Friday, May 30, 2008

Pray for Our Brothers and Sisters in Iran

Recent news indicates that persecutions against Christian converts in Iran is increasing (see this story, and this one), even as extraordinary numbers of Muslims are converting to Christianity in many predominantly Muslim countries.

There is actually a long and rich heritage of Christianity in Iran.

Let's pray for our brothers and sisters in Iran, interceding for them, and asking our Lord to show His Wonder and Power there.

One Thought on Polygamy

There are many dimensions to the story of the Texas actions to remove the children from the polygamist's compound. I keep thinking about a statement Gary Rosberg made years ago to the men of CrossTrainers: "Guys, you can't handle more than one woman." He was referring to adultery, but it would apply to polygamy as well.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Church Leadership Lessons from the Church at Corinth

It's not easy to lead churches. Or any organization of sin-encrusted flesh-and-blood people with a finite range of spiritual maturity.

1 Corinthians is a fascinating letter in many ways. The church at Corinth obviously had a lot of problems, and Paul must have been hearing about things from a distance (e.g., "...some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 1:11) This must have been hard to endure as a leader. I'm sure Paul was distressed, possibly even angry.

But notice two things:

First, look at how Paul opens his letter:

"I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge— because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful." (1 Cor 1:4-9)

Paul is looking not at the demonstrated weakness of the church at Corinth, but at the greatness of the Lord. He's more amazed that anyone is saved in Christ than he is that church communities have problems.

That's a great leadership lesson for people leading churches.

Second, Paul's letter to this sick, struggling church has some marvelous instruction and beautiful theology -- on marriage in chapter 7, on love in chapter 13, and more. God was able to bless many in that generation and in many since, all because they had problems.


I get a fair amount of (mostly nice) flak from friends because I lean Calvinist. I'm generally amazed at how many "experts" condemn Calvin without having read him, or tried to think through the Biblical texts. TULIP was not his invention, but shorthand that came later. Calvin is incorrectly labeled as a cold, heartless theologian, but anyone who has read Calvin's writings will experience his passion for pastors, evangelism, and missionaries.

My general proposition is that I encourage people to develop convictions about theological points, but not let these convictions divide the greater Body of Christ. For example, I have studied baptism and have strong convictions -- but I refuse to break fellowship with other Christians over disputes on when or how water is used. It's taken me over twenty years to reach some of my convictions, so I need to be careful about my assessments of others who haven't come to the same point of understanding, especially in the same timeframe. Plus, I have shifted positions after more study, so I'm humble about our ability to comprehend the depths of God's work.

John Piper has a curious column recommending G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy book.

Chesterton was solidly anti-Calvin, but a great writer and brilliant thinker. Piper points out that reading Chesterton actually opened his eyes to wonder and mystery:

Nothing in this Calvinism-abominating book came close to keeping me from
embracing the glorious sovereignty of God. On the contrary, the poetic
brightness of the book, along with the works of C. S. Lewis, awakened in me an
exuberance about the strangeness of all things—which in the end made me able to
embrace the imponderable paradoxes of God’s decisive control of all things and
the total justice of his holding us accountable.
One of the reasons that Calvinism is stirring today is that it takes both truth and mystery seriously. It’s a singing, poetry-writing, run-through-the-fields Calvinism.
It’s the Arminians that are the rationalists. Arminianism trumps biblical sentences with metaphysics: God can’t control all things and hold us responsible. God can’t choose some and love all.” Why? Metaphysics. Out with mystery! It just can’t be!

Love our great God, and love one another.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Too Dynamic To Be Safe!

Mark Batterson talks about Jesus as a rebel:
One of the things I love about Jesus is that He remained the rebel his
entire life. He didn't bow to the Pharisees. He didn't bow to Pilate. Truth is,
He didn't bow to anyone except His Heavenly Father. That is what it means to be
a spiritual rebel.

In the words of Dorothy Sayers: "To do them justice, the people who
crucified Jesus did not do so because he was a bore. Quite the contrary; he was
too dynamic to be safe. It is has been left for later generations to muffle up
that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We
have declawed the Lion of Judah and made him a housecat for pale priests and
pious old ladies."

Makes me think of Aslan: "not a tame lion," and we find Him bigger as grow up.

Climate Change on Jupiter

I'm not exactly sure how human activity is responsible for climate change on Jupiter, but I'm sure someone will call on the government to do something about it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Will Rogers on Committees

“Well, the conference met today and appointed a commission to meet tomorrow and appoint a delegation which will eventually appoint a subcommittee to draw up ways and means of finding out what to start with first.” —Will Rogers

It's clear that bureaucracy and ineffectiveness are still with us, all these years later!

Ornithologists refer to a group of buzzards feeding on a carcass as a committee. Isn't that apropros?

Monday, May 26, 2008

And On Day 8, There Was Grass!

Eight days after planting the grass seed, I see little green shoots! There is much rejoicing!

(See this post for the back story.)

"For Glenn planted, and Glenn watered, and watered, and watered, and watered, but God made it grow." -- 1 Cor 3:6, the selfish Glenn version

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Holding All Things Together

Here's a diagram of the structure of the laminin protein, which is a cell adhesion molecule -- literally holding things together.

Isn't that cool?

Louie Giglio has a fun story about how he learned about laminin, in this short video:

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Thinking About Armor Bearers

Traits of Armor Bearers, from 1 Sam 1:1-14:

"Do all that you have in mind," his armor-bearer said. "Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul." (v7)

· Follows the leader, very loyal, ready to lay down his life. (From what we know of Jonathan, he was a great friend and inspired loyalty.)
· He’s young (v1)
· Finishes up what the leader starts
· Watches the back of the leader
· Closeness, and shares the confidence of the leader in the Lord – “nothing can hinder the Lord”
· Active and participatory, not ceremonial – shows himself to the Philistines, climbs up, fights and kills.
· Armor bearers carry extra stuff – even when climbing
· Armor bearers don’t get the limelight and credit later

Thursday, May 22, 2008

US Federal Entitlement Programs

The US Federal government has systematically created entitlement programs since WWII that continue to grow and guzzle. Today entitlement programs consume about 62% of the total budget. Defense and every other discretionary item, including all the earmarks, make up 38%.

Their is a lot of criticism about the Farm Bill (which President Bush just vetoed, but congress is likely to override) giving "rich farmers" unnecessary subsidies. We can and should talk about this. There's almost no media attention on the food stamps component of the Bill, which is a modest % increase over the current food stamps program, but just this increase completely dwarfs the crop subsidies payments.

The growth of the entitlements is on autopilot right now. The projected costs are staggering, and frankly, unsupportable.

The Urban Institute and the Progressive Policy Institute are introducing stopgap recommendations to would put the key entitlement programs on a fixed budget, rather than automatic increases. Then congress would need to reassess this programs each year, so those programs would need to compete in the political discussion with other national priorities.

U.S. Representative Paul Ryan has introduced legislation to take a more comprehensive look at reining in entitlements and simplifying the tax code. While unlikely to pass in current form, and certainly not in this election period, I applaud the effort to get real dialogue going in Congress.

I've taken criticism about my "insensitivity" to the needs of the poor that these programs are designed to help. Jesus absolutely cares about the poor, and so should we. But I'm concerned that when we create entitlement programs to help people, we create unsustainable monsters which consume so much in taxes and have unintended consequences on our economy, that we need to go back to the basic questions of the purpose of government vs. our individual and church body expectations. We've been running this experiment since the 1940's, and so have many other countries, and I fear the experiment will run us into the ground.

My Home Golf Course

About 9 days ago we had 18 trees removed from our yard, and I've been diligently seeding and watering to grow grass where the holes were. A friend pointed out that I could make a golf course with 18 holes! Well, that's NOT my plan.

Here's the story so far.

We contracted with a company to remove 18 trees from our yard. Some were too originally planted too close to the house, some were dying. It was an amazing process over 6 hours -- 10 guys, chain saws, chipper, two trucks to haul away the chips, stump grinder -- and a lot of hustle.

So now I need to fill in 18 holes and plant grass. First step is to pull out more of the roots. The stump grinder does a great job, but there are still loads of roots around the edges, and I needed to pull them out. I worked over two holes in the front yard with a mattock and yanked out a nice pile of roots.

Next I needed to fill in the holes with dirt.

I picked up ten 40lb bags of dirt at our local Ace hardware (because I like to support the local hardware store) and brought them home in the back of our 1987 Saab. I expected I'd get 3 or holes filled, then repeat the process a few times.


I emptied all ten on 1 hole in the front yard. One. 400 lbs of dirt for that hole! I'm sure there is a Sunday School teaching illustration in here somewhere :-) It takes a LOT of dirt!

New tactic needed -- my wife arranged for 6000 lbs of topsoil to be delivered to our driveway. Made a nice big pile! My son moved half and filled in the main holes. I used the rest to spread in the areas around the holes where the grass was thin or non-existent. [It is amazing how grass and even weeds don't grow in areas where the pines drop their needles.]

Then I raked and cleaned up the surface, scattered starter fertilizer and grass seed. I only underestimated how much grass seed I needed three times. (Four more opportunities to support the local Ace hardware store :-)

And now I've been watering. And watering. And...more watering. I drag a long hose around the front and back yard 3 or 4 times a day to keep the soil moist. No green growth yet. It's amazing how much faithful watering this process requires. (Another Sunday School lesson!)

It is a good time to pray. I'm doing everything I know to do -- prep the soil, plant good seed the right way, and water like crazy. But God causes the growth (see 1 Cor 3:6)

I'm hopeful that we'll see some green sprouts soon, which will encourage my faith.

We're still getting used to the different view, without the trees. I just want to see continuous grass out to the edges of the yard!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Insight into Delaying the Decision About the Important

“Well, the conference met today and appointed a commission to meet tomorrow and appoint a delegation which will eventually appoint a subcommittee to draw up ways and means of finding out what to start with first.” —Will Rogers

It's clear that bureaucracy and ineffectiveness are still with us, all these years later!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Portrait of American Spending

The New York Times published an interesting graphic of American spending patterns.

What's curiously missing is "giving." I suppose it's buried somewhere in the miscellaneous (3%).

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Elements of Critical Thinking

The poor analysis and critical thinking skills of the general population, especially of Christians, has pained me for some time. I've even sketched out ideas about how to set up a training seminar on thinking wisely (meaning, solid reasoning coupled with a biblical worldview).

So I was delighted to see that the great folks at Stand to Reason have just published a free newsletter outlining key critical thinking skills (note: PDF format). Their focus in this issue is taking on the "new athiests" arguments about the evils of religion. But you can, and should, apply these same critical thought patterns of reasoning to other areas.

Quick summary:

The task of critical thinking is to weed out irrelevant details so you can see the core argument and assess its strength. Work through these four questions:
1. What is the claim?
2. What are the reasons given to support the claim?
3. Which appeals are irrelevant?
4. Does the conclusion follow from the evidence?

I highly recommend the entire newsletter. Build these skills yourself, and practice them with your families.

Wheat "Holocaust"

Albert Mohler comments about a new effort to adopt rights for plants similar to what we've established for animals.

This is absurd. "The failure to distinguish between human beings and the larger animal world is a hallmark of a post-Christian culture." Bad trendline!

HT: B. Roth

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Noise-cancelling Headphones

I started using a pair of Bose noise-canceling headphones occasionally at work. Amazing!

They’re especially effective at eliminating low-frequency, steady sounds, like the rumble of the airflow vent. People can still get my attention with a sharp knock. I can barely hear the keys click as I type. Most neighboring conversation is filtered out and no longer a distraction.

I’ve tried them 2 ways while I’m focusing on a project at the computer or my reading desk:

1. Listen to instrumental music (Mozart!) I can’t focus with vocal music in the background.
2. Listen to nothing

The music really “pops” and sounds even more alive without the competition from other sounds. And I don’t need to worry about distracting others around me.

The 2nd option is really striking at first. When you cut off all the noises, at first my brain just screams into warp drive, almost as if I have to think faster to fill the void. Then I realize (again) how noisy my thoughts are most of the time. And it becomes fun to bring up a thought and convert it into prayer. If it’s an anxious thought, I surrender it to God and remind myself that HE is in charge. If it’s a concern, then I convert that into intercession, or a request.

I received these headphones as a gift. If I was going to buy a pair, I’d check out the Sony models that are comparable to the Bose, but less expensive.

Can You Combine Religion and Politics?

John Ortberg writes on "Religion AND Politics." Good insights here, worth reading. My two favorite parts:

T.S. Eliot's insight: “We want a [policitcal] system of order so perfect that we do not have to be good.”

And John Ortberg's succinct commentary on which group prevailed, the few thousand Christians or the leades of the Roman Empire (65 million members): "But here we are, two thousand years later, and we give our children names like Peter, Paul, and Mary; and we call our dogs Caesar and Nero."

Lawn Mower Prayer Guide

It’s finally the season for lawn mowing to begin here in Iowa! Let me a wonderful prayer habit that you can begin (and you’ll actually enjoy lawn mowing more).

1. Divide up your lawn into a few sections. I usually have 4 in mind.
2. Identify a person whom you will pray for with each section. (For example, I might select three family members and one of our pastors.)
3. While you’re mowing that section, pray for that person.


Now if you’re like me, your thoughts will go all over the place after you begin praying. No problem. Just catch yourself, and begin praying again. Don’t beat yourself up, just begin praying again. Don't give up, simply begin again.

It’s good training, great intercession, beautiful work for the Lord – and somehow I think the lawn looks better if I’ve been praying rather than cursing.

You can use this same prayer practice with all kinds of activities that don't require your full attention.

Friday, May 02, 2008

What if Wright Had Said This?

There has been plenty of commentary about Pastor Jeremiah Wright's comments and now Senator Obama's denunciation.

If this topic interests you, then you should check out this article. Thabiti Anyabwile looks at this situation, identifies 5 lessons for young pastors:

1. Feed the sheep, feed the sheep, feed the sheep.
2. Be willing to suffer reproach for doing good.
3. Think carefully about a separation of church and state principle in my own ministry and public comments on public issues.
4. Seek counsel before speaking.
5. Pray and war against pride.

He also thinks through what Pastor Wright could have said.

Now this last part is sure to be controversial, but I recommend it because it will prompt you to think about the story in a way that you'll actually learn from it -- not just invest a lot of energy to finger-point and pound away.

Herd of Unicorns

Joe Carter provides some analysis of the supposed political "power" of the Evangelical Right.

He provides some supporting evidence for the low actual involvement of evangelicals in the political process. (Nice description: "...politically engaged evangelicals are like a herd of unicorns: powerful and abundant in the imagination while not actually existing in the real world.")

There is also some useful commentary in this article about John McCain's positions on abortion and marriage.

What if Solar Power Was 100X Cheaper?

Here's an interesting breakthrough report: an Israeli group claims to have developed a new solar power technology that would make electricity 100X cheaper than it is with current best efficiencies. They say they plan to commercialize this in 2009.

If true, and scalable in production quantities, this could be allow solar to be a major contributor in the overall energy scheme. (Today there are a few large commercial operations, but mostly it is residential or localized.)

We're going to need major technological breakthroughs like this to make any significant changes in energy production patterns.

Also, there is a very nice report about a proposed new energy plan on the same blog. This guy has done some serious homework! I appreciate how well cited the numbers are.

As Christian men and leaders, we need to be thinking clearly about these issues.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Leadership Issue: Dealing with Change

If you're a leader, you're going to be in a position to be leading others through a change. It's tough. In any change situation, there's going to be someone who perceives they lose out.

There are cats out there -- and you can't be sure if they're pussycats, alleycats, or lions and tigers. So we focus on Christ and his direction for us, and not our fears from cats (of whatever size).

I encourage you to review Nehemiah 4 for some guidance on how we as leaders can handle these situations. We rely on God (v4-5), respect the opposition (v9), reinforce the weak points (v13), move our resources around to match needs, without stopping the work (v16), reassure God's people (v14) and refuse to quit (v15).

How Big a Lever is the Fed Interest Rate?

Brian Wesbury's article in the WSJ has me wondering about the size of the lever of fed's interest rate -- which affects a number of economic elements directly (e.g., bank loan rates to consumers), and many, many more indirectly (e.g., capital available to businesses for expansion).

In terms of dynamic systems, we know that small effects in one part of a system have potentially large and sustained effects in other parts. And we frequently see that chasing down one factor in an economic system or health system (e.g., cholesterol level) can have unintended consequences -- or no apparent effect at all -- in other parts. Humbling stuff!

Staying Humble

John Piper gives some excellent advice about staying humble. An excerpt (emphasis mine):

"I said to our staff yesterday morning, when we were talking about reputations of the church, etc., to pray that we as a staff would daily be stunned by grace in our lives. Because if we aren't amazed by grace towards us, we will be a finger-pointing church mainly.
That was the issue. Bethlehem takes a lot of stands, and therefore we are unhappy with a lot of people's views and can be very negative. I said that the only solution there—since Paul had a lot of things he disagreed with and got upset with a lot of people—the only answer is to be more amazed that you're saved than that they're lost."

How much better could our families, our communities, and our nations be if every Christian was stunned by grace daily, and more amazed at our own salvation than running around pointing out the sins of others? Imagine the amount of legalistic, soul-squishing crud that would evaporate!