Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Bible and Irony

One of my favorite genres of literature is suspense. More to the point, there's something about irony that I love. Maybe it's seeing the tables turned, maybe it's seeing the good guys win, or maybe it's the mere fun of it - I don't know. Anyway, this morning I was reading one of the most ironic stories in all of the Bible contained in the book of Esther.

Some of you know the story. Haman is out to get Mordecai because of his intense hatred for all things Jewish-and Mordecai is 100 percent Jewish! Under the guidance of his friends and his wife Zeresh, he has a gallows built that will soon be the means of death for Mordecai. Because of the great honor that Haman is being bestowed with, his confidence is soaring that King Xerxes will grant his request to have Mordecai hung in the morning. Why not?

What of all things happens next? The king is bored and can't sleep and so he has called for the book that chronicles the entirety of his reign as king and he asks for this to be read to him. Perhaps this was much like asking someone to read you the latest Tax Guide - almost a certain way of sawing logs in no time. However, what the king hears is that Mordecai never received the just due he was owed after exposing the plot to have the king killed. The king immediately calls in Haman and asks him what should be done for someone that the king wants to honor. And here's even more irony. Haman gets it in his head that, "of course, the king is referring to me," when in fact we the reader know all along that it's Mordecai that the king wants to honor.

To make a long story short, Mordecai is honored and it's Haman that is ordered by the king to grab the robe and is charged with leading Mordecai through the streets as one of honor. Haman can only go home at the end of the day with his head covered in grief. Thanks to the courage of Esther and Mordecai, the plot against the Jews is exposed and it's Haman that hangs on the very gallows that he himself had built. Now that's irony at its best!

I love it when the dark side is exposed and the good side revels in victory. Herein our very bibles lies such a story. You see, the bad guys don't always have to win.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Winning on Purpose

I spent the morning attending a conference sponsored by our district that was based on John Kaiser's book Winning on Purpose: How to Organize Congregations to Succeed in Their Mission. In fact, Kaiser was there himself. I must say that while his book is filled with great wisdom and insight, he's far better in person. He's funny, conversational, and generally enjoyable to listen to. I'd like to share a couple of insights that came out of the conference.

First, Kaiser points out that our mission as the church is a response to the following question: "Why does our congregation exist?" In turn, one could answer this in one of three ways. First, some churches might (and quit often do) come down on the side that the church is for us. Answering this way is a result of having an inward focus with the result being that the church exists as a "spiritual healthclub" of sorts wherein we pay dues (our tithes) and therefore feel like we should get something back in return (having our needs met). Keep in mind that this is not a salvation issue.

A second way a church could answer this question comes down on the opposite side of the spectrum. Here, we might say that the church exists for others. Having such an approach comes from an outward focus and espouses the belief that the church is for those who aren't here yet. Salvation, the concern for those who don't know Jesus as their Lord and Savior, is of chief concern in the emphasis placed on others.

Thirdly, many churches would answer this question by saying that the church is for both - those in the church and those outside the church. This is seemingly a good answer. It's a safe answer and probably a biblical answer. However, the follow up question to this answer is the following: If the church exists for BOTH, who are you going to serve first? In other words, who gets preferential treatment? Who comes first? The reason why this follow up question has to be asked is because if we simply say that the church is for both, whose going to get the most attention? It's the people inside the church, the current attenders, that squeak the loudest and thereby warrant the most attention. The people outside the church are not knocking down our doors and clamoring for our attention. So, if this happens, and it will if we say BOTH, then in fact we've become inward focused and by doing so, conclude that the church exists for us.

So, this brings us back to the beginning. The church must exist for others first. This doesn't mean that we don't care for the needs of our parishioners. However, it does mean that they aren't served first. In fact, it is they that serve in order to fulfill the Great Commission.

You see, our mission is so important and if we lose sight of it, as many of us in church leadership do, we'll slowly fall into a focus that draws us further and further inward. To do so would be to miss out on God's intended purpose for the church - to reach out to the least, last, and lost. After all, it's not the spiritually healthy that need help, but those who are sick. This is why Jesus came. This is why the church exists today.

Monday, January 21, 2008


Reminiscing (I think I spelled that right) is something I do on a regular basis. I think this makes me like my dad. He likes to reminisce too. For seven years, our family has lived out of state you might say. We've lived in Kentucky and New Jersey - places that I did relatively little reminiscing in simply because life was so busy that I rarely had time to think on what used to be back home in West Michigan.

But today, living in the same neck of the woods where I grew up, to reminisce is something that I can easily do. As I drive through the parts that I used to frequent as a child, I find myself thinking on what used to be. As I eat at a restaurant that my friends and I used to frequent during our high school years, I can't help but think on times past. Thankfully, for me these were mostly good times and so I'm not hindered by a past that I'd rather forget. As I think on this, I've discovered that what I miss most about those days are the people themselves. I miss my friends, the guys I used to hang out with. In some cases, I spent several years with these friends. And because of this, they and their lengthy history with me is not easily forgotten.

Just today, I made a connection with a friend that I haven't spoken with in probably eight years. Our lives went in different directions after High School and we quickly lost touch. It's great, though, to make contact once again and begin the possibility of renewing a friendship long lost.

I wonder if this is partially what Heaven will be like - reminiscing and hanging out with loved ones that have since departed for a better place. As I reminisce about my Grandma and Grandpa Bouma, and countless others, including my Father-in-Law who never had a chance to meet our five children, I hope so.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

How Awesome is Our God

I'm not usually one for blogging my sermons. In fact, I've never done this - mostly because my sermons aren't in manuscript form. Nonetheless, since I had nothing else worthwhile to write this morning, I thought I'd give you the "Big Idea" of the sermon I preached last weekend titled Feeding Your Restlessness.

This is the second in the series that we at The Voyage Church are calling RESTLESS. The series itself is largely based on Bill Hybels and his recent book Holy Discontent. Our goal throughout the series has been to help people see that they were created for reason - that their life has meaning and purpose. Unfortunately, many people end up in places and positions where they are living so far from what they were created by God to do and be in this world that their lives are extremely painful to watch. Simply put, their miserable. Therefore, our hope is that through this series God would begin to speak to them and that people would take the time to listen to what He might be saying.

Having said all of this, last week I preached a sermon about what you do once you've found the passion and pursuit that God has for you in this life. If you know God wants you to be a writer in order to impact thousands of lives, what should you do next? If you know God is calling you to be a stay-at-home mom, how do you develop this passion in your life? The problem here is that many people figure out their God given passion and yet they don't feed it. They begin to back away and eventually the fire and the passion begins to dwindle and soon it's gone all-together and not easily rekindled.

As I worked my way through the book of Nehemiah in preparation for this sermon, I came across something that struck me and became the Big Idea in the sermon. Nehemiah faced a great deal of opposition as he and his fellow Jews began to rebuild the walls in Jerusalem. As they were facing the threat of swords, spears and bows, Nehemiah says these words:

"Don't be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your
homes." (Neh. 4:14)

In the margin of my bible I wrote Nehemiah's statement in my own words: "Move forward despite your doubts." In essence, this is what I think Nehemiah was saying to his people. Keep at it! Keep going despite how scared you are and how threatening the situation may be!

And then, I found these words in Nehemiah 4:20 that jumped out at me. It says, "Whenever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there [along the wall]. Our God will fight for us!"
Our God will fight for us.

The fact is, God wants us to win. He wants us to discover our God given passion and pursuit in this life. So, if your wrestling with doubts, anxiety, uncertainty, often the best thing you can do is to keep moving forward despite your doubts because your God will fight for you.

This in a nutshell is what I said on Sunday morning - of course I said it far more eloquently (insert laugh track here).

I hope you have found it helpful.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Coffee and Church

Honestly, I spend a lot of time in local coffee shops around town. If you play your cards right, the refills are FREE and you can stay there for as long as you want. I'm used to working with noise (i.e. studying at home with children during graduate school) so I'm not bothered by the talking, music in the background or most everything else that goes on there. I can read, prepare for my next sermon, talk on the phone, and meet with others over a nice hot (it must be HOT!) cup of coffee.

In my neck of the woods, there's a coffee franchise that is popping up on seemingly every corner (Beaners which is now Bigbys) and I frequent it often in its various locations. As best as I can tell, there are 4 locations of this franchise within a 3 or 4 mile radius so I have my choice. One has more seating and comfortable surroundings. Another is close to my actual office but the atmosphere is not as favorable. Still another is way too small for regular visits. Today I'm sitting in another location (just opened) that has an interesting smell to it. What I mean is that a Subway is also part of this location. So, when I sit with my cup of coffee, I not only get the coffee smell, I also get the smell of Subway sandwiches. Not entirely bad, but different I must say. Interestingly, one also gets to watch TV at this location and listen to some pretty hip music. However, what I've noticed is that after an hour, the music repeats itself and you hear the same songs all over again - much like a bad radio station. So, while I was initially impressed with the music, I may have to leave soon due to its repetition. But wait...I've got an appointment with someone that just walked in so I guess I'll endure the music a little longer.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Transformation and Bob Roberts

One of the books I've been plugging through lately is a little book (with a big punch I must say) by Bob Roberts titled Transformation: How Glocal Churches Transform Lives and the World. Today, I just wanted to share an insight from this that got me thinking this morning.

Roberts states: "Christianity is about radical change-but we just can't seem to pull it off. Why? Because we have not crossed over from being merely a convert to being a disciple. The biggest challenge today is producing a different kind of disciple."

He then goes on to point out that "right living" doesn't come from more information but from more imitation. In my view, this is a deep and profound insight in a world where we seek to know more and more and perhaps imitate the wrong things and thereby model less and less the Christian life.

When asked whether he was a Christian or not during a conference where he was addressing pastors, Peter Drucker, the popular business guru, explained that the term "Christian" was given to the early believers by unbelievers because their behavior was said to imitate Christ. He then made this rather insightful statement: "For him to call himself a Christian is one thing, but for others to recognize it in me is quite another." For Drucker, Christianity was more than just a label; a religion. It was a lifestyle that should cause others to want to imitate it.

So, here's a question to think about:

Would lost people readily call you a Christian? Why or why not?

Monday, January 07, 2008

Ezra's Study of Scripture

As part of my daily devotional time, I've been reading from D.A. Carson's devotional resource titled For the Love of God: A Daily Companion for Discovering the Treasures of God's Word. There are in fact two volumes in this series - I am using Volume 2. This corresponds to my plan of reading 4 chapters a day in God's Word as I mentioned in my prior post. Quite honestly, this is one of the best devotionals I've ever found. I used it several years back and I'm working through it again this year. While many and most devotionals leave much to be desired, Carson's daily offerings are filled with some great insight and offer much more "meat" than most.

As such, I'd like to comment on what Carson says about my reading in Ezra 7 this morning, looking specifically at Ezra 7:10, which states "For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel." Carson highlights three aspects of this as it relates to anyone that is charged with the responsibility of teaching God's Word on a regular basis.

One, Ezra devoted himself to the study of the Law. Carson rightly states: "There is no long-range effective teaching of the Bible that is not accompanied by long hours of ongoing study of the Bible." I wouldn't argue with this one bit.

Two, Ezra devoted himself to the observance of the Law. Carson points out that while it is easy to study God's Word simply as a means to the end of teaching, to do so misses the mark. Those who study also need to apply what they've learned in their marriages, finances, priorities, values, etc...

Lastly, Ezra devoted himself to the teaching of the Law. Simply put, it's quite easy to get wrapped up in oneself and thereby never share with others what you've learned. However, this too misses the mark. Like Ezra, one needs to also be willing to share with others the truth of God's Word.

I trust that this will help you as you reflect on the power of God's Word to impact not only your own life, but the lives of countless others.

Friday, January 04, 2008

More on Reading Your Bible

I thought I'd add a little bit to what I previously wrote on reading your Bible. If you haven't begun to read as of yet, today is a new day for you to get started. As a further help, I thought I'd share with you that plan that I'm following.

This year, I've decided to follow along with the pattern of Bible reading espoused and taught by the Scottish Pastor Robert M'Cheyene. I used this plan about eight years ago and found it extremely rewarding. Robert Murray M'Cheyne (also known as McCheyne) was an early 19th century pastor and preacher. Amongst his legacy is his scheme for daily Bible reading. In its original formulation it takes the reader through the the Old Testament once and the New Testament and Psalms twice per year. This means reading about four chapters a day, taken from different parts of the Bible.

The link for the online version of this plan can be found at the following address:


Let me know what you think. It's ambitious for most, but, as Henry Ford once said, "nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs." One or two chapters in the morning, one at lunch and another when you go to bed and you've done it! It's not that tough if you simply build it into your day. Go for it!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The New You in the New Year

I'll be the first to admit that I shy away from the idea of making New Year's Resolutions. Yes, I've done it before but in my view there's something phony about it. However, there is one resolution worth making over and over again - that of reading God's Word on a daily basis. Despite how many times you seemingly fail at this, you must try and try again. Keep at it! God's Word is too important for us as Christians to take lightly.

Many of us begin each year with a new and inspired devotion to get into God's Word on a regular and consistent basis. In my view, a goal for all Christians should be to read through the entirety of the Bible each year. However, somewhere in the middle of Genesis, or perhaps we've made it all the way to Leviticus, we begin to labor and breathe hard. The task becomes too big for us and we soon grow disgruntled with it and quickly leave it until the weekend where your bound to get the only dose of it you'll need to get you through the week - Right? Wrong? You need it more than on Sunday mornings.

So, where should one start as they begin the New Year? I would recommend picking up a good devotional that guides one through each day of the week. Most of the time, these are short and inspirational in nature. One of the most popular is Our Daily Bread, which also has a track to take you through the entire Bible in a year. You can find these for free in many locations or by visiting their website at www.rbc.org for the online version. A visit to your local Christian Bookstore will offer you a plethora of other choices, but you will need to be selective to find one that matches your personality and needs.

If you choose to forgo the devotional but would still like to read through the Bible in a year, many recent Bibles put out by Zondervan and others have tracks to help you do this which consists of about 3 or 4 chapters per day of reading.

If your planning on setting your own course, let me suggest that you don't start in Genesis in hopes of making your way all the way to Revelation. It's a tough road and only the most diligent will ever make it. A better way, in my view, would be to daily read two chapters from the Old Testament as well as one or two chapters from the New Testament. You might start in Genesis in the OT while also starting with one of Paul's letters (i.e Philippians) or even the Gospel of John in the NT.

Remember, our source of power as Christians comes from a regular diet of God's Word. So this year, to borrow the American Express adage, "don't leave home without it."