Saturday, December 20, 2014

Joy in the Journey

The popular How it Should Have Ended website parodies popular movies by suggesting alternate “improved” endings to the films. As seen below, the alternate ending for The Lord of the Rings trilogy shows Frodo riding one of the eagles into Mordor and quickly depositing the ring into the fires of Mt. Doom. In the closing dialog, the characters comment on the foolishness if they had walked the entire way.

 While we laugh at the parody, consider what was gained by traveling on foot in this epic story:
  • A strong friendship formed between an elf and dwarf, who began the story despising each other’s kind.
  • Skills and wisdom gained by the previously dismissed hobbit halflings, tested in battle and diplomatic situations.
  • New relationships created along the way with the opportunity and allow them to participate in the process (e.g. Treebeard recognizing that the Ents had a role to play).
  • Aragorn recognizing his true position and calling as king of Gondor.
  • Various evils exposed (e.g. Grima Wormtongue, Saruman)

None of these would have been accomplished if Frodo had ridden the eagles into Mordor. There was growth and gains in the lengthy and costly process.

There are great parallels as followers of Jesus Christ when we consider our sanctification process. Sanctification is the progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives (Grudem). While it begins at salvation (regeneration), it continues throughout our lives until we are with The Lord after we die, as illustrated in the following diagram.

photo credit: Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology (1994). Zondervan, p. 750.    

 How often do we desire “instant sanctification”, rather than the progressive nature of slow forward movement with occasional set backs and plateaus? Yet, like Frodo’s journey, consider how much would be missed in our Christian experience without the life-long sanctification journey accomplished through:
  • Bible reading and meditation (Psalm 1:2, Matthew 4:4, John 17:17)
  • Prayer (Ephesians 6:18, Philippians 4:6)
  • Worship (Ephesians 5:18-20)
  • Witnessing (Matthew 28:19-20)
  • Christian fellowship (Hebrews 10:24-25)
  • Self-discipline and self-control (Galatians 5:23, Titus 1:8)

While we all probably wish at times for our sanctification to occur more quickly and/or without the ongoing struggle in our sinful flesh, take time to reflect on how God is at work and blessing in the process of being conformed into His image and for the glory of His Name. There is joy in the journey!

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Philippians 2:12-13

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Top Books of 2014

I set a new personal record in 2014 by reading over 50 books. Like every year, some of the books were excellent and others were not. Looking back, here is my annual “top books” list, along with some honorable mentions. While I read many more good books, these are the ones that challenged me the most. This year I thought I’d publish my list before Christmas, to allow time to add to your list J.

1. Taking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung. In a day when the Bible is being discredited from outside and inside the professing church, including the endorsement of anti-biblical positions on many issues, this is an essential read. In 124 pages DeYoung succinctly makes the case on the reliability and sufficiency of Scripture. DeYoung's stated purpose is "to convince you and (and make sure I'm convinced myself) that the Bible makes no mistakes, can be understood, cannot be overturned, and is the most important word in your life, the most relevant thing you can read every day" (page 16). Written in every-day and non-technical language this book should be widely read and discussed by students, parents, church leaders, families, church small groups, and churches as a whole. 

2. What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms How You Get Things Done by Matt Perman. It has been a long time since I have been personally challenged as much by a book as I have by this one. This book connected with me on several levels. First, as a Healthcare Process Improvement Specialist, I found the practical teaching on schedules, delegation, and efficiency/effectiveness very helpful. However, I especially appreciated the Gospel-centered approach to all of the issues covered. This book examined productivity and life focus in light of the Gospel and who I am in Jesus Christ. Perman's arguments are rooted in the fact that we are called to do good unto others as followers of Jesus Christ. He effectively supports his argument through the 350+ pages. Related, the section I found most beneficial was where he walked the reader the identifying and developing a personal mission statement, life principles, finding a life calling, and understanding life roles and responsibilities. Personally, this content has already been life transforming, as it has created a "laser beam focus" to schedules, commitments and ministry activity.

3. When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. This book challenged me to consider the best approaches to address material poverty in a Gospel-centered way that respects and helps individuals, rather than inappropriately throwing money and resources toward them; contributing to the issue rather than alleviating it. The book uncovers the history and root causes of poverty in our nation and world. Having finished reading the book earlier today, I’m still wrestling with my personal action steps.

Honorable Mentions that I Would Highly Recommend
·      Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers. A practical philosophy for building a good life in the digital age, this book examines how to live in our constantly connected world.
·      Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. This classic Christian allegory is a must read. However, I recommend a modern English edition.
·      Real Christianity by William Wilberforce. Written in 1797, this book could have been written in 2014. Wilberforce contrasts cultural Christianity with authentic faith.
·      Recovering Redemption by Matt Chandler. A book on change for the Christian and breaking from sinful patterns based on the Gospel and our position in Jesus Christ.
·      Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney. A  great book on the basic disciplines required for growth in Jesus Christ, including Bible intake, prayer, fasting, serving, evangelism, and journaling.

Great Biographies Read During 2014
·      The Thunder by Douglas Bond. A historical novel about the Scottish Reformer John Knox.
·      Amazing Grace by Eric Metxes. A biography on William Wilberforce, the 18th century abolitionist and one of my personal heroes.
·      John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace by Jonathan Aiken. A biography about the former slave ship captain and author of the beloved hymn Amazing Grace. Newton was Wilberforce’s pastor and co-laborer in the abolitionist movement.
·      Fierce Convictions by Karen Swallow Prior. Another biography about a contemporary of Wilberforce and partner in the abolitionist movement, Hannah More. A compelling and challenging story.

Happy reading!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Hourglass

Today on my 39th birthday, I took time to reflect back on my life over the last four decades and look ahead to the days ahead. My life is like an hourglass where each grain of sand dripped is never to be regained. When the last grain of sand falls in my life, I will stand before the Lord to give an account about my life lived (Romans 14:12).  I want it to be a life lived well for Him. 

When considering the past, there are four* primary spiritual markers that have significantly shaped my life in Christ.
  • My salvation. Sometime around 1986, I vividly remember asking Jesus Christ to be my Savior from my sins while watching a preacher on television. It was at that time that I became a new creation in Jesus Christ and the start of my journey in Him.
  • God capturing my heart. As a college freshmen in 1994, the Lord “flipped the switch” on my heart and drew me back to Himself after several years of wandering and spiritual apathy. At that time He gave me a strong desire to learn His Word and start attending church regularly. WMBI in Chicago was a great blessing as I soaked up hours of teaching each week.
  • Joining a church family. Three weeks before our wedding in 2001, Danielle and I were looking for a new church to attend. I distinctly remember the Lord burdening my heart to check out Maywood EFC. As one who grew up as a sporadic church attender in multiple churches, I never had the experience of getting to know others and being known as I have experienced at Maywood.
  • Serving in junior high ministry. In 2002 God placed another strong burden on my heart- Danielle and I were to start serving in Maywood’s junior high ministry. While most people were running away from junior highers, He gave us a love and passion for them, which extended over many years. It was during that period when the Lord revealed and allowed me to start using my spiritual gifts of teaching, leadership, and administration. These gifts originally recognized while serving in the junior high ministry have expanded into many other areas since.

 While there is no guarantee that the Lord will grant me another 39 years of life (James 4:13-15), if He does, there will be additional  spiritual markers to record along the way. I want to live each day with intentionality and for Him, in accordance with Scripture:

So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:15-16

Finally, I never want to forget that how I live in this short life will affect eternity. Donald Whitney stated, “as a relatively small rudder determines the direction of a great ocean liner, so that which we do in the small span of time influences all eternity” (Whitney, 162).  As the sand of my life’s hourglass continue to fall, I cannot delay in my decisions to live more for the Lord, “deciding to discipline yourself to use your time for the purpose of godliness is not a matter for delay and deliberation. Each hour that passes is another for which you must give account” (Whitney, 166).

Sola De Gloria!

*Of course there are other obvious markers in my spiritual journey such as becoming a husband and a dad, but these four have significantly impacted my roles and relationships.  


Whitney, Donald (2014). Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Hoof Beats

Ebola, Russian antics, Mideast unrest, North Korean craziness, Isis on the rampage, economies dancing on a knife’s edge, earthquakes in strange locations, and multiple weather anomalies. The list could go on. These are the subjects of newsfeeds in 2014. 

As a follower of Jesus Christ, many passages from the Bible come to mind when reading world events. Consider the following:

Matthew 24:3-8
As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.

Revelation 6:1-8
Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.
When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.
When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!”
When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider's name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.

Regardless of our end times convictions*, we can’t ignore that it seems like Jesus’ return is soon approaching when comparing our world state with Scripture.  This begs the question for Christ followers- do we care?

Are we living as if everything will continue on as it always has for the last two thousand years, or are we living with an urgency- truly believing that Jesus could return at any time? How is it affecting our money choices, schedules, church focuses, relationships, pursuit of holiness, etc.? Even if Jesus Christ delays His return by another 1,000 years, we must remember that every person we encounter is potentially only one heartbeat away from standing before Him, either as Savior or as Judge. I know that my priorities need to be adjusted, how about yours?

Let us not grow fearful when reading today’s headlines, but let us grow more purposeful, remembering that we are ambassadors of our coming King, and charged to make His Name and the glorious Gospel message known.

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.
2 Peter 3:11-14

* I personally am premillennial in my theology, and split between historical premillennial or dispensational/pre-trib rapture positions.