Friday, December 07, 2018

Time for a Temple Cleasing

I have a need
of such clearance
as the Savior effected in the temple of Jerusalem
a riddance of clutter
of what is secondary
that blocks the way
to the all important central emptiness
which is filled
with the presence of God alone

-- Jean Danielou

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Lien Among the Pots

In her devotional, Edges of His Ways (1932)the great missionary, Amy Carmichael (1932).wrote the following based on: Psalm 68:13:

Though ye have lien among the pots. . . .

I think we sometimes feel as though we had. Perhaps we have been especially eager to press through and up into the clear air, and meet our Lord in the radiant, intimate way granted to others, and we do not seem to have been able to do so. The more we looked towards Him Whom our soul loveth, the more we saw His dazzling purity, the more we felt “among the pots”, sooty; like him who “would not lift up so much as his eyes unto Heaven”; like him who said, “Woe is Me! For I am undone . . . for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.”

“Though ye have lien among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold.” It is the sun striking down upon the bird that gives that look of silver and gold. I have never seen it, on our doves and paddy-birds flying across the sky, without wonder and comfort that passes words. There is nothing too good for His love to do. Love transforms the thing it loves. The look of love transforms. We have lain among the pots; we have not risen to our opportunities. “I am undone” seems somehow to describe our condition. And yet our Lord, our glorious Lord, comes with this word to us, holding it out, as it were, in His pierced hands: “Yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold.”

Friday, November 30, 2018

A Prayer for Growing Older

Lord, Thou knowest better than I know myself that I am growing older, and will someday be old.
"Keep me from getting talkative, and particularly from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every occasion.
"Release me from craving to try to straighten out everybody's affairs.
"Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details-give me wings to get to the point.

"I ask for grace enough to listen to the tales of others' pains. Help me to endure them with patience.
"But seal my lips on my own aches and pains-they are increasing, and my love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by.
"Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally it is possible that I may be mistaken.
"Keep me reasonably sweet; I do not want to be a saint-some of them are so hard to live with-but a sour old person is one of the crowning works of the devil.
"Make me thoughtful, but not moody; helpful, but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it all-but Thou knowest, Lord, that I want a few friends at the end."
Author Unknown

Thursday, November 29, 2018

A Hymn for Stressful Times

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
forgive our foolish ways;
reclothe us in our rightful mind,
in purer lives thy service find,
in deeper reverence, praise.

 In simple trust like theirs who heard
beside the Syrian sea
the gracious calling of the Lord,
let us, like them, without a word
rise up and follow thee.

O Sabbath rest by Galilee,
O calm of hills above,
where Jesus knelt to share with thee
the silence of eternity,
interpreted by love!

Drop thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of thy peace.

Breathe through the heats of our desire
thy coolness and thy balm;
let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm!

--  John Greenleaf Whittier

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Insecurity Breeds Toxicity

"You cannot effectively lead from a heart of insecurity.
Security encourages debate; insecurity fears debate.
Security encourages criticism; insecurity fears criticism.
Security welcomes diversity; insecurity builds walls.
Beautiful challenge of self-awareness today."

-- L. D. Buckingham in Zoom conversation with my Launching Your Ministry Class.   Notes from Paige Rouse.

Monday, November 26, 2018

The Devil Doesn't Mind This Kind of Christian Work

"Satan is not necessarily opposed to all Christian work. He cares little how zealously we busy ourselves at good things so long as we do not work in the power of the Holy Spirit. He is often pleased if we work so hard and so long that we begin to fret and worry. He is happy if we undertake more work than we can saturate with prayer. He would not seriously oppose if every Christian were a tireless worker -- so long as he worked only in his human energy and was not empowered and anointed by the Spirit of God."

-- Wesley L. Duewel

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Thanksgiving is an Attitude

Thanksgiving is not a holiday -- it's an attitude! If it's just a holiday for us, then we let ourselves off the hook. "I'll celebrate Thanksgiving one day a year, and be a grouch the other 364!"

Actually, Thanksgiving Day is simply a reminder of how we should live every moment.  It is a special day to celebrate what we are called to be all year long!

Thanksgiving is "Thanks-living!"

Did you know that thankfulness and mental health go together? Counting your blessings brings healing, inner strength and emotional well-being. Everything goes downhill with negativism and self pity.

How does a person cultivate a thankful heart?

1. Go hunting for small blessings.
Your life is packed with millions of small treasures! Sometimes, petty annoyances distract us from the abundance of joy.

2. Focus on what you have rather than what you wish you had.
Perhaps you don't have everything you'd like -- Is this really the end of the world?
Think about this: you are more wealthy than the majority of the world's population. Or consider this: You have a thousand times more stuff than the Pilgrims who landed on Plymouth Rock. Contentment is not found in the accumulation of things. It is a matter of the heart.

3. Quit waiting for someone to serve you, and commit yourself to serving others.
Make it your goal to encourage and inspire others. Think "Here to Serve" when you walk into a room. Jesus said that the "greatest" person is the one who serves. If investing in servanthood was good enough for Jesus, it should work well for the rest of us.

4. Become a generous giver.
Generous people are always the most happy individuals around -- they have discovered that giving brings tremendous fulfillment. Someone once said, "Give until it hurts." But I don't think it works that way. Instead, we ought to say, "Give until it feels great!"

Killing your inner stingy miser is the only thing that hurts -- once you get past that, giving is a joyful adventure!

5. Go on a complaint fast.
Intentionally refrain from complaining and criticizing. If a complaint or criticism comes to your mind, grab it, handcuff it, stick it in jail, and replace it with a praise.

6. Smile.
Your day automatically goes better when you face it with a smile.  It makes you feel better, and look better too! All of your friends will thank you for smiling. Who wants to look at a scowling face?

7. Pray and read the Bible regularly.
If your problems are big enough to stew over, they're big enough to bring to God in prayer. Good things happen when people pray. The Bible is filled with faith inspiring, love motivating, and hope producing passages. A daily dose of God's love letter brings strength for every situation.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Love is in the Listening

“The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for others is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear.

So it is His work that we do for others when we learn to listen to them. Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.

Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But those who can no longer listen to others will soon be no longer listening to God either; they will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too.

This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words. One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and be never really speaking to others, albeit they be not conscious of it. Those who thinks that their time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and others, but only for themselves and their own follies.”

-- Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

A Cure for His Wife's Temper Problem

A man went to the doctor, worried about his wife’s temper.

  The doctor asked, “What’s the problem?”

  The man said, “Doctor, I don’t know what to do. Every day my wife seems to lose her temper for no reason. It scares me.”

  The doctor said, “I have a cure for that. When it seems that your wife is getting angry, just take a glass of water and start swishing it in your mouth. Just swish and swish but don’t swallow it until she either leaves the room or calms down.”

  Two weeks later, the man came back to the doctor looking fresh and reborn.

  The man said, “Doctor, that was a brilliant idea! Every time my wife started losing it, I swished with water. I swished and swished, and she calmed right down! How does a glass of water do that?”

  The doctor said, “The water itself does nothing. It’s keeping your mouth shut that does the trick.”

  (Thanks to my brother, Steve, who shared this funny joke with me.)

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Holiness is a Symphony of Love

God is love—love lived out through the power of the Holy Spirit in a community of gifted individuals playing one musical piece in different parts, a holy symphony. 

 Holiness is life lived by people in the fullness of the Holy Spirit who are empowered to offer a drastic alternative to the world around them. Love is the melody running through the community, underneath the community, and all around the community. 

 The Christian community is not a place of jarring instruments singing different songs, or a place of gossip, conflict, rejection, pain, strife, and hatred. It is a place where the Spirit’s fruit is present in abundance, so much so that the world around the Christian community can’t help but join the melody. It is a community that is so unified, so melodious, so beautiful that it stops others in their tracks. Those on the outside can’t help but peer in, and watch with awe and wonder, and notice the unity of the symphony. 

 Instead of the emphasis being on the solo Christian striving to live a holy life, it is on a holy people, a symphony. It is a collection of individuals all uniquely gifted, sometimes polarizing opposites, yet unified in the same symphony. 

 --  Tara Beth Leach  (The Holiness Tradition in the New Perspective in The Apostle Paul and the Christian Life )

Saturday, November 10, 2018

When You've Bitten Off More Than You Can Chew

Occasionally, all of us find ourselves overloaded. Sometimes, it’s the result of circumstances beyond our control. Often, however, it’s because of poor energy/time management on our part. As Momma said, “You’ve bitten off more than you can chew!”

This is particularly true for “can do” people with a bias for “yes.” They get a lot accomplished, and occasionally find themselves swamped in the process.  As one of those “can do – bias for yes” people, I’ve found myself in that condition numerous times along the way. I’ve gleaned a few insights from those experiences, and offer a few suggestions to consider when you’ve bitten off more than you can chew.

1) Ask yourself – “Why am I doing this?”
We assume unnecessary responsibilities because we don’t want to disappoint someone, or because we haven’t mastered the art of gracious refusal. If you don’t have a good reason why you’re carrying the load, that’s a good clue that you shouldn’t have picked it up in the first place. Of course, if you made a commitment to do something, you should go ahead and get it done – but learn the valuable lesson in it, so you won’t repeat the same mistake in the future.

2) Say “Maybe” first instead of “Yes.”
Often, the reason why we’re swamped is because we said “yes” without thinking it through. Some people start with “no” and work to “yes.” Others start with “yes” and work to “no.” The better approach is to start with “maybe” – and then process it honestly and thoroughly.

3) Break Big Projects Down into Smaller Chunks.
Near the end of the summer a few years ago, our riding lawnmower broke down, and I decided to wait until spring to replace it.  This meant a ton of push-mowing for my boys and me. At first, the task seemed overwhelming – but we broke the lawn down into five smaller sections, divided the duties out among ourselves, and it made the task manageable. Big projects and responsibilities are like that. At first, they can loom like an enormous mountain - -but if you break them down into little molehills, they’re much less daunting.

“I’m so hungry I could eat an elephant!” a man said.
“How on earth could you eat an elephant?” his friend replied.
“One bite at a time!”

4) Stop Avoiding and Get Started!
Avoiding a task takes more energy than just facing it, rolling up your sleeves and getting to work. It’s amazing what you can do if you just put your mind to it, and get into gear. Valuable energy is wasted when we fret and stew over all we need to accomplish. Stop stewing and start working on it! You’ll be further ahead at the end of the day.

5) Delegate, Delegate, Delegate.
Is there someone else who can help? Could another person do this job 80% as well as you? Then give it to them! When speaking to pastors on the art of delegation, I often have them write down all the duties and responsibilities that need to be fulfilled in the congregation. Then I ask, “Who is responsible to do that job?” Many pastors discover that they carry responsibility for far too many tasks, which actually wars against their overall effectiveness. I encourage them to find others to fulfill most of these duties – and then become their coach and cheerleader. Thus, the satisfaction of purposeful service is shared and burnout is avoided.

6) Build Breathing Space into your Schedule.
Especially if you are stressed out and overloaded by enormous burdens, you need to build in breathing space. Actually write it into your calendar – just like you would a doctor’s appointment – “breathing space.” Time spent re-charging is really an investment rather than an expenditure. If you don’t have time to take an afternoon or evening – then take an hour. If you don’t have time to take an hour, then take 15 minutes. We’re not too bright when we burn the candle at both ends!

7) Make it a Temporary Tunnel.
Sometimes, regardless of how we arrange things, we still find ourselves in an ultra-demanding situation. In times like this it’s important to do two things:
a. Assess the situation by asking, “how can I make this temporary?”
b. Once you’ve figured that you, remind yourself, “this is only temporary!” 

Thursday, November 08, 2018

His Bite is as Bad as His Bark

A man was bitten by a rabid dog and ended up in bed seriously ill.  He mustered up enough strength to request a pen and a pad of paper.  Then, he began to write furiously -- page after page.  "Honey, are you writing your last will and testament?" his wife asked.  "No," he replied, "I'm making a list of people I'm going to bite!"

 "His bark is worse than his bite" has been said both of dogs and grumps.  Unfortunately, there are some people who can pack a pretty vicious bite.

 Perhaps, you have been "bitten" by someone.  Maybe you felt the sting of gossip or the barbs of unjust criticism.  Such encounters leave us wounded and in need of emotional first aid.

 How do you handle "attack dog people"  -- the ones who snarl and snap at you, and will take a hunk out of your behind if you turn your back?

 1.  Remember, hurting people hurt people.  When they lash out, it reveals their deep inner pain.  It is almost as if they are announcing their pain to the world.  "I'm hurting right now, and so you need to hurt right along with me!"

 2.  Receive the kernel of truth.  Most criticisms contain at least a sliver of truth.  Think of criticisms as walnuts.  You don't need to swallow the hole nut.  Just find the helpful kernel.

 3.  Refuse to quarrel.  Nobody wins an argument, and if somebody jumps in the mud, you can't clean them up by jumping in the mud with them. In situations like that it is best to hold your tongue.  You won't regret the angry words you didn't say.

 4.  Refuel your emotional tank.  An encounter with a negative, critical person can poke a hole in your tank, leaving you spent and exhausted.  Be sure to take the time to replenish the depleted supply. Whatever it is that fills your tank -- do it!  I have found prayer to be the greatest tank filler available for the human heart.

 5.  Remain positive.  Keep doing the right thing, even if someone is taking pot shots at you.   As Teddy Roosevelt said,  “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena."

 6.  Reach out.  Our wounds come through relationship, and they are healed through relationship.  Those who strive for peace and understanding generally find them,.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Build a Fence of Trust

 One day, after making a hospital visit in Duluth, Minnesota, I was drawn by the spire of the old First Presbyterian Church. A kind secretary opened up the sanctuary for me to sit and pray for a while.

 Gazing around, my eyes fell upon a beautiful stained glass window. It was the picture of a gravestone with dark purple and black hues overshadowing it. But at the top of the window, squarely in the center of a black night, shone a bright golden star -- which seemed to exude hope and light. The star was the focal point of the window.

 At the bottom, the following words were inscribed:
In memory of Sarah Agnes Graff
 Build a little fence of trust around today.
 Fill the space with loving work and therein stay.
 Look not through the sheltering bars upon tomorrow.
 God will help thee bear whatever comes, of joy or sorrow.

I wondered what the story was behind Sarah Agnes Graff -- who passed into eternity at the tender age of 36. What was it about her that inspired such a beautiful work of art?

Upon some further investigation, I found that she and her family had moved from central Pennsylvania a few years before, and that her husband, Phillip, owned and operated a very successful lumber and interior furnishings company. The Graff's seemed blessed, indeed, with a lovely home, a thriving business, a good reputation in the community, and five beautiful, healthy children.

Tragedy, however, does not discriminate. It knocks at every door. Sarah fell ill with a high fever and severe abdominal pain. Before the doctors could find the cause or cure, she slipped into unconsciousness and died. She drew her last breath on November 20, the day before Thanksgiving.

I imagined Phillip, the heartbroken father, and his precious children: little Herbert, only five; and Agnes, age six, along with twelve year old Carroll, and the two teenage daughters, Anna and Margaret,, standing beside an open grave at Forest Hill Cemetery, on that cold, bleak November afternoon.

Rev. Ringland, their beloved minister, bowed his head and said:
Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God to take unto Himself the soul of our sister, Sarah, here departed, we therefore commit her body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

And then, the grieving family walked away together, with deep sorrow and a glimmer of hope to face uncertain days.
I've heard it said that there are two things that pierce the human soul: beauty and anguish.
The Sarah Graff window at First Presbyterian Church captures both.

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned."
(Isaiah 9:2)

. . . God will help thee bear whatever comes -- of joy or sorrow.

I shared this story in my first book, Filled Up, Poured Out.