How NOT to Cook—or Live a Life

If I can get the Food Network interested, I want to do a cooking show. I will call it Kids, Don’t Try This at Home. For the first half of the show, I will regale viewers with stories of my attempts at creative cooking. The second half of the show will be turned over to my co-host, Martha Stewart, who will berate me and tell me I’m the one who should be in prison for my abusive treatment of taste buds.

At my house, I’m only allowed to microwave leftovers under adult supervision.

There’s a way to cook and a way not to cook. And we can thank Fannie Farmer for her contribution to the art of good cooking. She gave us measurements.

We celebrate Fannie Farmer this week who, on August 23, 1902, opened Miss Farmer’s School of Cookery in Boston. Her school was successful because she had already established a name for herself. She had earlier published a cookbook which revolutionized the way we approach cooking. She simply introduced precise measurements.

Before the days of clever measuring cups from Pampered Chef, people learned to cook more by watching others. Through experience, they developed good judgment on how much of an ingredient to add. But Miss Framer pushed for strict, level measurements. She put science in the art of cooking. Thanks to her, buffoons like me can actually whip up a decent meal if we stick to the measurements and instructions.

Most people approach life like I approach meal preparation.  They put in what they think will work and hope for the best. It doesn’t work with cooking—and it doesn’t work with life.

There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death” (Prov. 16:25)

God expects us to use exact measurements with our life, and He has given us a standard to follow. It’s clearly written out for us in the Bible. No guesswork, hoping I get it right.

So be careful to do what the Lord your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left. Walk in obedience to all that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess” (Deut. 5:32-33). 

Even though I know that’s the only path to success or a fruitful life, I still falter and return to putting in a pinch of this or that, whatever looks good to me. But God in His grace steps in. He rescues me from my own failures. And I choose to get right back in line with His standards. Thankfully, by His Spirit, He leads me and helps me get it right.

“The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him” (Ps. 37:23).

Life tastes better when I follow Christ and His instructions.

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Before You Go on a Mission Trip, Consider This …

If you were to go on a mission trip … why?

Over the years I have done my share of mission trips. I led many of these. Yet in recent years I have become more discriminate on the type of short-term mission project that is actually fruitful and productive.

  • For several years, I had friends who took two-week trips to India. They were understandably exited to be personally leading over a hundred people to Christ every day. Over two weeks, their small team would lead five thousand to Christ.  I asked, “So in a Hindu culture where they will readily accept Jesus into their worldview of 330 million gods, what is being done to follow-up and disciple these five thousand people?” Crickets.
  • In recent days, I met someone preparing to go on a year-long mission trip.  I checked out the organization she would be working with, and while the group is evangelical, the emphasis is on the adventure of it all and not on the work itself.

The allure of travel and adventure has always carried some appeal in planning a mission trip. I’ll confess that in my student ministry days, that was a part of my reason for choosing some of our locales.

But if the allure of adventure is what it takes to get me to do missions and ministry, I have to ask myself the hard question of why I want to go at all.

Are you eager to do the same mission work in your own neighborhood that you’re eager to do overseas?

I am NOT nixing the prospect of a mission trip, but don’t travel a great distance to do something in an exotic location that you are not already doing at home.

Let’s come at this from another angle.  The best way to do missions is to begin at home. The world has come to your doorstep. Don’t go to the ones “out there” until you have reached out to the ones who have come to you.

One man was radically changed by his encounter with Jesus Christ. The man was so deep in sin and darkness that he was possessed.  People were afraid of him and he was isolated from family and friends, forced to live in the city cemetery.

But Jesus changed all that. It was so radical that the people were still afraid, but only because the man was now different from the man he was before. Understandably, the man wanted to go with Jesus when He was leaving the area. But Jesus told him, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19).

Want to do missions? Start here: ““Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”

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This Screen-Shot-2013-06-24-at-1.41.38-PM (1)post supports the study “Right Here, Right Now” in Bible Studies for Life.




Why I Don’t Like (Most) Christian Movies

I don’t like Christian movies.

There. I said it—and it feels good to finally say it publicly.

(What’s ironic about that statement is that I have a B.A. degree in film because I originally wanted to make Christian movies.)

So there I was—the Christian who doesn’t like Christian movies—watching The Case for Christ and I liked it. I really did. But wait a minute. I don’t like Christian movies! This led me to do an inventory of the Christian movies I’ve seen over the years, and I had to admit to myself that, yes, I liked some of them.

The Christian movies I liked were true stories about real people. For example:

  • The Case of Christ – Lee Strobel, the atheistic journalist who took a hard look at the resurrection of Christ and moved from skeptic to believer.
  • Hacksaw Ridge – Desmond Doss, whose Christian conviction kept him from  carrying a gun in WWII, yet he received the Medal of Honor for his actions in battle.
  • The Hiding Place – the ten Boom sisters hid Jews during WWII, yet they maintained a strong Christian faith even after being caught and sent to a concentration camp.

This doesn’t mean every Christian biopic is done well, but at least they’re starting in a better place: a real story about real people dealing with real struggles and faith.

This also doesn’t mean there’s no place for fiction in communicating faith. Ever heard of Pilgrim’s Progress? Then of course we have the catalog of works by C.S. Lewis.  When I came to the end of the whole Harry Potter series, I was moved by the subtle way it communicated the gospel.

But the majority of Christian movie storytelling is … well, the state of Wisconsin probably envies the output of cheese in these movies. The filmmakers mean well, but as a way to bring your friends to Christ, they fall short. They’re not believable.

For all my disdain of the genre, they do serve a purpose. Although the intent of so many of these movies is to be evangelistic, they serve well to encourage believers. They give many believers Christ-centered entertainment.

But if I want to use a movie as an on-ramp to talk about faith and spiritual matters, make-believe Christians in a make-believe world are no match for the real thing.  

Watch The Case for Christ (which releases on DVD August 15), then go for coffee with a friend and have a conversation.

What Does Jesus Look Like?

Based on forensic anthropology, scientists have a reasonable idea of what Jesus may have looked like.

Well, apparently we now know what Jesus looks like—and it’s not Brad Pitt.

A fairly new field of science has emerged called forensic anthropology. Although we have no physical remains or DNA of Jesus to sample—and we won’t since Jesus is alive and currently sitting at the right hand of the Father—scientists use other evidence to give us an idea of what Jesus looked like.

British scientists teamed up with Israeli archaeologists. They started with first-century skulls found in the area around Jerusalem. Then they created a computer simulation of the full skull that even allowed for the addition of soft tissue and skin. (If you’ve ever had a MRI, this is a similar imaging process.)

Wait. How can they derive all that from a skull? They pulled from other nerdy areas of science: genetics, osteology (the study of bones), dentistry, and what we know about the nutrition and climate of the first century.

What about His eyes, skin, and hair color? The scientists studied drawings of people found in archaeological digs.  And based on other skeletal remains, the average man was 5’1″ tall and about 110 pounds. As a carpenter, Jesus would’ve been muscular. [Source]

Could all this be true of the Son of God? Yes, because Jesus was a typical Jew. He didn’t stand out in the crowd—and He certainly didn’t have a halo the size of a ’57 Buick hubcap that shouted, “Hey! I’m the Son of God!”

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isa. 53:2).

How ordinary was Jesus’ appearance? On the night He was arrested, Judas had to walk up and kiss Him so that the soldiers wouldn’t grab the wrong man. Jesus blended in with the others.

So there you have it—but I could’ve told you what Jesus looks like without computers, skulls, and modeling clay.

If you want to know what Jesus looks like, look in the mirror.

If you are a follower of Christ, you are the face of Jesus to those around you.

  • We are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). Although we have marred that image through our sin, when we come to Christ, He begins His work in our lives “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). We are being renewed in the image of God (Col. 3:10).
  • We are the body of Christ (1 Cor,. 12:27).
  • We are the ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20).  The president appoints an ambassador to represent the United States and its interests in another country. If the ambassador says something bone-headed, the other country is not mad at him; they are made at the United States. To that country, the ambassador is the face of the United States. In the same way, what we say and do reflects on Christ, the One we represent.

When people look at you, what does Jesus look like? Are people repelled by the Jesus they see in you—or are they attracted to Him? Personally, I want to be the spitting image of His love and grace.

Pass this post along and encourage others to let people see Jesus in them.

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This Screen-Shot-2013-06-24-at-1.41.38-PM (1)post supports the study “A Passion to Share the Gospel” in Bible Studies for Life.



Where Popularity Misses the Mark

We all have those red-letter days: milestone dates we recognize—even as they are happening—as days that define us. We don’t just remember the event; we remember the date on the calendar. Life-shaping dates on my calendar include:

  • My anniversary
  • The births of both my sons
  • The first day I started my current ministry

You have similar dates on your calendar. It’s rare if two life-defining moments happen on the same date, but they do. It did for Richard Nixon.

Indelibly marked on Richard Nixon’s calendar is August 8. It’s circled twice.

Nixon had a long career in politics that reached its pinnacle on August 8, 1968 when he was nominated to run for president by the Republican National Convention. In a period of civil unrest, growing opposition to war, and a quickly changing moral landscape, Nixon stood for law and order—and he was popular.

“Tonight I do not promise the millennium in the morning. I don’t promise that we can eradicate poverty and end discrimination in the space of four or even eight years. But I do promise action. And a new policy for peace abroad, a new policy for peace and progress and justice at home.”

Nixon could have been remembered as one of our better presidents.

  • Nixon was strong in foreign relations, easing tension and building relationships with both China and Russia.
  • Nixon did much for the environment. He tackled issues like growing pollution and initiated the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Nixon ended the highly unpopular draft and gained increases for those serving in the military.

Nixon could have been remembered that way, but unfortunately, August 8 was circled on his calendar a second time. On August 8, 1974, eight years to the day after his popular and celebrated nomination, Nixon resigned in disgrace.

Popularity does not override our actions.

Culture’s attitude toward celebrities seems to override that idea. Musicians, actors, and athletes can behave badly, get some tabloid press for a few weeks, but remain high in ticket sales. We overlook serious character flaws because they entertain us. But I disagree with our culture’s willingness to look the other way.

Actions matter. Character matters.

It doesn’t matter how popular we may ever be; that popularity fades. And we’re still left with our character—and the results of our actions. It doesn’t matter how much other people loves us and approve of us; what matters is having God’s approval.

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved” (2 Tim. 2:15). 

Seek Christ. Seek His approval. And character—the right kind of character—will follow.

“Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matt. 6:33).


Share this post with others. Encourage them to seek the approval that matters.




A Simple Conversation Could Make a Difference

The following post was written by my good friend (and my manager), Ken Braddy. Ken has a well-read blog for Bible study leaders: He recently posted this story on his own site, and he graciously allowed me to share it with you.

You probably don’t know the name Vincenzo “Vinnie” Ricardo—but few other people did either. That explains why, when he died, no one knew it for over a year.

Vininie was a resident of Hampton Bays, New York. He was 70 years old and blind. He died while watching television at his home. He remained there for one year before anyone discovered his body. He might have remained there even longer had pipes at his home not burst.

City workers discovered his mummified body sitting on the couch with the TV still on. He hadn’t paid his electrical bill in a year, but for some inexplicable reason, the electricity was never turned off. Because of cold temperatures and dry conditions in the home, Vinnie’s body was well-preserved, leaving his facial features and hair intact. Medical examiners said they had never seen anyone dead this long.

So why didn’t anyone know he was dead? Vinnie was estranged from his family. Because he was blind, one neighbor dropped in to read him his mail and pay his bills, but she quit coming when he kept demanding more of her time. Other neighbors never noticed that he had quit walking the streets with his cane. One neighbor said, “I didn’t really know him that well, but apparently nobody did.”

This is a morbid but sad story that reinforces the need we all have for relationships.

  • How well do we know our neighbors?
  • Even in church, how well do we know the people who sit near us week in and week out?
  • Remember that guy who used to come to your Bible study group? You can’t remember his name, but over time you realize he stopped coming. Hmm. Do you wonder whatever happened to him?

People may visit and attend your church for awhile because they like the music or the preacher, but they stay because of relationships. I’ve accepted the truth that adults don’t come to my Bible study group because I am a phenomenal Bible study leader. They come because of the relationships they’ve formed.

Let me ask you to do something—just one thing. This week—today—build a relationship with someone you don’t know. Maybe you only know a first name because she sometimes comes to church or your Bible study group. Go to lunch after church. Don’t know what to say? Try this:

“Tell me your story.”

And let them talk.

 That one neighbor’s comment about Vinnie could be said about a lot of people:  “I didn’t really know him that well, but apparently nobody did.” We are surrounded by Vinnie Ricardos. These are people who may need a hand from time to time, and they certainly need a listening ear. Your Vinnie Ricardo could be a blind neighbor on your street or she could be that quiet individual who slips in and out of church without much contact.

A simple conversation can make all the difference in that person’s life. And it will make a difference in yours.

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This Screen-Shot-2013-06-24-at-1.41.38-PM (1)post supports the study “A Channel of Comfort” in Bible Studies for Life.


Freely Sharing a Life-Saving Drug

Prescription drugs are usually expensive—and some of them seem outrageously so. Much of that is understandable since some companies have invested years and countless funds in research and development.

And then there are others, the most infamous being what Turing Pharmaceuticals did two years ago. They acquired the drug Daraprim, which had already been on the market for 62 years, and immediately raised its price from $13.50 to $750—for each tablet. Granted, many of the most expensive drugs are needed by only a small percentage of the population, but for those people, it can be life or death. Only one million people in the world suffer from familial lipoprotein lipase deficiency, but the drug to treat this cost $1.2 million a year.

Sure,  we could debate finding the balance between adequately funding a drug and charging obscene prices, but I’d like to take the opposite approach and highlight when a completely different tactic was taken.

I’m a Type I diabetic. I’ve been one since I was 21. Had I lived a hundred years ago, I would’ve only lived to age 22. But things changed in the 1920s that made a difference for me and millions of others.

Frederick Banting and Charles Best

Diabetes had been known for thousands of years, but it was only by the 1920s that researchers figured out the pancreas had something to do with it. On July 27, 1921, scientists at the University of Toronto isolated the culprit as insulin. They did research with dogs. They were able to cause the pancreas to malfunction, then they injected the dogs with insulin—and the dogs were able to chase cars, annoy the family cat, and shed on the furniture. Y’know, normal dog stuff.

Next, they isolated a reasonably pure form of insulin from cattle, and gave it in daily injections to a 14-year-old boy. He was about to chase girls, annoy his sister, and put his feet on the furniture. Y’know, normal teenage boy stuff.

Daily  insulin injections were the answer.  Now comes the fascinating part.

They gave this information away. The scientists gave the license to produce insulin to any and all pharmaceutical companies for free. No royalty was required.

Immediately, thousands of lives were extended.  And because about three million people suffer from Type i diabetes just in the US, these scientists could’ve made a killing, Instead they settled for receiving the Nobel Price for their work.

I am a beneficiary of the life-saving work done by Drs. Frederick Banting and Charles Best. I am also a beneficiary of another life-saving treatment. Sin, rebellion, and death controlled my life—and with them the symptoms of no peace, no joy, and no contentment. I needed blood. The innocent blood of Jesus Christ was shed to take the place of my sin-tainted blood. I was washed clean and purified by the blood of Christ.

I know that without one ounce of doubt. I know who I once was and who I am now, and it can only be explained by the life-saving, life-altering work Jesus Christ did for me.

This gift from Christ was costly, but He gave it away freely.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Eph. 1:7).

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