Monthly Archives: January 2018

A guide to leadership development

Book Review: Developing the Leader Within You 2.0, by John C. Maxwell

Everyone can become a better leader. That is the conviction of John C. Maxwell. Twenty-five years ago, he published Developing the Leader Within You in an attempt to change the conversion about leadership development. Rather than focusing on skill development, Maxwell aimed at character.

With 25 more years of experience under his belt, Maxwell revised his original work and calls it 2.0. The new volume contains 80% new information. As Maxwell explains,

I have extensively rewritten this entire book. That’s why I’m calling it 2.0. It still contains the foundational lessons for becoming a good leader. It’s still the first book I recommend people read to start their leadership development journey. And it’s still the book I recommend leaders use to mentor others in leadership. But I’ve taken great pains to give it greater depth and to focus it more specifically on a leader’s needs.

Maxwell identifies 10 key areas for personal development—influence, priorities, character, creating positive change, problem solving, attitude, serving people, vision, self-discipline, and personal growth. Each chapter contains humorous stories, key principles, and practical suggestions for how to grow in each area.

My only reservation about Maxwell’s work is that it is based more on pragmatism and personal experience than on biblical principles and examples. It’s more about what works than necessarily what Scripture teaches.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Leave a comment

Posted by on January 31, 2018 in Books, Leadership


Repenting of self-sufficiency

I was reminded this past week of how much I have bought into the worldly attitude of self-sufficiency—“I can do it myself and don’t need God’s help!”

I was applying for a visa to Russia for my upcoming trip in April. I filled out the application form and placed it, my passport, and necessary funds in an envelope. I took it all to the Post Office on Tuesday (in the rain & on crutches). I mailed it to the travel agent using Express Mail Priority, and it was guaranteed to arrive by 3PM on Wednesday. Having done this so many times before, it was routine and I thought nothing more about it.

On Thursday, it dawned on me to use the tracking number to make sure it arrived safely. I discovered there was an alert on the account. The carrier attempted delivery on Wednesday but there was no one present at the travel agent to receive it. It would go out the next delivery day (Thursday). I checked later Thursday night and saw the same alert. Delivery was attempted a second time, but again, no one was present to receive it.

In a partial panic, I started making phone calls Friday morning. I called the travel agent to check on their office hours. I was assured someone was in the office from 10AM – 5:00PM each day and nothing was delivered on either day. I spoke with supervisors at two different Post Offices and was assured the carriers were telling the truth about the attempted delivery.

With nowhere else to turn, I sent a note to a few friends asking them to pray that the documents would be found and delivered. Within 30 minutes, the travel agent phoned to say the documents arrived and the application would be processed.

Why did I wait so long to pray? Why did I assume this was so routine it didn’t require divine intervention? Why am I still so self-sufficient, trying to manage life and crises in my own power?

I repent of my self-sufficiency.

1 Comment

Posted by on January 30, 2018 in Personal growth, Russia


70 Days

I leave for Russia in 70 Days. By that date, I need to be able to:

  • Walk without crutches, or at a minimum be able to walk with a cane
  • Stand up in the shower without support
  • Be free of medication (blood thinner)
  • Travel without fear of blood clots
  • Carry a suitcase and backpack up a stairway without using an elevator
  • Travel without any restrictions

I am reminded how desperately I need God to heal my leg/hip, restore my strength and mobility, and help me to function. So much to pray for. And that doesn’t even begin to mention how much insight I need to be able to teach the book of Revelation and answer questions.

Oh, Lord …

1 Comment

Posted by on January 29, 2018 in Health, Personal growth, Prayer, Revelation, Russia


To the Church in Pergamum: A Church that Compromised

In her book, When is it Right to Die: A Comforting and Surprising Look at Death and Dying, author Joni Eareckson Tada makes a statement about euthanasia and assisted suicide that could be applied to any number of social issues today.

“In the last few decades, though no one can say exactly how it happened, the unthinkable became tolerable. And then acceptable. And then legal. And now, God help us, applaudable.”

In Revelation 1:11, Jesus sent a message to each of seven local churches in Asia Minor. Though each message is different, the letters have some similarities. The letters address the problems churches have faced throughout history and provide insight into how Christ evaluates local churches.

The message to the church at Pergamum (2:12-17) is a warning against compromise in morals or teaching and against deviating from the purity of doctrine required of Christians. Jesus Christ does NOT approve of compromise. Don’t Flirt with the world.

The Church (12a) – Not much is known about the church. Most likely it was founded during Paul’s three years in Ephesus (Acts 19:10).

The City (12a) – The city was about 70 miles north and 20 miles inland from Smyrna. As the ancient capital, Pergamum was considered Asia’s greatest city. Pergamum was a wealthy city, but it was wicked. People in pagan cults worshiped Athena, Asclepius, Dionysus, and Zeus. It was a religious hub. Pergamum was the first city to worship the emperor. In other cities, Christians might be in danger one day a year when a pinch of incense had to be burned in honor of the emperor. In Pergamum, however, Christians were in danger every day of the year for the same reason.

The city was an intellectual center. Pergamum was famous for its university with a library of about 200,000 volumes. It was also known for manufacturing parchment resulting in a paper called pergamena. There was a famous hospital and temple of Asclepius located on the plain close to a large modern military command.

The Character of Christ (12b) – Jesus presents himself as the one who has a sharp, double-edged sword. The sword is the long, flat, heavy sword, used by the Romans in battle to kill their enemies. This sword symbolized Jesus’ power to judge and conquer his enemies. This note gives the letter an ominous tone.

The Condition of the Church: Commendation (13) – Jesus recognized the difficulty of their situation. He is well aware of the efforts of Satan to destroy the work of Christ and of Christians in the city of Pergamum through its various pagan affections. They lived where Satan had his throne. This may refer to the great temple of Asclepius, a pagan god of healing represented in the form of a serpent. It may also refer to the huge altar to Zeus that overlooked the city.

The saints were commended for being true, even when Antipas was martyred. Nothing is known about this incident. “Martyr” and “witness” are the same word. A martyr is one whose witness for Christ led to his death. While believers in other places may have buckled under pressure, these believers did not renounce their faith in Christ. Jesus complimented them for this.

Obedience in one area does not cover for or make excuse for disobedience in other areas.

The Condition of the Church: Concern (14-15) – The believers in Pergamum were guilty of tolerance. Rather than testing and rejecting false teachers like the church in Ephesus, they had uncritically accepted people who held the teaching of Balaam. Balaam had counseled King Balak to cause Israel to sin through intermarriage with heathen women and through idol-worship (Numbers 22-25). Intermarriage with heathen women was a problem in Pergamum where any social contact with the world also involved worship of idols. The issue of eating food sacrificed to idols is that Christians are never to violate their consciences. They may have been subtle pressure to say that sin is all right.

They were also condemned for following the Nicolaitans’ teaching. The name means “devourer of the people.” It probably speaks of a group that dominates rather than serves people. While the details are unknown, this sect probably is tied in the practices of Balaam which involved sexual sin in worship. The religion tried to redefine faith to allow Christians to fit in with the surrounding culture with its idolatry, immorality, deceit, and false worship.

The Command (16a) – Jesus rebuked the church with an abrupt command, “Repent!” They were warned. They needed to recognize and forsake their sins. The church must take action if we want to receive the blessings of God.

The Consequences (16b) – If they don’t repent, Jesus will be their enemy. The Lord himself will become their opponent and will fight against them with the sword of his mouth.

There is a distinction between “you” and “them.” The Balaam-like teachers and Nicolaitans are not truly part of the people of God, even though they have succeeded in infiltrating the congregation. Using the sword of his mouth, Jesus would contend with them. The word of God sharply judges all compromise and sin.

The Challenge (17a) – Take the message to heart. Hear and heed the message.

The Commitment (17b) – There is the promise of hidden manna and white stone with a new name written on it.

The children of Israel received manna. The hidden manna may refer to Christ as the bread from heaven, the unseen source of the believer’s nourishment and strength. Whereas Israel received physical food, manna, during their 40 years of wilderness wandering, the church receives spiritual food (John 6:48-51).

There are different meanings for “white stone.” One is found in a legal setting. In a courtroom, a white stone was given to someone who was acquitted while a black stone was given to someone who was guilty and condemned. Another meaning is that a white stone was given to the victors in an athletic contest. The stone, possibly with the athlete’s name on it, was their ticket to the awards banquet. In this sense, Christ promises the overcomers entrance into an eternal victory celebration in heaven.

Principles – (1) It is difficult to persevere in certain environments. (2) Staying faithful to Jesus is directly related to being a faithful witness. (3) Christians are often tempted to compromise with the world in the areas of idolatry and immorality. (4) Jesus’ future promise of acceptance, fellowship, and identity can help us endure now.

Jesus Christ does NOT approve of compromise. Don’t Flirt with the world.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church on January 28, 2018. It is part of a series on The State of the Church. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.


What comes after the Last Supper?

Book Review: The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus: An Evangelical Exposition of John 14-17, by D. A. Carson

The Upper Room Discourse in John 14-17 is one of the more significant portions of Scriptures. It contains Jesus’ explanation of him leaving to go back to heaven to prepare a place for his followers, his teaching on the coming and work of the Holy Spirit, and his commandment to love one another. The section concludes with Jesus’ high priestly prayer, where he prays for himself and intercedes for not only his immediate followers, but ultimately for us as well.

D. A Carson has written a very helpful volume unpacking this vital portion of Scripture. Stylistically, the book falls somewhere between a commentary and a sermon. While not academically oriented, it gives details of the passage. While not a verse by verse exposition, it nevertheless explains the meaning of each section and its implications for our lives today. The book is aimed for a more popular audience rather than a scholarly one.

As the author explains in the preface, the book grew out of a series of addresses given at several conferences in the USA and Canada. The book was originally published in 1980, but is now repackaged and republished in 2018.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

Leave a comment

Posted by on January 27, 2018 in Books, Gospel of John, Scripture


Midnight robo calls

My cell phone rang at 1:12AM this morning. Normally, middle of the night phone calls usually indicate someone is in trouble. I groggily woke up, answered the phone, and listened to a robo call message that my Verizon account had been suspended and needed to be verified, and that I should press “1” to speak to a representative. Even half awake, I was suspicious and hung up. I then googled the phone number – 1-800-781-2978 – and found it appears to come from Asia. At least the text on the page looked Chinese. I tried the church and received the answering machine. At least, I know my phone number is active and working. It was definitely a scam call. Now, two hours later, I’m still awake and pondering the meaning of this wake up call. SIGH!

1 Comment

Posted by on January 26, 2018 in Personal growth


You have to crawl before you can walk

I continue to take more baby steps in my path towards recovery. Over the past two weeks, I’ve seen improvement in small, but significant ways.

  • I started wearing jeans. Considering I lived in sweatpants for almost three months, wearing jeans was a significant step towards normalcy.
  • I graduated from a walker to crutches. They feel a bit awkward and I have to consciously tell myself how to walk, but it is progress.
  • I started driving again. Carol took me to the local high school where I drove an empty parking lot. Getting in and out of the car is still a huge challenge, but I have a bit more freedom now. Carol no longer needs to take time off from work to take me to doctors’ appointments or therapy.
  • I began outpatient physical therapy, which will continue until mid-March. Now I can hurt in new and different areas as the therapist works to increase my strength, flexibility, and mobility.
  • I purchased airfare and hotels for my April trip to Russia. My primary care physician will do another ultrasound on my leg in March to check on the status of the blood clot(s) and then advise me on any limitations or restrictions for traveling.

Thanks for your prayers and encouragement.


Posted by on January 23, 2018 in Personal growth


To the Church in Smyrna: A Church that is Suffering

Most Christians would prefer that suffering and especially persecution be an elective course. We don’t like Paul’s statement in 2 Timothy 3:12 that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” We would just as soon avoid the topic and experience all together.

This is precisely why we need to learn from Christ’s letter to the church in Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11). The letter to the church in Smyrna reminds us that when we face persecution, we should remember that the one who conquered death promises us eternal life.

The Church (8a) – Not much is known about the church. There is no record how Christianity came to Smyrna. It was most likely planted during the time the apostle Paul ministered in Ephesus (Acts 19).

The City (8a) – Smyrna was a large and wealthy city about 35-40 miles north of Ephesus. Smyrna is still a large seaport known as Izmir with a present population of about 200,000. In all of Asia, there was no more beautiful city than Smyrna—at least, if one wishes to accept the judgment of the citizens of Smyrna. Their coins had the inscription, “first city of Asia in size and beauty.”

They had a land-locked and protected harbor. The city began at sea level and climbed, even as it does today, up the slopes of Mount Pagus. The city planners laid out the architecture to make it blend together. As you stood at the sea harbor looking up toward the top of Mount Pagus, you could see a panorama that led it be called “a crown.” The winding thoroughfare, “the street of gold,” ascending Mount Pagus passed the magnificent temples to Cybele, Apollo, Aesculapius, Aphrodite, and toward the top a notable shrine to Zeus. The winding thoroughfare looked like a necklace of jewels around the neck of a statue.

Smyrna was known as a center of learning, especially in science and medicine. Smyrna claimed to be the birthplace of Homer.

The name, Smyrna, means “bitter,” and was associated with myrrh, the fragrant plant used in anointing oil and the process of embalming. It was associated with death and suffering.

The city was known for its wickedness and opposition to the gospel. Life was difficult and dangerous for the church in Smyrna. Under the emperor Domitian, it became a capital offense to refuse the yearly sacrifice to the emperor.

The Character of Christ (8b) – Jesus presents himself as the one who has power of time (the first and the last), and the power over sin (the one who died and came back to life). The fact that Jesus was persecuted and resurrected would be especially relevant to a church experiencing severe persecution. This will be just what the persecuted saints in Smyrna need in order to carry on.

The Condition of the Church (9) – Jesus comforts them by saying that he knows about their suffering. “Afflictions” refers to extensive tribulation rather than mere affliction. “Poverty” refers to extreme poverty. They most likely lost possessions, land, income, etc., because of persecution. Despite their physical poverty, Jesus reminds them that they were rich in the things of the spirit.

They were being persecuted not only by pagan Gentiles but also by hostile Jews and ultimately Satan himself. The believers in Smyrna were being falsely accused which caused them to be arrested. During the first and second centuries, believers were slandered for various reasons:

  • Cannibalism – “eating the body” and “drinking the blood” of the Lord
  • Immorality & incest – calling each other “brother” and “sister”; giving a “holy kiss”; participating in “love feasts.”
  • Atheism – refusing to accept the Greek or Roman gods
  • Political disloyalty – unwillingness to pay homage to Caesar as lord
  • Arsonists – spoke of the fire of the Spirit and the fires of divine judgment
  • Splitting families – Jewish families would disown those who became Christians

There is no rebuke for these faithful, suffering Christians. Of the seven churches, only Smyrna and Philadelphia escape criticism. Suffering, though extremely difficult, helps to keep believers pure in faith and life.

The Command (10a) – Jesus exhorts them to have courage; not to be afraid of future suffering. This is probably a message they were dreading. The suffering is about to get worse. They were facing a season of persecution which would include imprisonment and possibly death. It would be short in duration (10 days). Suffering does not prove God is powerless. This particular suffering comes because has determined to test the church. While painful, God’s testing has a good goal.

Suffering can be expected for the ungodly, but why should the godly suffer?

  • Discipline – 1 Corinthians 11:30-32
  • Preventive – 2 Corinthians 12:7
  • Teach what we can’t learn otherwise
    • Learn obedience – Hebrews 5:8
    • Develop character – Romans 5:3-5; James 1:2-4
  • Provide a better testimony – Acts 9:16

The Consequences (10b) – Jesus promises the crown of life to those who endure persecution. This is not the crown of royalty. This is the victor’s crown, given to an athlete who was victorious in an athletic contest. The crown symbolizes eternal life.

Up to this point, no one had died, but it could be expected. 50+ years later, Polycarp, who was bishop of the church in Smyrna, was martyred, and undoubtedly others were killed as well. When Polycarp was about to be martyred and told to recant his faith in Christ, he said, “Four score and six years have I served the Lord and he never wronged me: How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior?”

The Challenge (11a) – Take the message to heart. Hear and heed the message.

The Commitment (11b) – There is the promise given to overcomers that they will not be hurt by the second death. The first death is physical, the second is spiritual. We don’t need to be afraid of losing our life when persecuted because our future in heaven is secure. The believers were not promised escape from tribulation or persecution. They were promised something far greater—the grace to endure afflictions without fear and the pledge that the one who died and came to life again will certainly bring them through to the crown of life.

Principles – (1) Those who follow Jesus faithfully can expect opposition/persecution. (2) It costs to be a dedicated Christian, in some places more than others. (3) The great Christian hope is not removal from trouble but resurrection from the dead.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on January 21, 2018. It is part of a series on The State of the Church. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.


The downward spiral of compromise

“In the last few decades, though no one can say exactly how it happened, the unthinkable became tolerable. And then acceptable. And then legal. And now, God help us, applaudable.”

Joni Eareckson Tada, When is it Right to Die: A Comforting and Surprising Look at Death and Dying

The context of the quote is that Joni is talking about society’s acceptance of euthanasia and assisted suicide. The quote can also apply to any type of sin. What was taboo only a generation ago is celebrated today. Compromise is a slippery slope that leads to destruction.

1 Comment

Posted by on January 20, 2018 in Culture, Quotes


Living and Dying with Dignity

Book Review: When is it Right to Die? A Comforting and Surprising Look at Death and Dying, by Joni Eareckson Tada

“No thinking person chooses suffering. But we can choose our attitude in the midst of suffering.” This is one of the many truths presented in Joni Eareckson Tada’s latest book, When is it Right to Die? A Comforting and Surprising Look at Death and Dying. It could also serve as perhaps the theme of the book. Joni wants to change how the disabled view their suffering. Rather than choosing the easier way out through euthanasia or assisted suicide, Joni presents the reasons why we should choose life.

The book is divided into three sections. Part 1 focus on “A Time to Live?” She acknowledges the truth that pain is real. She also addresses some of the common reasons given for suicide. Part 2 looks at “A Time to Choose.” Through four chapters, Joni explains why our choices on this subject matter—to others, to you, to the enemy, and to God. After spending two-thirds of the book arguing for choosing life, Part 3 finally addresses the issue of “A Time to Die.” It includes a helpful chapter on the difference between sustaining life versus not prolonging death. Joni also argues for the importance of each person having a health care directive where we wrestle with important issues before they are ever needed.

The book was originally written and published twenty-five years ago. Time and culture have changed as well as the author has much more life experience of living as a quadriplegic, dealing with chronic pain, and surviving cancer. With new perspective, Joni rewrote and updated the book. It provides a biblical and practical look at one of the important topics of the day.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Leave a comment

Posted by on January 19, 2018 in Books