Monthly Archives: May 2017

Impossible – Difficult – Done

I was making travel arrangements when it hit me.  My two boys were going to be in a wedding and not as ring bearers.  They were old enough to be groomsmen for one of their best friends.  How did we get here so fast?  What happened to endless soccer practices and reminders about homework?  Then I read my last blog post and realized that I just wrote an entire post about pulling a muscle in my back.  What happened to that young guy who could play soccer all afternoon and help a friend move his apartment in the evening without even noticing a twinge?  OK – I admit it, I am a “man of a certain age” and definitely hitting that midlife hard.  In my case, it’s just with a little less concern about what crazy car I might purchase and more thought about how I might effectively use all this time.  Who knew that midlife came with extra time in the package and so many great choices about how to spend it.

This week, I met someone who is on the other side of midlife and still going strong.  Ed seems to have just begun to hit his stride after a life of accomplishment.  Not satisfied to work at a significant company in an important role, he stepped out and started his own when he was fairly young.  His ambition, however, was not to line his own pockets, but to see God’s kingdom expand and that the least of these have real opportunity.  Answering the call of a friend, he accepted the responsibility to help turn around a group of bookstores in Nigeria and led that effort for over a decade while still running his own company.  As those stores began to thrive again, he founded a not-for-profit with his son to make great Christian books available all over Africa at affordable prices.  In recent years, he has cheered and steered the efforts to help the Africa Study Bible become a reality all while serving on the board of strategically placed foundation.

When we met, Ed was excited, not to talk about the past, but to dream about the future.  He is convinced that something unique is going on in Africa with the proliferation of cell phone technology, the growth of print-on-demand equipment and the rising of African authors.  In his work with the African Study Bible, he had rubbed shoulders with numerous African theologians and authors, but was well aware of the lack of indigenous African publishing.   Is now the time for that to change?  Could a truly African publishing industry be developed and nourished so that in the years to come, it could flourish?  A younger man like me could see all the obstacles, but Ed seemed to simply see possibility and I began to catch his enthusiasm.  It was contagious.  Most really big visions are like this and Ed has really big vision.

As we were talking, he reminded me of a quote from the famous pioneering missionary, J. Hudson Taylor that had been a real motivator for him,

“I have found there are three stages to every great work of God: first it is impossible, then it is difficult, then it is done.”

Thomas Chalmers, a Scottish theologian and pastor once said, “Regardless of how large, your vision is too small.”  That thought seems to haunt Ed as he looks at the future.  In talking about his vision for indigenous publishing for Africa he admitted that we were in the dreaming stage when things seem impossible and he couldn’t wait to get to the difficult part.  With a wry smile on his face he looked at me and said the Africa Study Bible was once impossible, then difficult and now it’s done.

Thinking about the years ahead, I realize that I have not been promised even one more day, but I have been promised that God will be faithful.  Why not dream a little?  Can I believe that simply providing Christian books and Bibles to the world is not enough?  Will I settle for the conventional wisdom that says that Amazon, Google and Apple will provide all Christian books at some point in the not distant future?  No way – I choose to envision a different future where a band of bold believers remembers how books change lives and dedicates their lives to being a part of that change.  A world where new Christian authors emerge, new publishing methods are embraced and many more people find Jesus in the pages of a book. A world where the local Christian bookstore is once again an oasis in a cultural desert and a source of life in world gone mad.  I choose to be a person of peace and to push back the darkness right where God has placed me.  What adventure is right around the corner?  If Ed’s life is any indicator, it is something pretty big.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Oh No I Didn’t

It happened and I didn’t even know it, at least not right away.  We had just finished an event this week and I was helping to clean up.  Everything had to be taken out of room and to our van and our portable sound system was next.  Without even thinking, I grabbed it with one hand and started walking.  I knew it was heavy, I knew I shouldn’t be carrying it by myself and yet there I was.  Later the same day, I unpacked our van and unloaded a heavy box of Bibles.  That box had to be moved to where it belonged and once again, I ignored my best instincts and hefted the box onto my shoulders and started walking.  Slowly, but surely, my body began to fight back.  By midafternoon, I was feeling a strange tingling in my leg and a growing ache in my back.  Sitting down didn’t feel so good.  I had made a big mistake.  In my haste to be helpful, I ignored good lifting techniques and now I was going to pay for it.  By that night I was in severe pain and knew that sleeping was going to be a challenge.

The next day, I was supposed to help our team clean out the basement of one of our stores and I was pretty useless.  I could barely get in and out of the van.  While I knew what needed to be done, I was not much help.  For all practical purposes, I was sidelined and I hated it.  How had this happened?  Simple.  I made some bad choices.  This time those choices had painful consequences.  Recovery would not be quick and I was going to have to make some different decisions in the weeks to come.  No more heavy lifting for a while and much more thought about how I lift heavy objects in the future.

As all this was happening and I was struggling to find a comfortable position for sleeping, I began to wonder how many other choices we face in life that are just like this.  How many times do we know what we are supposed to do and then do the opposite anyway?  In one of the most authentic and vulnerable verses in the Bible the Apostle Paul admits, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”  How often do we take people for granted, refuse to pick up a phone and call someone or simply ignore a problem and hope that it will go away? Knowing what to do is one thing, actually doing it is another thing entirely – that takes courage.  Andy Crouch talks about this in his latest book, The Tech Wise Family.  He says, “…even though it’s incredibly hard to simply know what we should do, it’s even harder to act on what we know we should do.  Because almost all the time, the most faithful, the most loving, and the wisest thing to do is scary, hard and painful”

At the end of the week, I got to attend one of the most extraordinary events I have ever been to.  Our local church was celebrating the life of our Pastor, Ron Lutz, who is stepping down from his role as lead pastor after thirty years.  It was a wonderful night and an incredible celebration of one of the humblest men I have known.  As person after person spoke, a pattern began to emerge.  Without even realizing it, Ron had had an outsized influence far beyond the church he helped to plant.  Many young pastors that he had mentored have gone on to serve in key ministry positions at other churches.  His support of one of those men led to a church planting network of over eight daughter churches in the Philadelphia area.  One of the people who thanked Ron for his years of service that night was the renowned church planter and author, Tim Keller, who counts Ron as a friend.  Serving alongside Ron as one of the elders in our church, I know something about his leadership style.  He cares about the little things.  He made the tough choices to get involved in the mess of other people’s lives when it would have been easier to avoid it.  He pursued reconciliation and forgiveness and publicly admitted his mistakes.  He led by example and I am profoundly grateful for his influence in my life.  As I face tough choices ahead whether it be lifting properly or being willing to forgive someone who has hurt me, I have a Godly example in my pastor who was willing to do the scary, hard and painful things.  Now it’s my turn to make better choices.

1 Comment

May 20, 2017 · 10:23 pm

The Power of Recommendation

Someone shared the story with me again this week.  I had nearly forgotten.  Several years ago, a distraught mother and her daughter came into our bookstore.  The mother was at her wits end and came right up to the counter to ask a question.  She was so desperate that she just blurted it out, “My daughter is suicidal and I don’t know what to do. Do you have anything that might help?”.  After thinking for a moment (and I am sure praying too), my colleague did what came natural, she recommended a book.  Instead of going to the self-help section or the counseling section, she went to the classics section, found a book by C.H. Spurgeon and handed it to this mother.  The book was called “Satan, A Defeated Foe” and dealt with the heart of the problem – our sufficiency in Christ and His power to conquer every problem, even suicidal tendencies.  To God’s glory, her daughter read the book and began the process of “taking every thought captive”.  Today, she is alive and her mother shares that story with anyone who asks.  While no one book is guaranteed to fix a person’s life, it is remarkable how the right one recommended at the right time can begin the process of life change that often seems so elusive.

At a time when our culture seems to get coarser by the day, getting a good book in someone’s hands can be remarkable act of kindness and community building.  Recently, I have been more and more curious about Russia and its relationship to the rest of the world.  Several weeks ago, I arrived at our Bible study group and discovered a bunch of books in the entrance way to our host’s home.  As I stepped through the door, Kevin (our host) told me he was getting rid of these and I was free to take one.  After looking through what was available, my eyes stopped on a biography of Peter the Great that had been a best seller at one time.  I picked it up and have not been able to put it down since.  Chapter after chapter have opened my eyes to a culture very different than my own and helped to explain a history that I had never heard before.  As I listen to the news about Russia these days, I see things through a different lens and can readily make connections from the past to the present.  I am no Russia expert now, but I have become much more sympathetic to a people have struggled greatly for their survival over many centuries.

Finding books to recommend has been one of the great joys of my life.  This typically starts by committing to reading widely, but also includes a lot of research.  At our annual conference this past month, we had a panel discussion on books that had impacted the lives of our team members.  It was remarkable to hear the diversity of perspectives and the different types of books that had been read.  Ironically the first panelist started with a book by C.S. Lewis and the last one finished with a book by Tolkien.  I love hearing how books have shaped a person’s thinking and perspective.  One of my favorite ways to discover great new books is to ask another trusted friend what they are reading and what they would recommend.  It is a wonderful conversation starter and can lead to all kinds of unique books and authors that I would never have considered.

Last weekend I attended a cookout with our Bible study group and the conversation turned to children’s books.  We were reminiscing about reading books like The Little House on the Prairie series and Pippi Longstocking.  It was remarkable to learn that many of us had read the same books and were impacted in similar ways by the authors and their stories.  I was so glad that my parents had introduced me to the Sugar Creek Gang right along with the Hardy Boys as those adventures captured my heart.  It is never too early to start reading and recommending great books.  You never know who might benefit from a book that has changed your life.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized