Monday, January 27, 2020

A Monday Morning Prayer

Give us your Spirit, Lord. Grant us a peaceful day,
— when evening comes we will praise you with joy and purity of heart.

Give us your Spirit, Lord. Let your splendor rest upon us today,
— direct the work of our hands.

Give us your Spirit, Lord. May your face shine upon us and keep us in peace,
— may your strong arm protect us.

Give us your Spirit, Lord. Look kindly on all who put their trust in our prayers,
— fill them with every bodily and spiritual grace.

Give us your Spirit, Lord.


Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Beyond the Blame Game: No Excuse for Making Excuses

Excuses are a dime a dozen. You can come up with all kinds of them to explain why you haven't been your best.

You can blame the boss.
You can blame the environment.
You can blame your family.
You can blame the clock (I just don't have time.)
You can blame the situation.

If you're looking for a way to weasel out of something you should be doing, you'll find it. The human mind has the uncanny ability to rationalize anything.

The bottom line, however, is that if you continue making excuses for mediocrity, you will never realize your true, God-given, potential. It does no good to dream about what you are going to accomplish tomorrow if you're unwilling to pay the price today.

Inspiration without commitment vanishes at the first hint of difficulty. A vision without careful planning is only a daydream. An idea isn't worth much unless it is accompanied by shoe leather.

Refuse to cave into "somewhere over the rainbow" thinking. Your "ship" isn’t coming in. Might as well quit standing on the shoreline waiting for the grand arrival. Instead put down the binoculars, pick up the hammer and build a boat.  

Sometimes people complain about "bad luck". They need to understand that "luck" is not nearly as important as attitude. You can make the best of your "bad luck" or the worst of your "good fortune." It's not what life hands you - but what you make of it that counts.

Instead of focusing on your problems, how about moving to the solution side?  You will discover that your "luck" will improve tremendously when you stop making excuses and start making progress.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

An Ugly Old Stump

Just an ugly old stump -- that's all it was -- and old stumps carry no hopes or dreams.

Only maps and memory rings

of thirsty days, hard toil, and weary longings
embedded to the core.

Just an ugly old stump -- a dwarfed reminder -- of what once was. . . and all that might have been.

If only.
If only.

But old stumps carry no hopes or dreams --

Only scarred rememberings. . .

of lightening strikes and howling wind,
of squirrels and hammer heads,
of children's summer play,

All these now faded away

To just an ugly old stump -- useless for humans, but to
to sit
to rest
to think

And hurried humans hardly take the time to do such things.

Just an ugly old stump -- that's all it was -- and old stumps carry no hopes or dreams.

Or do they?

Look again. Could it be? A tiny sprout of green?

What could this possibly mean?

"A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse" Isa. 11:1

"Hope springs eternal in the human breast. . ." Alexander Pope

"The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!"

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Another Year is Dawning

Another year is dawning!  
Dear Father, let it be, 
in working or in waiting,
another year with thee;
another year of leaning
upon thy loving breast,
another year of trusting,
of quiet, happy rest.

Another year of mercies,
of faithfulness and grace;
another year of gladness
in the shining of thy face;
another year of progress,
another year of praise,
another year of proving
thy presence all the days.

Another year of service,
of witness for thy love;
another year of training
for holier work above.
Another year is dawning!
Dear Father, let it be
on earth, or else in heaven,
another year for thee.

-- Frances Ridley Havergal

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

At the Turning of the 2020 New Year

Here we stand at the threshold of the New Year. 2019 will soon be passed and packed away, living only in the attic of memories.  Looking ahead to 2020, I can guarantee one thing: a lot of living will go into it.

How will it turn out? Only God knows. This chapter may be drama. Perhaps it will be romance. Action adventure. Comedy. Tragedy. Mystery.

Next December, upon reflection, you will be able to describe the events of 2020 – but not now. The best you can do is take a deep breath, throw your shoulders back, trust God, and march right in. Although you can't predict the happenings of the upcoming months, God can – and He will be with you as you travel from mountaintop to valley.  Nobody knows what tomorrow holds, but we do know Who holds tomorrow.

Sometimes, in lonely moments, it feels as if we are alone, but God has promised never to leave you or forsake you – even in the darkest hours.

An anonymous writer captured this idea with these inspiring words:

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year,  “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”   And he replied, “Go out into the darkness and put your hand in the hand of God.  That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

Transition from one year to the next calls us to:

1. Sober Reflection. 
2. Sane Calculation. 
3. Serious Resolution. 

So, don’t let yourself. . .

Fret – when you’re doing the best you can.
Rush – when success depends on accuracy.
Assume – evil of someone unless you have the facts.
Judge – another person’s motives.
Belittle – others with your actions and words.
Quit – in the face of difficulty
Allow -- bitterness and resentment to remain in your heart.
Make -- excuses for not doing what should be done.
Waste – time and energy on things that don’t matter.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

The Wilson's 2019 Online Christmas Letter

Season’s Greetings to all of our special loved ones. We are grateful for God’s many blessings throughout 2019, which was quite a year for our family: Adam and Alexandra were married, Andy was born, Lily came through a health scare, Luke was ordained, Luke & Emily moved, and Cathy’s parents (Phil & Madelyn Crail) celebrated 60 years of marriage.

Mark continues to teach at Southern Wesleyan University, and served the last part of the year as interim pastor of Welcome Wesleyan Church. He is continuing to work on his doctorate in Tranformational Preaching at Wesley Seminary.  Cathy is involved in many projects at home and in the community. She and Hannah continue to play (viola and violin) for University Strings.

Hannah lives at home and is currently a sophomore at Southern Wesleyan University, majoring in Early Childhood and Family Studies. She is doing an excellent job with her studies, and also works at The Growing Place Daycare Center. She was privileged to travel out west this summer on a biology class trip to visit such majestic sites as Yosemite and Sequoia National Park.

Wes and Jeweleeann live in a beautiful lakefront cabin a few miles from Stone Lake, Wisconsin.  Wes serves as the Project Success Coordinator and a student advisor at LCO Community College, on the Lac Coure Oreilles Ojibwa Reservation.

Luke and Emily have recently moved from Cumberland to Hayward, Wisconsin. Their one-year-old daughter, Lily, had some significant health issues earlier in the year, and thankfully they are resolving. She currently has a feeding tube and has been growing and gaining weight. We are grateful for all the friends who pitched in to assist them during their time of need during the weeks she was at Children’s Hospital in Minneota.

Luke's ordination in June was a beautiful event.

Ryan and Stacy were blessed with a second son, Andrew Jon, born on March 5. Ryan continues to serve on the pastoral staff of Hayward Wesleyan Church in Wisconsin as worship pastor and recently assumed additional responsibilities. Stacy continues to teach third grade in the Hayward Community School District. Beckett, age 3, is full of life and a wonderful big brother.

Andrew Jon Wilson

Adam and Alexandra were married in Troy, NY on August 30 in a beautiful ceremony. Adam works as a physicist at the Army Research Laboratory near Washington, DC. and Alexandra is the financial administrator for Graybug, a medical start-up company in Baltimore, helping people with vision threatening diseases. They also purchased their first home near a lake in Columbia, MD.

In August, we traveled to the Smoky Mountains for a special 60th wedding anniversary celebration for her parents, Phil & Madelyn Crail. We are privileged to have such a beautiful heritage of faith and love.

May 2020 bring you much joy in your journey.

Mark & Cathy Wilson

Friday, December 06, 2019

29th Anniversary of My Sanctuary Experience

29 years ago today, God did a beautiful work in my heart that changed my life.  I call this turning point my "Sanctuary Experience".  Allow me to share a chapter from my book, Purple Fish, which tells the story:

Something was missing. I was a professional Christian, raised in a parsonage, went to church three times a week, spent summers at camp, attended a Christian college, married a Christian girl, graduated from seminary, and landed a youth pastor job; but my spiritual life fell woefully short. There’s a big difference between serving God and loving him.

I was dry and lukewarm with exterior religion: self-serving at the core with an outer glaze of holiness. Though attempting to cover my soul anemia through busy church activity, Isaiah’s lament echoed in my honest moments. “My leanness, my leanness, woe unto me!” (Isa. 24:16 kjv). I was one of those rule-bound Christians who had just enough religion to make myself respectable and miserable.

I actually got away with half-baked spirituality for awhile but eventually realized I couldn’t do it that way any longer. With growing spiritual discontent, I embarked on an inner pilgrimage to discover what God really wanted for me. This process took several months. During my quest, the word repent popped up everywhere. I tried to ignore it. Repenting was for sinners and not for fairly faithful fellows like me. I practiced Mary Poppins Christianity: practically perfect in every way. So repentance seemed unnecessary.

But this message from Jesus repeatedly came to me loud and clear, through reading, music, sermons, and conversations: “Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15).

One day, I felt the nudge to open an old nineteenth-century Methodist theology text, Elements of Divinity. I bought it for a quarter at a rummage sale to make my library look impressive but had never read it. On this day, however, I pulled the book from the shelf and opened it. The chapter title was “Repentance.” Finally, God grabbed my attention, as I read the page.

This is my paraphrase of what it said: To find the fullness of Christ, you must: see God as he really is, see yourself as you really are, see yourself through God’s eyes of grace and mercy, and seek him with all your heart.

That’s exactly what I did over the next few weeks.

First, I asked God to help me see him as he really is, and scales fell from my eyes. For the first time in my life, I began to grasp his holiness and majesty. One disadvantage of being raised in a minister’s home is over-familiarity with spiritual things. I had viewed Christ as my friend, but failed to understand how high, holy, and mighty God is.

After I captured a glimpse of God’s holiness, I saw myself as I really was—not nearly as good and perfect as I previously assumed. Until this experience, I had an inflated view of myself. For instance, I refused to sing the word wretch when our congregation sang “Amazing Grace.” I thought, “I’m no wretch. That’s a horrid word! I’m a decent guy.” So I sang soul while everybody else sang wretch. But my wretchedness surfaced when I saw myself as I really was. In fact, my religious acts were just wretched, self-serving efforts to prop up my image. This took awhile to admit. At first I protested, “God, why are you asking me to repent? I don’t have anything to repent of.” I was like the lazy housekeeper who kept the lights off so nobody could see the dust. But then God turned the light on, and I saw all sorts of things that needed attention.

Seeing myself through God’s eyes of grace and mercy was actually the hardest step because I was so ashamed of being a judgmental, self-righteous hypocrite. It was hard for me to embrace God’s grace for myself, recalling something a friend said in a low moment: “I understand that he loves the world; I just struggle to believe that he would love me.”

My quest for peace took me on a journey through arduous interior terrain. Having lived mostly on the surface level, I found such soul searching extremely painful and frightening. Uncovering all sorts of unholy motives, desires, and ambitions, my heart cried out with the apostle Paul: “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24 kjv).

Grace Will Lead You Home

One evening, after a frustrating youth meeting where I harangued the poor students telling them that they were a big disappointment to God, I plopped on the couch and turned on the television to escape. A PBS documentary, Amazing Grace, was on. Opera diva, Jessye Norman, was sharing about the hope she found in her favorite verse of this sacred hymn: “Through many dangers toils and snares I have already come. Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”

“Deep calls to deep” (Ps. 42:7), and that moment, something called to the depths of my being—a whisper from heaven, “My grace will lead you home.”

My Sanctuary Experience

Long before dawn the following morning, I drove to the church and entered the sanctuary from a side door. Switching on the light above the piano, I found a hymnal and opened to page 293: “Amazing Grace.”

I had sung this hymn on countless occasions, but this was the first time I truly embraced it. “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found; was blind but now I see.”

I knelt at the altar in the empty sanctuary and poured out my heart: “Lord, I’m tired of going through the motions. I need you now and will not settle for lukewarm, halfhearted religion. Please give me the real thing. Take away whatever is unholy in my life and replace it with your love.”

I’m not sure how long I prayed, but it was long enough to do business with God. He met me there. It seemed like heaven opened, and God poured out buckets of holy love all over me. My heart overflowed with joy and peace. I felt a tingling, holy energy flowing through me.

The burdens I carried into the church that morning all fell away. My worries and concerns melted in mercy. Resentments turned to forgiveness, and guilt was covered with grace in a beautiful manifestation of God’s presence. “Heaven came down and glory filled my soul.”

Finally, knowing it was time to rise and face the world, I whispered, “God, if this is real, and not some figment of my imagination, please let me take it with me when I leave.” God answered by directing me to a Scripture verse. “May he give you what your heart desires and fulfill your whole purpose (Ps. 20:4 hcsb). I shouted, “Hallelujah!” and bounded from the place a transformed man.

Later that same day I led someone to Christ for the first time. Until then I never considered myself an evangelist. I always shrank back from such encounters. But now that I was juiced with Jesus, he gave me an opportunity to share his love.

Someone knocked at my office door. I was surprised to find Brenda, a former youth group member, standing there. She had been missing from church for months. “I don’t know why I’m here,” she stammered, “I was walking by the church just now and something made me turn and knock at your door.”

“I know exactly why you’re here!” I replied, “Let me tell you what Jesus did for me this morning!”

As I recounted my experience, Brenda wept. “I need that too. Can you help me find it?”

There in my office Brenda surrendered her life to Christ. That day I began to understand that evangelism is not some grim duty, but rather a beautiful gift that comes from overflowing love.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Five Gratitudes from a Thanksgiving Hymn

Reflecting on the old Thanksgiving hymn, For the Beauty of the Earth , I am truly grateful. . . 

1) For the Beauty of the Earth
Those of us living near the beautiful South Carolina mountains have a front row seat to the grandeur of God's creation.  

2) For the Wonder of Each Hour
Our days, hours and moments are precious.  I am grateful for each one.

3) For Thy Church 
In worship (holy hands above) and service (pure sacrifice of love). . . I am grateful for my brothers and sisters in Christ.

4) For the Joy of Human Love 
 Brother, sister, parent, child -- I am thankful for each member of my beautiful family.

5) For Thyself – Best Gift Divine.
 God has been my source of strength and comfort. I find that fellowship with Him is sweeter as the years go by. In my daily quiet time, He gives me the spiritual motivation and strength to face whatever comes throughout the day.

Praise is Inner Health Made Audible

C. S. Lewis connected worship with wellbeing when he wrote:
The obvious fact about praise—whether of God or anything—strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honour. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless …shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. 

The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game – praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious, minds, praised most, while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised least...Except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere, praise almost seems to be inner health made audible.

I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about. My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what we indeed can’t help doing, about everything else we value.

I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed… If it were possible for a created soul fully… to “appreciate”, that is to love and delight in, the worthiest object of all, and simultaneously at every moment to give this delight perfect expression, then that soul would be in supreme beautitude… T

he Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever”. But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.
-- C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms. (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1958), pp. 93–97

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Social Media Chiasmus

To demonstrate chiastic structure in Hebrew poetry (ABCCBA) for my Old Testament Survey class, I created the following chiasmus:

Social media ranting (A)
Wastes time, (B)
Makes enemies. (C)
To make friends, (C)
And redeem time, (B)
Post social media blessings (A)

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

How Scripture Gets into the Heart

"Why does the Torah tell us to place the words upon your hearts?  Why doesn't it tell us to place them in our hearts?," a student asked the rabbi.

The rabbi replied, "It is because our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the sacred words in our hearts.  So, we place them on top of our hearts.  And they stay there until, one day, our hearts are broken and the words fall in."