Sunday, March 28, 2010


There is an aged and wrinkled and water-damaged sign posted on one of the walls of the quadrangle in King’s College at the University of Aberdeen (King’s is the HQ of the Department of Divinity and Religious Studies at ye olde university). The notice spells out dire consequences for students caught violating the norms proper to the decorum of that venerable institution. And, yes, the sign belongs to those days of shillings and pence—thus making the sign potentially as old as 1066 (when the pound was divided into 20 shillings = 240 pence = 960 farthings), but more likely as recent as 1971 (when the pound was decimalized into 100 pence).

At any rate, the sign is intended to act as a deterrent. Those monies levied as fines upon unthinking miscreants would, one assumes (and hopes), prevent any future felonies of this sort.

Even God doesn’t hesitate to apply deterrents to keep His children upon the straight and narrow.

The Book of Hebrews talks extensively about God’s discipline.

“My son, do not regard lightly
the discipline of the Lord,
nor faint when you are
reproved by Him;
for those whom the Lord loves
He disciplines, and He scourges
every son whom He receives.”
It is for discipline that you endure;
God deals with you as with children;
for what child is there
whom his father does not discipline?
… He disciplines us for our good,
so that we may share His holiness.
All discipline for the moment
seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful;
yet to those who have been trained by it,
afterwards it yields
the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
Hebrews 12:5–7, 10–11

That pattern has been integral to biblical history, ever since the warning to Adam and Eve.

The LORD God
commanded the man, saying,
“From any tree of the garden
you may eat freely; but from the tree
of the knowledge of good and evil
you shall not eat,
for in the day that you eat from it
you will surely die.”
Genesis 2:16–17

And such deterrents have persisted all the way to warnings of eternal death, away from the presence of God who alone is Life—serious warnings for those who don’t find salvation in Jesus Christ.

For God so loved the world,
that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whoever believes in Him
shall not perish, but have eternal life.
John 3:16

Nothing wrong with deterrents. They are quite efficient. Like those promulgated by civic governments to induce good behavior of their citizens.

[Governmental authority]
is a minister of God to you for good.
But if you do what is evil, be afraid;
for it does not
bear the sword for nothing;
for it is a minister of God,
an avenger who brings wrath
on the one who practices evil.
Romans 13:4

And like those deterrents imposed by parents upon their children to promote obedience.

Do not hold back discipline
from the child.
Proverbs 23:13

God, the ultimate authority, greater than any parent or any ruler, chooses to work the same way. He, too, announces discipline to correct wayward ones, to induce them to walk in His ways.

For the commandment is a lamp
and the teaching is light;
And reproofs for discipline
are the way of life.
Proverbs 6:23

And so we reproved ones accept discipline as a mark of our Father’s love and of His desire that we be godly and wise. For our own good

… accept discipline,
That you may be wise
the rest of your days.
Proverbs 19:20

Let God’s deterrents deter us.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


These past several weeks pundits and scribes and hosts and anchors and Pharisees and Sadducees and Democrats and Republicans have been talking about nothing but healthcare. No doubt important, I know—I’m involved in the very business, myself. Thus far, by the grace of God, I’ve been involved only at the giving end of that enterprise.

Yes, healthcare is critically important. For all of us. If we are not already seeking and receiving it acutely or chronically, either for ourselves or for our near and dear, it will only be a matter of time before we do. It is important.

Over the last decade or thereabouts that I’ve taught preaching at Dallas Seminary, I’ve been struck by the number of times the Book of Proverbs mentions health. (Students in our first preaching class have to preach selected verses from that book, and at least a few of these selections deal with health.)

“Of course,” most people say, “those are ‘just’ proverbs: general statements, true more often than not, but they aren’t promises or anything of the sort.”

My son, do not forget my teaching,
But let your heart
keep my commandments;
For length of days and years of life
And peace they will add to you.
Proverbs 3:1–2

So here I’m supposed believe that, generally speaking, if one listens to godly advice from an elder/parent/mentor, one will live long—occasionally, sometimes, perhaps, and hopefully.

The fear of the LORD
is the beginning of wisdom ….
For by me your days will be multiplied,
And years of life will be added to you.
Proverbs 9:10–11

Or if I fear the Lord, I’ll have—more or less, hitting or missing, now and then, from time to time—a long life.

But I’ve never been very satisfied with that rationalization.

Instead, I like to look at it this way: these proverbs—not any ol’ proverb—these inspired proverbs that form the Word of God are always true. How, you ask? I’d argue that fearing the Lord, for one thing, always contributes to a longer life. How much it contributes, I’ve no clue. But it does contribute something, even if it is a few microseconds to my life or anyone else’s. Absolutely!

And so do other things: good genes, exercise, healthy diets, sound relationships, careful driving, listening to Bach—all contribute, to some degree, to a longer life … as far as we know.

But Proverbs 14:27 is different: Fearing the Lord also contributes—in some way, but always—to lengthening one’s life. Not “as far as we know,” but always, for “thus saith the Lord.”

What else? What else provides for good health in Proverbs? Here we go—an inspired plan for healthcare …

Keeping good company.

He who walks with wise men
will be wise,
But the companion of fools
will suffer harm.
Proverbs 13:20

Being humble.

The reward of humility …
riches, honor and life.
Proverbs 22:4

Being wise in the ways of God and in the Word of God.

How blessed is the one
who finds wisdom
And the one
who gains understanding.
Long life is in her right hand ….
Proverbs 3:13, 16

Living uprightly.

He who pursues
righteousness and loyalty
Finds life, righteousness and honor.
Proverbs 21:21

Not oppressing the weak.

Do not rob the poor
because he is poor,
Or crush the afflicted ….
or the LORD will plead their case
And take the life
of those who rob them.
Proverbs 22:22–23

Healthcare, God’s way. After all, He ought to know—the Great Physician! Let’s vote for that plan today, shall we?

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Nope, this is not in the Netherlands. Believe it or not, this is 6000+ miles from that country. In Malacca, Malaysia—I was there last year. Why a windmill there, you ask? Simple answer: impact!

The history of Malacca goes back to the 1400s and has changed hands several times—from the Javanese to the Portuguese to the Dutch to the British and finally to the Malaysians. The windmill is a remnant of the town’s Dutch colonial days, that lasted for about two centuries, until Malacca was assigned to the British in the early 1800s.

In fact, in the center of Malacca is the “Dutch” Square, a familiar and popular tourist landmark. There is even a “Stadthuys” (State House) there, where the Dutch governor lived. And a majestic Christ Church (completed 1753), which used to be Dutch Reformed in inclination, until the British made it Anglican. That church is supposedly the oldest Dutch church building found outside the Netherlands; memorial plaques within pay tribute to the various de Winds, Westerhouts, Neubronners, Koeks, etc.

Far, far away from the fatherland, but still with an impact that has been longlasting. And there, close to the Dutch Square is this fascinating windmill, a memoir of bygone days, a vestige of what was. Nonetheless it signifies an impact left on the town by a powerful influence in its past.

The other day, I mentioned the “redwoods” in our lives and the legacy they left for us. That relay race doesn’t stop there. The baton doesn’t end its journey when it is handed over to us. Who are we going to pass it on to? What impact will we have for those running the next lap.

For those of you who are married, the identity of the next generation is obvious.

For I am mindful of the
sincere faith within you,
which first dwelt
in your grandmother Lois
and your mother Eunice ….
2 Timothy 1:5

Paul clearly acknowledges and commends the impact of parents and grandparents upon posterity.

You, however, continue
in the things you have learned
and become convinced of,
knowing from whom
you have learned them,
and that from childhood
you have known the sacred writings
which are able to give you
the wisdom that leads to salvation
through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 3:14–15

For those of us singles, our impact will be upon spiritual children, not our physical ones. In fact, God promises a significant and lasting impact for those celibates who serve Him.

[To those singles who] choose
what pleases Me,
and hold fast My covenant,
to them I will give in My house
and within My walls a memorial,
and a name better than that
of sons and daughters;
I will give them
an everlasting name
which will not be cut off.
Isaiah 56:4–5

Paul makes his own impact clear, “mothering” and “fathering” those he mentored.

But we proved to be
gentle among you,
as a nursing mother
tenderly cares for her own children.
Having so fond an affection for you,
we were well-pleased to impart to you
not only the gospel of God
but also our own lives ….
… you know how we were exhorting
and encouraging and imploring
each one of you as a father
would his own children,
so that you would walk in a manner
worthy of the God who calls you
into His own kingdom and glory.
1 Thessalonians 2:7–8, 11–12

Not just enough to thank the redwoods in our lives; we must be redwoods ourselves and leave an impact. Let’s go raise those windmills!

Saturday, March 06, 2010


Last summer, I spent a week speaking at a Christian Camp in Mt. Hermon, near San Jose, CA. In the midst of preaching endeavors, I managed to steal some time and do some exploring of the area nearby, and ended up in Henry Cowell Redwood State Park.

Sequoia sempervirens is what they’re called. “Sempervirens” means “ever-living” or “evergreen.” That’s about right—these babies have long lives and have been known to live for over 2000 years. And are they big, or what? One of the tallest of the species (not in Henry Cowell) has attained 380 ft. in height and 26 ft in diameter. Massive.

One of the reasons for their longevity is the thickness of their bark, almost a foot thick. This combined with the foliage that begins high above the ground, provides them with plenty of protection from fire and insects.

Solid. Substantial. Long-lived. Blessed!

Blessed is the one
who trusts in the LORD ….
For he will be like a tree
planted by the water,
That extends its roots by a stream
And will not fear
when the heat comes;
But its leaves will be green,
And it will not be anxious
in a year of drought
Nor cease to yield fruit.
Jeremiah 17:7–8

Flourishing. Prospering. In the presence of God.

The godly will flourish
like the palm tree,
He will grow
like a cedar in Lebanon.
Planted in the house of the LORD,
They will flourish
in the courts of our God.
Psalm 92:12–13

Those coastal redwoods are known to reproduce asexually by sprouting from fallen parts of the tree. Not rarely, when a tree falls over, it regenerates a line of daughters arrayed along the horizontal trunk. Daughters (why not sons?) also sprout around the mama tree stump—producing a “fairy ring” of trees. More redwoods.

Solid. Substantial. Long-lived. Blessed!

Flourishing. Prospering. In the presence of God.

Leaving a legacy for others.

How blessed is everyone
who fears the LORD,
Who walks in His ways.
When you shall eat of the fruit
of your hands,
You will be happy
and it will be well with you.
Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine
Within your house,
Your children like olive plants
Around your table.
Behold, for thus shall the man
be blessed who fears the LORD.
The LORD bless you from Zion,
And may you see the prosperity
of Jerusalem all the days of your life.
Indeed, may you see
your children's children.
Peace be upon Israel!
Psalm 128:1–6

It is very likely that all of us believers are standing on the shoulders of such “redwoods,” “cedars,” and “palm trees” that have left a legacy. Of course there are innumerable saints of yesteryear, whom we only know by name: the first disciples, the church fathers, thoughtful theologians, faithful servants and martyrs, ….

We must be thankful for them, of course, those invisible witnesses cheering us on.

Therefore, since we have so great
a cloud of witnesses surrounding us,
let us also lay aside
every encumbrance
and the sin which so easily entangles us,
and let us run with endurance
the race that is set before us.
Hebrews 12:1

But what about those stellar specimens of flora and arbor that we know, that are familiar to us personally, that have invested in our lives?

Remember those who led you,
who spoke the word of God to you;
and considering
the result of their conduct,
imitate their faith.
Hebrews 13:7

Remember … and would you thank them this week? The redwoods of our lives!