Exodus Idolatry

Blogging may be a bit sporadic this week as I dig out from the pile that accumulated while I was gone. I completely disengaged, which was a good thing, but means I'm chasing cobwebs out.

This morning I was reading in Exodus 32, the familiar passage about the idolatry of the Israelites while Moses was on the mountain receiving the Law from God the first time. Something really obvious struck me that hadn't ever struck me before.

When we think about the idolatry in Exodus 32, we normally think of the golden cow that "jumped" out of the flames before Aaron's eyes (Exodus 32:24). The people of Israel took their gold and gave it to Aaron who melted it down and fashioned a golden calf that the people worshiped, saying "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt" (Exodus 32:4) even though they knew darn well the cow was handmade, just a few minutes old

I've often wondered about the stupidity of giving Aaron's arts-and-crafts project credit for something the people knew it hadn't done. Maybe people are just more evolved these days after all.

Then this morning, I noticed verse 1.

The idolatry of the Israelites started way before they gave credit to the calf for bringing them out of Egypt. Notice what they say about Moses as they commission Aaron's sculpture: "Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him."

Moses hadn't brought them out of Egypt. God had brought them out of Egypt. By giving Moses the credit for something God had done, the Israelites reveal that their hearts are already idolatrous. The golden calf just takes their idolatry to the next level.

There's a lesson there for us: When you're willing to give man credit for something God does, it's only a small step to worshiping a golden calf.

Excerpt 8

"The object of worship must be infinite, and of necessity incomprehensible."

From "Systematic Theology" by Charles Hodge

Excerpt 7

"It is a palpable error of some ministers, who make such a disproportion between their preaching and their living; who study hard to preach exactly, and study little or not at all to live exactly. All the week long is little enough, to study how to speak two hours; and yet one hour seems too much to study how to live all the week. They are loath to misplace a word in their sermons, or to be guilty of any notable infirmity, (and I blame them not, for the matter is holy and weighty,) but they make nothing of misplacing affections, words, and actions, in the course of their lives. Oh how curiously have I heard some men preach; and how carelessly have I seen them live!"

From "The Reformed Pastor" by Richard Baxter

Excerpt 6

"Billy explained that we are all sinners, and that we cannot earn God’s love through good deeds. He made clear that the path to salvation is through the grace of God. And the way to find that grace is to embrace Christ as the risen Lord—the son of a God so powerful and loving that He gave His only son to conquer death and defeat sin."

From "Decision Points" by George W. Bush

Excerpt 5

"It is in the here and now that many of us experience a gospel blindness. Our sight is dimmed by the tyranny of the urgent, by the siren call of success, by the seductive beauty of physical things, by our inability to admit our own problems, and by the casual relationships within the body of Christ that we mistakenly call fellowship. This blindness is often encouraged by preaching that fails to take the gospel to the specific challenges people face. People need to see that the gospel belongs in their workplace, their kitchen, their school, their bedroom, their backyard, and their van. They need to see the way the gospel makes a connection between what they are doing and what God is doing."

From "How People Change" by Timothy Lane and Paul David Tripp

Excerpt 4

"Well, to put it simply: maybe we shouldn’t be competing with each other. Quite possibly, God may be growing weary of our deconstructive critiques guised in the covering of “strategy.” Maybe our personal frustrations with our roles and our bad experiences with the church are due, to some extent, to our incessant search for the perfect church instead of honing in on what God cares about most."

From "AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church" by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay

Excerpt 3

"Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor  language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither  inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor  lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct   which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or  deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim  themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting   Greek as well as barbarian cities ... and following the customs  of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary  conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking  method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as  sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet  endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their  native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers.  They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not  destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common  bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They  pass their days on earth but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the  prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives.  They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor,  yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in  all; they are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor are glorified.  They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and  bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honor; they do good,  yet are punished as evil doers.

Excerpt 2

"For congregations that are not growing, there are two choices: 1) The congregation can redefine the vision to match the performance. This is like  the child who shot arrows at the wooden fence then drew a bulls-eye  around each one where it landed. Sadly, this dumbing-down response to  doldrums and decline is widespread. Empty churches rent their facilities  to other groups and call them "ministry partnerships." Pastors count new  activities instead of new disciples. But there is a better alternative. 2) The  congregation can begin the journey, in truth and love, toward accountable  leadership. And a clear understanding of accountable leadership is half  the journey. 

The other half is implementing an honest yet grace-based  plan that sets a pastor up for success, and then waiting to see if success is  forthcoming. The grace aspect allows ample time; provides ample support;   and, when necessary, offers ample help for transition to another job  if the pastor cannot lead the congregation to fulfill its mission. "What?"  some might say, If the pastor can't lead, then we need a new pastor? Isn't  that a little harsh?" Not if you treat people with dignity (e.g., generosity  with time and money). But each congregation has to make its own decision:   Is the purpose of our ministry to provide secure jobs for our staff?  Or is the purpose to accomplish our share of the Great Commission?

Excerpt 1

I'm out of the office for a couple of weeks trying to put some gas in my tank before a really busy (and long) season of ministry. Instead of queuing up 2 weeks of actual thinking, I've queued up 2 weeks worth of quotes from books I've read over the past year or so. They're a random collection of quotes in no particular order.

"An encounter with God's covenant-making communicative activity is itself an encounter with God... At root, the rejection of Scripture as divine special revelation is often a side effect of the greater rejection of the particularity of Christ as God's ultimate self-revelation in the world."

From "Words of Life: Scripture as the Living and Active Word of God" by Timothy Ward


Apparently I forgot to queue something up for today. I'm working to get out of town for a couple of weeks, and it seems as if it's more work to get ready to go than it is to stay. But, I'm headed out tomorrow whether I'm ready or not...

My plan is to have some random poignant excerpts from books I've read to tide you over while I'm gone. I should be back around January 31st if not before.

Defining Priorities

Setting and maintaining priorities is difficult. To paraphrase Charles Hummel, on any given day we are faced with hundreds of urgent choices and perhaps as many important choices. The urgent choices aren't always important, and the important choices aren't always urgent. I inevitably spend more time answering email than I should because a full inbox is urgent but not always important.

One of the ways I've found extremely helpful in defining priorities is to ask myself a simple question at strategic points in my life (see my post yesterday): For my specific role, what are the things that can not get done if I don't do them?

Notice, the question is not "what are the things that will not get done if I don't do them." The answer to that question can be skewed by someone who can't delegate well.

What are the things that can not get done if I don't do them? Those are my priorities.

As a father, nobody else can father my kids like I can. It isn't anyone else's responsibility,

As a husband, nobody else can love my wife like Christ loved the church the way I can.

As the lead pastor of a church, there are certain responsibilities that nobody but the lead pastor can do.

Those are my priorities.

Plenty of people could speak at conferences. Plenty of people could write blogs. Plenty of people could make certain decisions or have certain conversations that make up an urgent part of my day. But at the end of my day, my goal is to at least have accomplished the things that only I can do. I have to be vigilant about defining priorities. Otherwise, those priorities will be removed from me when I am replaced by someone who does what only someone in that role can do.

Maximizing Margin

I'm a huge college sports fan who will admit to you in a weak moment that my three favorite holidays are New Years Day (bowl games) and the opening two days of the NCAA basketball tournament.

Last week as I was indulging myself at the college football buffet, I was struck by the stark difference between two halves of several of the games I watched. It's amazing how a team can dominate the first half but end up losing the game, and vice-versa.

The secret is in halftime; or sometimes in a time-out. Great teams maximize the margin they're given. They take it at the right time and use it effectively to either build on momentum, stop negative momentum, or make sure the whole team is on the same page before a critical point in the game.

What if leaders (and teams) planned and utilized margin the same way?

What if leaders took a one-week vacation halfway through their busy season instead of waiting until a more "natural" breaking point?

What if teams took a "time-out" together after the planning but just before the launch of a big initiative to make sure everyone is together?

What if leaders saved a day or two of vacation to take specifically at points when it seems like the enemy is gaining momentum?

What would it look like for you to maximize margin to give you, or your team an advantage?

Hodge - Reason for Mission

Every year in addition to my Bible reading I try to read through a different Systematic Theology book. It's a good way to keep me sharp on theology as well as to challenge my thinking in light of the views of other theologians.

This year I'm reading through Charles Hodge's Systematic Theology. Early in the work, he has this scathing rebuke of the Church when it comes to the objection that claiming Jesus is the only way to heaven is "unfair."

"In the gift of his Son, the revelation of his Word, the mission of the Spirit, and the institution of the Church, God has made abundant provision for the salvation of the world. That the Church has been so remiss in making known the gospel is her guilt. We must not charge the ignorance and consequent perdition of the heathen upon God. The guilt rests on us. We have kept to ourselves the bread of life, and allowed the nations to perish."

Good words. Unfortunately, it's not just the nations we've neglected; it's our neighborhoods too.

Technology I Almost Love

I've posted before about my paperless office. In fact, today I'm completely paperless with the exception of the litter that comes across my desk from other people in the office who aren't yet on the paperless bandwagon...

... and books.

I really never thought I would stop buying hard copies of books. I read a bunch of books (somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 per year) and feel like I retain more if I can write all over the things I'm reading. Plus, I like having a record of my thinking when I look back at a book I read several years before.

Then I discovered the Kindle, which would allow me to highlight and make notes to myself which the Kindle saves as a .txt file and allows me to upload to my computer. That means every passage I highlight; every note I make can be saved to my laptop and searched. 

As a pastor, the ability to search my highlights and notes gives me a gigantic advantage. In the past, if a book quote was going to help me prepare for a sermon I would have had to remember the quote and the book where I read it. My memory just isn't that good. Now, if I've highlighted a quote I can find it again using a simple desktop search. That's a huge deal.

Today, I almost love the Kindle and am this close to going entirely paperless.


Until Amazon decides to do away with the ridiculous "location number" replacement for page numbers, I'm holding out. I hope you will too.

I know Amazon says it wants the user to be able to change font size and spacing, but that's not a valid excuse. I've had Libronix for years and can change the font size and spacing on those books while knowing which page I'm on. If Libronix could figure it out fifteen years, Amazon should be able to as well.

I do far too many book studies with people who still use paper-bound books. When they refer to something on "page 32," I'm out of the conversation. Not to mention the fact that websites that cite books only cite page numbers; books that cite other books only cite page numbers; and footnotes only cite page numbers.

Be on the lookout as the technology develops. Right now the Kindle's competitors are much more user friendly but lack the same book selection that the Kindle offers. In the near future, one of two things will happen: the competitors will catch up on selection and take the market for the technology, or Amazon will decide to stop being silly and do a couple of small things to put their product over the top.

I'll be patient. Until then, I'm stuck with technology that I only almost love.


Yesterday I mentioned that I am going to begin experimenting with some new methods for life-on-life discipleship in the coming year.

For most of my ministry, I spent a lot of my time doing life-on-life discipleship in a one-on-one context. One-on-one discipleship has some really strong benefits: focused attention, confidentiality, and a depth of relationship that can't be present in larger groups. Those relationships also allow for an agility that groups can't have; if someone is struggling with a particular issue, it doesn't impact other people to camp-out on something, or move more slowly.

However, one-on-one discipleship also has some fairly strong weaknesses as well. It is almost impossible to avoid a sensei/grasshopper feel to the relationship which is de-valuing to many "mentees," and has a tendency to puff-up many "mentors." It can also lead to codependency or a lack of accountability - it's easy to roll the alarm clock when you're only letting one person down. If one of the two people is busy or out of town, it's impossible to get together, which makes it hard to get in a rhythm. Finally, one-on-one discipleship depends extremely heavily on the individual skill of the mentor which is not always reproducible, even when the material is.

Greg Ogden has written about a philosophy of doing life-on-life discipleship in triads in a book called "Transforming Discipleship" (I reviewed the book here). This year I'm going to give it a shot. Instead of meeting one-on-one, I'm going to try to grab two guys at a time who are interested in growing together. As a really young pastor, I think it will help the invitation on the front-end by eliminating the sensei/grasshopper mentality. Rather than asking someone several decades my senior to let me "mentor" him, I'll be able to invite a couple of guys into a process through which we'll all grow together. In fact, through the use of triads I'm hopeful that we can eliminate most (if not all) of the weaknesses of one-on-one discipleship while retaining the ability to be transparent, accountable, and agile.

I'll keep you posted...

Resolutions Report

If you've followed me long, you know that I really love New Years Resolutions. I love a clean slate, the chance to set goals, and the opportunity to reflect and measure progress from a year gone by.

Last year, I set 4 resolutions:

1. Read through the Bible this year, and through the Old Testament twice.
2. Pour my life into 10 reproducers this year
3. Read at least 15 books that are 100 years old or older.
4. Run a half marathon.

Yesterday, my friend Andy Rodriguez thought to look back at the list and ask me how I did. Chump.

I guess if I'm going to post resolutions, I ought to be willing to take my lumps as well.

Actually, it was an okay year for resolution keeping. I completed the half-marathon last February and beat my goal time by several minutes. I've continued to run some and would love to do a full marathon once my kids are at an age where I have some margin to train.

Also, I'm really excited about some of the reproducers I've been able to connect with this year. I've met with more than 10 guys over the year, doing a life-on-life discipleship curriculum that I developed with a couple of guys at our church. That's something I'll continue, though I think I'm going to tweak my method of investing in guys; more on that in a later blog post.

The reading goals haven't fared so well. I did make it through the Bible this year, but only made it through the Old Testament once. And, I totally bombed on the books by dead guys. I think I only read 5, 33% of my goal.

I've got good excuses for falling short on the reading goals: I'm taking some post-graduate classwork that demanded several thousand pages worth of reading. And, my job situation changed early in the year, which, combined with the birth of another baby cannibalized a lot of my reading time. Even still, I hate falling short of a goal I set for myself.

This year, I've got similar goals to last year. I definitely want to go through the Bible again, want to continue an investment in reproducers, and plan to continue making time for exercise. But my classwork and preaching schedule will dictate my other reading goals.

2010 was a long, hard year, but I've got a great feeling about 2011.