Sunday, December 30, 2007

From CT magazine (1/08, p. 34): "Jesus Christ, the Lord of Creation, Redemption, and Fulfillment, calls the church the salt and light of the world. Jesus seems to have had in mind a community engaged in virorous, self-sacrificing mission that goes to great lengths to enact costly love, that inconveniences itself regularly to seek justice for the oppressed, that creatively serves the forgotten, all to portray that the kingdom of God is at hand.

Depending on where we look in the world, however, that church seems to have gone missing.

Rather than seek the God who spoke from the burning bush, we have decided that the real drama is found in debating whether to podcast our services. Rather than encounter the God who sees idolatry as a pervasive, life-threatening temptation, we decorate Pottery Barn lives with our tasteful collections of godlings. Rather than follow the God who burns with justice for the needy, we are more likely to ask the Lord to give us our own fair share. A bland God for a bland church, with a mission that is at best innocuous and quaint--in a tumultuous world."

Wow! That's painful to read...but important to ponder.

Saturday, June 23, 2007


There is nothing I pray about as much as for our children, their spouses, and our seven amazing grandchildren.

While praying for them this morning it occurred to me that my selfishness might be reflected in the disproportionate amount of time I spend praying for them compared to world evangelism and for resolution of needs such as poverty, HIV/AIDS, injustice, and other prevalent kinds of global suffering.

I don’t know if the next thought was my own rationalization or a word from the Spirit, but I recognized that love of family is not evil, but rather is a reflection of being made in the image of the heavenly Father who takes great delight in His only Son. The problem is not that I spend too much time praying for my immediate family, but that I spend too little praying for the vast global family of which I am also a part.

Further, while praying for our family recently, I’ve been convicted about the shallowness of many of my prayers. I realized that a great deal of my prayers were focused on the short-term happiness of my children as a result of their living “good Christian lives,” having strong marriages, being good parents, having success in their vocations, etc.

But now, nagging at the edge of my consciousness was the thought that God’s plan for our children may include pain and suffering through which God would ultimately be glorified, though not always by joyous deliverances this side of “the renewal of all things.”

If the Old Testament prophet Hosea’s parents prayed for him, I wonder how they felt about how God was glorified in his life? His wife was repeatedly unfaithful to him and presented him with children not his own. It could not have been a happy marriage and then she left him for her lovers. Yet in obedience to God, Hosea took her back, restored her as his wife, and showered her and her children with an unconditional love which for more than two thousand years has been an astounding object lesson of the love of God for His wandering people.

Do I really want God to be glorified in the lives of our children no matter what it takes? Is the glory of God more important than the comfortableness of my family? Am I willing to pray that God would be honored even if it is through great suffering in the lives of those for whom I would gladly die to protect them from the slightest pain?

I’m struggling, but finding myself increasingly asking God to glorify Himself through our children and grandchildren and leaving the details of “how” to His infinitely wise, loving, and eternal plan. Of course I want them spared from pain, and often ask for that without sense of guilt or selfishness. But I find myself whispering what our Lord exampled for us, “Nevertheless not my will but Yours be done.”

“Lord teach me to pray and to love Your glory more than anything. Thank you for assuring me that you are always good and that you love my children more than I ever could.”

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


Gloria has a very attractive hanging fern just outside our front door. It requires a fair amount of water, so nearly every day one of us will run the hose into it for an extended time.

For a couple of days we were startled by a bird flying out of the fern. Inspecting, we discovered she was building a nest. We should have immediately removed the partly constructed structure, but waited a couple of days. When I went outside tonight to remove the nest before the mama bird became too attached to her site, I discovered . . . you guessed it…two eggs.

Now what do we do? If we immerse the fern every day, it will flood the nest. If we don’t, the fern may not survive. If we remove the nest, the eggs will be lost, and, I assume, the mother bird will grieve.

When you think about it, the location of the nest reflects really bad planning by the mother bird. She didn’t take into account the possibility that someone much bigger than her could frustrate her plan and obliterate her carefully prepared but ill-placed “nursery.”

Some of our plans are really bad too. Like our short-sighted, feathered friend, we don’t see the big picture. Our illadvised actions place us and others at risk.

Aren’t you glad that the all-powerful God is not in His nature a home-wrecker and egg smasher? He is loving and kind, and works His sure plan for the ultimate good of all who nest in Him.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Homosexuality, part 3 (see previous 2 posts)

10. I really struggle with some practical issues such as providing health insurance for a committed homosexual couple. A part of me favors this in spite of my conviction about the morality of the relationship. However, I’m not sure I comprehend all the related issues (other groups of people, economic impact, etc.) which may be involved. Should any two people (regardless of gender) who live together in a long-term, non-sexual relationship be granted these benefits? If two heterosexual women share a committed relationship, even adopting a child, but are not homosexual, should they qualify or be given the right of some legal recognition and benefits (we have such a “couple” in our church – 2 ladies who have lived together, not sexually, for 40 years and raised a child—but are not homosexual). How about a parent and an adult child – or three generations -- living together? If one of them qualifies for medical insurance, should the others have a right to be included in the plan? I suspect that this needs to be considered apart from the question of the validity of homosexual “marriage” though I think I understand why many want it to be connected.

11. I really grieve that many of those who hold to the same Biblical understanding as I do about homosexuality have too often been guilty of the sin of hate, unkindness, misunderstanding, discrimination, and even violence. That is deplorable and all Christians should speak out against it. I am embarrassed and ashamed that I have not always recognized this and practiced it myself—at least to the degree I should.

12. I do not believe the United States ever was or should become a “Christian nation” in the sense those terms are typically used. Although our nation was founded on many Judeo-Christian principles, it never was nor should it have been another “Geneva.” The nation of Israel was a theocracy – ruled by God and His law (at least, it was supposed to be). When Jesus returns, He will establish/impose His righteous kingdom on the entire earth. Today, we are called to live as aliens and strangers in this world (1 Peter 1:3, 17; 2:11; Hebrews 11:13; Philippians 3:20). We certainly should impact our culture and our nation by our good works and our values, but we are not called to impose our values or beliefs on others. I would no longer support any part of the view that we are called to make this a “Christian nation” in any sense other than that we want to share the Gospel with everyone in America to give them the opportunity to freely choose to become a Christian.
Homosexuality, part 2 (see previous post)

7. Homosexual inclination is not necessarily sinful. As God’s people (Israel and the church) have always understood the Scriptures, homosexual practice is sinful. When a person struggles with sexual desires (heterosexual or homosexual) which cannot be legitimately fulfilled, there are spiritual practices that can decrease temptation’s power, persistence, and victory (though they will not necessarily eliminate them in every case). I am responsible to engage these spiritual disciplines and practices. I believe that some homosexuals can be “healed” so as to be able to enjoy God’s original creation plan, while others may not be “healed” in this life, but nevertheless are called to a life of purity and chastity. The church should surround those who struggle with homosexual temptations with love, support, respect, and help, even as they should do for those who struggle with heterosexual and other kinds of temptation. This should be in an atmosphere of grace, acceptance, respect, and support of the person – not of the sin, whatever kind. Christians should have great compassion for those whose sexual inclinations must be resisted and unfulfilled throughout their life. It is tragic that some (both homosexual and heterosexual) will never enjoy a relationship for the fulfillment of these longings. We are all broken in different ways and should support each other with our struggles and God’s call on our lives as we await Jesus’ return and the restoration of all things. Hence we pray with passion, “May Your kingdom come!”

8. It is my opinion that the “jury is out” with regard to definitive and comprehensive identification of the reasons for homosexual inclinations/vulnerability. It seems probable that the influences toward homosexual inclinations are diverse and complex, but all expressions of the brokenness of this fallen world since sin entered. Although some may choose to experiment with and become addicted to sinful sexual practices of various kinds (including homosexuality), I suspect that most homosexuals did not make an initial choice resulting in their vulnerability/inclinations. I am certainly open to believing that some homosexual vulnerability may be genetic, even as some people are genetically more vulnerable to alcoholism. This does not eliminate the need to live a pure and self-controlled life in either case. This is not to say that the inclinations are sinful for the individual struggling with them, but that the origin of inclinations contrary to God’s design and will are continuing results of the sin of Adam and Eve, as are many other things in the fallen human condition. It seems clear that not all homosexual vulnerability is genetic, but in many cases springs from other causes – abuse, dysfunctional family, etc. – all of which are symptoms of the fallenness of this world. In these cases, the individual is not responsible for the cause, but they are responsible for their response and choices.

9. Persons are not defined by their “sexual orientation.” They are defined by God and His image. I am not my sexual orientation. I am a person made in the image of God, the object of His love and redemptive plan.

I'm involved in several on-going conversations regarding homosexualilty, the Bible, and our culture, so put down some preliminary thoughts. Please feel free to comment to sharpen my thinking. This is too long for a single post, so it will take two or three.

1. Jesus’ followers, like their Master, should treat all people with love, respect, and kindness, regardless of their lifestyle or beliefs. Jesus showed us the balance of grace and truth. We too often emphasize one without the other.

2. Christians should be agents of justice and mercy in the world—seeking to relieve suffering without being judgmental and standing up for justice for everyone. This will sometimes mean responding to the symptoms of (e.g. hunger, etc.) apart from the deeper causes, sometimes means responding to causes (e.g. lack of education, systemic discrimination, etc.), and sometimes (most preferable) to both.

3. Christians should always affirm, practice, and communicate Biblical truth, even if it is unpopular or misunderstood, because they believe that obeying God’s commands is always for everyone’s ultimate benefit, even though it may involve in temporary pain or suffering.

4. God’s plan for sexuality, consistently communicated throughout the Scriptures (including by Jesus) is for one man and woman to enjoy sexual intimacy within a loving, lifetime marital relationship. The New Testament indicates that the relationship of a man and a woman (not just of two people – but specifically of a man and woman) in marriage is to beautifully portray the relationship of Christ and the church. The Old Testament suggests a similar portrayal by the faithful marriage of a man and woman with regard to the relationship between God and His people (e.g. the story of Hosea).

5. Outside of a committed heterosexual marriage, the Bible consistently calls all humans to lives of purity, chastity, and self-control. The Bible teaches that self denial and suffering are purposeful and beneficial for God’s children. We must all deny ourselves and take up our cross daily to follow Jesus (Luke 9:23) though for each of us that will play out in different ways. Fulfillment of physical desires (of all kinds) is not a right to be pursued at all cost (cf Matthew 4:4 on Jesus and the need for food). My physical desires must always be subjugated into conformity with God’s revealed will – even if that requires self-denial and suffering. As a real human, Jesus most certainly had a powerful sex drive. But, because of His mission was never able to give it expression or find fulfillment in a sexual relationship. He is our example and should give encouragement and comfort to any who must deny the fulfillment of their sexual desires whether heterosexual or homosexual.

6. Every reference to homosexuality in the Bible is prohibitive—there are no exceptions. Recent efforts by some to reinterpret Biblical passages in support of some kinds of homosexual practice do not stand up against the standards of unbiased Biblical scholarship, consistent hermeneutical practice, or the united voice of Jesus’ global church through time. We should always be open to reexamining our interpretations of Scripture but must attempt do so without bias (that’s hard!) and without giving in to external pressures (cultural, governmental, emotional, or personal).

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Justice and Mercy series at Calvary (see was an emotional series -- even more for those who participated in the breakout sessions during the week in addition to the Sunday services.

God has been stirring in my heart with new insight, understanding, conviction, and compassion.

Most of the responses I've heard have been extremely positive with people growing in their understanding about the tragedies of poverty and racism--not just in the world, but also in West Michigan. Some are seeing the importance of responding to need without also trying to judge or attach responsibility and blame (something that comes rather naturally, cf John 9:1ff). There is a new wave of people committed to growing in justice and mercy.

Perhaps the cummulative effect of (1) the long Book of Acts series with it's frequent mention of ministering to the poor (chs. 2, 4, 6, etc), (2) the "stories Jesus told series" which spotlighted poverty-related themes again, and now (3) the 4-week Justice and Mercy series, have left some understandably weary and wanting to move on to new themes. That's why our next series will focus on 1 Peter, Contentment, and a survey of the Old Testament.

Some are wondering what happened to their pastor...even wondering if he has "gone Liberal" with his new interest in the "social gospel." I haven't. But I have had to repent of having an "unsociable gospel," a perversion of Scripture, which too often didn't address the whole man. Certainly our priority is the proclamation of the Gospel of salvation through faith in Christ. The biggest changes in poverty and racism will come when people experience the transformation of Christ's redemption in their lives. But I now have had the blinders removed (at least in part) that hindered me from seeing the powerful emphasis in Scripture on Justice and Mercy related issues.

Today I was challenged by the "virtually book" Bono has written (with others) at

Read it!

Perhaps some have responded negatively because of God's conviction in their lives of hidden racist attitudes or of a lack of a compassionate and generous spirit. If we are not ready to repent, we typically find ways to excuse, justify, rationalize, or accuse and counter attack.

I certainly am not suggesting that anyone who had negative feelings about our Justice and Mercy series is in this last category. These are difficult and complex issues and we all look at them through the lens of our own experiences and understanding. We are all at different stages of maturity and immaturity.

I was deeply convicted by the prophet's words (Isaiah 58:6-9):

6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousnessa will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

A Day with a Perfect Stranger

Last year I read a short book by David Gregory entitled, DINNER WITH A PERFECT STRANGER. It was a very engaging story (a short, easy read) about a businessman who received an invitation to have dinner with Jesus of Nazareth at an Italian restaurant. Interesting that Jesus ordered wine. Does that catch your interest?

I liked the book so well I've given away more than a dozen copies -- especially to those who might be seeking God and truth but struggle with some of the classic (and very difficult) objections to the Christian faith or have been exposed to offensive caricatures of Christianity.

Don't be fooled if the idea sounds a bit cheesy. The book will surprise you.

Tonight I finished reading A DAY WITH A PERFECT STRANGER. It's a continuation of the original story, but this time the wife of the man who had dinner with Jesus has a remarkable conversation with "Jay" while crossing the country on an airplane.

If someone "hates religion," they just might enjoy spending a day with this perfect stranger.

I recommend it...for a fresh reminder of what it means to enter into a relationship with God and as a unoffensive gift to share with someone who might be seeking more than they know.
White Privilege

The Justice and Mercy series we're doing at church (see is part of an ongoing journey God has been taking me on. I feel like I'm slowly waking from a long Rip Van Winkle slumber with regard to issues of poverty and racism.

I must've heard the expression, "white privilege" before, but until fairly recently, had little comprehension of how much a part of my life it has been and is.

WHITE PRIVILEGE is an invisible package of unearned assets which I cash in every day of my life, giving me a significant, lifetime advantage over many of those whose skin-color is different than mine.

This web site gives some helpful discussion and illustration on the theme:

My friend Pastor Terry Williams from Unquenchable Fire Ministries, a really great inner city, diverse church in Muskegon, handed me a video to watch this week: WORDS BY HEART, about a young black girl in a rural town at the turn of the century. I'm pretty sure it never won any cinematic awards, but it is a helpful, though gentle portrayal of privilege and racism. Children could watch it and benefit.

Pastor T also recommended I watch the just-released-on-DVD movie staring Hilary Swank entitled FREEDOM WRITERS. It's based on the true story of Erin Gruwell, a first year teacher who believed in her students. Gloria and I watched it tonight. Wow! What a powerful portrayal of the jungle that exists in many cities and schools today, and the amazing difference one person can make. Get it!

Monday, April 23, 2007

When the excitement is gone

Thinking about the contrast between the spirit of the worship gatherings we experienced in Mexico and many in the United States, I wonder if some of the difference is that we are no longer overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude for God's mercy, grace, and love.

Living under the addictive opiate of Disneyland (the USA), we too often forget what it meant/means to be "lost." Hence, our sense of wonder at being "found" is diminished.

If I am not filled with wonder at God's salvation, "worship" too easily becomes diminished into an "entertain me" mentality in which I evaluate the various elements of the service based on my preferences and how I feel about what is happening.

Similarly, an awareness of the presence of God, burns away any idea that "it's about me."

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Mexico with Pastor Tony Gomez

In our recent trip to Mexico, Gloria and I were impressed with the vibrancy of the believers. Their church gatherings could not have been farther from a duty-driven or "business-as-usual" atmosphere.

In one poverty-filled village on a Saturday about 250 believers of all ages came together (most walked some distance to be there) for fellowship and worship. This was a monthly gathering of village churches. The location rotates between the churches each month.

The people's enthusiasm for praising God and responding to preaching was contagious even though I could only understand a smattering of words.

We arrived about 11 a.m. to find a packed church auditorium (a very simple block building with hard wooden benches) and a worship service which had already been underway for some length of time. I was the third preacher. The first two were native pastors who, of course, spoke in Spanish (about 40 minutes each). Though I couldn't understand very many words, their passion and warm connection with the audience were inspiring to sense.

Before, between, and after the two sermons there was lots of great congregational singing, choirs, randalla bands, and a missionary presentation (a church planting ministry with the native Indians in the mountains), etc.

We took a half-hour break for lunch (Wow! Delicious! It was as authentic as the Christianity), and then the the singing, special music, etc. resumed.

It was my turn to preach (Pastor Tony Gomez was my wonderful interpreter). The congregation responded with the kind of enthusiasm that shouts their love for the teaching of God's Word.

When I finished preaching about 5 p.m. (about 6 hours after we arrived) we had to leave in order to get back to Torreon for an evening meeting. As we left, the service was going strong with no sign of an approaching conclusion.

Imagine a service in the USA that went more than 6 hours! Who would stay? Rather than the kind of unabated, enthusiastic participation I witnessed, in the USA a pastor could expect a continuing exodus of those whose priorities had no room for 6 hours of meeting with God and His church. There would be the "devil to pay" if we trapped people in that kind of marathon.

Perhaps we have completely lost touch with what it means to worship. If I am subconsciously saying, "God, I've come to worship You today, but I can only spare 60-90 minutes and then I really have to be about other parts of my life," I wonder if genuine worship is even possible. It seems like worship involves giving myself totally to God -- everything, including my time and schedule--surrendering to His agenda, not demanding mine.

I understand that we must be incarnational to the culture in which we live. Ours is obsessively time conscious.

But then, time is the currency with which I purchase my real values.

Friday, April 20, 2007

I dreamed last night that our church was located near a large university campus and that I needed to come up with a sermon title targeting the incoming students.

I thought of "Fitting God Into Your Class Schedule," but then realized that God is not be to be "fit" into anything. He FILLS EVERYTHING.

Herein lies a good deal of my problem. I want to fit God into my life -- making Him another important element along with the others I have selected for myself. God will not be "fit" into anything. Either He fills it or He does not fit at all.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Why do we meet?

Believers are called together by God (church = the ἐκκλησία).

But why do we meet?

I'm playing with this . . . We meet in community with other Christ followers in order to encounter God and His truth in ways that are transformational.

What do you think?

Friday, April 06, 2007

Trends in the American Church

Recently I read a paper (“Measuring What Matters Most”) by IgniteUS, Inc., with thought provoking statistics. They were introduced as follows: “The following are issues that are endemic in the church in America. We must be humble, diligent, courageous, and wise as we seek to bring corrective theological solutions to this profile. Think carefully and systematically through these facts - - prayer is essential.”

1. Only 3% of the churches in America (386,000) are growing by conversion growth; people being redeemed, baptized, and becoming growing disciples in that local church.

2. Around the globe, Christianity is the fastest growing religion. There are approximately 4,000 churches begun per week around the world.

3. In America we close 70+ churches per week.

4. In any local church, 47% of the people are highly resistant to change. 17% are devoted to peace, don’t make any waves. They always side with those who oppose change. The collective result is we face a 64% opposition force in almost every church in introducing change.

5. Recent studies indicate that at least 19,000 churches are split or scarred by major conflict each year.

6. The average pastoral tenure is about 4.3 years. The most effective ministry occurs between years 5.4 and 14.3 of a pastor’s tenure.

7. Less than 1 in 10 regular attendees of Christian Churches give 10% (3% in 2003) or more of their income to the Lord through the church.

8. People say they believe in truth, yet, 2 out of 3 adults and 4 out of 5 teenagers say that truth is relative, there is no absolute truth.

9. The number of ‘regular attendees’ in local churches that are absent on any given Sunday continues to increase. 10 years ago it was 2 in 10. It is now 3 in 10, soon to be 4 in 10. This means that if you have 500 regular members, on any given Sunday you will have 30-40% of them absent. This is a clear reflection of values when the absence is discretionary, that is, they choose to not attend in deference to another activity.

10. There is a famine of hearing of the Words of the Lord (Amos 8:11) . . . People say that they believe in the Scriptures as the Word of God, but, when their shepherd seeks to make application to daily living and conduct, he is castigated, rebuffed, or worse, fired. Culture, not Scripture, shapes many aspects of the church in America.

Wow! Some of those I can affirm from my own experience. Some are like a knife in my heart, exposing the apathy and indifference of which I am part.

“Lord, teach us to love the faithless as You do. Give hands and feet to Jesus’ love by energizing our bodies by Your Spirit. Break our hearts for those who need to experience Jesus’ mission through us – the redemption of sinners and the relief of suffering. Forgive us for our idolatrous commitment to our own comfort and our sinful resistance to sacrificing our preferences in order to be incarnational to this broken and diverse culture. Amen.”
What about liturgy?

In the words of, “A liturgy comprises a prescribed ceremony, according to the traditions of a particular group or event.”

Actually the English word “liturgy” comes from the Greek λειτουργία which refers to service rendered for a god (or, for God).

Many denominations follow a prescribed litury in their weekly worship services. Anglicans, Episcopalians, and Roman Catholics would be among those whose worship orders are ancient and familiar to their regular congregants.

Even within the “free” church where spontinaeity or at least lack of prescribed or traditional liturgy has often been a high value, liturgy nevertheless exists. Often a rather predictable “order of service” is followed without deviation week after week: song, prayer, song, song, announcements and offering, song, special number, sermon. The order may not be found in The Book of Common Prayer, but its elements may be more rigidly adhered to than a Lutheran collect during Advent.

How sad that I have too often viewed the traditions of other groups as unbiblical or inferior either because they were unfamiliar, because I was ignorant of their origin or purpose, or because I unnecessarily associated them with some group with whom I differed.

I am very embarrassed that for many years of my ministry I did not encourage the use of “the Lord’s Prayer” in our worship services, because some suspect “liturgical” church regularly “chanted” it’s syllables. "Vain repetition" was my horribly judgmental analysis. I rejected the use of that glorious prayer because of its suspicious association. This in spite of the fact that it’s words are inspired Scripture given by the Lord Jesus for the use of His followers (Matthew 6).

Recently, I have been enriched by keeping The Book of Common Prayer by my bedside to read before I fell asleep. The depth of many of its ancient prayers has challenged the shallowness of many of mine. Praying them as my own has strengthened my prayer life, much like praying the Biblical prayers of David or Paul.

“Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against thee in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved thee with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of thy Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in thy will, and walk in thy ways, to the glory of thy Name. Amen.”

“Lord Jesus Christ, who didst stretch out thine arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of thy saving embrace: So clothe us in thy Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know thee to the knowledge and love of thee; for the honor thy Name. Amen.”

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Sharp or dull?

I have a couple of axes that belonged to my father and to my grandfather before him. A good ax is quite indestructible.

The effectiveness of an ax is determined by the quality of the metal, the sharpness of the blade, and the skill of the user. No matter how skillful the user may be, a dull ax makes it difficult to cut wood.

Dullness comes from lack of use, misuse, neglect, as well as from ordinary use – the harder the wood, the faster dullness occurs.

Dullness happens inexorably and often imperceptively. Perhaps there should be a bumper sticker that reads, “Dullness happens!” Unless a person is alert to the dulling of his blade, he may not realize that he is working harder with less results.

To keep an ax at peak performance, it must be sharpened regularly (on a schedule) as well as periodically as needed. Further, in order to sharpen an ax, you have to stop working with it. But sharpening time is not wasted. Ultimately the “down time” for sharpening maintains and significantly increases productivity.

Proverbs 27:17 is a great reminder that these observations apply to me and my work: “As iron sharpens iron, so one many sharpens another.”

I get dull! If I’m not alert, I may not recognize how much harder I’m working and how my productivity has declined. I need to stop working at times to engage in sharpening.

Sharpening is the result of contact (sometimes abrasive contact) with other people. Contact with other metal may sharpen an ax or dull an ax, even as my contact with another person may do either depending on the angle of impact.

Some people sharpen me and others hasten the dulling process. Sometimes if I make a slight adjustment in our contact, I can turn a dulling experience/person into a sharpening one. Some people will never be sharpeners. I need to be sure that I get away from them long enough to get near someone who sharpens me.

I bring sharpness or dullness to others. It all depends on how I connect with them.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Needs and wants…a long time ago

Preparing for today’s sermon on Jesus’ story about the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21), I ran into some very old but fascinating statistics about the average American's sense of what is a “need” and what is a “want.” It seems that during the century between 1840 and 1940 peoples’ perception of what they needed as well as their identification of what they wanted rose exponentially. During the same period, the number of manufactured articles in the US increased at an even faster pace.

In 1840 the average American needed 16 things and wanted 72 things in an environment in which 6,000 items were manufactured.

In 1940, people needed 94 things and wanted 484 things, while the number of manufactured items had risen to 356,000.

I wish I had been able to find similar statistics for the present, but I was unsuccessful in my attempts. I would like to think that the number of needs, at some point, would level off rather than continuing to multiply. On the other hand, probably no one would be surprised if the number of wants and manufactured items have both continued to increase significantly.

Intertwined with all of this is the subject of Jesus’ story: greed – the desire to have MORE. The rich man thought he had a storage problem. He assumed he had too little storage when in fact he had too much stuff. Both his storage problem and his greed problem would’ve been solved if he had determined to give generously to the poor, rather than hoarding for himself.

No culture has ever needed as much storage space as ours. We add closets, additional stalls in our garages, storage buildings out back, and even rent “self-storage” space somewhere down the road.

Somehow we don’t seem to recognize our addiction to SUPERSIZING and our aversion to DOWNSIZING, nor does it seem to occur to us that if we gave more away to those in need, both our storage problem and our heart problem might be resolved.

The author of Proverbs 30:8, 9 prayed a rather surprising prayer based on his remarkably candid assessment of his tendencies toward independence and idolatry on the one hand or unbelieving panic on the other. I wonder if I would dare to make his prayer my own?

“Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.”

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Speaking their language

This morning I was reading Acts 21 and 22. At the end of chapter 21, Paul spoke to the commander of the Roman Soldiers who "rescued" him from the mob.

He grabbed the commander's interest and attention by speaking his language, Greek (21:37). Moments later, Paul captured the attention of the mob by speaking their language, Aramaic (22:2).

When we send missionaries into a different culture, their first assignment is to learn to speak their language -- usually a multi-year process. We understand that if people are going to listen to you, you have to speak their language.

For Jesus' church, eager to tell His story to everyone everywhere, learning the "languages" in a rapidly changing and diversifying culture will be an on-going challenge. In many ways it seems as if the Babel-effect is accelerating.

Friday, March 09, 2007

I am so embarrassed!

I can't believe how many years I have studied the Bible with some degree of diligence, yet missed the in-your-face, pervasive emphasis about poverty and injustice and how God's people are to respond to it.

Last Sunday's theme in our "Stories Jesus Told" series was the vivid and frightening story about hell (actually "hades" in the Greek) in Luke 16. The full sermon is available at It includes a discussion of five different ways people understand the doctrine of hell, including the one I have tentatively adopted (a change from most of my life).

What now seems inescapable in this story that I completely overlooked in the past was the equally shocking theme of wealth and poverty in relationship to hades and paradise.

Obviously Jesus was not suggesting that if one is rich and wears purple, he is headed for the fire. Nor was He advancing the idea that if one is poor and licked by scavenging dogs he will sit beside Abraham in the great heavenly banquet.

However, it would be hard to miss the point that what we do with our resources and how we respond to suffering and need are infallible indicators of the true condition of our heart.

Perhaps the rich man’s wealth served to isolate him to some degree from the suffering of the beggar at his gate. But, it did not excuse him from his heartless and wicked indifference.

In today’s “flat earth,” I have to be willfully indifferent to isolate myself from the horrible suffering of poverty and injustice in West Michigan and the world. The comfortableness of my middle-class suburban lifestyle has isolated me, but does not excuse me.

This is the only one of Jesus’ stories in which a character is named. The pathetic beggar is “Lazarus.” His name meant “God is my helper”—it must’ve mocked him with the realization that God didn’t seem to be doing a very good job of helping him. Yet his angel-escorted-arrival at the heavenly banquet table next to the father of Arabs and Jews would suggest that his trust in God was not destroyed by his earthly suffering.

By naming Him, Jesus humanized a person who had been dehumanized and marginalized by his community. We’re more comfortable if we don’t know a beggar’s name for the same reason we avoid eye contact with him. If we look him in the eyes or give him a name, he becomes a person – a fellow human being like us who is suffering and needs our help. It’s easier to walk by if he isn’t a real person to us.

How big a deal is it whether or not we use our resources to help the needy?

If asked, “What was the sin of Sodom?” most would respond with a hot-button moral issue. How shocking when the Scripture (Ezekiel 16:49f) describes a different primary issue: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.”

Jesus’ story in Matthew 25 describes entrance into or exclusion from God’s kingdom on the basis of whether or not people fed the hungry, gave water to the thirsty, took in the stranger, clothed the naked, and visited the sick and imprisoned.

We tend to think our reward will depend on how often we went to church. The Bible says it will be based on what we did for the poor and needy.

I am so embarrassed that these themes have been largely absent from my teaching. I repent. God is changing me. Do I ever need it!
Which church would you choose?

A regular email I receive from posed three sobering questions recently:

1. If you weren't on staff at your church, would you worship there? I think we've all served at churches that we wouldn't worship at. (I know I have). And many times we are in the process of transitioning them into a church that we'd love to attend. If you're in that position right now, this is still a great question to ask. Why wouldn't you want to worship there? And what is keeping other people away from the church that you serve?

2. If you didn't know ANYTHING about Jesus, what would you know about him after a normal weekend at your church? Think about your service yesterday. If you didn't know squat about Jesus yesterday morning; what would you know about Him or think about Him today? This is a question that we need to ask each and every week. How does your church communicate Jesus?

3. If you had a loved one who didn't know Christ, and they had one week left to live, would you take them to your church or another? In this last question, it goes one level deeper. How's your church doing at communicating the main message? Truthfully; would you take your dying unsaved mother to a service at your church or another church across town? How clear is the gospel presented in your church?

Those are great questions, not just for church staffers, but for anyone to ask about the community of faith in which God has called them to share life.

The consumer mindset so prevalent in our culture has infiltrated the thinking of many Christians so that rather than investing themselves and their resources to help their church become more formative, caring, and missional, they "jump ship" for another church where "their needs are better met."

I am very thankful for the church to which God has called me. I do not hesitate to invite people to our celebration gatherings and LIFEGroups. Yet, I am painfully aware of how far we are from the "beautiful bride" Jesus longs for, and how far we have to go if we are going to effectively model and pass authentic Christianity to our children and grandchildren.

Perhaps the greatest challenge facing the dying church of America is whether it is able and willing to make the changes necessary to be incarnational to future generations in this rapidly changing world. I am committed to spending whatever years God gives me to that process.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

And You Thougtht You Were Worshipping

My daily Bible reading this morning took me to Isaiah 58. God's people were frustrated because they felt that their worship and pursuit of God were stellar and yet God didn't seem to notice or reward their self-acknowledged spirituality.

God responding by exposing the hypocrisy of their worship because their lives were selfish and self-centered resulting in failure to show loving care for others and in ungodly conflict with each other.

God described the kind of "fast" He desired: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?" (Isaiah 58:6-8).

This chapter was another rebuke to me as to how much our Western "churchianity" has become focused on "going to church" instead of the church going into the world's pockets of suffering to carry out Jesus' mission. God is unimpressed with my "worship" if I am not immersed in feeding the hungry, bringing justice to the oppressed, providing shelter for the homeless, and clothing the naked. May God forgive my comfort, self-centered ignorance and indifference!

When I started my current sermon series on "Stories Jesus Told," I had no idea how much God was going to speak to me (and to our church) on issues related to using our resources to relieve suffering. Nor did we realize how appropriate it would be to follow up (right after Easter) with a special four-week series we're calling "Justice and Mercy." God's providence in the sequence and timing is evident. I'm praying that this special focus, April 16-May 6, will help us to translate into action what God has begun speaking to us about. We plan to focus our celebration gatherings, LIFEGroups, adult Discipleship Communities, and student ministries on the theme of Justice and Mercy.

I hope I'm ready for this and I pray that I will never be the same!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Too much of a good thing?

Computer viruses are bad. Right? Very bad!

So anti-virus programs are good. Right? Very good!

If one anti-virus program is good, two are better. Right?

Not necessarily!

In fact, by 2 a.m. this morning, I was totally convinced that when it comes to computer anti-virus programs, you really can have too much of a good thing.

For several days my computer has been getting painfully slower and slower like an arthritic senior in damp weather. Finally, about 11 p.m. last night, it decided to slow to a virtual stop. The problem is, my sermon for tomorrow, and a great deal of my "life," were now unretrievable on this recalcitrant beast called a lap top. Okay, so if my life can be locked up in rebellious technology, maybe my life has become a little pathetic. Sorry.

With computers, shutting down and restarting cures a lot of junk. But, after initiating and watching a number of horrendously slow and fruitless restarts (kind of like watching paint dry), I finally chased down a technical support number for Dell. If you haven't yet discovered, technical support is now an intercultural experience. After a couple of very frustrating contacts, a sweet lady in the Philippines was very helpful but ultimately connected me to a $79-just-to-get-started-for-pay-technical-support-person not covered by our service contract. Actually, I never did get connected or pass my credit card numbers to an unknown person in order to rescue my stalled life.

While on hold, I slowly navigated through the add-and-remove process and wiped out one of those good anti-virus programs. INSTANTLY, MY COMPUTER WAS WELL! Hmmmm. I guess you can have too much of a good thing, aka, two good anti-virus programs.

Going to church (that may be an interesting alternative to "being the church") is a good thing. Right? So going to church a lot (a concept which seems quite building- and program-oriented) is a really good thing. Right? I grew up in the era when good Christians went to church "every time the doors were open." I apologize to all those to whom I encouraged that abominable idea.

Maybe going to church a lot is not a good thing. Maybe the church in the USA (one of the few places in the world where the church is in decline) has substituted "going to church" for "being the church." We feel like good Christians when we go to church, whether or not we really are more and more like Christ.

Perhaps our seemingly infinite expansion of meetings, events, and programs (all likely good in themselves--like my two anti-virus programs) has been substituted for authentic Christianity and the enactment of Jesus' mission in the world (redeeming sinners and relieving suffering--bringing the newness of the kingdom of God to broken people and a broken culture/world).

At 60, I'm slowing down (not quite as badly as my computer last night) and I sense that I'm running out of time. I want to invest what time I have left in moving toward a different model of being Jesus' church--His new community bringing new life to a broken world. That's why the pastors are talking quite a bit about "sharpening our focus" and "doing less better." It's not just about doing less things though. It's about trying to do the right things -- nurturing relational communities that are formative, caring, and missional. But we don't want to just add that to an already too full menu.

I guess you can tell that I'm thinking that our model of church and Christianity may have inadvertently (with all good intent) become too much of a good thing.

Friday, March 02, 2007

President's Wife Pregnant by Alien

Have you seen that headline in the news? Probably not, but you might expect it in one of the tabloids at the grocery checkout. I always marvel that anyone would spend money on such obviously sensationalized idiocy.

The Discovery Channel seems to have become the video version of the grocery store tabloid. Consider the recently announced television "documentary" on "The Lost Tomb of Jesus." Not having seen the program, it may be that the sensational topic is presented with appropriate contradictory information.

The advance publicity reports that Jesus' tomb has been discovered in Israel with burial boxes which once contained the bodies of Jesus, Mary, Jesus' wife, and Jesus' son. Archeological, statistical, and DNA evidence are marsheled in support of these conclusions, which, of course, would disprove the physical resurrection of Jesus, a sine qua non doctrine of Christianity.

Nevermind that no serious scholar, atheist or Christian, gives the slightest credance to these claims. The discovery is not new. The tomb and burial boxes were found in 1980. No one then or since thought they were of any significance, until a talented movie producer grabbed it for a sensational, if ludicrous, story.

Christ followers must never fear having their faith questioned or examining any claim to the contrary. By definition, faith commitments are not always testable by the scientific method. But, we must never fear or run from true science. We believe that God's Word, rightly interpreted, will be in agreement with God's world, rightly interpreted. God's word and world inform each other, and, in my conviction, will never ultimately contradict each other. There may be temporary tentions and apparent contradictions because fallible humans sometimes misinterpret the Word and/or the world. Christ-followers must continually pursue better understanding of both.

There are issues of interpretation where I believe the "jury is still out" as to whether the current interpretation of the Word or the current interpretation of the world is flawed. In some cases, both contemporary interpretations may be incorrect. Ultimately, I believe that the Word and world will be seen to be in perfect harmony, though maybe not entirely this side of the "restoration of all things." Then theologians and scientists will be completely agreed and God will be glorified by our better understanding of His revelation and His creation. Don't be alarmed if we don't get it all worked out right now, and don't be overly dogmatic where Scripture does not clearly demand it. Both theologians and scientists probably need a bit more humility than they sometimes display.

In the mean time, forgive my sarcasm if I suggest that the alien impregnation seems more credible than the claims of the "lost tomb of Jesus."

Monday, February 26, 2007

Walking in or knowing about?

Near the end of the apostolic age, John the apostle wrote, "It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us" (2 John 4).

Much diligent thought is being addressed toward understanding the frightening decline of the church in America while it is exploding with growth in virtually every other part of the world. This in spite of the astounding resources for Bible study, etc., available to American Christians far beyond any generation of believers in any other time or place.

Perhaps one factor is that the model of "doing church" in the USA has primarily emphasized KNOWING the truth. Learning Bible content and doctrine is the focus of a plethora of ministries in most churches.

John's joy was not the result of people knowing the truth, but walking in it -- that is, living it in life transforming ways.

Maybe we need a new model of doing church in which we decrease the number of ways we communicate Bible knowledge (they keep us very busy) and more strongly emphasize a few ways to apply and live the truth we know -- encouraging and holding each other accountable as we share life in relational communities whose DNA is to be formative, caring, and missional.

While I'm at it, remembering the "Stories Jesus Told" (check out the sermons at, perhaps our new model of church needs to radically reduce the number of things we do which keep us inside our "Christian bubble/sub-culture" so that we have time to hang out with sinners and get to know those who are poor and disadvantaged. It's impossible to practice the lessons of Luke 14 and 15 if we live inside the "bubble."
How to extend your life

I read today in US News & World Report that "according to research, you can gain around two hours of life expectancy for each hour of regular exercise." Wow! That's quite motivational. The article proceeds, "Beginning an exercise routine doesn't have to feel like training for the Olympics; simply start small. Take the stairs instead of the elevator...Park your car further out in the parking lot."

I wonder if any research has been done on the converse -- e.g., "one week without exercise cuts one day off your life expectancy" (that's not research, it's just my surmising).

Small habits in many areas of life can produce big results--both positive and negative. I think about the long-term impact of the habit of putting a small amount of money into savings from every pay check...and the long-term impact of not doing that. How about the long-term impact of regular Bible study? The applications are myriad.

I think I need to pay more attention to my habits...including my inadvertent ones.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Can you be too polite?

Some time ago I observed someone who was visibly upset as he angrily confronted what he saw as sinful behavior.

It was a very uncomfortable moment. I suspect that some or most who were present felt that the angry words were inappropriate.

I was reminded of the incident this week as I studied for my sermon -- #6 in the series on “Stories Jesus Told.” In Luke 14, Jesus confronted the hypocrisy of His fellow guests at a Pharisee’s banquet as well as the host himself (see Luke 14:7-14 or check out the sermon at

I suspect that when Jesus finished these very pointed admonitions, it must’ve gotten really quiet and uncomfortable in the room.

Frankly, had we been there, we might have been tempted pull Jesus aside and say, “Jesus, that wasn’t very polite. You’re really being insensitive to these peoples’ feelings. You’re embarrassing them in front of others. You shouldn’t offend people like that! You need to be more tactful.”

I wonder if the disciples were a little shocked by Jesus’ apparent lack of sensitivity to the feelings of the people at the banquet and the host. After all, His words put the actions of those in the room in a very bad light.

In our American Christian culture it seems that we have exalted politeness, tactfulness, and non-offensiveness to a virtue status that trumps speaking the truth and exposing error and hypocrisy. We want to be “nice” so people will think well of us so we are afraid to raise our voice or to speak the truth when it is uncomfortable lest we offend. We've lost the ability to be outraged!

We don’t want to make people feel badly so we just say nice little polite things instead of speaking truthfully and passionately about what is right and wrong.

Far more often than I would like to remember, my sinful motivations have caused me to be “nice” when I probably should have been passionately angry and purposefully confrontational. When I "wimp out" it nearly always comes back to bite me...hard!

The Old Testament prophets didn’t seem to worry much about offending people when their message cut like a laser as they exposed sin and called for repentance. Was it Amos who called the women of Israel, "fat cows"? Ouch! Not too polite.

Jesus didn’t seem to worry much about offending people with the truth, and there were a number of times when His anger was obvious as He confronted people with their sin. There were times He called people hypocrites and snakes. When His anger drove people out of the temple and sent them diving for cover to escape the sting of His whip, He didn’t seem to worry about being polite and tactful. John tells us (2:17) that the incident reminded them of a word from the Psalms, "Zeal for your house will consume me."

In another situation, shocked by the way Jesus’ spoke to and about the hypocritical religious leaders, the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” Rather than backing down, apologizing, or attempting to smooth things over, He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Matthew 15:12-14). That was not very concilliatory.

This is no justification for being out-of-control or nasty or unkind. Anger held too long (Ephesians 4:26) or used inappropriately (James 1:19, 20) is wrong. But, I must remember that sometimes I sin if I am not outraged. Politeness is sin if it hides the truth.

God’s wrath is a frequent and frightening topic in Holy Scripture. It is and ought to be frightening, yet it is as much an expression of God’s perfection as is His love.

The surgeon’s scalpel isn’t polite or tactful, but if you have cancer, you’ve got to be willing to cut in order to heal.

Back to my opening scene – because my perspective is sometimes skewed by my brokenness and biases I’m not confident I can properly judge what happened. Further, we, unlike Jesus, can be mixed in our motives and methods—partly good and partly not so good or even bad. However, I have to admit that it is possible that the one whose anger made us uncomfortable, may have been acting like Jesus. Jesus had a way of making people uncomfortable so they would make positive changes.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Everybody wants to feel valuable, respected, important. Everyone likes to be honored, recognized, and affirmed.

Some people take advantage of this human longing by flattering people, telling them what they want to hear, or giving them recognition in order to manipulate them or use them selfishly.

We are all turned off by the politician or salesman who gives us special treatment in order to get our vote or sale.

On the other hand, a person can, as Jesus did so well, acknowledge a person’s worth and value as God’s image bearer by giving them attention and respect. Consider His friendly and respectful treatment of the woman at the well.

In either case, it is natural for a person to be attracted to someone who treats them with respect and in a way that acknowledges their worth.

What's the difference between approprite honor and dispicable manipulation?

I think that the keys are TRUTHFULNESS and MOTIVE. If I attempt to "butter someone up" by saying what is not true, it is evil. If my motive is self-centered, to receive something from them or to get them to do something for me, it is wrong.

However, if my affirming words are honest and truthful, and my motive is to show respect to God's image-bearer for their encouragement and benefit, it is probably right and good. It calls for a motive check: is my motive to get or to give; to use or to bless; to manipulate or to edify?
On being overly nice

It has become fashionable to only speak well of religions and beliefs other than Christianity and to suggest that they may even provide alternate ways to God. Unquestionably Christ followers should always display love and respect for all people regardless of their faith or lack of it. It is not wrong to acknowledge that which is right and good in another faith.

Nevertheless, in our commendable efforts to be loving, we must not miss the clear reminders of Scripture that false teachings and those who promote them are often inspired by demons (1Corinthians 10:20; 1 John 4:1; et al). John, "the apostle of love," did not hesitate to use the label "antichrist" for those who did not confess that "Jesus Christ has come in the flesh" (1 John 4:2, 3).

It is not loving to change the label on poison to something that sounds more gentle.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Proverbs and Promises

Perhaps because of my deep commitment to the Bible as God's Word, I have too often handled the Bible as a kind of "magical" book without adequate regard for what should have been simple and obvious interpretive guidelines--for example the genre of a particular book. I have grown up in a movement which, though with excellent motivations, hasn't always practiced careful exegesis.

For example, I, like many others, treated the book of Proverbs as if it were the book of "Promises"--divine commitments to make things turn out a certain way if conditions were met. Therefore if a generous person did not become wealthy or if a diligent parent had a prodigal child, it appeared that God had reneged on His word. A proverb is a pithy statement of popular wisdom, such as "an apple a day keeps the doctor away." No one turns that into an infallible medical law. We understand that proper eating habits promote good health.

The book of Acts is another example. Too often I have treated it as a manual on missiology and ecclesiology, instead of a book of unvarnished history presenting the birth and spread of Jesus' church in the first century. It is more descriptive than prescriptive, that is, it tells us what happened back then more than what we should do now. This is certainly not to diminish the value of any portion of Scripture, but rather to clarify how it should be read, interpreted, and applied.

Believing that one aspect of the image of God in us is the ability to think and communicate in signs and symbols (language), I should not distrust the normal usages of communication. For God to use the normal "laws" of language in His written revelation is no different than the incarnation of Jesus, in His humanity, occurring as a normal human being. Failure to perceive this has led to extreme allegorizing of Scripture as well as other misuses such as my turning proverbs into promises and history into doctrine.

Reading Acts 15 this morning (the occasion of this post) is an important recitation of how the early church developed both theologically and ecclesiastically. How the church affirmed what is required for salvation is a valuable companion to the doctrinal propositions of the apostles' teaching in the New Testament letters like Romans. Observing in Acts the emergence of elders as the leaders of the churches and seeing how decisions were made helps us contextualize passages like 1 Timothy 3.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Sometimes I feel like I'm barely hanging on.

The world is changing and diversifying so rapidly. It's the Tower of Babel-effect in hyper speed.

One of the challenges today is that 25+ years ago we had a much more unified culture. It really wasn't that difficult to feel like you were "in touch" with what was happening in the culture (at least in our Western culture--we were painfully ignorant of much of the rest of the world and didn't know it). The media was a unifying factor in culture -- for example, it erased some of the distance/distinctions between urban and rural because the farmer in Iowa listened to the same radio broadcast as the school teacher in New York City. There were only a few radio (and TV) stations and they were all pretty much alike.

Today in the electronic/information age, media is NOT a unifying factor but a huge diversifying influence and reflector (think of the political difference between the news on ABC and FOX, for example). There are hundreds of radio stations and they are very different, each having an audience which is very different than the audience of another station (music style being one of the key differences). Think of the TV options with cable or dish. With only a few, rare exceptions (e.g. the Super Bowl) is there a culturally unifying influence through media. Our retirees are still watching "Little House on the Prairie" while their grandkids are watching MTV. Talk about different -- shockingly different!! Neither has much appreciation for or understanding of the culture of the other reflected in those media options.

When I was a 30-year old pastor, the culture of the seniors and the teenagers was different (we were starting to talk about a "generation gap"), but nearly like it is today. Many seniors today don't have a clue what the world of a teenager is like, and have long ago given up on trying. Of course, the teenager isn't spending a lot of time learning about or appreciating the culture of the AARP crowd either.

So, we face the great challenge of needing the wisdom that can come from age and experience but also the cultural awareness and fresh dreams that come from youth (without which we can easily become irrelevant -- not in our CORE message, but in its applications and methods). On the one end, it's easy for the older generations to think that the younger generations should "do it just like we always have." And, it's easy for the younger generations to "throw out the baby with the bath water."

The good news is that the all-knowing and all wise Holy Spirit is willing to be our guide. He works in and through Jesus' new community, the church. Hopefully the church will be the "lab" where cross-generational life sharing can happen in meaningful and productive ways. We need to soak it all in love and understanding.

I'm trying to hang on...

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The response to our Sunday series, "Stories Jesus Told," has been very gratifying -- especially because people are being serious about LIVING out the lessons, not just filling their heads with more Bible knowledge.

One man responded to the Good Samaritan study by picking up a man walking by the highway with a gas can, assuming his car had run out of gas. Once in his car, the man explained that he had lost his driver's license and so was doing a lot of hitchhiking. He learned that people were more likely to pick him up if he carried a gas can. Creative!

I had a great email question about the conclusion to Jesus' story on forgiveness.

If we take Jesus' words very literally in Matthew 18:35 and Matthew 6:14, 15, we might conclude that a believer could lose God's forgiveness by an unwillingness to forgive. Because we believe that the Scriptures teach that those who are truly saved cannot ever be lost, we tend to look for another explanation. Here are a few alternatives:

1. Jesus' parabolic teaching was not meant to be a "systematic theology" in which every sentence was intended as propositional truth to be organized in categories that seem logical to our Western, enlightenment-influenced thinking.

2. All true Christians will eventually forgive. They may struggle with the sin of an unforgiving spirit temporarily, but if they are truly born again, they will come to forgiveness.

3. If a person refuses to forgive, at some point that becomes evidence that they have not truly been regenerated. An unforgiving heart is inconsistent with a regenerate heart.

4. If a believer refuses to forgive, he doesn't lose God's forgiveness at a salvation level, but does at some other level -- e.g. day-to-day fellowship including the joy, freedom, and peace that come from walking in obedience to God. Perhaps this could be illustrated in marriage where some "offences" affect the closeness of the relationship, but have no impact on its permanence.

5. Perhaps Matthew 18:35 was meant to be a "proverbial" statement, rather than a precise theological proposition. The book of Proverbs is that -- a collection of "proverbs," that is, a collection of pithy statements of wisdom, which are generally demonstrated to be so. It is not the book of "promises." For example, a truism which is repeated frequently in Proverbs in various forms is that "generous people prosper." It is not a guarantee that if I am generous, I will be rich. You might be able to find a generous person who doesn't always prosper. This doesn't mean that the book of Proverbs is false, has errors, or deceives us. It is the book of "proverbs." We need to read and interpret it for what it is, not what we might like it to be. I could be stretching it here, but maybe that's what Jesus' parabolic teaching was also.

What do you think?
Reading 2 Peter 1 this morning, I was reminded that Biblical knowledge is not an end in itself, but designed to enable Christ-followers to "participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires" (1:4). We must not be "ineffective and unproductive in [our] knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1:8).

To increase knowledge without a resultant transformation of character is a perversion of God's design.

The intended goal of God's Word in my life is that I will add character qualities, most or all of which have to do with how I live and grow in relationship with others: "goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, love" (1:5-7).

Which is more important, knowledge or character-development?

Which is more important, breathing or living?

As I live out the spiritual discipline of Bible study, I must never be content merely to increase my knowledge and understanding. I must ask if others can observe a difference in how I relate to them.

This has implications for how we do church. We must not be content merely to dispense Bible content. Our methodology should reflect our commitment to life transformation.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Sometimes the brokenness of this world and we who call it "home" really smacks us in the face. This last week we said "good-bye" to two dear friends who succombed to brain cancer.

Rene Moser's battle was about 13 months. I don't know that in nearly 40 years as a pastor I have ever seen someone grow spiritual as fast, deep, and strong as she. In her life and death, she gave powerful witness to God's love in our suffering. One of her favorite phrases was, "God gets it, we don't." Her trust was child-like, but her insights about God and the purpose of suffering were profound.

We met Dan and Nancy Brower in graduate school, living a stone's throw apart on an island in Winona Lake, IN. Dan and I were youth pastors in churches in neighboring cities while attending seminary. Our four children arrived in close proximity to each other (reversing the sexes--3 boys and a girl for us, 3 girls and a boy for them). They were some of the most amazing missionaries we have ever known, bringing folks to faith and planting multiple churches (now led by nationals) in a Brazilian spiritist stronghold. Some of our most treasured memories are of our visit with them in Uberaba, Brazil.

Nancy's battle with cancer was much more brief than Rene's, but her faith and testimony were similarly unfaltering and inspiring. The morning after her homegoing, I felt compelled to arrange some thoughts in verse:


An “abundant entrance”* is what occurred
As news of her arrival through glory stirred.
When Nancy showed up at heaven’s gate
A gigantic crowd came to celebrate
The arrival of one whose hero fame
Was known by thousands who’d heard her name.
When hundreds of parties* in heaven took place
Whenever an earthling found saving grace,
The angels came to the joyful event,
Their eager query to the Throne was sent:
“Who brought this Brazilian to faith in our Lord?
Whose witness for Jesus deserves the reward?”
Then from the Throne the word was sent:
“Nancy Brower’s the one who gladly went
To live in Brazil and tell of My love--
How to earth I came from heaven above.
Because of her My story was told.
Now this one like others is in My fold.”
So when to heaven Nancy came
Thousands already new her name.
They gathered to meet her with shouts and cheers--
It was just the beginning of millions of years
To celebrate with her dear Lord
And be with friends who heard the Word
Because of her and her husband Dan--
Her partner, companion, and godly man.
Together they served and never looked back--
A model of faithfulness has been their track.
They’ve blessed us all and showed us the way
Of what it means to serve and obey.
Our confident hope and comforting thought
Is the coming reunion our Savior bought.
Then Jesus’ face we’ll finally see
And with dear Nancy forever we’ll be

*2 Peter 2:11 (KJV); Luke 15:10