Monday, December 31, 2007

What Does This Painting Say to You?


Someone

There is someone I love, even though I don't approve of what he does. There is someone I accept, thought some of his thoughts and actions revolt me. There is someone I forgive, though he hurts the people I love most. That person is me! There are plenty of things I do that I don't like, but if I can love myself without approving of all I do, I can also love others without approving of all they do.

-- C. S. Lewis

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Today

In keeping with Hayward Wesleyan tradition -- on this last Suday of the year, our worship services will consist of favorite hymns (we dust off the hymnals, and people get to choose), testimonies (expressing what God has done, giving thanks, bringing a helpful passage of Scripture, and sharing prayer concerns), and a condensed version of the John Wesley Covenant Service.

We'll finish the service with communion.

I'm looking forward to hearing from my church family.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Wide Awake

What a wonderful discovery for preachers!

I'll have the ushers administer a whif of this to everybody right before the sermon.

A Million Minutia


I thought, if defeat came at all,
It would be in a big, bold
Definite joust
With a cause or a name.
And it came.

I had not thought the daily skirmish
With a few details, worthwhile;
And so I turned my back upon them
Year on year; until one day
A million minutia blanketed together
Rose up and overwhelmed me.
-- Author Unknown

Friday, December 28, 2007

Holy Turf Wars


Seems like making mountains out of molehills to me -- of course, most church fights are turf wars of some sort.

Spirit of Humility

Pour into me the whole spirit of humility; fill, I beseech thee, every part of my soul with it, and make it the constant ruling habit of my mind, that all other tempers may arise from it; that I may have no thoughts, no desires, no designs, but such as are the true fruit of a lowly spirit.

-- John Wesley

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Faith is the Oil


I am inwardly fashioned for faith, not for fear. Fear is not my native land; faith is. I am so made that worry and anxiety are sand in the machinery of life -- faith is the oil.
-- Dr. E. Stanley Jones

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

What Lies Beneath

"What lies behind us, and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Sometimes, we are tempted to let the hurts of the past direct our lives today. Certain moments have a way of defining us.

the accident
the death
the divorce
the argument
the illness
the failure

Painful experiences come in broken shards with jagged edges that cut deep and pierce the heart.

If we hold our hurts close, clutching them tightly in our grasp, we will never move beyond the pain. Sometimes, it's more "comfortable" to hang on to old hurts than to risk releasing them. Maybe doing so means letting go of our very identity.

But faith calls us to release the past -- to begin the long journey of healing.

Looking the other direction . . . towards the future . .trouble is a brewing! Every person has problems coming down the pike.

Why are we so surprised when trouble knocks at the door? It's normal! Hardship is just a part of the package of living!

However, there are plenty of blessings to go along with those troubles. It's a good mix, really -- a gallon of grace for every teaspoon of difficulty. God is with us.

Therefore, we must not succomb to the tears, nor cave to the fears. Regret and anxiety are terrible dictators.

No -- we just need to live one day at a time.

"What lies behind us, and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us."

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Eve Services

Over 700 people attended our three candlelight Christmas Eve Services last night. It was wonderful to have so many friends and neighbors join us as we celebrated our Savior's birth.

I concluded my "Christmas Prayers" series with "The Jesus Prayer". John 17 was my text -- the High Priestly Prayer. Here's what he prayed for his friends:

1. Protect (Keep) them by the power of your name. (v. 12)

2. Fill them with the full measure of joy. (v. 13)

3. Sanctify them by your truth (v. 17)

And this is His prayer for YOU!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Immanuel and Love in Galoshes


The job of a pastor is to help people experience Immanuel -- God WITH us (bringing God to people.)

That's my prayer for tonight. Three Christmas Eve services this evening (4, 7 & 9 p.m.) -- and I know they will all be packed. This will be my 17th year of candlelight Christmas Eve services in Hayward. They are always beautiful and heartwarming.

My hope this year, however, is that hearts will not just be "warmed" -- but set ablaze with the Love of Christ -- That those who come merely out of family tradition, will truly experience the powerful presence of Jesus.

On another note, the church family rose to the "giving tree" (and Angel Tree) challenge. Over 250 needy children received Christmas gifts, because our people cared enough to make a difference. Now, that's love in galoshes.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Lotsa Snow


It snowed like crazy last night -- with several more inches to come today. The good folks of Hayward Wesleyan have a good excuse to stay home from church today -- but those who brave it and come out will get the blessing.
Today's theme -- The Shepherd's Prayer.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas Church

Our good friend, Lisa Johnson, made a cool gingerbread church for the Wilson gang this Christmas -- complete with a "There's a Place for You" sign over the front door! Thanks Lisa!

We took pictures -- oohed and ahhed -- and now, we're going to eat it!

Aged Pastor

Thy love, O God! from year to year,
Has watched thy faithful pastor here,
Till fifty years of toil have now
Engraved their tokens on his brow.


Fast have the seasons rolled away;
A moment in thy sight were they,
Yet while their rapid course was run,
What mighty works thy hand has done!


What empires rose, and, at thy frown,
In sudden weakness crumbled down!
What barriers, reared by earth and hell,
Against thy truth, gave way and fell!


Meanwhile, beneath thy gracious sight
This flock has dwelt in peace and light,
By living waters gently led,
And in perennial pastures fed.


Oh, when before thy judgment seat
The pastor and his flock shall meet,
May thy benignant voice attest
Their welcome to thine endless rest.


-- William Cullen Bryant

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Seven Ups


Just a few days before she died, my friend, Leah emailed this inspiring little message to me.

"Happy Wednesday, Pastor Mark! I thought you might be able to use this sometime." (I used it at her funeral service Tuesday night, and several people requested a copy)

The Seven Ups

1. Wake Up! Decide to have a good day.
"This is the day the Lord hath made;Let us rejoice and be glad in it."Psalms 118:24

2. Dress Up ! The best way to dress up is to put on a smile. A smile is an inexpensive way to improve your looks.

"The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.Man looks at outward appearance,But the Lord looks at the heart." -- I Samuel 16:73.

3. Shush Up! Say nice things and learn to listen.God gave us two ears and one mouth, so He must have meant for us to do twice as much listening as talking.

"He who guards his lips guards his soul."-- Proverbs 13:3


4. Stand Up! For what you believe in. Stand for something or you will fall for anything.

"Let us not be weary in doing good; for at the proper time,We will reap a harvest if we do not give up.Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good.." -- Galatians 6:9-10

5. Look Up ! . . .To the Lord.

"I can do everything through Christ who strengthens me". -- Philippians 4:13

6. Reach Up !. . . For something higher.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart,And lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path." -- Proverbs 3:5-6

7. Lift Up ! . .Your Prayers.

"Do not worry about anything; insteadPRAY ABOUT EVERYTHING." -- Philippians 4:6

Blue Jean Funeral

Bobo hated suits and ties. So, yesterday, at the family's request, I wore jeans as I conducted his funeral. Now, I've officiated a couple hundred funeral services over the years --and that was my first one in blue jeans.

Also, they put together a memorial slide presentation, with "Turdy Point Buck" as background music. That was a first, too.

Mark, our church custodian (and Bo Bo's brother in law), played the piano -- "The Old Rugged Cross" and "Amazing Grace." That was the first time he'd ever played for a funeral. He was nervous -- but did a fantastic job. Occasionally, Mark surprises everybody and plays a piano solo at church, but mostly he just tickles the ivories when nobody is listening -- late at night after he finishes cleaning the church.

The funeral procession was led by Bo Bo's buddies riding on ATV'S. A fitting send off, for a good man who loved the woods, worked with his hands, and had a heart of gold, especially for children.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Leah's Funeral

Going into it, I really dreaded Leah's funeral. I didn't know how we were going to make it through. What I discovered, though, was something I've experienced many times before. God gives strength right when you need it. (He doesn't give the strength BEFOREHAND -- only when you need it. That's where faith comes in.)

Half the town showed up, bringing their love with them. We all cried together (holy water.)

It ended up being a beautiful celebration of Leah's life. We had the whole worship team -- drums, bass, guitars, flute -- and sang her songs (There are two kinds of singing, I told them -- singing when you're happy, and singing when you're sad, which gives you comfort and strength.)

We sang "Reign in Me", "In Christ Alone", and "When Its All Been Said and Done".

Four pastors read passages of Scripture (John 14, Psalm 139, II Cor. 5, Rev. 21)

Several people shared beautiful thoughts and memories. We had a moving slide presentation (to the music of "You are My Sunshine" and "Lifesong" )

I, then, shared a Message from Leah to all of us. It was based on the last e-mail she sent to me, just a few days before she died.

We sang "It is Well with My Soul" and "I Can Only Imagine", then joined hands and prayed together.

Finally, we exited the sanctuary with Amazing Grace as our postlude (It had also been the prelude -- reminding us that we are surrounded by grace. God's love goes before us, His mercy follows us. His grace will lead us home.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Today's Prayer

Today, the staff will gather, along with our spouses for our annual Christmas gathering. It's not exactly a party this year -- because our hearts and thoughts will be with Leah Conner's family, and her memorial service, which is scheduled for this evening.

We're going to have a big crowd tonight. Our worship team is going to lead us in some of the songs Leah loved (new music) and we're going to also draw strength from a couple of old hymns.

My prayer is that God will give me a special anointing to bring a word of faith and encouragement as we grieve together -- and that tonight, we might point someone to Jesus.

Sadly, before the visitation this afternoon, I am meeting with another family who lost a loved one in the prime of life. Bobo, in his mid 40's, died suddenly on Saturday. Tomorrow, another precious family will be gathering at the church in need of a word of comfort and hope.

The Lord is our strength.

Inadequate

David Classen wrote an encouraging piece called, "Feeling Good about Feeling Inadequate"


“Christ is never strong in us until we are weak." wrote William Tyndale, "As our strength diminishes, the strength of Christ grows in us. When we are entirely emptied of our own strength, then we are full of Christ’s strength. As much as we retain of our own, we lack of Christ.”

Monday, December 17, 2007

Carolers

Yesterday, in the lull between church services and caroling, (during the Packer game) there was a knock at our door. A group of dear friends had stopped by the Wilson home to carol to US!

Now, that was quite a surprise. Cathy and I sat on our stairs with warmed hearts.

We're always on the OTHER side of the carolings. What a joy to receive such a gesture of love and kindness.

I took their picture before they left. A fine crew, indeed!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Prayer of the Magi

Three kings bow before the infant in a manger. The heartwarming image touches our hearts as we open our Christmas cards.

Of course -- there's a lot to the story we don't know.

1. We don't know if they were kings. The Bible says they were "wise men" or "magi".

2. We don't know if there were three of them. Tradtion says so, but the only thing we know for sure is that they brought three gifts.

3. We don't know if they showed up at the manger. Again, the Christmas narrative tells us star appeared two years before. Some scholars say that Jesus, then, was two years old when the wise men showed up.

As a sentimentalist, however, I'd like to think that there were three wise men and that the star appeared two years before his birth, so they actaully showed up at the manger on that special night along with the shepherds (can't prove it -- but then, nobody can disprove it either, and it sure helps with the logistics of our Christmas pageant)

There's a whole lot we don't know about the magi. We have to use our imaginations to connect the dots and color the pages. However, I do believe I know the prayer these men held in their hearts as they journeyed to Bethlehem.

In many ways, it's the same thing I hold in my heart today: a prayer with three parts.

Part One: Where Are You?

Sometimes in life's journey, we face perplexing and difficult circumstances. There are days when the darkness overtakes the light, the sorrow outweighs the joy, and the questions are louder than the answers. We are prone to wonder: "Where are you, God? I'm looking, and I can't find you."

But he Christmas story reminds us that the Christ child is called "Immanuel" which means, "God WITH us." Even when it seems like he is nowhere to be found. . . he is NOW HERE -- Right Here -- Right Now. He is with us.

If you have a seeking heart, you will find Christ, because all along, He is seeking you!

Part Two: We've Seen Your Star

If you ask "where are you?" with an open, humble and honest heart, you will find the answer. You will see his star. It may not be exactly what you had pictured. You may not get a shout or a lightning bolt from heaven. Perhaps it will be just a whisper or small glimmer of hope.

Look for the hope glimmer. Look! You will find it. Through the clouds, his star is shining somewhere, and it will guide you home.

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

Part Three: We Have Come to Worship You

We may never get satisfactory answers to life's darkest questions. We may never understand why bad things happen to good people. But, if we can find it in our hearts to trust God anyway -- to honor him first with our lives, we will be blessed with peace.

Like the wise men, let us bring our gifts of Gold, Frankensence and Myrrh:

Gold speaks of Majesty. "Jesus, you are the King of Life. It will trust you and submit to your will. You are my Guide."

Frankensence speaks of Divinity. "Jesus, I turn my concerns into prayers. I believe you are good. You are my Helper"

Myrrh -- speaks of Suffering and Loss. "Jesus, I give you my griefs and sorrows. I know you are with me. You are my Healer."

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Bell Ringer

Just returned from ringing the Salvation Army bell for an hour at the Co-op.

Finally -- I got to be the one shaking that little bell that says, "Guilty, Guilty, Guilty, Guilty, Guilty, Guilty, Guilty."

My schedule is really demanding right now, full of pastoral duties and obligations -- but it was a good exercise for me to take a little time out and be a soldier on the front lines.

After my ringing stint, I had the opportunity to help a poor fellow who had been in jail for a few weeks, due to an unpaid traffic violation. When he was released yesterday, he discovered that the people he lived with had moved away, without any forwarding address. They took all of his clothes with them!

It was 15 below zero this morning -- and the poor guy only had a t-shirt and shorts. I met him at Wal Mart, and (thanks to the kind folks who gave to our benevolence fund) helped him obtain a coat and some warm clothing.

This thought from Jesus rings a bell, "I was naked and you clothed me."

Yucky Stuff

A little boy was telling his grandma how everything was going wrong -- problems at school, relational conflicts, unreasonable parents -- on and on he went.

As he poured out his litany of complaints, his grandmother busied herself, making a cake. "Would you like a snack, honey?" she asked.

"Of course!" he replied. (No kid ever turns down a snack!)

"Here, have a couple of raw eggs," she offered.

"What?? You've got be kidding, Grandma!"

"How about some cooking oil, then? Or maybe some flour? Perhaps some tasty baking soda?"

"You're nuts, Grandma! That's disgusting, yucky stuff! I wouldn't ever eat that!"

"Oh, but you do," the Grandmother replied. "When I put them all together into a cake, they're wonderful!"

When tempted to whine about our problems, we need to remember that God is able to mix them up, pop them in the oven, and turn them into good.

"All things work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Presidential Small Town Preacher


How a Small Town Preacher Became a Rising White House Contender

There are four basic things to succeed in either politics or the pastorate,” said the former Baptist preacher, Mike Huckabee.

“You have to have a message. Secondly, you have to motivate volunteers. You have to be able to understand and work with all types of medium to get your message out,” he continued, “and you’ve got to raise money.”

(Of all the candidates right now, I like Huckabee -- and I said that back when he was getting only 2% in the polls. But I have to admit- It's kind of hard to imagine having a president named Huck.)

Holy Water

The chaplain at St. Mary's, observing our tears, remarked, "That's holy water."

Tragedy

Our precious young friend, Leah Conner, died yesterday afternoon from a brain aneurysm.

Leah was so full of life and vitality. Yesterday morning, she dropped her two little boys off at Grandma's, kissed them, said "I love you! Bye, Bye!", went out the door, and never returned.

She experienced a severe headache in the morning at work, which grew so painful that they decided to take her into the emergency room. A few minutes later, with her husband, Aaron, by her side, she slipped into unconsciousness.

The staff worked valiantly to save her, and then she was airlifted to Duluth. They pronounced her dead at 5:54 pm.

The family made the courageous decision to donate her organs to others who need them. This course of action prolongs everything -- but it was the good and right thing to do -- and they all agreed that Leah would have wanted it that way.

I am so happy Leah knew Jesus. She was a part of our church since she was a little girl in Sunday School. I recall those days well. I conducted Aaron and Leah's wedding, and dedicated their two little ones, Austin and Hayden.

Leah's faith shone brightly through all the adversities of life. She has a positive and loving outlook, which inspired others. She taught Sunday School in our Nursery for several years, and recently redesigned our church webpage.

We're going to miss her. Please pray for her family as they try to figure out how to proceed from here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

With Malice Towards None


Whenever you see a penny, remember the "Abraham Lincoln" attitude, and clear your heart of malice.

In 1864, there was, perhaps, not a more hated man in our nation that the gangly president. People on both sides of the Mason Dixon line blamed him for the deaths of their loved ones in the Civil War.

False friends betrayed him. Enemies assailed him. Throughout the course of his first presidential term, he had been misunderstood, condemned, despised and scorned.

On top of that, there were issues at home. In 1862, his son, Willie, died of typhoid fever, at the tender age of twelve. His wife, Mary, suffered from dark depressions, hysteric fits of rage, and mental illness. Poor Abe had his hands full -- both with a fractured nation and a dysfunctional household.

None was more surprised than Lincoln himself, when he re-elected for a second term. On March 4, 1865, he stood before a mighty throng of spectators and spoke these words at the inauguration:

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

Malice is defined as -- a desire to cause pain, injury or distress to another.
With malice towards none!

Yes, whenever you see a penny, remember the "Abraham Lincoln" attitude, and clear your heart of malice.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Wedding Bells

Last Friday night, our oldest son, Adam, and his lovely sweetheart, Allegra, were married in a small, intimate ceremony at the Tokyo Japanese Steakhouse in Waterloo, Iowa.

Our son, Ryan, drove in from Indiana to meet us there for the beautiful occasion. (Going home Saturday, he was stranded in an ice storm -- but that's another story.)
Cathy and I love and bless Adam and Allegra with all our hearts. We are certainly proud of them, and wish them much happiness as they travel the years together.

Prayers

Our heart-felt prayers go out on behalf of YWAM, New Life Church, and everyone impacted by the senseless shootings in Colorado.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Joseph's Prayer

Joseph's Silent Prayers:

1. Your Will Be Done
2. Thank You

Actually, there was ONE word in the Bible that Joseph spoke -- sort of. He named the baby "Jesus." That's the answer to his prayers.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Joseph's Prayer


I'm preaching a sermon series on the Prayers of Christmas. Last week, I spoke on Mary's prayer -- the Magnificat.

This Sunday, I'm speaking on Joseph's prayer. Now, here's a challenge for you -- what was Joseph's prayer?

Hint: You'll have to guess at his prayer, because he didn't speak it. There aren't ANY recorded words spoken by Joseph. Still -- I can guarantee you, he prayed! His was a silent, deep down prayer.
I'll say what I think on Sunday morning -- and it's very similiar to the prayer I have in my own heart right now.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Smudge

Don't pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults -- unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It's easy to see a smudge on your neighbor's face and be oblivious to the ugly smear on your own.

--Luke 7:1-3 (The Message)

Favre and Ministry

We're thrilled to hear that Packer great, Brett Favre, was selected this week as Sports Illustrated 2007 Sportsman of the Year.

In response to this honor, Favre said, "You do that by setting an example, by doing things the right way. I've always shown up, I've always been prepared, I practice every day."
"I practice hard. I study. No matter what happens on the field, I never point blame at anybody else. Everything I do comes back to leadership, the example I want to set."

So. . . how does that perspective apply to pastoral ministry?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Megachurch Protests and Deer Hunting


And speaking of mega-churches . . . this should not come as any surprise. Up here in the northwoods, everybody knows that all the hunters are looking to shoot the big buck.
(Just watch how these churches respond. They won't fight back. I'm predicting they will demonstrate grace and love -- like Jesus would do.)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Megachurch Map


There are just over 1,300 megachurches in the United States, according to the most recent survey by Prof. Scott Thumma at the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. These are churches that average at least 2,000 in weekly attendance. This is where they're located. Here's the link to see it better (New York Times.)

15 Measures of Love

The Bible clearly tells us that God is love. If He is at the center of my life -- If He is everything to me -- then I should "BE LOVE" too. It's a lot easier to say, "I'm a loving person" than to really be one. Love goes beyond feeling or intent -- it is character and action.

Here's the filter. What's your LQ (Love Quotient)? What would those around you say about you in these areas?

Patient
Kind
Does Not Envy
Does Not Boast
Not Proud
Not Rude
Not Self Seeking
Not Easily Angered
Keeps No Record of Wrongs
Does Not Delight in Evil
Rejoices With Truth
Protects
Trusts
Hopes
Perseveres

Monday, December 03, 2007

The More Excellent Way

Love is not self-seeking. That's what the Bible says. Popular culture, on the other hand, says something different.

Movies, television shows, and top 40 songs on the radio give us a different message. According to them, love is more like the old Toyota commercial: "I love what you do for ME."

Self seeking love approaches the relationship with a set of expectations: "You are here to meet my needs."
Self sacrificing love comes from opposite perspective: "I am here to meet YOUR needs."

Self seeking love is based on a feeling.
Self sacrificing love is based on a commitment.

Self seeking love is about getting.
Self sacrificing love is about giving.

Self seeking love insists on its own way and demands to be understood.
Self sacrificing love is willing to consider another opinion, and desires to understand.

Self seeking love tries to change the other person.
Self sacrificing love accepts the other person.

Self seeking love attacks.
Self sacrificing love attracts.

Self seeking love is blind.
Self sacrificing love has eyes wide open.

Self seeking love constantly compares.
Self sacrificing love keeps no record of wrongs.

Self seeking love is temporary.
Self sacrificing love lasts forever.

Love is a gift -- which is really nothing, until you give it away.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

From Every Stormy Wind

Troubled in spirit this week, I happened upon this beautiful hymn in the old Methodist Hymnal. It was written by a rural pastor, Hugh Stowell, and published in The Winter's Wreath (1828)

From every stormy wind that blows,
From every swelling tide of woes,
There is a calm, a sure retreat:
Tis found beneath the mercy seat.


There is a place where Jesus sheds
The oil of gladness on our heads;
A place than all beside more sweet;
It is the blood bought mercy seat.


There is a scene where spirits blend,
Where friend holds fellowship with friend;
Tho' sundered far, by faith they meet
Around one common mercy seat.