships work best if they have a Davetistic bent. I believe many of life’s misunderstandings could be cleared up with just a few Daveological insights. Overall the world would be a better place if we could just celebrate an annual Davetoberfest.

I guess you can call me a Daveaholic. There, I’ve said it. I fee so much better.

After I finished chuckling at his description, I realized that I am just as much a Markaholic as he is a Daveaholic. I am afflicted with the same self-centered disease. When I promote “ME,” my unchecked ambition makes me a much smaller man.

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2011 in Books, Character, Quotes, Theology

 

Legacies of a godly life

I attended three funerals in the past 17 days, two of which were in the last six days. I wrote about the first one previously and described it as a sweet, attractive, yet empty affair. The family and friends described the deceased as a wonderful, fun-loving person. But no one said a word about his faith.

The same cannot be said for the last two memorial services I attended. Both of them were living testimonies of faith in Jesus Christ.

Last week’s service was for a man who entered the presence of his Savior at the age of 91. Yesterday’s affair was for a man who was 83 years young. The former helped found the Rainbow Lodge Retreat Center in North Bend, WA. The latter was for a long-time, faithful pastor who led and shepherded several congregations, including the one I now serve. Both of the services included testimonies from the men’s children and grandchildren who spoke of their godly influence, encouragement, and example of faith. Both of the gentlemen were men who fought the good fight, ran the good race, finished their course well, and then entered the presence of Jesus and received their rewards (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

I was encouraged by their examples and challenged to consider the legacy that I am leaving behind for my children, friends, and congregation.

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2011 in Funerals

 

Are we becoming more self-centered?

The Barna research organization has released it’s latest report, this time giving insight into people’s New Year’s resolutions. The report is entitled, “Individualism Shines Through Americans’ 2011 New Year’s Resolutions.” It suggests that while making resolutions is a common experience, very few people report achieving any kind of measurable change.

One reason for the lack of change is that many people only make a half-hearted effort to change. Only one out of every five people say they are “definitely” planning to make resolutions. However, planning to make a resolution is not the same thing as making one. Since only one of out four Americans found their commitments resulted in lasting change, it may explain why many give up before even starting.

Another reason people struggle to keep their commitments is that they try to do it on their own. The study revealed that very few planned on having accountability or a support system in place to help them stick to their commitments.

Not suprisingly, as the chart indicates, most Americans focus on self-oriented changes when making resolutions. Over half of the resolutions related to weight, diet, and health; money, debt, and finances; and personal improvement. What is missing from the list are commitments to improve one’s relationships with others or with God. The survey also revealed nothing being said about becoming more green. “No one connects their New Year’s resolutions with personal responsibility in this area.”

The author summarizes his findings by stating,

Americans maintain a love-hate relationship with New Year’s resolutions: millions of people make them, but they rarely report success as a result. This research underscores that most humans want to experience some sort of personal change in their lives, but achieving such objectives is both difficult and uncommon.

Maybe most problematic, American hinge their efforts at personal change by focusing almost exclusively on themselves, rather than realizing that lasting change often comes by serving and sacrificing for others. Churches and faith communities have a significant opportunity to help people identify what makes for transformational change and how to best achieve those objectives–especially by relying on goals and resources beyond their individualism.

Taking these insights into consideration, how can the church help people . . .

  • become mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28), especially if spiritual growth is not a felt need?
  • be more other focused rather than self-centered?
  • understand that while self-improvement is important, it will not bring lasting satisfaction?
  • practice true community, supporting and encouraging one another, thus providing the necessary accountability and support needed to be successful?

Interesting food for thought.

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2011 in Church, Culture, News stories