Saturday, August 28, 2010

Book Review: The Trellis and The Vine

My pastor got this book earlier this year and preached a sermon based on it.  His sermon was so interesting I asked to borrow the book.

The starting premise of the book is that churches typically spend most of their efforts on structure (the trellis) rather than on relationships (the vine).  Programs and committees and buildings take time that could be going to discipleship and ministry to real people.  Structure is necessary, but we should aim at "gospel growth" first, and develop structures as necessary to support it.

That's easier said than done.  The book does well at balancing theology with practical tips.  In fact, I felt that at places the authors spent more time than necessary laying the theological foundation for their ideas.  I was mentally saying, "Yes, I agree, now tell me how!"

Let me give you some specific quotes that impacted me.

In discussing the Puritan pastor Richard Baxter they write:
He saw personal work with people as having irreplaceable value, because it provided "the best opportunity to impress the truth upon their hearts, when we can speak to each individual's particular necessity, and say to the sinner, 'Thou art the man'"... It was only through personal catechizing that Baxter could find those who "have been my hearers eight or ten years, who know not whether Christ be God or man, and wonder when I tell them the history of his birth and life and death as if they have never heard it before... I have found that some ignorant persons, who have been so long unprofitable hearers, have got more knowledge and remorse in half an hour's close discourse, than they did from ten years public preaching.  I know that preaching the gospel publicly is the most excellent means, because we speak to many at once.  But it is usually far more effectual to preach it privately to a particular sinner." (pgs 105-106)
They talk about how a pastor should decide on which of his church members to focus his limited time for personal discipleship. They describe a few prototypical members at varying stages of need and maturity, then say:
In terms of making the wisest use of his time and energies, and maximizing the possibilities of gospel growth, the people our pastor should really pour his time into are Don and Sarah, followed closely by Barry.   Don, remember, is already doing some training in how to share the gospel with others.  If our pastor puts some time into helping and mentoring Don in this, then he can encourage Don to pray for and meet with Bob and Mark (the two non-Christians)... Sarah has the heart and the gifts, all she needs is some personal encouragement, instruction, and mentoring, and she would be more than capable of getting next to Jean to encourage her, as well as doing some basic follow-up with Tracey.  So by putting his time into Don and Sarah, our busy pastor has also ministered (through them) to four others... [I]f we pour all our time into caring for those who need help, the stable Christians will stagnate and never be trained to minister to others, the non-Christians will stay unevangelized, and a rule of thumb will quickly emerge within the congregation: if you want the pastor's time and attention, get yourself a problem. (pg 111)
They write about the need to actively seek co-laborers whom we can disciple, and then address a possible objection: "Shouldn't we wait for people to 'feel called' rather than urging them into full-time gospel work?"  This was particularly helpful for me because I had believed exactly that.
The Bible does not speak in these terms.  Search as we may, we don't find in the Bible any example or concept of an inner call to ministry.  There are some who are called directly and dramatically by God (like Moses and Isaiah) but it is not a matter of discerning an inner feeling.  Almost universally in the New Testament, the recognizing or 'setting apart' of gospel workers is done by other elders, leaders and pastors.  (pg 133)
We shouldn't sit back and wait for people to 'feel called' to gospel work, any more than we should sit back and wait for people to become disciples of Christ in the first place. (pg 134)
 This was an interesting insight too:
[I]n his book The Deliberate Church, Mark Dever argues against specialized ministry positions because they take the ownership of those ministries away from the congregation.  If there is a youth minister, then the ownership of youth ministry is not with the parents of the church (as it should be) but with the youth minister.  The structure acts as a disincentive for people to get involved. (pg 174-175)
Anyways, I am not even giving you a fraction of the book's message, but I hope that these tidbits might whet your appetite.  Parts of it are, as I said, rather mundane, but it also contains some "out of the box" ideas that you won't see in many other books.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I Met a Movie Star!

Well, OK, he's not really a movie star yet.  But once Friday at Noon is released, hopefully Rob Hudelson's face will become familiar in many homes.

In this movie, Rob plays the role of Jack Shatley.  Here's the synopsis of the movie:
Jack Shatley, a well respected college professor, has his world turned upside down when his daughter is abducted. The only ransom is an answer to the dilemma: Why shouldn’t I do evil to her?  Cody Rawlands, whose only son was recently murdered by some of Jack’s prior students, blames Jack’s teachings for the murder. With deadness in his soul, he kidnaps Jack’s daughter. Cody is numb to the possibility of being caught by police… which puts him in complete control over the situation.  As Jack desperately looks for answers, he comes to the realization that his teaching has been fundamentally flawed. Through the counsel of his peers, he can see his own belief system unravel at the seams. With this recognition comes a twist of fate when Jack turns the dilemma back on his child’s abductor. Although it may cost him everything that he holds dear, he is willing to do the one thing that most people won’t… face the truth.

I met Rob and his wife at the Arizona homeschooling convention in July. He is a pastor and homeschooling father, the kind of guy you can't help liking. Even his wife seems to like him, which is more than most movie stars can say!

I pray that this movie will cause many people to contemplate the foundations of their own ethics: most people build on sand.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Dad Demonstrates Nasal Irrigation

One thing I admire about Dad is that he doesn't put on airs.  Ever.  My father doesn't have a vain bone in his body.  Or even vain cartilage in his nose.  In this video, he shows how to use a neti pot to rinse your sinuses.  In contrast, I would have been much more reluctant to put my schnoz on the Internet.  If  you are squeamish, you may not like his video. Nevertheless it's a lot less gross than a sinus infection.  I've tried a number of different sinus rinsing techniques over the years, and neti pots are definitely the easiest.  Nasal irrigation is also a good way to cut down on allergies.  Dad's video may save you some doctor visits and some sleepless nights!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

How I'm Voting in the Arizona GOP Primaries...

Let me start with an apology to my non-Arizonan readers.  This post will be of little interest to you.  Feel free to skip it!

For those of you who do live in Arizona and have been puzzling, like me, over whom to vote for this year, perhaps my "cheat sheet" will be of help.  But feel free to disagree!

US Senator:
  • John McCain has a very tarnished legacy, a man who seems to put politics above morals.
  • Jim Deakin has a slim following.  He also feels that the federal government should not attempt to regulate pornography.
  • J.D. Hayworth has serious political compromises of his own.  Nevertheless, he has at least a chance of unseating McCain.  Therefore, I'm voting for Hayworth, with the hope we can elect someone better in 6 years.
US Congress (District 1) :
  • I'm voting for Rusty Bowers.  This was a tough choice: I like all of the candidates.  But Beauchamp doesn't want to regulate internet gambling.  Zaleski seems too much of a people-pleaser, Sydney Hay lost to the incumbent Democrat 2 years ago, and the rest of them have no political experience.  Nevertheless, I'll happily vote for whichever wins in the general election against incumbent Ann Kirkpatrick.
  • Definitely Jan Brewer.  If for no other reason than to thank her for SB 1070.
State Representative (District 1)
  • Andy Tobin
  • Noel Campbell
  • But NOT Karen Fann.  She thinks euthanasia is acceptable if the voters approve.
Attorney General
  • Andrew Thomas (please do NOT vote for Tom Horne!)
State Treasurer
  • Another hard pick, but Thayer Verschoor seems to be the best.  Doug Ducey would be my second choice.
Superintendent of Public Instruction
  • John Huppenthal
 Corporation Commission
  • Gary Pierce
  • Brenda Burns
Helpful comparison of the candidates is available at

Monday, August 16, 2010

Music's Frightening Power to Sell Error

If this song had remained merely poetry, most Christians would have readily identified the humanism in it.  But combined with a very pleasant melody and enough mention of God to be at least partly true, it "sold".  I loved this song as a child, and it influenced my expectations of life.

Advertisers know that you can sell just about anything with a good tune.

May the Lord Jesus help us to "take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ", even if it comes in a beautiful wrapper.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Looked at the Stars Lately?

Lift up your eyes on high
And see who has created these stars,
The One who leads forth their host by number,
He calls them all by name;
Because of the greatness of His might
And the strength of His power,
Not one of them is missing.
Isaiah 40:26 (NASB)
Last night I had to step outside for a moment, and as I was going about my earthly task, I realized that it had been a long time since I looked at the night heavens.  A very long time.  Probably several years!

The problem is not that we cannot see the stars; we are blessed to live in an area with little light pollution and few clouds.  The problem is just that I am usually too preoccupied to pay attention to Isaiah's advice!

So, I took a little time to listen to "the heavens declaring the glory of God".  I called Dad and he came out and looked with me.  Then we both went inside, and Dad got Mom and took her outside.

After a few minutes he came in, excitedly calling me to come out and see the shooting stars.  Sure enough, after a few minutes, I started seeing some too.  I had only seen one shooting star before, years ago in Phoenix.  It was just a small, short one.  But these were big, beautiful meteors with fat trails.

We did remember that shooting stars peak in August.  This morning I researched the August Perseid Meteor Shower and learned that this year, the peak nights for meteor viewing were the 12th and 13th!  How kind of God to prompt me to look upward last night, on one of this year's peak nights.  If we had stayed up later we would have seen even more: the meteors grow more numerous throughout the night, peaking in early morning.

photo courtesy: Mila Zinkova, Wikipedia
It's still not too late for you to watch for shooting stars yourself tonight--and the later at night, the better!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Why and How I'm on Facebook Now

Longtime readers will remember that I did not use Facebook because of the seductive advertising images.  Last month I found a way to block the images in their advertisements, so I have an active Facebook account now.  (I'd love to connect with you!)

Facebook has proven to be an excellent way to communicate efficiently with a number of friends at once.  It also has far more users than any other tool I've tried, which means I have been able to find friends I haven't heard from in years.

In case you are interested in blocking the images also, here are the details:
  • This only works in the browser Mozilla Firefox.  (Internet Explorer and Chrome do not offer this option as far as I can tell.)
  • After you've logged into Facebook, right click one time on one of the advertisement images.  Left click on "Block images from...".  This will block all images from that particular URL.  (Thankfully, Facebook uses a different URL to serve images of "friends" and their photos than it uses to serve the advertisements.)
  • There may be a couple of URLs serving advertisements so you may have to perform this "block" a couple times if you are still seeing image ads.
  • The text in the ads will continue to show and the ads will continue to perform normally.  You can "X" them, "like" them, or click on them to be taken to the destination page, just like a normal ad.  (I keep "liking" the good ads and X'ing the bad ones so that over time Facebook will stop showing me the bad ones.  I may even turn images back on then.
  • I read through Facebook's Terms of Service carefully, and I did not find anything saying that it is forbidden to block the images in their advertisements.  I think it is important to follow their terms because this is a free service they are providing and they do have the right to set the rules.
I've also installed the free ad-blocker from called Matt5:30, but I'm not sure if it provides me any additional protection beyond what I'm getting from Firefox.  I do know that Matt5:30 alone did not block the images.  

    Sunday, August 8, 2010

    VOM Regional Conference Coming to Scottsdale!

    If you've ever wanted to meet people in person who have experienced real persecution for their trust in Jesus, you'll have a great opportunity in September.  The Voice of the Martyrs is holding a regional conference in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale on Saturday, September 25.  Two of the speakers, Getaneh Getaneh and Mujahid el Masih, were in Arizona at last year's regional in Flagstaff, but the other three are new to us:
    • Steven Khoury is a Palestinian Christian who was born in Jerusalem and grew up in Bethlehem.  His father pastors one of the few evangelical churches in the West Bank. Steven is now planting a church in Jerusalem.
    • Russell Stendal was born in Minneapolis and raised on the mission field in Colombia, South America. He became a missionary jungle pilot at age nineteen. Almost ten years later he was kidnapped in 1983 by Marxist rebels and held hostage for five months. His book, Rescue the Captors, relates his experience, including how God worked in the hearts of the rebels. Since then he has been captured three more times.  Yet he continues to risk his life to bring the gospel to the guerrillas, and has the joy of seeing some of them embrace Jesus.  I have heard Russell speak once before (at the VOM national conference in 2006) and I was particularly blessed by his touching combination of courage and humility.  (Check out the short YouTube of Russell below.)
    • Robert Brock has been a Mission Representative with The Voice of the Martyrs since 1993. Before joining VOM, Robert was a missionary in Europe working with refugees from Communist and Islamic countries. Now he travels throughout the United States sharing the message of today's persecuted church and VOM’s work on their behalf. Robert has traveled to over 35 countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, South America and the Middle East. On his overseas travels, he meets with families of martyrs and is able to deliver aid, relief, and spiritual encouragement.  
    There is no cost to attend the regional conference in Scottsdale, but an offering will be received.  For more details or to register, visit the lower left corner of  You can also download a flyer by clicking here.

    Hope to see you there!

      Wednesday, August 4, 2010

      Surprise at Sky Harbor

      The God who orders all things arranged a very fun surprise for my brother and his family on July 23rd.  That was the day they flew from Phoenix to Uganda via London for a two week missions trip.  But no, the trip was not what surprised them on July 23rd.  They had been praying and planning for the trip for months.  And packing.  They were going to minister to orphans at the Otina Waa Children's Village, operated by our friends Bob and Carol Higgins.

      When we met them in the 1980s, Bob and Carol were just an ordinary Christian couple raising their sons in Bend, Oregon.  But they were available to God--even if it meant being available to leave their grandkids and travel halfway around the world to train pastors for a couple weeks, as they did in the late 1990s.  The trip changed their lives.  They gradually began spending more and more of their time in Uganda and less and less in Bend (now they spend about 10 months of the year in Uganda).  The pastor training program flourished under their care... and so did a medical outreach... water sanitation projects... the Children's Village (which now provides care for over 200 orphans) and a church which grew up around the orphanage and now averages 600 in attendance each Sunday.  You can learn more about the Higgins' work at their ministry web site.

      But no, it wasn't Bob and Carol that surprised my brother and his family on July 23rd.

      They arrived at the Phoenix airport three hours early (just to be safe) and checked 16 bags, weighing 50 pounds each.  (I did say that they had been packing, didn't I?)  And that didn't include another 300 pounds of carry-on luggage.  It was truly amazing how many things God had provided for them to take to the orphans.  For example, a seed supplier donated 5000 packets of seeds.  Other friends donated wrist watches and digital cameras so that they could teach the orphans about photography and telling time.  But no, it was not even these thoughtful gifts that surprised them at Sky Harbor International Airport that Friday afternoon.

      They all lined up for a group photo before heading up the escalator to the security check-in.  But wait, who was this dashing up to snap a picture alongside their cameraman?  It was... me!  But I live 90 miles away... what was I doing there?

      Two weeks earlier, I had realized that I would be in downtown Phoenix at the home schooling convention on the day my brother and his family flew out.  I discovered that I could ride a combination of light rail and  shuttle to the airport from the center where the convention was being held.  With the exception of Heather (at left in the picture above) my brother and his family didn't know that I would be in Phoenix.

      So about 3:45 P.M. I left the convention to hop on the light rail.  But I arrived just in time to wait for the next train, and then just in time to wait for the shuttle from the train to the airport. In between having wonderful fellowship with a man who had come from Illinois for the Gideons national convention, I was frantically texting back and forth with Heather, who was the only one who knew I was coming, hoping that my brother would not go through the security checkpoint before my arrival. When I finally arrived, I texted her “Where are you?” She replied, “We are in the middle of the aisle in front of the British Air baggage check.” I looked—and that was where I was standing! But where were they?

      Well, it turned out that the British Air baggage check was very long… so I eventually saw them in the distance. As I drew nearer, I saw them all looking toward me and smiling. I thought, “Oh no, they have already seen me and the surprise is up!” Then I realized they were looking at a man taking their picture, not at me. So I ran up and snapped a picture next to him!

      After spending a delightful hour visiting with them, I had the same waiting game getting back to the convention center. When I boarded the train, I found the car full of partying young people headed to the Diamondbacks game. This guy in the center (who smelled like a fish although he didn’t sound like one yet) saw my camera and immediately asked me to take his picture.

      Pray for him. His name is Joey. I was blessed to get to share Jesus with him a bit, until he got upset and walked away.