Saturday, December 29, 2007

Quote of the Week

"This year, or this month, or, more likely, this very day, we have failed to practise ourselves the kind of behaviour we expect from other people."

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Monday, December 24, 2007

What is Christmas All About?

Leading theologian, Linus explains to Charlie Brown what Christmas is all about.

Yesterday's message by our senior pastor, Mark Mullery was entitled "Why Did God Become Man?"

It was a rich message but the one point stood out to me -

It's possible to "put Christ back into Christmas" (my words, not his) but still miss the point of Christmas. Christmas is ultimately about Calvary.

Yes, Christmas is about the incarnation...but the incarnation was for a purpose - bringing sinful men and women to a holy God. We love the manger scene but it's a prelude to the glory of the cross.

How would you answer Charlie Brown? What is Christmas all about?

Friday, December 21, 2007

John Newton

Our most recent Quote of the Week featured a quote from John Newton. Today marks the 200th anniversary of Newton's passing.

In his day, John Newton was unusually used of God in profound ways. He was a trusted counselor to William Wilberforce in his fight for the abolition of slavery and collaborated with renown poet, William Cowper. However, he is best known as the author of the most beloved hymn of all time - Amazing Grace.

Here are a couple of facts about Amazing Grace that you may not be aware of -

- The original title for the hymn was Faith's Review and Expectation

- The verse..."Thro' many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; Tis grace has brought me safe thus far, And grace will lead me home."
...was inspired by 1 Chronicles 17:16 which reads - "And David the king came and sat before the LORD, and said, 'Who am I, O LORD God, and what is mine house, that you have brought me hitherto?"

- Newton did not write the last verse of the final version of the hymn as it is typically featured today. The verse beginning with "When we've been there ten thousand years...." was added to a version of Amazing Grace by Harriet Beecher Stowe in her novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and is attributed to John P. Rees.

The Desiring God blog also marked the day with a short post on John Newton.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Quote of the Week

"If I ever reach heaven, I expect to find three wonders there: First, to meet some I had not thought to see there; second, to miss some I had thought to meet there; and third, the greatest wonder of all, to find myself there!"

John Newton , (July 24, 1725 – Dec 21, 1807)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Bill Hybels on Ministry Leadership

Bill Hybels of Willow Creek fame, makes the case that ministry leadership is more difficult than leading in the business world. The article starts with Hybels recalling a conversation with a business executive who arrogantly trivializes the challenge of leading a church. (Unfortunately, when business leaders think of the church as just another organization or enterprise, they expose their own folly.)

However, Hybels goes on to make the case that church or ministry leadership is more complex and challenging than leading in the business world. He offers the following four reasons to make his case. Let me state the obvious - I'm nowhere the equal of Hybels in the arena of leadership and I've had relatively little experience leading in ministry. However, there are elements of his words that really misses the mark - my comments and rebuttal in [ ] below.

1. Every life requires a custom mold. Essentially, he's making the case that church leadership is about people and it's very difficult to lead people without "leverage".

"...Napoleon, de Gaulle, Eisenhower, MacArthur, Patton. They were all the great military leaders....but I've wondered, What would it be like for some of those leaders to have to work it out with deacons before they charged up a hill? ...How would the whole military system work if you took away the leadership leverage of the court-martial? Anyone could build a church with leverage like that!"

[I wish that Hybels had a more realistic view about how effective business really run. They don't operate that differently from the church leadership scenario he speaks of. Yes, the CEO is the one "in charge" but in most organizations, effective leadership still involves leading by influence, building consensus and casting a compelling vision. And, no, we don't have the threat of court martial either. ]

2. The church is voluntary.

"But in the final analysis, we have little or no leverage, no real power over anybody we lead...To mobilize an utterly volunteer organization requires the highest kind of leadership. We cannot compel people; we must call them."
[Yes, but sustained leadership in any arena isn't about compelling people, it's about calling and engaging them]

3. The church is utterly altruistic

"When leading a business, you can hire a bright, energetic, young employee and say, "...Here's your salary, your perks, your car...If you work hard, in five or eight years we're going to make you a partner...And when we sell this place in fifteen or twenty years, we're all going to walk away wealthy...Are you interested? But as church leaders, what do we tell prospective church members? "You're a depraved, degenerate sinner who's in trouble for all eternity unless you get squared away with Christ."...Oh, yeah, you get no parking place, no reserved seats, no special privileges, no voting rights, no vacation or retirement program. You serve till you die. But trust us: God's going to make it right in eternity."

[Ministry isn't about altruism, nor should it ever be. It's about gaining a reward greater than the best the world has to offer. If we miss this, we miss the heart of gospel centered service. "Serving" God is a gift, not grudging sacrifice. It is our joyful opportunity to participate in what the Eternal God is doing on this earth. No business can compete with that. Effective ministry leaders remind us of that reality as often as they can, not to manipulate us for service but because there's nothing better we can give ourselves to]

4. The church has the highest calling.

"We can no longer afford to leave people leaderless in the arena of the church...May the church be the one place where people who come out of leaderless homes and schools and jobs and athletic teams discover, maybe for the first time in their lives, the excitement of being valued, of being included, of being told that they are indispensable for the achievement of a common vision. "

[I'm not sure it's correct to view ourselves as "indispensable" to the achievement of God's work. God can use anyone. Often, it truly baffles me why he would use me...but it's my privilege to participate in His work. Should we be incredibly grateful? Certainly. Are we indispensible? I don't think so.]

Here's one more unique advantage the church has - it is the only institution that God guarantees will be there on the Last Day and throughout eternity - it will not fail, its purpose will stand. No business will last that long nor will its pinnacle be as glorious.

What do you think? Is ministry leadership really more complex as Bill Hybels says it is?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Quote of the Week

"There is more mercy in Christ than sin in us"

Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed, p 13.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Elite Evangelicals?

The November issue of Christianity Today had an interesting interview with Michael Lindsay, sociology professor at Rice University. Michael Lindsay is the author of Faith in the Halls of Power, a book about evangelicals joining the ranks of the elite and influential in American society. It is based on 360 interviews conducted with evangelical leaders in various spheres of influence. In the interview, Dr. Lindsay refers to these elite Christians as "cosmopolitan evangelicals" -

"The cosmopolitan evangelicals I write about are people who are just as committed to their faith, just as involved in mainstream evangelical life. By and large, they are very orthodox in their beliefs. Yet they rub shoulders with a much more diverse population... The majority of their working day is spent with people of different faiths or of no faith. They have reached higher levels of education... It's a very elite group,....They read Christianity Today, but they also read The New York Times. They might go to a Christian rock concert, but they also go to the symphony..."

Lindsay shares more of what he's discovered about these elite Christians and how they differ from the rest, the "populist" evangelical community -

"I would say one of the key differences is that populist evangelicals are very interested in converting the other. That's a real driving mechanism—trying to persuade others that Christianity is right. I didn't find that quite as prominent among cosmopolitan evangelicals. They were more interested in legitimacy. They wanted their faith to be seen as valid, something that smart, intelligent people could embrace, that you didn't have to check your brain at the door to accept. You've got this more intelligent, savvy, well-traveled experience that naturally shapes the cosmopolitan's faith."

Apparently, the elite evangelicals also live the best of the American dream -

A lot of the elites I interviewed are really not that different from their peers. They stay in fancy hotels, they drive nice cars; some of them own their own airplanes. They are high flyers, and they aren't necessarily living like the poor.

Yet, according to Lindsay, they don't identify with the local church -

"For many of these leaders, local church involvement is not the principal source of spiritual solidarity. Rather, it comes from being involved in small groups, often among peers. Business leaders meet with other business leaders for a prayer breakfast or a Bible study the first Tuesday of every month. Or folks in the White House get together for the White House Christian fellowship."

I know, it's hard to read this without judging our fellow evangelicals who have found a place among the elite of this world. We must resist succumbing to uncharitable judgments. Generalizations like these can be unfair - I am certain that you know many influential men and women in politics, business and academia who share a deep love and passion for God.

Yet, when I read the interview, I found little to celebrate. Influence is for naught if it magnifies our accomplishments and not the Savior. We misconstrue progress when evangelicals are more interested with their faith being "seen as valid... that smart, intelligent people could embrace" rather than proclaiming the gospel.

Their noted disengagement from local church life isn't just a benign matter of preference, it's a sign of dangerous pride. God has designed church life in order that we might serve and be served by each other, regardless of our social standing, wealth or education. It's the antidote to pride.

Here's why this article caught my attention - the sense of elite evangelicals "having arrived" in American culture is antithetical to what I read this morning in the James 1:9-11.

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

You may not consider yourself as one of the evangelical elites, but this verse is instructive to us all. (By the way, as you're reading this blog, if you have food for the week, drive a car, take vacations and have access to healthcare, you are likely among the richest 10% of this world's population.)

James tells us that if you're lowly, you should "boast in [your] exaltation". You should rejoice at the fact that you are actually rich because you possess eternal life. You're a dead man, who has been made alive; a beggar, lavished with the riches of heaven.

However, if you're rich and influential in any way, James says that you should boast in your humiliation. You should take special care to remind yourself that all your wealth will pass away, your natural gifts will fade and your greatest earthly hopes will fail you. This verse meant to remind us that Christ is our only refuge in the day of judgment, our only treasure and the source of everlasting joy. I read these verses in James, both as gentle warning and great encouragement.

Boast in your humiliation. What a different way to think about wealth, influence and the American dream. How otherworldly.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Quote of the Week

"No man ever made himself to live. No preacher, however earnest, can make one hearer to live. No parent, however prayerful, no teacher, however tearful, can make a child live unto God.
'You hath He quickened,' is true of all who are quickened."

C.H. Spurgeon

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Brian Regan on Working Out

Happy Thanksgiving, friends!

In anticipation of feeling a little guilty about stuffing ourselves with Thanksgiving dinner, a little humorous perspective might be just what we need.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Quote of the Week

Missions exists because worship doesn't. Worship is the ultimate, not missions because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.

Worship, therefore is the goal and fuel of missions.

John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad. p. 11

Friday, November 09, 2007

What I've Been Doing for Thirty Years

My blogging friend Marcus Goodyear was the first to introduce me to the concept of memes earlier this year. Now he's sprung another meme on me - What Have You Been Doing for Thirty Years?

So, I'll play along - why not, it's a wonderful life ~

Thirty Years Ago

In Malaysia. I'll spare you the pictures of an uncoordinated, painfully reserved, 13 year old, spending every free moment playing soccer or basketball. Little did I know that in a couple of years, God would graciously intervene in my life with his glorious illuminating gospel - from death to life - blind, now I can see - yes, blessed assurance.

Twenty Years Ago

In the United States. I'm in college, on the brink of graduating, laboring through the Electronic & Computer Engineering program, struggling to keep my GPA respectable.

In a year or so, I'll be making plans to be married to my girl - best decision I ever made. I've also found home as far as church is concerned - Sovereign Grace Church - except back then it was called Fairfax Christian Community - that's before they changed it to Fairfax Covenant Church.

Professionally, I stayed with my first job for all of six months, before I figure out that what I really want to do is software development. So I join a startup...before startups were cool. At one point, I didn't get paid for 3 months. Funny thing is, I kept showing up to work every Monday.

Ten Years Ago

We have three children, learning how to navigate through marriage and family life. Frankly, I'm not sure where we'd be today without God's sustaining grace. Ten years ago, I'm enjoying a successful career, having advanced from writing code to Vice President, R&D for a public company. We're plugged into our church community, serving, prospering, doing all the right things - life is good.

But then, in 2001, we discover Kathy has cancer - it was simple check up for an unrelated pain. It seemed so surreal. It was a painful trial but it was the kindness of God.

You see, when you're 37, you don't expect to hear that kind of news - after all, you're invincible... except you're not. When you're enjoying a successful career - you're the captain of your own destiny...except you're not. When you are so busy building a life on earth - sometimes you forget that you're an exile and stranger in this world.

So God reminds us - we're not home yet, we've only one life to give and everyday together is a gift from him. That's what grace and mercy looks like.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Quote of the Week

"Five minutes after we die, we'll know exactly how we should have lived. We'll know how much we should have given, prayed, shared our faith, meditated on Scripture. But then it'll be too late to go back and live our lives over again. We won't have a chance to be sold out disciples of Jesus Christ in a fallen world. Here and now is our only opportunity to do that. "

Randy Alcorn, 50 Days of Heaven, p.256

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

What Happened to Demas?

A couple of months ago, I was finishing 2 Timothy, when the following words caught my attention:

Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.

(2 Tim 4:9-10)

I have, on prior occasions, read these verses without paying much attention to them. Yet, this time, I was led to stop and ponder about Demas, previously noted in Philemon and Colossians among Paul's trusted companions. What happened to Demas, I wonder?

How did he go from a trusted fellow worker to a deserter?
How was he in love with this present world? Was it a love of money or an unwillingness to bear up under persecution ... or perhaps something else altogether?
Did he always harbor a faithlessness or was it some special test that exposed his love of the world?

I'm sobered by Demas. We're not told much about him but it's a hint of a cautionary tale - to hold fast our faith to the end, rather than coasting our way to the finish line. It's a reminder that there are many pitfalls along the way. For some, it's the pursuit of wealth and the pleasure that pose a challenge. For others, it's placing hope and security in their (401)K and hard earned savings, rather than in the Eternal God. A successful professional might be tempted to treasure the significance and accolades they experience at work above all else.

What does it look like in your life to "love this present world" and how do you fight to mortify its influence?

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

(Phillipians 2:12-13)

Monday, October 22, 2007

Quote of the Week

"The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man"

G.K. Chesterton; Introduction to the Book of Job, 1907

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Why Dogs Rule

The world is divided into two kinds of people - dog people and cat people. From the perspective of a dog lover, cats are fickle, selfish and undependable... while dogs are loving, brave and utterly loyal.

Confirming those stereotypes is this AP story - Dog Saves Man in Fire Blamed on Cat.

GREENVILLE, Maine (Oct. 10) - Thumper, a black Labrador retriever, is getting credit for saving a Greenville man when a fire swept through his home. Roland Cote said his wife and their 7-year-old grandson were away when the blaze started early Sunday in a converted two-story garage. He said Thumper grabbed him by the arm to wake him, leaving just enough time for him to dial 911 before fleeing the fast-moving fire. While the dog is the hero, a cat is the bad guy in this story. Cote said the fire marshal investigator believes the blaze was started when Princess, the family cat, tipped over a kerosene lantern. Cote says he and his pets escaped safely, but he says Princess did get her tail singed by the flames.

What do you cat people (you know who you are) have to say about this?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Vocational Advice for Twenty Somethings

In a prior post, I've mentioned the work of Gideon Strauss, the editor of Comment. Comment is an online publication focused on promoting a Christian worldview on work and public life. In a recent issue, Gideon addresses the challenges facing 28 year old Christian professionals in big corporations. Here's Gideon's take on their dilemma -

"...some of the people.... who have the hardest time, vocationally speaking, are 28-year-olds working in big corporations. They are no longer novices....but they don't really have any significant institutional power yet.... they must conform very closely to institutional expectations if they want to keep their jobs and build their careers. They have limited opportunities to offer leadership or take initiative . . . and their dreams of changing the world—of making a difference—are turning a little stale."

In the article entitled Finding our way to great work: called to work and live in the city, Gideon solicits advice on how to sustain a vision for working and living in the city. Here's a sampling of what some of these older, wiser voices offered to the 28 year old Christian professional:

"Being salt and light in big organizations and big cities comes with all the challenges of climbing a mid-size mountain. You need a good community of close friends with you to help you make the climb...These close friends, nearby and across the miles, are committed to living a shared way of life and longing for "Kingdom come" in the face of frustrations and broken systems. With these kindred spirits I can taste the life that is really life at work, at home, and in the world."

Stephen Lazarus
Director, Civitas Programs for Leadership in Faith and Public Affairs
Center for Public Justice

"Consider yourself to be in a time of training and preparation: Life has many seasons, and it is important to grow in each one of them...There are some wonderful opportunities to thrive where you are, and build a base for future growth...You are also in an ideal time of life to learn "followership," although our fallen nature seems to cause us to fight this. Great leaders know how to follow well, and know the value of submitting to authority... Being a good follower means watching the culture of your organization and learning from its patterns, but it also means that you must never, never, never compromise your values or your faith. "

L. J. "Sam" Helgerson
Writer and consultant
Great Ridge Group, Inc.

"...I have accepted that it is not through my work that I necessarily wish to be remembered. I am, first and foremost, a husband and father, a neighbour, and a friend. These things mark more decisively who I am, and how I wish to be remembered. Gideon Strauss has a motto on his website that includes these sentences: "Enabling whole-hearted work. Equipping worldchanging organizations." For some, these two are one in the same. But for most of us, especially those in the corporate sector, they are two distinct tasks. Yes, our work matters, but we can change the world right where we are—in our homes, our neighbourhoods, our churches. "

Brian Janaszek
Computer programmer

"To the kind of person you describe, I would say the following: God has positioned you to be a salting salt in our culture, even though you may think that you presently have little scope for making a difference for his kingdom. Be faithful, and settle in for the long haul. In the mean time, seek out contact with other believers in a similar situation to yours for mutual encouragement and inspiration. "

Al Wolters
Professor of Religion & Theology, Redeemer University College and author of Creation Regained

What kind of advice would you offer a 28 year old seemingly "trapped" in a corporate environment? How can the young Christian professional find inspiration for daily work?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Quote of the Week

"Obedience is the only reality. It is faith visible, faith acting and faith incarnate.
It is the test of real discipleship among the Lord's people."

J.C. Ryle (1816-1900), The Duties of Parents

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Modern Day Slavery

Sadly, slavery is alive and well in our fallen world. Last night, we attended the annual fund raising dinner for Jubilee Campaign, a non-profit organization focused on helping persecuted Christians and children at risk around the world. During the dinner, we heard from speakers who drew attention to the ongoing atrocity of modern day slavery - much of it affecting children and young women.

Here are some facts about slavery, more commonly referred to as human trafficking (Research: Four Square Church) -
  • An estimated 27 million people are held in slavery worldwide, meaning there are more slaves in the world than were taken from Africa during 300 years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
  • Annually between 700,000 and 4 million people are bought and sold as prostitutes, sex slaves, domestic workers, child laborers and child soldiers. This includes children as young as 4.
  • Each year, more than 1 million children are exploited in the global commercial sex trade.
  • In India, 45,000 children go missing every year
  • The U.S Department of State estimates that by 2010, human trafficking will be the #1 crime worldwide.
This atrocity is a stark expression of what humanity looks like, separated from God. Better education doesn't solve this, nor will money alone make this go away. We desperately need a Savior.

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.

Titus 3:3-6

What's required is the gospel, actively preached and lived in the darkest recesses of this world. Jubilee Campaign is waging war against the tide of wickedness by shining the light of the gospel into the darkness of slavery. Together with in-country partners, they rescue children from brothels, care for orphans and share the love of Christ in practical ways.

I'm grateful for their work and glad to support them.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Quote of the Week

"A little thing is a little thing, but faithfulness in little things is a great thing."

J. Hudson Taylor (quoted from Hudson Taylor and China’s Open Century, Book Four: Survivors’ Pact, p154.)

Friday, September 21, 2007

Open Source Mission - Gospel Translations

In my prior post, we discussed the strategic importance of making gospel centered books and articles available to the growing global evangelical church. In view of the limitations of current translation and publishing models, is there a way to tackle this problem leveraging the advantages of Web 2.0 world? I think so and here’s one proposed way to do it.

Since April, I have been involved in launching a new ministry initiative called Open Source Mission (OSM). OSM is a non-profit initiative to enable translation of contemporary evangelical materials from English to various languages through the power of mass collaboration. We believe that accessibility to biblically sound content is of strategic importance to the vitality of the growing church in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

There is an opportunity to bring translated Christian materials to the non-English speaking world by taking advantage of technology innovation and an “open source”, participatory model of translation. Our vision is to create a new, revolutionary, framework for translation by combining the following components:

• Global social network of volunteer translators
• Proven “open source” methodology
• Web 2.0 collaboration platform

In essence, what we hope to see are several ongoing translation projects fueled by the passion and skills of volunteer translators, resulting in an online reference portal of translated books and articles in a multitude of languages – all available for free.

The distinctive focus of OSM is simple -

Mass Collaboration - We want to enable translation through the mass collaboration of volunteer translators. We believe the Web 2.0 world has opened unique opportunities for collaboration through a community participatory model. Such models have been proven successful in other arenas. By applying methodologies similar to those used in an open source software projects like Linux or Web 2.0 projects like Wikipedia, we hope to effectively tackle the translation challenge.

Contemporary Gospel Centric Writings - We want to focus on contemporary, evangelical, gospel centric materials. We’re not interested in doing Bible translations – that’s best left to professionals. Nor are we planning to tackle historical writings (i.e. Puritans, Reformers, early Church Fathers) - there are sufficient hurdles in bridging the translation and cultural gap without undertaking the challenge of a historical gap as well. We're initially focused on contemporary translations from our partner organizations.

Leveraging Technology - We want to leverage technology to make these materials accessible. We believe that the trajectory of technology adoption in the developing nations means that the most effective and inexpensive way to get materials to our fellow Christians in these nations is to provide this material on the web, searchable, cross referenceable and free. (Did I mention the translated content will be available for FREE?)

OSM, together with partners like Sovereign Grace Ministries, Desiring God, 9 Marks and other like-minded organizations, will work on the Gospel Translation Project. The Gospel Translation Project involves building a "wikipedia type" portal of translated content at (Disclaimer: the portal is currently in beta and content is still being loaded onto the site.) Initially, our focus will be to work on translating materials from the aforementioned partners who have generously contributed to our translation permissions library.

If you find this intriguing, interesting, or possibly even inspiring, here’s how to get involved:

1. Check out the OSM website , learn more about what we do , offer feedback and please pray for the ministry.

2. If you are bilingual, please consider using your language skills in one of our projects. You can sign up on the OSM website or email our Ministry Coordinator, Andrew Mahr - By participating in one of our projects, your contribution will impact your fellow Christians for years to come.

3. Please help spread the word. If you're a blogger, please consider blogging about OSM and the Gospel Translation Project. This is a grassroots movement and thrives on individual volunteer initiative. If you should blog on this, please let others know of the need for translation and issue a gracious call for bilingual Christians to consider participating in this.

4. Also, consider linking to Open Source Mission on your sidebar and send Andrew an email to let him know. We need help to make this work and we'd love to have you get involved in some way...even if you can't translate.

Is it just a crazy idea or something that might change how translations get done? Let us know what you think.

We realize that we don't have all the answers but our hope is that, if the Lord wills, the Gospel Translation Project might be a blessing to many non-English speaking believers throughout the world.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Global Church - Bridging the Translation Gap

I ended last week's post with this quote from Philip Jenkins:

“Christianity will enjoy a worldwide boom in the new century but the vast majority of believers will be neither white nor European, nor Euro-American.”

Here's Michael Gerson, former Bush speechwriter making a similar point in a 2006 Newsweek article:

"The center of gravity of the Christian world is now arguably in central Africa, with more than a third of a billion Christians on that continent."

Apparently, the center of Christian world isn't just has already shifted.

Yet, the vast majority of evangelical Christian materials are published in English and not accessible to most of these believers due to a language barrier. While church growth in these emerging regions is impressive, the lack of sound doctrine is a concern for many churches and Christian organizations operating in those regions. The lack of supplemental materials to train and encourage new converts in the basic doctrines of Christianity is a substantial problem. If left unaddressed, this deficit in biblically rich, gospel centered materials will have a detrimental effect on the church worldwide.

The need for bible translations have long been accepted but it is also important to translate secondary, supporting materials to strengthen the doctrinal foundations of the church. In the history of the Christian church, there is a tradition of building upon knowledge and works of prior generations. However, in the case of this rapidly developing church in Africa, Asia and Latin America, this progression is impeded by the translation gap.

Translating gospel centered materials into various languages is a vitally important need.

Over the years, there has been substantial time and resources poured into enabling translation of books and articles into other languages. However, despite the fine efforts of many publishers, the problem remains largely unsolved due the enormous challenge of translating into numerous languages and the cost of undertaking a translation project.

The fundamental issue is that the existing model for translation and distribution of Christian content is both limited and expensive. Publishers often have to decide whether to undertake translation projects based on economic/financial parameters. In practical terms, this means that books that do not sell well in the popular US market are not likely candidates for translation. Unfortunately, this also means that many (most?) doctrinally sound, gospel centered books fail to make the cut. This is no critique of Christian publishing but rather a statement of the economic realities they have to operate under.

The other challenge with the current model is the cost of distribution. Today, distributing Christian materials to other non-English speaking countries means printing and distributing a physical, hard copy book in the hands of the reader. The cost for doing so relative to the number of Christians in these nations makes it non-scalable and economically infeasible. Furthermore, the price point of the books that are translated, printed and distributed overseas would typically make it prohibitive for the average Christian in many of these nations.

In today's digital Web 2.0 economy with its social networking, virtual communities, blogs, wikis, etc... might there be a way to tackle this challenge? I think so.

My next post will propose a strategic approach - and you won't have to wait a week to hear about it. ;-)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Face of the Global Church is Changing

Over the next couple of weeks, I'm going to be blogging about the global church - how it's changing, and what it means to every Christian who shares an interest in seeing the good news of Jesus Christ known throughout the world. This series of posts speak to a critical issue the global church faces today and how we can play a role in serving them.
First, let's discuss how the global church is changing...

The center of the Christian world is shifting away from Europe/North America to the developing regions of Asia, Africa and Latin America. According to the Lausanne World Pulse, the evangelical population of Africa, Latin America and Asia represent nearly 60% of all evangelicals worldwide. This ascension is fueled by remarkable church growth in these regions.

Nowhere has the growth been more apparent in recent years than in China. In a recent article, John Piper offers his perspective on how the church in China has grown since the first missionary, Robert Morrison set foot on Chinese soil two hundred years ago. Here's a quote from the article -

Persevering against the hostility of official opposition and the resistance of foreign merchants, Morrison baptized the first Chinese Protestant Christian, Cai Gao, on July 16, 1814. After the baptism of Cai Gao, Morrison wrote prophetically in his journal, “May he be the first-fruits of a great harvest, one of millions who shall come and be saved on the day of wrath to come."

God answered Morrison's prayer to a greater measure than even he would have anticipated.

The numbers are staggering. In 1949, prior to the Communist takeover, there were approximately 1 million Christians in China. Today, conservative estimates place the number of Christians at approximately 50 million. Some have even estimated this number as high as 100 million. The contrast is stark when you compare this growth to most of Western Europe where church attendance has been below 2% for decades.

This means that the evangelical church worldwide today and in the foreseeable future will no longer be, primarily, a Western institution. Philip Jenkins reinforces this point in his book, The Next Christendom

“Christianity will enjoy a worldwide boom in the new century but the vast majority of believers will be neither white nor European, nor Euro-American.”

What challenges do these new Christian communities face? Certainly, persecutions for some, poverty for others. But there is another challenge they face that might not seem as dramatic but is no less significant - they do not have gospel centered materials in their native language.

To extend Philip Jenkins' point, the other implication of this growth is that most of the worldwide church is non-English speaking and do not have access to gospel-centered books, articles and resources that you and I take for granted.

What can we do about this? How can we serve them? Over the next two posts, I'd like to share how, by God's grace and help, we might be able to meet this challenge.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Quote of the Week

"The point of every deadly calamity is this: Repent."

"Let our hearts be broken that God means so little to us. Grieve that he is a whipping boy to be blamed for pain, but not praised for pleasure. Lament that he makes headlines only when man mocks his power, but no headlines for ten thousand days of wrath withheld."

John Piper, quoted from article, Tsunami and Repentance, January 2005

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Make Meaning

Guy Kawasaki, Managing Director of Garage Technology Ventures, business author, and former Apple marketing whiz, talks about how to successfully launch a startup. According to Kawasaki, the most important part isn't your business plan, it's the desire to "make meaning".

Here's part of what he says:

The core, the essence of entrepreneurship is to make meaning...

Many, many people start companies to make money. I have found the companies that are fundamentally make the world a better place, that make meaning...they are the companies that succeed

If you make meaning, you'll probably make money but if you set out to make money, you won't make meaning and you probably won't make money either.

Kawasaki goes on to say that there are three ways to make meaning:
  1. Improve quality of life
  2. Right a wrong
  3. Prevent the end of something good

I have no idea if Kawasaki is a Christian but his challenge to make meaning in what we do is provoking. There is something about his challenge that seems to resonate with me - I believe God wants us to live and work with eternal purpose.

If you're starting a new company, non-profit or ministry initiative (or if you're just interested), you need to check out the entire video clip. It's only a couple of minutes long.

I'd only temper what Kawasaki's message in the following way:

We cannot "make meaning". I believe it is God who "makes meaning" in this world - we can only discover meaning...but we can experience joy as we give ourselves to it.

What do you think of what Guy Kawasaki says?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Quote of the Week

"I value all things only by the price they shall gain in eternity"

John Wesley (1703-1791)

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Mother Teresa's Crisis of Faith

I wanted to post on Time's article about Mother Teresa early last week but got behind. By now, you've probably read about this in other places but I thought it might be interesting to raise the topic here.

If you haven't read the article, here's the gist. Time Magazine's religion writer, David Van Biema has written a piece entitled Mother Teresa's Crisis of Faith where he peers into the private doubts and spiritual life of one of great humanitarian icons in the history of the world. Most of the content for Biema's article is based on Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, a newly released book by Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk.

Biema writes:

A new, innocuously titled book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light (Doubleday), consisting primarily of correspondence between Teresa and her confessors and superiors over a period of 66 years, provides the spiritual counterpoint to a life known mostly through its works. The letters, many of them preserved against her wishes (she had requested that they be destroyed but was overruled by her church), reveal that for the last nearly half-century of her life she felt no presence of God whatsoever — or, as the book's compiler and editor, the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, writes, "neither in her heart or in the eucharist."...Although perpetually cheery in public, the Teresa of the letters lived in a state of deep and abiding spiritual pain...She compares the experience to hell and at one point says it has driven her to doubt the existence of heaven and even of God.

Documented examples of Mother Teresa's struggle include the following quotes from her:

Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.
— Mother Teresa to the Rev. Michael Van Der Peet, September 1979

Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me? The Child of your Love — and now become as the most hated one — the one — You have thrown away as unwanted — unloved. I call, I cling, I want — and there is no One to answer — no One on Whom I can cling — no, No One.
Mother Teresa, addressing Jesus in a letter

Biema's article is interesting because he takes the time to carefully note the different responses from both supporters and detractors.

Why did Teresa's communication with Jesus, so vivid and nourishing in the months before the founding of the Missionaries, evaporate so suddenly? Interestingly, secular and religious explanations travel for a while on parallel tracks... Kolodiejchuk finds divine purpose in the fact that Teresa's spiritual spigot went dry just as she prevailed over her church's perceived hesitations and saw a successful way to realize Jesus' call for her. "She was a very strong personality," he suggests. "And a strong personality needs stronger purification" as an antidote to pride... The atheist position is simpler. In 1948, [Christopher] Hitchens ventures, Teresa finally woke up[to the realization that religion was a human fabrication], although she could not admit it. He likens her to die-hard Western communists late in the cold war: "There was a huge amount of cognitive dissonance," he says. "They thought, 'Jesus, the Soviet Union is a failure, [but] I'm not supposed to think that. It means my life is meaningless.' They carried on somehow, but the mainspring was gone. And I think once the mainspring is gone, it cannot be repaired." That, he says, was Teresa.

Of course, Hitchens exposes his atheistic bias and as Christians, we not only disagree with his analysis of Mother Teresa's dilemma, we also strongly oppose his premise.

However, I wonder if this peek into Mother Teresa's private life can serve to teach us anything about the nature and struggle of faith. Since I don't know much about Mother Teresa beyond this Time article, I wouldn't want to venture to judge the quality or authenticity of her faith. Nor do I question the breadth and depth of her humanitarian works performed out of a devotion to her calling. Yet, as I read the article, a few thoughts some to mind:

1. Faith is a gift. Make no mistake about it - true faith in Jesus Christ that brings about soul satisfaction and eternal life is a gift from God. It cannot be manufactured by our emotions or created by cognitive reasoning. In Ephesians 2, Paul reminds us that saving faith comes from God.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast

2. The kind of faith that pleases God and endures through the darkest nights isn't based on what we achieve - "not by works, so that no one can boast". Instead, it is firmly planted in celebrating what Christ achieved on our behalf.

Our acts of righteousness, no matter how sincere, only pay tribute to our pride when they are performed apart from the work of Christ. When this happens, our joy dissipates and we can find ourselves hopeless. And, self abasement does nothing to such an insidious form of pride.

Let me be clear - I'm not implying that this was the source of Mother Teresa's problems. Only that in some way I find myself similarly affected whenever I forget the bounty of mercy I've received from Him. As I've mentioned in a prior post, we must never "serve Christ" as though He needed anything from us. Our service to Him must be marked by a receiving from Him.

3. Unbelief, not doubt, is the enemy of faith. I think there's something "normal" about the doubts that enter our minds from time to time. Yet, in the Bible, it is not doubt that is broadly condemned but unbelief - a turning away from trusting in a holy God, who has revealed Himself as all-powerful, supremely loving and incomparably wise.

4. While I don't know much about Mother Teresa's faith, I know that many Christians over the centuries have suffered from prolonged battles with depression and struggles of faith. Sometimes, what emerges from their struggle is a vivid picture of God's grace. One such person is William Cowper who penned one of my all time favorite hymns - There is a Fountain Filled With Blood.

There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.
Lose all their guilty stains, lose all their guilty stains;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day;
And there have I, though vile as he, washed all my sins away.
Washed all my sins away, washed all my sins away;
And there have I, though vile as he, washed all my sins away.

E’er since, by faith, I saw the stream Thy flowing wounds supply, Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die. And shall be till I die, and shall be till I die; Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.

Perhaps, you get the pure light of the gospel only after you struggle through darkness.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Quote of the Week

"I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God's hands, that I still possess."

Martin Luther (1483 - 1546)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Discovering Evangelicals in the World of Art

I'm not artistic, nor am I particularly interested in art. I'm a minimalist and a technologist. But I found this Associated Press article on evangelical engagement in the world of art, particularly interesting.

By the way, this isn't about just adding biblical quotes to scenic photos. These are serious artists expressing their God given artistic talent, in subtle but real ways to bring glory to God. Among the ranks of these gifted artists is Makato Fujimura. Here's an excerpt from the article by Eric Gorski that features Fujimura's Christian worldview.

There are no crosses in Makoto Fujimura's paintings. No images of Jesus gazing into the distance, or serene scenes of churches in a snow-cloaked wood.

Fujimura's abstract works speak to his evangelical Christian faith. But to find it takes some digging.

After the 2001 terrorist strikes on the World Trade Center, three blocks from Fujimura's home, his work explored the power of fire to both destroy and purify, themes drawn from the Christian Gospels and Dante's "The Divine Comedy."

"I am a Christian," says Fujimura, 46, who founded the nonprofit International Arts Movement to help bridge the gap between the religious and art communities. "I am also an artist and creative, and what I do is driven by my faith experience.

"But I am also a human being living in the 21st century, struggling with a lot of brokenness - my own, as well as the world's. I don't want to use the term 'Christian' to shield me away from the suffering or evil that I see, or to escape in some nice ghetto where everyone thinks the same."

By making a name for himself in the secular art world, Fujimura has become a role model for creatively wired evangelicals. They believe that their churches have forsaken the visual arts for too long - and that a renaissance has begun.

I'm encouraged to learn about Makato Fujimura because he serves as an example of someone who is faithfully honing his craft, coupling it with a rich, biblical faith and broadcasting the good news of God's grace to the world. In an essay entitled The Extravagance of God, Fujimura unpacks the story of Jesus anointed by Mary in John 12. It's filled with gospel centered thinking which tells me that Fujimura is more than an artist, he's a passionate follower of Christ -

A pint of pure nard was worth about one person's wage for a year... No wonder that Judas objected to such "waste". If you saw someone pouring such expensive perfume on another person, I think the natural reaction would be to question "why?"... Artistic endeavors somewhat parallel this extravagant devotion. ... In my own work, I use such expensive materials, I often have to weigh what my family will eat that week with what I can order for materials. Why do I use such expensive mineral pigments and gold?

Is the expense justified in art? In order to answer this question, we must answer not with "why", but "to whom". And it seems to me that we have only two answers to this question of "to whom"; it's either to ourselves, or to God. We are either glorifying ourselves or God. And the extravagance can only be justified if the worth of the object of adoration is greater than the cost of extravagance. The glory of the substance poured out can only reflect the glory of the one to whom it is being poured upon. And if the object of glory is not worthy, then the act would be foolish and wasteful.

Most of the time, unfortunately, even our best acts of "devotion" turn out to be an instrument for worldly success and gain. Judas was an extraordinary man with extraordinary gifts; he, along with the other disciples, healed the sick, delivered people from demons, and preached the good news of the Messiah (Matthew 10:4). He gave up everything to follow the Master. And yet, ultimately, he thought Christ had come to reign on the earth, to give him earthly powers and privileges. His heart ultimately deceived him as his master stepped closer and closer to the cross; the cross that would strip Jesus, and his disciples, of all earthly privileges and power. The only earthly possession Christ wore on the cross was the very aroma of the perfume Mary had poured upon him. And Judas betrayed the master for 30 pieces of silver; notably less than the worth of Mary's perfume.

Often, what we think of as our adoration and offering to God turns out to be false adoration and offering. The Bible is full of characters like Cain and Saul who thought they were making good offerings to God, when in fact they were not. Their offerings, and ultimately they themselves, were rejected by God. How do we know that our offerings are acceptable?

One true test is that true adoration and worship is always God-initiated (in response to what God has already done) and not self-initiated. Something comes to you, surprising and life changing--transcending everything you thought was possible. It may come in the form of an event or a person. But the content of such a message opens your mind to the possibilities of God's existence and his ever-reality. You are afraid and reluctant because such matters are too wonderful and seemingly unbelievable. And yet, the adventure beckons you to leap beyond yourself to a new domain, casting aside your comfort zone, your previous definition of God. Such was Mary's reaction.

If your act of adoration is earning "points" with God, your actions will not ultimately please God but only yourself, becoming a dull religious code of ethics. No matter how hard you work, how much you sacrifice, you will not experience the joy overflowing. On the other hand, the arts are a glorious gift from God; and in the process of creation lies the joy of God's creative heartbeat. Thus you will find in the creative process freedom and release; you will find joy and a measure of greatness, whether you believe in God or not. But if the offering is made to the Altar of Art and altar of self-glorification, you will find, as I have, the glory of your own works to create a schism in your heart. Your works, your ideals will only point to the double-mindedness of your own motives and existence. There will be a gap between who you are and what you create.

Mary had seen Jesus raise her brother from the grave. She also heard the master talk about the punishment on the cross that he was to bear in Jerusalem in a few days. I suspect she connected the two events together in her mind. There was a direct correlation between her brother's life and her master's impending death. If she did not understand this analytically, as her sister Martha would have understood (John 11:27), she understood it intuitively. Her Master had to suffer, because he was so willing to weep and intervene, not only for her brother but also for her. He stepped into their domain, but as thankful as she was, she also knew that her world was filled with falsehood and sin. Thus, as soon as he chose to intervene, the glorious Prince of Peace had to become disfigured because of the reality of sin and death; the Beauty had to become the Beast. Every time Jesus healed and forgave, he stepped closer and closer to the cross, the judgement of God. The cross should have been for you and me, the Beasts trapped in the curse of our own doing; but Christ, the ultimate Beauty, intervened and took the punishment for us. Pouring a $30,000 perfume upon his feet is the least a Beast can do for the Beauty who loves us so uncondionally

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Quote of the Week

"Grace, like water, always flows downward, to the lowest place."

Philip Yancey, foreword to John Newton, From Disgrace to Amazing Grace

Thursday, August 16, 2007

We're Not Made For Bread

Last weekend, my church held a one day seminar on Biblical Meditation by Mike Bullmore, pastor of Crossway Community Church in Kenosha, Wisconsin. I was only able to make it to the morning sessions but something Mike Bullmore said in the second session, particularly impressed upon my heart.

He read from Deuteronomy 8:1-3.

The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the LORD swore to give to your fathers.
And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.
And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

Commenting on this passage, Mike Bullmore caught my attention when he made this vital point: "we are not made for bread".

The passage tells us that God led the Israelites through the wilderness to humble them. At times, He even allowed them to go hungry, only so that He might satisfy them with manna. He did this to show the Israelites that they were not made to be satisfied by physical food alone, but by the very word of God. They were created to be satisfied by God Himself.

We need food, water, shelter, clothing and many other physical things. We are also given many things, simply to enjoy - good books, loving relationships, fruitful work, relaxing vacations, Disney World, summer picnics, etc... But, we ought to remember that we were not made for these things.

Dear friends, we're not made for bread.

If you'd like hear to the entire second session on Biblical Meditation, here's the link.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Quote of the Week

A theological fact becomes a spiritual truth only when it is received by a humble mind.
The proud mind, however orthodox, can never know spiritual truth. Light means nothing to a blind man.

A.W. Tozer from essay, Evangelical Snobbery

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Why Pursue Humility in Business?

Last week, we discussed how humility in business is often motivated by a utilitarian ethic. For many in business, the pursuit of humility is encouraged because humility works and perhaps it's even good for business.

But is this sufficient or even acceptable motivation for the Christian? I think we all know intuitively that it isn't. We know that humility pursued simply for the sake of gaining influence or advancing career goals isn't real humility at all.

If we're not meant to pursue humility in this way, how then should we be motivated for humility? I know it's a strange question to ask - why should you pursue humility in your daily work?

Should humility be pursued for it's own sake? Or does the Bible offer us particular motivations to seek humility?

Here are a few thoughts from the Bible regarding humility and why we might be motivated to pursue it.
  • We seek to be humble because we want to experience God's favor. A prime motivation for humility is that we want God to look upon us - we want His favor upon us - we want more of His grace - we desire more of Him.
All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be,
declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.

Isaiah 63:2
  • We seek to be humble because we know that God is opposed to the proud. Unlike the pragmatist, we seek to be humble because we fear God. The following words ring true to us and we take them seriously upon our hearts -
Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another,
for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."

1 Peter 5:5
  • We ought to pursue humility because our Savior exemplified humility for us in every way. This is one of the rare occasions in the New Testament that we're encouraged to look to Christ's example as a point of motivation. Paul lends weight to his exhortation for humility by pointing to Jesus' ultimate condescension for our sake.
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility
count others more significant than yourselves.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,

but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant,
being born in the likeness of men.

Phillipians 2:3-7
  • We also pursue humility because we trust that God will reward us. This is different from the utilitarian view because it looks to God in faith. It doesn't view God as a vending machine dispensing career advancement or riches, simply by slotting in the coins of humility. Instead, it looks to God, trusting that He will provide the reward in His own time, in His own way.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you

1 Peter 5:6
  • We demonstrate humility in our dealings with others because we have received much from God. Have you had success at work? Undoubtedly, you've achieved it because God has provided help through others. If you have skills to apply to your work, it because God has equipped you for it. Are you well regarded? It is God who has granted you favor.

    Most of all, you have received mercy and grace from God such that you no longer labor under God's wrath but under His pleasure.
For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?

1 Corinthians 4:6

Why do you pursue humility? Anything I left out?
Please share your thoughts with us.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Why Did the Bridge Collapse?

I'm skipping the "quote of the week" post to share this -

Desiring God Ministries located in Minneapolis, released this video of the aftermath of the tragedy in their backyard. It is set to a provocative, gospel centered message by John Piper entitled "Where is God".

You may find Piper's comments provocative but if gospel truth doesn't speak to the matters of life and death, when is it ever relevant?

In fact, nothing is more relevant in the midst of tragedy than the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Also check out Piper's blog posting on the evening of the tragedy.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Humility in Business

A couple of months ago, after listening to a sermon on the topic of humility, my friend Mike wondered what humility would look like in the workplace. So I thought I'd ask you for examples of humility in the workplace... but that's next week's post.

Before we venture into examples of humility in the workplace, I thought we'd explore the topic of humility in a slightly different angle. Mike's comment led me to do a little research (I was googling, but research sounds so much better) on the topic of humility in business. Here's what I discovered:

Humility can be good for business. Partly driven by the popular Good to Great book by Jim Collins, many are taking a fresh look at humility as an essential virtue of the effective business leader. In fact, in a 2004 interview, Stone Phillips of NBC News actually asks the question "Can humility be good for business?". Here's part of the opening quote -
"...there is a movement in America that insists arrogance, greed and selfishness don't have to be the hallmarks of business. It's a model of business management that's catching on with corporations today, called servant-leadership. Can humility and faith be good for business? Was Jesus the ultimate CEO?"

Make no mistake about it - this is hardly mainstream. However, there is growing awareness that "humility" can lead to success in business. Some are looking at the example of Jet Blue's CEO handling of a corporate crisis and lauding his humble response.

So, here are my questions -

  • Is this utilitarian emphasis on humility as a core virtue of the successful business leader something that Christians should embrace?
  • Should a Christian define humility differently? After all, humility is a trait that most religions tout as virtuous.
  • How would you define humility and what motivates you to pursue it?

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Living a Balanced Life?

I've just read an interesting article from Comment magazine entitled "Making the most of college: Business, balance and learning to live". In the article, David Bentall tells of making a commitment early in his life not to "sell out" in pursuit of a successful career.

As a young boy, not having his father attend his soccer games led Bentall to decide to "live a balanced life". He continues this pursuit in college as he recounts an interaction with a professor.

Years later, when at university, I asked one of my professors if he thought it was possible to live a balanced life, and also be successful in business. Without hesitation, he assured me that it was impossible. I responded by telling him: "Then I guess I won't be successful." Ever since that day, I have been trying to prove him wrong.

Well, as it turns out, Mr. Bentall went on to a very successful career running a construction company. In the article, he shares three principles that helped him keep balanced in his work life -
  • Commitment - "...the critical first step to living a life of balance is deciding that it is more important than other measures of "success." If the pursuit of power, prestige, position, possessions, or even pleasure are your primary goals, then they will dominate your life. If having these things are more important to you than balance, then they will win."
  • Perspective - Bentall describes the benefits of taking a retreat from the "rat race" with this comment. "I had discovered a whole new perspective, simply by stepping out of the rat race for a single day. Perspective is what we need, so that we can gain more wisdom prior to re-entering the battle of everyday living"
  • Sabbath - Bentall recommends we pay attention to Sabbath as a means to obtain rest and recover perspective. "The rest of the week is for work. I have now realized that sabbath is for living. These are the days which can help us gain well needed perspective..."
I'm truly grateful for examples like David Bentall who place family life above career aspirations or vain ambition. There simply aren't enough of such examples around. And, I'm certain that there are wonderful benefits to his suggestions. Yet, I wonder if he has the right perspective on this matter. (By the way, I should also mention that I really like Comment magazine and the mission of its parent organization, Work Research Foundation. Gideon Strauss, the Editor of Comment is great guy and I've found his feedback on various issues very helpful)

I've often heard people speak about "balance in life" but I haven't found it particularly helpful to think of living life in those terms. Although it seems to be conventional Christian wisdom, it doesn't seem to me that the Bible as a whole, instructs us in this way.

Perhaps I'm nitpicking, so please bear with me.

I struggle with the idea of pursuing "balance" as a primary framework for life because it carries a distinct Taoist, yin/yang flavor. Used as a means to regulate our lives, it also falls short of what Scripture really teaches. Here's an example - the Bible instructs us against a headlong pursuit of money, power, etc... not because it's inconsistent with a balanced life but because it's idolatry. That's far more serious than being out of balance - the point is that we cannot serve both money and God. As the only Sovereign One, God simply does not permit us to commit such treason without consequence.

Another problem with using a balanced life as a model is that it leads us to constantly wonder whether if we've achieved the right mix of the activities and responsibilities in our lives. After all, how much is too much?. At a practical level, it tends to focus on the externals of what we're doing instead of the state of our hearts.

The reality is that at times, godly men do difficult jobs that take them away from their families.
Is a job with 50% travel too much? Or should we only take jobs that have little travel? How about being in the military where many fathers won't make it to soccer games or ballet recitals because they're deployed in service to their country?

I'd like to suggest that the biblical model is different. It's centered on passionately loving Christ because He first loved us. No balance in view here - "dive head first", "put your hand to the plough and don't look back", "sell everything you have and come follow...", "lose your life for the sake of the gospel". All this because gaining Christ is the best news of all. And, we spread the supremacy of this love by loving our families, friends and neighbors through the labor of our hands.

Perhaps I'm wrong on please help me out here and share your perspective.

Does the Bible have anything to say about living a balanced life?

Is it biblical to view life this way?

How do you view the priorities of your life in light of biblical teaching?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Quote of the Week

"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose."

Jim Elliot, Shadow of the Almighty, p.108

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Stories We Love to Tell

In today's blogging, social networking, web 2.0 world, word of mouth marketing is now turbo-charged and ready for prime time. From his How to Change the World blog, Guy Kawasaki writes about the Nine Best Story Lines for Marketing. The substance of the post is taken from Lois Kelly's book, Beyond Buzz: The Next Generation of Word of Mouth Marketing.

I haven't read the book but I was intrigued by Guy Kawasaki's post. Apparently, Lois Kelly outlines nine types of stories that people love to talk about and promote by word of mouth. Here are the story lines that tend to gain momentum through word of mouth, along with Kawasaki's comments [and mine] -

Aspiration and beliefs - "More than any other topic, people like to hear about aspirations and beliefs."
[I'm not sure why, but I think God made us this way - we love to hear stories about those who aspire to more than their own selfish ambitions, with a belief in something beyond themselves]

David versus Goliath - "Rooting for the underdog grabs our emotions, creates meaning, and invokes passion. We like to listen to the little guy talk about how he’s going to win and why the world—or the industry—will be a better place for it."
[Never mind that David and Goliath isn't really about the underdog but you get his point. It's the staple of every good sports's why we love Hoosiers and why the Miracle on Ice in 1980 captivated a nation. As a GMU grad, this is a great time to remind you once again, of the Patriots' historic Final Four run in 2006]

Avalanche about to roll - "This theme taps into our desire to get the inside story before it’s widely known."
[I think of this as the "bandwagon effect" - we can't help it, we love to get a jump start on the "next big thing".]

Contrarian/Counterintuitive/Challenging Assumptions - "Contrarian perspectives defy conventional wisdom... The boldness of contrarian views grabs attention"
[Thinking differently, challenging assumptions and changing status quo isn't just about creativity, it also takes courage....and willingness to look foolish. Perhaps that's why we love to talk about these stories]

Anxieties - "Anxiety... is more about uncertainty than an emerging, disruptive trend."
[Think Y2K - remember how that story got transmitted? Our sinful hearts tend to fear and unbelief ...and we can't help communicating our anxieties to those around us]

Personalities and personal stories - "There’s nothing more interesting than a personal story with some life lessons to help us understand what makes executives tick and what they value the most."
[Think about how Jim Elliot's story inspired a generation of missionaries]

How to stories and advice - "...people love pragmatic how-to advice: how to solve problems, find next practices, and overcome common obstacles....[but] how-to themes need to be fresh and original"
[Diet fads thrive on this principle, as do superstitions and folklore]

Glitz and Glam - "Finding a way to logically link to something glitzy and glamorous is a surefire conversation starter"
[Sadly, this is only too true - the plight of Dafur got real buzz when Bono got involved.]

Seasonal/event related - "Last, and least interesting but seems to resonate, is tying your topic into seasonal or major events."
[Seasonal: This summer, I'm learning to sail. Spread the word ... and warn all sailors!]

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Quote of the Week

"I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation."

C.S. Lewis , Reflections on the Psalms

Friday, July 20, 2007

Spurgeon on Working Joyfully Through Trials and Prosperity

I haven't blogged for well over a week so what better way to get back into the swing of things that to unpack wisdom from our friend CH Spurgeon.

We all encounter ups and downs as we work. At times, things go well for us, and other times we experience adversity or trials at work. If you're like me, it's easy to get tossed about emotionally. How do we stay consistently joyful through these ups and downs?

Here's what Spurgeon would say about these up and down feelings we encounter in our work - " has a happy influence upon this present life, for it moderates a man's feelings towards his work." If inconsistent feelings are my problem, then Spurgeon would say that faith toward God is the answer.

"...perchance the result of all our work may be adversity. Some men row very hard, yet their boat makes no headway. When an opportunity comes their way, the tide of trade turns against them... Perhaps they lose all but their character, then it is faith that comes in to cheer them under the disaster."

It is faith that enables us to joyfully accept God's will when it seems things aren't going our way.

"We shall bear up and come through our trials triumphantly if we have faith in God. If our Father has appointed a bitter cup for us, shall we not drink it? ... Must it not be right if the Lord ordains it?... How many have been happy in poverty, happier than when they were in wealth! How often have the saints rejoiced more during sickness than in their has learned to sing in all weathers because her God is still the same"

Sometimes it is not adversity that trips us up but prosperity. We've discussed the test of prosperity before. Here is Spurgeon's take on the test of prosperity -

"Sometimes the result of our work is prosperity and here the grace of God prevents a surfeit of worldly things. There is a keen test of character in prosperity. Everybody longs for it but not every man can bear it when it comes. "

Yet, this is where faith is tested and proven true by restraining our sinful hearts and directing us to God.

"True faith forbids our setting great store by worldly goods and pleasures and enjoyments, for it teaches us that our treasure is in heaven...Many a man has reached the summit of his lifelong ambition and found it to be vanity. In gaining all, he has lost all; wealth has come but the power to enjoy has gone...It shall not be so with the man who lives by faith, for his chief joys are above and his comforts lie within. To him, God is joy so rich that other joy is comparatively flavourless."

Whether we find our work mired in adversity or flourishing in prosperity, Spurgeon urges us to keep the eyes of our faith set on God.

"O brothers and sisters, faith is a precious preparative for anything and everything that comes; mind that you have it always ready for action. Do not leave it at home in time of storm as the foolish seaman left his anchor...Oh, to feel the power of it, as to all that comes of our labour, that the life which we live in the flesh, may be lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us."