Monday, December 24, 2012

My Final Christmas List

After more than twenty years of marriage, my wife and I are getting worse at buying each other Christmas presents.  The main reason is this: we don’t need much and we often buy what we need rather save those purchases up on a Christmas list.  So often it comes down to the fact that we know what each other is giving.  For example, I got her one present this year I would not dare buy her without her input.  Of course, that does not mean we cannot surprise each other every once and a while. 

That said, with Christmas shopping down and Christmas upon us, I began to think about what else I would put under the tree for those I love.  I came up with three things.  The list is not exhaustive, but these are the things that are challenging me at the present.

1.         Gift #1 – For My Savior and Lord, I give myself.   “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Rom. 12:1, ESV)  I cannot truly give anything to God that He does not already own.  But I can submit to His will, I can seek to be obedient, I can offer myself – my body, my mind, my spirit, my emotions, my will – to Him as a sacrifice of worship.  This year I want to give myself to my Savior, every day, not just at Christmas, because this is what pleases God.

2.         Gift #2 – For my wonderful wife, I give unconditional love.  “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.”  (Eph. 5:25-30, ESV)  So many people today fall in and out of love.  We get married because we are swept along with the emotion of love.  We get divorced because those emotions have changed or they are no longer there.  God calls believing husbands to a different standard.  To love as Christ loved.  To give ourselves for our wives.  To sacrifice for them.  To order our lives for their best.  That is what Christ did for us – dying on the cross so that His church would be made holy and acceptable to God.  His love did not change, although people in his day rejected Him and believers over the centuries have let Him down.  His love is an unconditional commitment to His church.  In the same way, my wife deserves the same kind of unconditional commitment from me.  This year, I want to give that gift to my wife.  I want my words and my actions to consistently send the message that I love her without conditions.

3.         Gift #3 – For my family, I give gentleness and self-control. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”  (Gal. 5:22-23, ESV)  That is an intimidating list.  I struggle with all of those things at one time or another.  I struggle to allow God’s Spirit to produce those things in me.  He is always faithful to produce the fruit, but I am not always faithful to bear it so others can see it.  The two items on the list that are especially a struggle are gentleness and self-control.  The fact is, at home, I have a tendency to speak without gentleness.  I have a tendency to speak quickly without thinking.  My tone is not right.  My words at times sound harsh or angry, even if I am not.  Gentleness and self-control are the fruits I have the most difficult time bearing.  But I need to – for the sake of my wife and my children.  This year I want to lay those gifts under the tree for my family, allowing God’s Spirit to truly produce them in my life.

That’s my list.  What is on your final Christmas list this year?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

It's About the Gospel, Stupid!

It is interesting how you can be humming along in ministry, comfortably busy, enjoying what you are doing, convinced that you are making a real difference, when God hits you with a simple, basic truth that stops you in your tracks.  Has that ever happened to you?  It has been happening to me over the past couple of weeks.
 It started at Montana Bible College’s Pastors and Leaders Conference.  The theme of the conference was Christ Close to Home.  It was meant to be an encouragement for churches to do a more effective job in connecting with their community in a variety of ways.  The keynote speaker was Dr. Art Azurdia from Western Seminary in Portland.
While Dr. Azurdia said some great things, there was one thought that kept on popping back into my brain.  It was simple idea.  That thought was: It’s about the gospel, stupid!  (In case you are worried, the stupid was aimed at me.)  Dr. Azurdia called us to what he called a worldly Christianity, meaning not a Christianity that marched in step with the world’s values, but a Christianity that was in the world, impacting the world with the gospel.  His primary text was John 17:17-19.

17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.  (ESV)

While he had much to say about these verses, what hit me over and over again was the centrality of the gospel.  Sanctification.  Truth.  Consecration.  All these words led back to the gospel.  We can talk about all kinds of things, but the bottom line is that in light of heaven, life makes no sense unless it is spent in the work of the gospel.  The basis for any ministry is not what we can accomplish, but what Christ has already accomplished.  I had to ask myself the question, over and over – has the cross gripped me as the single most important thing in my life.  Does everything in my life come back to the cross?  Because as a Christian – not a pastor or a leader, but a Christian – everything in my life should come back to the cross. It’s about the gospel, stupid!
In addition, last week I started reading the book How People Change by Timothy Lane and Paul David Tripp.  My associate and I had agreed to start reading and discussing it in our weekly meetings.  The first chapter of the book is entitled “The Gospel Gap.”  In it, the authors suggest that there are three facets to the gospel, only two of which the church teaches well.  We do a good job teaching the past facet of the gospel – salvation and forgiveness.  We do a good job teaching the future facet of the gospel – eternal hope.  But we do not do a good job teaching the present component of the gospel – how the gospel applies to today.  This “gap” in our gospel presentation has caused many believers to be blind to God’s daily provision of grace through the gospel.  We struggle to do the right thing, underestimating the presence and power of indwelling sin, and do not depend on the present provision of God in Christ and his call to growth, change, repentance and faith.  Again, I heard it – it’s about the gospel, stupid!

Why has God brought such a simple truth to the fore in my life?  I am not sure.  I do know that my wife and I are helping others deal with painful situations in their lives, those soul-sucking type of situations where people are tempted to have no hope.  In these situations, we need to help them apply the freeing truths of the gospel.  I also know that in my preaching and teaching – whether from the pulpit, in our men’s class – I need to make sure my messages are not about doing the right thing or teaching others in the right way but rather how the gospel applies on a heart level to each of our lives. 

I don’t know what else God has in store for me to learn from this, but one thing I do want to remember always.  It is this:  it’s always been and will always be, about the gospel, stupid!  May I never wander from that truth, the only truth that can set people free. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

What in the World is Love?

I am excited about this weekend – Missoula will be hosting a marriage seminar by Paul David Tripp entitled Redeeming the Realities of Marriage.  Ticket are available at the Garden of Readn or online through
Dr. Tripp’s book – What Did You Expect? – is the best book on marriage I have ever read.  It gets to the heart of the real issues in marriage better than anything else.

To whet your appetite for the conference, let me share with you some of Dr. Tripp’s thoughts on what love is.  He defines love as “willing self-sacrifice for the good of another that does not require reciprocation or that the person being loved is deserving.”  That definition is a powerful one.  It also begs the question – what does that kind of love look like in marriage?

Here are some of the ways Dr. Tripp shares in his book:
1.         Love is being willing to have your life complicated by the needs and struggles of your husband or wife without impatience or anger.
2.         Love is actively fighting the temptation to be critical and judgmental toward your spouse, while looking for ways to encourage and praise.
3.         Love is the daily commitment to resist the needless moments of conflict that come from pointing out and responding to minor offenses.
4.         Love is being lovingly honest and humbly approachable in times of misunderstanding, and being more committed to unity and love than you are to winning, accusing, or being right.
5.         Love is a daily commitment to admit your sin, weakness and failure and to resist the temptation to offer an excuse or shift the blame.
6.         Love means being willing, when confronted by your spouse, to examine your heart rather than rising to your defense or shifting the focus.
7.         Love is a daily commitment to grow in love so that the love you offer to your husband or wife is increasingly selfless, mature and patient.
8.         Love is being unwilling to do what is wrong when you have been wronged but to look for concrete and specific ways to overcome evil with good.
9.         Love is being a good student of your spouse, looking for his or her physical, emotional, and spiritual needs so that in some way you can remove the burden, support him or her as they carry it, or encourage them along the way.
10        Love means being willing to invest the time necessary to discuss, examine and understand the problems that you face as a couple, staying on task until the problem is removed or you have agreed upon a strategy of response.
11.       Love is always being willing to ask for forgiveness and always being committed to grant forgiveness when it is requested.
12.       Love is recognizing the high value of trust in a marriage and being faithful to your promise and true to your word.
13.       Love is speaking kindly and gently, even in moments of disagreement, refusing to attack your spouse’s character or assault his or her intelligence.
14.       Love is being unwilling to flatter, lie, manipulate, or deceive in any way in order to co-opt your spouse into giving you what you want or doing something your way.
15.       Love is being unwilling to ask your spouse to be the source of your identity, meaning and purpose, or inner sense of well-being, while refusing to be the source of his or hers.
16.       Love is the willingness to have less free time, less sleep, and a busier schedule in order to be faithful to what God has called you to be and to do as a husband or a wife.
17.       Love is a commitment to say no to selfish instincts and to do everything that is within your ability to promote real unity, functional understanding and active love in your marriage.
18.       Love is staying faithful to your commitment to treat your spouse with appreciation, respect and grace, even in moments when he or she doesn’t seem to deserve it or is unwilling to reciprocate.
19.       Love is the willingness to make regular and costly sacrifices for the sake of your marriage without asking anything in return or using your sacrifices to place your spouse in your debt.
20.       Love is being unwilling to make any personal decision or choice that would harm your marriage, hurt your husband or wife, or weaken the bond of trust between you.
21.       Love is refusing to be self-focused or demanding but instead looking for specific ways to serve, support and encourage, even when you are busy or tired.
22.       Love is daily admitting to yourself, your spouse, and God that you are not able to love this way without God’s protecting, providing, forgiving, rescuing and delivering grace.

There is a lot of stuff there, but when I read them over, there are a quite few that hit me personally.  I am sure that is true of you as well.  Let’s seek God together, asking for His strength to love our spouses as God intended us to love them.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Lessons we Learn from our Kids

I wrote this blog post more than a year ago – in June of 2011.  I shared it with my daughter Kyla but never got around to actually posting it.  It is now a year later and my daughter Kyla’s dreams of serving the Lord in Africa have come true, but these words of mine are still true, more now than they were before.  We miss you Kyla.  Love, Dad.

 About a week ago, our family attended the local home school graduation ceremony.  It was held at a church down the road and a number of our youth group kids were celebrating their graduation from high school.  When it came time for the presentation of diplomas to the graduates, each set of parents came up front with their graduate, said a few words and presented them with their diploma.
My oldest daughter is nearing graduation.  We don't know exactly when she is graduating because her plans in the next few years include finishing the bulk of her academic work a year early and then working as an intern for 6-9 months at an orphanage in Tanzania, Africa.  We don't even know yet if she is interested in going through a formal grad ceremony or whether I would ever get a chance to formally share this with her.  In spite of all that, I found myself sitting there in the crowd and thinking – what would I say to my oldest daughter on the event of her graduation in a year or two?  This is what I think I would say: 

Kyla, as a pastor, I am always teaching people.  And as home school parents, your mom and I are always wrapped up in making sure that you and your siblings are being taught what you need to know.  But sometimes in the midst of all that teaching, I forget what you are teaching me.

Thank you, Kyla, for teaching me patience.  As you know, I am not a patient person by nature.  I am easily frustrated and at times, easily angered.  And yet I look at your and your patience with Gracie (our Labrador retriever).  I am amazed at how you work with her and teach her and are patient and gentle with her.  And of course, the results are on display in the form of Western Montana Fair trophies by the box load.  Such patience is a fruit of the Spirit, a product of the work of God in you.  Thank you for reminding me of the importance of patience.

Thank you, Kyla, for teaching me compassion.  Compassion does not come easily to me either.  I have always relied on others like your mom for cues regarding compassion.  And now I see such compassion in you.  Special Olympics. Sign Language.  Your desire to train helper dogs.  The Mexican orphanage.  Your plans to serve in Africa.  All those things show your heart of compassion for those who are needy and powerless in our world. And of course, that compassion is in line with the compassion of God toward those same people.  Thank you for modeling compassion for me.

Thank you, Kyla, for teaching me submission.  Your constant headaches drag you down.  I cannot begin to imagine what that is like.  You have patiently weathered and continue to weather all our attempts to solve the problem.  We don't know if the problem will ever be solved.  In times past, you allowed yourself to be defined by your headaches.  And while you still have hard days, I have seen that change.  I have seen your submission to the Lord grow in the midst of this thorn in the flesh you bear.  I have seen you grow in contentment.  I have seen you persevere.  I have seen you trust and seek God more.  I have seen you more and more offer your life as a living sacrifice to him, in spite of your headaches.  Thank you for living a life of increasing submission before me.

Kyla, you and I know that none of us are perfect.  I understand you have not perfected any of these areas of your life.  But I want you to know that I see wonderful growth.  I see the work of God in your life.  And I want you to know that this is my prayer for you, from Philippians 1:9-11: 

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

If you want to follow Kyla during her African Adventure, check out her blog at

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Fresh Perspective on Church History

Book Review:  The Triumph of Christianity by Rodney Stark

One of my favorite non-fiction authors is Baylor University professor Rodney Stark.  One of my favorite topics to read about is history.  So imagine my interest when a favorite author releases a book on a favorite topic of mine.  That's what happened with Rodney Stark’s book The Triumph of Christianity:  How the Jesus Movement became the World’s Largest Religion.

In a world where people assume that Christianity has become increasingly irrelevant and marginalized, the title of Dr. Stark’s book comes as a shock.  Modern people do not often use the words Christianity and Triumph together in a positive way.  In response, Dr. Stark’s book offers a much needed corrective.  He sets out to give his readers a historical and global perspective on how Christianity grew from a handful of followers of Jesus to a faith that encompasses the whole world.

The Triumph of Christianity is a selective history of the Christian church.  If you are looking for a comprehensive history of Christianity that leaves few rocks unturned, look elsewhere.  But if you want an interesting, well-written and at times counter-cultural history of pivotal moments in church history, this is the book for you.

One of the reasons I like Dr. Stark’s books so much is that he has a wonderful ability to overturn some of society’s (and my own) most basic historical assumptions.  The key to his perspective is the fact that Dr. Stark is not an historian, but rather a sociologist.  As one who studies human society, he approaches history with a different set of evidence and reveals conclusions many historians fail to see.

So what are some of Dr. Stark’s different conclusions?  Here are some examples.
a. Early Christianity was not a religion that attracted only slaves and the lowest classes – many prominent and powerful people of the day became Christians. 
b. Paganism was not stamped out by a triumphant and intolerant Christianity, but rather disappeared slowly but never completely.  
c. The heart of the Christian faith was found in the Middle East and North Africa until those cultures were destroyed by Muslim invaders.  
d. The Christian crusaders were motivated not by greed, but faith and travelled at great risk and expense, many knowingly going bankrupt because of the journey.   
e. The so-called Dark Ages were one of the most inventive and progressive times in Western history. 
f. Despite the dominance of the church in the Middle Ages, most Europeans were Christians in name only, did not know the most basic doctrine and rarely attended church. 
g. Science arose not in opposition of the church, but because of the fact that the church taught the existence of a rational creator who set the laws of nature in place. 
h. The Spanish Inquisition caused few deaths and saved a great many more lives, opposing witch hunts that swept through the rest of Europe. 
i. The religious monopolies like existed (and still exist) in Europe only result in a lazy church – the Christian faith thrives in competition.  
j. Luther’s Reformation grew at first not because it reached the hearts of the common people, but because it appealed printers and to lords who were overburdened by Catholic Church control. 
k. American faith was truly unique, especially when compared to European church monopolies and attendance.  
l. Although prominent atheists argue religion is passing away, faith is actually growing all over the world. 
m. 40 percent of the world belongs to the Christian faith and their number is growing more rapidly than any other major faith. 
Do you want to argue any of these points?  Read the book and argue away.

Although I enjoyed this book, I found I did not agree with Dr. Stark on everything.  He and I disagree on the issue of the inerrancy of Scripture, the role of women in leadership and a few other areas.  But I don’t want that to turn you away from what is otherwise a very good book.  The Triumph of Christianity gives the reader a healthy historical and global perspective on the church, a perspective that is often sadly lacking these days.