Saturday, December 30, 2006

Spurgeon on Faith and Help at Work

Some years ago, I noticed a troubling trend in my life. While I readily acknowledged my need for God in many areas of my life, in matters regarding my work it appeared that I was often slow to seek God for specific help.

As an example, I would spend endless hours or even days analyzing a troubling problem before it became apparent to me to pray for wisdom. Rather than trusting God for help, I was in the ungodly habit of depending on my own abilities in the arena of my vocation.

British pastor and theologian C.H. Spurgeon has much to say to someone like me. He makes the point that a life of faith leads the Christian to seek help from God concerning his vocation - often, in practical matters of skill and abilities. From the nineteeth century, here's what he says to us today -

A believer may seek of God the qualifications for his particular calling. "What," say you, "may we pray about such things?" Yes. The labourer may appeal to God for strength; the artisan may ask God for skill; the student may seek God for help to quicken his intelligence.
...this wretched century has grown too wise to honour any God but its own idolized self. If you pray over your work I am persuaded you will be helped in it. If for your calling you are as yet but slenderly qualified, you may every morning pray God to help you that you may be careful and observant as an apprentice or a beginner

Spurgeon's godly, yet practical advice makes room for the pursuit for success. Instead of pursuing success in self reliance, he encourages us to seek God for success in our endeavors. Yet, he reminds us that external success isn't always God's will.

Faith bids you seek help from God as to the success of your daily calling. Know ye not what David says, "Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep."

You may expect success if you thus seek it: and peradventure some of you would have prospered more if you had more believingly sought the Lord. I say "peradventure," because God does not always prosper even his own people in outward things, since it is sometimes better for their souls that they should be in adversity, and then the highest prosperity is a want of prosperity. Faith quiets the heart in this matter by enabling us to leave results in the hand of God.

From Spurgeon's perspective, nothing is more important than seeking God's blessing on our behavior or conduct at work. He exhorts us to pay close attention to our conduct that we might walk in a manner worthy of the gospel.

For, O brethren, whether qualified or not for any particular offices of this life, our conduct is the most important matter. It is well to be clever, but it is essential to be pure. I would have you masters of your trades, but I am even more earnest that you should be honest, truthful, and holy. About this we may confidently go to God and ask him to lead us in a plain path, and to hold up our goings that we slip not, He can and will help us to behave ourselves wisely.

See how Joseph prospered in Egypt because the Lord was with him. He was placed in very difficult positions, on one occasion in a position of the most terrible danger, but he escaped by saying, "How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?" A sense of God's presence preserved him then and at all other times...And so, dear friends, engaged in service or in business, you may go to your heavenly Father and ask him to guide you with his counsel, and you may rest assured that he will order all your way, so that your daily calling shall not hinder your heavenly calling, nor your conduct belie your profession.

Spurgeon also understood how the work environment and the relationships therein can influence a believer.

Faith acts also in reference to our surroundings. We are all very much influenced by those about us. God can raise us up friends who will be eminently helpful to us, and we may pray him to do so: he can put us into a circle of society in which we shall find much assistance in this life's affairs, and also in our progress towards heaven; and concerning this we know that "The steps of a good man are ordered of the Lord." Faith will keep you clear of evil company, and constrain you to seek the society of the excellent of this earth, and thus it will colour your whole life.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Joy to the World

Joy to the World by Isaac Watts is one of the most beloved of Christmas carols. It is a favorite of mine.

Verse 1
Joy to the world! The Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing.

"But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" John 1:12

Verse 2
Joy to the earth! The Savior reigns
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

"Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!" Psalm 98:4

Verse 3
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us--for it is written, Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree" Galatians 3:13

Verse 4
He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. " John 1:14

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 15, 2006

WWJS - Where Would Jesus Shop?

An anti-Walmart group called Wakeup Walmart has enlisted the help of over 130 pastors in its fight against the company's business practices. A new television ad launched last week, features Pastor Joe Phelps asking the question - "can we continue to shop at Walmart without insulting God?". He also explains his rationale for participating in the ad in a special article to the Courier-Journal.

At the heart of the debate are allegations that Walmart has violated child labor laws, underpaid its employees, condoned gender based discrimination and failed to provide health coverage for half of the 1.3 million U.S. employees. However, the rest of the story is that Wakeup Walmart is backed by labor unions who have an interest in convincing Walmart workers to unionize.

This anti-Walmart sentiment is not new - this just happens to be the latest episode involving Christian activism. It's interesting to me that a number of pastors have involved themselves in a broad anti-Walmart movement. Some believe that they are on a mission from God to save Walmart from moral decay, while others like Pastor Phelps are focused on opposing their business practices related to fair pay and benefits.

In a prior post, I've blogged on whether this Christian activism is actually the best way to engage those who have an opposing view. I often wonder if taking a confrontational posture by default is effective engagement.

However, the pastors' participation in the Wakeup Walmart movement and this ad raises the stakes even more. I cannot help but wonder the following -

As a corporate entity, doesn't Walmart have the right to compensate their workers as they deem advantageous to the business provided that they do not operate unethically or unfairly discriminate?

Isn't part of management's responsibility to their customers and shareholders as well as to their employees? Customers desire greatest value for goods and services. Shareholders desire greatest return for their investment. Both desires operate for the common good of society.

Does this well intentioned activism actually mitigate against the advancement of the gospel? At the very least, such activism can dilute the essential message of the gospel which has the power to do far more than simply improve our payscale or health benefits. It is the power of God for salvation to all who believe. It's a message we must both guard with vigilance and proclaim with joyful confidence.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Deconstructing Racism


Few topics evoke as much emotion in our national conversation as the topic of race. In the wake of the Michael Richards episode, renown author Malcolm Gladwell writes about racism in his post Defining a Racist. He proposes that a racist may be defined on the basis of three criteria: content, intention and conviction. Here are snippets of what he says with regard to each criteria.


"What is said clearly makes a difference. I think, for example, that hate speech is more hateful the more specific it is...To make a targetted claim is worse than calling a name. Similarly, I think it matters how much a stereotype deviates from a legitimate generalization...All hate speech is hurtful. But racism crosses the line and becomes dangerous when it encourages false belief about a targetted group. "


"Was the remark intended to wound, or intended to perpetuate some social wrong? Was it malicious? I remember sitting in church, as a child, while our Presbyterian minister made jokes about how "cheap" Presbyterians were. If non-Presbyterians make that joke, it might be offensive. But a Presbyterian making jokes about Presbyterians with the intention of making Presbyterians laugh is fine, because there is a complete absence of malice in the comment. "


"Does the statement represent the individual's considered opinion? In Blink, I wrote a great deal about unconscious racism--how powerful and how prevalent it is. All of us, in our unconscious, harbor prejudicial thoughts. What is of greatest concern, I think, are not instances where those kinds of buried feelings leak out, but cases where hate speech appeuuars to have been the product of considered, conscious deliberation. Comments made in writing, then, ought to be taken more seriously and judged more harshly than comments made in speech; comments made soberly are worse than those made in anger or jest. "

As far as I know, Malcolm Gladwell is not a Christian but his analysis and comments are insightful. Clearly, identifying racist speech and actions can benefit from a more thoughtful analysis than simply the use of certain forbidden words. Gladwell's deconstruction of what constitutes racist behavior is a great help in this regard.

However, it falls short in understanding the heart of racism. If, as Gladwell says, much of racism is unconscious, it points to the fact that its malignancy is more than skin deep. Racism emanates from our souls and finds its roots from our rebellion against God. Racism is morally reprehensible not primarily because it is hurtful to others. Don't get me wrong - it is certainly hurtful and heinous but it is also far more than that.

Racism is first and foremost an affront to God, who as Creator, made each person in his own image. Each person, regardless of race is created to be a bearer of God's image. The notion that biological differences between races constitute a basis for exerting superiority over or discriminating against another person distorts God's intention in creation. Yet our societal attempts at solving racism through analysis, education and social programs fall short because racism is a problem of the heart. Racism is a stark reminder of the effect of sin on the human race.

This is where the gospel brings hope. At the foot of the cross, all are found guilty before God.

What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one"
Romans 3:9-10

In Christ, all are equally valued before God.

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:27-28

Here's the point of this post - the issue of race is strategically important in contextualizing the gospel to the world around us. It is a profoundly vital issue in our nation today but one that we've been unable to address effectively. God's answer to racism is to simply point to his church.

As the church, we have the opportunity to offer the only compelling picture of true unity and rich diversity. We also have the opportunity to tell them about the God who made such unity possible.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!"
Revelation 7:9-10

Friday, December 08, 2006

The High Calling of Our Daily Work

One of my goals for Every Square Inch is to highlight resources that promote a rich application of gospel truths in business and culture. The High Calling of Our Daily Work is a wonderful resource that I've come to appreciate. There are articles, short audio messages and other great tools on their website.

They are also a sponsor of Faith in the Workplace, a featured section on the Christianity Today website. Their vision statement as found on the The High Calling website is the following -

"To be the internet source for people seeking the high calling of their work and daily life."

Check it out at

Monday, December 04, 2006

Spurgeon on Choosing Your Occupation

Charles Spurgeon offers timeless advice on faith, work and the choice of one's occupation. Whether you're a college student embarking on your career or a 45 year old executive in the midst of a midlife career change, these are truths worth remembering.

True faith in him who loved us, and gave himself for us, also seeks direction of the Lord as to the sphere of its action, and waits upon him to be guided by him in the choice of a calling. Some people are trying to do what they were never made for, ambitious beyond their line. This is a grievous evil. There should, therefore, be a seeking unto God for guidance and direction; and faith leads us to such seeking.

Spurgeon also speaks to the nature of the work suitable for a Christian.

In the choice of a calling faith helps a Christian to refuse that which is the most lucrative if it be attended with a questionable morality... Trades which are injurious to men's minds and hearts are not lawful callings before God. Dishonest gain is awful loss.

He warns not only of dishonest gain but also of the kind of motivation that places the pursuit of money as the primary aim of work and the center of one's ambition.

"Make money," said the worldling to his son; "make it honestly if you can, but, anyhow, make money." Faith abhors this precept of Mammon, and having God's providence for its inheritance, it scorns the devil's bribe.

Spurgeon's advice is practical in the sense that he understands that God creates each person with unique gifts and abilities. The discovery of one's call must take that into account.

Callings should be deliberately chosen with a view to our own suitableness for them. Faith watches the design of God, and desires to act according to his intent.

He advises that faith also takes into account the providence of God in placing us within the scope of a particular time, place and opportunity. The faith that seeks God for vocational guidance is markedly different from a purely analytical assessment of our circumstances. Instead, there is a leaning upon God as we assess our position in life; trusting in God's sovereign favor to lead us into what he intends for us.

We should also by faith desire such a calling as Providence evidently has arranged and intended for us. Some persons have never had a free choice of what vocation they would follow; for from their birth, position, surroundings, and connections they are set in a certain line of things, like carriages on the tram lines, and they must follow on the appointed track, or stand still. Faith expects to hear the voice behind it saying, "This is the way, walk ye in it." Trusting to our own judgment often means following our own whims; but faith seeks direction from infallible wisdom, and so it is loaf in a right way. God knows your capacity better than you do; entreat him to choose your inheritance for you.

If the flowers were to revolt against the gardener, and each one should select its own soil, most of them would pine and die through their unsuitable position; but he who has studied their nature knows that this dower needs shade and damp; and another needs sunlight and a light soil; and so he puts his plants where they are most likely to flourish. God doeth the same with us.

What I love about Spurgeon's perspective is that he never drifts far from the gospel. He reminds us that God may have either fortune or poverty for us but he remains faithful to work for our good and the praise of his own glory.

He hath made some to be kings, though few of those plants flourish much. He has made many to be poor, and the soil of poverty, though damp and cold, has produced many a glorious harvest for the great Reaper. The Lord has set some in places of peril, places from which they would gladly escape, but they are there preserved by his hand; he has planted many others in the quiet shade of obscurity, and they blossom to the praise of the great Husbandman.

These God centered perspectives from the 19th century may seem odd to us at times. Unfortunately, much of what passes as career advice today, even from Christians, will often emphasize the practical aspects of choosing a career but leave little room for the spiritual. It may espouse the view to "do what you love" but often without accounting for God's calling. It may assess career opportunities on the basis of pay or marketplace demand but not in terms of what brings honor to God or serves our neighbor.

Spurgeon exhorts us to think about our career choices rather differently.

Friday, December 01, 2006

High Tech Prayer Breakfast

Yesterday morning I had the opportunity to attend the Washington DC High Tech Prayer Breakfast. Although I had previously heard about the event, this was the first time I was able to attend.

The High Tech Prayer Breakfast is an annual event serving as an outreach to high tech professionals in the Washington DC metropolitan area. Christians in the technology business may sometimes operate in anonymity as we busy ourselves with running companies, building software and managing projects. Yet, you will find among the ranks of these christians, some of the leading executives, venture capitalists, corporate lawyers, bankers and technologists in the region.

The High Tech Prayer Breakfast offers us an opportunity to reach out to our colleagues and business associates in a non threatening and compelling way.

This year's event was attended by over 800 individuals. It was keynoted by Jay Coughlan, former CEO of Lawson Software. He offered a compelling testimony of how he came to faith in Christ and how God has changed his life. It was a joy to hear of the mercy of God shown to Jay. You can read more about his testimony in this article.

The High Tech Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC was started by Carl Grant, who serves as its President and unofficial chief evangelist. By day, he's the Vice President, Business Development for Cooley Godward, a leading law firm. Carl is one of the most connected individuals in the Washington DC tech scene and genuinely, one of the good guys in our business. After attending the High Tech Prayer Breakfast in Atlanta, Carl was moved to start an equivalent prayer breakfast in the Washington DC area. It's attracted a good response and couple of years ago, the Washington Post even ran a nice story about the the event.

I am glad for guys like Carl and others in the organizing committee who make it a point of using their gifts to make a unique difference in the marketplace.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Spurgeon on Faith and Work - Living an Industrious Life

Long before Tim Keller made it cool to talk about integrating Christian faith and work, Charles Spurgeon preached on the topic from Galatians 2:20. Over time, I plan to post excerpts from his sermon on the topic of faith and work. I think you'll find his comments to be insightful and instructive to us.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Before discussing the topic of faith and work, Spurgeon's reminds his listeners that the effect of saving faith does more than secure our eternal destiny - it ought to make a practical difference in the way we live.

"My brethren, true religion has as much to do with this world as with the world to come; it is always urging us onward to the higher and better life; but it does so by processes and precepts which fit us worthily to spend our days while here below."

Spurgeon extends this point with a wonderful phrase -

"Faith is a principle for present use...".

In his sermon, he makes several points about faith and work, starting with this notion, often missed by Christians in the marketplace today - saving faith leads a person to an industrious life. Here's what Spurgeon said about this -

Faith is but an empty show if it produces no result upon the life. If a professor manifests no energy, no industry, no zeal, no perseverance, no endeavour to serve God, there is cause gravely to question whether he is a believer at all. It is a mark of faith that, whenever it comes into the soul, even in its lowest degree, it suggests activity. Look at the prodigal, and note his early desires. The life of grace begins to gleam into his spirit, and its first effect is the confession of sin. He cries, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son." But what is the second effect? He desires to be doing something. "Make me as one of thy hired servants." ...One of the signs of the return of his soul's sanity was his willingness to work, although it might be only as a menial servant in his father's house.

Spurgeon's point on this matter is clear - saving faith produces fruitful activity in the life of the believer. It energizes a person and creates the motive for work

" is such a useful thing to men in the labour and travail of this mortal life, because it puts them into motion and supplies them with a motive for work. Faith does not permit men to lie upon the bed of the sluggard, listless, frivolous, idle; but it makes life to appear real and earnest, and so girds the loins for the race. "

Spurgeon references Jesus' example with the following words -

Does faith in the Son of God, who loved him and gave himself for him, suggest to the redeemed man that he should be industrious and active? Assuredly it does; for it sets the divine Saviour before him as an example, and where was there ever one who worked as Jesus did?...His was stern labour and sore travail: the zeal of God's house did eat him up, and the intensity of love consumed him. He worked on until he could say, "I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do." Now, it is no small thing for a man to be roused by such an example, and to be made a partaker of such a spirit.

From my perspective, it's interesting to note how hard work is lost as a Christian virtue today. In our effort to guard against selling out to the world, I wonder if Christian labor hasn't been relegated to the background of Christian living. In general, we no longer view a life of labor as virtuous nor do we intruct our children on how to work hard for the glory of God.

I wonder what Spurgeon would say about that?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving Day

Today is Thanksgiving Day and I have much to be thankful for -

I am thankful to God for Kathy. Every day we have together is a gift from God and words do not suffice in expressing my gratitude.

I am thankful for my children - Kirsten, Michael and Stephen. They bring me many more joyful days than I deserve.

I have many more reasons to be thankful but the best reason of all is captured in this passage from Isaiah 12.

You will say in that day:"I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me.

"Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation."

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: "Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted.

Isaiah 12:1-4

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I Could Have Been a Contender...

There are world championships for soccer, ice skating, gymnastics and even chess – so, why not the universally popular “Rock-Paper-Scissors”?
Apparently, 500 top players from around the world gathered in Toronto this past weekend to compete for $8,840 prize and title of world champion.

The winner was Bob Cooper, a 28 year old sales manager from London, UK.

The tournament had all the attributes of high stakes championship play, including teamwork, trash talking and intimidation.

Players will have to steel themselves against psychological pressure as players typically form teams to rally each other ”The team will surround the arena, provide moral support and usually try to intimidate the opponent," said Graham Walker…co-author of "The Official Rock Paper Scissors Guide”

Sadly, ESPN chose not to carry the event...but you can read about it in this news account and also at the World RPS site.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Growing in the Grace of Encouragement

These days I’m thinking about encouragement. Not because I’m a particularly encouraging individual but precisely because I’m not. Sadly, I tend to be critical, self righteous and ungrateful – often with those closest to me.

Yet, I’m being drawn to grow in encouragement. I know of the power of encouragement because I have felt its effects. I know how a word of encouragement can carry me through tough times. I’ve felt renewed strength from someone thanking me for my relatively minor contribution. I’ve benefited from a reminder of a biblical truth applied to my circumstance.

So, I'd like to grow in this grace of encouragement – to be applied at home, at work, at church and in my community.

Here’s what I’m realizing as I’m pondering this area in my life –

Genuine encouragement isn’t just a technique, a set of platitudes or even a mindset – it’s a grace from God. It’s not easy being an encouraging person if you’re not encouraged in your heart. Our encouragement is rooted in God and ultimately comes from Him.

Here’s how Paul prayed for the Thessalonians –

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. (2 Thess 2:16)

We should be purposeful about growing in encouragement but we should begin by looking to God who by His grace, gave us eternal encouragement and hope. If I reduce encouragement primarily to a set of techniques, I’ve clearly missed the mark.

Also, encouragement isn’t just about making others feel better about themselves. True encouragement infuses hope and strength. In the above passage, Paul’s prayer for encouragement was to result in strengthened believers.

That said, here are simple steps I’m pursuing to be more encouraging.

1. Slowing down to take an interest in those around me. I’m often so single minded and goal oriented that I fail to notice people around me, much less take an interest in them. Yet, when someone extends the genuine courtesy of inquiring about how my family is doing, I deeply appreciate the care. Especially at work, we are reminding people that they are more than the sum of their production. Our interest expresses our belief that they are created in the image of God

2. Saying thanks. Taking the time to say thanks for small gestures of work or effort is important. It expresses to the individual that their contribution, though small is not insignificant. It reaffirms that their efforts did not go unnoticed by you, nor by their Creator.

3. Be gracious to others when they fail. We all make mistakes but it is one of the blind spots in my life that I am more aware of the mistakes of others than I am of my own. May I learn to extend the grace, I’ve received from God and others.

4. Be generous to others when they don’t expect it. What an opportunity to reflect God who overwhelms us with His generosity. He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Romans 8:32. Enough said on this point.

5. Remind others of God’s truth. Nothing is more encouraging than unfailing truth. In the toughest of times, our pithy sayings and axioms may fall short but God’s word will never fail us. I want to learn to incorporate this at home, at church but also at work.

6. Communicate observed evidences of grace. Even when we think there is little to encourage in others, it may simply mean that we're not looking in the right way. We need God's help to see the evidences of His grace at work in their lives. It may be observing how someone demonstrates patience in a difficult situation. It may involve the use of a particular gift or skill.

Needless to say, there are more ways to be encouraging but I’m just starting this journey…

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Stewarding Ambition with Faithfulness

In our prior discussions on how a Christian should responsibly steward his/her ambition, we touched on why we might consider dreams and ambitions as gifts to be embraced rather than burdens to be shunned. The first post also addressed the importance of right motivations in stewarding our ambitions. The second post in this series noted why trusting God for our ambition is crucial.

In this third and last post of the Stewarding Our Ambition series, I'd like to highlight the need to pursue our ambitions with faithfulness toward God.

A faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished.
Proverbs 28:20

When it comes to stewarding ambition, faithfulness means being willing to prepare and apply yourself to accomplish your goals. To some, it may appear unspiritual to work heartily towards our ambition but such initiative when properly motivated is actually a result of God's work in our hearts. Here's what 19th century pastor, C.H. Spurgeon has to say about how faith inclines a man to an industrious life:

He who does nothing believes nothing-that is to say, in reality and in truth. Faith is but an empty show if it produces no result upon the life. If a professor manifests no energy, no industry, no zeal, no perseverance, no endeavour to serve God, there is cause gravely to question whether he is a believer at all. It is a mark of faith that, whenever it comes into the soul, even in its lowest degree, it suggests activity... Faith does not permit men to lie upon the bed of the sluggard, listless, frivolous, idle; but it makes life to appear real and earnest, and so girds the loins for the race.

For instance, if you believe that God would have you launch a new business, then preparing yourself towards this goal actually honors God. This preparation may take the form of education or developing experience but such initiative speaks to how you value and handle with care, the dreams God places upon your heart. To not show any initiative to prepare only speaks of unbelief or presumption on our part. It may indicate that you've treated with contempt the impressions or dreams God has given to you. Or it may reveal a presumptious hyper spirituality that devalues hard work but still expects God to bless our laziness.

Stewarding with faithfulness also means being faithful to apply God's truth without compromise. If accomplishing our ambition means cutting ethical corners, the Christian must resist with vehemence any temptation to compromise. We cannot marginalize the gospel in any aspect of our daily lives, least of all in the pursuit of ambition.

It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth.
3 John 1:3

Ultimately, we steward our dreams and ambitions with faithfulness because we want to be found faithful before our King on the last day. On that day, what will matter most, is not the substance of our dreams but whether we exercised faithfulness over the gifts God has given to us. Like the servant in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25, we should long to hear the words of commendation "well done, good and faithful servant...enter into the joy of your master". This means treating all of our lives, especially our goals and ambitions with a sober faithfulness. We dare not live otherwise.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The iPod Turns Five

Five years ago, Apple Computer launched the iPod and spawned a multi-billion dollar industry. Since then, 68 million iPods have been sold and iPod sales now accounts for approximately 40% of Apple's expected $19.3 billion in revenues this year. There have been challengers to the iPod but none have threatened its esteemed position at the top of the digital music ecosystem.

I love the iPod - what a wonderful expression of common grace. A couple of years ago, Kathy gave me a 20 Gig iPod and it's changed my life! I'm now able to take my entire collection of audio sermons and music on the road when I travel. It's made flights seem shorter, workouts more enjoyable and daily commutes more bearable.

In celebration of its 5th anniversary, here are interesting links about the iPod.

Check out the iPod family tree from Engadget. It also includes a YouTube video of Steve Jobs' introduction of the iPod.

Fairplay is the encryption technology that enables the iPod to function as a closed system. Thanks to FairPlay, the songs Apple sells at its iTunes store cannot easily be played on other devices, and copy-protected songs purchased from other sites will not play on the iPod. According to an article by Robert Levine, Jon Johansen, a Norwegian hacker has unlocked the FairPlay code and enabled the cross sharing of copy protected music. Will interoperability of digital music be on the horizon for the iPod?

Heard of iPod slurping? On my other blog, I previously posted about how the iPod may be used as a means of data theft. Here's a more extensive discussion on Pod slurping.

Finally, check out the ultimate iPod accessories as deemed by BusinessWeek. A sure sign of the decline of Western culture? The iCarta iPod Toilet Paper Holder.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Katherine Hubner - A Life Well Lived

A week ago, my mother-in-law, Katherine Hubner went home to be with her God and Savior. Some people seem old even in their 40s - while others, like Mom are young even at age 82.

Just three years ago, she was boogie-boarding in the Outer Banks. She enjoyed playing Nintendo with my boys. As recently as last year, she was considering getting roller skates.

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.
(Psalm 116:15)

Mom was the gentlest of souls. I don’t believe I’ve ever met a gentler, kinder person in my life. You really get to know a person when we live under the same roof…having lived in the same house with Mom for the past four years, I don’t think I’ve ever heard her utter a cross word.

Do not let your adorning be external--the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing--but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious.
(1 Peter 3:3-4)

Mom was also one of the most grateful persons I know. Perhaps because she was an only child, she was very thankful for her family. She loved her children and grandchildren. She was also so grateful for her friends, seeing each friend as a gift from God. She loved her church. She said to me more than once - “Being part of Sovereign Grace Church is the best thing that has ever happened to me”. That’s the grace of God when someone who is in her eighties would feel so much part of a relatively young church. She died like she lived...even in her last weeks, she was continually thanking friends for visiting and being grateful for every card she received.

You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you. Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!
(Psalm 118:28-29)

That Mom came to know her Savior at age 69 is a wonderful story of God's grace. She was invited to a bible study where and she responded to the gospel call with faith and repentance. Hers was a simple faith but God used her in very profound ways. She was kind, greeting everyone with a warm hug. If you shared a need with her, you can be assured that she would be praying for you, carrying you in her heart. Many in the church have been receipients of birthday cards, get well cards or encouragement notes from her.

She loved serving her Savior. As part of the Alpha Outreach team, she would joyfully spend her Tuesday nights serving meals to visitors . And, a couple of months before her passing, she was training to serve in the church bookstore. As my friend Eric Jensen said at her burial - she blossomed in her 80s...she was not coasting to the end, she was cresting.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.
(1 Cor 9:24)

If it’s possible to run the race of faith, breaking the tape and crossing the finish line at full speed - Mom did it. She left all of us an example of what it means to live every day for God. Our family will miss her greatly but we thank God for her life. We know we will see her again.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
(2 Tim 4:7-8)

Monday, October 16, 2006

Trusting God With Our Ambition

Without ambition, there would be no great works of art, no companies built, no church plants and no sweeping legislation for the common good. Dreams and ambitions are gifts from God and very much part of living a fruitful life. Yet as Christians, we often struggle with ambition because of the ambiguity we face on this matter. We are warned about the dangers of selfish ambition but also reminded to steward gifts given to us by God.

As we discussed a couple of weeks ago, ambition fueled by right motivations is a good thing. Rather than retreating into a defensive posture with regard to our ambitions, we’re called to steward God given dreams and ambitions in a manner pleasing to him.

This week, we’ll examine my second assertion on stewarding ambition - how trusting God is a key ingredient of godly ambition. If we are to please God in the stewardship of our ambition, we must entrust our ambitions to him. It is entirely possible to be rightly motivated regarding our dreams, yet falter in our stewardship by failing to trust God through the process. For instance, you may dream of successfully running a non-profit organization dedicated to spreading the gospel through acts of benevolence. Yet, if you pursue that dream apart from a trust in God, you would not be successfully stewarding your ambition as a Christian.

Yet, it is easier to know that we ought to trust God with our ambitions than to functionally do so. What does it look like to entrust our ambitions to God? How can we set the trajectory of our lives towards that end? I’d like to offer a few thoughts.

First, trusting God with our dreams and ambitions begin with a functional acknowledgement of God’s sovereign rule over our lives. One practical way we do this is by submitting our plans to God’s will. Assuming our goals are aligned with God’s revealed will, working hard to attain them is a good thing. Yet, our plans to accomplish our goals must be accompanied with a humble awareness of God’s will as predominant in our affairs. James explains it in this way –

Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit"--yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
(James 4:13-16 )

According to James, making plans without a sober assessment of our lives and an acknowledgement of God’s will is essentially arrogant. It’s a form of boasting apart from God that isn’t benign, as we might imagine. On the contrary, God considers it evil.

I've had to wrestle with this in my own life. Far too often, I view my efforts in "getting the job done" as the primary factor to any successful endeavor. Sadly, in the process, I will functionally relegate God's will as peripheral rather than central. Thankfully, due to the influence of God's word and the gentle reproofs of life, I'm beginning to understand that it is God's will that plays the greater part of success or failure.

Faith towards God in our ambitions is completely alien to conventional thinking. It views God’s will as predominant and humbly submits to it. We would do well to remember the sayings in Proverbs with regard to our plans -

In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.
(Proverbs 16:3)

Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails.
(Proverbs 19:21)

Another practical way to submit ourselves to God’s sovereign rule in our ambitions is by acknowledging our limited understanding. Because of the subjective nature of dreams and ambitions, we ought to humbly recognize that we know only in part. We must always be postured to consider the possibility that our dreams may not find their fulfillment in the way we expect.

For even while we labor diligently, we need to hold our dreams lightly. As we pursue our dreams, we should expect to endure varying paths and fortunes throughout the process. All you have to do is trace the lives of men like Joseph and Daniel to see the fluctuations in their position and influence over the course of decades. Their apparent fortunes may change but what doesn’t change is God’s rule over the contours and details of their lives. Keeping a view of God's loving providence over our lives will keep our hearts from bitterness and discouragement.

Trusting God with our ambitions also entails a hope filled dependence on him. We look to God to bless and promote, all the while remembering that it is God who raises one and humbles another. We must rightly place the confidence and burden of fulfilling our dreams, not on ourselves but on God. With the Psalmist, we should say –

I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.
(Psalm 57:2)

Our hope is rooted in the favorable disposition of God towards us because of Jesus Christ. However, it is yet possible that most of our dreams and ambitions will remain unfulfilled in this life. What must we do when we may be left longing for more even while we live in this present age? C.S. Lewis, speaking about desire in The Weight of Glory points the way for us -

The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty...are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

Our desires and ambitions, even when they come from God, are not meant to satisfy us but to ultimately point us to the One who will. As we pursue our dreams and ambitions, Jesus stands ready, not simply as one to assist us but is himself the fulfillment of all our true desires.

Next in the series: Stewarding Ambition with Faithfulness

Friday, October 06, 2006

Books That Have Shaped Me

Christianity Today has published an article on The Top 50 Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals. It's questionable if all fifty books are deserving of the honor but that's a debate for another time and another blog.

However, I am certain that following list of books have been influential in shaping my life and I thought I'd share them with you. I'll list them with a short commentary on how each book has been used by God to shape my life.

Chosen by God
R.C. Sproul

If you're struggling with predestination and the doctrine of election, I highly recommend Chosen by God. Having come from Pentecostal, Arminian viewpoint, this book was intrumental in helping me understand the doctrine of election. In typical Sproul style, the book tackles predestination, free will and the sovereignty of God in a manner accessible to non-theologians.

The Cross of Christ
John Stott

The Cross of Christ is a book I read and re-read every 12-18 months. Initially, I found it a little difficult to get through but it was well worth completing. I found that it expanded my view of what Christ accomplished on the cross, leading me to a greater appreciation for the gospel.

The Discipline of Grace
Jerry Bridges

This book helped me realize how vital the gospel is to everyday Christian living. Chapter 3 on preaching the gospel to yourself is worth the price of the entire book. It's a easy read with a profound impact.

The Pleasures of God
John Piper

The Pleasures of God was the very first Piper book I read. I was intruigued by the title and affected by the truths contained in its pages. Having read almost every book Piper has authored, this is still my favorite. This book calls us to worship by simply joining God in the joy that he has in himself. It's soul enriching and I love it.

Let the Nations Be Glad
John Piper

It would be easy to take John Piper's catchphrase - "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him", turn it on its head and become utterly self focused. Let the Nations Be Glad doesn't permit us to do that by emphasizing that the purpose of missions is to spread the good news of Jesus Christ for the joy of all peoples.

Grace Unknown
R.C. Sproul

I'm not certain but I think this book has since been renamed "What is Reformed Theology?". I found Grace Unknown invaluable in assisting my transition from an Arminian view to a Reformed (Calvinist) position. The strength of the book is how it captures Reformed Theology in such simple and concise language.

Systematic Theology
Wayne Grudem

The closest thing I have to an answer book on biblical doctrine is Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology. It is sufficiently precise and descriptive in its explanations without being overly complex.

Instrument's in the Redeemer's Hands
Paul Tripp

This is a wonderful book that provides a framework for inter-personal ministry. It is gospel centric and has helped me understand how to apply gospel truths in my own life as well as in counseling.

Money, Possessions and Eternity
Randy Alcorn

If you make money, spend money, save money or handle money in any way, you need to read this book. I found this book challenging my views regarding money and possessions by calling me to examine the way I handle wealth in view of eternity.

Randy Alcorn

My selection of Deadline is representative of how I feel about the fiction books written by Randy Alcorn. His descriptions of heaven are so vivid and compelling that they evoke rich emotions from me. I read Deadline when Kathy was sick with cancer and still recall how affected I was by the descriptions of the Savior waiting to greet the saints who have passed into his presence.

Other honorable mentions of books that didn't make my top ten list:
The Holiness of God (R.C. Sproul)
The Enemy Within (Kris Lundgaard)
Desiring God (John Piper)
Trusting God (Jerry Bridges)
The Knowledge of the Holy (A.W. Tozer)

What do you think of my list of books? What books have influenced your life?


P.S. - On this date in 1536, English theologian and scholar William Tyndale was martyed. If you read your Bible today, you have Tyndale to thank. He was chiefly responsible for translating the New and Old Testament into Early Modern English. Thank God for men like Tyndale.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Stewarding Our Ambition

By now, we’re all too familiar with the cautionary tale. The ambitious Christian businessman gives himself to a relentless pursuit of success, climbing the corporate ladder at the expense of his marriage, his family and sadly, his spiritual life in Christ. The consequences can be devastating and we do well to steer clear of living such a life in view of Jesus’ warning in Matthew 16.

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?

In response, some might suggest that any hint of ambition must be eschewed and viewed with suspicion. However, such a view begs the question – is ambition necessarily or even typically wrong? If not, how does a Christian rightly steward his/her ambition?

My friend, Phil who encouraged me to tackle this topic of ambition insists that it’s an important one and the struggle to make sense of it is common to many Christians. I think he’s right. I know of some Christians who aggressively pursue their dreams of advancement with low grade guilt while others respond with a disinterest to any ambition in the workplace, almost viewing it as unspiritual. Frankly, it’s a struggle I’ve experienced in my own life. It’s a difficult topic and a brief search on Google leaves me to conclude that far too little has been written about this. Over the next couple of weeks, I plan to discuss what godly ambition looks like and how we should steward this ambition in light of scripture.

I’ll begin by making three assertions about what it means to steward our ambition in a manner that is Christ exalting and discuss the first assertion on this post.

Assertion #1: Stewarding our ambition means being rightly motivated.
Assertion #2: Stewarding our ambition means trusting God.
Assertion #3: Stewarding our ambition means being faithful.

Rightly Motivated Ambition

The premise I’m starting with is that at least some, if not most of our dreams and ambitions are given by God. They are to be received not with suspicion but with thanksgiving to God. It’s true that you could have dreams and ambitions that are fundamentally selfish or even evil. For us to not acknowledge that possibility is to turn a blind eye to all scripture teaches about our fallen nature and the doctrine of indwelling sin. Yet, the ability to dream great things or to envision a promising outcome is unique to humans created in the image of God. To further accompany those dreams with drive and initiative is the substance of ambition which comes from God.

However, to steward our dreams and ambitions in a manner pleasing to God requires that we are rightly motivated. To begin with, I find in scripture and in personal experience that rightly motivated ambition is rooted in a love for God’s fame.

One of the most compelling examples of godly ambition in the Bible is that of Nehemiah. He lived in the time when Judah was a province of the Persian Empire. Through his brother Hanani, and perhaps from other sources (Neh. 1:2; 2:3), he heard of the mournful and desolate condition of Jerusalem, and was filled with sadness of heart. As a cupbearer for the King Artaxerxes, he was moved to make a request of the king that he might be released from his duties to pursue his dream of rebuilding the city of Jerusalem. He had ambition but it was rooted in God’s redemptive purpose. He pursued his ambition but always in keeping with the context of God’s own plan to restore Jerusalem.

Herein is the lesson for us - our dreams, ambitions and in fact, all of our lives must be viewed through the lens of God’s redemptive purpose. On this side of the cross, this means viewing the fame of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ as our great delight and the fuel of our ambitions.
How is this actualized and applied in our lives? I see a two-fold application in my own life. First, it means ensuring that the good news of God’s salvation rather than the attainment of my ambition form the basis of my joy and delight. The prominence of the gospel as our basis for joy is exactly what Jesus spoke of, when he addressed the returning seventy two disciples after a successful ministry campaign.

"Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." (Luke 10:20)

A second application in my life pertains to the fame of God functioning as fuel for my ambition. Given our sinful hearts, much of what we do, we do for ourselves – either to prove ourselves, to enrich ourselves or to fulfill ourselves. Unrestrained, this attitude quickly degenerates to a sort of self idolatry. Yet, when engaging our ambition, we need to do so with a sort of forgetfulness of self. This is truly difficult if not altogether impossible unless we are simultaneously envisioned by a desire for God’s fame. Simply put, we need to love the fame of God's name rather than our own. If you're anything like me, this point alone will lead to many opportunities for repentance on any given week.

Loving God's fame also means pursuing excellence in what we do so that might we might honor God through our work. Whether we work as a project manager, a programmer or a mother at home, the content of our work and the manner by which we conduct our work must bring honor to Christ.

Finally, being rightly motivated means working for the good of others. No one in the gospels were as overtly ambitious as John and James whom Jesus named “the sons of thunder”, perhaps for their unbridled ambition. Here’s the account of their ambition as noted in the gospel of Mark:

And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." And he said to them, "What do you want me to do for you?" And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." (Mark 10:35-37)

Interestingly, making their ambition known to Jesus does not elicit a rebuke from the Savior. Instead, upon discovering that the rest of the disciples were indignant over the audacity of the request, Jesus uses the episode as a teaching moment.

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:42-45)

Even today, Jesus’ statement is revolutionary and counter-intuitive. Unlike the latest management fad where service is positioned as a means to effectiveness, Jesus is actually equating service with greatness, offering his life as an example. This unusual way of thinking must permeate all of our roles. Even when we find ourselves in a leadership role, the emphasis of our posture is on serving the ones we lead.

In the end, our dreams and ambitions do matter. Rather than dispelling any hint of ambition in our lives, perhaps a more mature view is to receive ambition as a gift from God and to nuture it with godly motivation in place.

Next in the series: Trusting God with Our Ambition

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Good, The Sad, The Funny

It's been an extremely busy couple of weeks but I'm now back to my regular blogging schedule with this post.

The Good

There appears to be a multitude of blogs and websites that address the topic of integrating faith and work. However, there are two online resources that I've come to appreciate and would like to highlight:

Marketplace Network is headed up by Kent Kusel and Randy Kilgore. Randy is the author of a number of thoughtful articles on the area of integrating faith and work.

Work Research Foundation is a Canadian based organization focused on influencing Christians toward a biblically based engagement with work and public life. Gideon Strauss is one of their primary writers and the editor of Comment, a monthly publication of the WRF. It's a little more academically rich and philosophical than your typical work-faith discussion forum but I've found it very beneficial.

The Sad

Even if you're a casual sports fan, you've undoubtedly heard of the many doping scandals that plague the contemporary sporting landscape. The use of steroids or human growth hormones are a problem that simply isn't going away anytime soon. Apparently, the problem of performance enhancing substances has now crept into the realm of academic achievement.
Dr. Al Mohler blogs on Academic Doping and America's Parents. He reports on the trend of parents who are "asking doctors to prescribe drugs like Ritalin and Adderall so their students -- especially teenagers -- will perform better on tests and assignments". This is truly a sad commentary on what we value as a society.

The Funny

If you're a member of a Sovereign Grace Ministries church or are familiar with SGM, you'll find last week's post by Tim Challies particularly humorous. He introduces us to the Successor, a spoof of the Apprentice reality show starring CJ Mahaney and the Sovereign Ministries team.

Monday, September 18, 2006

All Things Working for Our Good

For various reasons, the past week has been difficult. However, God is reacquainting me with a sweet gospel truth that I know well but am gladly reminded of.

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers."
(Romans 8:28-29)

From Beside Still Waters, C.H. Spurgeon elaborates on this passage of scripture better than I ever I'll let his timeless words speak to us.

"Everything that happens to you is for your own good. If the waves roll against you, it only speeds your ship toward the port...You gain by loss, you grow healthy in sickness, you live by dying, and you are made rich in losses."

"Could you ask for a better promise? It is better that all things should work for my good than all things should be as I wish to have them. All things might work for my pleasure and yet might all work my ruin. If all things do not always please me, they will always benefit me. This is the best promise of this life"

I often think that what will make me happy is to have things work out according to my desires . Yet, this isn't what will bring me lasting joy. Spurgeon reminds me that it is actually far better that things work for my good than to have things work as I wish. My wayward heart doesn't always believe this but the promise of Romans 8:28 is indeed "the best promise of this life".

Spurgeon also speaks to God's purpose in the midst of difficult circumstances.

"Sometimes a storm brings people to their senses and arouses their consciences until they cry to the Lord. At other times, serious business losses bring such distress that people are driven to seek riches that are more enduring than gold, a competence that is more reliable than profits, and a comfort that is more genuine and lasting than wealth."

His recommended response? Humble submission to God's purpose accomplished through our trials.

"Submit cheerfully. there is no affliction that comes by chance....Not a drop of bitter ever falls into our cup unless the heavenly Father's wisdom places it there. We dwell where everything is ordered by God. Whenever adversity must come, it is always with a purpose. And, if it is God's purpose, should I wish to escape it?"

Whatever your struggle this week or next, I trust this meditation on "the best promise of this life" will encourage you.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Does God Want You To Be Rich?

The current issue of Time magazine poses a provocative question as its cover story - "Does God Want You to Be Rich?"(Hat Tip: ThinkChristian). The article by David Van Biema and Jeff Chu is thoughtful, well written and balanced. It tackles the question by surveying the broad spectrum of answers coming from the Christian community. It has already provoked responses from various Christian leaders such as Al Mohler who has provided an insightful commentary.

I think this is interesting for a number of reasons. First, it's interesting that a mainstream publication like Time is devoting a cover to this issue. Evidently, they must see this as a key point of differentiation or segmentation within the church at large. Noting the varying views represented by different Christian leaders, one would have to conclude that Time is at least partially correct. Views range from those espoused by "prosperity gospel" proponents such as Joel Osteen to more cautionary, qualified answers from those in the traditional evangelical camp.

Second, I believe that our interaction with money on a daily basis makes this a vital question. Whether we're earning it, spending it, saving it, craving it or losing it altogether- we're interacting with money each and every day. Yet we spend so little time discussing this daily interaction from a biblical point of view. Some of the answers represented in the article indicate that more biblically centered discussion on this topic is sorely needed. So perhaps this question is a timely one (no pun intended, really!)

Finally, how an individual chooses to answer the Time magazine question really revolves around his/her understanding of the gospel and in particular, the intent of the gospel. While most Christians would agree that Jesus' death on the cross atoned for the sins of every believer, the ultimate purpose of this work is not always in view. This is how the apostle Peter understood this purpose in 1 Peter 3:18 -

"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God" [emphasis mine]

The ultimate benefit we derive from the atoning work of Jesus Christ is a reconciled relationship with the living God. It's not enough just to acknowledge or even assent to the gospel. If we don't treasure or value that reconciled relationship, we will end up "loving" the gospel for all the wrong reasons. We may in fact acknowledge that Christ died for our sins but if we value other benefits like financial prosperity, health, etc... as equivalent or superior to the treasure of knowing God, we're worshiping the gift rather than the Giver.

The answer to whether God wants you to be rich, may well rest on whether you think the prize of our salvation is God Himself or simply a million dollar stock portfolio.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Remembering 9/11

On September 11 2001, terrorists hijacked three planes and flew them into the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, and into the Pentagon in Washington. It cost the United States, hundreds of billions of dollars, thousands of lives and untold suffering. Five years to the date, you can scarcely turn on the television, listen to the radio or read the paper without commentary on 9/11. It's the defining moment of our time.

Perhaps the best way we can remember the sad, tragic event is to offer a prayer for our nation and for those impacted by the suffering of 9/1. Yet, always keeping in view God's loving, sovereign rule over all matters concerning nations and individuals alike. Wars, terrorism and plots of evil men are no match for Him.

Here are words of comfort and encouragement from Charles Haddon Spurgeon taken from the book, Beside Still Waters.

Nothing will happen that God has not forseen. No unexpected event will destroy His plans. No emergency will transpire for which He has not provided. No peril will occur against which He has not guarded. No remarkable need will take Him by surprise. He declares the end from the beginning , from ancient times things that are not yet done (Is 46:10) ... He sees everything, the past, the present, the future. All, all, all of the future is fixed by Him. Derive great comfort from this fact.

Suppose you go out to sea with the most skillful captain... Even with the greatest foresight, he can never promise an absolutely safe passage. there are dangers...

When you come to the Ship of Providence, however, He who is at the helm is Master of every wind that blows and of every wave that breaks its force on the ship. He forsees both the events that will happen at the destination and those at the starting port. He knows every wave, its height, width, and force. He knows every wind in all its connections We are safe with a Captain who has fore-arranged and fore-ordained all things from the beginning to the end. It is to our advantage to put implicit confidence in His guidance:

Be this my joy, that evermore
Thou rulest all things at Thy will
Thy sovereign wisdom I adore
And calmly, sweetly, trust Thee still

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Myth of Influence

Ever wish you were more influential for the gospel? It's a truly noble desire. Unless, you start to think that your influence might be enhanced, if only you were more successful. It's not uncommon to be thinking along these lines -

“If I could only get this business off the ground, it’ll give me the credibility I need to share the gospel with my business associates”

“Once I get promoted, I’ll be able better positioned to influence my co-workers…”

“If I achieved prominence or recognition in my field, I’d use my position as a platform to honor God…”

It can be tempting to believe that particular success or notoriety would offer better opportunities to influence those around us.... except it doesn't always work that way. Tom Krattenmaker's article in USA Today tells the story of how the late Reggie White, NFL Hall of Famer came to realize that personal notoriety doesn't necessarily make for an effective proclaimation of God's truth.

In the arena of sports, few were as outspoken on matters of faith as the late Reggie White. During his Hall of Fame career as the NFL's leading defensive end, Reggie White would unabashedly proclaim his faith in public settings. Indeed, the “Minister of Defense” was as well known for his evangelistic zeal and commitment to his family as for his uncanny ability to sack quarterbacks. Yet, just before his untimely death, Reggie recognized the folly of the semi-celebrity Christian serving up endorsements for Jesus Christ.

“I used to have people tell me, 'God has given you the ability to play football so you could tell the world about him,' … "Well, he doesn't need football to let the world know about him."

The USA Today article tells the full story of Reggie’s transformation from gospel pitch man to a thoughtful witness for Jesus Christ. It's notable that Reggie White was humble enough to realize he needed to change his approach –

"Most people who wanted me to speak at their churches only asked me to speak because I played football, not because I was this great religious guy or this theologian. ... I got caught up in some of that until I got older and I got sick of it. I've been a preacher for 21 years, preaching what somebody wrote or what I heard somebody else say. I was not a student of Scripture. I came to the realization I'd become more of a motivational speaker than a teacher of the word."

Most of us may not be called upon to offer personal testimonies to the masses. However, we too can fall prey to the notion that our personal success will somehow lend the necessary credibility to our message. The apostle Paul thought differently about the notion of influence for the sake of the gospel. When addressing the Christians in Corinth, he made the point of reminding them that they were nothing special when measured by the world's standards.

Brothers, 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. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."

(1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

Paul did this to remind the Corinthians that the calling they received was all of grace and not because of their intellect, position or heritage. By God's design, their election by God was meant to nullify self exaltation and to lead to a boasting in Jesus Christ.

To paraphrase Reggie White - God doesn't need us to be successful or influential to let the world know about him. It may be that the influence we hope to gain with an unbelieving world begins with service, not success. Here's how Jesus viewed this -

"You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

(Mark 10:42-45)

While God does use men and women of standing to accomplish his will, Jesus' words reminds us that true greatness and lasting influence come by way of humble service . Our influence must be rooted, not in our achievements or personal standing but in God who delights in using the weak.

Waiting for success to enable a better testimony? Perhaps there's no need for us to wait after all. With the right perspective, we might find that we're best suited to be used by God right now.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Sermon Jammin' with John Piper, Ravi Z and crew

Here's a little frivolity for this rainy Friday.

A few months ago, I discovered Sermon Jams from a ministry called Relevant Revolution. Sermon jams are the creation of John Mahshie, a 23 year old from Asheville, North Carolina. He's taken portions of sermons from John Piper, Ravi Zacharias, Alistair Begg and others and mixed it with hip-hop rhythms to create an interesting blend. Here are a couple of our (my kids love them too!) favorite jams.

John Mahshie offers these sermon jams free of charge as another way to introduce young people to the gospel and perhaps reach a demographic typically unfamiliar with the likes of John Piper. Here's a writeup about John Mahshie in his local paper.

Regardless of what you think about the quality of his work, John's passion and initiative is commendable. The way he's using his creative gifts for the purpose of advancing the gospel is something we can all learn from and apply in our own lives.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Walmart and the Culture War

As part of its initiative to expand beyond its traditional customer base, Walmart has partnered with gay activist groups. It appears that the substance of the partnership involves Walmart's desire to attract suppliers with gay and lesbian persuasions. As expected, there are protests from Christian family oriented groups like Family Research Council (FRC).

I'm often grateful for the activism of groups like the FRC but I do wonder how I should evaluate the merits of battling corporations like Walmart over internal corporate policies.

Part of my apprehension stems from the sheer volume of issues pertaining to moral or ethical positions that we are faced with everyday. With the rapid pace of communication today enhanced by email blasts and blogs, information from the front lines of the "culture war" can be absolutely innundating. If you don't believe me, check out sites like the Family Research Council and American Family Association. You'll soon discover that there is a continuous stream of issues pertaining to sanctity of life, media standards, homosexuality, sanctity of marriage, ... the list goes on. The problem isn't with fine groups like FRC but rather how an individual Christian should interact with such information. The subtle danger in responding to every clarion call of the culture war is that we can be distracted from the primary purpose of our lives to proclaim the gospel and live in the good of it everyday. There are going to be critical issues like the pro-life position that require a definitive stand but not every issue carries that weight and importance.

Another consideration is the manner by which we engage the opposing position. Protests or threats of boycotts are acceptable approaches to make our point but not the only ones available to us. They may not even be the most effective ones in every instance. Using phrases like "culture war" is useful in rallying the Christian base but not always helpful in thoughtfully and humbly engaging the opposition. Too often the rhetoric accompanying the approach seems adversarial rather than engaging.

Finally, I believe that looking for opportunities for the gospel is vital. The apostle Paul upon encountering widespread idolatry in Athens is described in Acts 17 as "greatly distressed". His response? "He reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there" (v. 17)
He looked for opportunities to present the gospel from the context of the culture. He used the evil practice of idolatry as a window to preach the gospel. (v.22 - v. 31).

Back to Walmart and their current initiative - not every Christian will judge this as a weighty matter to contend for, since the policy is not explicitly externalized to the buying community. However, if we choose to respond, making our position known by humble appeal rather than adversarial threats will not only be more effective, it'll render a better testimony of the grace we've received.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Preparing for Mondays

Lately, I've found myself struggling to enter the week with a joyful heart. I sit somewhere in the middle between burdened by discouragement and genuine gladness of heart - essentially uninspired, lethargic and not particularly amazed at God's grace.

It's not a particularly good attitude to carry forward into the week. So by God's help, I'm hoping for change this week and taking a cue from how 19th century pastor, George Mueller prepared for Mondays (actually, it's how he prepared for every day) -

"According to my judgement the most important point to be attended to is this: above all things see to it that your souls are happy in the Lord. Other things may press upon you, the Lord's work may even have urgent claims upon your attention, but I deliberately repeat, it is of supreme and paramount importance that you should seek above all things to have your souls truly happy in God Himself! Day by day seek to make this the most important business of your life. "

Think you have responsibilities? George Mueller was a man of immense responsibility, overseeing care for more than 2000 orphans - all this accomplished without government assistance, personal wealth or corporate sponsorships. Despite his many noble responsibilities, he placed as his highest priority to have his heart happy in God, each and every day.

How did he go about pursuing and practicing this? He offers an important hint by the following quote:

"But in what way shall we attain to this settled happiness of soul? How shall we learn to enjoy God? How to obtain such an all-sufficient soul-satisfying portion in him as shall enable us to let go the things of this world as vain and worthless in comparison? I answer, This happiness is to be obtained through the study of the Holy Scriptures. God has therein revealed Himself unto us in the face of Jesus Christ."

I'm applying this by looking to God to reveal himself through his word. In particular, I'm looking for the portrait of Jesus Christ in the passages I read, reminding myself of his work of sacrifice on the cross, meditating on his love. I'm doing so with confidence that my lethargic heart is no match for God's inspired words to me. Here's what God graciously turned up for me in Psalms 130:3-4

If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.

Buried in the Book of Psalms, is this wonderful gospel picture, speaking of God's holiness, our depravity and his provision of forgiveness. I'm meditating on those verses together with 2 Cor 5:21.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Today, I'm focusing on that bit of good news till I get happy in God.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Every Day Together is a Gift From God

Today , Kathy and I celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary. Here's what we looked like on our wedding day. After 17 years and three kids, it's nice to remember that we were young once.

Last night as we were reflecting upon our marriage, gratitude welled up in our hearts. We're amazed at how God has lavished his grace upon us - to keep us from evil, to help us in our weaknesses and to multiply our joys.

For the past five years, we've lived with this motto - "every day together is a gift from God".
Every day we laugh together and cry together... every day we worship together and serve together...every day we have conflicts and resolve conflicts...each and every day we live together is a gift and we're grateful.

We didn't always think that way but confronting mortality, however briefly, has a way of bringing things into focus. Kathy's bout with cancer five years ago was a means for God to infuse that truth in our hearts and strange as it seems, we're glad for the lesson.

I'm grateful for Kathy.

"We love because he first loved us" 1 John 4:19

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The IBM PC Turns 25

This past Saturday August 12th, marked the 25th anniversary of the IBM PC. While there were other personal computers prior to the PC, it was IBM that took the idea of the personal computers mainstream. Since its introduction in 1981, the PC and its many variants have changed the way we work, play and communicate.

I thought I'd commemorate the occasion with a few random thoughts on technology. How should we as Christians, think about technology, its role and influence on our daily lives? Here are my thoughts -

First, we should consider the invention and development of technology as a gift from God. Even among Christians who love and live technology, it's not a view commonly considered. Unfortunately,we too often credit the advancement of technology to the ingenuity of man rather than the common grace of our Maker who enables such advancement.

Second, computing and communications technology has made the gospel more readily accessible to areas and populations that were previously unreached or limited in some way. Undoubtedly, technology such as the Internet has been used to propagate pornography and accentuate other societal ills. However, it's also been used for good. Chief among the good applications of technology is the advancement of the gospel and other Christian content.

Finally, it's probably just as important to recognize the inherent limitations of technology. The Internet is no substitute for gathering with the saints every Sunday. Chat rooms and blogs cannot replace pastoral care and accountability. Even the gospel is best communicated in person, its truths proclaimed and lived out rather than explained over email.

After all, you can't replicate the hugs and greetings you get on a Sunday morning with simply a computer and broadband connection... at least not yet.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Making Much of Christ from 8 to 5

I didn't post last week due to an exceptionally busy week but I'd like to pick up where I left off. Thanks for those who contributed with comments on how they make much of Christ in their workplace. There were some excellent thought provoking comments.

Here's what John Piper has to say on the topic from Chapter 8 of his book Don't Waste Your Life -

1. We can make much of God in our secular job through the fellowship we enjoy with him throughout the day in all our work.

2. We make much of Christ in our secular work by the joyful, trusting, God exalting design of our creativity and industry.

3. We make much of Christ in our secular work when it confirms and enhances the potrait of Christ's glory that people hear in the spoken gospel.

4. We make much of Christ in our secular work by earning enough money to keep us from depending on others, while focusing on the helpfulness of our work rather than financial rewards.

5. We make much of Christ by earning money with the desire to use our money to make others glad in God.

6. We make much of Christ in our secular work by treating the web of relationships it creates as a gift of God to be loved by sharing the gospel and by practical deeds of help.