Sunday, May 31, 2015

Beyond the Pages

Books tell stories. Some are written through the words on the pages, others surround them. Having recently acquired several of my grandparent’s old Bibles, I wanted to see what I could learn about their Christian walks before they went home to be with the Lord in 1992. I wanted to read the stories beyond the pages of their treasured Bibles.

Two of my grandpa’s Scofield Reference Bibles provided the greatest insights. Both Bibles were unmarked, except his name and a date written on the inside pages. However, there were papers tucked in each Bible to help me make my deductions. The first Bible I examined was his last Bible owned before becoming ill, having 1985–1986 Gideon’s Daily Prayer Guides paper-clipped in the front pages. The second one had both of their names in the front pages, along with the year 1959. The story revealed that:
  • He had a high regard for the physical copies of Scripture. Both Bibles were in good shape and the pages intact.
  • He was a student of Scripture. The pieces of paper included references to other passages or phonetic spellings of words or names. Both Bibles contained reading plans clipped inside, indicating that he made it a habit to read through the Scriptures.
  • As a longtime Gideon, He was passionate about the spread and distribution of God’s Word. In addition to the printed prayer guides, there were a couple of handwritten prayers that included the distribution of the Scriptures.
  • The prayer guides and handwritten prayers demonstrated that he was a man of prayer.

I believe that one of the greatest evidences of his faith is found in Isaiah 41:10. His last Bible had the verse handwritten on an envelope tucked in the pages: “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” I think he wrote this verse out when his Parkinson’s Disease was first setting in. Looking at the handwriting, I can see evidences of early hand tremors. While the 1959 Bible only had a couple of marked pages, there was a toothpick in the pages marking Isaiah 41. It seems that this was a verse he held onto for many years, especially when illness came to him and my grandma.

What stories will my Bibles tell about my life in Jesus Christ when my children and grandchildren turn their pages decades from now? What will yours? Our Bibles can pass on a great legacy of faith. May we treasure our physical copy* of Scripture- reading it, studying it, and living it out for the glory of God and the furthering of His Kingdom.

It was a Gideon Bible placed in an Edinburgh, Scotland hotel room that the Lord used to start drawing me back to Himself in 1993. My grandpa had no idea that his grandson would one day be changed through his many prayers for the Gideon Bible distribution- part of the story beyond the pages of his Bibles.

*While I appreciate the availability of electronic Bibles and Bible apps and use them often, I believe that they should be supplemental and not replace the primary study of our physical Bibles.

Saturday, May 30, 2015


“I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”
-Bilbo Baggins in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring 

Bilbo’s statement could be an apt description of my life when I’m not managing my time and commitments well. There is always more to do. One more ministry activity, one more person to meet with, one more place to be, one more _____; while running on 5–6 hours of sleep each night. If not careful, I am left drained and irritable, without anything left to give toward that which matters most. Additionally, my spiritual life can grow dry; leading me to cry out to God, "I can’t keep up this pace, this can’t be the way You want me to serve You." I believe many of us must slow down to evaluate and prayerfully consider a better way to order our days, a more intentional way.

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

Making the best use of our time does not mean frantically running 24/7 with our hair on fire “in Jesus’ Name”! It means living a balanced life with margin. This is the example Jesus Christ set during his ministry:
  • Of the masses around Him, Jesus chose 12 disciples to spend the most time. Of those 12, three were in the “inner circle” whom He invested the most time and energy.
  • While the request for miracles and healing seemed non-stop at times, Jesus set limits and maintained His priority of time with His Father, often getting away alone to pray.
  • Jesus stated that Mary chose the better option by prioritizing time at His feet learning, while Martha was constantly frazzled, busy, and serving (Luke 10:38–42).
If Jesus Christ limited Himself to investing in a few persons, set limits on ministry activities, and demonstrated the priority of spending time in the Word and prayer- shouldn’t we do the same?

Over-comitting makes us less effective. We become diluted in our responsibilities and instead of doing a few things well, we give half-hearted effort to many things resulting in mediocre outcomes. Beyond addressing our over-commitments, diligent effort needs to be made to identify and root out “clutter” in our lives (e.g. checking email 30 times a day, constant distractions from our iPhones, constant checking of Facebook, or overwhelming amount of information at our fingertips).

It is my goal to focus on the vital few focus areas in my life, rather than the trivial many; walking in wisdom and making the best use of the time. Specifically,
  • Concentrate on growing in the spiritual disciplines of Bible study, prayer, and journaling.
  • Become more purposeful in my reading, strategically choosing fewer books to read more slowly for increased comprehension, reflection, and action.
  • Evaluate my commitments and eliminate when necessary to focus on a few specific areas.
  • Focus on deeper relationships with my family, close friends, and in ministry.
  • Manage my screen time and electronic distractions better for greater focus and purpose.
  • Blog more often as a creative outlet and hobby.
There are a few books that have helped me evaluate my life and set direction. I highly recommend each one.
  • Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney. For the Christian, this is a primer on the basics of our lives, including disciplines such as Bible reading, prayer, fasting, journaling, and stewardship. 
  • What’s Best Next by Matt Perman. A deeply biblical book on identifying personal callings, core values, and purpose statements; and then arranging our lives and schedules around them. 
  • Simple Life by Thom and Art Rainer. Breaking life down into four key sections (Time, Relationships, God, Money), the authors show how four key goals (Clarity, Movement, Alignment, Focus) can begin to foster a life that is more spiritual and less busy, a life rich in experiences with family and friends. 
  • The Next Story: Faith, Family, Friends, and the Digital World by Tim Challies. An insightful and practical book on living well in our digital age.
In future posts I will expand on each of the focus areas identified above. The quest for simplification and focus is a journey on which I need to embark, ultimately for God’s glory and my worship and service unto Him.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Come Fly with Me

June 11, 1997. Game 5 of the NBA Championships against the Utah Jazz. With a 103 degree fever and “flu like symptoms” requiring IV fluid during the game, Michael Jordan scored 38 points to lead the Chicago Bulls to winning the game, and ultimately the championship.

Growing up in the Chicago suburbs in the 80’s and 90’s, I followed the Bulls to their multiple championships and still believe that MIchael Jordan is the greatest athlete of all time. MJ’s “flu game” is one of my most memorable. I recently read an interesting article about his leadership and mentoring younger teamates (Click here for article). Specifically:
  • Under Head Coach Phil Jackson’s encouragment, Jordan transitioned from being a “one man show” to involving others in clutch plays. 
  • Jordan spent much time with the other players on and off the court to build relationships and trust. 
  • MJ invested one-on-one time with younger players, mentoring them in the game. 
  • Jordan became the leader that others wanted to follow, pursuing a common goal.
As the church and followers of Jesus Christ, there is much we can learn from Michael Jordan’s example.

We are not a one-man or one-woman ministry. We need each other. For too long I’ve had the attitude that when the heat is on in ministry, I’ll do it myself. Jordan did this for years. But like Jordan, we need to learn to pass the ball during clutch situations.

Relationships and trust are essential. We can put together great teaching outlines or create a great ministry strategy, but time must be spent knowing and being known by others. The early church focused on the Word, prayer, and being with one another. We must do the same. Personal “me” time must be sacrificied to build these life-giving relationships. This includes one-on-one mentoring and discipleship.

Be a leader that others want to follow. If we want others to follow Jesus Christ passionately and with their whole hearts- we must set the example. We must also be quick to encourage others and raise the bar in the common goal of loving God and loving others, making Him known to a lost world.

The church will be stronger and more sustainable in the long term by focusing on these three strategies.

While Jordan has struggled off the court with various pursuits and failed relationships, much can be gleaned from his on court intensity and focus.

Epic Jordan

John Paxson's game winning shot in 1993

Saturday, May 2, 2015


Who am I?

Intorvert. Shy. Perfectionist.

For the longest time these adjectives have shaped me and resulted in various expressions to a degree I do not still fully realize. As a result,

  • I struggle in connecting with people and making friends
  • I give up easily if it can not be done perfectly
  • I am hypercritical of my failures, beating myself up over them
  • I can be hard on others, holding them to the same unrealistic expectations of perfectionism
  • I tend to focus on the negative rather than the positive

But then I come to Scripture.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 3:1–14 (ESV)

Who am I?

Chosen. Forgiven. Adopted. Blessed. Sealed. Inheriter.

The Apostle Paul got it; understanding His identity in Jesus Christ. Consider his words in Philippians 3:

For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:3–11)

I still struggle daily with my introverted and perfectionistic tendencies; sometimes to an almost crippling degree. I’m in the process of working through the root sins contributing to these behaviors (e.g. pride and arrogrance). As I continue to grow in Jesus Christ, I want to be defined by Him- for the glory of His Name and the furthering of His Kingdom.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Caleb: Holding Onto God's Promises

Caleb was 85 years old and had experienced much since bringing back one of the two positive reports (out of 12) after spying out the Promised Land 45 years earlier. As a result of lack of trust in the Lord and disobedience, the Israelites experienced decades of hardship and death in their years of wandering. But Caleb wholly followed God (Joshua 14:8, 14) and persevered- holding onto God’s promises when the time to enter the Promised Land arrived. Caleb asked to take the land he spied out 45 years earlier (Numbers 13) and was granted his request. What a marvelous example of faith and perseverance! When God does not respond “instantly”, it is easy to start doubting God and/or making other plans. We begin thinking that there is something wrong with us (or Him, if we are honest) if He doesn’t answer on our timetable. We lose hope and move on. Yet, Caleb never lost hope or sight of that which God promised four decades earlier.

Examining my own life, I’ve given up too often in different areas after growing inpatient because God had not answered in my timeframe. Most recently, this has been true in our current adoption process. Even though many months have passed, I cannot stop praying and trusting the Lord for our next child…in His time, knowing that He has led us to our specific agency and adoption program. Caleb waited 45 years without giving up hope; I need to do the same in our waiting period. Like Caleb, I must make sure that my heart is wholly devoted to the Lord (Joshua 14:14).

As the church in America we are experiencing perilous times as religious freedoms and liberties diminish in the wake of gay “marriage” legalization. Speech and freedoms will be limited as we are ostracized for holding fast to biblical truth regarding sexual morality and marriage. However the Supreme Court rules in the coming weeks, the gates of hell will not triumph over a church on the move, declaring the Gospel. His kingdom will not be defeated. Like Caleb, we need to keep a long-range view, holding fast to His promises, especially in the midst of various short-term “defeats” and difficult times. The wheat will be separated from the chaff in American churches. Many will fall away, but a remnant will remain who are faithful to biblical truth. It will be difficult, but God is faithful. He will deliver us. Like Caleb, we must remain wholly devoted to the Lord and follow Him no matter the circumstances. Our ultimate deliverance will come when Jesus returns and we enter the “Promised Land” of His Kingdom!