Archive - June, 2012

Links Worth A Look- June 28, 2012

11 Ways I Get Things Done- Regardless of what you think of Mark Driscoll (and I’m not his biggest fan), this is a pretty handy list. I’m am TOTALLY against item #8 on this list (or at least the application of it he gives), but otherwise it’s pretty good. In the age of smartphones, I’ve found #4 to be really easy. I love that thanks to Amazon Kindle and Logos Bible Software I have a library of reading material with me anywhere I go. The Greatest Graduation Gift Ever- This is really cool. “I graduated high school this week. When my dad said he had a present for me I thought I was getting some cheesy graduation card. But what I received was something truly priceless. Following the ceremony he handed me a bag with a copy of “Oh the Places You’ll Go,” by Doctor Seuss inside. At first I just smiled and said that it meant a lot and that I loved that book. But then he told me “No, open it up…” Flags in Church?- This is a terrific article about the issue of having an American flag displayed at church. The only possible way this would be permissible is if a church wanted to display the flags of all nations where church-supported missionaries were serving, and one of those countries was the USA. Otherwise, it should never happen. The article does a great job of saying why. “To whom (or what) is glory due? The answer, of course, is God and God alone. To give glory to country is idolatry. To weave faith into

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nationalism is heresy.” 5 Myths About Spiritual Depth- “All Christians want “depth” in the preaching they hear, the books they read, the Bible studies they attend. I’ve never once heard a Christian say to me, “I just wish I could get more shallow preaching.” But what exactly is “depth”? It’s a nebulous term that almost nobody knows how to define. “ Your Pastor is not Your Political Activist- An excerpt from John Piper’s sermon last weekend. Pastors aren’t political activists, their calling is much more important. “Don’t press the organization of the church or her pastors into political activism. Pray that the church and her ministers would feed the flock of God with the word of God centered on the gospel of Christ crucified and risen. Expect from your shepherds not that they would rally you behind political candidates or legislative initiatives, but they would point you over and over again to God and to his word, and to the cross.” Finally, blogger Tim Challies has been producing a number of visual representations of important theological concepts. I’ve really enjoyed them. His latest is on penal substitutionary atonement (you can click here to see a larger version):  

The Message of the Bible in 221 Words

I’ve seen this a few different places on the Internet this week, and it’s wonderful. The message of the Bible in 221 words from theologian D.A. Carson:

God is the sovereign, transcendent and personal God who has made the universe, including us, his image-bearers. Our misery lies in our rebellion, our alienation from God, which, despite his forbearance, attracts his implacable wrath. But God, precisely because love is of the very essence of his character, takes the initiative and prepared for the coming of his own Son by raising up a people who, by covenantal stipulations, temple worship, systems of sacrifice and of priesthood, by kings and by prophets, are taught something of what God is planning and what he expects. In the fullness of time his Son comes and takes on human nature. He comes not, in the first instance, to judge but to save: he dies the death of his people, rises from the grave and, in returning
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to his heavenly Father, bequeaths the Holy Spirit as the down payment and guarantee of the ultimate gift he has secured for them—an eternity of bliss in the presence of God himself, in a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. The only alternative is to be shut out from the presence of this God forever, in the torments of hell. What men and women must do, before it is too late, is repent and trust Christ; the alternative is to disobey the gospel (Romans 10:16; 2 Thessalonians

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1:8; 1 Peter 4:17).  

For Such a Time as This: Perspectives on Evangelicalism, Past, Present and Future, ed. Steve Brady and Harold Rowdon (London, UK: Evangelical Alliance, 1986), 80. This is the story upon which we, as Christians base our lives. The basics of the story can be comprehended by a child, and yet even the most skilled scholar could never reach the end of its depth. What a story it is! When it comes to expressing biblical truth clearly and succinctly, there are few more skilled than Carson.  

The Biggest Problem in Healthy Marriages

On our drive to and from Sacramento this weekend Christie and I listened to most of The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God by Tim and Kathy Keller. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Keller brings gospel-centered, Scripture-saturated wisdom to the issue of marriage, and together with his wife provides all sorts of helpful insights. As we listened to the book Christie and I often paused it so we could discuss something we’d heard. These discussions were very helpful for us. I’ve taken away several nuggets from the book so far, but one in particular stood out to me. In the context of a discussion about what makes for a healthy marriage, Keller said the following (this is a paraphrase):

A healthy marriage is one in which both people recognize that their own selfishness is the biggest problem in the marriage.

Interesting. He went on to say it is natural to key in on the selfishness of our spouse. We, after all, know them better than anyone else. We are most aware of their flaws. Because of this, it is easy to ignore our own faults while growing frustrated with our spouse’s. I should note here that Christie and I have a very healthy marriage. We communicate extremely well, have a wonderful friendship, fight rarely, and virtually never allow disagreements to turn into drawn out conflicts. Our marriage is not perfect, but it’s pretty darn good. That being said, I was still convicted by Keller’s statement. ‘My selfishness is the biggest problem in our marriage? No way!’ I’m not proud of it, but that was my first response. It was, of course, much easier for me to identify instances of my spouse’s selfishness. Keller went on to say my response was typical, but that happy marriages are built upon the kind

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of self-awareness and maturity that leads both a husband and a wife to be more concerned with destroying their own selfishness than “fixing” their spouse. Makes sense. As I reflected on this concept it did not take long for me to identify ways that my own selfishness negatively impacts our marriage. It was quickly evident that there are many areas where I need to grow as a husband. The irony in all of this is that those who want their spouses to focus on pleasing them are the one’s with miserable marriages. When we care only about our own happiness, and notice only our spouse’s selfishness, that gets us nowhere. True marital happiness is built on a mutual commitment to place the needs of the other before our own. I’m thankful to Tim and Kathy for that reminder.  

How to Follow Jesus When It Isn’t Popular

This week I’ve spent quite a bit of time studying 1 Peter 3:8-14 in preparation t0 preach on it next weekend. 1 Peter is one of my favorite books of the Bible, and it was originally written to a group of Christians who had been driven from their homes by anti-Christian persecution. The letter is packed with instructions about how to live faithfully for Jesus in a hostile culture. I’ve been struck this week by what Peter says in 3:8-9:

Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (NIV)

In case you missed it, the recipients of this letter had been driven from their homes by anti-Christian persecution. They were literally running for their lives. And this is how Peter told them to respond. I see no mention of waging a culture war, retreating into their own little bubble, seeking political power or attempting to enforce their morality on the non-Christian culture. Instead Peter tells them to love each other, and to respond to the insults of the outside world with blessing. In other words, he tells them to live out the gospel. That is how you follow Jesus when it is not popular. Good words for a pre-Christian world. Good words for our post-Christian world. As I’ve reflected on this passage I’ve been reminded of this great passage out of Avery Dulles’ book Models of the Church:

In the early centuries, the Church expanded not so much because of concerted missionary efforts as through its power of attraction as a contrast society. Seeing the mutual love and support of Christians, and the high
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moral standards they observed, the pagans sought entrance into the Church.

When the outside world sees that Christians love each other and refuse to respond to evil with evil, it makes a difference. In our increasingly polarized culture, there is great need for Christians to live out the gospel. Following Jesus in that way will be difficult, but he will give us the strength to do it. And the world will be different for it.


Links Worth A Look- June 21, 2012

It’s been an unusual blogging week for me to say the least. A post I wrote last week, Why “Do You Take the Bible Literally?” is the Wrong Question? caught fire on StumbleUpon, and as a result it’s been seen by about 10,000 people in the last five days. In the words of Derek Zoolander, “That is a bit above average.” In my case, it’s a lot above average, so thanks to those of you who share my stuff and help put it in front of new readers. Tweets, Stumbles, Facebook shares, and the like really make a difference, so thank you! Now, without any further ado, Links Worth a Look for June 21, 2012:

A Lie We Tell Ourselves About Marriage: Marriage is About My HappinessWhen Christie and I were preparing for marriage we read (most of) Gary Thomas’s excellent book Sacred Marriage. The book’s big idea is that marriage is not primarily meant to make us happy, but rather it is meant to make us holy. Happiness is a welcome byproduct. I was so grateful to receive that counsel, and I have found it to be true. Christie and I have a healthy marriage for many reasons, and taking that idea to heart is one of them. Aaron Armstrong does a nice job of showing how it has impacted his own marriage.

An Important QuestionThis post from the Faith on Campus blog is directed towards those involved in campus ministry, but it’s relevant for anyone serving as a staff or lay leader in Christian ministry. The question is, “What does it mean to train people in the faith?” 

Free audio book of Hearing God by Dallas Willard-  This month’s free download over at is Hearing God by Dallas Willard. I’ve been deeply impacted by Willard’s writing over the years, and I’m excited to revisit this wonderful book on prayer.

12 Reasons Why Your Church Doesn’t Produce Spiritual GrowthI’m fairly certain I’ve annoyed more than a few colleagues in my young pastoral career clamoring about the importance of #1, #2 and #11 on this list. There are some really important reminders on this list.

The Libraries, Studies, and Writing Rooms of 15 Famous MenThis is a really cool post from The Art of Manliness blog. The title pretty much says it all. As much as I enjoy ebook reading (and am not at all surprised to hear ebook sales now exceed hardcover book sales), we are losing something by moving away from traditional books. There is just something majestic about a good personal library. I confess, I didn’t read much of the post, but I enjoyed the pictures. It’s amazing William F. Buckley was able to get anything done…

The Myth of Multi-taskingI consider myself to be an involuntary multitasker. I know multitasking is bad for all sorts of reasons, and I don’t want to be a multitasker, but alas, I struggle. I’ve resorted to using a (real live paper) notebook rather than a computer for most important projects, just because it’s harder to pull up blog posts, or Google Reader, or Facebook, or on a notebook. This minimizes the multitasking. In case you, like me, struggle in the war against multitasking, here’s some inspiration to stay in the fight…



5 Reflections on Being a Dad on My First Father’s Day

Celebrating my first Father’s Day as an actual father felt a bit like celebrating someone else’s birthday as my own. The 29 Father’s Days that have passed in my life prior to this one have always been about honoring my dad- by doing fun stuff , or sending cards, or making phone calls, or, on one glorious Father’s Day in 2008, attending the final round of the U.S. Open together.

IMAG0137.jpgYesterday I still talked with my dad and wished him a happy Father’s Day, but I also got to be celebrated by my own little family. Christie, Matthew and I had a wonderful day together, and Matthew gave me this super cool present (Christie may have helped a little. The photos were snapped at the ducky pond, one of our favorite family destinations).

Throughout Father’s Day I was reflecting a bit on fatherhood, something I’ve done intentionally since before Matthew’s birth. I love being a dad, and I’ve been inspired to take it very seriously for many reasons.

One of those reasons is that in the last seven years as I have worked with teenagers and young adults in a church setting I have seen many young people shipwreck their lives with poor decisions.

In every one of those cases I can remember, the individual’s father was either a) not present in their life, or b) a loser. 

I’ve had the joy of seeing many amazing young people overcome an absent father or a difficult home life to do great things, but a lack of a positive father figure is a huge setback.

Good dads matter, and with the help of God, my friends, and family, I want to be one to Matthew and to whatever future kids God gives us.

Part of being a good father is continuing to grow and learn as a father. I know I have a long way to go, and much to learn. I also know I’ve learned a few things about myself and about parenting in the ten and a half months I’ve been at this:

1) Nothing exposes your selfishness like parenting- They say you learn just how selfish you are when you get married. There is some truth to that, but adjusting to living with another adult IS A THOUSAND TIMES EASIER that adjusting to living with an infant. With an infant, you constantly must be ready to lay down your own desires and preferences and care for them. This does not come as naturally to me as I would like. It has helped me see how selfish I really am.

2) Society still doesn’t expect much from dads- I have the awesome privilege of staying home with Matthew three days per week. That means he and I go out in public together without Christie regularly. I still find it amazing how often my parenting ability is complimented by complete strangers on these outings. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the kindness (I do), but it says something about society’s expectations of fathers when a person sees me changing my son’s diaper in public and responds like I just performed open heart surgery on him (without anesthesia).

3) Having a kid changes what you’re passionate about- I care way more about children’s ministry than I did a year ago. I know way more about baby stuff. I’m more interested in recreational activities I can include Matthew in (running, hiking) than I am in activities where I can’t bring him along (mountain biking, tennis). On days when I’m working, I try much harder to make it home for lunch. I need breaks like every parent does, but in general, I want to include Matthew as often as I can I’m just not as excited about activities that take me away from him.

4) Having a kid teaches you a lot about God- This subject has been written on by folks fare more eloquent than me, and I’ve found it is true. Seeking to show Matthew love when he’s being fussy and I’m tired has given me a greater appreciation for the grace of God. Seeing him grow has reminded me of the creativity of God. Praying for him has reminded me of the sovereignty of God, and has reinforced my trust in God. The sweet moments I enjoy with my son many times each day leave me in awe at the kindness of God. The demands of parenting have made me cherish the quiet moments when I can connect with God without distraction. Having a child has profoundly impacted my spiritual life.

5) I am often reminded of all that God has given me to teach my son- Eventually I will teach him to pray, to read his Bible, to be a leader to those around him, to pledge allegiance to a heavenly kingdom rather than an earthly one, to turn the other cheek, to find his identity in Jesus, to reject violence, to love his neighbor, to be generous, and to love his family and friends well (and the list goes on…). What an awesome responsibility.

This rookie dad would like to hear from some other dads (fellow rookies or veterans): What has being a parent taught you?

Defeat the Discontentment Industry

This last Wednesday I had the opportunity to participate in a Skype call with a missionary family in Honduras my church supports. I’d met this family in February 2011 when I was a part of a team that went to serve with them in Honduras for a week. We had arranged the call so that the husband of the family could share a little bit of what was on his heart with my church as his family prepared to move from rural Honduras to Florida. He talked a bit about his biggest fear. I

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wrote down what he said as best I could:

My biggest fear is that there is a billion dollar industry aimed at my heart, and its purpose is to make me discontent with all the blessings God has given me.

Rural Honduras allows you to escape that industry somewhat. But it’s waiting once you step back into the U.S.

The discontentment industry whispers lies to you and me every day.

Hundreds, even thousands of times. So much so that we hardly notice as it molds us into its image. I remember once getting a new cell phone. I was excited about it. Then I received an ad in the mail telling me a new version of the phone had been released, and I could get it for just $30. Seemed like a no-brainer. Then I realized what had happened. The discontentment industry had almost got me. I was excited about my phone, until I saw a better one. I resisted. This time.

The discontentment industry is everywhere. Once it makes us discontent it can sell us temporary solutions.

And it wins by making us focus on what we lack rather than what we have. It conditions us to ignore blessings. It pulls us into that insane game of comparing ourselves with others. And once it has us, we’re hooked. We buy into the lie that the newest, biggest, brightest, and fastest will banish discontentment, only to be made discontent again. It’s a vicious cycle. I know the discontentment industry preys on me, and I suppose I would be afraid too if I was stepping back into this culture after spending several years living hours from the nearest major city in Latin America. But the good news is that he shared his antidote. He shared the only weapon any of us have to defeat the discontentment industry.

Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Philippians 4:4 (The Message)

The discontentment industry, and the temporary happiness it peddles, can’t touch us when we’re connected to the only source of real joy. It’s a connection that must be renewed day after day, because the discontentment industry never sleeps. It is forever working to develop new ways to communicate its lies so that they must be believed. It seeks to make us bitter instead of grateful, greed instead of generous, and stressed instead of content. And it as it pursues our hearts we must daily connect ourselves to the only One who can empower us to defeat it.  

Links Worth A Look- June 14, 2012

Why I voted For Jesus instead of Obama in the primary- I may do the same thing in the general. “Because Jesus as President requires that I live a certain way, that I become a certain kind of person, transformed by his Spirit to become the kind of good I desire to see in this world. Politics of the American Empire require marking a ballot every other year and arguing endlessly on the internet about policies I have very little influence over.” How to succeed- More pithy goodness from Seth Godin. “You don’t need all of these, and some are mutually exclusive (while others are not). And most don’t work, don’t scale or can’t be arranged.” The One Indisputable Rule for Using Social Media- Kevin DeYoung gives us one rule. It’s a pretty simple rule, but it can be difficult to follow. “Whether you are a tween, a teen, a pastor, a politician, a grandma, or a grad student, whether you blog, tweet, post, or pin, here is the one indispensable social media rule you must follow if you want to be wise, edifying, and save yourself a lot of anguish.” How to Respond

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to the Video Game Crisis- Full disclosure: I am not a gamer. My smartphone, iPad, Kindle, and two laptops have a grand total of exactly zero games on them (I even deleted minesweeper!). We don’t own a video game system. My avoidance of video games is not entirely due to lack of interest. On the contrary, it’s because they are incredibly addicting to me. We used to own a PlayStation 2 and I had one college football video game that I would play when I had trouble sleeping. That soon led to me playing nearly every night after Christie went to bed, which led to less sleep for me. Bottom line: I’ve found that my life is better when video games are out of it completely. While there is nothing wrong with casual video game playing, I worry that we are losing most of a generation of men who are addicted. Four Ways to Clarify the Gospel When Communicating to Kids- Helpful tips here for those that interact with children. Come to think of it, these pointers can be helpful in talking with adults about Jesus as well. And finally, just for fun, I must confess a new vice: A few times per week I log on to Pinterest, and then search for something like “funny” or “hilarious”, and see what boards pop up. I’ll click on a few boards and scroll through them, often laughing out loud at the funny pictures people post. Here is one recent find: .  

Why “Do You Take the Bible Literally?” Is the Wrong Question

“Do you take the Bible literally?”

That question really bothers me.

It gets asked and answered in coffee shops, television networks, and TED Talks, but it is a meaningless question.

It’s so wooden. It reduces the complexity of faith to something even more rigid than black and white.

In fact, much like a cast and crutches are signs of a broken leg, a person who asks or answers that question is showing that they do not understand what the Bible is.

The Bible is a collection of historical narrative and poetry, of metaphor and prose, of songs and teaching.

It is silly to suggest we should take it all literally.

When Jesus says to the Pharisees, “You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel,” (Matthew 23:24) he is, of course, not suggesting that the Pharisees literally swallow camels. Similarly when the psalmist writes, “Darkness is my closest friend,” (Psalm 88:18) he is not literally saying that he and darkness get together for barbecues on the weekend.

These are obvious metaphors, and there are dozens (if not hundreds) of them to be found in Scripture. Point them out the next time someone says they take the whole Bible literally.

One key to understanding the Bible is knowing what to take literally and what to take metaphorically.

Historical narratives should be taken literally. Poems generally shouldn’t.

But here’s the thing:

Just because we don’t take something literally doesn’t mean we don’t accept its authority.

And when it comes to the Bible, the key is realizing that all Scripture, whether it is historical narrative or poetry is, “inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

There is truth to be found in the metaphors and similes, just as there is truth in the histories. God’s voice speaks through all of it.

Another key to understanding the Bible is understanding context.

It’s important to have a general grasp on the circumstances surrounding the writing of various parts of Scripture, so we can understand how what we are reading applies to us today. Understanding context (and genre) helps us know what to take literally and what to take figuratively.

Context doesn’t diminish the Bible’s authority, but rather it helps us understand what God is saying through his Word. It gives us greater clarity about what the Bible really teaches about a host of controversial issues.

In fact, many who use the Bible to justify terrible things are fueled in part by a failure to understand context. This is true for angry Bible-thumpers, prosperity preachers, and those who justify violence in the name of God.

However, generally those who talk about not taking the Bible literally are unconcerned with these sorts of issues.

This is because when someone says, “I don’t take the Bible literally,” what they usually mean is that they don’t want accept its authority.

And that’s the real issue.

In most cases, such people struggle to even name a half dozen books of the Bible. They are so offended by the notion of a God who is worthy of their worship that they immediately dismiss the book that speaks of his existence.

I’ve seen it first hand too many times. Even among church people.

So don’t say you take the Bible literally.

It’s the wrong answer to the wrong question.

A better question is, “Do you take the Bible authoritatively?” Or, “Do you believe the Bible is the Word of God?”

Those are better questions, and they are questions we can joyfully answer, “yes”.




He Rewards Those Who Seek Him

And without faith it is impossible to please, him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Hebrews 11:6, ESV

He rewards those who seek him.

That is an outstanding promise.

The God of heaven and earth rewards those who seek him.

In fact, God’s willingness to reward those who seek him is so central to who he is that we cannot draw near to him if we don’t believe he rewards our seeking.


God does not want us to forget this promise. It was wonderful to reflect on it as I read Hebrews 11 the other night.

It’s a promise that begs a question: What is the reward?

It’s an important question, especially in a culture of “rewards programs” and “rewards points” that cheapen our understanding of the word.

I get really sad when we get the question wrong.

God’s ultimate reward is not good health.

It’s not your best life now.

It’s not even well-behaved children (but c’mon now God, I know you’re going to give me that one, right?).

There is nothing wrong with seeking those things, within reason. God hears our prayers and he delights in meeting the needs of his children. But we must know they are not God’s ultimate reward for us, no matter how desperately we may desire them.

In fact, when we buy into the myth that God’s greatest rewards are earthly things, we are, in the famous words of C.S. Lewis, “Like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.”

God’s ultimate reward is something far greater.

Consider what he said to Abram back in Genesis 15:1: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.”

God says he is the reward!

He gives us himself. It’s a promise in Genesis, a promise in Hebrews, a promise found throughout Scripture.

To answer every prayer we ever prayed but to fail to give us himself would leave us always wanting more.

But in his mercy he doesn’t do that. He is for us, “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul,” (Hebrews 6:19)

And so often we grow frustrated with God because he gives us the reward he has promised rather than the reward we want that he has not promised.

But our greatest desires will be met by God’s greatest reward.

And while other rewards are uncertain- often frustratingly so- there is one reward that is not.

The God of the universe gives himself to those who seek him.

There is nothing better than that.

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Hebrews 4:16, ESV


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