What My Train Set Taught Me About Transcendence

January 2, 2013

My kids and I used to have a small Lionel train set in a corner of my tool room. Ten years ago we dismantled the small set with dreams of a bigger and better train set in a newly created basement room called the Train Room.

We dreamed of the perfect train layout with switches, freight yards, and realistic scenery; with a moving crane, sawmill, draw-bridge, and coal dump; and with cities, tunnels, mountains, and farms. It would fill the new 15 by 18 foot Train Room.

Our quest for perfection derailed us. We dreamt of glory, and for ten years we did nothing. We ran out of steam. The Train Room became the junk room, a closet in which to hide things that belonged nowhere else.

Dad - train setIt also stored the dusty train set that we dismantled ten years ago.

The day before Christmas, my kids suggested we re-assemble the train set in the new Train Room. We cleared the “closet” out (never mind where all that junk went), we put the table up, we rewired the accessories, and we set the trains back on track once again.

It was a blast. Doing something adequately was far better than doing nothing perfectly.

Read the rest of this entry »


When You Lie, Lie B-E-E-E-G!

December 18, 2012

My sister Sarah went to a small college where you actually got to know the professors.

Her Eastern European History professor was her favorite, Professor Petrovich. He was Yugoslavian, and he was the official interpreter for President Jimmy Carter whenever Yugoslavian President Tito was in Washington D.C.

Professor Petrovich was also a character, and was almost always late for appointments.

One day he was really late, late for a Pulled overplane flight. He raced down the freeway at almost ninety miles an hour. A police car began to chase him with sirens wailing, but he kept going. Soon half a dozen police cars joined the chase, and they pulled him over.

He jumped out of the car and yelled at the officers, “I am the interpreter for the President of the United States. I’ve got to catch a plane. If I don’t, it will be a humiliation for President Carter and a dishonor to President Tito. I’ve got to get to the airport now!

The officers looked at each other, rushed back to their cars, and escorted the professor to the airport with lights flashing and sirens wailing, as though they were escorting the president himself. It was the ride of the professor’s life.

After he told my sister this story, he concluded in his thick accent: “Sawah, the moral of the story is, ‘When you lie, lie B-E-E-E-G!’” Read the rest of this entry »

What’s The Problem With Christian Leadership?

December 10, 2012

A few years ago a good friend of mine listened to a set of my sermons. He offered me constructive criticism. He liked what I said, but he had one bit of advice:

Don’t use so many personal stories about your own weaknesses.

He believed that the best spiritual preacher in pulpit leadership comes through modeling a spiritual life. He thought sharing personal weaknesses undermines the effectiveness of a spiritual leader.

I disagree. I think sharing personal weaknesses strengthens the effectiveness of a spiritual leader. But it’s complicated.

The vulnerability extreme

My friend reminded me of a time (years ago) he and I went to hear a speaker. The speaker attracted crowds because of his “vulnerable” speaking. He was “authentic.”

passionate preachingAnd the sermon was vulnerable. It was a virtual vomit of vulnerability. But the speaker mostly just vented. He flaunted his feelings, he wept over his wounds, and he wailed over his wretchedness. It was emotional upchuck. (Though authentic.)

But his message wasn’t redeeming. He didn’t offer healing. He helped people share problems but didn’t address then. He helped others admit their issues but he didn’t help solve them. The resulting culture was, “The world’s a mess. I’m a mess. Deal with it.”

My friend and I witnessed this firsthand. It was a revolting rant with no redemption. Read the rest of this entry »

What Do We Have That Sabotages Relationships?

December 5, 2012

Years ago I witnessed a curious interaction between a client’s president and his secretary. I arrived at their office mid-morning and found the secretary crying in the parking lot, crying because of a tongue-lashing she had just received.

Apparently her president had wanted new conference room table and chairs. He found a set man-pointing-fingeronline and asked his secretary to buy it. She found an identical set from another distributor with a better offer: it was several thousand dollars cheaper and it included an extended manufacturer’s warranty.

When she told the president about the better deal, he was furious, and he shouted, “Don’t you know who I am? I am the president!”

The president and I had lunch later that day. During the lunch, the president gave me his version of that morning’s story, and his story matched hers—almost word for word. He ended by asking, “Didn’t she know I am the president?”

The thing was, everybody knew he was the president. He owned the company. He basically operated as the CEO, COO, and CFO. There was not a single person with a hint of a shadow of the tiniest doubt who he was. Everyone knew it.

Except maybe the president himself. Read the rest of this entry »

Is It Ever Okay To Evangelize?

November 27, 2012

[To listen to a reading of this article, click here.]

I was at Panera waiting for a friend when I overheard a three-way conversation at the next table. I didn’t mean to listen, but they were loud and seemed unaware of others.

One person complained—just a little—of his spouse’s odd eccentricities; another found fault in a boss’s stupidity; and the last grumbled a bit at her grown child’s ingratitude. Just normal middle-class Americans griping at everyday discomforts.

Then the first told of a documentary he had seen on tribal peoples in the South American Rain Forests, people who had little to no contact with the rest of the world.

The threesome turned out to be Christians, and they wondered about the eternal future for such people. One asked, “If someone never heard the gospel, do they have any chance of heaven? Or is hell their only option?”

Another had just read a book which claimed that everyone is going to heaven. After all, if God really loves the world, wouldn’t he save the whole world? Everyone at the table seemed swayed by this argument (which I think is faulty), and everyone sighed in relief.

Then someone asked, “If God is going to bring everyone to heaven, why on earth would anyone spend any time trying to evangelize anyone?” They concluded there is no need, and frankly no reason.

They collectively breathed another sigh of relief. I too was relieved. Not because of Universal Salvation—which I don’t believe.

I was relieved that these three would never try to evangelize. Read the rest of this entry »

Why Do Even Our Best Things Fail To Bring Joy?

November 21, 2012

[To listen to a reading of this article, click here.]

Most people we meet have a skill (or character trait or accomplishment) of which they are proud—and not “proud” in a negative conceited sense, just a sense of satisfaction.

I‘ve met bosses who are proud of (happy with) their leadership skills; and I’ve met employees who are proud of (satisfied with) their teamwork talent. I’ve met professors who are proud of (content with) their intellectual prowess; and I’ve met carpenters who are proud of (pleased with) their craftsmanship.

We all have things we are proud of in the good sense, be it the color of our eyes or the fact we’re not a jerk (like someone else we know). Someone I know befriended a street person who took pride in his independence of society’s “modern machine.”

This good pride of something good in us is good, but it may be missing a secret ingredient that can bring deep joy. It may be satisfying, but real joy is available. Read the rest of this entry »

Might Morality Be The Greatest Obstacle to Christianity?

November 13, 2012

[To listen to a reading of this article, click here.]

A year or so ago, a Christian friend described how he was beginning to bring the gospel his softball team. He had joined the local league that spring—partly for the fun of the game and partly to get outside his Christian bubble and to meet non-believers.

However, he felt uncomfortable with his teammates’ cussing during the game. He asked them if they would stop, at least while he was with them.

They agreed and stopped (for the most part). He deemed this “cleaner language” an evangelistic victory. It hinted that his teammates might be choosing the right path.

He felt that somehow the gospel had been advanced. Next he planned to ask them to stop drinking.

Something about my friend’s story felt discordant. I didn’t sense anyone closer to God.

Somehow, I felt the gospel had been perverted. Read the rest of this entry »

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