Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Jesus Was a Small Town Preacher

The majority of protestant churches are in small towns and rural communities. Many pastors, upon graduation from seminary, find themselves in one of these "ends of the earth" assignments.

Their attitude is "I'm stuck here in this one horse town until I learn the ropes.  Then, I'll move on and do something important."

Today, as Christmas approaches, I'd like to challenge the assumption that small places are insignificant.

Jesus, God in human flesh, came to the earth on a mission from heaven to transform humanity. He looked the whole world over and picked the perfect place to launch his global and eternal enterprise.

Where did he go? What was his strategic missional selection? A small town!

"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times." (Micah 5:2)

You won't get any Christmas cards with pictures of Rome, Athens, or Jerusalem on them -- It's the little village of Bethlehem that takes center stage each December.

Of course, if you want to go further -- Jesus also grew up in a small town (Nazareth), spent most of his ministry in Galilean hamlets, and headquartered in rural Capernaum.

He literally changed the world from end of it!

If you have been chosen to serve in a small place, take heart! Be encouraged! You're in excellent company. Jesus was a small town preacher too!

I pray that in days to come, small town and rural churches will rise up, reclaim their heritage, and play a significant role in the coming worldwide revival.

Monday, December 15, 2014

How About Giving?

Santa asks, “What do you want for Christmas?”   Little kids bring their lists while parents eavesdrop.

That’s precious, and I certainly don’t want to detract from the Christmas wonder little ones experience.

But, at the essence, Christmas is not for getting – it’s for giving!

'Tis the season of unselfishness.  'Tis the season to share with those you love. 'Tis the season to be compassionate for those less fortunate.

It’s not about spending money you don’t have on stuff they don’t need.  This year, especially, with financial squeeze we’re feeling – how about simplifying? How about being creative, spending a little less, and giving a little more of yourself? How about shopping locally, so you bless your neighbors by your spending, helping them put food on their tables?

How about giving something homemade? How about giving your time?

How about remembering those in need? Did you know that Americans spent $450 billion on Christmas spent year and that we could provide safe, clean drinking water for every person in the world for $10 billion? What if this Christmas, we were less consumeristic and more compassionate? Consider joining the “Advent Conspiracy” (http://www.adventconspiracy.org/)

How about your neighbors who are suffering? If you have a heart to help, you will find the path to do it.  There are many little children, right here in our own community, who go to bed hungry and don’t have adequate winter clothing. What can you do to make a difference for them?

How about putting something in the kettle, when you pass the Salvation Army bell ringer? Better yet, how about signing up for a stint of bell ringing? How about getting a few friends together and caroling at the home of someone who is sick?

Who knows? In the end, you might just say, “It was my best Christmas ever!”

Friday, December 12, 2014

ABC's of Gratitude

Alphabet Soup For the Soul

A lthough things are not perfect

B ecause of trial or pain

C ontinue in thanksgiving

D o not begin to blame

E ven when the times are hard

F ierce winds are bound to blow

G od is forever able

H old on to what you know

I magine life without His love

J oy would cease to be

K eep thanking Him for all the things

L ove imparts to thee

M ove out of "Camp Complaining"

N o weapon that is known

O n earth can yield the power

P raise can do alone

Q uit looking at the future

R edeem the time at hand

S tart every day with worship

T o "thank" is a command

U ntil we see Him coming

V ictorious in the sky

W e'll run the race with gratitude

X alting God most high

Y es, there'll be good times and yes some will be bad, but...

Z ion waits in glory...where none are ever sad!

(Special thanks to my sister-in-law, Sandy, who sent this to me.  I do not know the author.)

Your Thorns Have Roses Too

Happiness is a decision -- a choice.

If you wait for "happenings" to make you happy -- you'll be waiting
most of the time.

Life isn't easy. It brings a measure of pain, as well as joy. The thorns come with the roses.

There's no such thing as a thornless life.

John Calvin said, "We must develop a better and deeper concept of happiness than that held by the world, which makes a happy life consist of ease, honor, and great wealth."

Now, it's a wonderful thing when somebody pushes the "easy button" for us. When plans go better than anticipated, we all rejoice.

It always feels good to be appreciated and honored. We are all glad to be recognized for "extra mile" effort.

Having extra money is always nice. "Money doesn't buy happiness, but it sure comes in handy!"

Nevertheless, if we must depend on ease, honor and wealth to make us happy, we are doomed to misery

When we chase happiness by these avenues, we'll never find it. It's like trying to catch a butterfly with your hands.

When we seek the Higher Truth, rather than these lesser desires, we find what we've been wanting all along!

Follow the God-path, and the joy will follow.

"Seek first, the Kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you." Matthew 6:33

Your roses may have thorns, but don't forget -- your thorns may have some roses too!

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Are You Running on Positive Juice?

What kind of juice do you have in your tank?

Lawnmowers and cars run on gasoline.
Chainsaws and weed eaters run on a gas/oil mixture.
Sailboats and kites run with the wind.
Campfires run on wood -- And you run on one of two kinds of energy:
positive or negative (or, more likely, a mixture of both.)

What's the difference between running on positive vs. negative juice?

1. Negative juice is the "default" mode. If you don't deliberately choose the positive path, you'll end up operating in the negative. We are grumpy by nature -- and cheerful by choice. Nobody is positive by accident -- It requires a strong commitment and a new way of thinking.

2. Running on negative juice is easier at first -- but much harder in the long run. Since it is the default mode, you don't have to work at becoming negative -- it just happens naturally! No extra effort is required. However, those who operate with negative energy find that life is much more difficult. Positive energy takes more effort up front -- and less effort all the rest of the way. Guaranteed -- a negative life is harder than a positive life.

3. Positive juice continually refills its own tank. In other words -- this energy creates more energy. Negative juice, on the other hand, is always draining. The tank is continually empty. When you're running in the negative, you will find yourself always tired, burdened and depleted.

4. The biggest difference between positive and negative juice people is the way they think:

Positive juice people think about solutions rather than problems.
They think about their blessings rather than their rights.
They focus on serving others rather than themselves.
They are givers rather than takers.
They talk about what can be done, rather than what can't be accomplished.
They realize that happiness is a choice rather than a reaction.
They are directed by principles rather than situations.
They find the good rather than the faults.
They are encouragers rather than discouragers.

Nobody wants to be a negative person -- but many end up that way, because they have not determined to change the course.

Your canoe will not go upstream unless you're willing to paddle!

Here are a few suggestions to help you paddle upstream and fill your emotional tank with positive energy:

1. Intend to be a positive person. Your life will never rise above the level of your intentions. Generally speaking, you become what you intend to be.

2. Surround yourself with positive people. Who is the most positive person you know? See if you can spend some time with that person.  Positive people lift and encourage us to be our best.

3. Spend time in prayer and meditation every day. Connecting with God puts everything else in perspective.

4. Read the Bible as well as other inspiring books. Biographies of great people instill hope and inner strength.

5. Listen to "soul filling" music. What type of music fills your soul?  How can you build this into your life?

6. Capture your negative thoughts. When these emotional terrorists attack, you need to capture them and hold them as prisoners of war.  You can replace old mullings with new, inspiring ideas. The Bible  instructs us to  "take every thought captive."

7. Find a 'replenishing" place. Certain places help us to order our hearts. It is good to discover beautiful, inspiring places where we can be refilled.You can become a positive inspiring person if you make the commitment and the effort. Your family and friends will certainly be delighted if you do!

Monday, December 01, 2014

Are You Ready for Christmas?

December is here -- bringing the dreaded question everybody hates: "Are you ready for Christmas?"

Whenever that question is asked, the response is always a groan -- "Are you kidding? Don't remind me!"

The assumption here is that "Are you ready for Christmas?" means "Are your decorations all up, your cookies all baked, and your gifts all purchased? Are you finished with all of your Christmas preparations?"

Of course, the answer to that question will most likely be a resounding "NO!" (Unless you are one of those rare breeds who plans way ahead and finishes your Christmas shopping sometime around
Halloween. Many of us are "adrenaline" shoppers. We wait until the last minute, and then scurry off in a shopping frenzy.

I wonder what would happen if we moved being ready for Christmas from the "finished" side of the holidays, to the "beginning". Instead of thinking we have to be done with everything before we're ready, can't we "get ready" ahead of time? If we wait until all the tasks are finished before we are ready for Christmas, we miss out on the beauty of the season. A properly prepared heart changes the way a person experiences the days between Thanksgiving and the New Year.

One early December day, I was on a solitude seeking drive, and happened upon a monastery. If there's solitude anywhere, a monastery tops the list! As I entered the building, I noticed brown-robed monks chanting around, along with a white haired lady who was obviously a visitor.

"What are you doing in a monastery?", I asked.

"I'm getting ready for Christmas," she replied. Looking around, I didn't see any gift wrap or cook books.

"How are you getting ready for Christmas here?"

"I'm reading the works of C. S. Lewis." 

"Oh," I mumbled, "I didn't know Lewis wrote Christmas books".

She smiled as she responded, "He didn't!"

Today, as December 25 approaches like a freight train, I'm pondering: What can I do to prepare myself for Christmas? How can I tune my heart so I will fully embrace this sacred season?

Here are a few thoughts:

1. This Christmas, don't over-do it. Think ahead and refuse to overspend, overeat, or overextend yourself.

2. Refuse to succumb to commercialism. Gadgets and gizmos are merely clutter.

3. Practice the art of intentional generosity. (i.e. caroling, ringing the Salvation Army bell, helping others)

4. Renounce all "grinchiness" and willfully embrace the Christmas spirit -- love, joy and peace.

5. Keep Christ first in Christmas.

6. Express love through simple acts of kindness.

I hope the next time somebody asks the banal question, "Are you ready for Christmas?" You can respond with a surprise: "Absolutely! Bring it on, Baby!"

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Exchanged Life

Recently, in a sermon, I shared this beautiful letter from the great missionary,  J. Hudson Taylor to his sister, Amelia, dated October 17, 1869.   It expresses the joy and depths of what it means to be one with Christ:

My own dear Sister—
So many thanks for your long, dear letter... I do not think you have written me such a letter since we have been in China. I know it is with you as with me—you cannot, not you will not. Mind and body will not bear more than a certain amount of strain, or do more than a certain amount of work. As to work, mine was never so plentiful, so responsible, or so difficult; but the weight and strain are all gone. The last month or more has been perhaps, the happiest of my life; and I long to tell you a little of what the Lord has done for my soul. I do not know how far I may be able to make myself intelligible about it, for there is nothing new or strange or wonderful—and yet, all is new! In a word, "Whereas once I was blind, now I see."
Perhaps I shall make myself more clear if I go back a little. Well, dearie, my mind has been greatly exercised for six or eight months past, feeling the need personally, and for our Mission, of more holiness, life, power in our souls. But personal need stood first and was the greatest. I felt the ingratitude, the danger, the sin of not living nearer to God. I prayed, agonised, fasted, strove, made resolutions, read the Word more diligently, sought more time for retirement and meditation—but all was without effect. Every day, almost every hour, the consciousness of sin oppressed me. I knew that if I could only abide in Christ all would be well, but I could not. I began the day with prayer, determined not to take my eye from Him for a moment; but pressure of duties, sometimes very trying, constant interruptions apt to be so wearing, often caused me to forget Him. Then one's nerves get so fretted in this climate that temptations to irritability, hard thoughts, and sometimes unkind words are all the more difficult to control. Each day brought its register of sin and failure, of lack of power. To will was indeed present with me, but how to perform I found not.
Then came the question, "Is there no rescue? Must it be thus to the end—constant conflict and, instead of victory, too often defeat?" How, too, could I preach with sincerity that to those who receive Jesus, "to them gave He power to become the sons of God" (i.e. God-like) when it was not so in my own experience? Instead of growing stronger, I seemed to be getting weaker and to have less power against sin; and no wonder, for faith and even hope were getting very low. I hated myself; I hated my sin; and yet I gained no strength against it. I felt I was a child of God: His Spirit in my heart would cry, in spite of all, "Abba, Father": but to rise to my privileges as a child, I was utterly powerless. I thought that holiness, practical holiness, was to be gradually attained by a diligent use of the means of grace. I felt that there was nothing I so much desired in this world, nothing I so much needed. But so far from in any measure attaining it, the more I pursued and strove after it, the more it eluded my grasp; till hope itself almost died out, and I began to think that, perhaps to make heaven the sweeter, God would not give it down here. I do not think I was striving to attain it in my own strength. I knew I was powerless. I told the Lord so, and asked Him to give me help and strength; and sometimes I almost believed He would keep and uphold me. But on looking back in the evening, alas! there was but sin and failure to confess and mourn before God.
I would not give you the impression that this was the daily experience of all those long, weary months. It was a too frequent state of soul; that toward which I was tending, and which almost ended in despair. And yet never did Christ seem more precious—a Saviour who could and would save such a sinner! ... And sometimes there were seasons not only of peace but of joy in the Lord. But they were transitory, and at best there was a sad lack of power. Oh, how good the Lord was in bringing this conflict to an end!
All the time I felt assured that there was in Christ all I needed, but the practical question was how to get it out. He was rich, truly, but I was poor; He strong, but I weak. I knew full well that there was in the root, the stem, abundant fatness; but how to get it into my puny little branch was the question. As gradually the light was dawning on me, I saw that faith was the only prerequisite, was the hand to lay hold on His fulness and make it my own. But I had not this faith. I strove for it, but it would not come; tried to exercise it, but in vain. Seeing more and more the wondrous supply of grace laid up in Jesus, the fulness of our precious Saviour—my helplessness and guilt seemed to increase. Sins committed appeared but as trifles compared with the sin of unbelief which was their cause, which could not or would not take God at His word, but rather made Him a liar! Unbelief was, I felt, the damning sin of the world—yet I indulged in it. I prayed for faith, but it came not. What was I to do?
When my agony of soul was at its height, a sentence in a letter from dear McCarthy [John McCarthy, in Hangchow] was used to remove the scales from my eyes, and the Spirit of God revealed the truth of our oneness with Jesus as I had never known it before. McCarthy, who had been much exercised by the same sense of failure, but saw the light before I did, wrote (I quote from memory):
"But how to get faith strengthened? Not by striving after faith, but by resting on the Faithful One."
As I read I saw it all! "If we believe not, He abideth faithful." I looked to Jesus and saw (and when I saw, oh, how joy flowed!) that He had said, "I will never leave you." "Ah,there is rest!" I thought. "I have striven in vain to rest in Him. I'll strive no more. For has He not promised to abide with me—never to leave me, never to fail me?" And, dearie, He never will!
But this was not all He showed me, nor one half. As I thought of the Vine and the branches, what light the blessed Spirit poured direct into my soul! How great seemed my mistake in having wished to get the sap, the fulness out of Him. I saw not only that Jesus would never leave me, but that I was a member of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. The vine now I see, is not the root merely, but all—root, stem, branches, twigs, leaves, flowers, fruit: and Jesus is not only that: He is soil and sunshine, air and showers, and ten thousand times more than we have ever dreamed, wished for, or needed. Oh, the joy of seeing this truth! I do pray that the eyes of your understanding may be enlightened, that you may know and enjoy the riches freely given us in Christ.
Oh, my dear sister, it is a wonderful thing to be really one with a risen and exalted Saviour; to be a member of Christ! Think what it involves. Can Christ be rich and I poor? Can your right hand be rich and the left poor? or your head be well fed while your body starves? Again, think of its bearing on prayer. Could a bank clerk say to a customer, "It was only your hand wrote that cheque, not you," or, "I cannot pay this sum to your hand, but only to yourself"? No more can your prayers, or mine, be discredited if offered in the Name of Jesus (i.e. not in our own name, or for the sake of Jesus merely, but on the ground that we are His, His members) so long as we keep within the extent of Christ's credit—a tolerably wide limit! If we ask anything unscriptural or not in accordance with the will of God, Christ Himself could not do that; but, "If we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us, and...we know that we have the petitions that we desire of Him."
The sweetest part, if one may speak of one part being sweeter than another, is therest which full identification with Christ brings. I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realise this; for He, I know, is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine. It makes no matter where He places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me; for in the easiest positions He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult His grace is sufficient. It little matters to my servant whether I send him to buy a few cash worth of things, or the most expensive articles. In either case he looks to me for the money, and brings me his purchases. So, if God place me in great perplexity, must He not give me much guidance; in positions of great difficulty, much grace; in circumstances of great pressure and trial, much strength? No fear that His resources will be unequal to the emergency! And His resources are mine, for He is mine, and is with me and dwells in me. All this springs from the believer's oneness with Christ. And since Christ has thus dwelt in my heart by faith, how happy I have been! I wish I could tell you, instead of writing about it.
I am no better than before (may I not say, in a sense, I do not wish to be, nor am I striving to be); but I am dead and buried with Christ—aye, and risen too and ascended; and now Christ lives in me, and "the life that I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me, and gave Himself for me." I now believeI am dead to sin. God reckons me so, and tells me to reckon myself so. He knows best. All my past experience may have shown that it was not so; but I dare not say it is not now, when He says it is. I feel and know that old things have passed away. I am as capable of sinning as ever, but Christ is realised as present as never before. He cannot sin; and He can keep me from sinning. I cannot say (I am sorry to have to confess it) that since I have seen this light I have not sinned; but I do feel there was no need to have done so. And further—walking more in the light, my conscience has been more tender; sin has been instantly seen, confessed, pardoned; and peace and joy (with humility) instantly restored: with one exception, when for several hours peace and joy did not return—from want, as I had to learn, of full confession, and from some attempt to justify self.
Faith, I now see, is " the substance of things hoped for," and not mere shadow. It is not less than sight, but more. Sight only shows the outward forms of things; faith gives the substance. You can rest on substance, feed on substance. Christ dwelling in the heart by faith (i.e. His Word of Promise credited) is power indeed, is life indeed. And Christ and sin will not dwell together; nor can we have His presence with love of the world, or carefulness about many things."
And now I must close. I have not said half I would, nor as I would had I more time. May God give you to lay hold on these blessed truths. Do not let us continue to say, ineffect, "Who shall ascend into heaven, that is to bring Christ down from above." In other words, do not let us consider Him as afar off, when God has made us one with Him, members of His very body. Nor should we look upon this experience, these truths, as for the few. They are the birthright of every child of God, and no one can dispense with them without dishonour to our Lord. The only power for deliverance from sin or for true service is CHRIST.
Your own affectionate brother,
J. Hudson Taylor