Friday, January 30, 2015

Leadership lessons from...The Princess Bride!

I’ll be honest, some of the ideas that I put up here are half-baked thoughts, driven by a moment of insanity. It’s not always the best writing you can imagine. This may even be similar to something else out there—but I’m not copying it, because I haven’t seen it. It’s a blog, after all, and worth every penny I pay for it. (Which is approximately 1000 pennies a year for the domain name.)

Today’s leadership post features…

Leadership Lessons from The Princess Bride

(yes, the movie)
(with apologies to the writers, actors, directors, and sensible people who find this silly)

I. Identity leads to clarity: “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

The secondary story in The Princess Bride is the pursuit of justice by Inigo, seeking retribution for his father’s murder. Inigo is relentless, often to the point of danger. Yet there is a time in the film when he has lost his way. When that happens, what brings him back? Being reminded of his quest.

From this, we take the lesson that identity leads to clarity. Inigo knows who he is, and this brings clarity on his mission. Further, no one meets him without finding out the backstory of his life and the mission Inigo lives for. While other issues arise, they are either for the sake of paying the bills or as an aid to accomplish his purpose.

What, then, should we do? Know who you are. You need not go off pursuing enlightenment about your identity—recognize what life has made you. And then establish your identity and quest from that point. Keep it clear, and minimize the distractions. Filter the rest of your life through that identity and clarity.

For example, I am a Christian devoted to communicating the truth of God’s Word to all those I encounter. To that end, I have taken on some jobs and avoided others. I have pursued some study and avoided other study. But it’s not my purpose to be a pastor. Pastoring is how I accomplish my purpose.

II. Do what you can today: “Good night Westley, good work. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.”

The Dread Pirate Roberts typically left no survivors, but he made an exception for Westley to work as his valet for a day. For years, this was the last thing Westley was told at night. Not a positive way to live.

Yet over time, Westley wins the Pirate’s trust. From that point, he learns the secret of the Dread Pirate Roberts and comes to fortune as his successor. Why?

Because he did what he could do, what was right in front of him.

How can you focus on the task at hand? It may not lead to piracy, but it may bring you to true love.

III. Show integrity: “We are men of action, lies do not become us.”

After being captured by the bad guys, Buttercup makes a deal with the prince. She will go with him, and Westley should be released to his ship. The prince makes this deal, intending to have Westley killed instead.

The henchmen, Count Rugen, attempts to sell the lie to Westley, who then speaks the line above. The result? Rugen knocks Westley out, throws him in the pit of despair, and tortures him.

Our hero does not truly reap the reward of his integrity until later in the film. We don’t like that idea, but it remains important. He stands for all that we should be and is the only person throughout that is both honorable and stable.

Is that not what we should be? We ought to be people of action—those who act on their intentions—and people of integrity. Lies do not become us. Not at all.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

In Misery: Luke 17

In Summary:

As Jesus is headed to Jerusalem in Luke 17, he continues teaching the disciples. (It’s worth noting that Luke, like Mark, uses the “on the way to Jerusalem” for heading to the Cross. Neither have a casual trip to Jerusalem for Jesus.) First, he issues a warning against those who cause others to stumble. This is coupled with commanding the disciples to be forgiving toward one another—and this isn’t just between the Twelve, but for all the followers of Christ. Is it possible that our unforgiving attitude causes others to stumble? We need to consider this.

Further, Jesus speaks of the need for faith. I find it telling that Jesus responds to the request to “increase” the disciples’ faith with a statement of “if you had faith.” The implication is not that they have too little faith. It’s that they have none at all. They lack trusting obedience in Jesus, based on the following statements about what their lives should look like in response to God’s commands.

The ending section of Luke 17 is why I choose not to get worked up about anyone’s prediction of timing of the return of Jesus and the end of the world. He assures his disciples that he is coming back. He assures that this will bring the final judgment. And he describes it as quite unexpected by many. We should take this in this manner: there are signs, just as there are signs that allow prediction of weather. But our ability to predict is imperfect, so we must live as if it will be any time. Stressing about blood moons or any other nonsense is just that: nonsense. Do what needs doing.

In Focus:

We’ll put the middle story, Luke 17:11-19, in focus today. Jesus encounters ten lepers. They call out for mercy, and Jesus commands that they go show themselves to the priests. As they go to meet that ceremonial need, they are healed. Nine of them continue on, but one returns to give thanks to Jesus and glory to God. That one? A Samaritan, typically an outcast in that society.

Three key ideas in this passage:

First, misery knows no ethnicity. The average first century Israelite would not have stuck around a Samaritan. When the misery of being a social outcast, a leper, hit them, the other lepers welcomed the Samaritan. Or perhaps he welcomed them? The backstory is unknown, yet from the current events we can tell that what had divided people pales in comparison to misery forcing them together.

Second, mercy restores. Lepers had to show themselves to the priests, who would pronounce them as clean and restore them to society. Given that differing skin diseases all fell under “leprosy,” it’s possible that these lepers were not afflicted with the rapidly fatal form. Instead, their misery was social rejection and the slow approach of death. The mercy of Jesus restores them to the community.

Third, there’s always time for gratitude. This event raises a question: why is the tenth leper praised, and the other nine criticized by implication, when the nine were being obedient? The issue is this: there would always be time to handle the details of going to the priests, but Jesus was on his way somewhere…the nine will not find him there when they come back. They should have taken the time to express gratitude and then continued in obedience. (One could also argue that Jesus knew they’d never try, but that idea does not seem like the point here.)

In Practice:

First, misery knows no ethnicity. Neither does need, nor salvation. Why, then, do we spend so much of our time only with people like us? The Samaritan shifts from misery with Jews as a leper to praising God, with Jews (the disciples!), after healing. If we have been delivered, our focus should be more on the One who delivered us than on who looks like us.

Second, mercy restores. Mercy does not say to others “you’re forgiven, but get out.” With all proper consideration of protecting people from their attackers, the community of faith should be a place of restoration. The Samaritan never forgot he had been a leper. You don’t have to keep reminding people of their past. Let mercy restore them among the community. And yes, our sanctified segregation of pigeonholing people into ‘ministries’ to folks whose sin is similar to their old life is often our way of maintaining their guilt. Maybe that thrice-divorced person actually has a passion for something other than divorce recovery? Or that single mom wants to work with the elderly? Let us consider that.

Third, there’s always time for gratitude. Always. Take time to say thank you. How long did it take the Samaritan? Not very. We’re not talking about derailing obedience to spend hours upon hours. We’re talking about putting gratitude first on the list, and then working out from there. Do it. Allow your obedience to reverberate with the gratitude of a healed heart, rather than a cold list-check.

In Nerdiness: 

I want to look back and raise a question from Luke 17:10. We are in heaven because our Master has allowed it, for we are his servants (or slaves, as you read it). Is our service deserving of ‘reward’? Or is it just what we should have done?

Why, then, do we talk so much about how we expect to be rewarded in heaven for what we do?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Sermon Recap for January 25

Good Morning! Here are the sermons from yesterday:

Morning Sermon: Stop Waiting! Mark 1:14-20 (audio)

"Stop Waiting"

Fixed mark: Stop waiting and obey the call of God

On Background:

Mark rapidly shifts from John the Baptist to Jesus—rather than dwelling on the conditions of John’s imprisonment, the ministry of Jesus is picked up immediately.

Notice what happens:

First, Jesus is preaching the Gospel. Nothing positive happens spiritually that God does not initiate!

1. Jesus began ______ the gospel of God (preaching)

God takes the initiative in our salvation—He is the God who seeks and saves.

What is the Gospel?

We all need to be able to make this definition: What is the Gospel? That Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God, lived a sinless life, fulfilled the Law of God, died for sinners, rose up from the dead under His own power, and ascended to Heaven. Because of His substitution, our debt from sin is paid for and God judges us not by our works but by Jesus’ works. This is what is necessary for our salvation.

How should we respond to the Gospel?

2. The response was to repent and believe. Repentance means to ________ and _________ (acknowledge wrong and change behavior)

Repentance involves acknowledging our sin and changing our behavior—and belief is connected to that concept.

We do not believe what we do not act on.

From that point, our belief drives us to follow Jesus. It is not the business of the world, of those who have not believed, to try and follow Jesus. That’s like convincing someone who needs heart surgery to put on a clean shirt for the party.

3. Those who repented and believed were called to _____________Him (follow)

After repentance and belief, though, it is another matter. We are no longer in need of a heart transplant, a brain implant, and resuscitation to life! We are alive.

So we must follow Him—and doing so involves dressing ourselves appropriately (Isaiah 61:10) in the righteousness of life and action, like Christ.

Following as a disciple follows belief and repentance.

Following also should be done without delay:

4. Peter, ________, _________, and John followed ___________ (Andrew, James, immediately)

See what occurs: no delays, no pondering. Action.

5. We must ___________________ and __________ the call of God (stop waiting, obey)

What does that look like?

1. Salvation

2. Baptism

3. Reconciliation with one another

4. Evangelism

5. Commitment of all we have.

Evening Sermon: John 3:16 (audio)

1. God’s love—not our seeking

2. Uniqueness of Jesus

3. Life everlasting

Concluding Notes:

1. I do have the rough audio of Sunday Night’s Q&A session, but I’m not sure yet that it’s useful for posting.

2. I am not sure how to improve video quality with the current equipment.

3. If you want to subscribe, here’s a list:

A. iTunes for audio subscription link is here.

B. General Audio RSS feed for other programs is here.

C. If you’re a Stitcher User, the link is here

D. For Youtube Video, subscribe here:

E. Some videos are up on Vimeo, but budget constraints have ended my posting to Vimeo for the time being.

4. Yes, I think I’m not getting a lot of plays on each service or hits on each blog, but in total it’s a decent reach. A social media expert might suggest changes, but this is free-to-cheap, where I have to live right now.

5. Each blog has a “Follow” button and a “Subscribe via Email” option

6. Follow on Facebook: Doug’s Page or the First Baptist Almyra Page

Friday, January 23, 2015

Tools and Links January 2015

I had some random thoughts I thought about sharing, but I’ve been sick this week and just could not get them together as a coherent thought. Instead, I want to point you to a few tools and links that I like and tend to use.

First, some general reading:

I pastor and I write, and while the two tend to overlap there are some differences. Additionally, there are leadership development resources that I like to read. All that to say this: not every link on this list is from Bible believing Christians. I am firmly convinced that Christianity is the only path to God and that the Bible is God’s perfect revelation of Himself through words.

I also know God puts wisdom in the mouths of many, sometimes in the mouths of those who I would love to sit down with and bring to the faith.

On writing and creativity:

Steven Pressfield’s blog/website here: He has multiple contributors and I haven’t seen a bad post yet. I read Pressfield to both challenge and encourage me.

Jeff Goins over at He’s written a few good books, but his next one, called The Art of Work is head and shoulders above those. Look for me to promote that one a lot.

On leadership and organization:

Jonathan Milligan’s website here: is worth your time. He thinks through some process points that slip past me.

Pastorally, Thom Rainer’s blog is usually good here

On Education and Family:

Yes, this is personal because Ann works for them, but HEDUA’s website at is very useful. Here’s the direct blog link.

Also worth reading:

Second, some tools for usage:
Printed organizers and planners:

While my wife helps design the planners at HEDUA (above), I don’t use them. I’m still thinking that someday I need to help design a “Pastor Planner” that fits my niche, but until then:

1. I’ve got one the Spark Notebooks from on its way. I’ve looked at and used the PDF she sent, and I like the look of this as a tracking/big idea notebook. You can’t get one right now—but more will be printed later this year. Kate’s blog is also worth reading on organization and work.

2. There’s also the Week Dominator.  I’m a fan of’s materials, especially their giant wall calendars. This planner is better on the week-to-week, for me, than the Spark but I like both.

Digital tools

1. Evernote. What can I say? Nothing does what Evernote does. If you use multiple digital devices for important things and don’t use Evernote, I think you’re missing out.

2. I’m trying out ZenDone as a tasklist type organizer. The jury’s still out. It’s a little more customizable than I found Nozbe to be, but I’m not sure yet.

3. Sunrise Calendar does a good job doing the final harmonization of all the digital calendars of my world. I just forget to check it.

One thing: if you use all of the above on your digital device, DISABLE NOTIFICATIONS for most of them. For example, Evernote reminders will alarm. Then Zendone will alarm for the Evernote reminder. Then Sunrise goes off for it as well. I’m using just Sunrise for notifications because it consolidates all of my calendars.

That’s about it. Just thought I’d peel back and show you how I keep track of what I should be doing.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Consider Victory: Deuteronomy 20

In Summary:

Deuteronomy 20 is a chapter that is very tempting to skip over. It’s a summary of the laws of war for the people of Israel. They break down into the laws governing who should fight, how you should fight, and what to do in victory.

One of the major questions that arises from a chapter like this stems from the commands found in 20:13 and 20:16-17. In these passages, God commands that the Israelites kill either all the men of the city, or all the inhabitants of a city.

This bothers us. And it should. Human life is precious. All human life, even the lives of our enemies in war, should be valued and killing should be seen as the last resort, not the first response. To get to the bottom of this, we have to answer a question: Why do we think all human life is precious?

The answer might not be clear to you, but it’s this: all life is precious because God said so. (Genesis 9:5-6, Exodus 20, the Gospel all come to mind). Our cultural values are founded in God’s Word, but like the foundation of our homes, we often overlook that truth. We just know that our culture says killing is bad—and killing everyone is worse!

If we pay attention to our thinking, though, we realize that if life has value because God said so, then God is permitted to revoke that declaration. Those who have violated God’s laws, He is righteous when judgment falls. This is true whether it falls individually or corporately.

In Focus:

Let us put a slightly odd pair of verses in focus. Take a look at Deuteronomy 20:19-20. These verses about…trees.

That’s right, trees. The same chapter that provides Biblical support for massive siege warfare also points out that the Israelites were not at war with the trees. They should leave the trees alone.

Peeling back, though, we see that it’s not about all the trees. It’s just about the trees that produce food. The NASB uses “fruit tree” but the more literal rendering is “trees for food,” so nut trees would be in view as well.

The recognition here is that trees take time to grow. There is no purpose in setting the economy of a conquered area back at least three years just to win the battle.

In Practice:

Obviously, one practice that should come from this chapter is a prohibition of scorched-earth style warfare. What this says of how we have fought and won wars in the past as a nation needs a book-length treatment, but there’s something to consider there.

Second, though, we should examine how this applies into our interactions with other people. Most of us do not fight physical wars everyday, but we interact with others and have conflict.

There is conflict between Christians and the world we live in. Often, we engage in discussions and politics as if we have no concern for the long-lasting damage we are doing to people by our behaviors.

And if it’s possible to be worse, it’s worse within our own Christian churches. We strip mine everything around us just to win arguments.

Instead, we need to consider this question: what happens after we win? Is there anything left?

Truth matters and is worth fighting for. The method matters, though, and that’s what needs considered.

In Nerdiness: Consider the reality of fighting wars only with those who are not scared. What would that involve?

Then remember: fear, in this case, was due to lack of faith. As we stand forward for Christ, let us not be fearful due to lack of faith!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Book: A Commentary on Exodus

Today’s Book is brought to you by Kregel Academic and Ministry.

Let’s take a look today at Duane A. Garrett’s A Commentary on Exodus, from the Kregel Exegetical Library. I have additional volumes in this series, including the Judges-Ruth volume and 2 out of 3 volumes on Psalms. I’ll be upfront: I’m a fan of this series.
Moving from generic ideas to specific: this is a solid, hardcover book. It cries out to be carefully read and marked up with 722 thick, no-bleed through type pages.
AND IT HAS FOOTNOTES!!! This is good, for one is not forced to flip around to find what that little number refers to!
On to the specific content: Garrett clearly holds the text of Exodus as representing actual events. That may bother some, but it holds no bother for me, because I accept that as well. For me, there’s no value in a mythological Exodus, so I wouldn’t bother reading 722 page books about it. Neither would I understand writing a book of that length about it.
Garrett’s introductory material deals with items like the date of the Exodus. I find his viewpoint on the date of the Exodus helpful, though he leaves the question open. I also like the reasoning and information shared about the location of the Red Sea crossing.
This volume also features Garrett’s own translation of Exodus. As this is an academic/technical commentary, I find myself accepting this and seeing it as helpful. (I’m still not a fan of self-translation as the main text for devotional/popular works.) I don’t see anything earth-shattering or odd in the translations, but the slight differences force me to read slower.
In all, this is a helpful addition to the reference shelf. I’d recommend it for the pastor, Biblical studies student, or in-depth teacher. It’s probably not for the casual reader.
Book provided by Kregel Academic and Ministry in exchange for the review.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

In the Money: Luke 16

In Summary:

Luke 16 recalls two stories, and they both deal with material possessions. First is the unjust manager (Luke 16:1-12) and second is the story of Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). In both cases, Jesus is addressing people’s use of material wealth and the overall destruction that it wreaked on their lives.

The first story gives us a man charged with watching over someone else’s wealth. He is called to account for his use of that man’s wealth, because he had not been diligent with his stewardship. Knowing that his well-being was on the line, he rapidly rewrote a few of the debts that were owed his master. He used this leverage to improve his relationships with the debtors.

His master praises him for it. There are hard parables because obeying them is hard. Then there are hard parables because we just don’t quite get the point. That is what this is. Augustine suggests that the praise here is in planning ahead, being prudent. I think the praise here could be taken differently: Jesus is highlighting that the people of this age know how to make friends in this age. If you are not going to follow Him, you had better find ways to make friends.

Take a look, after all, at the audience. Luke 16:14 highlights the Pharisees in the audience. What do we see the Pharisees as doing? Mismanaging their master’s wealth: they poorly used the Word of God. In the preaching of Jesus, they are called to account—but rather than seek forgiveness or change their ways, did they perhaps start loosening their hard ideas to make more friends?

In Focus:

The second story will take our focus. We see the story of the rich man and Lazarus. I do find it odd that we typically refer to it as the story of “The Rich Man and Lazarus,” putting the unnamed antagonist first rather than the named, righteous man. That probably says more about us than about the text.

In this story, we see a key element missing. There is no mention of the religious leanings of either of the men. I would suggest that is safe to assume that both are Jews, likely in the same era as the life of Christ, perhaps from just a bit before. We can make that leap on decent ground because of the familiarity both men have with Abraham, Moses, and the Prophets. (This is a parable that I am inclined to think is a true story with some aspects, for lack of a better term, dumbed-down for audiences that can’t really see eternity.)

It is important, then, to realize that Lazarus is not in heaven simply because he was poor. He has gone to where his faith brought him. Likewise, the rich man is not in hell for being rich, but rather because he had Moses and the Prophets. He knew better than to behave like he did, and he has gone where his lack of faith sent him.

In Practice:

Practically speaking, there are three points I would highlight for us from these stories:

1. You cannot serve God and wealth. Jesus made that point Himself in 16:13. If your thoughts are consumed with improving your earthly abundance, then you are not serving the Kingdom of God. That is true if you are a person, a business, or a church. And woe, woe unto the church that falls into this trap.

1A. Just because you “talk holy” about your wealth does not mean you are not in violation of this idea. God sees your heart.

2. How we use the material we have reveals our faith. The rich man, the unjust steward both show a lack of faith in God because they lack integrity and compassion. The result? They have comfort and friends on this side, in this world.

3. Faithful stewards are found in those who are faithful in all things. Why? Because character shows through, wherever you are and whatever you are doing. This is part of our national problem: we keep putting people into situations that they have never grown the character for. The job does not make the person—the job reveals the character of the person. Skills can be taught, character must be grown. Grow character in children, encourage character in your workplace, develop character in your churches—and then train skills as needed.

In Nerdiness: 

Ah, my nerdy friends, what shall we do with 16:17? It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than an iota of the Law? Here is a suggestion:

The Law did not pass, but it was fulfilled in Christ Jesus. Therefore the Law serves to instruct in the holiness of God, demonstrating our need for grace and salvation. Rather than serve the Law, though, we serve the One who fulfilled it.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Sermon Recap for January 18 2015

Good morning! Here are the sermon replays for yesterday. We had a power outage that ended in the middle of church. No, we did not offer a prayer or any kind words regarding the squirrel who gave his life so that we could have church in the dark.

Morning Sermon: John 1:43-51 (audio)

Title: Finding Life

1. The first response to recognizing Jesus is to______________ (find others)

2. Other people are not _____________ (excited about faith)

3. Life is found ___________

4. If we _____________ (value life) we will ____________ (proclaim Jesus)

5. Only the ___________ (living) can respond to the Gospel

Thus, it is grace as living word, word of God, which God speaks as God pleases. It comes to us as a gracious call to follow Jesus; it comes as a forgiving word to the fearful spirit and the broken heart.  (Bonheoffer, Discipleship)

Evening Sermon John 1:1 (audio)

I. The Eternality of Jesus

II. The Fellowship of the Trinity

III. The Equality of Jesus

Concluding Notes:

1. I will post the “What it Means to be a Baptist” material separately. I want to give that its own post later in the week.

2. I am not sure how to improve video quality with the current equipment.

3. If you want to subscribe, here’s a list:

A. iTunes for audio subscription link is here.

B. General Audio RSS feed for other programs is here.

C. If you’re a Stitcher User, the link is here

D. For Youtube Video, subscribe here:


4. Yes, I think I’m not getting a lot of plays on each service or hits on each blog, but in total it’s a decent reach. A social media expert might suggest changes, but this is free-to-cheap, where I have to live right now.

5. Each blog has a “Follow” button and a “Subscribe via Email” option

6. Follow on Facebook: Doug’s Page or the First Baptist Almyra Page

Friday, January 16, 2015

Book: The NASB Note-taking Bible

Look! It’s a hardcover Bible!

Today’s book is The NASB Note-Taking Bible, published by Zondervan. I asked for one, and they sent me one. That means this review is a review of a free book. Okey-dokey? Good.

First, let me say this up front: I like the New American Standard Bible. That is my go-to translation for just about everything. Yes, there are places where the English is a little stuffy in the NASB. There are some strange phrasings. I find it, though, to be the best Bible in English for study. I am not going to attempt a review of the NASB here.

My thoughts are simply on this printing of the NASB. What are the features of this Bible, and why you might want this Bible and why you might not want this Bible. Whatever printing of Bible you want, I’ll recommend you look at the NASB. If it’s not available in NASB, then pick a different printing so you can get one in NASB.

Now, let’s look at this printing. Mine is a hardcover, though this is available in imitation leather as well. The printing and cover feel durable. That’s a plus: the look is pretty minimalistic, which is fine, so if you’re looking for a durable book on the shelf, in the backpack, or on the pew, this is works well.

Then, let us consider the print size. I’m getting older. The fine print in the Bibles of my youth is a little tougher on my eyes. II ‘m not willing to admit a need for large print, but too small bugs me. The print in this Bible is just on the verge of being too small. That’s a necessity of the setup: you can’t get too much extra space without adding too many pages, unless you shrink the print.

This brings us to the final point: this bills itself as a “Note-Taker’s Bible.” With that moniker, I would expect copious space for jotting ideas and events alongside the text. There is a good amount of whitespace per page in which to take notes, and the paper does a good job blocking the bleed through of ink. Unfortunately, the double-column layout of the text puts all of the space alongside only one-half of the biblical material per page.

Essentially, I can take notes on 1 Chronicles 25, but 1 Chronicles 26 is out. I would have preferred either a single column layout or a centered layout. Instead, you have a page that looks like someone printed a 5x8 layout on a 7x10 page.

For me, that’s just not worth the effort. If you are needing a new Bible, then this may be worth it, but the “note-taking” aspect isn’t worth adding this to your shelf. Had it been combined with a few study helps, it might be, but overall I’d say this one is a “pass.”

Again, if you need a Bible, go for it. The NASB is worth having. Just don’t expect to take copious notes.

Free book in exchange for the review.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Place of Refuge: Deuteronomy 19

In Summary:

Establishing the nation of Israel is no picnic. Deuteronomy 19 lays down principles for the judicial system. Both of the major concepts in this chapter related to slowing down the wheels of justice to ensure they don’t turn too fast and run over the innocent.

Two concepts are in view here. The first is the cities of refuge. This idea went hand-in-hand with the principle of personal retribution in the justice system. It was the right and responsibility of the near relatives of a murder victim to bring the murderer to justice. They were to bring him before the city elders and be the first hand to strike in execution—and if he would not be brought, then they could utilize appropriate force to bring him. This might lead to his death, but that was the nature of the situation.

Note that the above paragraph is a synthesis of my understanding of Deuteronomy and what I have read regarding social customs of the time. There is not specific chapter and verse for that exact sentiment.

Unfortunately, though, accidents happen. Sometimes those accidents cost people their lives. In a loved one’s anguish over the death of their father, brother, friend, one could expect an overreaction to these accidents. One could expect that people, in their frustration, might not be cautious in apprehending the killer or in making sure he returned to face justice alive. What should the accused do in that case?

This is where the cities of refuge came in: these were defined locations where an accused person could flee. Once within the walls of a city of refuge, they were safe until a trial could be conducted. If truly guilty, then justice was still fulfilled. If they were innocent, then justice was still fulfilled.

We also see the second concept: the importance of trustworthy witnesses. While the principle of “two or more witnesses” is abused by some today to escape justice for secret sin, it is still an important concept. One must examine the trustworthiness of witnesses before rendering a final judgment. This was established to prevent one person’s lies to cost another their life. Even so, accusations were still to be considered: justice required the guilty party be found. If a lying witness, then so be it. If a criminal, so be it.

In Focus:

In focus, look at Deuteronomy 18:8-10. These verses command the Israelites that the opportunity for justice and mercy should expand with their territory. Rather than locking into the confines of the original law, the Israelites were to recognize the principle behind that law and act on it. Instead of staying with three cities, they were to add three more. This is actually fulfilled in the occupation, as the Israelites set aside three on each side of the Jordan River.

In Practice:

What does this look like in practice for us?

First: justice, mercy, and truth go together. The principle here is that justice cannot be obtained based on lies. Further, that we must be merciful until there is a point of certainty regarding guilt. These three concepts go together. Are we living that way?

Second: individual justice and community righteousness go together. There is nothing here that supports visiting punishment on an innocent person because someone needs to pay for a bad thing. That’s not an option. The wicked must be punished, but the innocent also must not. Are we living that way? Are we pushing society to work in that way?

In Nerdiness:

A short note on Deuteronomy 19:14 for the nerds: how does not moving the ancient boundary stone apply today? Is it relevant in recognizing traditions or ideas passed on from prior generations?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

I got a little older

Written retrospectively, one day later…

Today was my birthday. I have experienced 38 of those now, and don’t remember half of them. Why not? Most of them have been fairly innocuous. Reasonable, even, with simple celebrations with close friends and family.
In fact, I have often been perceived as being “anti-birthday,” as I strive to not make a big deal about the day. I generally try to defer attention and sometimes ignore it altogether. Why?
It’s just a day. Besides, my mother did more of the work that day than I did. I’m not anti-birthday for others, I just don’t like getting worked up about my own. I am no great person nor have there been great accomplishments to celebrate for the last year.
All I did was get a day older.
My attitude, though, is wrong. Why?
First, we take one day a year to celebrate the 365.25 that came before it. Not everyone is blessed with a full year. A birthday gives us the chance to be grateful for those days.
Second, we need to mark our humanity. There was a time when we were not…and there will be a time when we will be no more. What do we do in the meantime? I now expect that I’m about halfway through this journey, though I’d be happy to not be to that mark yet.
Third, we need to note how far we have come. Where was I 20 years ago? Celebrating 18, starting the last semester of high school. What have I done since then? Is it enough? Are there any regrets?

I find there are a few regrets. First and foremost is this: I clearly see how immature and self-centered I was then. I fear that I’ll think the same thing looking back at now when I hit 58!
Second, relationships. It’s interesting living here on the prairie. Many of the people out here have been friends since birth, because their parents were friends since birth, because their grandparents were friends. If not for social media, I can count on one hand the high school friends I would be in touch with…and still have a great grip for a fastball.
That’s a shame. It’s my own fault, but it’s still a shame.
Third, inactivity. I’ve spent too much of this week in it. Too many of the years have been spent spinning wheels, knowing that there was more I could do and just…not doing it. Being lazy. Being comfortable.

I find that the great things of the last 38 years far outweigh the regrets, though. I’m still here. I’m happily married, and I think my wife is too :). I have three wonderful children that I don’t think I need to feed to the alligators.

In all, it’s good to have been around for just under four decades. I look forward to filling the next 38 with more good days.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

In the Finding: Luke 15

In Summary: Luke 15 has three of the better-known stories told by Jesus in his ministry. We see the story of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. Better, perhaps, is to view these as the stories of the found sheep, the found coin, and the found son.

After all, that is the focus of the message here. Jesus does not detail how to handle lost items, nor does he spend the time lamenting their lostness. Instead, the focus rests on how people respond to finding their precious possessions.

The three parables run in parallel to one another. Keeping in mind that parables tend to use simple images to explain more complex ideas, so we want to understand the simple images. The key, generally, is there.

In Focus: The simple images from the three parables are these:

1. The lost item.
A. The lost sheep: a sheep tends to just wander off, it’s an animal. It needs guided and cared for, and if it wanders it needs found.
B. The lost coin: gravity and physics, and a dropped coin becomes a lost one. It is totally unable to find itself—it must be found.
C. The lost son: the first two are most likely lost due to accident or misfortune. The son? He is lost due to his own will. Unlike the others, the son chose to get lost and has the capacity to return.

2. The finder.
A. The sheep-owner: he knows just how many he should have, and has the capacity to protect the remaining ones while he looks.
B. The coin-seeker: again, she is aware of how many coins she should have, and then goes to great lengths to find the missing one.
C. The son-finder: he does not go out to find the son, but he did hold a seat at the table for him. He also allowed the son’s departure, though he obviously laments the son’s choice.

3. The celebratory crowd.
A+B. Friends and neighbors: Both coin and sheep result in celebrations with friends and neighbors, as joy is shared with others.
C. In the son story, we do not get the exact participants in the crowd. The father says “we,” and so one can assume the presence of members of the household. It is possible that the neighbors are there. Of greater concern is the highlight of the missing participant in the celebration: The unhappy onlooker. He appears only in this parable of the three.

In Practice: Attaching a practical significance to this passage requires us to understand who these simple characters are. From there, we see who we are, who we should be, and who we are not.

First, who we are not. The finder. The shepherd, the woman with the coin, the father, all are examples of the character and compassion of God the Father. Is it possible for us to act like the Father? Yes, but we are not God. These characters show us His character that we strive to emulate, but God is the one who finds the missing.

Second, who we are: the lost coin, the missing sheep, the wandering son. This is us. This is humanity: we have wandered off. We have gotten lost in the course of life. We have taken the riches of our heritage of the image of God and spent it on our own pleasures.

Third, who we should be and who we should not be: to get this, take a look at Luke 15:1-2 and see why Jesus told these parables in the first place. Jesus was eating with sinners and tax collectors—and “sinners” here are likely “sinners” by reputation more than anything else. The Pharisees and scribes were angry with the celebration of sinners repenting and especially with one who claimed to be God participating.

The Pharisees and scribes, then, are acting like the brother at the end of the Prodigal Son story. We should be more like the friends and neighbors who celebrate the repentance of sinners rather than the brother. These parables are an invitation to join in the celebration of repentance.

What, then, do we do?

We repent, so that we are permitted to be in the presence of the One who throws the celebration in the first place. Don’t miss that: if you are not found, you can’t celebrate. Let the Father find you.

We celebrate, without excessive complaint. What difference does it make what sins were forgiven? Or how lost someone was? Celebrate the finding.

In Nerdiness: Feels like I took it all the way apart, leaving nothing for nerds, right?

The nerd question comes through with every parable discussion: did these 3 things happen or did Jesus create teaching stories?

If He only used real stories, what does that say for us as teachers and our use of fiction?

If He used fictional stories, what does that say about balancing truth with fiction in explanation?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Sermon Recap for January 11

Good Morning! We began our new series yesterday as we work through Mark.

Morning Sermon: Mark 1:4-11 (audio)

One Sentence Application:

Obedience to God's word is publicly demonstrated.


I. John baptized in 

II. John said Jesus would _______ and be _________

III. Jesus baptized with ___________

IV. The Baptism of Jesus shows all ______________ of the ____________

V. We learn from this that Obedience to __________ is _________ demonstrated


Sunday Evening: Genesis 1:1

Sunday nights we will be looking at two different things:

1. What does it mean to be a Baptist?

2. The Bible Memory passage.

We’ll do these most Sunday nights, but it’s a flexible time. Stay tuned.

Due to some changes in my recording, there’s a video but nothing else.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Say something worth saying

I’ve been over the latest news stories about the events in France. I’ve said a little about the need to defend freedom of speech here, but I would like to say a little more here.

First, a disturbing observation: the world now knows the names of all three of the butchers that entered Charlie Hebdo. The world knows the names of the two murderers involved in taking hostages in a supermarket. And it’s very important that we know the name and face of the one still on the run. We know the names of some of the magazine victims.

Quick, though, name some of the ordinary folks killed in supermarket.

Oh, and let’s be clear: “kosher supermarket”? Clarify that: Supermarket primarily handling a Jewish customer base. There was a deliberate targeting of two groups here: Western free speakers and Jews. Yet we don’t know much about the supermarket targets. Most likely, they were not people who ever thought “I’ll print this cartoon, write this blog post, and if they kill me, SO BE IT!”

That’s the challenge we need to remember as we sit quietly and decide to put words and images out that others will respond to murderously. I can, for example, step into the pulpit tomorrow and say what I please. I’ll post it to the Internet, and if you have a problem then you can respond.

Except it’s never just the speaker who is at risk, and this is how terrorism and oppression works. The evil side of life does not just gun for the clearly visible thorn in their side. They target friends, family, associates. They open fire in crowded supermarkets and take moms just out to pick up milk as hostages.

The goal is that, out of fear for such innocent bystanders, free speech will be curtailed. Free religion will be shut down, and free criticism of viewpoints will cease. It does not matter if it is done through legislation or if individuals simply cower down in fear and refuse to speak their minds. Either way, the goal is achieved: only one voice is heard, and that voice is whatever those with the power desire.

In France right now, and many other places, the obvious attempt is by armed individuals to cease that power. Sometimes the attempt is more subtle. Sometimes it is delayed: this is the response to actions taken at least 2 years ago. That adds to the fear: you never know when someone’s “offensive” speech will come back to bite them or how many innocents will get swept up in the crossfire.

What do we do, then? Should we curtail speech, considering our responsibility for others?

Let me say, as one who is far more likely to die a supermarket hostage than a heroic author, speaker, soldier, or police officer, no. NO. NO. Curtailing the freedom of others out of fear is the road to tyranny. You can call it a “slippery slope” argument all you want to, but I know this: if you push me at the top of an ice-covered slope, I’m going to the bottom, painfully.

You can claim that you only nudged me at the top, that it was reasonable, and what-not, but to my broken bones at the bottom, the slippery slope was more of the march of inevitability. And allowing fear to control us is the step.

Instead, this is what I say: have something to say. Seriously. I understand that the concept matters as much as the content, but make the content worthwhile.

As you consider whether or not it’s worth publishing, do not ask if it’s worth your life. I hope you never waste a drop of ink or a second of time on anything that’s not worth your life. You’re investing your life in it. Just because someone doesn’t kill you does not change that you are spending your life to print it.

Consider whether or not what you are printing is worth someone else’s life. Consider whether or not it’s worth adding to the widows and orphans of this world. If it isn’t, then make it worth those things.

Because you must not let fear slow you down, but you should make it worthwhile. It’s lives in the balance. The cost of exercised freedom is blood.

Don’t spend it on trifles. Spend it well. We’re counting on you.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Book: Literary Forms in the Bible

It’s a book. And one that I have in Kindle format, and I will say straight up: I would recommend that you get this in print. It’s more of a reference type work, and I just prefer that type of resource in print. I don’t find Kindles as “search friendly” as some people. It may just be me.

What book is it? A Complete Handbook of Literary Forms in the Bible by Leland Ryken. Dr. Ryken is an English Professor and served (and I assume, serves in an ongoing fashion) as literary consultant to English Standard Version translation of the Bible. He should know literary forms.

First, let us consider the format. The format is why I would recommend a print version, because you have an alphabetical dictionary layout. It makes things easy to find, assuming one knows the alphabet, and makes for easy reading for those of with short attention spans. SQUIRREL!!

However, I don’t find this a text that makes for a read “cover-to-cover.” I’m not convinced that was intended, so that’s not a shot at the work. I think Ryken intended a reference book.

Second, let us consider content. The entries are alphabetized, with a descriptive definition for each literary type like “Anthropomorphism” or “Type Scene.” This includes some descriptive examples from the text of the Bible.

There is not an exhaustive list of every example of the form. That is not as much a drawback as the lack of an index of the passages mentioned. I would have liked that list in the back matter: each Scripture reference used, indexed to its type.

(And in all, I’d love to get my hands on a cross-reference of every Scripture passage indexed to literary type, or have that as a feature in either a commentary series or study Bible.)

Third, let us consider “completeness.” This is the “Complete Handbook,” after all. I’m inclined to think it’s complete, as Ryken knows what he’s doing. But I do wonder about the lack of reference to original language concepts. I’m curious of “story of abundance” is a universal literary form, a Western form, or a Hebraic form.

That does not diminish the value of this book as it is, but does show a limitation or two. I think more could be said in those areas, making a bigger book. Which is likely why there are limitations on what was presented.

In all, a worthwhile addition to the shelf.

EBook provided by the publisher in exchange for the review.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Prophets or not? Deuteronomy 18

In Summary: When you set up a national religion, you have to give thought to the succeeding generations. After all, there is always the hope and intention that your religion will carry on. This is the case whether you are dealing with true religion, mistaken religion, or cruising out with deliberately false religion.

When that religion is started up with miraculous events, it increases your troubles. After all, not everyone was a witness to those moments. What happens when someone else claims to have seen a burning bush or turned a staff into a snake and back? All they might have would be…a stick. The same signs that Moses said sent him out in the first place could easily be picked up by someone else.

You need a filter, a test that ensures your next generation leader is not pulling you away from the truths of yesterday. Keep in mind, we are dealing with the truths that we held yesterday. Truth is unchanging—opinions may shift but truth endures. For example, it is a truth that there is a God. That is, if there is a God, God existed yesterday, today, and exists forever, because the nature of “God” is eternal and everlasting.

(You might argue that I think it’s a truth, but by nature I would suggest most claims of existence/non-existence of deity are claims of truth.)

It is an opinion that God prefers music with guitar to music with accordion. Those are differences of opinion, and not of truth. The opinions of a religion may change as the years go by without altering the fundamental truth of the idea. Christianity is no different: truth is unchanging.

What, then, do you do when someone posits a change to the fundamental truth?

In Focus: Looking at Deuteronomy, we see this: God tells the people that He will provide prophets to speak on His behalf (Deuteronomy 18:15, 18:18) from among the people. These prophets will make plain the words of the Lord God, and He will provide signs to attest the words.

The thrust here is that the signs will be accurate predictions of future events. The words of the prophets are to be tested against the accuracy of their predictions. Any prophet who misses a prediction is to be counted a false prophet.

Oh, and in case one of them lucks up and hits one right? Deuteronomy 18:20 makes clear that the prophets must speak only in the name of the One True God. If he is advising switching gods, then he’s a false prophet.

In Practice: What does this look like for us?

First, I am not persuaded by arguments that there are modern-day prophets like the prophets of the Old Covenant. Hebrews 1 reads like God spoke finally through His Son. With this assumption, we’re not looking at prophets as much as religious teachers and leaders. Which brings us back to the question: what does this look like for us?

The first component is this: there will be some people who will speak presumptuously in the name of the Lord. We must be aware of the risk that these will be present and will not immediately stick out to us as false prophets. Some of them will be quite persuasive.

The second component is the content of the message. Does it hold true with what God has already said? Does it pretend a secret knowledge? Note that the test of fulfillment appears to be a longevity test: quick changes would have been unlikely. There is also a necessary clarity in the expression. The prophet who hedges and fluffs—or nuances too much—would never be testable. Those whose words cannot be tested should be ignored.

This includes those who try to subtly play both sides of an issue without actually expressing the truth. Scripture is quite absolute on many things. In those areas, we may be as certain as the text is. There is waffle room when the text is not clear, but more time should be spent on what we have clearly anyway.

(For example, Scripture is far more clear about love expressed through sacrifice in marriage than it is about who does dishes. Yet we have far more written, it seems today, about who should do the dishes. Why is that?)

Additionally, any messenger who proclaims truth contrary to the revelation of God should be discarded. Whether he does so out of incompetence or willful evil does not matter. He should be discarded as a messenger. If it’s incompetence, then allow a new opportunity when competence is gained. If willful evil, that’s another matter.

All in all, we must be cautious about who we let stand as a messenger from God. Scripture in Deuteronomy 18, as well as in the New Testament, is clear that messengers are to be tested in both word and deed. Are your favorite messengers known well enough to you to be tested?

That’s a challenge in the Internet era. You can find folks that sound great on the Web, but are they what they claim to be? How do you know?

In Nerdiness:  Check the first couple of paragraphs, about Levites and relocation. They were to be fed and supported by the people they served as teachers of God’s word. They were also to stay put in their appointed place.

Unless they wanted to move to the central sanctuary. But a Levite that made the change was not to be better fed than his fellow Levites at the central sanctuary. In other words, there were to be no kick-backs to pull a Levite from the towns into the central area.

If we pay ministers now partly based on the concept of the Levites, then what does this say about how compensation is handled? Or about how compensation of denominational workers is handled?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Shaping up

As we were doing Latin this morning in school, I started wondering about something. No, nothing about the 2nd declension or such—we’re very early on in Visual Latin, which is a great course—but just a passing thought.

The lesson we’re on deals with counting in Latin. If you are as clueless about Latin as I was until today, here are some facts: the Latin words for seven, eight, nine, and ten are: septem, octo, novem, decem. These words come into our month labels: September, October, November, December. Because those are the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth months. Right?

Right…or not. In some parts of Roman history, the names lined up with those months. They started the new year in March, when all the stuff started sprouting and growing. When the animals started multiplying and delivering, when the days are noticeably longer and warmer. You know, when things seem…”New.”

Rather than spend all of this post chasing the history of why we now celebrate “New Year’s Day” on January 1, just a week off of Christmas and connected to basically no astronomical or meteorological events (Solstice? Equinox? Nope), I want to point this out:

The starting point of a new year is less relevant than you might think. It is certainly a mindset that matters, but overall, there are no magical powers behind it. It’s all about how you conceive of the time.

With that in mind, then, why make a big deal of starting habits now?

Because we often need a little help. I do. Habits are easy to form but difficult to shape. Read that again, because you probably missed it.

Habits are easy to form. We make habits every day, and use them. I have a habit of trying really hard to find excuses to stay in bed in the morning. A habit of drinking coffee. A habit of this.

One simply needs to do something multiple times to form a habit. This is true of good habits or bad habits.

The difficulty arises because we human beings tend to make decisions based on a pain/pleasure scale. Naturally speaking, we choose pleasure over neutrality, and neutrality over pain. This is generally so across the spectrum: more pleasurable over less pleasurable, less pain over more pain.

Our habits, then, develop over lines drawn by that which is most pleasurable, or least painful, at the time. The donut tastes better than the yogurt, so we eat the donut. Every time—unless you think the yogurt actually tastes better.

Exercise seems more painful upfront than the couch, and so forth. And we form those habits.

The challenge of our lives is shaping our habits. Habits are easy to form, but hard to shape. How do we shape them?

We have to think past the immediate to shape our habits. We prefer the donut, but need the oat bar. (I don’t like yogurt, no matter the habit.) Why? Because we recognize the later pain from the donut. We need the exercise.

But the shaping is hard, so any little edge you can give yourself? Grab it. Does counting January as a time of new beginnings, where you are renewing regardless of the world around you? Great! Grab it.

Shape your habits this new year as you work toward being who God has made you to be. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

In the Counting: Luke 14

In Summary: We come back to Luke 14. Jesus continues to teach His disciples, but He also takes the time to go to dinner. After all, the Incarnation involves taking on flesh, even with its weaknesses. Jesus got hungry, too, and had to eat.

I think we would do well to learn from His habits, though, as we often see Him use the fellowship and interactions brought about by meals to interact with others. None of His actions were needless or pointless. We see the opening of this chapter that Jesus entered the house of one of the Pharisees for dinner.

On the Sabbath. This is referred to as “eating bread,” probably because the Pharisee is being meticulous to avoid work on the Sabbath by only serving bread that had been pre-prepared. I do not have that in a definite source, but that seems a logical reason. There is a problem. There always seemed to be, and this time it was that a man in need of healing was present at the meal. Given the overall impression that the Pharisees are watching to see if Jesus will do anything, he’s likely there as bait for a trap.

Jesus springs the trap, heals the man, and proceeds to teach the Pharisees what is most important. He stresses humility and challenges His hearers to seek what is best for others. This is a valid question for every decision made by disciples of Jesus: “Am I doing what is best for me or provides others with the best picture of Jesus?”

Answer that one honestly and see how it changes your behavior in the years to come.

In Focus: That question, that type of thinking, brings us to our focal point. This chapter culminates with Jesus’ running off a good number of the crowd that followed Him. He points out that the defining relationship for His disciples is the relationship with Him, not with anyone else. He raises the important point that we must “carry our own cross and come after Him” (v. 27, pronouns shifted) if we are to be His disciple.

This includes considering just what it might cost us to be His disciple. This section presents the very real possibility that some will follow Jesus and falter when it gets too tough, to their own shame and embarrassment. An interesting side note is that He does not highlight that God will be embarrassed…just that the faltering disciple will be.

Further, take note that neither of the scenarios presented invoke unknown problems. The tower builder and the king going to war are both aware of the costs they face. It’s safe to assume this includes expecting one to prepare for a few things to go wrong! But there is no condemnation or ridicule for the one who sets out to build a tower and then finds it demolished by the angry king going to war! Only for the one who sets out to build without considering the knowable costs.

In Practice: What, then, do we do? First, we consider the cost of our discipleship. The primary cost is paid by Jesus when He dies for our sins. That is the portion of the debt we will never pay on our own. We just can’t. Every action we take to pay for our own sin is a rejection of God’s grace, which increases the debt rather than decreases it. We must surrender to Christ as Lord rather than keep trying to fix ourselves.

Second, though, is the cost to our own lives as followers. Here is where we can count the cost. It’s a simple inventory: what have you got?

Because it all belongs to the King of Kings at this point. More specifically, we should consider our preferences, our comforts, our plans as subject to change—or be discarded!—for the sake of His will. This is part of the cost: would you serve the King? Then you must not hold back.

This is especially true as we begin to walk with Him and start seeing the ways in which we have our own towers, our own structures in process. We have to learn to walk away from them, for the greater glory of following Christ.

In Nerdiness:

First, don’t get too thrown by the apparent weirdness of “no healing on the Sabbath” as a rule. There’s two reasons for it. The first is this: we’re not talking emergency medicine here. Nor are we talking time-limited life-saving surgery. We’re talking, generally, simple medicine or surgeries that you were fortunate to survive. There were no compelling reasons to do these things seven days a week. Second, there were quite a few false messiahs or fake faith healers then—just as there are now! (I’m looking at several fruitcakes in my own denomination on that, plus many others elsewhere…)

Constraining them to not heal on the Sabbath kept them away from the Synagogue or Temple crowds. Plus, it made for a religious litmus test. Not entirely bad.

What the rules didn’t account for was the possibility that God would get involved Himself. Man-made rules, even ones intended to honor God-made rules, are not restrictive to the Lord God. He will do as He has said—nothing we devise restrains Him. When we see that, clearly, we do and understand better.

Second, notice the motif of discard and abandonment in this chapter. I would suggest this: the problem is not the Jesus will discard if we are not salty enough (v. 34-35). It is that we will be cast out from the world we are here to salt if we are not salty enough. And salt, for all of its uses, is this: distinctive. Salt does what it does, without trying to be mustard, or pepper, or anything else! Be salt. The world will then need the Living Water to quench its thirst.

Worship Services Recap for July 12

Here is what you’ll find: there is an audio player with the sermon audios built-in to it, just click to find the one you want. You’ll also f...