Friday, October 30, 2015

Know it and Do it: Deuteronomy 27

In Summary:

We will finish the Pentateuch someday in this series. We will finish the Pentateuch someday in this series. Fortunately, the Minor Prophets are shorter.

Deuteronomy 27 sits on the edge of the Promised Land with the people of Israel and Moses. The elders of the people are involved as well as Moses (Deuteronomy 27:1), reflecting the upcoming leadership transition. The commandments of God are referenced here, and then critical ones are restated.

The chapter points strongly to the idea that the Law of God needed to be known by the people. You have a command to write it on a large stone monument—and to write it “distinctly” (Deuteronomy 27:8). Then you have the plan for the people’s recitation of certain parts of the Law. This included proclaiming together that those who forsook the Law were cursed. Not just in trouble, because “cursed” carries with it the idea of divine sanction.

The Law, though, was supposed to be two things. The first is clear. We often fuss about some of the odd details, but those details prevented someone slipping through the loopholes. The second is this: the Law should be known. If people don’t know you cannot hold them to it!

In Focus:

Turn your focus to Deuteronomy 27:9-10. We can see here that the Israelites were learning from an oral presentation, even though it would be written down as well. They were going to be responsible to listen well and remember, passing on what they heard and knew.

Now, back your focus up to Deuteronomy 27:5-7. This portion seems unrelated to the former passage, commanding that the altar of God be built with natural stones rather than dressed ones. In short, because there was no way for a craftsman to improve on God’s work. Nor should anyone build the altar such that they take credit for it.

In Practice:

Where these two intersect best is in the practice of the principle. Even living in a world with the maxim to “believe none of what you hear and half of what you see,” we still lean heavily on word of mouth for information. Don’t believe me? What do you think a review of a restaurant, movie, or business is? Word of mouth. Just because you’ve typed it out doesn’t make it more reliable.

In truth, a world with an unlimited supply of photons to generate Internet words means that today’s web words are on par with prior generations’ spoken hearsay. It’s just words, which we must discern the truth or falsehood of, based on wisdom. We share with Ancient Israel being a word-based culture. This is true in most areas, including religion.

And so we come to the altar. Fortunately, because Jesus died for our sins (see Hebrews…and the Gospels,) we don’t have to build a literal altar. But we can look at the principle of leaving God’s work to stand on its own. This is true of His Work, and His Word.

Consider this: we think that somehow, we can embellish, we can dress up, God’s Word so that people will like it better. Perhaps the Good Lord has been a bit rough around the edges, given a jagged look to the obedience called for. Let’s clean Him up a bit, round it off.

After all, people don’t need to know the unvarnished version. Let’s make it smooth. Except we are responsible for the words, and we are responsible to both the Lord God and the ones who hear us. Let us be certain we’ve got it right.

In Nerdiness:


I’m coming to agree with the idea that Deuteronomy may have been the first book of the Pentateuch written, at least in basic form. Then the rest was written/dictated by Moses to fill out all that occurred. At the very least, it should not be seen as a second telling like we normally call it. Most likely, Deuteronomy is the compact form of the Law for the people, with the finer points explained in Leviticus and Numbers for teaching and administration. Much like our legal system: murder is illegal. Everyone should know that. How does the statute describe murder? Much more in-depth. What do I need to know? That murder is illegal, but my lawyer may need more information.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Book: The Carols of Christmas

I was going to save this review until after Halloween…but since Christmas trees are for sale at Target, I might as well go ahead and review a Christmas book. Besides, it’s also a history book. So it’s all good.

The Carols of Christmas adds to my shelf of “story behind the song” books, but in fairness to Andrew Gant’s hard work I’ll leave the others unnamed. I mention this just to show this isn’t my first trip into music history.

Of course, one fear of digging into the stories behind the songs is that you’ll find your favorite songs are just bad underneath. Fortunately, Gant hasn’t destroyed any favorite songs. It may be that he left out some with checkered stories…but we’ll have to wait for the sequel.

Instead, we have good stories behind 21 fairly well-known songs. Except for Personent Hodie, that is. The rest you’ll know. In this book, I appreciate Gant’s depth of writing and his willingness to acknowledge the differences between facts and legends. I also like that he did not stuff the book with unknown songs—presenting just one lesser-known carol for our enjoyment.

Overall, of course, the presentation is repetitive. Each chapter has a song, a story, and the sheet music for the song. That’s not the way you’d want a novel but this is a collection of stories. It works just fine this way. I honestly couldn’t sit and read the whole thing straight through…unless I was a history nerd. Which I am. Otherwise, though, it’s a bits and pieces book.

For example, in our house this is going to be part of daily leading-to-Christmas celebrating. One chapter a swatch, with singing the song each day. Good stuff.

I think this makes a great book for music lovers and Christmas celebrations both.

I did receive a free copy of this book from BookLook in exchange for the review.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Carrying on: Hebrews 13

In Summary:

Coming to the end of Hebrews, the final chapter is the fairly typical hodge-podge of a concluding chapter. Hebrews 13 runs along that path, ranging from practical statements about hospitality to updates on the author’s travel plans. Knowing, most likely, that people tend to remember the end of a letter (or sermon) better than the middle, Hebrews ends with rapid-fire reminders.

This includes a command to honor marriage; an enigmatic statement about ‘entertaining angels;’ a reminder that Christians are pursuing something greater than an earthly city; and a warning about strange teachings. That warning, Hebrews 13:9, rings true even today. We ought not be ‘carried away’ believing that we are strengthened by anything but grace.

Hebrews concludes with the exhortation to carry on. Most of the sentences are action-oriented, whether it is the command to “go out to Him” in v. 13 or to “continually offer up a sacrifice of praise” in v. 15, we see actions to take. The temptation many of us succumb to is that we should shelter-in-place until the storms of the moment pass us by. Hebrews speaks today that we ought not do that.

In Focus:

Each nugget of instruction here is worth a bit of time, so take the time yourself to read it and do just that. Make good observations and examine how it applies. But for me, for now, I would put the focus on Hebrews 13:18-19. Why?

It’s a plea from the author of Hebrews. Sticking with my personal opinion that we are dealing with a sermon collection bound up and sent as a letter, I take this section as part of the add-ons for the letter. The bulk of Hebrews is theological and based in the oral presentation, but this is a personally written request. He asks that the believers pray for him and his fellow workers. (Yes, Greek nerds, it could be an editorial “we.”)

What do they need? A good conscience, a term he’s already used about serving God in Hebrews 9. They don’t want an erased memory for a good conscience, though. The desire is honorable conduct which brings the good conscience. The conscience follows the conduct. The author wills that he and his companions would carry on in such a manner that deserves a good conscience.

And apart from the power of God, he knows this is impossible.

In Practice:

Why focus here? I would have the same request in prayer, as should anyone who teaches, preaches, or leads in a church. It’s inseparable from Hebrew 13:17, where the readers are instructed to obey their leaders. It is a shameful and destructive thing to have leaders who are not concerned for doing their work honorably.

Or who believe that they can do it without divine intervention.

Alongside this, though, it’s not merely a need for front-and-center leaders. All of us believers have the responsibility to conduct ourselves honorably. It is a testimony to Jesus when we reflect His righteousness in how we handle everything we do.

This includes how we, as believers assembled in groups called churches, conduct our business affairs. We must be sure that we are behaving ethically and honestly. This includes the letter of the law (check your tax behaviors!) and the spirit of fair dealing. Too many times, we expect charity while giving none.

All through, this comes back to prayer. Prayer: where we come before a Holy God and acknowledge and embrace our need for Him. His power, His guidance. Without these, a church isn’t worth much at all. Neither am I.

In Nerdiness:

We can’t leave Hebrews 13:1 untouched in nerd notes. “Entertained angels?” What? We’ve got no good answer to this. It reflects some ancient mythologies where the gods came down in disguise to test hospitality. It evokes Lot in Genesis, taking in the angels.

Or you take the Revelation-based view, where “angel” is used in its more literal sense of “messenger” and we interpret it as referring to earthly messengers to people. Like preachers. Though how one could be unaware they have a preacher in the house is hard to fathom. The fried chicken went somewhere.

Then there’s Hebrews 11:23. Which refers to Timothy being released, and we assume it means from prison. It could also be from a contract or an obligation…but it’s probably prison. It also tells us Timothy didn’t write Hebrews.


Unless he’s using a cultural construct of referring to himself in the third person out of humility and uses this verse to give a clear name for who wrote the book. Which is, according to some, possible. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Sermon Recap from October 25

Good Morning! Here is the morning sermon.

October 25: John 4 (audio)

 

That will wrap us up for John for a few months. For this Sunday, read Romans 1!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Shaken and Consumed: Hebrews 12

In Summary:

Hebrews 12 opens with the best example of the “therefore principle” in the book. What is the “therefore principle?” If you find the word “therefore,” it’s “there for” a reason, so you must find out what the “therefore” is “there for.” That’s the principle. Remember that words like “therefore” are conjunctions. They function to hook up words and phrases, showing relationships. Therefore shows dependency. Frequently in Scripture, “therefore” gives you this setup: a proposition is made, claiming facts to be true. Then “therefore” is used to show an action that should follow in the lives of believers. If the preceding is true, then we should act in a certain way…

That’s a lot of background for the summary part, but it’s crucial. Why? Hebrews 12 is more clearly directed toward action on the part of the readers than any portion of the book beforehand. This chapter’s therefore hinges the whole book, not just the chapter prior. The “Faith Hall of Fame” in Hebrews 11 is the final piece of evidence that the proposition made at the beginning of Hebrews, in Hebrews 1:1-4, is true. God has spoken fully through His Son, and all things are complete by His hand.

Therefore, the readers and hearers of Hebrews are charged to hold on to the calling of Jesus as Lord. Chapter 12 reminds them (and us!) that they have come to Mount Zion, to assembly of the firstborn, and to God. Through Jesus, not through rule-keeping and not through fear, but through His blood, His grace, His mercy.

In Focus:

With such a packed chapter, isolating a focal point was a bit challenging. Still, I picked the format of these posts and a focus must be found. Let’s take Hebrews 12:27-29 as our focus. In these verses, God speaks clearly that He will shake the heavens and the earth. That means more than just an earthquake. God is speaking of the shaking of the created world based on His presence.

In short, a shaking that will topple all that cannot stand in His presence. It removes all that is not eternal, all that is not of God. And Hebrews 12:29 reminds us that being shaken by the presence of God isn’t the worst possible outcome. One must consider that God is a consuming fire, and that which is shaken will also be destroyed. Completely destroyed.

In Practice:

This is the practical chapter, though the specific actions are not spelled out for the reader. What does that mean? Like any good sermon, the author of Hebrews (Luke?) knows that being too specific in application risks missing a large swatch of the audience. For example, one can say “do not deny Christ when arrested!” only to leave those who deny Christ when facing business decisions thinking they have done well.

We see, then, that the guidance is slightly generalized. For example, the command is given to strengthen the hands of the weak and to pursue peace with all men. These types of actions reflect a people that are committed to following Jesus as King and Priest rather than any other person. Further, we see that we should be people who are not frightened away by the discipline of God. Discipline, keep in mind, is not merely punishment. Discipline is also what gets you out of bed in the morning to run, in preparation for your next race. It’s what drives you to keep doing what needs doing.

It’s something that I lack in many areas. And because of that, it makes me weaker than I should be accomplish what is in front of me. Yet if all of Hebrews is true: that the heroes of old stood firm; that Christ is the superior High Priest; that there is no shrinking back…if all of this is true, then I want to stand firm, that I will not be shaken by this world and that I will have done that which is not going to be shaken and consumed in eternity.

In Nerdiness:

Briefly: Deuteronomy 4:24 contains the statement “YHWH your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” James didn’t originate the thought, he carried it with him from his upbringing knowing the Word of God. What do we see in Deuteronomy that helps us understand his point better? The choice of our lives: follow God or reject Him, and accept the consequences either way.

Also, there’s an awesome song from Third Day’s first album about God being a consuming fire.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Book: Uninvested

Uninvested promises on the cover to show you how "Wall Street hijacks your money" AND "how to fight back."

The first premise is one that few of us would likely dispute. Monks, with Jaffe and Lacasse, help demonstrate *how* and document cases, but there is really nothing surprising about this idea. While the overall evidence is that neither regulations nor industry "safeguards" really help, they do not advocate tearing them down. Admittedly, I think differently and recognize that there will always be more money in the private sector than in government and that greed will out rather than true regulation.

Still, the definite evidence presented helps clear the fog about how well the government regulates. It doesn't. And to keep clear this: money managers make a living, whether they make you a lot of money or not.

Further, Monks advocates strongly for being a better educated investor. I am all for it--and personally would suggest that less regulation would allow more people direct access to the markets.

Instead, Monks' suggestion still sets up investors in groups controlled by money managers. I think that's the Achilles's Heel in his plan--he fails to acknowledge that no system will work any better than the people who run it, and even his systems will attract greedy people to run them, in time.

Overall, the call for investors to get their heads out of the sand and pay attention is crucial. Further, the call to reform and improve regulation to allow better participation from detached investors is also worth looking at, though it's not much of a factor here.

I liked this book, but I felt like it could have been somewhat more practical in terms of clear tools for the everyday investor. I came away knowing I need to know more, knowing that companies don't want me to know more, not trusting that any financial adviser will help....and wondering just how to invest my money. Because even Monks' CIP involves trusting a financial adviser....

Informative but leaves one waiting for the next step.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Book: A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament

Yep, it’s a long title. And a short book. Actually, not that short. It comes in at 416 pages but the paper is quite thin, creating a very trim size hardcover.

The book itself, A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament (hereafter something like “The Commentary”) presents not only the differing manuscript readings throughout the New Testament (in canonical order) but also discusses which readings seem most likely. There are also notes on where some manuscripts have used devices such as nomen sacrum (a marker for sacred names) and potential explanations for various manuscript development.

In short, Comfort attempts to explain many of the variants that are often footnoted in newer translations and also to highlight important facts lost in the realities of translations. It is a highly academic work. The first two chapters will orient the reader to the issues involved in textual criticism, but one definitely needs to be read-up in Greek to truly benefit from what’s going on here.

Now, there are some good reviews (like Dr. Varner’s here)that walk through the ups and downs of the academic work. I am, unfortunately, not as versed in all the academics as I would like to be. If you are doing deeper academic work, check for reviews and recommendations in the academic world.

I am not an academic, but just an ordinary pastor. That means I grapple with different texts every week and rarely have time to fully research all the textual issues related to any of them. Further, I’m leaning on Greek I learned a while back, and am trying to keep up with in these days. My view of Comfort’s Commentary is related to its usefulness for an every week preacher and teacher of the Bible.

First, it’s not a necessary book. As much as I like it, it’s not critical to your weekly preaching. The information is helpful on background but not absolutely necessary. In fact, if you don’t know how to work this into your teaching ministry, you can do more harm with it than good.

Second, though, is that this is a helpful book. If you’re putting together an in-depth study, this illuminates some of the background. Further, Comfort has provided a deeper look at something we often lean on a book-specific commentary for. Here, we have a look at the text as a whole and how the variants developed. It’s handy. Especially in those times when I have a little bit of extra study opportunities.

Form factor is great. Fits right alongside my Greek New Testament, my Apostolic Fathers, and the smaller hardcovers. Put it on your “should get at some point” list.

I was provided a copy by Kregel Academic in exchange for the review.

Sermon Recap: October 18

Good afternoon! Here are the sermons from Sunday, October 18.

First, the sermon archive is linked here.

Morning Sermon: Worship! John 4 (audio download)

Evening Message: Introduction to Leviticus (audio download)

Monday, October 19, 2015

Rearranging Life

It’s another Monday morning. I’m here, at my desk, in my study, watching back through yesterday’s sermons. I’m sorting through a pile of stuff that’s on my desk—which I don’t know where half of it came from—and then another call comes in that a fellow church member has lost a family member.

Making the number 3 from yesterday until today.

Folks, if your life is consumed with budgets and calendars and things, rearrange it a bit. There are people that you love and people that love you. Spend some time. Make some time.

Friday, October 16, 2015

NOISE!

Noise. Lots of noise.

That's my first review of the new outlet mall in Little Rock. There is a lot of noise there. True, great bargains ($17 put 3 new pairs of boy's jeans and 1 new pair of dad jeans in the house!), but overall the place was noisy and chaotic.

Yet it wasn't just there which was noisy. We went from the outlet mall over to David's Burgers (excellent burgers. Too many fries for the new pants to fit). It was noisy as all get out in there, too. And then it dawned on me...Kroger was noisy earlier. So are many other places.

It's not really the shopping plazas of this world that are the centers of the noise. It's really our lives. We live noisy, always needing something in the background, more than many of us would want to admit. For some reason, we need the noise. It shields us from intimacy, for one thing. And it keeps our minds from focusing, from thinking through life around us.

How does the noise shield us from intimacy? Quite frankly, there is just no good way to hold a conversation in the midst of all the chaos. Since we cannot do that, we cannot really draw near to one another in the midst of our days. In a shopping center, it drives the decision-making process because you can't really talk about it. Do we need this? 

I have no idea. But we bought it, because we couldn't hear to talk about it.

The intimacy damage is worse away from the shopping. We cannot draw near to one another through the normal course of life, and then we have to force out opportunities for quiet. Which, in turn, cost us more time and effort than living the low-noise life we could have started with in the first place!

We see the noise problem amplified in our relationships. We start and end with noise--dating in movie theaters and living life together with TVs on at full volume. Then we discover that we don't know each other all that well, after all.

Why? Because noise interferes with communication. That's, essentially, what noise is--something from the background that prevents clear messaging from one source to another. What makes it a factor in our focus? The fact that we have to mentally sift out noise from what we are trying to hear, or what we are trying to focus on.

Take the crowded restaurant as an example. Not only can you not hold a personal conversation, because you'd have to hold it so loud it will never be personal, but you cannot even clearly (or calmly) discuss what your meal choices will be. The noise drives you to just quickly order combo meals you don't need, add-ons you didn't really want--all because of the hurry-up sense of clutter.

What do we do about it?

First, might I suggest that we need to clear the noise in our own homes. I'm all for a little background music. But turn off the television and actually talk to one another. And don't throw out the tired cliche that kids stay wrapped up in their phones to the disrespect of their elders. Who bought the phones? And besides---did they bring the phone because you won't look away from the TV or the newspaper? Make a commitment that the line around the table is unbreachable by distractions

Second, clear the noise in your close-knit community. For Christians, that includes your church. Ever think about how much noise we make? We start music or play videos constantly, filling all the background. Most of the time we do this even during an organized worship service, claiming it's about "mood," but it really keeps our ears full of something. 

Third, be ready for the noise out in the wider world. Be strengthened in your relationships and then be ready to take a step back from it. You may have places, like work, that you just can't get out of it. But at places like the store? Take a step back, pull out of it. Don't add to it.

And then be a little patient with those who are dealing with it. The way the noise seeps in when you're in a store 20 minutes? Figure what it's like being there for 8 hours, and dial down just a bit your yelling at those who do that.

Beyond that, seek to be someone who brings calm in the chaos. Not in a self-pious jerky fashion, but by being calm. Speaking calmly. Responding calmly. 

The noise creeps in. It affects more than you realize it does, because your brain is still processing all of it. Don't let it destroy you or pull backwards at your joy in life.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Book: Seven Women and the Secret of their Greatness

Today's book is a follow-up to the book I reviewed here. I received this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Seven lives. Spread across history, starting with Joan of Arc and ending with Rosa Parks, 7 Women and the Secret of Their Greatness is an introductory biography. Obviously too short to be an in-depth look at any of their lives, the chapter length looks get past the one-sentence summary that we often get.

First, of course, one could look at how Metaxas chose the women to feature. History has not always been balanced in recording the lives of women and men. As such, writing a biography can be very difficult if you go looking too far back. There's just not the source material. Metaxas' choice of Joan of Arc is understandable, given the records that are available about her. Beyond that, he's chosen women from the Enlightenment Age onward.

Additionally, it was his choice to include women who excelled at whatever they did, rather than seeking the ones who were "pathbreakers" into the traditional "men's world." Rather than setting up the false idea that women have to pick one side or another of the gender gap, instead he chose to highlight women who succeeded in both traditional and non-traditional fields.

How is the writing?

Metaxas writes with a friendly style that is easy to follow. It's not as in-depth as some writers, but this is an intro work. hopefully it will spur you to read full biographies of all seven named in the book.

Factually, I must proceed on the assumption that Metaxas and his editors have ensured the accuracy of what is stated. I know that some aspects of the lives of Joan of Arc and Maria Skobtsova are hard to prove and drawn at parts from legend. These still read well.

All in all, this is well worth reading. It's on our shelf for all three kids, as well as having been enjoyed by the adults.

As noted above: book provided in exchange for the review.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Faith Shows Out: Hebrews 11

In Summary:

We come to the most famous portion of the book of Hebrews: the “Faith Hall of Fame” chapter. Throughout Hebrews 11, our author recounts story snippet after story snippet of those who have walked with God in past times. Each one is mentioned, briefly, and summarized as having faith in some way or another. Particularly telling is the inclusion of multiple women, both named and unnamed. This reflects a willingness on the part of the early church to recognize the contributions of both sexes to the heritage of faith.

Also telling, as we contemplate the writing of Hebrews, is that the list stops with examples from the time of the Judges (ending with Samuel, the last judge) and then switches to a summary. Even the listing of names from Judges is prefaced with “time will fail me…” in Hebrews 11:32. What does that tell us? That the author is a preacher of some sort, seeing how he goes on for another 8 verses, approximately 20% of the chapter, after he says time is failing. It’s the great “in conclusion” that makes you start thinking about the potluck…and then the rolls are cold by the time you get there.

Returning to our summary of the chapter, make note that each event mentioned involves looking at how the actions of individuals demonstrated their faith. Further, it is the faith of the individuals themselves that are featured: Rahab is credited with faith, not “Rahab’s cousin…” Faith that we see in this chapter may be shared, but it remains an individual possession. The faith of one may encourage the faith of another, but it does not substitute for it.


In Focus:

Let us turn the focus to Hebrews 11:30 for a moment. Here we see that the walls of Jericho fell, not because of loud trumpets, but because of faith. Joshua 6 gives us this story, and you would do well to read it. In fact, that’s true of the entire passage. You would do well to read the stories of those mentioned, and see how their faith showed outwardly through their actions.

Reading Joshua 6, though, little is said about the faith of the people. Instead, only the actions are mentioned. The people walked with the Ark of the Covenant, the visible reminder of the presence of YHWH, the God of Israel. (And the God of All Things, but the covenant is more specific.) They marched, the kept quiet, they marched, they shouted. And then they won. Hebrews says it happened “by faith.” Joshua doesn’t seem to mention faith at all…


In Practice:

This should give us pause as we consider how faith looks in action. So often, we want to wait until we can check off how much faith we have before we get started doing what God has put in front of us. Where does that line up with this chapter?

It doesn’t.

Instead, we need to see this reality: obedience demonstrates faith. Obedience to the Word of God. Obedience as we face the challenges that are in front of us. Just as the people of Israel demonstrated faith by walking in the presence of God. They walked and did what was commanded of them.

God then honored His commands, and the result was the collapse of the walls of Jericho. What walls stand in front of you as you try to walk with Jesus? Have you considered whether you are waiting for faith instead of taking the first steps of obedience?

This is true for us as individuals and as churches. What we do shows what we believe, and how we do it shows Who we believe in.


In Nerdiness: 

First, it’s somewhat funny to me that Hebrews 11:2’s term for “men of old” in NASB is the same word we get “Presbyterian” from. One could make a tongue-in-cheek translation that “by faith, the Presbyterians gained approval.”

Second, the “gained approval” is also translatable as “were testified favorably about.” The word used in Greek is the word from which we get martyr. That word refers to bearing witness or testifying. Here, though, it’s passive so it speaks of faith bearing witness about the men of old. (Or the Presbyterians.)


Third, it’s intriguing that Barak is mentioned but Deborah isn’t. Is this because she did everything without fear, while Barak had to be persuaded? (Judges 4-5)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Sermon Recap for October 11

I’m swapping my podcast host for the church’s web service. This will keep all the sermons in one place and save me some money at the same time. Let me know if it’s working or not! The sermon index and player is here.

Morning Sermon: The Needs of Sinners,  John 4 (direct download)

Evening Sermon: The Lord’s Supper (direct download)

Monday, October 12, 2015

How to find simplicity when your life is far too complicated—a guest post from Dr. Michael Nichols

Note: I have learned from (and leaned on) Dr. Nichols for leadership ideas for several years. He’s not just a face on the Internet, but one I’ve seen and trust.

Have you ever noticed those people who seem to have it all together? You look at their work and they have all these cool things going on. They're successful, they're making things happen. You look at their family and they seem to have rich, full relationships. They're connecting well with one another. They even have great connections and healthy interactions with you.

So you think - How do you keep all the plates spinning? How did you become productive? How are you able to shift from productivity and tasks into highly-relational moments with ease?

And how are you connecting with people in such a way that their lives and their work are dramatically improving as a result of their interactions with you - your influence in their life?

And it's that simplification of leadership that we see in them that is critical.

We know that most people want 2 things:

1.         They want to be successful - productive - in their work - in what they do.

2.         But they also want to connect deeply with people - in relationship.

And it can be done. But there's a secret to it.

For the past 20 years I've been serving leaders and organizations around the world helping them live and lead with purpose. We worked with thousands of leaders in all size organizations - from General Electric, ChickFila, and Deloitte, to entrepreneur startups, ministries and non-profits in places like Dallas, Omaha, Winston-Salem, Las Vegas, and Atlanta to a school district on Long Island.

And what we've learned is that every leader that we've worked with has these same desires we mentioned: They all want to do good work and at the same time they want to connect with people in meaningful ways.

But what keeps us from that?

In my experiences leading an international marketing firm, colleges and universities, non-profits, and ministries working with top leaders in the marketplace who have tons of books, and training, and processes, and systems - we found that most leaders are more confused, concerned, frustrated, even overwhelmed than ever before.

And most of the time, the complexity and chaos we are experiencing is self-generated. Which means, we have the ability to make a change and experience dramatic improvements.

We struggle with work/life balance. We struggle to connect with people in meaningful ways. We struggle to be productive. And we struggle in these areas when we're not living and leading with clear purpose.

Let's face it - there's never enough time.

When you think about your work, your experience may have been like mine - I've navigated my way through increasingly complex challenges. I launched new businesses very early in my career. I was thrust into handling conflict, chaos, and betrayal. I had the responsibility of developing people, teams, and organizations. And I grieved painful loss.

What I needed was a simple, proven process and tools that I could work through on my own that would help me experience dramatic improvements at home and at work. So I developed the 5 Phases of SIMPLE Leadership to help me during this chaotic time.

Today, Doug is offering a free PDF download of the 5 Phases of SIMPLE Leadership  Simply click here to access the free download.

We use a simple metaphor of the construction of a building to help us remember and communicate the 5 phases.

In fact everything we do at Guidestone is simple, scalable, and sustainable. So anyone can do it, any team or organization can use it, and when you put these concepts in motion it will last.

So let me share the 5 Phases of SIMPLE Leadership with you – they're really simple. If you've ever been around the construction of a building - any type of building - but especially a large building, you know that the foundation is most important. Architects, consultants, engineers, and contractors spend months, even years, planning, designing, evaluating, tweaking, and preparing the foundation of a building project. Last year we were building a commercial building at our organization and just as we were about to begin construction, we realized that the foundation was designed entirely wrong. In fact, the consultant refused to make the necessary changes to get it right. So we hired another consultant to make the changes - Why?

Because the foundation is so incredibly important. If the foundation is off - if the foundation isn't right - then there will be problems - significant problems with the rest of the project!

So the 5 Phases of SIMPLE Leadership are really a time-saving tool, a relational tool, a money-saving process to help you automate dramatic improvements in your life and work. So as you plan, design, and build a strong, solid foundation, you'll learn how to navigate through the 5 Phases at the right time.

Don't miss the free download today – it will really help you. Click here to get it now.

Then, I'll be sharing more over the next couple of weeks about how you can go deeper with 5 Phases of SIMPLE Leadership.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Book: The Methuselah Project: A Novel

What do you do with someone who does not age, and would only die under certain specific conditions? What would that life be like? These are the bigger questions found in Rick Barry’s The Methuselah Project: A Novel. (The “A Novel” part is necessary because there is already, apparently, another book with The Methuselah Project as its title. I digress.)

Barry’s not writing philosophy, though, so you experience those questions in the narrative of the life of a man. A man who simply had his duty set before him, and then it all went wrong. That man is Roger Greene.

This is a fairly straight forward science fiction/thriller novel. Is the science plausible? Possibly, though Barry is vague enough on the science that you realize it’s fictional. Then you have the thriller elements as Greene approaches the new world he lives in.

I was surprised at the smaller number of fish-out-of-water moments for Greene. The focus was more on the survival/action of the moment. Which is a fine focus. It just wasn’t quite what I expected.

In the current Marvel-dominated media world, the comparisons between The Methuselah Project and Captain America can’t be ignored. Barry has enough differences, though, to separate the two. The first being Greene’s forced involvement, the work of a classic mad scientist, compared to Rogers’ voluntary work. Other items will be clear to the reader.

I have no qualms recommending this as a sci-fi thriller to you, my readers. This includes a willingness to hand off my copy to youth readers like my children. There are some heavy plot moments, but all are handled with a respect for many people’s preference not to have all of the details of love or death.

I like it. It’s a good diversionary read, though wondering “what’s next?” is the way this one leaves you…

I did receive a free copy in exchange for this review.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Fight the Shrink! Hebrews 10

In Summary:

Hebrews goes on, speaking of our need for one sacrifice, and one sacrifice only. Through the course of Hebrews 10, the author returns to the shortfalls of annual animal sacrifices. First by highlighting that the conscience isn’t really salved by such sacrifices, and then moving on to showing where God Himself expressed that animals aren’t good enough for Him.

Instead, our intrepid author (who continues to be Apollos. Or Luke. Or Barnabas.) brings the Psalms back and focuses on the supremacy of Christ. Which, despite Hebrews having some excellent things to say about faith and obedience, really is the focus of the book as a whole. The supremacy of Christ to all to other gods, revelations, or sacrifices, and therefore our only viable option is to place our obedient faith in Jesus.

This is reinforced by the “new and living way” to enter the presence of God (Hebrews 10:20,) which is through Jesus. Prior to this, the apparent way into the presence of God was through a pile of bodies, wracked by the carnage of death and in turmoil as regarding whether or not the sacrifices were sufficient. We go through the perfect way, the One who not only died but arose, showing that His sacrifice fulfilled all of the need. We need not, therefore, flee in terror from the presence of God. Neither do we fear assembling with God’s people, for there exists no risk that their sacrifices were insufficient and that we would be swept away in the judgment of another.


In Focus:

Let us turn, wholeheartedly, to Hebrews 10:39. The NASB renders it as “we are not of those who shrink back,” which is probably the better way to bring this into English. It could be rendered as “we are not the shrinking back ones,” and the same would apply to “those who have faith” as being “we are ones of faith.” The main use, outside of the Bible, of the term that “those who shrink back” seems to be of military reserve forces. Not like our “reserves” that are called up in crisis but the ones who are “held back” in the battle plan, just in case they were needed.

They still got to march in the victory parade when all was said and done, though. Without any actual taking of the risks—just by being there but being “held back.” Sometimes, it was a sound military strategy to “hold back” a few troops, but the author of Hebrews is not talking about a logical and reasonable plan. He’s addressing those who would volunteer to be held back.

In Practice:

Which, practically speaking, would have been an act of cowardice in most cases. The typical legionnaire was expected to face the enemy and fight. He had trained for warfare. His unit counted on him, his brethren in arms counted on his presence. It was not an optional involvement. He was necessary. Those who were physically unable to participate in the battle were not put into the reserve, they were put in the infirmary. Those are a different matter.

Here are those who hear the trumpet call to assemble and face the enemy, and instead volunteer to catch up later. Or to be fresh and rested when it’s all said and done. These are the people who are glad to see the church on Sunday, but have no interest in engaging a lost and dying world in between church events. After all, theirs is the calm assurance of heaven and being in the victory parade. No sense in getting hurt before then, right?

Except then we don’t really do much good. Stop holding back and get to walking in obedience. Our Supreme Sacrifice is also our Supreme Battle Commander. Let us follow, though all is dark around us. Fight the urge to shrink. Stand firm.


In Nerdiness:

The information I’m working on comes from the Annals of Tacitus, and so I might be off the deep end. But I think there’s something to the overall idea of what ὑποστολῆς refers to in this case. At least the mental image that would have been drawn.


I find it interesting that Hebrews 10:23-36 seems to suggest that remembering prior suffering is our encouragement in current suffering. As in, don’t think you get to go through bad stuff once and then never again. It keeps coming back.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Sermon Recap for October 4

Apologies for the hum on the video. It’s not the camera. It’s the way the sound system was set up. I have fixed it. I will be telling the sound guys to leave it alone, because it is now fixed. The evening is just flat unwatchable. The morning’s not much better.

Morning Sermon: John 4:1-6 “The Needs of Jesus” (audio)

Evening Sermon: Exodus Part II, Tabernacle and the Passover (audio)

Monday, October 5, 2015

Monday Reflections

Looking back across the last week, a few thoughts for you today:

1. Somewhere, somehow, there is a reasonable response to violence in our country. However, it’s got to make more sense than both “let’s dump more firearms everywhere” and “let’s take all the firearms away from everyone” do. Why? Because the latter is impossible—unless you’re prepared for house-to-house searches by law enforcement, because those of us who are law abiding enough to consider voluntary turn-ins aren’t likely to be the ones that commit mass violence. The former is almost as nutsy—true, a good person with a gun confronting a murderer is effective. *If* that good person is equipped to handle the situation. This excludes any one who thinks that they can make a 50 yard pistol shot in a crowd and only hit the bad guy, even though they haven’t fired their weapon in six months.

Folks, it’s hard enough to stabilize a rifle and shoot a deer. Factor in the adrenaline of a deadly situation and factor out the training that many law enforcement agencies have to deal with that adrenaline? Darn few of us with CHCLs should draw in a crowded space and shoot back.

The real solution comes before the guns come into play. How does our culture treat life? For a good bit of time, we have held that survival of the fittest and every man for himself make for good slogans in our culture. We are reaping what we have sown. While I would prefer we all willingly embrace Christianity, at the very least we would be well served by thinking a little more about loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Which means, to me, a couple of things: one, I don’t shoot my neighbors; two, I don’t, if at all possible, allow my neighbors to be shot. How we achieve that needs *rational* discussion. This, therefore, excludes any politician running for office or helping others run for office.

2. In that snow and cold last winter, if you posted a “where’s the global warming?” pic, you now have to retract that. Because it’s too dang warm for October. This is another place where rational examination gives us better info. And why trite cliches, either direction, serve to kill discussion.

3. I’m reading a really good book called 5 Gears. I’d say it’s about time management, but it’s really about life management.

4. At some point, I believe that we consciously answer for the way we have treated others. I think it’s the Scriptural concept of judgment by God. And it’s far more serious than “karma.” Karma is blind—you don’t know if you got it or not. Nor do you know what you did.

But at the judgment before the Almighty? You will. You will know. You will know what good you have done, and what harm….and you will see that apart from the grace of God, you cannot compensate.

 

That’s my thoughts for this Monday.

Friday, October 2, 2015

One and Done: Hebrews 9

In Summary:

Hebrews 9 begins with a reminder of the Tabernacle and the regulations for worship of the One True God. We see the continued reference to the Tabernacle more than the Temple here, including a rare New Testament reminder of the Ark of the Covenant. Rather than focusing on these (or telling us where the Ark is at this point!), our author links the formality of worship in the Tabernacle with the ceremonial regulations found in the Old Testament law. The conclusion, though, is that the conscience is not satisfied by these practices because God is not finally satisfied by these practices.

Ultimately, the new high priest had to come. First, He had to take the first covenant to its fulfillment. Then He entered into something better and greater than the Tabernacle. He entered into the holy place, once for all, to bring His people into a place of eternal redemption. The Tabernacle, while impressive, was a shadow at the beginning and became superfluous by the end. If the Tabernacle is characterized like this, how much more should the food and drink laws be considered in this manner?



In Focus:

Turning our focus to the oft-quoted Hebrews 9:27, let’s take this one apart for a moment. First, this verse, usually shortened in quotation to “It is appointed to men once to die and after that, the judgment,” is not a complete sentence. It’s the first half of a comparison between normal humanity and Jesus.

The second half, 9:28, reminds us that not only did Jesus die once and once only, but He will be coming back. This time, though, it is not to die but to save those who eagerly await Him. (ESV renders this nicely.)

In Practice:

The first practical point is that we need to be careful how we treat this verse. It is not presented as a standalone statement. While “it is appointed unto man…” is certainly true, keeping verses in context is one of the keys to Biblical Interpretation.

Second among our practical points is to live in constant anticipation of the promised second appearing of Jesus. That fleshes out in two directions. The main direction is that we never slack off on obedience. The enemy is a defeated enemy and we must keep up the skeer as he is run to ground! Our Lord has given us instructions and we must not let up.

The other direction is this: our Lord will return and we need not trouble ourselves about the timing. In fact, one of the least faithful ways we can spend the time God has given us is wasting it trying to determine if He’s really been honest. Or if His return will be when we expect.

Our practice must be to remember that He gets a second appearing. We get one shot.

In Nerdiness: 

Where does the nerdiness stop here? We have references to the Tabernacle and the altars and the dietary laws…folks, if you aren’t brushed up on the Mosaic Covenant, you will just miss all of the richness and depth in this chapter.

Then there is the idea of the shedding of blood for forgiveness of sins. It’s hard to not see this as a potential positive about human sacrifice, because Jesus is substituted in the chapter for sheep and goats and cattle. But we need to keep this in mind: the animals were substituted for the human beings who weren’t facing “sacrifice” but punishment.


Sacrifice is willing. Punishment is deserved. Jesus takes our punishment, willingly as a sacrifice. It’s not that His death was demanded by the Law. It’s that ours is deserved by it.

July 5 Service Recap

Good morning! Here are the service recaps from last week. First we’ll see the morning services, both the 9 AM and the 11 AM, then there will...