Name Brand or Not?

my-favorite-cereal

I’m curious to get some feedback on something.  When you’re making a purchasing decision (electronics, appliances, tools, etc.),  do you go with the name brand or not?  Do you think that there is extra quality/value in the brand, or do you go with the less expensive option when things appear to be equal?

(The photo above might be a little clue on the way I tend to lean on this.)

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The Most Dangerous Prayer

I desire authenticity in my life, and I tend to be pretty transparent, but I hesitate to post this because it is so raw and real in my life right now. It is a post from LifeChurch’s Swerve Blog:

Do you truly want to make a difference in this world? Do you want generations to be different because you knew Christ? Do you want to lead a church that will impact your city, state, and the world? Do you want your preaching to awaken dormant spirits, stir complacent hearts, convict wayward sinners?

Then pray this prayer: “God, please break me.”

He will.

And when He does, you’ll be ruined-in the best sort of way.

  • Your heart will ache for those without Christ.
  • You’ll despise spiritual complacency.
  • You’ll see the darkness of your heart clearly.
  • You’ll be bothered deeply by things you used to easily overlook.
  • You’ll cry often and easily.
  • You’ll know Jesus more intimately.

“Break us… Oh, Lord! Break us!”

View the original post here.

The Impact of Community

The Impact of Community

Occasionally I read something that really stirs my heart and my mind. Today it was the following paragraphs:

“The idea of relationships is simply about connecting or more importantly finding a connection. The implication is that we must be proactive—we must find these points of connection and common ground. Then we need to go a step further and bear with one another instead of checking out or running when things get too personal….

Our life depends on being found. You cannot be fully loved if you are not fully known. Your life, and most importantly your relationship with God, hinges on whether you decide to be part of community.”

What do you think? Is the writer correct, or is he overstating the situation? Have you ever been tempted to run from community? Are you still running from community?

For the full context of the quote above and an excellent read, please see My One Word.

Something That’s Been Bugging Me

The Process

It’s amazing how ministry has changed over the past few years. Things like websites, database management, compelling children’s programs, slick marketing, facility management, staff meetings, event planning, and program communication now take up a huge part of the work that happens in the church office.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand the importance of these things and how they are useful in spreading the news of Christ’s kingdom (after all, I am a graphic and website designer), but what’s been bugging me lately is that these things seem to clamor for first priority. It makes me wonder how many churches have been sidetracked from their real focus.

Could it be possible that we can become so busy doing church that we don’t even notice that we’re no longer doing what Christ called us to do? What does that say about our dependence on God?

May God give us grace as we seek to focus on his kingdom instead of our own.

Operating Without Margins

Operating Without Margins

It’s confession time.

Have you ever felt like life is flying by so quickly that you’re just hanging on for dear life? Or, to put it another way, do the pages of your life ever feel like there are no margins? That’s how I feel today, and that’s where I’ve been for a while now. Life at work and at home has become so hurried and frantic that every moment seems like a chore, and I stay up too late at night trying to get things done. Christmas vacation was a nice break, but now I find myself right back in the middle of all the rush.

The worst thing about living this way is that the things that are most important tend to get the least amount of attention. For instance, this week, Keri and I celebrated nine years of marriage, and I’ve been so consumed with everything else, that I didn’t focus any creative attention on her and showing her how much I love her. We went to dinner, saw a movie, and spent some time together, but I didn’t carve out any time to really express my love for her in a lavish way. I hate that.

When life gets this way, I feel like I lose some of my ability to cope. I become more irritable, more distractible, and easily discouraged. The most frustrating part is that, for the most part, I’ve brought this upon myself by the choices I’ve made.

I’ve also discovered that when I operate without margins, the little joys of life – like going to the park with my family or reading a book to my daughter or even reading the Bible – become an unwanted distraction from the tyranny of the urgent. And when joy becomes a distraction, you know you’ve worked yourself into a bad situation.

So in light of the New Year, I’m committing once again to reestablish daily and weekly margins into my life. I recommit to the daily practice of solitude and silence and working towards the elimination of hurry from my life.

Given my personality and current responsibilities, I’m not exactly sure how to get there. Any advice?

And how about you? How are you doing with the margins of your life? What practices have you established to keep things in check?

Holiday Stress

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I love this time of year! The weather is finally beginning to change, and every day feels a little bit like a holiday as we draw near to Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Isn’t it weird how the holidays can contain such a striking combination of happiness, joy, pressure, and disappointment? What do you do to help make the holidays a time of celebration and fun rather than a time of stress and frustration? Are there particular traditions your family is involved in? Are there new traditions you’re thinking about trying out for the first time?

For the past several years, we have started a new tradition in the way we exchange gifts. Rather than trying to purchase gifts for every member of both of our families, we now draw names, and each person is secretly paired up with a family member for whom they are responsible to buy gifts. We ask that everyone provide a wish list of items so that we’re not just buying people useless stuff or things they don’t want, and we keep who drew what name a secret until it’s time to exchange gifts. Everyone really seems to enjoy this new approach, and it has removed a large amount of the financial pressure the holidays used to bring.

So what about you? What things do you normally do to celebrate the holidays? Have you heard of any good ideas that you’d like to share with others?

What My Daughter is Teaching Me

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One thing I looked forward to when Keri and I realized we were going to have our first child was the opportunity to teach our daughter and watch her learn new things.  Now that I’ve got two years under my belt, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoy being a dad.  I love having the opportunity to love, teach, and instruct my daughter as she grows.  I love that I get to have a part in paving the way for her to love and embrace Jesus as her Savior and Lord.

The thing I didn’t expect was to learn so much from my daughter.  Keri and I may be teaching Brynna her about colors, numbers, letters, and God, but God is using Brynna to teach me things every day too.  Here are some examples:

  • It’s a waste of time to worry too much about looking silly to other people.
  • Rather than putting stickers on your shirt or on paper, it’s much more fun to stick them on your hand, or foot, or face.
  • The world is an amazing place and full of wonder.

This last one has really impacted me.  For Brynna, almost everything is a cause for amazement: eating ice cream, seeing a friend, reading a book at bedtime, and playing in the sandbox.  Each of these things seems new and fresh to her – as if she’s experiencing them for the first time.

I want to be like my Brynna.  I want to be full of amazement about life, and I especially want to approach God that way.  I want to break free from the jaded cynicism that the years try to pile onto my heart as I progress through life.

I want to live a life full of love, passion, innocence, and amazement.  I want to live a life of abandon to my King.

Lots of good stuff to relearn… but I’ve got a great teacher.

The Problem of Evil

The Problem of Evil

If you’ve ever wondered why God allows so many bad and painful things to happen on earth, you’re certainly not alone.  In fact, this particular area of theology/philosophy has its own term: “theodicy” – from the Latin words for “God” and “justice” (the justification of God).

In my message on Sunday I addressed the practical side of how we should respond when faced with difficulty, but I promised to address the other side of the issue – how an all-powerful and loving God could allow suffering to exist (the problem of evil) – here on the blog.  While the subject is certainly more complex than what I will write of here, I hope that this overview will be helpful to some of those who read it.

Time to put on your thinking cap.

Here are the three characteristics that are so difficult to reconcile:

a.  God is completely powerful (omnipotent).
b.  God is completely good and loving (benevolent).
c.  Evil exists in the world.

You’d be surprised at the different ways that people have sought to bring resolution to this complexity.  Many hold the view that these three characteristics cannot coexist and that at least one of them must be flawed.  Some of the variations include:

• Atheism – God does not exist (a & b are not true).
• The view that evil exists, but God is not capable of rectifying the situation (a is not true).
• Process Theology – God is not omniscient (a is not true).
• Maltheism – God exists, but he sometimes does evil things (b is not true).
• The belief that suffering and pain don’t really exist (c is not true).

Others hold to the perspective that these tenants can be reconciled.  Here are a few of the options:

• God is both good and evil because if He was missing one of these characteristics, He would be lacking and therefore not perfect.  This is an interesting philosophy, but it is completely incompatible with the revealed God of Scripture who is holy and without sin.
• God is far beyond our understanding, and we cannot rightly judge His actions.  While I think there is certainly an element of truth in this (Job 38), the problem I have with this view involves worship.  Just because God is powerful doesn’t mean that we should worship Him.  If God is capable of breaking the very rules He has set in our hearts (conscience) and written in His Law (Scripture), then He should not be worshipped.  He should be feared, but He should not be praised.
• The afterlife will so far outweigh the present condition of this world that we should not be concerned about the present evil.  Again, I believe there are elements of truth here (kind of sounds like 2 Cor 4:17-18), but it doesn’t really answer the problem.  Just because I’m going to do something really nice for Keri (like buy her a new car, or something) doesn’t mean that we can dismiss that she’s having a terrible day today.
• Dualism – God is opposed by an evil equivalent, and the two are at battle with one another.  The problem with this view is that although Scripture clearly demonstrates that God has an evil adversary (Satan), he is not His counterpart.  While the Devil does have some power, he is not omnipotent or omniscient.  He is not equally powerful with God.  

While I could go on for a while still, I’d like to explain what I believe is the most Scriptural and helpful view on the subject of theodicy.  It’s commonly referred to as the “freewill defense”.  The argument goes something like this:

a. God is all-powerful, loving, and holy, and He chose to create a world that was free of sin, suffering, and pain.
b. God also chose to create humanity with the ability to love Him back and follow (obey) His ways.
c. Love requires the ability to choose.  Without the freedom of choice, love is not truly love.
d. In order to make this choice truly a choice, there had to be another option other than following God and loving Him.  The choice to disobey is called “sin.”  God did not create sin, He only created the possibility for humanity to choose it (see point c).
e. Given the choice, humanity chose to disobey God.
f. The effects of sin on the world were immediate and catastrophic and ushered in the existence of pain and suffering.
g. Through the shed blood of Christ, people have the opportunity to be reconciled with God, and those who place their faith in Jesus will one day experience life with God, free of evil.
h. Therefore, God is all-powerful and completely holy even though pain and suffering exists in the world today.

I really hope that nobody who has studied philosophy to any extent reads this post, because I’m sure they’ll think I butchered the subject.  However, I offer this in hope that it will be helpful to someone who is struggling to work through this subject in a manner that is consistent with Scripture.

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Newspapers Freak Me Out

newspaper.jpg 

Well, I feel pretty strange admitting this, but newspapers and magazines pretty much freak me out.  I’m not exactly sure why, but I have a stack of articles on the corner of my desk that keeps piling up – stuff I probably should read but never seem to get around to.  Of all the piles on my desk, it’s probably my least favorite of all. I used to have a subscription to a magazine, but then I realized I always felt guilty because I never read more than a couple of articles.  Mainly, I just looked at the pictures, so I cancelled my subscription. (Yes, I do feel sheepish writing this.) 

It’s made me start to wonder if something is wrong with me.  How is it that some people consider it enjoyable to read a newspaper each day?  Are they just more disciplined than me?  Do they have a greater appreciation of culture, news, and life?  Is something wrong with my brain?  Because for me, reading a newspaper once a month would be a chore.  In fact, I’d rather mow the lawn, dust the house, and change some diapers. As I mentioned in my previous post, although I often do start books, I don’t often finish them, and so I’m beginning to think that maybe I’m an auditory learner.  Give me a book or sermon on CD, and I’ll finish it for sure – maybe even listen to it two or three times before I move on to another. 

Well, if you’re anything like me, and you find reading difficult at times, I want to let you know about a tremendous resource that I’ve come across in the past couple of weeks.  It’s called ChristianAudio.com, and they offer books and resources in mp3 format.  It’s a little bit pricey, but they have an extensive collection of free resources available.   So am I all alone here with my weird avoidance of printed material, or can others relate?  

Books That Impact Our Lives

Books That Impact Our Lives 

I enjoy reading, but I sometimes have a hard time carving out time to read books.  In addition to that, I’m the sort of person who likes to start books but who rarely finishes a book (I’m a pretty slow reader, but my wife devours books).  Even still, there have been a handful of books that have made a tremendous impact on me spiritually and emotionally. 

I thought I’d list a few here in case somebody’s looking for a good read: 

  • Black, Red, and White (The Circle Trilogy) by Ted Dekker
    Of all the fiction I’ve ever read, this series is probably my favorite.  This vivid portrayal of innocence, temptation, evil, betrayal, forgiveness, legalism, and grace is mixed into a high-energy novel.  If you enjoy plot twists, you’ll like the way Dekker keeps you guessing. Note: Here’s a pic I got with Ted at his book signing in Grapevine a few weeks ago.  The image is blurry, but the guy in line ahead of me was nice enough to take this on his phone. 

  • When Heaven Weeps by Ted Dekker 
    Like the Circle Trilogy, this book totally rocked my world and helped me to reconsider the amazing love of God. Disclaimer: For the Christian genre, this book really pushes the limits in some areas, and I would not recommend it to any pre-teen. 

  • Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
    If you’ve never read anything by Lewis before, prepare to pour over each page he discusses basic Christian doctrine and beliefs.  This is deep stuff, but it’s very readable. 

  • Dangerous Wonder by Mike Yaconnelli
    I love the spirit of this book.  It’s a refreshing reminder that a relationship with God isn’t something neat and tidy – reserved for a worship service on Sunday mornings.   

  • Streams in the Desert – by L.B. Cowman
    This devotional-style collection of writings has often been a source of hope and strength to me during difficult times of life.

I’d love to hear about particular books (fiction or non-fiction) that have made a difference in your life.  If you want to mention specific books of the Bible, that’s fine too.  If you don’t mind, tell us the title and author of the book as well as what you liked about it or how it has made a difference in your life.

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