Archives For What I’m Learning

five red button Happy Easter! Here are five links to keep you thinking throughout the weekend.

The “15 Second Kiss” Experiment – Married with kids? This article is for you!!!!

Do We Really Need More Churches in America? – Great perspective!

3 Big Questions Kids Ask on Good Friday – great perspective for those with curious kids.

Heaven is For Real – Good review if you’re considering watching the movie.

Saved From Hate – An interview with the son of deceased pastor of Westboro Baptist Church.

five red buttonFive more insightful articles to get you through the weekend. Enjoy!

A Thread Called Grace – A powerful confession of someone dealing with sexual abuse in his past.

A Year of Grieving Dangerously – Kay Warren talks about dealing with the suicide of her son Matthew.

God Used Me to Stop a School Shooter – An incredible interview with a woman who talked down a school shooter.

Let Them Eat Dirt – Amazing perspective for all parents out there who can tend to be overprotective.

The Incredible Story of a Rwandan Genocide Survivor – Powerful story!

Fall Books PreviewThe Bully Pulpit is a riveting tale of two men and a magazine that changed the world. Telling the tale of Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and McClure’s Magazine, The Bully Pulpit transports the reader into a surprisingly pivotal time in American history, the dawn of the 20th century.

At the beginning of the 20th century, a pervasive culture of laissez faire had allowed corporations to run amuck and concentrate incredible wealth at the expense of the common man. Political parties were beholden to powerful corporations. Corporate trusts cornered the market on pivotal goods such as steel and beef and transportation such as railroads. A handful of men, the country’s first millionaires, held absolute sway.

The American economic and political systems were designed to help the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Many wanted reform, but they could not muster the courage to battle the headwinds needed to see the revolution of change begin. Enter Theodore Roosevelt. A hurricane of a man and a person almost unique in American history, Roosevelt took on the role of reformer and by sheer force of will helped America turn a critical corner in her storied journey.

The bulk of this book focuses on the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt and his chosen successor William Howard Taft and their transformation of the American way of life. Along the way the author traces a critical voice that helped crystallize the support of the American public at critical junctures: McClure’s magazine. Called “the golden age of journalism,” the author does a tremendous job recounting an easily forgotten aspect in the battle for modern America. McClure’s magazine galvanized public sentiment and gave Roosevelt and Taft the ammunition they needed to goad an unwilling legislature to pass much needed reform. It’s an amazing tale of the stars aligning for a few short years and meaningful reforms being passed in our country.

At 750 pages, this book is not for the faint of heart, yet it’s a solid read and wonderful reminiscence of the greatness that America can aspire to if she so chooses.

LESSONS LEARNED

1. The power of one person and a vision. I’ve read numerous books about Theodore Roosevelt and continue to be fascinated with him as a man. His drive, his force of will, his determination and buoyancy allowed him to shape the country to his will in a way rarely seen before or since. Can one person make a difference? Absolutely. History has proved this time and time again.

2. All good plans can go astray. Roosevelt had picked William Howard Taft (a close personal friend) as his chosen successor in the 1908 presidential election. Riding Roosevelt’s legacy, Taft easily sailed to victory but strayed from Roosevelt’s vision enough that Roosevelt himself challenged his good friend and successor for the 1912 Republican nomination.

3. Little moments make a big difference. The night of Roosevelt’s presidential victory in 1904, Roosevelt made a declaration that would come to haunt him for years. Fresh off his victory, he publicly vowed to not seek a third term (at that time still allowed). Roosevelt would later say that he would willingly chop off his arm if he could take back that pledge. The secret power behind Taft’s success in his career was his loving, supportive, and incredibly smart and savvy wife, Nellie Taft. She was his rock, his anchor. A few weeks into Taft’s presidency, Nellie Taft suffered a debilitating stroke and never fully recovered. Taft’s presidency was never the same.

4. There can be too much a good thing. This book beautifully captures the arc of Roosevelt’s rise and fall, from eager reformer to overzealous power hog one step away from crazy town. During his final presidential run as a third party candidate, Roosevelt delved deep into demagoguery, proposing to do away with the Supreme Court and putting all national issues up for a vote. In his mind that would work well, because he knew how to galvanize popular opinion like no one else, but it would have been a chaotic step for our country. As much as I admire Roosevelt, I’m glad he was defeated in his final presidential run. Too much power for too long had warped his sense of perspective, with serious possible harm for the country.

5. Roosevelt’s movement was ultimately successful. The progressive movement embodied by Roosevelt led to some incredible leaps forward that we take for granted today, including the 17th and 19th amendment to the Constitution: the direct election of senators and giving women the right to vote. Both more widely distributed power to the people and enabled the general public to have their say in their country’s future.

6. The progressive movement was the golden age of journalism. Never before had journalists been so able to capture and form the conscious of the country than during the years of Roosevelt’s presidency. They were men and women of high moral aptitude with an inner drive to educate the public, not just drive up sales. As others joined the bandwagon this type of journalism denigrated into the muckraking so decried by the President. But for a short span, journalism was a healthy conversation, not driven by deadlines or circulation figures, but driven by a common goal to better the country. Oh even for a hint of that in today’s media wars.

five red buttonBringing back and older post format. Here are links to five good stories I’ve read this week that I’ll pass onto you:

Read Fiction and Become a More Interesting Preacher – Here’s why I read a ton of fiction along with my non-fiction.

Twenty of the Most Influential Evangelicals in America – I’m assuming I’m #21, but numbers aren’t important.

Update From an Overweight Christian – I love Thom Rainer’s honesty as he shares his struggle to overcome obesity.

6 Things I Wish Someone Would Have Told My Church – Come on preacher preach!

Why Is Good Photography Expensive? – Explains why I pay so much of good photographs of my kids!

3.29.14WARNING: Noah (the movie) is a radical interpretation of an ancient story that directly contradicts our sanitized-VBS-idyllic notions of how we think the Noah story went. Now mind you, I didn’t say that Noah (the movie) directly contradicts Scripture. It just gives an interpretation different than we grew up with in Sunday School. It’s not a fairy-tale depiction of a doting grandfather with a flowing beard whose biggest dilemma is finding out where to put all the cute cuddly animals that made it onto the ark. It’s a movie about the end of the world. That’s what has the bloggers and talk radio hosts and Facebook prophets up in arms.

Here’s what I appreciated about Darren Aronofsky’s version of Noah and why I think you should see it (don’t worry, no spoilers ahead. If you want the spoilers, read Genesis 6-9):

  • He brought to life a vision of what the pre-Flood world could have looked like, something that’s always intrigued me. Aronofsky is if nothing else an incredible storyteller and filmmaker.
  • He told the true point of the story: the apocalypse. When we tell a sanitized version of the story to kindergartners, we keep it about all the cute and fluffy animals that got to ride on a big boat. He kept the focus on the tragic destruction of humanity. We may not be comfortable with that truth, but judgement was the central point of the story.
  • God was very much a central figure in the film. Now some are up in arms because they referred to him as “the Creator” rather than “God.” He has several names in Scripture, take your pick. They portrayed him in a way that we might not be comfortable with but falls (I believe) within the bounds of a biblical viewpoint. (I’ll admit, it’s right on the edge, but it’s just inside the edge).
  • Noah doesn’t whitewash the reason for judgment: the wickedness of mankind. I’d heard rumors that Noah would be portrayed as some eco-terrorist who was destroying the world because we were mean to trees. Not the case at all. The reason for the apocalypse was clearly presented: the wickedness of mankind.
  • Aronofsky did a beautiful job weaving in the dichotomous virtues of justice and mercy in a way that spoke to fundamental values in the human experience.
  • The last picture we see of Noah in Scripture has always confused me: a naked passed out drunk. Why not finish with the rainbow and let everyone walk away happy? Aronofsky’s interpretation of this event is the first I’ve seen that makes perfect sense.
  • Aronofsky portrayed Noah as flawed. I loved that. Too often we mythologize our Bible characters and forget the fact that they were sinners. This Noah struggled. He seemed, well, human. That gives hope.

Here are some things that made me scratch my head (a little):

  • Noah’s interpretation of the Nephilim in Genesis 6. When you watch the movie, you’ll encounter some characters that seem completely farfetched. But it’s not as farfetched as you think. Pastors like me avoid Genesis 6:2 like the plague because we have no idea what it means. He gave an interpretation of that verse. To be completely honest, it’s about as believable as all the animals joining together to help Steve Carrell build the ark.
  • The Bible is clear that the wives of all three sons were on the ark. In this movie, that truth came as a twist towards the end. Not as straight forward as we’d expect, but that doesn’t make it unbiblical. I mean, this is the same God who promised Abraham a son and then waited until Sarah was well beyond child bearing years to do anything about it. God loves a good twist.
  • In Genesis we see God’s commands given to Noah. But how were they communicated? Verbally? In written form? Through dreams and visions? Aronofsky definitely went the unusual route, but that’s his prerogative.
  • Perhaps my biggest beef would be Noah’s role vs. God’s role in deciding the fate of humanity. His interpretation is not one I’m comfortable with, but I’m not ready to throw him to the wolves for it. It’s the same tension we see between man’s will and God’s sovereignty. They’re both there, but reconciling them properly is difficult.

All in all, I’d recommend you go see Noah for yourself. You will not see a movie that is intentionally anti-biblical. You will see a movie that stretches our imagination and challenges some of our time-honored traditions about the Flood story. I’ve thought for years that those interpretations needed to be challenged, and Aronofsky has come along and done it. And he’s made a beautiful movie along the way.

But don’t take my word for it. Go see it for yourself. Just leave your flannel graphs and stuffed animals at home. A battle axe is a better choice for this movie.

QUESTION: What did you think about the Noah movie?

chuckRecently I was watching an old Catalyst talk where Chuck Swindoll shared ten things he’s learned in over fifty years of ministry. Those thoughts are so great I thought I’d share them with you:

1. It’s lonely to lead. The more decisions you make, the more you lead, the lonelier you become. Leadership can be lonely.

2. It’s dangerous to succeed. Many of us have a plan for failure, but most of us don’t have a plan for success. Too much success too early can ruin any person.

3. It is hardest at home. Leading on Sundays is easy. Leading your family is something else entirely. It’s truly hardest at home.

4. It is essential to be real. You’ll never be like the famous preacher you try and emulate. Be real. Be yourself.

5. It’s painful to obey. Look in Scripture. Any time God called someone to obey him, it was a step of faith. It was painful.

6. Brokenness and failure are necessary. This is absolutely true. Until we’re broken of our own pride and self-reliance, we’ll never be vessels usable by God.

7. My attitude is more important than my actions. Some of us as ministers can be hard to be around. It’s not just our actions, but our attitudes that are important.

8. Integrity eclipses image. Ministry invites fakeness as ministers try to exhibit the aura they feel others expect from them. Image will always be eclipsed by integrity.

9. God’s way is always better than my way. You can learn this one the easy way or the hard way, but sooner or later you’ll realize that God’s way is always best. Always.

10. Christ-likeness begins and ends with humility. To truly be like Christ means to humble yourself and serve others. There is no other way.

josh1A few days ago I turned 36. While 36 isn’t in itself a magic number, it’s an opportunity to pass on 36 things I’ve learned over the years. These aren’t the only things or most important things, just the first 36 things that came to mind. Enjoy!

1. There are no short cuts.

2. God really is faithful.

3. Even with the explosion of technology, success still comes down to how well you interact with people.

4. Be faithful with the small things. Earn your stripes.

5. Money fights account for 85% of arguments in a marriage.

6. After moving around all over, every place starts to look the same. It all comes down to the people you’re with.

7. If you work hard, you’ll be ahead of 90% of others in your field.

8. Entitlement will get you nowhere.

9. Life gets real messy when you move outside the four walls of the church.

10. Learn names. Learn names. Learn names.

11. A successful pastor is part politician.

12. Church doesn’t have to be boring. It can be fun and truthful at the same time.

13. Want to get over yourself? Have a kid. Better yet? Have four.

14. Marriage is the hardest and absolute best covenant you’ll enter into.

15. The church can be your family.

16. There’s so much more in life to live for than just money.

17. Everyone wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

18. People are desperately searching for hope.

19. You can loved an adopted child just as much as your own.

20. Every tragedy is an opportunity for God to do the miraculous.

21. Your kids grow up too fast.

22. Life is sweetest when done in community.

23. People want to be inspired and led to pursue a greater vision.

24. The local church is the hope of the world.

25. The problem with the church is that we’ve made church for church people.

26. There is value in an education, not just for the knowledge gained but for the discipline applied in completing a difficult task.

27. I started my doctorate wanting to be considered by a bigger church. I finished my doctorate never wanting to work at a church where I was considered only because of my degree.

28. I’ve learned more through personal reading and attending conferences than I ever have in seminary.

29. The growing leader can never stop learning. Never.

30. Holiness and excellence lead to success in the church. It’s not an either-or.

31. Money can’t buy happiness. It really can’t.

32. If you act like you know what you’re doing, most of the time people will believe you (that may or may not be a good thing)

33. A sermon is worthless unless it has application along with the truth.

34. Want people to remember something you say? Tell them a story.

35. Like the apostle Paul, I’ve learned the secret of being content in each and every circumstance, whether well fed or hungry, living in plenty or in want.

36. I never could have predicted the course my life would take, but I thank God everyday for it.

QUESTION: What’s something you’ve learned along the way in life?

2.3.14If you watched last night’s beatdown handed out by Seattle, then you know that the Seahawks are the undeniable champions of the football world. What was hyped as an epic showdown between the #1 offense (Broncos) and the #1 defense (Seahawks) turned into an embarrassing rout by a Seattle defense that had their foot on Denver’s throat from the first snap (literally) and never let up.

In numerous post game interviews with the historic Seahawks defense, a common thread came out: they played all year with a chip on their shoulder. In fact, I think that was their secret weapon to winning the Superbowl. The #1 defense in the NFL this year wasn’t comprised of bunch of first-round draft picks. All the blue chip picks went to other teams. Seattle’s defense was made up of guys that went in the third or fourth round, guys who were undrafted, guys who got cut by other teams. These were guys who sat there on draft day while other guys got picked ahead of them and “got theirs.”

So, did the Seattle defense have something to prove this year? Absolutely. They were the group that everyone else discarded. They were the leftovers, the second string. And they used that as motivation. When life beats you down, you can use it as proof that you’re not up to snuff, or you can use it as motivation to push you to the next level. Seattle used its chip to propel its defense to historic heights.

They’ve proved their point. They’ve got the ring. “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” 1 Corinthians 1:26-27

QUESTION: What’s the chip on your shoulder?

9780801015724God’s Double Agent is a harrowing true life tale that reads more like a James Bond thriller than a run-of-the-mill biography. Xiqui Fu (his English name is Bob) was born into poverty in rural China. Raised in the cloak of Communism, Fu’s life gives an incredibly stark picture of life in rural Communist China. Food shortages, endemic poverty, oppression by the government, all in the name of the greater good. Fu learned early on that his only path to a better life was education, so he made it all the way to college, a huge feat for his family.

While in college Fu got a hold of an evangelistic tract given out by an American Christian teaching English at Fu’s college. For Fu, his initial encounter with the Jesus of the Bible answered the questions he’d been asking his entire life. Fu became a Christian, not even owning a Bible for the first year following his salvation because Bibles were illegal in China. Fu eventually moved to Beijing for graduate work and started an underground church network in the capital city. He also ran an illegal seminary where hundreds of students would gather to learn more about the Bible.

This inevitably put him on the radar of the Communist police. Fu was trailed, intimidated, arrested and tortured for his faith. After being released, Fu and his wife escaped China and found refuge in the United States. Over the past decade Fu has been an ardent activist for freedom of religion in China, and he’s helped dozens of Chinese Christians escape Communist China on an underground railroad.

Growing up in modern America, Fu’s life seems like a haunted fairy tale, something made up to scare bad children. It’s difficult to really grasp what other believers (even today) have to go through. It’s a riveting account and well worth your time to read.

LESSONS LEARNED

1. Communism promised equality to all but was nothing more than a power grab. Historians have documented this over the years, but the first hand perspective of a villager growing up in Communism highlights the truth that while Communism promises equality to all, it’s merely a power grab to enrich a new class of “haves.”

2. It’s amazing how much manpower Communism had to employ to watch its own people. In Fu’s story, the secret police were everywhere. He had dozens of people dedicated to him throughout the years. That kind of wasted manpower is one of the reasons Communism will ultimately fail.

3. One day in heaven, I’m going to feel incredibly guilty for complaining so much about my comfortable middle class life. I’ve got problems, sure. But reading this book put those problems in perspective. My problems aren’t problems. They’re rich people problems. I have food, clothing, housing and freedom of religion. I’m good.

4. People will go to great lengths to sacrifice for the gospel. The prosperity gospel would never make it in China. The Chinese gospel is one of incredible grace as well as extraordinary sacrifice. Here’s an account of the theology Fu learned in China:

“If you want to be a faithful minister and follower of Jesus in China,” [a fellow pastor] said, “you should learn prison theology.” 

I nodded, though I wasn’t quite sure what he meant. “In prison,” he explained, “you find out more about God and His faithfulness than anywhere else. Jail is where God prepares his church in China” (161).

5. The persecution of Christians is still very real today. We hear whispers of it, but Fu’s account is a shout that all of us can hear. Some of our brothers and sisters in Christ are being persecuted and tortured for their faith in other parts of the world. They need our prayers and support. Here is one such account, told by Fu:

Not long after the 2002 retrial, I also became aware of thirty-three-year-old Liu Xianzhi (her English name is Sarah Liu), who was one of the four women declared innocent in the retrial verdict. However, she and the other women were sent to “reeducation through labor” camp, a fate worse than prison. They stripped her, used three electric shock batons on her simultaneously, torturing her on all parts of her body. When she cried out, they put the flesh-searing shock baton in her mouth. It burned her mouth so much that she couldn’t eat for several days. They also used this baton on her genitals, which caused so much paid that she eventually was sent to the hospital unconscious (279).

6. Affluence isn’t the overwhelming blessing we think it is for the church. For all the ‘blessings’ we enjoy in America, the church is anemic and flatlining. For all the suffering in China, the church is exploding in growth. Like the first three centuries of Christianity, persecution is actually a catalyst for growth in the church. Should we pray for more persecution in America?

12.9.13If you ever needed an illustration of what it means to literally be the hands and feet of Jesus, read Preemptive Love by Jeremy Courtney. It’s too easy for preachers like me to simply preach about love, cocooned safely away in our air conditioned sanctuaries, knowing we’ll draw a comfortable paycheck twice a month.

The idea behind Preemptive Love is literally loving first, before the other party has the opportunity to earn trust, to earn the love we offer. Courtney found an incredible laboratory to test this dangerously biblical notion: war torn Iraq. Jeremy and his wife moved to Iraq to minister to the Iraqi people through a non-profit organization. While there, Courtney came face to face with an incredible need: heart surgeries for kids in a country with no heart doctors.

Rewinding the clock to the 1980s, Saddam Hussein notoriously used chemical weapons against his own people, the Kurds of the north. Over the ensuing decades, as thousands of people were exposed to not only the original gas attack, but contaminated soil, water and air, children began to develop a much higher rate of birth defects, including heart issues. Hussein’s brutal regime drove out much of the medical professionals, exposing a humanitarian crisis when America toppled the regime last decade.

Simply trying to meet a need, Courtney began the Preemptive Love Coalition, a non-profit designed to help Iraqi children get access to lifesaving heart surgeries. On paper it looks simple, yet in reality the obstacles Courtney faced seemed insurmountable. From finding funding to locating willing heart doctors to organizing trips abroad to navigating local political minefields, Courtney went an extra seven or eight miles (not just the token extra mile) to see his vision become reality.

First the list of candidates was overwhelming. Politicians, warlords and everyone in between used whatever influence they could to try and get their child to skip ahead of the line. The first heart surgeons willing to operate on these children were in Israel, but the Iraqi government put a stop to it because of the religious divide. The next up were doctors in Turkey, but racial tensions almost derailed it.

In the midst of it all, the secret police monitored their movements, and rival politicians tried to use Courtney as a pawn to further their own cause. Many times undercut by the very people he was legitimately trying to help, any sane person would have given up long ago.

And yet Courtney had just enough insanity to trust that Christ-like love could work, even in a war torn area, even among Muslims, even among racial and religious divides that have spanned centuries.

The end result is an absolute beauty that should inspire and challenge all Christians. In the face of incredible odds, Courtney built bridges among cultures, brought peace to religious divisions, and along the way, saved hundreds of children’s lives by getting them the medical care they needed. He doesn’t preach Christ’s love. He does something better. He lives it out.

LESSONS LEARNED

1. Preaching Christ’s love and living Christ’s love are two very different things. Preaching is simple. The audience is sympathetic. The points alliterate. Everyone tells you how wonderful you did on the way out. Living it out is a lot messier, with an audience not quite as sympathetic, with the victories not so clear cut. And yet we’re called to live out love.

2. Preemptive love will always encounter strong headwinds. In our idealized notions of love, we think that once we try something noble, all obstacles will magically disappear, while people line up to applaud our valiant efforts. Bringing light into a dark place will always encounter entrenched obstacles. Victory is very possible, just not easy.

3. Seeing a vision come to reality will always take relentless devotion and unwavering fortitude. Too many times we want instantaneous results. Seeing a vision come to reality will come to those willing to make the hard slog, the ones committed with unwavering devotion to their cause.

4. Sharing the gospel in foreign lands requires much more than just preaching. Courtney got to share the gospel because he wasn’t preaching it. He was living it. Whenever the gospel is preached, actions must accompany the words to have true and lasting power.

5. Love can truly cover over a multitude of sins. If preemptive love can tear down walls between Arabs and Kurds, between Muslim, Jew and Christian, then love truly is the most powerful force in the world. My favorite stories in the book weren’t just the lives that were saved, but the healing and reconciliation that took place in the hearts of factions divided by centuries of conflict in the Middle East.