Monthly Archives: September 2011

Does God need my help?

A couple years back, I was introduced to the writings of Rick Riordan. He is best known for his series of novels on Greek and Egyptian mythology–Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Kane Chronicles, and the Heroes of Olympus. They are fun, enjoyable books about the adventures of heroes.

All of Riordan’s books have a theme–the gods, whether Greek, Roman, or Egyptian, need the help of humans. In his novels, the heroes are demi-gods, or the children of the gods when they hooked up with mortals. A few weeks ago, I saw the trailer of an upcoming movie entitled, “Immortals.” The tagline? “The Gods need a hero!”

While I enjoy the stories and adventures, they got me to thinking. Does God really need my help? Is he in trouble? Did the enemy back him into a corner? Was he surprised by a disastrous turn of events? Did his greed, pride, lust, or impatience lead him to make a faulty decision which resulted in his peril? Does God need my help to bail him out?

Lest we be too hard on writers of mythology, there are some biblical characters who practiced the same philosophy. Abram and Sarai knew that God had promised them a son in their old age (Genesis 15). After waiting a dozen years, they took matters into their own hands and followed a custom of the day to produce an heir (Genesis 16). They tried to bail God out and it led to a disastrous mess the world is till dealing with today (conflict in the Middle East).

In contrast, the patriarch Job knew that God was sovereignly in control. “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). In his announcement to Mary about the birth of Jesus, the angel, Gabriel, described God as the one for whom nothing is impossible (Luke 1:37).

So, does God need my help? No. He is the almighty God. He is sovereignly in control.

Does God use my help? Yes. In the same way that God chose Moses to be the human deliverer of Israel during the Exodus, so God allows us to partner with him in his plans and purposes today.

He doesn’t need our help, but he gives us the privilege of being involved in his work.

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Posted by on September 28, 2011 in Books, Theology


Finding a place where you can hear from God

In his book, Building Below the Waterline: Shoring Up the Foundations of Leadership, author Gordon MacDonald makes the case that pastors need to find a place where they can hear from God. When business meetings go south, when conflict arises, when people show their shallowness and carnality, a pastor needs a quiet place where he can get a reality check. For Moses, that was the tent of meeting.

When everything fell apart, when even his brother, Aaron, momentarily betrayed the cause, Moses had a place to go where he could reinforce himself in the presence of God.

That raises a question for me: Do most leaders have something similar to Moses’ tent? Let me suggest that an office, from which most leaders operate, won’t do. It’s simply too distracting a place.

One of the uber-temptations of a leader is to become so absorbed in the fortunes of his organization or church that his perception of reality becomes controlled by what people are or are not doing. A leader is on quicksand when the applause or the apathy of followers becomes the measure of his success and satisfaction.

For Moses, when things turned ugly, he regularly headed to the tent for a reality check.

I agree wholeheartedly with Pastor MacDonald’s advice. This summer, I came to the realization that my office was too distracting for me to think and pray adequately. I needed to find a quiet place to engage in those activities.

I started leaving the office at noon on Fridays to go to a park where I could sit, walk, think, pray, and listen. I prayed through issues as I watched the paddle boats on Green Lake. I thought about staff issues as I watched the ducks on Pine Lake. I walked numerous times around the baseball fields at East Sammamish Park as I sought God’s direction.

I found the practice so beneficial that I started making it a regular habit. I even told the elders of our church, so that they would be aware, and so they would hold me accountable to keep doing it.


The panorama of God’s amazing grace

Book Review: The Grace of God, by Andy Stanley

“We find in the pages of Scripture that the stories there often mirror our own stories, and that we too need the very thing we do not deserve: the grace of God.”

That statement summarizes the message and outline of Andy Stanley’s book, The Grace of God. He traces the theme of God’s grace through the pages of Scripture, from the Old Testament to the New Testament. But rather than do it thematically or present a theological treatise, he retells the stories of the men and women who experienced God’s grace firsthand.

This approach fits with his premise that grace is understood best within the context of relationship. Drawing from the Old Testament, the author tells the stories of Adam and Eve, Abram and Sarai, Joseph and Judah, the purpose and meaning of the Ten Commandments, Rahab of Jericho, David, and Jonah. From the New Testament, he tells of the experiences of Matthew, Nicodemus, the woman of Samaria, the apostle Paul, and the church in Acts.

Reading the book was a bit like looking at a mountain range through a wide-angle lens. You come away with a sense of the scope and panorama of biblical history. You also walk away with a greater sense of God’s amazing grace. You realize that grace is not just for salvation. It is needed for each and every day. Very encouraging book.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com http://BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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Posted by on September 24, 2011 in Books


Photo Op

“One of the big problems with cameras is that people miss their lives because they’re documenting them.”

Jeff Glasse, of, Cited in Fastcompany, October 2011

Wise advice for those of us who take a lot of pictures or blog about the adventures of others. Don’t forget to live while you are chronicling the lives of others!

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Posted by on September 21, 2011 in Photos, Quotes


The Scroll

Book Review: The Scroll, by Grant R. Jeffrey and Alton L. Gansky

Does the Ark of the Covenant still exist? If so, where is it hidden? Could it be found by archaeologists following clues left behind by Jewish monks some 2,000 years ago? How would the search transform the lives of the searchers? What kind of a furor would be raised if these things were really true?

That is the premise of the novel, The Scroll, by Grant R. Jeffry and Alton L. Gansky. The main character is a biblical archaeologist by the name of Dr. David Chambers. Unfortunately, he walked away from his faith years ago. His former mentor, a Jewish historian, invites him to conduct one more dig in the tunnels underneath ancient Jerusalem. Along the way, Chambers is confronted with failures in his faith, academic discipline, and his personal relationships. But he is also confronted with the possibility of finding treasures that prove the truth of Scripture.

On the whole, I found The Scroll to be an average novel. Not bad, but not great either. For the most part, it was enjoyable.  However, it bogs down in a few places where it tries to explain the academics of archaeology. Some of the dialogue sounds a bit artificial and the ending comes across as predictable. That being said, it was a good read.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.


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Posted by on September 19, 2011 in Books


Back to Russia in 2012

There are some things you never get used to; some things you never get over.

Even after numerous trips to Russia, there are some things you never get used to—seeing military personnel present everywhere you go – in airports, public squares, stores, street corners; eating potatoes, cabbage, and cucumbers at every meal; being greeted with a kiss on the lips by both men and women. There are some things you never get used to.

But there are other things you never get over—seeing babushkas (grandmothers) sweeping the sidewalks with homemade brooms; the lack of hope reflected in the eyes of the people; the lack of a middle class as the gap grows between the haves and have nots; the longing for a better life.

After every trip to Russia, I come home sobered, grateful, humbled, and encouraged. I come home sobered by the needs of the people. I return home grateful for the blessings and freedom God has granted me. I am humbled by the pastors who work a full-time job to pay the bills, serve as a volunteer pastor in their local church, and do it all with the possibility of persecution hanging over their heads. I am encouraged by the men who will drive 16 hours one way to learn what the Bible teaches about leadership. Despite the challenges and hardships, God is doing great things in Russia.

As you may remember, Carol and I were at the House of Grace in Tsibanobalka, Russia, in February 2011. John & Naomi Musgrave, missionaries sent out and supported by Crossroads Bible Church in Bellevue, WA, established the House of Grace as a place where Russian pastors can rest and be renewed along with their families, and where they can deepen their spiritual and emotional health. The House of Grace is located in Tsibanobalka, near Anapa on the northern coast of the Black Sea. During the winter, they offer several 3-day concentrated courses for pastors and emerging leaders on different books of the Bible.

Last February, I taught a course on the book of Joshua, with an emphasis on the principles of leadership in the book. The class included 11 men, 8 of whom traveled 16 hours one way from the region of Kalmykia near the Caspian Sea. The group included pastors, elders, and even one person less than one week old in the faith.

I came home from that trip with a desire to do more to help train and equip the next generation of pastors and emerging leaders in Russia. John & Naomi have invited me to return February 11-21, 2012, for that purpose. The topic is still under consideration and will be finalized in a few weeks. The cost of the trip is $4,880. Approximately three-fourths of the cost covers travel expenses—airfare, visas, lodging, meals, etc., while the remaining one-fourth helps underwrite the cost of the Russian pastors and leaders to attend the class.

Would you consider joining a team to help pray for this vital ministry? Would you prayerfully consider contributing financially so that I can go and help train these men?

If you would like to support the trip financially, please send a check to United Evangelical Free Church, 1420 NW 80th St., Seattle, WA, 98117. Checks should be made out to United EFC with “Black Sea Conference” in the notation line.

All funds received will be used for trip expenses and will not be refundable unless the entire trip is cancelled. Unused funds will be used at the discretion of the Outreach Committee for future short-term ministry trips.

Thanks for your consideration. I’m in your debt.

Following His Footsteps,

Pastor Mark Wheeler



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Posted by on September 19, 2011 in Ministry, Missions, Russia


What is the role/responsibility of an elder?

This weekend, the pastors & elders of United Evangelical Free Church in Seattle had their first ever elders retreat at Warm Beach Camp & Conference Center. The first half of the retreat was focused on answering the question, “What does Scripture say about the role of an Elder? What does each role seem to entail? Are there priorities within these roles?”

We studied the following passages (which pretty much included every passage in the New Testament that talks about elders): Acts 6:1-6; 11:27-30; 14:21-23; 15:1-4; 15:22-29; 16:1-4; 20:17-38; 21:17-26; 1 Timothy 5:17; Titus 1:7-9; Hebrews 13:7, 17-18; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1-6.

From our study, we came to the conclusion that overall, the elder is to be an Overseeing Shepherd—a leader of the flock. In carrying this out he is to focus on the following roles and responsibilities;

  • Ministry of the word*—Teaching  sound doctrine; Preaching (proclamation); Exhortation; Refutation of error
  • Prayer*—[*Ministry  of the Word and Prayer seem to be the key roles of elders]
  • Guardian—Of themselves as elders (seems to be to look out for yourself and the other elders); Of the flock (be alert for danger that may come)
  • Nurture—Spiritual care seems to be a priority for direct action; Physical care seems to be primarily a delegated action, though the responsibility remains with the elders
  • Leadership—While it includes all the above, two key traits seem to stand out: Providing direction; and Stewardship (seeking to care for the flock as God would; God will hold them accountable for their leadership and shepherding)

“Many men get bogged down with administrative details and neglect to serve people as shepherds and teachers”

Gene Getz

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Posted by on September 18, 2011 in Bible Study, Church, Leadership, Scripture


Redefining Ministry Success

For many years, success in church ministry was defined by the three B’s—Buildings (How big is your building? Are you in a building program?); Butts (How many people attend your worship service?); and Budgets (How much money do you take in? How much money do you give to missions?) The church growth and seeker movements added a fourth B—Baptisms (How many people have you led to Christ? How many have you baptized?) In recent years, the really successful pastors have added three more B’s to the list—Books (How many books have your written? What rank and how long on the best seller list?); Blogs (How many people subscribe to your blog?); and Broadcasts (Are you on the radio? TV? Podcast? How many listeners/viewers?)

By these standards, I am a mediocre pastor at best and an abject failure at worst:

  • Buildings—Our church sits on less than an acre with a grand total of 16 parking spots. Our worship center can hold 240 people, if we all hold their breath. Being land-locked, we can’t expand and develop a mega-church campus.
  • Butts—For the past four years, our attendance has fluctuated between 164 and 179. We gain a few, lose a few, but the net stays the same. We’re closer to a small church (under 100) than a mega-church (2000+). Needless to say, I’m not invited to speak at church growth conferences.
  • Budgets—For a church our size, our people are faithful, generous givers. They take care of the staff well and almost 17% of the budget goes to missions. That certainly goes into the success column.
  • Baptisms—We have baptized 10 people in four years, none of whom were new believers.
  • Books—I’ve written one manuscript, but no one wanted to publish it. No success story here.
  • Blogs—I have nine subscribers to my blog. Not a huge following, but a few like to read it.
  • Broadcasts—Nothing to report in media-land.

Measuring myself by the Big 7 of Church Success, it’s no wonder I doubt my abilities and feel I don’t measure up to the big boys.

It’s for this reason Mike Schafer of SonScape gave me the task of redefining what it means to be successful. “Does your definition come from your personality, culture, or Scripture?” he asked me to consider.

In wrestling with Mike’s question, I thought about Isaiah and Jeremiah, men whose task was to preach to people who would never respond (Isaiah 6:8-13; Jeremiah 1:18-19). I considered the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) where three men were given abilities to use in service. Two achieved different levels of success, but both received the same reward, indicating the rewards were given for faithfulness, not fruitfulness. I was reminded of John 15:1-11 where Jesus taught that God produces fruit as we abide in him. The Book of Acts records the numerical growth of the early church. However, the numbers were an incidental byproduct, not the focus or goal. With the increase came greater challenges and in some cases problems.

I came away reminded that my task is to abide in Christ, faithfully use what he has given me to serve him, and trust him to produce the fruit he desires. My task is to abide and serve faithfully. God’s task is to produce the fruit. In wanting to be “successful,” I have assumed a responsibility and burden that was not given to me.

If I stay faithful to what God has called me to do, I will receive the greatest measure of success there is, the words of my Savior and Lord–“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21, 23).


Discipleship for Busy People

The busier life gets, the less time we have for spiritual disciplines. The more stressful life becomes, the less time we spend in silence and solitude. The more demands on our time, the less we give to God.

Or so the conventional reasoning goes. I have heard all those arguments, and used most of them myself. Perhaps that’s why I find Jesus’ example in Mark 3:7-19 both challenging and convicting.

Jesus was no stranger to a stressful, pressure-packed, demanding lifestyle. On one side were people who wanted to kill him (Mark 3:6). These weren’t your ordinary, garden variety critics. They were literally out for his blood. On the other side were needy people who wanted something from Jesus. They included the sick and demon possessed (Mark 3:10-11). The crowd of people pressed in so tightly that Jesus asked his disciples to have an escape pod ready to go at a moment’s notice (Mark 3:9).

Yet in the middle of his demanding schedule, Jesus walks away to be by himself (Mark 3:13a). He spends all night in prayer (Luke 6:12). The very next day, he calls his twelve disciples (Mark 2:13b-14). Jesus had a two-fold purpose for inviting these twelve men to join him—that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach.

This passage addresses two misconceptions about discipleship. The first is that we don’t have time for it. If Jesus can make time in his busy, demanding schedule to spend time with his Father, what prevents us? If he made time to invest in training disciples, what is our excuse?

The second misconception is that far too often we equate discipleship with merely Bible study and prayer; spending time in God’s presence. But discipleship is a balance between time with God and time serving God; time spent in his presence and time spent sharing his message.

Are you too busy to be a follow Jesus? Are you too busy to serve him? Jesus calls us to be his disciples amidst the pressures of life. Spend time with him and let him send you into the world to share his message.



Messiah complex

During our time at SonScape, our seminar leader, Mike Schafer, repeated a phrase several times. He said,

“There is a Savior, and you are not him.”

People in general, and those of us in ministry in particular, can easily buy into the lies of the enemy that “I am THE answer to the world’s problems!” and, “NO ONE can do it as good as me!” We need to be reminded that we are dependent on God for results, not the other way around.

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Posted by on September 14, 2011 in Character, Personal growth, SonScape