Friday, February 29, 2008

Keylime Cove

My friend, "Famous Dave" Anderson, did it!!! He opened up America's Most Exciting Water Resort -- Keylime Cove, in Gurnee, Illinois.
Congratulations Dave! You had the vision, kept the faith, overcame the challenges, saw it through, and made it a reality!
Thousands of families will make special vacation memories because you dared enough to dream, and cared enough to make a difference. (Photo by Kelly Skoty copr. 2008)

Hands and Feet

Received this encouraging word from First Baptist Church in Bay St. Louis in Mississippi. A group of our guys went down there in January on a mission trip:

Thank you so much for your love, prayers and ministry to us. Please know that your blessings have been so wonderful, and we have greatly appreciated you showing us how much you love and care for us.

We continue to be encouraged because of the way that God has been at work blessing us. He has blessed us through you. . .

We thought that Katrina might destroy us, but all it has done is provide an avenue where we get to see God's blessing first-hand. Our faith in God has been strengthened because of the blessings He has poured out on us through you. Thank you for being God's hands and feet to us!"

Boring Pastor's Mother

An elderly lady visited a country church. As she walked into the foyer, an usher greeted her.

"Where would you like to sit?" he asked politely.

"Right on the front row, as close to the pulpit as possible!!" she replied.

The usher leaned over and whispered, "Are you SURE? I recommend that you don't do that. Our pastor is REALLY boring."

"Do you know who I am?" the lady replied, "I'm the pastor's mother!"

"Do you know who I am?" the usher responded.

"No", said the lady.

"Whew, good!" said the usher

Thursday, February 28, 2008

One Thing a Leader Can't Delegate

"You can't delegate HOPE." -- John Ortberg

But all shall be well And all shall be well, And all manner of things shall be well… He did not say, “You shall know no storms, no travails, no disease,” He said, “You shall not be overcome.” -- Julian of Norwich

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Courage


"Ships in the harbor are safe, but that is not what ships are for."
-- William Shedd, Missionary to Iran (1915)

Phil Wilson


Yesterday, we added a new member to the Wilson family -- temporarily at least. His name is Phillip the Snowman . (created by Luke and Wes.)
We can't bring him inside, because he's not housebroken -- but he IS a Packer backer, and that counts for something.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Just Visiting

I was saddened when I heard (via Dale Argot) that Larry Norman passed away early Sunday morning. He was my favorite singer during my teenage years -- and I learned guitar by playing his music.
Even today, all these years later, I can recall the lyrics of most of his songs. He had a tremendous influence on my life in those early, formative years.

His last word to his friends:
I feel like a prize in a box of cracker jacks with God’s hand reaching down to pick me up. I have been under medical care for months. My wounds are getting bigger. I have trouble breathing. I am ready to fly home.
We need to remember, in Larry's words -- "We're only Visiting This Planet"

Monday, February 25, 2008

Why Can Pay So Much?

Yesterday, during the sermon, I told this story about a young Russian officer who was contemplating suicide because of his overwhelming gambling debts.

At our third service, as I was telling it, I felt a strong prompting to say something else. "I sense that maybe there is someone here in this room who has been thinking about ending your life. God wants you to know that there's hope. There's another way! Suicide is not the answer."

I surprised myself when I said that. It was certainly not a part of the message I'd prepared.

After the service, a young visitor came up to me in tears. "That was for me," He said, "Just this week I was thinking of ending it all. I need Jesus in my life. Can you help me?"

I prayed with him and led him to Christ. Then, introduced him to one of my assistants, who counseled with the young man, and gave him a Bible.

When everything is looking down around you -- Look Up to Jesus! That's where you will find Hope!

Looks like we'll be lighting the Faith Candle again.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Cowbells for Hermann

In honor of the Birkie today, I'm re-posting this article:

Hayward is home of the American Birkebeiner, the largest cross country ski race in the nation. Skiers come from almost every state, and many nations to compete in this world class event.

For over fifteen years, I've been a Birkie cowbell ringer and it has become a family tradition. Each year, I take one or two of my kids to the finish line on Main Street and we cheer the weary skiers on.

A day or two before the Birkebeiner, I always pine a little -- wishing I had pulled the skis from the rafters, and could join with the 9000 or so others testing the limits of their endurance.

But, as Birkie day arrives, I find myself content to ring the cowbells. After all -- if EVERYBODY skied the Birkie, there wouldn't be anybody cheering. We ALL need somebody to cheer us on, and so, I'm willing to lay other aspirations aside and do my part.

It was shortly after dusk when my daughter, Hannah, asked if we could go back down to the finish line.

"The race is over, now, honey." I tried to explain.

"Please??" she pleaded, "It MIGHT not be over yet."

So, against all odds, we packed up our cowbells and made our way to Main Street.

When we arrived, a busy crew was removing the snow, and shutting everything down.

"See, we're too late. . ." I began to explain, when a worker with a hand radio, suddenly shouted, "Wait! There are two more skiers coming in!"

Sure enough, long after the other racers, 91 year old, Hermann Nunnemacher, finished the 12K Prince Haakon race, accompanied by his 42 year old wife, Erika. Midway, Hermann fell and fractured four ribs, but he got back up and kept plodding forward!

With the crowds of spectators long gone, Hannah and I were the only cowbell ringers left -- and we rang them for Hermann. We rang them loudly and furiously, with all our might!

For a few minutes, the workers stopped to shout and cheer. Some passerbys also joined in the magical moment. Hermann crossed the finish line and we all cried.

The next Wednesday Hermann's picture graced the front page of the Sawyer County Record, and I thought that was fantastic!

It's the only time in local history, when a person who came in last place made the front page of the paper!

"I have fought a good fight. I have finished the course. I have kept the faith." 2 Tim. 4:7

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Lunar Eclipse


Luke, Wes and I made multiple excursions into the front yard last night, in sub-zero temps, to view the magnificent lunar eclipse through binoculars. We spotted Saturn and Mars too -- with the help of Heavens Above.

Sometimes, the shadows of earth are beautiful.

Barnebirkie


For the past seventeen years, on the fourth Thursday of February, I'd feed my kids spaghetti, bundle them up, strap on the racing bibs, and then take them to the Barneberkie starting line.

At the kickoff festivities, a sea of eager little faces anticipate the daunting wilderness trek before them -- a whole kilometer or two -- all the way through the golf course, by the armory, past the school and down Main Street, amid a cheering throng of spectators ringing cowbells.

Yep, I'm a Barnebirkie veteran -- 17 years worth! Most of those years, I've accompanied at least one of my children all the way down to the finish line -- shouting little encouragements all along the way. "Way to go! You're doing great!! Keep it up!! Don't quit!! Look! Look! All these people are cheering for you!"

My fondest memories are when I've taken my pre-school aged children on this pilgrimage for the first time. (with five kids, that means multiple firsts!)

For a three year old, the Barnie is much larger than life. Overwhelming at times. Impossible. There are so many big kids -- and it's such a long way to go! (Especially when the mercury is hovering at around five or ten below zero.)
There are falls -- and scrapes -- and shovers -- and bumps -- and runny noses -- and tears. It's loud. It's crowded. It can even be a bit frightening (Why, there are even a couple of huge Norsemen with spears skiing around.)

For the three year old's Daddy, the race becomes bigger than the Winter Olympics -- and far, far more important than how the Italians fare on Saturday. The only thing that matters is getting the kid to the finish line.

I'll never forget, after a few shaky starts, rounding the bend onto Main Street, with my little ones, and seeing hundreds of friendly faces: waving, smiling, cheering, and clanging their cowbells. "Keep going! Keep going! You're almost there!"

Once we hit the final stretch, it's a fresh burst of inspiration all the way to the finish line -- where every kid gets a medal, a cup of hot cider, and a big cookie.

Everyone goes home a winner.

Unstrapping the skis, I can't help but wonder if there just might be a lesson in life tucked away somewhere in that experience.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Home Sweet Home

Home at last! Yippee!

Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home;

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Prodigal Pastor

After being out of the Hayward pulpit four of the last five Sundays, I think the "missing persons squad" is going to come after me.

I preached back at my home church in Fargo, Ohio this past Sunday. It was a delight to see so many family members and friends show up, filling up their sanctuary, and nearly tripling the attendance.

The past couple of days, I've been in important board meetings at our headquarters concerning Native American Ministries -- and then headed towards home this afternoon.

I'm looking forward to staying home for a while!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Come, All Christians, Be Committed

Today, at our Lenten Prayer Service, we sang "Come All Christians, Be Committed"

Nobody in the room had ever heard of it before -- but by the time we got around to the third verse, I thought it was a fairly good song.

Speaking of being committed -- a young man WALKED to church last Sunday morning, in wind chills that dipped to 40-55 BELOW zero! I was really impressed! Half the congregation stayed home, and here he came in tennis shoes!

God was calling him. That's why he came. During the service, he made the decision to follow Jesus! He's had some challenges in his life -- but I know there are great things in store for him in the days to come.

Next Sunday, we'll light the faith candle in honor of his commitment.

One Thing You'll Never Hear God Say

OOOPS!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Think!

Thought is the backbone of study, and if more ministers would THINK, what a blessing it would be!
-- Charles Spurgeon in "Workers with Slender Apparatus"

Something to Remember

The Lord Never Panics

Monday, February 11, 2008

Presto!

Great demographics here at Zip Skinny.
Just punch in your zip code -- and presto -- a wealth of information!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Breakthrough

I have consulted and worked with hundreds of corporations. In every case, I have found that all great breakthroughs, and breakouts from problem situations, involve someone making the decision to take aggressive, forward action. The wonderful thing about this attitude of the offensive is that it invariably leads to an outcome that is superior to that of just waiting for things to improve.

-- Brian Tracey

Friday, February 08, 2008

Homiletics, A Cold, and a Fender Bender

Today, I taught a Homiletics Course at the church (the art of preaching.) It is a Wisconsin District Extension Class, preparing ministers-in-training for ordination in a non-traditional setting.

My five students are bright and eager learners, with a refreshing zeal for the Lord. They've been a blessing.

The class goes all day tomorrow, and then they will hang around for worship on Sunday, with a follow-up conversation about what they experienced. I'm looking forward to. . .

Well, I ALMOST look forward to it. I've not been feeling well -- Yesterday, was in bed all day with a bad cold -- and it hit me hard again as the class was concluding.

I'd asked my family to pray for my strength during the class. I should have asked them to pray for healing beyond it too!

Also, received a call this afternoon that our son, Ryan was in an automobile accident while driving towards Chicago. Nobody was hurt, and for that, I am very grateful.

Well, off to bed -- and I feel guilty playing hookie from Church Valentine Banquet tonight. I just don't have the juice left in me to do another thing.

Hopefully, I'll feel better in the morning.

Hard of Listening

My family has had to repeat a lot of things lately. They mumble something, I say, "Huh?" and then they say it all over again. Sometimes, I wonder if they do this on purpose, just to get my goat! My kids are teasing me about going deaf. I guess that's what I get for listening to rock and roll music full blast in my headphones as a teenager. It's payback time for me. (and a warning for the MP3 generation)

I'm not totally deaf, mind you. I can still hear whispered plottings behind my back. It was that way with my dad too. He didn't hear what I wanted him to hear, but sure he heard everything I didn't want him to hear!

All this fuss about my hearing, lately, has reminded me how important it is to listen. There are a lot of folks in this world who have a very fine set of ears -- and yet they don't listen! They're too busy talking: mouths wide open and ears closed shut!

I'd much rather be hard of hearing than hard of listening!

In case you're wondering, here are a few indicators that you just might be "Hard of Listening."

1. If you smile and nod, say "uh-huh", and have no idea what the other person just said.

2. If you are busy thinking of what you're going to say next when the other person is talking.

3. If you're picking apart the other person's words, so you can use them as ammunition to win an argument.

4. If you jump to conclusions about what the other person is saying before he/she says it.

5. If you finish the other person's sentences.

6. If you say what you have to say, and then leave without pausing for the response. (One fellow said, "My wife and I had words this morning. She said all of hers, but I didn't get a chance to say any of mine!" Of course, maybe he was better off for it in the long run.)

7. If you are unwilling to consider another perspective besides your own.

8. If you think there are only two sides to the argument: Your side, and the wrong side.

9. If you impute evil motives behind the other persons words and actions. "I know what you MEANT by that" (It's usually best to assume they meant well.)

10. If you always have to say the last word. And, as Forrest Gump stated "That's all I have to say about that!"

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Inspiring Yogurt Lid

My friend, Joyce, came up to me yesterday and said, "Pastor, I have something for you!"

She rummaged through her purse, and then pulled out an aluminum foil yogurt lid.

Now, I've had several people give things to me over the years (praying hands, old Bibles, and hymnals.) But, this was the FIRST time anybody had ever given me a yogurt lid.

"I thought of you when I ate my yogurt this morning! Look at what it says!"

There was an inspiring saying printed on that lid: "If life gives you limes, just rearrange the letters and return a smile!"

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ash Wednesday


Today, we held an Ash Wednesday Service at noon. About 45 people showed up for a time of Scriptures, old hymns, and prayers. We concluded with the imposition of ashes.

Some pastor buddies scratch their heads at this one. "Are you turning Catholic or something?"

Well, Hayward is Catholic and Lutheran country. When in Rome, you do what the Romans do -- and a few good ideas can come from Rome and Wittenburg! No, the Bible doesn't say you're supposed to observe Ash Wednesday -- but it doesn't say anything about Christmas Eve services either.

As far as I can see it, Ash Wednesday has three points to it:

1. It is a reminder of our mortality. From dust we come -- to dust we shall return.
2. It is a call to humility. We must rememer that apart from Christ, we're only dust.
3. It is a challenge to repentance -- since life is short, and we live only by grace -- we shoud mend our ways and follow the Savior wholeheartedly.
We all searched our hearts at the service and made sure everything was right with God.

What Evangelical wouldn't agree with that??




Worst and Best

Top Ten Worst Places to Live as a Christian

The BEST place to live as a Christian??
In the center of God's will and in the shadow of the cross . . . even if you happen to live in one of the "worst" places.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Small Beginnings

Do not despise small beginnings.

Every giant redwood started out as a little seed.
Every skyscraper began with a shovel of dirt-digging down to go up!
Every eagle hatched from an egg, and every butterfly from a cocoon.

Every best-selling book and blockbuster film started as a thought.
Every grand invention began as a little idea.
Every good marriage started with a small glance and a smile.

Every great hero used to be a little baby.
Every world record musky started as a tiny fish egg!
Every heart-stirring song began with a single note.

So -- the world of small seeds, little ideas, single notes and fish eggs is the place where true greatness is born!

Do not despise small beginnings -- they contain the magic of wonderful hopes yet unfulfilled.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Dieter Zander

Heard today that Dieter Zander suffered stroke last night and is hospitalized in serious condition. Please pray for him and his family.

Dieter, co-founded ReImagine, started New Song Church in West Covina, CA, founded Axis (Gen-X ministry) at Willow Creek Church in South Barrington, IL and is currently pastor of Arts and Spiritual Formation at Bay Marin Community Church in San Rafael, California.

Denominational Demographics


An interesting map telling which indicates the leading church body in each county of the United States (from Reformation Nation) For a bigger map, click here
I'm surrounded by Catholics and Lutherans!
Thanks to Ingrid for the lead

Facing the Giants


Behold, how the mighty are fallen. . .

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Visitin' the Kids

Today, I had the privilege of speaking at our daughter congregation The River Church in Minong. I felt like a grandpa visiting the kids.

We started it a couple of years ago by opening up an abandoned building for a candlelight Christmas Eve Service. From there, we launched Saturday night services -- and I drove the half hour there three out of four weeks to preach to 30 or 40 people.

A little over a year ago, we secured a wonderful pastor, Ben Kidder -- and our "baby church" really took off -- moving to Sunday mornings on Palm Sunday 2007.

Today, when I looked out over the congregation, I didn't recognize over half of the faces! Before the service, one lady shook my hand and said, "Glad you're visiting today! I'm sure you'll like our church so much you'll want to come back next week!"

I told her I'm usually tied up on Sunday mornings.

The River is really flowing, growing and moving forward. Well over 120 people attended two services this morning. There is a vibrant electricity in the air! Kids everywhere! A church ALIVE!

I'm so thankful for our Minong small group, who rose to the challenge, and decided to love their neighbors to Jesus. They've made a difference for eternity!

(Made it back to catch the last half our our 11:00 service in Hayward, where Rev. Joshua Shege, from Kenya, shared a powerful testimony of redemption and forgiveness.)

Cultivating Spiritual Hunger

"A man can not lead others where he is not willing to go himself. Therefore, beware of the prayerless church leader who no longer readily admits his own need for more of the person and power of Jesus Christ. Only a seeking, praying heart can truly encourage spiritual HUNGER in others!"David Smithers

Saturday, February 02, 2008

To the Ball

Hannah and I went to the Father Daughter Ball in Duluth last night. We had a blast. She beamed. It was beautiful to see so many dads affirm and bless their daughters. The ballroom was packed with young princesses -- and old kings.

We laughed a lot -- and most of us Dads ran out of steam before the kids did. Today, I'm a Happy Pappy. Definitely worth the sore foot sacrifice.

Nixonian Tactics


When I heard Romney's allegation this week, that McCain is resorting to "Nixonian" campaign tactics, it reminded me of the following quip:

In Watergate, Richard Nixon was trying to take the Biblical approach -- he was just "striving to make his election sure."

Childlike

Perry Noble on Four Reasons I want to be Childlike

Friday, February 01, 2008

Breaking Through the 600 Barrier

In 2002, there were ten churches in our denomination that averaged between 600 and 750 in worship attendance.

A look at the 2007 statistics, showed me that only two of these congregations grew numerically over the next five years. Now, I understand that numbers aren't everything -- and that a church ought to be measured by more important things, such as spiritual commitment and life transformation. However the growth or decline of worship attendance is certainly one indicator of congregational health and vitality.

This confirmed my theory that breaking through the 600 barrier is a challenge for churches -- almost as difficult as moving beyond 200.

As our church is in the transition tunnel between 600 and 700, I wondered why 80% of these churches declined or plateaued -- and why only 20% grew. Five years from now, I hope we'll be in the 20%.

I contacted the senior pastors of the two growing churches (Joe and John, both my good friends) and interviewd them -- poking and prodding around for some common threads between them.

Here's my conclusion about the common factors these breakthrough churches shared:

1) There was continuity with the senior pastor -- The people love the pastor. He stayed through the bumps. (The people trust the pastor, and know that he loves them.)

2) They were willing to take the building risk (the big faith step) , wheni t was the right and necessary time and for the right reason.

3) They developed a good staff -- self starters -- productive leaders with a focus on mobilization of the laity. Staff members became "equippers for ministry" rather than just "doers of ministry"

4) They brought people along -- did the hard relational work necessary to take the faith step.