October 30, 2013

An old story - retold

I saw a man walking around Moscow yesterday morning. I don't know why I noticed him. He looked to be about 40, maybe younger. Scruffy face, and looked like the sort of person who is constantly smelling of last night's booze. He had on a red shirt. I still don't know what stuck out to me.
That would be weird on it's own. But then on my way to St. Maries I saw this same man in the red shirt, lying in the middle of Highway 5 just east of Rocky Point. I mean literally in the middle; I had to swerve to miss him. Fool. Just what that sort deserves. Think if I had swerved too hard and been in a wreck! I, a respected lawyer and state senator, put in peril by a drunk. Probably purchased his booze on unemployment checks.

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So here I was driving down Highway 5 between St. Maries and Plummer. I was running a little behind to get here in time, but I figured if they had the snow cleared off of Highway 95 I could make up time between Worley and Coeur d'Alene. Then I come around a corner, and there is this guy laying in the middle of the road! I was able to miss him, but it gave me a scare. Did I stop to help him? What? And make myself even later for the pastor's conference? What would I have done, brought him here? Tell me that wasn't a serious question.

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A few weeks back I had one of those interesting life moments. I was up in Idaho for the last part of their deer season.  I was hoping the get to my spot before ten and set up camp, but with it snowing the night before I was running behind. Then I come around a corner in the highway and there is a guy laying there in the road. I found the closest pull out and ran back to check on him. He was still alive, but wasn't in good shape. I couldn't tell if he had been hit and then laid there for hours, or if he had laid there for hours and eventually been hit. It didn't really matter. Cell service down there wasn't good enough to get a call out, so I pulled him into my truck and took him to the hospital in St. Maries. I stayed with him all day. They told me they'd probably release him the next day, so I went down to the motel and reserved a room for him for the next week, and went over to the grocery store and bought him some food, then left a little cash on the table in case he needed anything else. When I stopped back by a few days later, he was gone. Left a note at the front desk that just said, "Thanks neighbor."

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Many of us are familiar with Jesus' parable of the good Samaritan. I tried here to retell it in a modern light (obviously all the people in my story are fictitious). My apologies if the geographical refrences are obscure to you, a quick trip to Google maps can fix that.
If you aren't familiar with this parable, you can read it here. The background is this. A lawyer comes and asks Jesus how to inherit eternal life. Jesus replies with a question, "what does the law say?" The man replies, "love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself." Jesus tells him that's a good answer - and then this guy knows he's in trouble, because he doesn't love his neighbor as himself. So he begins to squirm. "Who is my neighbor?" the man asks. Jesus, again not giving him an easy answer, tells this story. After he concludes, he asks the question, "which one of these guys was a neighbor?" The lawyer, of course, realizes that the Samaritan (or in our case, the Californian) is the neighbor. The one who shows mercy is the neighbor. Jesus tells him to go and do likewise.
This is interesting on multiple levels, but here is what screams at me. The man wants to know who his neighbor is so that he can get by loving as few people as possible. Jesus tells a story about what a neighbor does and tells him to do that. Jesus' answer to, "who is my neighbor?" is, "be a neighbor."

October 28, 2013

Priests

4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”

and

“A stone of stumbling,
and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
1 Peter 2:4-10


 Cornerstone

The apostle Peter says there that Jesus is the cornerstone upon which the church is built (vs. 6,7). This means that Jesus is where we trace the church to, not Peter. This is an important fact because the entire Roman Catholic tradition of the papacy finds its basis in the idea that Peter was the rock upon which the church was built, and thus there is a supposed succession of a head honcho churchman.

But Peter flatly contradicts this type of thinking by making it exceedingly clear that it is Jesus upon whom the church is built. All believers are "living stones" used for the building of God's church. The apostles, being the first believers, form a proverbial base layer or foundation for this church (I believe this is what Jesus meant in Matthew 16:18). They serve an invaluable role, even now as we read the book of Acts and early church history, we may look to their example. We read the New Testament and from the apostles receive the written words that describe the living Word. We see Jesus through them, and learn how to live in light of who he is by the instructions they left in the form of letters like 1 Peter. But there is no magical line of Peter. Jesus is the cornerstone, and all the church form his holy people.


Priests

How do we know this? Peter refers to Christians in general as a "royal priesthood." This means that we don't need another human priest for confess our sins to, intercede with God for us, or administer sacraments. We are the people of God and God's Son, Jesus, serves as our merciful and sympathetic high priest (Hebrews 4:14-16).

God does establish structure for his church, including the governorship of elders over local congregations (Peter addresses them specifically in chapter 5). But this must not be mistaken as letting Christians off the hook on holiness (1:15) or of creating a special class of Christians. We all are part of the people who have now obtained mercy. A mercy dispersed by God, not by a man-made priesthood.

October 27, 2013

God's rejoicing

Luke 15:8-10

“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

As an aside before we begin. Let's do a little Bible study 101. What we read here from Luke is one of Jesus' many parables. Now, when we look at parables, we need to be careful not to spiritualize every little detail. That isn't what parables are for. Parables are designed to communicate one main point, one big idea. The details of parables generally exist to help make the story more true to life and to engage the listener/reader.

That said, I want to look at the main idea of this parable. Jesus says that if a woman has ten coins, or perhaps we would say ten $50 bills, and loses one, she will most assuredly take any measure necessary to recover that lost money. She'll light a lamp, sweep the house, and when she finds it, she will rejoice and call up all her friends so that they may rejoice with her. So it is in heaven when one sinner repents.

Here's the interesting part...the part that I have missed most of my life. It's not the angels rejoicing. Jesus said there is rejoicing before the angels of God. Which means it is not the angels rejoicing. It is God himself who rejoices over the repentance of sinners. The turning of a sinful heart to Christ causes God himself to visibly express his joy. How often do I share that joy?

October 24, 2013

A Dangerous Chase

A man went out into the world
twas greatness that he hoped to find.
But as life’s pressures ‘round him swirled,
those dreams crumbled in his mind.

Dejected by the hand life dealt,
our friend’s life began to waver;
because great failure he had felt,
he trusted drugs to be his savior.

“Just numb it all,” he told himself,
as the needle slipped inside his vein.
He felt he fought the world itself;
that all of life was naught but pain.

He lost both family and health
while success was chief endeavor;
but loss of job meant loss of wealth,
he was left without all earthly treasure.

He passed out one night beside the road,
not to awake again on earth.
Could one have his end foretold?
What would that warning have been worth?

The tragic end of this man’s life
should cause each one to pause.
What do I value in this life?
What has been my greatest cause?

Will I come to the end and find
that all I've lived for is but naught?
To what has been my heart inclined?
What sort of treasure have I sought?

You see when all is said and done,
our temporal things won’t matter.
But when our treasure is the Son,
we have a wealth that will not shatter.

I wrote the original version of this for the Coeur d' Alene Press, where it was published on December 21, 2012. I also posted it previously on the blog. I changed some of the wording and punctuation here, hopefully making it more readable. 

October 23, 2013

Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons



Sounds like a Pastor book

Yeah, it sort of does. And it sort of is. It was written by Thabiti Anyabwile, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Grand Cayman (and blogger at The Gospel Coalition and The Front Porch). So, the first thing I want to do in approaching Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), is answer the following question:

Why should you, who are probably not a pastor, read a book about finding faithful elders and deacons?

This is a totally legitimate question. But the answer is pretty simple. In this book Thabiti Anyabwile walks us through the characteristics and qualities required of a man called to the offices of elder and deacon. These are qualities to which all Christian men should aspire (perhaps excepting the aptitude to teach). And while you may not be a man in the position of making decisions on these matters, or a man actively desiring a position in the eldership or deaconate, or a man at all, this is information with which you need to be familiar. Having qualified leadership, and thus knowing what constitutes qualified leadership, in the church is critical to the church accomplishing her mission.

This is a very short (173 pages, including notes) and accessible book. No single chapter exceeds 8 pages, and most are 4-6. Much of that space is given to helpful questions and thoughts for application of the truth explained.



3 Parts

This book breaks into three sections, Finding Table Servants (Deacons), Finding Reliable Elders, and What Good Pastors Do. Using Scripture as his map, and 1 Timothy chapters 3 & 4 particularly, Pastor Anyabwile walks us through what good deacons and elders look like, and do. While the entire book was good, I thought the first section, Finding Table Servants, to be particularly enlightening. As someone who has grown up in church, and who has served in the position of deacon, I have found there to be precious little teaching or clarity as to what exactly it is that deacons do. I believe many churches would do well to purchase a copy of this book for each of the deacons, just to study the first 43 pages.



Quotes that provoked me

“If a man is not given to discipling others, it’s unlikely that he is called to the pastoral office” (pg 11)

“Though God sets the bar for pastoral ministry necessarily high, he uses the poles of grace to support that bar.” (pg 16)

“The word of a deacon ought to be one of the strongest guarantees in the church.” (pg 29)

“An elder must be a person who bridles himself.” (pg 68)

“Teaching is central part of proclaiming the gospel and making disciples.” (pg 77)

“It’s worth considering whether they [a man’s children] would support their father as worthy of the office [of elder].” (pg 98)

“A church should make sure that a man has a good facility in the basics of the faith even before asking him to teach young children.” (pg 100)

“A pastor’s study and preparation should be, in the best sense of the word, devotional.” (pg 124)

“To think of him [Christ] often and long is itself joy.” (pg 162) 



Conclusion

This is an important book, not just for church leadership, for for laymen as well. I highly recommend it. 

October 22, 2013

Quitter



A quitter is something I have always been afraid of being. I want to be steadfast; I want to be someone who people could count on. If there is ever a time I swear to my own hurt, I want to be the guy who follows through on it anyway. So in light of that, I didn’t originally have much interest in Jon Acuff’s book titled “Quitter: Closing the gap between your day job &your dream job” (Brentwood, TN: Lampo Press, 2011). Who wants to be a quitter?

But alas, my dear wife had heard this book plugged on Dave Ramsey’s show a number of times, and was convinced I needed it. And so on my birthday, I received this book (along with one I had asked for!). This would be one case where I totally misjudged the book based on its cover…er, uh, title. This is a very good, exceptionally readable, practical, and helpful book.



What’s it about?

The first dose of practicality comes in the title of chapter one- “Don’t Quit Your Day Job.” You pick up a book about pursuing your dreams, and here the guy tells you to keep your day job. Not what most people are looking to find. But Acuff explains his reasoning on page 21 when he says, “I know it sounds crazy, but people with jobs tend to have more creative freedom than people without.” It does sound crazy, but it makes a lot of sense. This book isn’t about pursuing the fairy tale of the job that will perfectly fulfill you by casting off all the constraints of your 9-5 and spreading your wings. Rather, Acuff goes through a logical process of finding ways to pursue your dream now, “falling in like with a job you don’t love”, applying hustle to your dream, learning to be successful at success, and finally making your dream job your day job. True to his usual form, Acuff uses much humor and personal anecdote in his writing; this is far from an academic work. It’s more of a “hey guys, here’s some common sense and my experience, hopefully it helps” kind of book. And it contains some gems, not only for people looking to pursue a dream, but also for those of us content with where we are for now.  



Quotes and thoughts

“At some point we stopped being stayers and formed a long line of leavers. We started seeing motion as a sign of success and transition as a sign of progress…People position adulthood like it’s the end of your life, not the beginning.” (pg 5)
We live in a society that worships freedom, which is really just code for childishness and running away from responsibility. We act like being a grown up with a job and responsibilities is the same thing as nailing the coffin shut.

“The simplest and safest way to keep your no’s is to keep your day job.” (pg 16)
What he means by keeping your no’s is that you aren’t at the mercy of your dream taking off right now if you have a day job. If you’re providing a service and have a job, you have the ability to say no to those who don’t want to pay your price. If you’re relying on that money to make rent, you don’t have the same freedom.

“We have to murder perfectionism…90 percent perfect and shared with the world always changes more lives than 100 percent perfect and stuck in your head.” (pg 62)
What stops so many of us from sharing our thoughts, ideas, visions, dreams? The desire not to mess up. Fear of not being perfect. Get over it. Work on it, get it clear enough to be comprehensible, and get it out there. “You can’t catch perfect…You can catch finished and shared.” (pg 63)

“You might be too bored to work on your dream, but just don’t buy into the lie that you are too busy.” (pg 74)
Of all of our excuses, busyness probably ranks on top. And most of it is just that, an excuse. We fill our time with stuff, but most of it is pretty unimportant. You could get lot of dream done in the time it takes to check Facebook or watch a movie. “Do more of the things you love and less of the things you like.” (pg 150)

“If you wait until night to work on your dream, you will often spend the whole day gathering up material for excuses on why you shouldn’t do what it is you feel called to do.” (pg 145)
I tried to deny this for a long time. “I’m a night owl” I’d tell myself. That worked great when I was a single guy with one part time job. Not so much now that I’m married working one and sometimes two jobs with a baby girl. Get up early and fight through the tiredness, or forget about getting anything done.



Conclusion

There were other good things to be had. My only complaint was that the chapters were entirely too long. However, they were broken into plenty of sub-sections, so it was still manageable. Either way, it’s a fairly quick read, and well worth your time. You might just end up being a quitter.

October 21, 2013

Smell Some Interest



“There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject, the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person.” GK Chesterton

Chesterton makes this statement in his book Heretics, precursor to the more well-known Orthodoxy. I love reading Chesterton for the simple fact that he is incredibly engaging, both in his fiction and non-fiction writings. He says things in a way that forces you to think, to re-shift your paradigms. This statement is no exception.


No uninteresting subjects

Nothing in this world is truly uninteresting. There is something fascinating about any subject you might take up. There are, no doubt, things which you may or may not have a greater interest in as compared to others. However, that does not mean those things which you take less interest in are uninteresting. There is a reason that some people (like my friend Kilian: lkfaithwithreason.blogspot.com) study mathematics. There is a reason some people study science. There is a reason some people obsess over sports. There is a reason that some people live for art. These things may, to me, range somewhere between the painfully boring and the mildly interesting. But other people are gripped by them. Not because they are freaks, but because there is something in each of these subjects which they find compellingly attractive, enjoyable, and interesting.


This is Biblical

We read in Psalm 19:1-3 that,

“The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.”

Creation itself pours forth speech and every corner of the earth reveals knowledge concerning our God. You cannot look at anything and say “There is no sign of God here.” Even that which the Christian might describe as evil, wrong, or sinful will carry “pointers.” Satan cannot create out of nothing as God does, everything he does is a thievery, a copy, a shadow, or a misuse of what God has given and created. Which means there is always present a (distorted) picture of good.

Furthermore, to approach it from a slightly different angle, everything carries interest because everything is, in some manner, important. Jesus hints at this in Matthew 10:29-30, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs on your head are all numbered.” God knows and cares about a bird that falls. He knows and cares how many hairs are on my head. There is not one tiny detail in all of creation that is unimportant to God. He rules over it all, displays his power in governing it all, and shows his love to and through it all.


Only uninterested persons

This is often me. I am often the uninterested person, missing the sound of birds singing, leaves shifting colors, or my baby smiling. This has always been a temptation for man, obviously Chesterton was familiar with it and he was writing over 100 years ago. But I believe the danger may be stronger today. We live in an extremely over stimulated and under observant culture. We miss life happening around us, but think we are “connected” because we are constantly in touch with Facebook, Pintrest, Twitter, and Instagram. Cell phones seem to permanent appendages. Those things above which perhaps seemed compelling, interesting, and enjoyable are overshadowed by ever-present, ever-interesting, ever-fun technology. Folks often lament these things, but I think we miss one of the biggest dangers. The need for constant screen stimulation from phones, TVs, and computers develops in us an inability to take interest in things that don’t flash or shout for our attention. Our children only capture our focus upon the thousandth "mommy" or "daddy" or when the screaming hits a pitch we simply can’t ignore. Church loses our interest because to join in corporate singing (especially from a hymnal!) and then listen to someone preach for 30 or 40 minutes is more boredom than we can stand. We hate our jobs because we only think about how they interfere with what we really desire to pursue, like watching the game or catching up our Jersey Shore re-runs. We don’t have time for investing in real relationships because there are recipes to Pin and The Voice is only on once a week, you know.

How would your life change if you were to wake up and smell the proverbial roses…and maybe the literal ones, too? What if we focused intentional time with our kids so that they knew we cared? What if we went on a date with our spouse, and instead of relying on the fanciness of the restaurant or the flowers we bought to make her happy, we were to divert or interest away from the iPhone and into her eyes? What if we quit approaching a church service like something we attend to suffer through and more like the gathering of the people of God to hear his holy word? What if we pursued excellence in our work and, to steal a line from Jon Acuff, fell in like with a job we may not love? What if we started being interested in life? I think if even 5 percent of us made that change, in a slow but steady fashion, the world would flip upside down. Marriages, churches, families, workplaces, all of life would be affected. So wake up. Smell the roses.

About Me

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I love Jesus, my wife, and my kids. Writing and teaching are two things I have a passion for. Gardening and fishing are cool, too. I blog @ willdole.com, you can reach me @ contact@willdole.com