Sunday, January 31, 2010

Allah Not Equivalent to Yahweh

This is a good approach to answering the question, "Isn't the God of the Koran the same as the God of the Bible?"

Friday, January 29, 2010

My Name is Graven on His Hands

A coworker, a believer, recently came to me and expressed his doubts about God's goodness in his life. So many things had gone wrong recently for him, and he simply ached over them. "God must have abandoned me," he said tearfully.

I noticed that someone had written with marker on his hand. I confirmed that it was from a school event, where they put a mark on your hand to indicate you've paid the entrance fee.
I took his hand and said, "You see this? That was done with a 'permanent' marker, and it will come off in a few days, won't it?" He nodded yes. And then I took him to Isaiah 49, where God tells Israel of his faithfulness to them even in their desperate time:

But Zion said, "The LORD has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me."
"Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me."
Isaiah 49:14-16

I continued to encourage my brother: "When God adopted you, He gave you life, and he engraved your name on the palms of his hands. He didn't use a magic marker that will wear off with a little soap and scrubbing, you are carved into palms. Jesus promised never to leave us or forsake us. Cling to that promise, no matter how you feel."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What Is Necessary

John Newton wrote letters to encourage his flock. This is from one he wrote to an English woman:
It isn’t necessary for me to have a lot of money. Nor that I be admired or thought wise by the world’s standards. Nor that I be healthy or live my years in comfort. These things may or may not happen to me. They are given or withheld by the Lord, in his wisdom.

What is necessary is that I be humble. That my relationship with God deepen with age. That my life choices demonstrate I am a follower of Christ. That I submit to His choice as to whether I am allowed to serve by activity or by suffering.

It isn’t vital that I live a long life. But it is extremely important that, while I live, my choices are based on what God wants. (Thus I resist desires that oppose this high goal.)

God’s Word guides me and convicts me when I’m in error, so I can freely ask Him for what I need, without worrying about asking wrongly.

This comes from John Stanford's wonderful AO Notes blog -- I recommend you subscribe.

Monday, January 25, 2010

How Religious Is Your State?

A friend pointed me to this Pew study on the religious belief and practices across states in the US. He was appalled that only 51% of Iowans (our home state) had much religious conviction.

These observations are interesting, and have some utility I suppose. But let us remind one another of the metric Jesus gave us: "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:35)

The metrics the Pew study used were personal self-assessments on beliefs and practices. Jesus standard was what others observed of our love. That's a much higher standard -- and one impossible without the genuine work of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Tour of the Universe

I continue to be convicted that we need an ever larger view of our God and His might power. It stirs my soul to watch this animation. All things are held together in Christ!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Book Review: The Trellis and the Vine

Book Review: The Trellis and the Vine
Authors: Colin Marshall and Tony Payne

The subtitle of this book is "The Ministry Mind-Shift That Changes Everything"

My observation is that God works over time to prepare a man's mind and heart to receive a message, then brings the message forward in a powerful way and plants it in fertile soil.

This book is like this for me. I've been wrestling with ideas for our church and developing ministry leaders and administrating all the disciple-making and missionary-launching work that I am convinced God has called us to. My senior pastor and fellow elders have been praying for direction and talking about these issues for some time. What does the personal expression of the Great Commission look like for our local church fellowship at this time, and for the future?

And so the message contained in "The Trellis and the Vine" landed in fertile soil.

Marshall and Payne outline what some will perceive as radical and "you-can't-be-serious!" ideas here, and carefully point out they are not new ideas at all. I find their biblical exposition of disciplemaking and ministry very strong.

They advocate ministry mindset changes:

From running programs to building people
From running events to training people
From using people to growing people
From filling gaps to training new workers
From solving problems to helping people make progress
From clinging to ordained ministry to developing team leadership
From focusing on church polity to forging ministry partnerships
From relying on training institutions to establishing local training
From focusing on immediate pressures to aiming for long-term expansion
From engaging in management to engaging in ministry
From seeking church growth to desiring gospel growth

The title comes from distinguishing between work that builds a trellis (which only has the function of supporting the growth of the vine) and ministry work that fosters growth of the vine. On page 39 they write "However, despite the almost limitless number of ontexts in which it might happen, what happens in the same: a Christian brings a truth from God's Word to someone else, praying that God would make that word bear fruit through the inward working on his Spirit. That's vine work. Everything else is trellis."

They don't diminish Sunday morning congregational worship or preaching, but they do argue that it is insufficient. Indeed, they argue for more depth! I like their statement that "sermonettes produce Christianettes."

The authors put forward very practical suggestions on implementing a highly-relational training effort that develops people with doctrine, character, and skill to minister to others -- not plugging holes in your church gaps, but identifying the opportunities to build a ministry around their strengths and connections to others.

I highly recommend this book. I hope it gets a wide reading and a lot of attention. I pray that the message of this book is actually implemented in thousands of churches.

Right now this is the only place you can order "The Trellis and the Vine" online.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Best Quote on Change I've Seen in Ages

As a leader, I have my antennae up for information related to change and helping others (individually and corporately) change in positive directions.

Here's the best quote on change I've seen in ages:

“If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less.”

Monday, January 18, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mr. Lee!

Robert E. Lee was a great general and a great man, born this day in 1807. If you like biographies, add the one by Emory Thomas to your reading list. Or scan through the Wikipedia entry on Lee.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Countering the Hollywood-promoted Pantheism

"We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." 2 Cor 10:5

One of the most pervasive thought patterns in history is pantheism (God = nature) and spiritism, which gets popular expression in Star Wars (the Force), Disney films like "Pocahontas," the new movie "Avatar," and a surprising amount of pro-environment literature.

I really appreciated this NY Times column pointing out the Hollywood-ization of pantheism and the problems it creates:

"Traditional theism has to wrestle with the problem of evil: if God is good, why does he allow suffering and death? But Nature is suffering and death. Its harmonies require violence. Its “circle of life” is really a cycle of mortality. And the human societies that hew closest to the natural order aren’t the shining Edens of James Cameron’s fond imaginings. They’re places where existence tends to be nasty, brutish and short. Religion exists, in part, precisely because humans aren’t at home amid these cruel rhythms. We stand half inside the natural world and half outside it. We’re beasts with self-consciousness, predators with ethics, mortal creatures who yearn for immortality."

Help your family think through these issues.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Risk to Create Ideas

We know that even good ideas remain only intriguing until we act on them. A Great idea minus execution equals neuron activity (and probably wasted mouth movements).

But you still need to have good and great ideas in the first place. I believe human imagination is what sets us apart from every other part of Earthly creation, a key aspect of how we're made in the image of God.

The best approach to creating good and great ideas is to generate LOTS of ideas, including bad ones, and then be discerning about what to act upon. This means taking risks.

I like this from Seth Godin:

"The problem is that you can't have good ideas unless you're willing to generate a lot of bad ones....

Someone asked me where I get all my good ideas, explaining that it takes him a month or two to come up with one and I seem to have more than that. I asked him how many bad ideas he has every month. He paused and said, "none."

And there, you see, is the problem."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Matt Chandler on His Personal Walk with Christ

Insightful comments here, well worth your time. Be intentional with your walk, brothers!

P.S. Matt Chandler was recently diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor and is undergoing chemo and radiation treatments. Pray for Matt, his family, and his church.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Does Your School Educate Your Child?

Have you wrestled with the question of how well your children are being educated?

A friend steered me to this speech by John Taylor Gatto, "Why Schools Don't Educate." He gave this speech, amazingly, on the occasion of being awarded Teacher of the Year.

I read it through, was very impressed with his analysis, but didn't catch the original date at first. It's June 1990. Almost 20 years ago!

I encourage you to read the whole speech transcript. One thing I appreciated is that he doesn't stop at dissecting the problems, but provides several ideas that would genuinely help.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Why Networks Do Not Equal Community

There is a lot of talk and print these days about networks and networking. From a mathematical perspective, networks are real, powerful, and tend to be underestimated. Network effects often surprise us because by default we tend think in linear fashion. Technology helps us create networks of people,

Let me narrow our focus to people networks. These are the kinds of questions people ask about people networks:

What's the size of your network? (How many people do you have following your Twitter feed or blog posts or Facebook wall? How many associates do you have on LinkedIn?)

What's the extent of your network? (Do you have many people in your address book who live in different countries, work in different industries, represent different organizations?)

How can you use your network? (Can you get quickly get answers by posting questions on Twitter? Can you connect to the right people who can help you? Could you find a new job opening through your network? Will you network give you money if you ask for it?)

Note what drives those questions: pride, comparison, greed, selfish interests. Yes, there are plenty of people who understand that the way to build a people network is to provide them value, but the desired end-results are still selfish.

I believe a common misconception today is to think networks of people are communities. Writers and speakers use the language of community when describing networks. "My tweeps give me a lot of help and support." "I've never met most of the people I know except through Facebook, but they love me."

Networks are not the same as communities (though communities may in part be supported by networking technology.

Here's a suggested test for community: a community serves the weak, the unsuccessful, the inarticulate, the ordinary.

Network success gravitates towards whatever defines success for that network. People like to associate with those they admire or want to emulate or find entertaining. (Consider the celebrity effect.) But networks dissipate rapidly for anything less.

Another test: community has an ongoing sense of history. Networks tend to exist in a non-real ever-present. The past is meaningful to community, and helps shape the future. Network past is irrelevant.

Community, because it is rooted in service to one another, continues forward under all the circumstances in which networks dissolve. In truth, community often becomes stronger in those circumstances.

Don't fall into the trap of mistaking networks for community.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Red Skelton Explains the Pledge of Allegiance

This is a terrific, inspiring example of teaching the meaning of words! At first through I thought he left out two words; watch all the way through and you'll see I was wrong.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Airport Screening -- Learn from a Positive Example

I haven't met anyone yet who was happy about TSA security screens in US airports, or who had a high confidence level in their effectiveness.

This is a problem that requires a fresh way of thinking.

Check out this article about how the Israeli's handle airport security screening. They're looking for behavioral clues, and have simpler approaches to handling suspicious bags.

Food for thought: What might be some problems in your life that require a fresh way of thinking How can you model fresh thinking approaches for your kids?

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Read Your Bible So You Benefit

James MacDonald's article "How to Benefit from the Bible" is ideal as a refresher for you (I hope it's a refresher -- but being reminded is as important as being informed) and as a great lesson for your students. It's the beginning of the year, so this is an excellent time to pass along this kind of information.

Read it, print off a bunch of copies for people you know, and use it! You could even edit the basic ideas down into a handout that people could tuck into their Bible.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Guard Your Heart!

Ron Edmondson has seven excellent rules for protecting his marriage and his ministry:

I never meet alone with a woman besides my wife (or mother).

I try not to conduct very personal or intimate conversations with women.

When talking to couples I focus my visual connection mostly on the man and not his wife.

I try not to stare at women.

I spend lots of time with my wife.

I try to always remember my boys.

I love my church.

Read the details here

Anything you would add? What's been helpful for you?

Sunday, January 03, 2010

How Does the Bible Measure Pi?

An acquaintance challenged me on the "error" in the Bible by assigning the value of the mathematical constant Pi (the circumference of a circle divided by its diameter) as 3.

I'd never heard this before, but a quick Google search led me to this fascinating analysis that suggests the Bible references an extremely accurate value for Pi.

We had a good conversation after that about the integrity of the Bible accounts!

If someone presents you with a puzzle or conundrum you don't know the answer to, don't bluster or act as if you do know. Simply say, "I had not heard that. Shall we investigate it together?" That generally leads to constructive dialogue.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

The Biblical StoryLine

Graeme Goldsworthy has produced an excellent summary of the biblical storyline. This is different than a detailed chronology of the events of the Bible.

Not only is this ideal for those of you going on the read-the-Bible-in-30-days challenge with me, but this is a fabulous teaching tool for your family. Ground them in this storyline, and then they'll be better equipped to study the Bible as a whole!

Here's the summary:

Creation by Word Genesis 1 and 2
The Fall Genesis 3
First Revelation of Redemption Genesis 4–11
Abraham Our Father Genesis 12–50
Exodus: Our Pattern of Redemption Exodus 1–15
New Life: Gift and Task Exodus 16–40; Leviticus
The Temptation in the Wilderness Numbers; Deuteronomy
Into the Good Land Joshua; Judges; Ruth
God’s Rule in God’s Land 1 and 2 Samuel; 1 Kings 1–10; 1 Chronicles; 2 Chronicles 1–9
The Fading Shadow 1 Kings 11–22; 2 Kings
There Is a New Creation Jeremiah; Ezekiel; Daniel; Esther
The Second Exodus Ezra; Nehemiah; Haggai
The New Creation for Us Matthew; Mark; Luke; John
The New Creation in Us Initiated Acts
The New Creation in Us Now New Testament Epistles
The New Creation Consummated The New Testament

Read through details here.

Yo, Joe!

Much of the world has moved on from Christmas, and I'm still thinking about Joseph.

I'm pretty sure he didn't look like the painting shown here, at least he didn't wear clothes like that. (I do like the painting for the expression on his face and the tender response of infant Jesus. )

One of the curious things about Joseph is that we don't have is...what he said. There is no record of what he said. About anything.

Was he a man of few words? Maybe he talked a lot.

What he said wasn't nearly as important for us, apparently, as what he did. He obeyed God's instructions to take Mary as his wife. He obeyed God's direction to flee to Egypt, then later to return to Israel. He obeyed God's instructions to provide for his family and raise children to know God.

Key thought for you and me today: how are we doing on the obedience stuff? Not talking, but doing?