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