Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A Short-Term Church, A Short-Term World

There is an investment firm that advertises to the effect that sound investment planning is not dependent on news headlines. The message is that this firm will develop a long-term plan for its clients that will achieve the clients’ financial goals over a lifetime.

When I hear this ad on the radio I often think of how much preaching is dependent on news headlines, how much theology is derived from current events and trends rather than the Bible, and how this teaches professing Christians to think and live short-term. I also think about the fact that in business I constantly battle short-term thinking rather than work with others who value strategic long-term planning and practice.

Most preaching and teaching and writing on eschatology I’ve encountered over the past fifty-plus years has been dependent on headlines, many authors and preachers apparently see no problem in constantly adjusting their emphasis and message to fit current events – we are more addicted to news rather than focused on the Good News.

In business often everything is about relieving short-term pressure rather than working through challenges within a strategic framework – so the wheel is reinvented month after month, if not sometimes week after week.

On the political scene not only do politicians change their minds by endorsing candidates with whom they previously had, if they are to be believed, irreconcilable differences – but sadly many who are considered “leaders” in the professing church also endorse candidates with rationales and platitudes that bear no relationship to Biblical thinking.

Only Biblical thinking in Jesus Christ can preserve the church through this insanity, but we can’t have Biblical thinking if we don’t know the Bible – and yet, because of our short-term mentality we argue against that truth – we think we can think Biblically without reading and learning the Bible, without being obedient to the Bible as the Word of God in Christ Jesus. How can this be? 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Beverly in Panera

I was getting a refill of coffee at the coffee bar in Panera. A lady was also getting coffee.

“Good morning,” I said.

“Good morning.”

“This is a great day isn’t it?”

“Yes it is.”

“I’m having breakfast with a friend here. Do you have something we can pray for?”

“Well yes, my son is in prison and he’ll be getting out soon. I think God is working in his life and I want it to continue.”

“Tell you what,” I said, “how about coming back to our table and we’ll pray right now.”

Beverly followed me back to the table, I introduced her to my friend Bill, Beverly told her story, Bill told her about his prayer journal, and the three of us held hands and prayed.

If we aren't praying for the people we meet…who is?

Monday, June 27, 2016


I was looking for ice cream treats with no sugar added in Walmart. A man who was stocking shelves in the aisle asked, “Can I help you find something?”

“Well, I’m looking for something without added sugar,” I replied.

“Let me show you this,” he answered.

After he showed me a new product line I wasn’t aware of I said, “You have been very helpful. When I tell my wife about how helpful Harold (he had a name tag) was is there something we can pray for on behalf of you or your family?”

Harold thought a couple of moments and said, “Yes, my wife has had knee surgery and is having a hard time recovering.”

“We will do that. We love praying for people.”

“I do too,” Harold said. “I even pray for Isis. I want them to know Jesus. I pray for countries all over the world. About three years ago I almost died in Saint Francis hospital and God spared my life. I haven’t been the same since. I am so thankful to Him and I trust Him to meet my needs.”

“Harold, meeting you has been an encouragement to me. This wasn’t about ice cream, this was about you encouraging me. Thank you.”

I want to be an encourager like Harold.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


There is a saying that, “It is hard to find good help.” That means, coming from an employer, that it is hard to find good employees. But I’ve also come to realize that it is “hard to find help” when you need help, whether within or without an organization. One result of this is that helpful people, whether within or without an organization, tend to seek each other out and form helping relationships of trust and mutual assistance.

When one helping person encounters another helping person there is often an instant recognition that “this other person is a helper.” This is because, in part, help has become hard to find.

Now lest you misunderstand me, cultivating and honoring helping relationships is not selfish, even though it has personal benefits. It is fulfilling both because it is mutual and because it helps us help others – we can help more people when we have help than when we don’t have help.

Helping relationships are not convenient relationships – that is we don’t just help people when it is convenient, we help people when it isn’t convenient, we help people when it hurts both us and our teams and organizations – unless there is pain from time to time we don’t know whether our relationship is one that will go the distance.

Great leaders teach their people to help when it hurts, and by doing so they teach their people to live outside themselves, thus giving their people a wider perspective and helping their people to grow broader and deeper. People who primarily think about themselves will implode and grow smaller and smaller – people who think about others will have no end of growth.

The short-term pain of helping can be translated into the long-term gain of deep relationships and growth.

I have stopped asking some people to help me because I know it won’t happen, it is beyond their current capacity. I don’t think they are aware of this, I think they are so frenzied that it is all they can to do half-complete one task and then half-complete another; they are so overwhelmed that they can’t think about doing anything but “the next thing” and any request for help that intrudes upon their task list is an enemy. This is unfortunate for many reasons, for them, for people that I am trying to help, for organizations.

When others ask me for help, if responding to their requests “hurts”, if it would cause me inconvenience and pain – then maybe I’d better do the best I can to helpfully respond to their requests – maybe it matters.    

Friday, June 17, 2016

Buechner and Mystery

From Frederick Buechner:


"There are mysteries which you can solve by taking thought. For instance, a murder mystery whose mysteriousness must be dispelled in order for the truth to be known.

There are other mysteries which do not conceal a truth to think your way to but whose truth is itself the mystery. The mystery of your self, for example. The more you try to fathom it, the more fathomless it is revealed to be. No matter how much of your self you are able to objectify and examine, the quintessential, living part of yourself will always elude you, i.e., the part that is conducting the examination. Thus you do not solve the mystery, you live the mystery. And you do that not by fully knowing yourself but by fully being yourself.

To say that God is a mystery is to say that you can never nail him down. Even on Christ the nails proved ultimately ineffective." 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Song Birds

Yesterday morning as I stood with my friend Glen in the parking lot of an office building he said, “Do you hear the birds singing? We miss so much by not listening.”

The song birds give us hope – I don’t mean touchy-feely hope without foundation, I don’t mean sweet sickening confectionery hope that will rot our intellectual teeth; I mean firm Biblical hope. The song birds remind us of the Creator, and they remind us that while humanity may be intent on destroying beauty and desecrating the image of God, that while we may be bent on self-destruction, that the Creator is still the Creator and that somehow, someway, He has imbued creation with a sense that it will one day be delivered into the glorious liberty of the children of God (Romans 8).

Who knows, perhaps we will have diminished creation to one pair of each animal and to none of some before it is over; but we have the promise of the restitution of all things, we have the promise of the coming King. So I think that for those who have ears to hear that God will continue to give us song birds – they still retain their identities, they still know who they are – perhaps we can learn from them. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Ponderings from Buechner

"BREAD - Man does not live by bread alone, but he also does not live long without it. To eat is to acknowledge our dependence - both on food and on each other. It also reminds us of other kinds of emptiness that not even the Blue Plate Special can touch."

"GLUTTONY - A glutton is one who raids the icebox for a cure for spiritual malnutrition."

Frederick Buechner - Wishful Thinking

Monday, June 13, 2016

No Potatoes?

There were leftover potatoes in the fridge – earmarked for this morning’s breakfast…for me. I was going to have potatoes, eggs, a slice of pumpernickel bread, and fake meat – it was going to be good. Vickie was going to have fruit and a bagel. Breakfast on the deck was going to be good.

When Vickie called me into the kitchen to get my plate and take it outside she said, “There are no potatoes. When I was taking them out of the refrigerator I dropped them and the top of the container popped off and the potatoes fell on the floor, so I threw them away.”

“You threw them away? We could have washed them off.”

“I am not going to have you eat potatoes that have been on the floor.”

As we were eating on the deck I opened a jar of pumpkin butter so I could spread some on my pumpernickel. After spreading some on my bread the top of the lid caught my eye, it had mold growing on it. Yes, yes, the jar had been opened for quite a while, it isn’t as if I eat breakfast at home often and when I do it isn’t as if I use pumpkin butter all of the time. As I pondered the mold Vickie caught my expression, asked me what was going on, and when I told her she said, “I’ll get you another slice of toast.”

“No,” I replied, “I’ll just scrape this off.”.

“Ok, if you scrape it off that should be fine.”

At least I salvaged my toast. I did have to throw the jar of pumpkin butter away. Maybe I should have sent the lid to NIH, might have been a cure for some malady growing right in our own refrigerator.

Still though…no potatoes.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A Stupid Mistake

“All chess masters have on occasion played a magnificent game and then lost it by a stupid mistake, perhaps in time pressure and it may perhaps seem unjust that all their beautiful ideas get no other recognition than a zero on the tournament table." Bent Larsen

I read this right after losing a chess game because of a stupid mistake. The game itself was hardly “magnificent”, though I hope it had some merit. The mistake was stupid. The sad thing is that I analyzed the move a few times before making it; I probably over analyzed it, made it over complicated, and in so doing made the stupid move; and so I resigned. The move didn’t have a good feel to it but I made it anyway, this made the move all the more stupid. I should have trusted my instincts that there wasn’t something quite right about the move.

Well, the good news is that it was only a chess game. But how many times are beautiful ideas and beautiful plans wrecked in life because of a stupid mistake? It can take only a few seconds, a few minutes, for a life to unravel because of selfishness, sin, thoughtlessness, or inattention. Sometimes the unraveling may not be readily apparent, sometimes it may take days or months or years for the fruit of the stupidity to be fully manifested.

In chess a loss is a loss. In our society we don’t like to think of a loss being a loss, of sin being a sin, of stupidity being stupidity. We are masters of the spin and gloss, experts in the excuse and rationalization. Thank God for redemption and forgiveness in Jesus Christ – the loss is still the loss, the sin is still the sin – Jesus does not gloss over what we have done, He does not put a spin on our transgressions; He died so that we might be forgiven and come into a relationship with God our Father – and in calling a sin a sin and turning from sin to follow Jesus we experience forgiveness and new life. We often must continue to live with the consequences of our stupidity and sin…such is life…the hands of time cannot be turned back. But there will come a time when there will be no time…and then we will know the purity of life and conscience and peace that we were always meant to know…that will be beautiful…most beautiful…then there will be no more stupidity, no more stupid mistakes. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Mail – Part 2

I’m challenged by the request for money from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which I guess is now the equivalent of the Franklin Graham Evangelistic Association. I’m challenged because critiquing anything associated with Billy Graham is like critiquing apple pie or Chevy or the American flag. One of Billy’s books (World Aflame) was helpful in bringing me into a relationship with Christ – though its apocalyptic emphasis may have done me, as a teenager, more harm than good by causing me to think short-term about life. As a young person I watched Graham crusades on television and read Decision Magazine. I’ve been to a couple of Billy Graham crusades, one in New York and one in Baltimore. Vickie and I attended a wonderful conference for pastors in Toronto sponsored by the BGEA. I have a lot to be thankful for when it comes to Billy Graham and I know millions more people could say the same.

But then there is the fact that the association has one hundred million dollars (or more) in reserves, and that Franklin Graham pulls in a salary of around one million from Samaritan’s Purse and the Graham Association. How much is enough in reserves? How much is enough in salary? Don’t get me wrong, I think there is a place for reserves and I know the power of earning interest (assuming the markets are paying interest); and I believe in paying people well for what they do…but still…how much is enough? (For the record, I think Samaritan’s Purse is an amazing ministry).

One of my challenges is that if I were to read these figures relating to a “name it and claim it preacher” I’d be appalled; so I’m faced with the possibility that I have a double standard – one for anything associated with Billy Graham and the other for preachers who I consider suspect.

Then there is Franklin Graham’s involvement in politics under the umbrella of the BGEA – I think this is a mistake and that it is confusing. Is the BGEA about the Gospel or is it about politics and the “culture wars”? Billy Graham has lamented at least some of his political associations, is there something Franklin can learn from this?

The mailer from the BGEA promotes the “Decision America Tour 2016” with the banner, “Turn us back to you, O Lord – Lamentations 5:21.” I think this prayer is in the mind of the beholder. The idea that we are going “back” somewhere means that we were there to start with – I’m not sure where we’ve been; one thing I am sure about is that wherever we’ve been has not been either pure this or that, and I also think that wherever we’ve been is also in the mind of the beholder.

Perhaps one reason we are where we are in terms of the present manifestations of sin and rebellion against God is that we bought into the idea that we were a Christian country – that idea may (and I did write “may”) have led to giving ourselves a pass on Biblical obedience, especially within the professing church. An obedient church may have had a preservative effect on society, whereas a corrupt church can only hasten society’s corruption. Well and good if we want to repent as citizens of a nation, but I think the church should begin with itself, repenting of its own sins so that it can be salt and light to a sick society and a dying world.

I suspect I’ll continue my double standard, I can’t help it, at least right now. I’ll not be as harsh or cynical of Franklin Graham as I am of “blab it and grab it” preachers, I’ll not use the same yardstick – I think Samaritan’s Purse is wonderful (though I do wonder if Franklin isn’t setting the stage to make the ministry’s work more difficult by politicizing his message) and I know the BGEA does great work that we never hear about.

The mailer and the message from Franklin Graham is more about politics than the Gospel, this is the saddest piece in the mail – I don’t expect better from Capital One or the Discover Card or the other sales pitches I received, but I had hoped for better from Franklin Graham.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

A Dilemma

Some things are not just hard to talk about, some things it seems can’t be talked about. I’m sure many will disagree with this, after all, we’ve been taught that talking is cathartic and therapeutic – sometimes that is true, but sometimes it is like a dog chasing its tail – it can’t be caught, or if it is caught what does one do with it? I’ve never seen a dog achieve contentment by catching its tail.

We can’t know our own hearts and therefore talking about things with the promise that we will understand ourselves is a false promise; I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for talking and I’m not saying that we can’t better understand some things, but I doubt that there is any one thing in our hearts that we can fully understand, not fully.

A dilemma in talking about things we’ve done or said that have resulted in pain for others, in confusion, in misunderstanding, is that if we blame others we excuse ourselves and justify ourselves; and if we talk about outside things or people that may have influenced us in our words and deeds we justify ourselves to some degree – and sin is sin and there can be no self-justification. We cannot discern the dynamics of life to the degree that we think we can – we can see actions and (hopefully) know they are good or evil, right or wrong – but the “why” of words and deeds is often (and I think usually) beyond us – we simply don’t know – and we don’t know regarding ourselves – “why did I really do this or that?”

We can see linkage, how one action leads to another which leads to another. We can see how a certain way of thinking leads to an action. We can see that not recognizing and repenting of sin leads to more sin. We can see how consciences can be seared and lose sensitivity to sin. We can see how our own hearts can be hardened. We can also see that we can come to a place where we are at the end of our understanding, where we cannot   untangle the ball of string, where we cannot extricate ourselves from the abyss. Then we can only cry the certain cry, and plea the certain plea, the cry and the plea to God that will be answered, and then we can say with the psalmist, “…He inclined to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm,” (Psalm 40:1 – 2).

We cannot climb out of the pit; not by endless talking, not by therapy, not by endlessly analyzing ourselves and our motives and the influences of people and events – only God can bring us out of the pit; we must trust Him to do it and we must trust His forgiveness. We must also trust Him to speak to us, when He chooses and how He chooses, concerning anything He would like us to know about our words and deeds – we cannot do this ourselves, it will kill us, it will bring us to despair.

To reduce sin to psychological and sociological babble in an effort to heal ourselves ensures that we will never be healed; for sin must be confessed and Christ must be followed in repentance – sin is so serious that Jesus Christ died so that we might be forgiven and that we might be delivered from its power. I can never understand myself, but I can always trust in Jesus Christ. If I must talk, then let me talk about Jesus. 

Friday, June 3, 2016


Sometimes you can’t do things you would like to do, things others think you should do, but you can’t tell others why you aren’t doing them.

Then there are times when you do things you would rather not do, things others think you should not do, but you can’t tell others why you are doing them.

These are times that test relationships and trust. Do others know us to the point where they trust us even though they don’t understand an action or inaction? Can they sense the agony of soul and respect that agony even while not understanding the actions or circumstances? We can forgive others if they cannot trust when appearances challenge their trust, we are but human. But how refreshing and comforting when others will extend trust and encouragement to us even when they don’t understand our action or inaction; how encouraging when someone says, “I know you and there must be a reason. If you cannot share that reason I will respect that. I am here for you.”

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Mail

Yesterday’s mail:

The Discover Card wants me to go into debt – if I don’t they won’t make money. They are going to give me 0% intro APR – I think Solomon warned about this kind of thing, I don’t think I’ll open the envelope.

Capital One must have been watching the Discover Card people – they want me to go into debt too. They also promise 0% intro. They point out that they are the “Official Bank and Credit Card of the NCAA.” Now what exactly am I to think of that? I can’t recall anything about the NCAA caring about anything but money – certainly it doesn’t care about what are supposed to be “student – athletes” or it would put education before profit. Maybe being the official bank of the NCAA is a warning to me? How nice of Capital One to warn me. I don’t think I’ll open this envelope either.

Here’s another envelope from Capital One – this one wants me to open a savings account. I’m confused. How can I do into debt with Capital One if I put my money into a savings account with Capital One? How can I save with Capital One if I go into debt with Capital One? Maybe they should have staggered these mailings? I’d better pass on opening this envelope – too much to think about.

American Home Shield wants me to purchase a repair policy on our home – no point opening this one because we had a poor experience with them – the outside of the envelope tells me “Important Information Enclosed” but I don’t believe them.

ADT is sending me an “Exclusive Limited-Time Offer” – I wonder how exclusive it is? I’ll save you additional commentary – into the trash.

The ASPCA wants me to join – it’s even sent me a membership card that I didn’t ask for. I opened this one, it’s a heart thing. We aren’t going to join, and I wonder how much the organization spends on fundraising, but still, we would probably join if our resources were greater – right now we’re focused on feeding people, especially with sustainable programs like Heifer International.

My alma mater wants money – I wonder how much it spends on fundraising? I opened this one too just to see if it has changed its pitch. I am concerned about some of the school’s direction – when you try to become too relevant you can become irrelevant. I am also concerned that it doesn’t “listen”. It sent me an online survey that I took the time to fill out and make comments on, assuring me that it would be reviewed – but I didn’t receive a response. I think this is the second time this has happened. What’s the point? It wants my checks but not my thoughts.

I have two pieces of mail left – one from Costco and one from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The one from Costco is a food recall; the problem is that it is recalling food we’ve already eaten – we seem to be ok. I did open this one just to make sure I knew what the food was – the food was actually pretty good; there was potential listeria contamination the notice tells me.

One piece of mail left, from the Billy Graham group…I’ll reflect on that tomorrow. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Choose Life – Selectively?

Are you the person driving the van on route 288 yesterday morning with the “Choose Life” slogan on your license plates? The one who was weaving in and out of traffic at excessive speeds?

Can you explain to me what “Choose Life” means? Is it more a political agenda than a way of life? Have you thought through what it means to “Choose Life”? Does it affect your view of economics? Of foreign policy? Of health care? Of the purchase of weapons – both the type available and the qualifications (if any) of persons allowed to purchase weapons? Of housing? Of workplace safety both here and abroad? Of the distribution of food?

I realize that “Choose Life” doesn’t affect the way you drive on a crowded highway, I was just wondering if it actually affected anything else in your life.