Monday, March 31, 2008

About Bible quizzing

Imagine 15 teenagers tensely perched on metal folding chairs, intently watching the quizmaster reading.

“Time in. Question: according to Philippians 1:7, 'What is it?'” says the quizmaster.

There’s a mad scramble as teenagers leap to their feet but only one has lifted off the electrical pad first, and his or her light glows before the quizmaster.

“Number two, Refuge,” the quizmaster says. “Refuge” is the name of the team.

And Number Two has 20 seconds to give a word-perfect answer based on that verse.

For your reference, Phil 1:7 reads: “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God's grace with me.”

And so Number Two answers, “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you,” earning 20 points for his or her team.

That’s Bible Quizzing. I coached a team last weekend at a tournament in St. Joseph, Missouri with 15 teams doing a tune-up for national competition which will be in Minneapolis in April.

The season starts in September and quizzers are not expected to memorize all the material. For example, on my team, Alex had Ephesians, Timothy had 2 Timothy, Kay memorized Philippians, and so on.

The competition is fierce but every quiz starts with prayer and every quizzer encourages other quizzers – on their team and others.

We’re nearly done with this season and will start looking ahead to memorizing the book of Luke for next year.

We had 16 quizzes in 24 hours (each lasts about a half hour) and we all came home brain-numb. My team finished 7th out of 15 teams, not bad for a group of kids who had never been to this level of competition before.

But isn’t it cool to see teenagers filling their mind with God’s word?

It changes them, as we know it will. That makes it worthwhile for me.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

On the road again

I am leaving shortly for a Bible quizzing tournament in St. Joseph, Missouri. Imagine a teenage-filled weekend of almost-limitless questions on the books of Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, and 1 and 2 Timothy. Fortunately, I'm only the coach and not one of the competitors. I'll let you know how it goes when I get back on Sunday.

Freedom Finance: happy?

Even the envelope was professionally enthusiastic while the letter exuded energy, announcing that our credit card limit was now raised to $15,000 and we were eligible for instant cash. Sure enough, tucked in behind the sheet of paper was a large check made out to my husband for $10,000.

Easy street, right?

The fine print hid the interest rate of 18.9% plus the cash advance fee of another $35. That $10,000 instant cash would have cost us nearly $1,900 in interest the first year. Not so free.

My husband called the credit card company, told them to reduce the limit to $5,000 and turned the check into confetti.

Ours is a consumer economy, driven by purchases. The more you buy, the more the economy grows. It’s all built on sand, of course.

The average consumer in America has over $9000 in credit card debt and half pay only the minimum monthly payment. Americans pay over $50 billion in interest each year and 1.3 million credit card holders declared bankruptcy last year.

Last week we discussed contentment, because lusting after new possessions produces this kind of debt. If you find that you fill those emotional empty places with stuffed shopping bags, you may be familiar with credit card debt.

This week, notice your contentment level. How many items have you bought because you wanted them that instant or you gave in to an in-store advertising trick? How much stuff are you storing because you bought on a whim, thinking this purchase would be honey on the sore places of your soul?

Paul wrote, “I'm just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little.”[1]

And how did he learn that contentment?

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”[2]

So can we.

[1] Phil 4:12

[2] Phil 4:13

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Generational Love

To live with the Bible is more like living with a multi-generational, extended family than with a crotchety grandfather who keeps telling us of the good old days.

Leander Keck

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

On Writing: Michelangelo's principle

Faced with a fresh block of marble, the famous artist Michelangelo faced the same question we as writers face with a project: how to begin.

But it’s the wrong question, as Michelangelo explained so eloquently.

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free,” Michelangelo explained.

As writers, we need to do the same. We need to find the angel in our work and eliminate any words which aren’t part of the angel.

Last week, we discussed the need to know the reason for writing a piece. That reason, or take-away, is the angel of your work.

So our issue is to know the purpose of our writing and eliminating that which is not the angel. Chisel words that don’t add to the final idea. Be ruthless here. Leave a pile of marble dust on the floor as you reveal the principle you’re developing.

See rabbit trails as a rambling luxury that will not get your reader to the angel in the marble.

Here are a few practical suggestions:

  • Never fall in love with a particular sentence. It might be eloquent and wonderful but if it isn't part of the angel, chip it away. The delete button on your keyboard should be as well-used as Michelangelo’s chisel.
  • Focus. Maybe there are 10 wonderful points you want to make, but don’t make them all in one article unless you’re writing a book. Then you can focus on one point per chapter.
  • Read your own work critically. How many word choices are redundant? How many words are unnecessary?
  • Be sure your angel is addressed in the introduction and in the conclusion of your piece. Your reader should be clear on your point.

Next week: a wonderfully crafted biblical romance that illustrates the angel principle.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Galatians: double standards

Confrontation is never fun, especially if the confrontee is a well-respected elder. But we know nothing about Paul if we don’t know that he was passionate about the word of God.

So the thought of confronting Peter the apostle didn’t set Paul back. We’ve been looking at the book of Galatians, Paul’s first letter – written to his first church plants.

The idea of diluting the gospel with Jewish traditions got Paul’s pulse pumping. He was clear on the basic truths of his new faith, and wasn’t afraid to confront even Peter, reminding him “we are justified by faith, not by observing the law.”[1]

In other words, Peter wanted to live freely, not under the law, but expected non-Jews to live like Jews, observing the law. Why? Either we are saved by the grace of Jesus or by the law. Not both.

Paul understood that if righteousness could be gotten through the law, then Christ died for no reason.

Read Galatians 2, keeping in mind the differences between Peter’s and Paul’s teachings.

By the way, this difference was soon to be resolved at the Jerusalem Council as described in Acts 15. The idea of whether new Christians had to first become Jewish before coming to Jesus was an important debate for the early church.

I hope you’re keeping a journal as you read through Galatians. Write down your answers to these questions and feel free to leave comments on them as well:

Do you live by faith or by the law?

What does that look like in our culture today? (It probably doesn’t deal with circumcision and festival observances like in the first century)

Do you know someone who is confused about the place of law in his or her life? What could you tell him or her?

List some of Paul’s arguments with Peter.

[1] Gal 2:16

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth
and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!

Rev 5:12

Friday, March 21, 2008

The season's freedom

The Spirit of God, the Master, is on me because God anointed me. He sent me to preach good news to the poor, heal the heartbroken, Announce freedom to all captives, pardon all prisoners. God sent me to announce the year of his grace— a celebration of God's destruction of our enemies— and to comfort all who mourn, To care for the needs of all who mourn in Zion, give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes, Messages of joy instead of news of doom, a praising heart instead of a languid spirit. Rename them "Oaks of Righteousness" planted by God to display his glory. They'll rebuild the old ruins, raise a new city out of the wreckage. They'll start over on the ruined cities, take the rubble left behind and make it new.

Isaiah 61:1-4

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Freedom Finances: contentment

A cold chill crept through Timothy as he read the letter. He’d expected encouragement and direction but this…..

But if it's only money these leaders are after, they'll self-destruct in no time[1],” Paul had written.

Timothy understood that he couldn’t allow worship of money, but did Paul expect him to alienate these leaders? They came, put money in the offering plate, helped finance the ministries, helped pay his salary.

What did Paul want him to say?

“If we have bread on the table and shoes on our feet, that's enough,[2]” Paul wrote.

That’s enough? What about the TV and microwave? Those are basics, right? And then the second car and the health club membership and the pizza when I’m too tired to cook.

And then the kids need Ipods and cell phones.

How could bread and shoes be enough?

Don’t let legalism creep in here. Paul wasn’t attacking 20th century way of life, but he did attack discontentment.

As we study financial freedom, this is the foundation. Can we be content with less? Can we resist the manipulation of advertising?

When discontentment wafts into our lives, do we shop or pray?

Your priorities show up in your checkbook – or credit card bill, in our culture.

The path to financial freedom starts with contentment. Jesus promised to provide for our daily bread. And Paul says if we have bread and shoes, we’re good to go.

“Lust for money brings trouble,[3]” Paul advised Timothy, who was trying to stay afloat among the wealth of Ephesus.

Trouble today is spelled D-E-B-T.

“But you…: Run for your life from all this. Pursue a righteous life— a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy. Run hard and fast in the faith.”

1 Tim 6:11-12

[1] 1 Tim 6:9

[2] 1 Tim 6:8

[3] 1 Tim 6:10

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

When we rule....

God loved the birds and invented trees.

Man loved the birds and invented cages.
-Jacques Deval

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

On Writing: ya' think?

She was brilliant and she knew it, drinking trendy coffee and discussing authors with foreign names. She finally focused on me and gave me the oddest compliment I’ve ever received: “You look like some one who….thinks.”

I think it was a compliment.

But whether or not I look like someone who thinks, you need to think if you want to write. If you long to paint pictures with sentences, you have to first have an idea to convey and a purpose to your writing.

I know that you want to smother your text with colorful adjectives and skillful word choices but first you have to have a point to all this. I have read paragraphs of lush description, applying layers of color and texture to a scene. I could smell the roses and taste the hint of lemon in the air, but I had no idea why I was there.

Description fleshes out the purpose of the writing but description can’t be the purpose.

You as the writer need to be clear on your point. Some call it the “take away” or the theme of the article or book. Call it what you what, but know what it is.

Can you, in one sentence, describe what you want your reader to gain from your writing? If you can’t, you need to do some thinking before you do some typing.

Look at Luke, who in the first paragraph of his gospel disclosed his point: “It seemed good also to me to write an orderly account …so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”[1]

And John framed his entire gospel around his “take away”: “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”[2]

Last week we talked about knowing the reason you write. Today, I’m asking you to know the reason you are writing each piece.

Next Tuesday: The Michelangelo approach

[1] Luke 1:3-4

[2] John 20:31

Monday, March 17, 2008

Galatians 1

Ack! How is this new teaching better than what I taught you? That may have been Paul’s thoughts as he wrote his letter to the Galatians.

Last week, I introduced the book of Galatians and asked you to read the first chapter. Paul, who had just returned from his first church-planting swing through the area of Galatia (eastern Turkey), quickly learned that new teachers had followed in his steps. They were revising his message, telling the new believers that they needed Jesus plus some Jewish practices such as circumcision.

Paul was like a mama bear protecting the new followers. And some of his questions in the first chapter of Galatians go right to the point: What was the authority of these new teachers?

They had none, of course. They were changing the gospel of Christ. Paul was horrified that the new believers were buying it. Didn’t they look at these teachers’ authority?

Paul spent Gal 1 defending his own authority to teach, reminding the Galatians that he spoke not to please men but his authority came from Jesus. He spoke to please Jesus.

Re-read Galatians 1, reviewing Paul’s authority and the new teachers’ authority. Journal the answers to these questions and your responses to the chapter (and feel free to leave comments on them as well):

Why did Paul have authority to teach?

Do we know the authority of our teachers?

Do we speak with the authority of God’s word? Or do we speak to please others?

What do we base our faith on?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Freedom finance

“So do you think we could hock the 14-year-old?” Lisa laughed as she pulled her credit card bill out of the mail box. “He’s been a little obnoxious anyway. Two birds with one stone and all that, you know?”

She winked at me and then gave the envelope another look, sighing. “I really wish I could quit my job but this keeps me going. I’d like to be home for the kids but we have bills to pay.”

As far as Lisa knows, she’ll work the rest of her life to pay the interest on her credit card debt. Although she loves her husband, his love of stuff keeps their credit cards maxed out. She works to keep them afloat but neither of them expects to ever get out of debt.

“I’d like do some volunteer work,” she confided. “I’d like to go to Mexico for a week with that team at church. But I can’t think that way. So I don’t!”

Finances are decidedly not romantic, yet how we handle our money affects how we handle our lives. Handling finances in a godly way can lead us to a place of freedom.

And God has a lot to say about finances. On Thursdays for a few weeks, we’re going to look at some of his advice regarding how to handle money. Jesus promised freedom. Does that include our finances? We’re going to dig into the Bible, to see how a follower of Jesus should handle money.

Next Thursday: Paul and Timothy talk money

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

On the road

I am going to Nashville, Tennessee tomorrow for a couple of days of meetings. I hope to be able to post on Thursday. The plan for now: Mondays, Bible study on Galatians; Tuesday, writing reflections; Thursday, God's plan for finances. Please keep me in prayer as I travel.


Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.

JRR Tolkien

On Writing

Maybe you want to be a writer. You blog, you read books on writing, you have a best-selling novel wafting through your dream senses.

Let’s talk.

If you google “writer,” you’ll find 24 million hits. And most of those are things for writers to collect buy. Writing is big business.

It can get overwhelming and maybe you’re stuck on how to meet your goals.

So let’s start with the obvious: what is your goal? Write it down. (What else would a writer do, anyway?)

My goal is to express ideas in a clear, creative way that impacts people and honors God.

Writing is about ideas. My sister is an artist who paints her ideas. My husband is a carpenter who builds his ideas. But for me, I write.

Writing is about thinking. I’ve found that I work out the idea as I write. It’s a meandering process that resembles that snaking line at Disneyland but I have often completed a few paragraphs to wonderingly discover thoughts that I didn’t know I had. How does that work?

But I want to give you a single assignment before we examine that any further. Write down your goal. Keep it in one manageable sentence. None of this using semi-colons to string 1000 words together. Pare it down. Make it clear. Store it on your hard drive where you can find it. I’d love to hear what you come up with.

Remember that words are important to God. God’s words created the world and God’s Word saved the world. Being made in God’s image ought to open that door of expressing thoughts with words

Next week, we’ll look more at the process of thinking and writing.

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…”

Gen 1:26

Monday, March 10, 2008

Galatians: an introduction

The churches planted in the area of Galatia were Paul’s first church starts and he wrote this letter bristling like a protective dad to defend his churches from false teachers. Judaizers – Jews who claimed that first you had to adopt the Jewish way before you could become a Christian – were trying to lead the new believers down a road of effort, not grace.

The book of Galatians reminds believers that we were set free from bondage. Paul reminded his readers that the Jewish law did not deliver, Jesus did. Why return to the bondage of the law?

Paul also reminded the Galatians that the covenant was based on faith, not observance of the law.

The stakes were high. Since the first Christians were Jews, some wondered if the way to Jesus was through the Jewish observances. Paul strongly opposed that.

The way to Jesus was through faith. Salvation comes by grace, not by what we do. The Spirit came by belief, not by observing the law. The Gentiles were adopted into God’s family not because they became Jews but because they saw Jesus as their Redeemer.

Judaizers were trying to lead the new believers down a path of law but Paul called that the path of slavery, of following the way of Hagar. A follower of Jesus had the path of freedom, adopted into Abraham’s family and heir to his promises.

Why, then, return to the yoke of the law? A believer had started his new life following Jesus and his freedom. Why trade freedom for the slavery of the law?

Those are the issues of the book of Galatians.

I’m starting a Monday Bible study which, for next six weeks, will look at the book of Galatians. Try to read chapter 1 before next Monday, when we discuss authority.

Friday, March 7, 2008


Sharon had gotten frost-bite once, on a snowmobiling trip with a short-term boyfriend. She hated the cold, that crunch of snow and the sting of ice crystals.

“I don’t go skiing,” she informed her friends. “I’ll sit by the fire and read a book in the lodge.” Well, it wasn’t long when she didn’t bother going to the lodge but stayed home with her book and her cozy quilt.

She found new friends, too, ones who weren’t so crazy about the cold. They could sit with her by the fire, reading books and drinking Earl Gray tea.

Before long, they formed a club and met weekly to sit with steaming tea, a favorite book, and a hot fire. She met a nice young man who didn’t like the cold either and eventually they married and started a family.

But their last-born was a strong-willed one who refused to stay by the fire. Julie had discovered snowballs and toboggan trips were exhilarating.

“Mom, Dad, listen, there some exciting people who play in the snow!”

“It’s too cold,” Sharon told her. “I will not get frost bite ever again!”

Julie was a loving daughter so she considered that for awhile. But the call of the adventure lured her. “I feel something spiritual out there,” she told her mother. “I feel more alive, almost like God is with me.”

Sharon never joined her. But Julie found a good coat and took the risk.

In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

1 Peter 1:6-7

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The church of the unaffiliated

Sixteen percent of American adults say they are not part of any organized faith, making “unaffiliated” the fourth largest religious category.

That’s according to a survey from Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

They’re telling us what we may already know. For one thing, many people are moving between denominations freely. The denominational loyalty of the ‘50’s and ‘60’s is largely gone.

It’s not surprising, then, that among the fastest-growing groups is nondenominational Protestant Churches, which are largely evangelical. Megachurches are still growing fast, according to the survey, as are Pentecostals and the Holiness Church movement.

“The trend is towards more personal religion and evangelicals offer that,” commented Stephen Prothero of Boston University. He added that those offering impersonal religion are losing out. Even the megachurches succeed only when they offer smaller ministries within.

But many are simply leaving organized religion altogether.

People surveyed are not generally becoming atheistic or agnostic, but simply describe themselves as “nothing in particular.”

Some things we can learn:

  • In general, Americans are not leaving religion, only organized religion.
  • Americans crave personal religion.
  • Denominations no long rule the religious horizon.

So how do we respond?

Jesus walked the earth during the heyday of organized religion. Remember how the Samaritan woman questioned why her people couldn’t worship on their own mountain? Meanwhile, the Pharisees tithed even the herbs from their garden.

Jesus didn’t even assemble his own church but he went out among the people with compassion, bringing the truth and offering the scent of life and freedom. His passion was for people, not religious props or church structures. He sought out the unclean and the unlovable.

That church of the unaffiliated needs the presence of Jesus. And he left us here to bring that to them.

He replied, "You give them something to eat."

Luke 9:13

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

By the pun...

Did you know:

  • If you take a laptop computer for a run you could jog your memory.
  • A dentist and a manicurist fought tooth and nail.
  • A bicycle can't stand alone; it is two tired.
  • Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.
  • A backward poet writes inverse.
  • In a democracy it's your vote that counts; in feudalism, it's your Count that votes.
  • A chicken crossing the road: poultry in motion.
  • If you don't pay your exorcist you can get repossessed.
  • With her marriage she got a new name and a dress.
  • Show me a piano falling down a mine shaft and I'll show you A -flat miner.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A new robe

Abigail nervously adjusted her simple woven dress, wishing she had something more magnificent. Her bridegroom would come soon and she wondered again at his love, for he was rich and would come in purple silk and gold. Why had he noticed her?

Didn’t he know that her father was dead, unable to give her the things she needed? Her brother did what he could, but he was busy with his own family. She knew her dress was inadequate before her beloved but she had nothing better.

Then, in a flurry of activity, he arrived with a large group of attendants. His robes were magnificent but he paid them no attention. He approached her tenderly, placing a jeweled tiara on her head, bowing before her. “We will be married in a grand ceremony.”

Couldn’t he see that she had no place in the palace? Tears welled in her eyes. She had tried to find cloth that would please him but she knew she simply didn’t measure up. There was no reason for her to go through this humiliation. She turned away.

“I’m not adequate,” she said.

“You are not,” he agreed. And in a flurry, his attendants clothed her in beauty, transformed her into a princess. This was not her work, but his. Not her plans, but his. Not her riches, but his.

She took his hand, head raised, and began the march.

I will sing for joy in God, explode in praise from deep in my soul! He dressed me up in a suit of salvation, he outfitted me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom who puts on a tuxedo and a bride a jeweled tiara. For as the earth bursts with spring wildflowers, and as a garden cascades with blossoms, so the Master, God, brings righteousness into full bloom..

Isaiah 61:11

Monday, March 3, 2008


What do you think God expects from you?

Just this:

  • Live in his presence in holy reverence,
  • Follow the road he sets out for you,
  • Love him,
  • Serve God, your God, with everything you have in you,
  • Obey the commandments and regulations of God that I'm commanding you today—live a good life.

Deut 10:12-13