Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas is the time we remember how Jesus "humbled Himself" (Phil. 2) in order to come down to rescue us and all of His ruined creation.

Tim Keller gives some penetrating, and greatly convicting,thoughts about humility in a recent CT article:

The teaching seems simple and obvious. The problem is that it takes great humility to understand humility, and even more to resist the pride that comes so naturally with even a discussion of the subject.

We are on slippery ground because humility cannot be attained directly. Once we become aware of the poison of pride, we begin to notice it all around us. We hear it in the sarcastic, snarky voices in newspaper columns and weblogs. We see it in civic, cultural, and business leaders who never admit weakness or failure. We see it in our neighbors and some friends with their jealousy, self-pity, and boasting.

And so we vow not to talk or act like that. If we then notice "a humble turn of mind" in ourselves, we immediately become smug—but that is pride in our humility. If we catch ourselves doing that we will be particularly impressed with how nuanced and subtle we have become. Humility is so shy. If you begin talking about it, it leaves. To even ask the question, "Am I humble?" is to not be so. Examining your own heart, even for pride, often leads to being proud about your diligence and circumspection.

Christian humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less, as C. S. Lewis so memorably said. It is to be no longer always noticing yourself and how you are doing and how you are being treated. It is "blessed self-forgetfulness."

Humility is a byproduct of belief in the gospel of Christ. In the gospel, we have a confidence not based in our performance but in the love of God in Christ (Rom. 3:22-24). This frees us from having to always be looking at ourselves. Our sin was so great, nothing less than the death of Jesus could save us. He had to die for us. But his love for us was so great, Jesus was glad to die for us.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

When I Lay My Isaac Down

One of my New Year's resolutions was to read 30 books during 2008. This was a year in which I desperately needed renewal, restoration, refreshment, and sometimes simple escape.

Tonight I finished book #53. This year's reading has been my "salvation." The books have ranged from theological treatises to spy novels.

Tonight I finished a book authored by a dear friend, Carol Kent. Carol is internationally known as a speaker and author. She and Gloria were hall monitors together in the Christian university we all attended just after the ice age (today's term would be "R.A."--resident assistant). Like my bride (they could almost be twins), Carol is an attractive red head, full of life and passion for Jesus. Nearly a decade ago she and her dear husband Gene began one of the most horrific journeys imaginable -- their perfect son Jason (J.P.), a Naval Academy grad with a stellar future, was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.

Carol tells the heart-breaking, faith-inspiring story in her book, "WHEN I LAY MY ISAAC DOWN: Unshakable faith in unthinkable circumstances" (Navpress). I highly recommend the book. It was healing and challenging for me on so many levels. I had read parts of it several years ago, but needed it more this year...specifically now.

Tonight I sent an email to President George Bush asking him to consider issuing a pardon for Jason. If you are reading this, would you pause to pray for God's will to be done in this? I understand that my request is one of many thousands.

The themes of Carol's book parallel the study we will finish in church tomorrow morning on Hebrews 11 -- the faith heroes. My sermon will focus on Joseph whose life illustrates the principle that faith focuses on the end of the story.

Faith hears the melody of the age to come and starts dancing now.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Today we're celebrating with the Norwoods at the "miraculous answer to prayer" for their little granddaughter Iliana. Doctors at DeVos Children's Hospital were sure it was cancer and pronounced them "lucky" for the "all is well" final diagnosis. Hmmmmm. We think that God's providencial care, not luck, gets the credit.

At the same time our hearts break with numerous others we love for whom prayers seem fruitless.

Why does God answer the prayers of some and appear to ignore the equally passionate prayers of others? Why are some delivered and others apparently abandoned?

Such is the journey of FAITH. Perhaps we are too quick to identify the "end of the story" when it is not really the "end."

This is one of the key themes in our current "Heroes" series from Hebrews 11.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Today is Mickey Mouse's birthday. Think of the pleasure his creators have brought to people, especially children around the world. Creativity employed to bring joy to others is certain an expression of our being God's image-bearers. How sad when our god-like capacities are used to bring harm instead of good.

Soon we will celebrate Jesus' birthday. "God speed the day when everyone will celebrate."

Monday, November 17, 2008

Election Reflection

The election is over and now the professional pundits and many of the rest of us are reflecting on its outcome.

It's fascinating how many Christians are lining up on opposite "sides" to rejoice or mourn and to assign praise or blame for the outcome...often framing their reflections in clear or even harsh moral and Biblical terms. It's interesting how easy it is to demonize those who don't see the issues as clearly as I do.

Certainly there were and are important issues about which Christ followers should be passionate concerned. However, I confess that too often I have discovered my own failure to listen, to understand, to re-examine, and my propensity to see people, platforms, and parties as if they were worthy of wholesale embrace, rather than as a mixture of relative good and evil. The kingdoms of this world simply are not the kingdom of our Lord.

This morning while researching for the December sermon series, "The Whole Gospel for the Whole World," I came across this sentence from a missional statement:

"The church is the community of God's people rather than an institution, and must not be identified with any particular culture, social or political system, or human ideology."

We cheapen the Gospel and the church when we think it can be identified with any political system or candidate, as if it or he/she embodies the whole Gospel rather than partial and often flawed pieces of it alongside of huge contradictions and compromises.

I had strong opinions in this election and cast my vote after careful thought. However, I would not (though this is not where I have always been) want to identify myself or certainly the church of Jesus Christ with either a donkey or an elephant. My primary focus should be expressed in the prayer Jesus taught us to pray, "let Your Kingdom come..."

I'm very glad that the eschatos is not in the hands of any politician or party, and want to remember that my primary loyalty is not to any one or anything other than to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A great story from the November issue of CT: A 19th century Russian priest named Father John of Kronstadt did what most of his fellow clergymen refused to do . . . visit the villages that surrounded their cathedrals. The villages were filled with chronic poverty which had fostered a debauched despair that made the rural areas treacherous. But Father John would enter the slums and get down in the gutters. He would find some guy sleeping off whatever he had done the night before, would cup his chin, look him in the eyes and say, “This is beneath your dignity. You were created to house the fullness of God.” Wherever Father John went revival broke out, because people discovered who and whose they were.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

November 5, 2008

Dear President-Elect Obama,

Congratulations on your election as President of the United States of America! You have inspired millions with your vision for the future of American.

I promise to pray for you regularly as you assume the honor and responsibility God has entrusted to you. I will pray that God will protect you and your family, give you great wisdom as you govern, and use you to make a positive impact on our country and the world.

I appreciate your confession of faith as a follower of Christ and your desire to bring the values of your faith into your leadership.

It is thrilling that you have become the United States’ first black president. I am so happy for this wonderful accomplishment and its symbolic importance in the history of our nation in its ongoing journey to abolish the horrible sin of racism and its tragic consequences in our society. Thank you for all you have done to encourage unity in our land. Thank you also for your evident concern to address issues relating to poverty, education, and care for God’s creation.

Please give serious consideration to the legacy you will leave for decades and generations with regard to human life. You have the opportunity to become the Abraham Lincoln of the pre-born, or to be the facilitator of the genocide of the pre-born. Few things you do will be more important than the legislation you encourage or veto in this regard and the judges you appoint.

We will all give account before God of what we did with the opportunities and privileges He gave us. Please consider the implications of Proverbs 24:11, 12 in the Holy Scriptures (particularly with regard to the pre-born): “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not He who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not He who guards your life know it? Will He not repay each person according to what he has done?”

I believe that you could be one of America’s great presidents. You have come to this office in a time of crisis and opportunity. I pray that you will seek and follow God’s wisdom and surround yourself with godly counselors.

Dr. William J. Rudd

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


As I write this, America is going to the voting booth.

Regardless of one’s political leanings, I suspect that most of us are anxious to have the election over with. We’ve been bombarded from all sides with the need for reformation in our country – change, out with the old, in with the new. I don’t know of any candidate who is running on a “status quo, no change” platform. Everyone seems to want things to be reformed. We just don’t all agree on what and how.

Is it possible that the church of Jesus Christ must continually be reformed? Ultimately we are or should be being reformed into the image of Christ. That calls for a lot of change. In about 30 A.D. Jesus burst on the scene in Israel with a message of reform. The New Testament letters were virtually all targeting specific ways in which the church needed reform. Jesus’ seven letters to the seven churches of Asia (Revelation 2 and 3) near the end of the first century were nearly all calls for reformation.

The famous Protestant Reformation in the 16th century is famous for the radical change it brought about in the church as is the consequent and subsequent reformation in the Roman Catholic church.

Do we need reformation? Does our church need reformation? Or do we think the church as it is and as it does is a perfect reflection of what Jesus desires? Is Calvary Church passionately and effective carrying out Jesus’ mission in West Michigan and around the world? If Jesus wrote us a letter would He simply congratulate us for having our act all together, or would He call us to reformation with the kind of strong language we see in Revelation 2 and 3?

Status quo or reformation -- what do we need? What will be the result of keeping things as they are? What will be the result of reformation? What price will we pay if everything stays pretty much the same? What price will we pay if we follow the path of reformation?

What is the standard by which we determine if reformation is needed and how it should take place?

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Real Story.

I included this quote in my sermon this morning. I taped it in my Bible across the page from the very last chapter of the Bible, Revelation 22. It comes from the last paragraph of the last of the books in The Chronicles of Narnia:

“But the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is not the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

Friday, October 31, 2008

Feast or Famine

After not blogging for quite a while, here go two in one day...of course, if you've read the previous one, you understand that I've placed myself under some pressure.

A few days ago, Angela sent me these challenging words from "Of the profit of Adversity" from Thomas a Kempis' The Imitation of Christ:

It is good that we sometimes have griefs and adversities, for they drive a man to behold himself and to see that he is here but as in exile, and to learn thereby that he ought not to put his trust in any worldly thing.

It also is good that we sometimes suffer contradiction, and that we be thought of by others as evil and wretched and sinful, though we do well and intend well; such things help us to humility, and mightily defend us from vainglory and pride. We take God better to be our judge and witness when we are outwardly despised in the world and the world does not judge well of us

Therefore, a man ought to establish himself so fully in God that, whatever adversity befall him, he will not need to seek any outward comfort. When a good man is troubled or tempted, or is disquieted by evil thoughts, then he understands and knows that God is most necessary to him, and that he may do nothing that is good without God. Then the good man sorrows and weeps and prays because of the miseries he rightly suffers. Then the wretchedness of this life burdens him, too, and he yearns to be dissolved from this body of death and to be with Christ, for he sees that there can be no full peace or perfect security here in this world.
Investing in people

Years ago Calvary had a radio program on a local station. It was a "call in" show where people could ask questions about the Bible...or almost anything. Usually two of our pastors would share the mic and when no one was calling, we would just "jabber" on .. . sometimes about the Bible, and sometimes just "jabber." I viewed it as a good investment of my time to reach people in a public space.

Most everyone in our church thought the broadcast was a great outreach, and hence, a great use of their pastors' time. I don't disagree, but in retrospect would have to acknowledge that a few hundred people were probably the actual audience on a good day. The total who could have tuned in for the 30 minutes (you listened at that time or it was gone forever) probably numbered in the thousands -- maybe 40 thousand at the very most if every person in the county had their radio tuned to that station at precisely that time.

Sometimes I hear people criticize pastors who blog as if it's a poor use of their time. That's interesting. I find blogs to be a wonderful source of spiritual instruction and thought-provoking insights--free if charge to anyone who cares to "click." Of course, the blogisphere has junk too, but then, so did the radio station.

It is estimated that at least 45 million people all over the world currently go to the internet to find spiritual instruction. That potential audience (and its global makeup) causes our old radio outreach to look rather puny at best -- 40 thousand to 45 million. Actually, that's the wrong comparison. The number of people who now have access to the internet is estimated at over a billion. The real comparison between the potential audience of our old radio broadcast and THIS BLOG is: 40,000 to 1,000,000,000+. And the neat thing is that a blog stays available without cost 24/7 virtually forever. Wow!

I wish I were more disciplined about blogging. Maybe I will be. There's no question that I should be. I'll try. Mean while, I'll keep reading blogs that help me a lot.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Saturday Gloria and I saw the new movie, FIREPROOF.

It's unfortunate that most "Christian" movies struggle to compete with the quality of Hollywood's productions, but I perceive that recent years include more awareness and effort in that direction. There's still a ways to go!

Strong pro and con arguments could be produced for how overt the message should be to be effective in this culture. I think we stand to learn from Jesus whose parables often left His audience hanging to supply their own meaning and application.

These concerns not-with-standing, we enjoyed this movie. It certainly includes some much needed messages about marriage and life even if they are sometimes a bit too obvious and preachy.

I appreciated the powerful reminders about what it takes for a marriage to thrive. I would recommend it highly with the above disclaimers. People whose marriage is at risk may especially be helped, though every husband and wife could benefit.

The gospel is very clearly presented. That's great for those who are ready to hear. A more subtle approach would likely gain a much larger hearing.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Go to the source.

I would not want to get a second-hand kiss from my wife -- that is to receive her kiss by kissing someone who had kissed her.

Sadly, too many people (too often me) are only "kissed" by the Bible second hand -- they read what others have said about the Bible rather than reading the Bible itself.

I would rather have someone hear something direct from me rather than have it reported and interpreted by someone else.

Trusting others to interpret the Scriptures for me is as dangerous as trusting a gossip to tell me the truth. On the other hand, there is safety in a multitude of counselors (Proverbs), so when I do read the opinions of others about the Scriptures, I must read broadly and deeply, not just those who agree with my current understandings. I have too often done that. I should not be so arrogant as to think that I will discover a new and accurate interpretation of Scripture which godly generations have missed for centuries.

Certainly there is great value -- even essential dependence -- in learning what others say about the meaning and application of Scripture. My interpretations must always be checked by what the Spirit has said through the church through the ages and now.

But there is a wonderful freshness about allowing God's Spirit to speak anew to me as I open my mind and life to the transformative influence of the Scriptures.

Jesus often said, "You err because you do not know the Scriptures." Perhaps it was with a tinge of amazement, rebuke, and sadness when He repeatedly asked, "Haven't you read...?"

I'll keep reading to learn from others, but I'm renewing my commitment to GO TO THE SOURCE.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Silence is noisy.

While sitting in my eye doctor's examination chair, I was instructed to keep my eyes shut for a time while while she conducted a test to see how effectively tears were being produced (I flunked the test -- dry eyes are apparently another plague of the aging).

Sitting there in the dark silence for an interminable length of time (probably all of 3 or 4 minutes) I discovered sounds of which I had previously been unaware . . . such as the metronome-like ticking of a distant clock. Suddenly aware of this previously unnoticed sound, my foot began to tap in time.

I wonder how often I've sat in that chair and never heard the clock?

It occurred to me that my life is constantly filled with noise, movement, and business. Lost in it all are many sounds I never hear. Perhaps one of them is the quiet voice of God.

Friday, May 09, 2008

I love this Q&A from the Heidelberg Catechism:

Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own,
but belong--
body and soul,
in life and in death--
to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven:
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.

Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Sometimes truths seem to coexist in tension, which is not the same as in contradiction.

For example, in the "one another" commands, "accept one another" seems at odds with "instruct one another." There is tension between "forgive one another" and "admonish one another." The command to "bear with one another" (see previous post) seems out of sync with "spur one another on to love and good deeds."

I suspect that one's temperament, experiences, and gifts determines which side of the tension is the default mode, and which comes more naturally or easily. Most of us are more "grace" people or "truth" people. Only Jesus perfectly balanced them, "full of grace and truth."

Which ever side of the tension is more difficult and less natural for me is probably the one that I need to work on. In every case, opening myself to the work of the Holy Spirit to make me more like Jesus as I live in community is the journey I must continually reaffirm.

Monday, May 05, 2008

For several years at Calvary, we have kept coming back to the "one another" commands in the New Testament. Many have observed that they "flesh out" the foundational directive to "love another" -- Jesus' "new command" in John 13.

In his excellent book, The Life You've Always Wanted," John Ortberg talks about the spiritual discipline of SERVANTHOOD, what he calls, "Appropriate Smallness." Included in that chapter is his disscussion of the command to "bear with one another."

"We are called to bear each other's burdens. Sometimes this may involve praying for another's need, or trying to comfort someone in pain. But at times it may feel as if an entire relationship is burdensome. I may need to 'bear with' people until I learn to love them...The ministry of bearing with one another is more than simply tolerating difficult people. It is also learning to hear God speak through them. It is learning to be 'for' them. It is learning that the difficult person I have most to deal with is me.

"This means that a part of the ministry to which I am called is to free people--repeatedly if necessary--from the little mental prisons to which I consign them."

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Writing about the approval addiction and the spiritual discipline of secrecy, John Ortberg ("The Life You've Always Wanted") discusses the dangers of seeking the approval of others, being unduly affected by criticism, comparing ourselves to others, etc. He writes:

"Away from the winds, the earthquakes, and the fires of human recognition, I can hear again the still, small voice, posing the question it always asks of self-absorbed children: 'What are you doing here?' Too often I reply to the voice by whining about some of my own Ahabs and Jezebels. And the voice gently reminds me, as it has reminded thousands of Elijahs before me, that I am only a small part of a much larger movement and that at the end of the day there is only one King whose approval will matter: 'It is the Lord who judges me.'"

May I live for His approval alone.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Bible study . . . how easily it becomes a duty to check off my list each day rather than a transformational exercise whereby my life is opened to the Holy Spirit to make me like Jesus. Pride or guilt are often the result of reading the Scriptures as an end in itself rather than a means to an end.

In one of his messages, David shared some very practical helps for Bible study.

Every day as I read the Scriptures, I'm referring to his "contexts of application" to open myself for change:

Global--how does this change my view of the world?
Political--what does this mean for me as an American?
Social--how does this impact me as a member of my local community?
Relational--what does this mean about my interpersonal relationships?
Personal--how does this change me?
"Discipline" is a dirty least it feels like it sometimes.

Our current Sunday series on "Formations" includes emphasis on the spiritual disciplines. It's been good for me to revisit a couple of the classics on that theme written by Foster and Willard.

David's devotional on Formations and one of our members both reminded me that Ben Franklin had about a dozen "disciplines" that shaped his life and to which he gave credit to much of his success. He concentrated on one each week. His weren't necessarily "spiritual" disciplines.

I'm having mixed success in a similar approach to the list of 13 disciplines I mentioned in my sermon a few weeks ago. I'm committed to the process.

1. Bible study
2. Prayer
3. Worship
4. Fellowship (sharing life in community, Acts 2, the "one anothers")
5. Good works/service
6. Giving
7. Evangelism (I just finished the book our Life Group is studying about this--it's been really helpful: "Just Walk Across the Room," by Bill Hybels)
8. Fasting
9. Solitude
10. Silence (in order to listen to God as well as to not talk too much, saying the wrong things, words that are defensive, retalitory, unkind, critical, condemning)
11. Secrecy (not sharing my perceived good works, etc.)
12. Simplicity (doing less, buying less, keeping less, eating less, etc.)
13. Chastity

Thursday, April 03, 2008

In preparation for my sermon in the Formations series, I'm reading a great book by John Ortberg, The Life You've Always Wanted.

He references a scene from Homer Simpson in which the fundamentalist neighbor was asked by Homer where he'd been. He replied, "We went away to Christian Camp. We were learning how to be more judgmental."

Ortberg retorts, "Where is that camp, and why is it so well attended?"

Friday, February 22, 2008

It's not what you know . . .

It's nice to have famous relatives. At least, I think Kevin Rudd must be our relative. How many branches of the Rudd family tree can there be? We are undoubtedly close of kin back on the beautiful Irish island.

Check out our "cousin" at

Actually, my VERY BEST relationship is that as a result of Jesus' redemptive work, I have become part of the family of God. Wow! God is my Father and Jesus my brother. What a privilege! John 1:12 and 1 Peter 2:9ff.

It's not what you know, it's whom you know.
I borrowed my son's Rev! magazine and am enjoying a lot of very helpful articles...nearly all rather short, likely reflecting their understanding that we live in a "Google" culture today rather than the "Gutenberg" culture people my age grew up in and too often still assume.

One article on "being a team player" had some good reminders: understand that your way is one way and not the only way; remember, if you always agreed with others, it wouldn't be called "submission;" and do what's asked of you first, ask questions later.

Those are good reminders for me.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Today is my mother's 91st birthday.

She's been in heaven since October 1999, joined by my father not quite two years later.

It's hard to believe they've been gone that long. I still miss them greatly and think of them virtually every day. Even after this many years I still find myself wanting to pick up the phone and call them to share some news about us, or about our children or grandchildren.

My brother and I both lived a minimum of 300 miles away from them from the time we graduated from high school (except a few summers), I sometimes feel pain for how they must've felt isolated from their children. I wrote to them often, but wish I had phoned them more.

The unselfishness, love, generosity, prayers, affirmation, and Christ-centered values of my parents is an amazing legacy. I hope our children and grandchildren will be able to say the same of us.

Hope of eternal reunion is one of the most wonderful aspects of our Christian faith. My heart aches for those who lack that hope.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Christianity Today magazine sends out an online version which arrived this morning. One link connected me to an article by Tim Stafford, "This Samaritan Life."

Starrord responds to the suggestion that American Christians often behave as if they are living in Jerusalem when in fact, they live in Babylon...or, more precisely in his view, in Samaria. Hmmmm. The article is very insightful about church history, the enlightenment, post-modernity, and how to live out our faith "in Samaria."

I would highly recommend reading the entire post: It's fairly long but definitely worth the read.

Here's the opening...

"Denis Haack, who critiques films, books, and music on his Ransom Fellowship website, says that Christians often act like they live in Jerusalem. Not so, argues Haack—we live in Babylon, as aliens and strangers. Why, therefore, are we surprised when we see a movie that offends our values? Babylonian movies reflect Babylonian values, not Christian ones.

I liked Haack's point, but I had a nagging sense that he was missing something. Eventually I figured out what: We don't live in Babylon. We live in Samaria.

Babylon is far from Jerusalem and doesn't know much about its religion. What you believe or how you worship is of little significance to Babylon, so long as you keep the peace and contribute to civic life. Daniel and other Jewish exiles did. They got in trouble only when they were perceived to undermine the government or got caught up in petty politics.

It's different in Samaria. People there know plenty about Jerusalem's religion (though some of their information is distorted), and have a definite grudge against it."

Don't read it if you prefer to live in blissful (but dangerous) ignorance of what's happening in the culture.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

I read an article today that suggested that if evangelicals elected a pope, it would be John Stott.

Hmmmm. I'm not sure I agree and, of course, by definition, evangelicals would not elect a pope. But of course, that wasn't the author's point. He was merely engaging in a bit of overstatement to suggest the level of respect and confidence which is stirred by the name of English theologian, preacher, author, and rector of All Souls Church in London, John Stott. To that I agree. Stott is a giant. He has always been one of my favorite authors--one who stretches and challenges my thinking.

Anyway, the article quoted Stott (from his book, THE LIVING CHURCH):

“We cannot proclaim the gospel of God’s love with any degree of integrity if we do not exhibit it in our love for others. Perhaps nothing is so damaging to the cause of Christ as a church which is either torn apart by jealousy, rivalry, slander and malice, or preoccupied with it’s own selfish concerns. Such churches urgently need to be radically renewed in love.”

"....especially in the West, if I may generalize, the church is not growing. Its development is stunted. Its waters are stagnant. Its breath is stale. It is in a state not of renewal but of decay. We long to see it continually being reformed and renewed by the Word and the Spirit of God."


Saturday, February 02, 2008

This is the second time in the last couple of months Gloria has said to me, "You HAVE to read this book NOW!"

The first time it was TALE OF THREE KINGS. It was extremely helpful in helping me understand some very painful things going on in our lives. I don't agree with everything the author (Gene Edwards) says, but then, I don't agree with a lot of things I say shortly afterward. The book was immensely helpful to me.

The new book was recommended to us by our dear friend, Barb Yates. I ordered it but hadn't gotten to it yet, and Gloria picked it up and read it while I was in PA this week.

That's when the new recommendation/ultimatum came. "You HAVE to read this book NOW."

So, knowing where my bread is buttered, I've started reading WHO STOLE MY CHURCH. The author is one I have greatly appreciate in the past, Gordon MacDonald.

Gloria was right. I'm almost half way through it beginning last night. To all my readers who are struggling with change in church, this is a must read.

Perhaps every Christian over 40 who has been a Christian for 10 years or more needs to read this.

Back to the book . . .

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Tomorrow morning I'll continue our current sermon series, "Questions Jesus Asked." This week's question lies in the middle of a famous miracle story, the feeding of the 5000: "What do you have?"

One aspect of the story is the issue of how to respond to staggering need (20,000 hungry people counting women and children, who, in that culture "didn't count" so weren't included in the numeration of 5,000 men) with insufficient resources (a little boy's lunch).

Studying for the story has brought depressing thoughts about the overwhelming suffering in this broken planet we call "home."

Today's mail brought an opportunity to send a note to Fred and Diborah, two African (Ghana) children we have the privilege of supporting. The communication included the following story:

“She was only four when genocide swept across her native Rwanda. ‘We fled our home. It was in the night.’ Her family was captured, and she saw her mother clubbed to death. Her siblings were also murdered. ‘They struck me on my back, but I did not die. I just lay there. I could not stand up, because my back was broken.’

Alice survived. But she was shattered in body and spirit. Her family was gone. She had little hope for a decent future.

By age 14, she was trapped in a ‘job’ that included abusive sexual exploitation. Her innocence was sold for 500 Rwandan francs—less than a dollar.

By God’s grace, Alice managed to escape. Thanks to help from generous friends like you, she was able to survive and go to a school to learn how to be a tailor. She graduated with the highest marks in her class. Taken in by a Christian family, she also turned to the Lord. ‘My faith has helped so much. Before…I lived in loneliness. I lived in self pity. Because of a Christian ministry I have been much blessed. I feel my future is good.'

And yet, her happiness is tinged with sorrow. [Alice says] 'I know there are many street children who are suffering and others living in households who do not have a happy life. I wish those children could be cared for.’”

Reading that reminded me how incredibly blessed I have been, growing up in "Disney Land" (the USA) where I have been pampered and insulated from a degree of suffering all-to-familiar in other parts of the world.

"Forgive me, Lord, for my ignorance and indifference. Help me to know how to place my limited resources in Your hands to multiply help to those in need. Help me to bring little glimpses of renewal into this broken world so others can see pictures of Your coming kingdom at the restoration of all things. Help me to give bread to the hungry as well as introducing the Bread of Life (John 6)."

Friday, January 25, 2008


Last year I read three different books with a form of the word "simple" in the title. Hmmmmm, does that reveal something deeply significant about me or about that time in my life?

All three books deeply impacted me, though the theories are still a long ways from becoming practice to the degree I desire.

This week David sent our pastoral team a quote from The Orchard Church. It really resonated with me. So, here it is:

"One of the things we value here at The Orchard is simplicity. We don't just say that, we really DO keep things simple here.

So what does that look like for us?

Well it means that we pretty much stay focused on a handful of things we know we can do well and consider anything above that "bonus." For example, we don't have a lot of the "ministries" and "programs" that you'll find at most churches (i.e. men's ministry, women's ministry, classes out the whazoo, etc...) I'm certainly not saying that having these programs are bad or shouldn't be done in some churches - they're just something we've decided we're not going to do here at The Orchard.

Here are a few reasons why simplicity rules at The Orchard:

We'd rather keep people freed up throughout the week to engage missionally in the community around them and to gather in small groups. (Instead of keeping them inside the walls of the church three or four nights a week.)

We're not interested in having programs JUST to have programs. If we're going to offer a class, environment, etc... we want to make sure that it is a STEP TOWARDS something else. (See Seven Practices of Effective Ministry by Andy Stanley.) On a side note - the only people who WANT a gazillion programs are churched people. And that's not who we're trying to reach. I NEVER get asked by an unchurched person why we don't do women's ministry.

By keeping things simple, it allows us to maintain a good amount of "asking equity" from our volunteers. Since we don't have to maintain numerous programs and events throughout the month, it keeps our volunteers fresh and focused on what's most important. This is especially helpful when it comes to things like FUEL - our monthly leadership gathering. I'm convinced that the reason we don't have a problem getting our leaders to FUEL is because we aren't asking them to be at numerous other meetings throughout the month IN ADDITION to this one!

Keeping things simple allows us to pour a good amount of resources, time and energy into the things that we are most passionate about and consider to be missional priorities. So instead of doing a hundred different things poorly, we are able to do a handful of things very well. It communicates to EVERYONE what is most important.

Being simple helps clearly define what we will and will not do. This is beneficial all the way around! For example, because of this, staff meetings can stay focused on what they need to be focused on instead of wasting hours having conversations debating and going back and forth as to whether or not we should or shouldn't do a particular ministry or program. Does it mean we don't come up with new, innovative ideas? Of course not! But we don't add just to add. It's always strategic and directly tied to the mission - or else we don't waste time talking about it.

Now, with all that said, let me also say that keeping things simple is not always easy. It requires a lot of "NO's", tons of vision casting and lots of reminders as to WHY we value simplicity. It also requires a willingness to recognize that this is just one more reason why The Orchard isn't the right church for everyone. And that's ok!

How about you? What does simplicity look like for you?"


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

I could've been killed

Driving to Grand Rapids this morning to make a hospital visit on one of our LIFEGroup members, I was moving with the traffic (under 70 mph) on what appeared to be a dry road (I-96)when suddenly everyone in front of me was slowing down rapidly (I later learned that there was an accident around the bend ahead).

I touched the brake and discovered I was now on ice. Careful brakework didn't solve the problem and it appeared I might not be able to stop before my front bumper arrived in contact with the back bumper of the car in front of me.

I eased onto the shoulder so if I wasn't able to stop in time I could ease up beside the car rather than raming into his trunk.

Unfortunately, the shoulder was not plowed wide enough for my car to fit without my left tire going into the snow. Immediately, the snow grabbed my car and yanked me downward into the median.

As I sailed into the median at perhaps 50 mph, instantly my windshield was totally covered with flying snow so I could not see anything. After traveling a little ways and holding the car somewhat straight so as to not roll, I realized that I could be about to emerge on the other side of the median into the path of approaching traffic. A head-on-collision was not high on my "to do list" so at that point I decided to turn my wheel so that moving through the median sidewise could slow and stop the car.

I was very much aware of the automatic response of asking God for help -- the prayer wasn't fancy -- probably a little like Peter's when he began to sink into the Sea of Galilee after his brief walk-on-water experience. "Help, Lord!"

Thankfully, He did and I stopped in the median's deep snow -- but only a short distance from emerging into the oncoming trafic. I was very much aware that I was a few yards and a few seconds from what could easily have been a fatal head-on-crash.

30 minutes and a $75 tow job later I was back on the road . . . grateful that God hadn't wanted to end my earthly journey quite yet. Not because being with Christ isn't "better by far" (Philippians 1), but because I'm not eager yet to stop investing in the people I love and in the ministry to which I've been called.

Thank you, Lord.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

We're all mixed bags.

Recently I read a book someone recommended to me and was profoundly impacted by it. It was just what I needed! It was well-written, amazingly insightful, Biblically sound, and so helpful! I have already recommended it and purchased and passed on numerous copies to others.

I ordered a second book by the same author and once again was deeply blessed. I've recommended it to others and purchased half a dozen copies to distribute.

I ordered a third -- it was very good, but the themes didn't connect as much with where I was in my journey. None-the-less, I appreciated the fresh insights into the Biblical story.

I ordered #4 -- this author really hooked me.

Wow! I could hardly believe it was by the same author. It reeked with sarcasm and negativity. It was brutal and harsh in its judgments on other believers and painted large segments of Christianity with broad strokes of horrendously ugly shades--even using coarse language to describe Christian brothers and sisters. It was full of logical fallacies, and, in my opinion, gross ignorance and perversion of the Scriptures and church history.

Could this be the same author who had so blessed me?

Yes. We are all "mixed bags" -- made of dust (Psalm 103:14) -- fallen and depraved dust. Yet, we are made in God's image, and the worst of us display moments of His beauty shining through.

Should I throw this author out the window because I have found one book with which I have profound disagreement? No! Even in it I must remain open for what I can learn and need to hear. And even if my negative evaluation of this book is accurate, it does not cancel the profound value of the others.

"Lord, help me to balance grace and truth. Help me to judge as I want to be judged. Help me to set aside the bones and enjoy the fish."

Monday, January 14, 2008

Ticking People Off

Every Monday, I get an email from (by Todd Rhoades). It seems specially designed for pastors who, after Sunday, need to be restored, renewed, and revisioned.

Today, he wrote about a book by Oren Harari entitled, The Leadership Secrets of Collin Powell.

Former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, is quoted as saying, "Being responsible sometimes means ticking people off." Todd observes: "Sometimes when you're a responsible leader, people will not like what you're doing. Sometimes people will get quite angry. Unfortunately, in a church leadership setting, many times this means that people will get so angry they will leave the church."

Again, he quotes Powell: "Making people mad was part of being a good leader. As I had learned long ago, an individual's hurt feelings run a distant second to the good of the service."

The author writes: "Leadership can't be a popularity contest. Trying not to offend anyone, or trying to get everyone to like you, will set you on the road to mediocrity. Why? Because leaders who are afraid to make people angry are likely to waver and procrastinate when it comes time to make tough choices. Leaders who care more about being liked than about being effective are unlikely to confront people who need confronting. They won't challenge the status quo. And inevitably, by not challenging tradition, they hurt both their own credibility and their organization's performance."

Rhoades concludes: "Clearly, in ministry work, peoples' feelings are important. But the work God has called us to do for the kingdom is equally important. Many churches are deadlocked in tradition and will never change because there's a group of people whose feelings (or even sins) will never be confronted...As effective leaders, sometimes being responsible means ticking people off."

Ouch! Wow! That's tough! Especially for someone with my temperament which wants to make everyone happy. "Can't we all just get along?" I'm sure there are some who would not believe that is my temperament, but rather have suggested I am manipulative, self-seeking, insensitive, and high-handed. Ouch! Lord, help me to be open to what I need to learn.

I must remember that Jesus did not hesitate to "tick people off" with the truth and by exposing their hypocrisy, deceitfulness, and lack of comprehension of the way of the Kingdom and the cross.

One of my hindrances is that I know that I am not Jesus and that I, like everyone, have a proclivity for self-deception (Jeremiah 17:9) and often nurture a lack of self-perception. After all, a "blind spot" is, by definition, a "BLIND" spot -- i.e. a flaw I cannot see.

People with a temperamental bent like mine (which includes both a strength and a weakness) often promote a "culture of niceness" in which ticking people off feels very wrong. As suggested above, it can really contribute to mediocrity.

Of course, the pendulum may be swung too far the other way, and often is by those whose temperament is more confrontational than conciliatory.

May God help me to self-perceive and, guided by the Holy Spirit, to be fearless about integrity and truth, even when it is offensive. I must fear offending God far more than offending people.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Forgiven! How incredibly freeing!

What does it mean to be forgiven?

My O.T. reading today in Jeremiah 50 uncovered a great illustration in the future restoration of God's covenant people, Israel: "In those days...declares the Lord, search will be made for Israel's guilt, but there will be none, and for the sins of Judah, but none will be found, for I will forgive the remnant I spare."

To be forgiven is to have no remaining record of one's sin. Wow!

I'm so grateful!

God calls on us to forgive others as He has forgiven us.

If this means that I eliminate all evidence of their wrongs (real or perceived) against me, I will need God's grace to make and maintain that commitment.

A related challenging issue relates to wrongs which are not merely personal (which I must forgive) but which fall into the category of crimes against other individuals, or institutions, or society --wrongful actions which go beyond personal offenses.

What is personal, I must forgive -- erase the record. What is civil or social I must release to God and to those He has ordained to deal with such (e.g. Romans 13).

I have sometimes briefly thought (this is undoubtedly the suggestion of my sinful nature) how gratifying it will be someday to receive God's vindication where I have been wronged. Then sanity returns and I recognize that in His presence, I will undoubtedly be so overwhelmed by a new comprehension of His grace and mercy in MY life, that I will not desire nor find any pleasure in anything but God's grace and mercy in the lives of others as well.

I am so thankful for the forgiveness Jesus provides.
The metaphor of the church as the Body of Christ "extends the incarnation through time."

That is one conclusion Philip Yancey makes as he reflected on a pre-Reformation debate between theologians Thomas Aquinas and John Duns Scotus.

Believing that baptizes all of life with astounding worth. Whether carpenter or teacher, I continue Jesus' mission on earth.

How tragic that I settle for much less -- not so much in what I do, but in my awareness of what it means, and thus, how I carry it out.

How does Jesus want to change the world through me today?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Philip Yancey is one of my favorite authors. The most recent book of his I read was "Prayer." His gutsy honesty and depth are refreshing. He has great insights. CT on line included a piece he wrote about "A Believer's To Be List." It's really worth reading:

The same CT included an article entitled "What Evangelism Isn't." I wouldn't put it on a parr with the above, but it's also worth a read:

Saturday, January 05, 2008

One of my 2007 goals which I met and exceeded (that doesn't happen very often!) was a targeted number of books to read. My reading took a different turn than usual as I dipped into a number of novels...partly, I'm confident to escape pain into a world of fantasy. Imagination is a wonderful gift from God.

But most of the books were not fiction.

Thanks to Dan Lenz for suggesting A TALE OF THREE KINGS by Gene Edwards, and my bride's not-so-gentle-encouragement, "you HAVE to read this book TODAY," I "ate the whole thing" in one day. The timing of it's message was providential -- convicting, healing, insightful, affirming, revealing . . . It would probably not be as impactful (is that a word?) to someone not experiencing some of what we were at the time.

I followed up with another book by Gene Edwards (I've now read four by him but was as enamored by all), PRISONER IN THE THIRD CELL. Wow! For those whose lives include lots of disappointment and a sense of "where-is-God-when-you-really-need-Him?", this one is really helpful.

Books are great. Shouldn't be a surprise as God chose to use a book (a book of books) to tell His story so we could frame our existence and live as people of hope in a very broken world.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

This Sunday we will begin our new Sunday morning series which is a study of "Questions Jesus Asked."

In my Bible reading this morning in Mark 6, I came on another of the hundreds of questions Jesus asked: "What do you have?" In this face of a huge mob of hungry people, Jesus' question challenged His disciples to check their available resources.

As with us, their resources (a little boy's lunch) were woefully inadequate to meet the need, but sacrificed to the mission, Jesus multiplied their impact both to fill stomachs and to picture the coming kingdom/restoration when the Promised One will return and restore the ruined creation to its original perfection. Hunger will be banished.

Jesus' question, "What do you have?," reminded me of a note I recently saw which I had written some time ago in the front of my Bible:

"If you have household assets exceeding $61,000 then you are among the richest 10% in the world. If you have assests exceeding $500,000, you are among the 1% -- which numbers 37 million people. The bottom half of the world’s adult population have 1% of the world’s wealth."

As another modern prophetic voice reminded me, I "live on an island of luxury in an ocean of need."

May my heart be tender to how God wants to change me, and my hands open to share what He has so graciously given.

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” 1 Timothy 6:17-19