Monday, June 24, 2019

My Favorite Rembrandt Painting of Christ


Today I’ve been meditating on this beautiful line: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

That last phrase, “in the face of Christ,” reminds me of a portrait painted by Rembrandt (or a very gifted protégé). Sadly, it’s not on exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I wish it was. It’s one of my favorite depictions of Jesus Christ.

Why favorite? His eyes are brown. His robe isn’t white. His hair is anything but perfect. Most importantly, He looks like the real man He was (and is).

Granted, I would have preferred to see Jesus Christ depicted with a darker olive complexion. Then again, Rembrandt’s guess is as good as mine.




Friday, June 21, 2019

Why Forget Almost Instantly?

What do you do when you’re listening to someone speaking on an important topic? 

You might be a conference, seminar, workshop, or class. You might be watching a TED Talk or listening to a great podcast.

So, do you take notes on a laptop? Science now tells us that’s not smart (see article below).

I find it extremely valuable to take handwritten notes on two sheets of paper. On the first page, I write important content. On the second page, I write direct quotes I want to remember for years to come. 

That same day, I key in the notes from the first page. Then I rewrite the quotes on 3” x 5” cards. That way, I can process what I learned, map out direct applications, and sometimes have a couple of pithy quotes I’ll continue to review (with other quotes I’ve gathered recently) and later share on social media. 

To me, it doesn’t feel like work. Instead, it’s reaping the benefits of what I’ve just learned. Why hear something important only to forget it almost instantly? 

I’d much rather actively seek to move from content over to discernment and insight, and ideally to understanding and wisdom. 


#notetaking #understanding 
#valuable #remember 
#write #wisdom 
#quotes #share 

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Should We Do Good Publicly?

What good is a lighthouse no one can see?
Our divided culture both applauds and trolls those who do something good, positive, and noteworthy. This tends to paralyze some who could do a lot more but don’t want to pay the terrible price inflicted by trolls. I think that’s tragic. It’s worth observing that Jesus, in his famous Sermon on the Mount, talked about the power of doing good publicly (good that other people see, Matthew 5:14-16) before he talked about not making applause your sole motive (in other words, have a higher purpose, Matthew 6:1-5). Bottom line: Applause isn’t somehow bad. It’s what civil societies do to encourage more civility and more good works.








Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Why Does God Allow Pain and Suffering?


Only a month after our wedding, my wife, Renée, said something I’ve never forgotten: “It is valid to question whether sin is the cause of your suffering, but if all sin has been confessed, you and I can conclude that the suffering is from God for His purposes.”

The late Dr. Joe Aldrich, one of my favorite mentors, put it this way: “Go with God, and there will be pain. Go without God, and (you guessed it) there will be pain. Either way, there’s pain. The trick is to get the pain working for you, not against you.”

Jean Pierre de Caussade wrote, and Malcolm Mugeridge and Elisabeth Elliott concurred: “God instructs the heart, not by ideas, but by pains and contradictions.”

C. S. Lewis goes a step further: “God whispers in our pleasures, but shouts in our pain.”

Haddon W. Robinson adds: “Pain plants the flag of reality in the fortress of a rebel heart.”

A. W. Tozer concludes: “God can’t bless a man (or woman) greatly until He has hurt him deeply.”





Thursday, March 14, 2019

Don't Talk to Strangers?

The last time I flew out of LAX before writing my book, If God Disappears, I was stuck in a traffic jam and arrived at my gate with only half an hour to spare. What a relief!

That is, until a single mom and her three-year-old sat down next to me. The little girl was crying inconsolably. Nothing the woman said or did stifled her daughter’s loud sobs.

In exasperation, an airline employee walked over with a huge candy bar and offered it to the girl. More crying.

I know strangers (who aren’t in uniform) aren’t supposed to talk to little kids. But sometimes a rule has to be broken. So I pulled out my cell phone, popped it open, clicked on photos, and turned to my left.

“Hey, do you want to see a silly picture of my little girl?” I asked.

The crying subsided a bit.

“Hey, here’s another silly picture—of my youngest son.”

The crying stopped.

I kept showing her goofy pictures of everyone in my family in a desperate bid to keep the little girl quiet.

It worked. After mothers with small children boarded my flight, business men started heading over to where I was sitting. One slapped me on the back, smiling, and said, “Good job!”

Hey, even small-time heroes need to break the rules every once in a while, right?

After all, not all rules are good. I’ve come to believe that rules can be morally bad when they contradict or oppose what’s true. This is the standard by which everything should be judged, including what I say in this blog post. As with all of life, you should question anything that appears to contradict truth.

Jesus taught his disciples about the real source of all the evil we hear about on the news day in and day out. The list of evils isn’t exhaustive, of course. Jesus could have just as easily added other sins he and Moses and Isaiah and Peter and Paul warned against. Interestingly, Matthew lists seven such evils. Mark lists thirteen. The two overlapping lists cover almost all of the Ten Commandments. Of course, the book of James tells us that anytime I choose my will over against God’s revealed will, I’m breaking the whole law.

The reality is all of the Ten Commandments have been broken by all people in all cultures for all times. Where do these sins come from? Jesus makes it clear: They come from inside, in our hearts.

A thousand years earlier, in the book of Proverbs, wise King Solomon warned us to “Guard your heart.” If you don’t guard your heart, evil things will come out. This applies to every sphere of life, and certainly proved true in Solomon’s own experience.

When people hear news about the latest scandal, many ask, “How could he? How could she?” The reality is, if you and I don’t keep short accounts with God, someday people may ask the same question about us.

We need to stubbornly resist the temptation to start making our own rules or start bending the rules of others to our own advantage. We also need to do our best to avoid twisting God’s own rules, commands, and teachings, especially those found and affirmed in the New Testament.



Saturday, February 9, 2019

I Love the Whole Church




When I talk heart-to-heart with many Christians, I hear a growing longing to be connected to the whole Church.

As well, there’s been a growing recognition that the historic branches of the Church share what Rex Koivisto, Ph.D., author of One Lord, One Faith, calls “the core of orthodoxy.”

Furthermore, we’ve finally recognized we have much to learn from each of those branches. Not because those branches offer something new or different, but because they have so many areas of strength. When we draw from the best of the Church, it’s marvelous.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

National Poetry Day: “If I Lose My Way”



1st

If I’m cracked,
If I’m fried,
If I’m scrambled,
If I’m sauced,
If I’m spaced,
If I’m wasted,
If I run and run,
If I find a place to hide,
If I’m left to die,
If I’m washed away,
If I’m stranded,
If I’m forgotten,
If I’m holding a sign,
If I’m staring at my feet,
If I’m trembling again,
If it wasn’t my fault,
If I gave it my best try,
If I end up dying,
If I wake up scared,
If I’m tied to the bed,
If I can’t remember,
If I’m pushed down the stairs,
If I’m never going to get better,
If I wish I had died,
If I lose all hope,
If I can’t hang on,
If I let go,
If I lose my way,
If I never catch a cloud break,
If I can’t find true north,
If I wait it out,
If I realize the truth,
If I die alone,
If I’m lost in the vastness,
If I’m swallowed by the sea,
If I sink to the bottom,
If I had to try,
If I thought I could not fail,
If I lose everything,
If I’m lost in thought,
If I lose my mind,
If I can’t remember who I am,
If I’m flattened,
If I’m smithereens,
If I dry out and crumble away,
If I can’t stop the bleeding,
If I can’t put out the flames,
If I don’t remember how to pray,
If I’m writhing,
If I can’t turn off the pain,
If I lose your name,
If I’m dehydrated,
If I become bloated,
If I can’t stay awake,
If I’m ravaged by wolves,
If I’m picked over by coyotes,
If I’m finished by vultures,
If I’m out of control,
If I go off the bridge,
If I can’t open the door,
If I’m spinning on ice,
If I’m rolling off the ledge,
If I’m never found,
If I’m shot in the head,
If I’m trampled underfoot,
If I make the late news,
If I wander afar,
If I drift out to sea,
If I leave you,
If I close my eyes,
If I chase the sun,
If I stagger,
If I can’t go on,
If my strength fails me,
If I can’t take another stroke,
If I can’t take another step,
If I can’t stay afloat,
If I can’t go back,
If I can’t tell down from up,
If I fall into a crevasse,
If I can’t breathe,
If I freeze,
If I boil and burn,
If I smolder and smoke,
If I cough and choke,
If I shudder under the load,
If I can’t bear my guilt,
If I can’t shed my shame,
If I lose my balance,
If I’m crushed under the surf,
If I’m breathing sand,
If I’m out of wind,
If I can’t break my fall,
If I’m tossed in the air,
If I’m falling fast,
If I’m washed onto shards,
If I’m bleeding alone,
If I’m sliding straight down,
If I’m going to hit hard,
If I’m going to be smashed,
If I’m in the ropes,
If I’m being beat mercilessly,
If I’m blinded by blood,

2nd

may I sense
may I take in
may I consider
may I deem
may I esteem
may I reckon
may I regard
may I view
may I experience
may I feel
may I know
may I meet with
may I suffer
may I taste of
may I see
may I glimpse
may I look in vain
may I perceive
may I detect
may I discern
may I note
may I notice
may I mark
may I mind
may I imagine
may I picture
may I think
may I apprehend
may I catch
may I comprehend
may I fathom
may I follow
may I grasp

3rd

a Spirit-lit epiphany
of divine infinities.



Sunday, September 16, 2018

Vindicating the Vixens



Looks can be deceiving. What appears to be casual vacation reading actually riveted my attention. It did so from Portland to Long Beach to Cabo San Lucas to Mazatlan to Puerto Vallarta to Long Beach to Los Angeles and back to Portland, where I just finished reading the last three and a half essays. Editor Sandra Glahn and other scholars have made outstanding contributions to biblical studies of women. Their essays cover women from Eve to Queen Vashti, from Tamar to the Virgin Mary, and from Mary Magdalene to the Apostle Junia. 

Reading Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women of the Bible is at once freeing (newfound respect for biblical heroines) and infuriating (what motivates those who propagate such lies?). Vindicating the “vixens,” indeed... 




Sunday, August 12, 2018

Remember 1994?

Bill Gates, 1994

Yes, we were all a lot younger back then. Most of us weren’t even sure what the Internet was, let alone how to use it. 

Except Bill Gates. That year, he accurately predicted two of the most dominant features of the Internet Age: ubiquitous movie streaming (Netflix, 1997) and vast online communities (Facebook, 2004).

The same year Bill Gates made those two predictions, Luis Palau made one of his own. 

He warned: “I fear the Age of the Angry Evangelical is upon us. That we are getting to be an angry bunch isn’t merely a caricature created by the so-called ‘secular humanist media elite.’ Evangelicals are getting far too angry about far too many things… [W]e American evangelicals are now known nationally (and internationally) by our anger.”

I remember when Luis Palau made that statement. The word “Age” seemed ominous. Yet, it too proved true. Two dozen years later, the Age of the Angry Evangelical has all but burned out the movement. 

What it meant to be an evangelical prior to 1994 is only a distant, almost quaint, and rather blurry memory. Ironically, Wikipedia is the one place that still remembers. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangelicalism

Saturday, June 9, 2018

What a Savior!


During His public ministry here on earth, Jesus saw tens of thousands of men, women, youth and children. He saw them with gracious, loving eyes. He still does. Does Jesus have any other way of seeing us? Yes, if someone was a hypocrite, he or she better get ready for harsh rebukes and public shame. Nothing was off the table until Jesus turned around a hypocrite.

Then again, what are the incredible implications if Jesus wasn’t a hypocrite? It would mean that Jesus didn’t just say walk a second mile. He had done it. Maybe more than once. Jesus didn’t just say turn the other cheek. He had been slapped. Hard. Jesus didn’t just say give your shirt. When sued, He gave the man His coat as well.

What’s more, Jesus didn’t stop. On the day of His death, Jesus, already severely flogged, endures fist after fist smashing into His face. Then Jesus walks, haltingly, up the hill to His place of crucifixion. There, Jesus is disrobed, nailed, lifted up, and left hanging between heaven and earth while Roman soldiers divide up all of His clothes.

Today, Jesus walks with us, every mile. When we fail Him, Jesus forgives us and turns the other cheek. Yes, He always knows we will fail Him again. Still, He clothes us with His own robes of righteousness. And that is how the Lord God sees us, right now, no matter what. Again, what a Savior!