Friday, December 31, 2010

A New Year Reflection

Here we stand at the threshold of the New Year. 2010 will soon be passed and packed away, living only in the attic of memories.

Looking ahead to 2011, 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 2011 – but not now. The best you can do is throw your shoulders back, trust God, and march right in.

You see, although you don’t know anything about the upcoming months, God does – and He will be with you as you travel from mountain top 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.

Then, 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.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

My Top Ten Reads of 2010

1.  Jesus Manifesto by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola

2.  The Ultimate Blessing by JoAnne Lyon

3.  Acedia and Me by Kathleen Norris

4.  After You Believe by N. T. Wright

5.  Tea With Hezbollah by Ted Dekker and Carl Medearis

6.  Crazy Love by Francis Chan

7.  A Brief Guide for Writers by Keith Drury

8.  Strengthsfinder by Tom Rath

9.  Population 485 by Michael Perry

10.  Tozer on Leadership by A. W. Tozer and Ronald E. Eggert

Next Ten: Honorable Mention:

The Sacred Journey by Charles Foster
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth Bailey
* Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom
* Breaking All the Rurals by Shannon O'Dell
* Sun Stand Still by Steve Furtick
* The Enduement of Power by Oswald J. Smith
* Ageless Faith by Keith and David Drury
* Chazown by Craig Groeschel
* The Book of the Shepherd by JoAnn Davis

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Who's Tooth Could it Be?

Bossing God Around

A nine year old boy was given a full grown St. Bernard for Christmas. Viewing his present with extreme delight and wonder, he exclaimed, “Wow!!! That’s great!!! But is he mine – or am I his?”

Now, that’s a great question for every Christian: Is Jesus mine – or am I His?

The answer ought to be “Yes!”

It is certainly a wonderful fact that Christ is a friend like no other. He meets our needs. He satisfies our deepest longings. He is a present help in the hour of trouble. He is the one who steps in when the rest of the world steps out.

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! He is my Savior, my Deliverer, my Joy, and my Strength!

We must never forget, however, who we are and who God is. We don’t “own” Him.

George Barna, conducting recent research of American evangelical churches concluded that there is a deep-rooted self centeredness at the core of our religious expressions. A “consumer mind set” prevails across the board – “I’m involved with church for what I get out of it.” What’s in it for me? No wonder religion seems so empty.

I’ve had well meaning friends tell me how they boss God around when they pray: “God, I need this and that. You really have to come through for me here. I’m counting on you and you had better not let me down!”

There’s something wrong with this picture.

We need God – but He doesn’t need us.
He is willing to help and strengthen us – but we don’t have the right to give him orders.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Look Like God?

Out of the Mouths of Babes!  Check out Jeremy Mavis' account of a cute and humorous interchange with his daughter, Sari:  HERE


It would probably be safe to say that more than half of the evil in the world is due to well-meaning busybodies who just cannot refrain from interfering.  Needless to say, such people never have harmony or success in their own lives, for it is an invariable rule that he who minds his neighbors business, neglects his own.
-- Emmet Fox 

(Note, though several of Fox's quirky ideas are off base, this one rings true.)

Monday, December 27, 2010

John Wesley's Covenant Service

Each year, John Wesley - the founder of Methodism - would begin the New Year with a "Covenant Service." (We follow this same tradition at Hayward Wesleyan Church, by incorporating Wesley's Covenant into the worship service on the first Sunday of each New Year.)

The heart of the service, focused in the Covenant Prayer, requires persons to commit themselves anew to God.

Scriptures read at this service included Deuteronomy 31: 9-13, Jeremiah 31: 31-34, Psalm 50, and John 15: 1-8.

The Prayer of Invitation from this service follows:

Commit yourselves to Christ as his servants. Give yourselves to him, that you may belong to him.

Christ has many services to be done. Some are more easy and honorable, others are more difficult and disgraceful. Some are suitable to our inclinations and interests, others are contrary to both.

In some we may please Christ and please ourselves. But then there are other works where we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves.

It is necessary, therefore, that we consider what it means to be a servant of Christ. Let us, therefore, go to Christ, and pray:
Let me be your servant, under your command. I will no longer be my own. I will give up myself to your will in all things.

Lord, make me what you will. I put myself fully into your hands:

put me to doing, put me to suffering,
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,

let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and with a willing heart
give it all to your pleasure and disposal.

I do here covenant with you, O Christ,
to take my lot with you as it may fall.

Through your grace I promise
that neither life nor death shall part me from you.

I make this covenant with you, O God,
without guile or reservation.

If any falsehood should be in it, guide me
and help me to set it aright.

Mighty God,
let this covenant I have made on earth
be ratified in heaven

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

John Wesley, circa 1780

Friday, December 24, 2010

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 climbings,

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!"

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Hallelujah Chorus from Quinhagak, Alaska!

Received this amazing video from our dear friend, Rachel Skime, who teaches in the remote fishing village, Quinhagak, Alaska!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Farewell Henry Covington

Pastor Henry Covington, who was featured in Mitch Albom's delightful little book, Have a Little Faith, passed away yesterday.  He was 53 years old.  Please pray for his wife, Annette, and their four children.

Pastor Covington led Pilgrim Church/I Am My Brother's Keeper Ministries in Detroit.

Remembering Our Iraqi Brothers and Sisters

Al Qaida in Iraq Threatens Attacks Against Country's Christians

As Christmas approaches, please pause to remember our suffering brothers and sisters in Iraq -- whose lives are in jepordy because of their faith.

I am reminded of the carol, "I Head the Bells on Christmas Day"

And in despair I bowed my head,
"There is no peace on earth," I said,
For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep,
"God is not dead nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.

Remember Why We Celebrate Christmas

In the midst of the hectic shopping season, a frustrated gentleman was overheard remarking, "They ought to kill the guy who's responsible for this!"

To this, another shopper quietly replied, "They did."

The significance of Christmas does not lie in a cradle, but in a cross.

The angels proclaimed his birth saying, "Unto you is born this day, a Savior. . ." He came to save us!

If the world had just needed a better education, God would have sent a teacher.

If the world had only needed some encouragement, God would have sent a motivational speaker.

If the world merely needed emotional stabilization, God would have sent a psychotherapist.

If the world needed a better social order, God would have sent a politician, or perhaps, a general.

But God sent Jesus to this earth as a lowly little baby -- to be our Savior. He came to save us -- from our sins, our situations and ourselves.

Forgiveness is the greatest need of the human soul, and Jesus Christ entered our world to bring it.

My nephew, Rodney, lived in South Korea for a while. He was astonished to discover the South Koreans don't celebrate Christmas the way we do. There are hardly any decorations. People don't put up Christmas trees, and Christmas songs are not played on the airwaves. His English class sat in rapt attention when he described all the things Americans do during the holiday season. Then he asked, "What do you do for Christmas?" They all replied with the same answer, "We go to church."

Although I love the Christmas enthusiasm around here, I can't help but wonder if the Koreans have figured out something that we're missing.

Christmas started in the heart of God and concludes in the hearts of His people.

We need to remember the deeper meaning of the season and keep Christ in Christmas.

Joy to the world, the Lord has come! Let earth receive her King!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Digital Story of the Nativity

Techology Show

Dr. JoAnne Lyon will be the special guest on the Techology Show tomorrow (Wednesday, Dec 22) morning 8:00 a.m. Central (9:00 a.m. Eastern) It's a fabulous program. I hope you can catch it if you get a chance:

Monday, December 20, 2010

Better Than 3-D

Innovative Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas, is offering Christmas services in 3-D this year.

But, here in Hayward, we're offering something even better than that:  Live!

Jesus Manifesto

As a senior pastor, I read a lot, and have tons of books in my library. Books to a pastor are like hammers to a carpenter: valuable tools.

I appreciate most of what I read, and normally glean a tidbit or two from each.

Rarely, however, does a book capture my heart in such a way that it recalibrates how I do ministry.

Jesus Manifesto, by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola is such a book. It so it is no small thing when I say that it ranks among the five best books I've ever read, and I believe every pastor needs to hear this message.

Clearly, simply, yet profoundly, they capture the essence of what life and ministry should be about: Jesus alone.

How quickly we fall away and focus on lesser things, when only ONE thing is needful. This book brings us back to our first love.

I was so deeply moved by Jesus Manifesto, I purchased a copy for my entire pastoral staff, and was inspired to launch a year-long sermon focus in 2011 on Jesus.

Thank you, Leonard and Frank, for sounding this clarion call. We desperately need it.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Two Tensions a Leader Must Manage

Holiness and Soap

Holiness, like soap, doesn’t do much good until applied! You can keep it in a box, philosophize about it, and debate its merits at length, without ever getting around to using it.

Soul cleansing is like taking a shower. If you skip a day, you’ll be the only one to notice. If you skip a week, your family will notice. If you skip a month, everybody will notice!

Using soap is, indeed, much better than merely discussing it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Truth of the Matter

The Truth of the Matterby Andrew Klavan, is a great action-packed adventure geared to young men (and since I loved the book, I'd like to pretend I qualify.)

In a clandestine mission to thwart a terrorist plot, Charlie West, age 18, escapes from prison after being falsely arrested for a murder he didn't commit.  The events of an entire year has been wiped from Charlie's memory, and this story captures his desperate quest to understand what happened.  Not only is Charlie on the run from the law, but also a brutal terrorist group, The Homelanders, who intend to assassinate him.

Throughout the fast-paced tale, there are several profound insights on life and faith shared by our hero, who is wise far beyond his years (It helps to have the author on his side!)

The Truth of the Matter, the third book in the Homelanders Series, is sort of a blend of Jason Bourne, the Hardy Boys, and Danny Orlis (the Christian young adult sleuth from the 60's.)

I've passed along to my son, Luke and Wes, who are eager to read it too.  Purchase Here.

(A complimentary copy of this book was provided to me via Thomas Nelson's Booksneeze.)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Pulpit and Prayer

The pulpit of this day is weak in praying. The pride of learning is against the dependent humility of prayer.

Prayer is with the pulpit too often only official—a performance for the routine of service. Prayer is not to the modern pulpit the mighty force it was in Paul’s life or Paul’s ministry.

Every preacher who does not make prayer a mighty factor in his own life and ministry is weak as a factor in God’s work and is powerless to project God's cause in this world.

--  E. M. Bounds,  Preacher and Prayer

Glory to God

Fabulous song! I want to sing this soon in church!

Monday, December 13, 2010

March to the Manger

On Sunday, December 19, Hayward Wesleyan Church will,again, clebrate Christmas with a special event called March to the Manger, at their three worship services, 8:20, 9:40 and 11:00 a.m.

Here's what happened during last year's March to the Manger, according to Senior Pastor, Mark O. Wilson.

In the weeks proceeding Christmas Sunday, we encouraged the congregation to prayerfully consider what they would offer Jesus for His birthday. We asked every man, woman, teenager and child to plan ahead and give careful thought to this request. We asked the people to bring their gifts wrapped up (or in a special envelope provided) to the worship service, where they would present them to Christ.

Of course, a financial offering is always appropriate, but we asked the church to reflect much deeper than that. What does it mean to offer YOURSELF to Christ? What new commitment do you need to make? Is there a promise you need to keep? Is there something you need to quit or start? What is the prayer of your heart?

When Christmas Sunday arrived, there was special electricity in the air. The congregation flowed enthusiastically into the church, bearing their special gifts for Jesus.

At the conclusion of the service, we presented a living nativity. Mary and Joseph entered as we sang “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Baby Jesus (played by the precious twins Johnnie Jo and Candice Rain LaFontaine) appeared as we sang “Silent Night”. Angels, the little drummer boy and shepherds followed with other carols. As we sang “We Three Kings”, the wise men strolled majestically down their aisle, bringing their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Then, I invited the congregation to come and join the nativity, singing “O Come All Ye Faithful.”

A beautiful sense of God’s love filled the church as the congregation flooded towards the front of the church bearing their gifts for their Savior.

When it was all over, we were astounded by the overwhelming results. Not only did we have the largest offering in the history of the church, (helping us catch up in the general fund and including generous gifts for benevolence, missions and our building fund) but there were many significant spiritual commitments made as well.

The gifts presented to Jesus included two packs of cigarettes, a pouch of chewing tobacco, a bottle of gin, two credit cards (cut up), a clock and a watch (“giving my time to Jesus”), a Yogi Berra baseball card, a miniature television (“I’ve been watching too much TV.”), a blanket, a quilt, lots of items for our food pantry, gifts for needy children, many acts of kindness and blessing – and best of all – there were several who committed their lives to Christ that day!!

Back in October, as we considered doing this, I said, “This will either be a colossal failure, or it will become an annual tradition.”

It’s going to be an annual tradition.

My Lord, How Full of Sweet Content

My Lord, how full of sweet content;
I pass my years of banishment!
Where’er I dwell, I dwell with Thee,
In Heaven, in earth, or on the sea.

To me remains nor place nor time;
My country is in every clime;
I can be calm and free from care
On any shore, since God is there.

While place we seek, or place we shun
The soul finds happiness in none;
But with a God to guide our way,
’Tis equal joy, to go or stay.

Could I be cast where Thou are not,
That were indeed a dreadful lot:
But regions none remote I call,
Secure of finding God in all.\
-- Madame Guyon  (Net Hymnal)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Friday, December 10, 2010

Snow on Snow

Early in the morning last week, I stepped outside to a scene of diamond glinted snow, sparkling in the rising sun. The Northwoods is truly a winter wonderland. Of course, we must view it this way, as the white blanket is here to stay. You won’t survive well in Hayward if you can’t take the winter.

Sigurd Olson, my favorite nature writer, in his classic text, The Singing Wilderness, shared the following thoughts regarding the snow blanket:

There is a new excitement in the air, a feeling of release. Life will now be lived in an established white world where conditions of food and shelter will not change for a long time.

Stability has come to the Northwoods, and to my own life as well.

The coming of the snow adds zest to my activities. Now, there will be time for a multitude of things that during the feverish moving about of summer and fall, were denied me, leisure after the long and constant busyness.

To me, that is the meaning of the first snowfall -- not a cessation of effort but a drawing of the curtain on so many of the warm-weather activities that consume so much time.

The snow means a return to a world of order, peace and simplicity. Those first drifting flakes are a benediction and the day on which they come is different from any other in the year.
(pp. 192-193)

The snow blanket before Christmas reminds me of this beautiful prayer given by Peter Marshall, former Chaplain of the Senate in December of 1947:

We thank Thee, O God, for the return of the wondrous spell of this Christmas season that brings its own sweet joy into our jaded and troubled hearts.

Forbid us, Lord that we should celebrate without understanding what we celebrate, or like our counterparts so long ago, fail to see the star or to hear the song of glorious promise.

As our hearts yield to the spirits of Christmas, may we discover that it is Thy Holy Spirit who comes -- not a sentiment, but a power -- to remind us of the only way by which there may be peace on earth and good will among men.

May we not spend Christmas, but keep it, that we may be kept in its hope, through Him who emptied Himself in coming to us that we might be filled with peace and joy in returning to God.
-- Amen

Bearing God

Advent from the Eyes of a Pregnant Pastor

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Cost of Discipleship?

I went into church and sat on the velvet pew. I watched as the sun came shining through the stained glass windows. The minister dressed in a velvet robe opened the golden gilded Bible, marked it with a silk bookmark and said, "If any man will be my disciple, said Jesus, let him deny himself, take up his cross, sell what he has, give it to the poor, and follow me."

attributed to Soren Kierkagaard

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Poet of Ur

It seems to me that a lot of people in blogosphere like to fight too much.

It's safe, I guess, to vent and rant online -- and I suppose that's better than taking your frustrations out on your family, co-workers or your church board.

If possible, I try to steer clear of those controversies. I'm not very good at fighting with bullies, and daddy always said, "Never enter into a spraying contest with a skunk."

That's why I try to keep a positive environment on my blog.

A while back, after observing a heated controversy at Out of Ur, Dan Haase, poet from Wheaton put it like this:

Some come like snakes –
Through cracks, and holes, and misconceptions of argument –
Hissing out their truth,
causing dust to rise,
into the eyes and nostrils –
Then, in clouded mind,
With venom in the veins,
The BODY dies.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Audacious Faith

Upon meeting Steven Furtick a few years ago at Newspring's Unleash Conference, I was immediately impressed with his passion for life, God and ministry.  This remarkable young man was consumed by a holy vision that was both extraordinary and inspiring.

I walked away saying, "I need some of that!"

Well, Furtick has written a challenging book, Sun Stand Still, to help people  (like you and me) discover and demonstrate audacious faith.  It's not a comfortable read.

In his own words, Furtick says, "This book is not a snuggie.  The words on these pages will not go down like Ambien.  I'm not writing to calm or coddle you.  With God's help, I intend to incite a riot in your mind."

The book challenges people to move beyond the mundane, and to be bold in praying, believing, living, and obeying God.

I finished the book under the unsettling conviction that I have settled for less than I should in dreaming God's dreams for my congregation and our northwoods community.  What would GREAT FAITH have us do?

Furtick points to a phrase  that capture him from page 23 of Jim Cymbala's Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire:

"I despaired at the thought that my life might slip by without seeing God show himself mightily on our behalf."

What is YOUR page 23 vision?

(a complimentary copy of this book was provided for review by Multnomah's Waterbrook Publishing Group.)

Terrorist Monitoring Program

The FBI has a new program to track terrorists. It will make us safer, and we will hardly notice their monitoring activities. You can learn more about it by clicking here

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Our Christmas Letter

Merry Christmas from the Wilson's!  We wish you and your family a very special holiday season.

As 2010 draws to a close, we pause to thank God for his loving guidance and keeping grace.

Here are a few significant events from our household in recent months:

Our home sustained some storm damage from tornado-like winds this summer, and we lost many beautiful trees from our lawn.  All of old pines in front of the church were also destroyed. 

Driver's License!
Luke and Wes, along with their friend, Trevor, formed a band called Found Broken.  They were privileged to be the opening act for the Break the Grey Concert with Bill Ballenger.  It was an awesome event!  Luke plays guitar and leads worship often.  Wes plays bass, and provides lead vocals for the band.  They both have been composing original songs.  This year, Wes obtained his driver's license, and Luke landed a job at Pizza Hut.

 Hannah has become a babysitter in high demand.  She loves working in the church nursery, and visiting the elderly in the nursing homes.  She plays violin with Northwoods Strings, and loves going to Youth Group.

 Ryan, a senior at Indiana Wesleyan University in Christian Ministries, is prayerfully considering the next chapter of his life. 

 Adam and Allegra live in Cedar Falls, Iowa, where they are students at UNI (University of Northern Iowa.)  Adam also works at John Deere in the engineering department, and Allegra has recently started a new job at Bath & BodyWorks

 Cathy continues to homeschool, play viola, and lead the Bible Quizzing program at the church.  This year was a milestone for her, as she achieved her weight loss goal, and has really committed herself to physical fitness.

 Mark is in his 20th year as Senior Pastor of Hayward Wesleyan Church.  He is currently writing a book with Wesleyan Publishing House, which will likely be available sometime in 2011.
Adam and Allegra


Found Broken Concert


“They cut a path through tangled underwood
Of old traditions out to broader ways.
They lived to hear their work called brave and good,
But oh! the thorns before the crown of bays.
The world gives lashes to its pioneers
Until the goal is reached, then deafening cheers.”

-- Anna Howard Shaw (19th century pastor, medical doctor, women’s suffrage activist)

Friday, December 03, 2010

Chase Your Lion

I'm really impressed with Heath Mullikin, a dynamic, creative young pastor from South Carolina, who has an outstanding blog, Chase Your Lion.

Though I'm more of a mouse than a lion -- Heath chased me down to do an interview about small town ministry and blogging.  You can view it here (Part 1) and here (Part 2).

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Journey of Hope

Come and begin the Christmas season with the Hayward Community Christmas Choir's Christmas Cantata, "Journey of Hope"

Freewill offering will be accepted.

Thursday, December 2, at 7:00 PM
Friday, December 3, at 7:00 PM
Sunday, December 5 at 2:00 PM

At Hayward High School Auditorium

Seating is on a first come basis, doors will open one hour prior to the performance.

Saving Generation iY's Future

My dear old friend, (as in long time -- not as in age), Tim Elmore,was recently interviewed by Christian Post, regarding his new book Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future. 

It's a fascinating take on understanding and ministering to the rising generation -- that geezers like me need to hear.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Qualities of Prevailing Churches
(a great post from my blogging friend, Shannon O'Dell)

How to Implode a Church

Having recently read, Too Great a Temptation, Joel Gregory's account of the power struggles surrounding his brief, but stormy tenure as senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, I found the following video of First Baptist's recent implosion of five buildings quite interesting.

Blake Coffee made some astute observations concerning Church Implosions at Church Whisperer

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

March to the Manger

A Note to Hayward Wesleyan Church Family:
On December 19, we're going to hold our second annual March to the Manger at Hayward Wesleyan Church.

We will have a living nativity with Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, shepherds, wise men bearing gifts -- and then the whole church family will join the story by bringing our gifts to Jesus.

Every man, woman, boy and girl is encouraged to participate!

What is your Christmas gift to Jesus? A spiritual commitment? An act of loving service? Canned food for the needy? A financial gift? A letter expressing your heart? Something you made with your hands?

Wrap it up, and bring it to church on Sunday, December 19 8:20, 9:40 or 11:00 a.m.

Hallelujah Chorus @ a Mall Food Court

Jeremy Mavis

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Build a Retaining Wall

To retain the grace of God is much more than to gain it; scarcely one in three does this, and this should be strongly urged on all who have tasted of Perfect Love.

-- John Wesley

Monday, November 22, 2010

Which Did God Believe?

A little girl listened intently as her father asked the blessing as usual for the morning meal. He thanked the Lord for the things God had so bountifully provided. Immediately after praying, however, he began to complain. He grumbled about the hard times. He griped about the quality of the food. He criticized the way it had been cooked.

Finally, the little girl interrupted him. “Daddy, do you suppose God heard what you said a little while ago when you prayed such a nice prayer?”

“Certainly.” Her father lifted his chin with the confident air of one who possesses superior knowledge.

“Do you think he also heard what you said about the bacon and the coffee?”

He stopped chewing and paused, with fork in mid-air between his plate and his mouth. He stared at his daughter as if trying to read her mind. He dropped his gaze and cleared his throat. “Yes, of course, he did.”

“Then, Daddy, which did God believe?”

(HT Ron McClung)

Friday, November 19, 2010

On This Day in Christian History

Recently, I found a preacher's gold mine --  Robert J. Morgan's On This Day in Christian History.

It's a compilation of inspiring faith stories from Christian history presented as daily devotionals.

When I teach Church History courses, I always launch the first session with "Without the 'story', history is just 'hiss.'  In high school and college, teachers often missed the point, taking us from "hiss" to "hiss" without engaging in the story.

On This Day in Christian History is a collection of stories with no "hiss'!

Drawing from multiple wells (Catholic, Evangelical, Holiness, Fundamentalist, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Missionaries, Monastaries and Seminaries) Morgan presents biographical sketches of saints and spiritual heroes who stand as models of sacrifice, love, courage, faith and Christian character.

Several of his tales made me want to dig deeper, to learn more (a great source for that is Google Books)

It's an outstanding guide for history buffs like me, and a great resource for sermon illustrations.

Marriage Obsolete?

News reports this week told of a recent poll indicated that a growing percentage of Americans (39%) believe the institution of marriage is obsolete.

Hold your horses!  A deeper look reveals another picture, as reported by the Christian Post.

I'm reminded of Mark Twain's comment, "Reports of my demise are greatly exaggerated."

Building a Marriage that Lasts

A report from the Family Research Institute on the State of Marriage in Wisconsin reported that 70% of people believe that the institution of marriage is weaker than it was 20 years ago. Statistics prove the case. In the 1930's, 1 out of 7 marriages ended in divorce. In the 1960's it was 1 out of 4. This year, it is predicted that at least half of the marriages will not survive. Each year, more than 200,000 new marriages end prior to the second anniversary. Around half of recently married couples expressed doubts as to whether their marriage union will last. 49% of these reported serious marriage problems.

What can be done to stem the tide and turn marriage back around? How can we build marriages that last?

The first step to building stronger marriages is to start the relationship on the right foot.

Most ministers in our community require extensive pre-marital counseling. Although some couples seem to view this as an annoyance -- it is vital to building a positive foundation for the marriage. There are many excellent resources and tests which measure compatibility and the potential difficulties the couple may encounter. It's best to know these things ahead of time.

Many helpful books have been written for engaged couples such as Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts by Les Parrott and Preparing for Marriage by Dennis Rainey. These texts help couples dig deep relationally, and address such areas as conflict resolution, money, sexual issues, and communication.

Starting on the right foot does not include living together before you're married. Contrary to what some may think, cohabitation sharply increases the odds of divorce. We were created to be married first -- and then to live together. Not the other way around. When people get the cart before the horse, it causes trouble in the relationship.

Secondly, couples must keep a realistic view of the relationship.

Marriage is the imperfect union of two imperfect people relating imperfectly. No wonder so many people have struggles in marriage!

Sometimes, people are disappointed when life together does not resemble a Hollywood romance. Marriages might be made in heaven, but they have to be worked out here on earth!

The vows, "for better and for worse" were put in there on purpose. The commitment of marriage has to be big enough to include the "worse". If it doesn't, the relationship quickly falls disintegrates.

Love, according to Bible, bears all things. This includes annoyances, conflicts and pet peeves.

Nobody has a perfect marriage -- but a really good marriage is within the reach of every couple that makes the commitment and pays the price.

Thirdly, Intimacy is built through meeting your partner's emotional needs.

Willard Harley's excellent book, His Needs, Her Needs points out the importance of making deposits in your spouse's "love tank." This is the way to keep the sense of closeness. His web site, Marriage Builders, is very helpful for couples desiring to build a deeper relationship.

Selfishness is the number one enemy of marriage intimacy. It's hard to be close when you're being selfish. Instead of asking, "When will my partner meet my needs?" you should be asking, "How can I serve and encourage my partner?"

Every husband want to be respected. Every wife want to be cherished.

Fourth, Keep your eyes on the long haul.

A really good marriage is based on lifetime commitment. Here are the A.B.C.'s of a marriage that goes the distance:

A -- Anchor Your Marriage Relationship in God.

A Harvard Study revealed that couples who 1) read the Bible together 2) Pray together and 3) Attend Church together regularly have a divorce rate of 1 in 1287! That's less than 1/10 of 1%! There is no better way to divorce proof your marriage!

B -- Be Attentive, Honest, Caring and Open.

C -- Commit Yourself for Life. Together forever!

D -- Don't Go to Bed Angry.

E-- Examine Your Heart and Express Your Love Daily

If you say "I love you" every day for 50 years -- that's 18,250 "I love you's!" and each one draws you closer together.

F -- Forgive

"Keep your eyes wide open before marriage," said Ben Franklin, "and half shut afterwards."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

77 Hours a Week

My good friend and co-laborer, Jeremy Mavis, recently shared a profound insight on the importance of investing time in our children.  A real eye opener.  Read his post here.

Stress Busters

Just in case you're in the "pressure cooker", here are a few stress busters. Take one or two as needed.
1) You can accomplish big things only when you can say "no" to little things.
2) When you've done all you can -- let it go.
3) Not much is worth worrying about. Worry selectively.
4) It’s not what you do, but what doesn’t get done that drains you.
5) An ounce of action is worth a ton of worry.
6) Most of the things we worry about never come true.
7) Live on purpose! Set priorities and use them to chart your course.
8) God is bigger than any problem you have.
9) It's not the big job, but the little worries that drain our energy.
10) Refuse to allow fear to direct your life.
11) Relax. Don't sweat the small stuff.
12) Problems will come. You can't avoid them. The real you "shows through" when the pressure is on.
13) Life goes on.
14) Look for the joyful surprises -- the postcards from heaven -- in every day. They are there, but you must search for them.
15) Few things are worth fighting over. Keep the peace whenever possible.
16) Take a deep breath and realize how fortunate you are to be alive.
17) Stop putting it off until tomorrow. Do it today.
18) Lend a helping hand to others and you will end up helping yourself.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Myanmar Christian Fellowship Anniversary

Congratulations to Myanmar Christian Fellowship of Milwaukee, who celebrated their one year anniversay last Sunday!

In August of 2009, by divine appointment, I gave Dr. Thuam Khai a ride from Indiana to O'Hare Airport in Chicago.  Journeying together, he shared his vision of organizing a small group of Burmese refugees in Milwaukee into a Wesleyan Church.

Returning home, I contacted our District Superintendent, Dan Bickel, who  immediately followed through and helped launch the work under the fine leadership of Dr. Khai and Rev. Richard Concklin (who doesn't know the Burmese language, but certainly loves the people, and makes his point through an interpreter.)

I was honored to visit the Burmese Bible College in Syracuse, New York last spring, and to share a meal with the dear brothers and sisters who "mothered" our Burmese work in Wisconsin.  It's truly extraordinary and apostolic.

A Nazarene Wesleyan Call for Immigration Reform

My friend, Dr. Norman Wilson, recently informed me of an open letter to President Obama from Nazarene and Wesleyan leaders regarding the pressing need for comprehensive immigration reform.  The list of signatories and information on how to add your name to this document can be obtained at Norman's blog, Evangelicals and Illegal Immigrants. 

An Open Letter To President Obama, the U.S. House of Representatives, and the U.S. Senate:

As denominational leaders, pastors of churches, and lay leaders in the Nazarene and Wesleyan denominations, we express to you our deep concern over the broken immigration system facing our nation. Because of Congress’s failure to pass immigration reform in the last several years, we have seen this debate spill over into states in ways that may divide our communities, confuse enforcement procedures and contribute to the hateful rhetoric, which is currently dominating the national dialogue.

The United States is home to immigrants of all backgrounds – Hispanic, European, Haitian, African, Asian, and so many others. When immigrant families are afraid to send their children to school, go to the grocery store, talk to the police during an emergency or even answer a knock at the door, regardless of the nature of their immigration status, we must speak up. A divided, polarized, and frightened community works in complete contrast to the message of Christ’s love and reconciliation we strive to communicate in our world. It is time to re-engage the immigration reform debate in a civil and respectful manner. Solutions should be sought that integrate both rule of law and love of the immigrant.

As Evangelical leaders in the tradition of John Wesley serving a diverse spectrum of churches around the country we are united in the belief that every human being is created in the image of God. We come together in the belief that Jesus calls us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, and also to welcome the stranger, regardless of immigration status. We too want immigration reform that respects the rule of law while providing a path to citizenship to those who want to integrate into the larger U.S. mosaic.

Consistent with our Wesleyan heritage and commitments to minister, love, and work with all people and in particular those whom Jesus called “the least of these” we support comprehensive immigration reform. We urge our policymakers to work constructively to address the challenges and complexities of immigration. We understand that we must enforce our borders and respect the rule of law in this country. Similarly, we must also look with compassion upon the immigrants who are here, working in all walks of life and contributing to the common good. A deep respect for the laws of the land calls for obedience, but also for the evaluation of the effectiveness and humanity of our laws. We assert that comprehensive immigration reform can do both.

As Evangelical Americans, in a country as diverse as ours, we should proudly embody our history and values as a welcoming nation. We pray that our politicians come together to craft fair and humane immigration reform as soon as possible, because a crisis of immigration policy that results in divided communities and families is also a crisis of the church. We are joining a Nazarene and Wesleyans for immigration reform campaign as a sign of our commitment to common-sense immigration reform that reflects our deepest and noblest faith values of respect for the law and love of neighbor.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Thankful in the Cold

Alexander Whyte, the Scottish preacher, always began every prayer with praise. One brutally cold Sunday, his people filed into the church, wondering what the preacher could possibly find to praise God for on such a miserable day. Alexander Whyte stood, bowed his head and prayed,

"O Lord, we thank Thee that it is not always like this."

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Blessing for Deer Hunters

May the Lord God make you an honorable hunter who respects his fellow hunters, the animals, the land, and all creation.

May He keep you safe, and all who share the forest and field.

May He make all hunters proud of their kill, gracious with their meat, and thankful in all circumstances.

May God bless you: Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Amen  (adapted from Blessing of the Hunters by Fr. Mitch Pacwa)

A Prayer from Oswald of Northumbria

All that I am, Lord,
I place into your hands.

All that I do, Lord,
I place into your hands.

Everything I work for
I place into your hands.

Everything I hope for
I place into your hands.

The troubles that weary me
I place into your hands.

The thoughts that disturb me
I place into your hands.

Each that I pray for
I place into your hands.

Each that I care for
I place into your hands. . .

Keep me close to you, Lord.

Keep me close to you.
I lift my hands to you, Lord,
I lift them up to you.

Hands, Lord, Your gift to us,
We stretch them up to You.
Always You hold us.

Help me to find my happiness
in my acceptance of what is Your will for me
in friendly eyes, in work well done,

in quietness born of trust, and most of all,
in the awareness of Your presence in my spirit.

-- Oswald of Northumbria (605-642)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

One Thirsty Person to Another

One Thirsty Person to Another is an outstanding blog, from my friend, Greg Teegarden.  As the director of the Wesleyan Church Archives,  Greg been tremendously helpful in my historical quests!

Stop by and pay him a visit!

Prayer of St. Ephraim

O Lord and Master of my life,
give me not a spirit of sloth, of despondency, of lost or of vain talking;
but bestow on me, thy servant, a spirit of chastity, of humility, of patience and love.

You, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own errors
and not to judge my brother,
for blessed art Thou unto ages of ages.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Computer Break

Immediately after church on Sunday, I'm flying to South Carolina teaching FLAME (Ministerial Preparation) Courses in South Carolina, and will take a break from blogging , e-mails, facebook, etc. until my return.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Trouble Gets Around

"A person never knows how trouble gets around the way it does, but it manages to keep most people occupied."
- R. Wiebe

Thursday, November 04, 2010

A Franciscan Benediction

I shared the following benediction last Sunday, which was given to me by my friend, Dana Jalovick:

May God bless us with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships
So that we may live from deep within our hearts.

May God bless us with anger
At injustice, oppression and exploitation of God's creations
So that we may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless us with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war,
So that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and
To turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless us with just enough foolishness
To believe that we can make a difference in the world,
So that we can do what others claim cannot be done:
To bring justice and kindness to all our children
And all our neighbors who are poor.


Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Your Secret Name

Kary Oberbrunner has written a new book called Your Secret Name.  (I discovered this via an interview with Ed Stetzer.)

You have three names, Oberbrunner asserts:
1.  Birth Name -- The name assigned to you when you arrived in this world.
2.  Given Name --  The names you inherit while walking in this world.
3.  Secret Name -- The name granted to you by the one who made you.

Now, ready for a treasure?   Here's a powerful little test on the Secret Name website, which gives clarity to the names you've inherited -- and what God's secret name for you might be.  Awesome stuff!!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Simple Trust

Be still my soul! The Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still my soul! Thy best. thy heavenly friend
Thro' thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

(Romans 8:28 -- ALL means ALL)


Monday, November 01, 2010

Obituary for Someone Else

A few years ago, Pastor Alan Newton wrote this tongue in cheek obituary for one of the most valuable members of his congregation, “Someone Else.” This is appropriately fitting, not only for churches, but also communities, schools, businesses, civic organizations and families:

Dear Friends,
I know all of you were saddened to learn this week of the death of one our church’s most valuable members – Someone Else. Someone’s passing created a vacancy that will be difficult to fill. Else has been with us for many years, and for every one of those years Someone did far more than the normal person’s share of the work.

Whenever leadership was mentioned, this wonderful person was looked to for inspiration as well as results. Someone Else can work with that group. Whenever there was a job to do, a class to teach, or a meeting to attend, one name was on everyone’s lips, “Let Someone Else do it.”

It was common knowledge that Someone Else was among the largest contributors to the church. Whenever there was a financial need, everyone just assumed that Someone Else would make up the difference.

Someone Else was a wonderful person, sometimes appearing super-human, but a person can only do so much. Were the truth known, everyone expected too much of Someone Else. Now Someone Else is gone. We wonder what we are going to do.

Someone Else left a wonderful example to follow, but who is going to follow it? Who is going to do the things that Someone Else did? Who is going to respond to the call to serve and help? Remember, we can’t depend on Someone Else anymore.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Trunk or Treat

Trunk or Treat is an event where we create a "street" of vehicle "trunks" in the parking lot of the church that children can "treat" from.  Lots of other fun surprises planned as well!

The families of the Hayward Wesleyan Church provide the "trunks" and the "treats".

All you have to do is show up between 4:00 - 6:00 pm on Sunday, October 31st, walk around the "trunks" and say: "TRUNK OR TREAT!"

Never Too Old To Make a Difference

Instead of retiring, 70 year old pastor, Don George, took his church to a whole new level:

Story Here

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Two Best Voter's Guides

Every year at election time, I'm handed stacks of "voter's guides" for my parishioners. I don't distribute them, because they are always slanted to one party, and feel like propaganda.

Instead, I'm referring my church to the two best voter's guides available:

1) Holy Bible: This is, by far, the best voter's guide available.  Bring your Bible to the ballot booth!  Christians should cast their ballots for the candidates they believe best reflect biblical values and worldview. If you don't know what biblical values and worldview are, your problem isn't political.

2) Project Vote Smart: This is an excellent resource created by people from both sides of the aisle to provide an unbiased resource for voters. It provides background information, position statements, campaign finances, and interest group ratings. If you know where you stand, biblically, on the issues. . . then then next step is to research the candidates and see where they stand.

I refuse to insult the intelligence of my congregation by allowing special interest groups to do their thinking for them.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Do Something About It!

The noted philosopher, Thomas Carlyle, dressed to speak before a large audience, was walking out the door when his mother spoke to him.

"And where might you be going, Thomas?" she asked.

"I'm going to tell the people what's wrong with the world."
"Aye, Thomas," his mother responded, "But are you going to tell them what to do about it?"

It doesn't take a genius to realize that there are a lot of problems in this world. Any simpleton can point out what's wrong. There are flaws and shortcomings in every organization, family, and individual.

If you're looking for faults - you'll find them. They're everywhere! In fact, you have a quite a few of them yourself! (If you're not sure about that, ask you family members.)
It is no great badge of honor to be a fault -finder. It takes a great person, however, to be a "good-finder".

I believe there is a direct link between attitude and emotional health. Negativity drains the joy right out of us. We were designed us to rise above our circumstances, rather than to sink in self pity.

Instead of despairing over a difficult situation, why not do something about it?

Instead of cursing the darkness, why not light a candle?

Instead of dealing in troubles, why not deal in hope?

Instead of focusing on what you've lost, why not focus on what you have left?

Instead of thinking about the problem, why not consider the solution?

Ever wonder why somebody doesn't do something about a certain situation? Guess what - you are somebody!

You can do something about it!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sunday's Worship Service at LCO Convention Center

Lacks Power

Over many a Christian leader's record could be stamped these words:  'Lacks Power'.  Why do so many ministers and lay leaders have a vague restless awareness that something is lacking in their leadersihp? 

They have had adequate training; they make all the needed preparation;  they work faithfully and hard.  But it all remains largely on the human level.

If you rely on training, you will accomplish what training can do. 

If you rely on skills and hard work, you obtain the results that hard and faithful work can do.

When you rely on committees, you get what committees can do. 

But when you rely on God, you get what God can do!

-- Dr. Wesley Duewel, Ablaze for God

Monday, October 25, 2010

Choosing to Forget

A couple of years, I had the privilege of spending the evening with a saintly mentor, Wesley Duewel who was in his 90’s. In the course of our conversation, I happened to mention a recent scandal involving a well known religious figure, which made national news.

Dr. Duewel seemed confused for a moment.

“I’m sure you remember. . .” I said and added a few juicy details. Then, the kind minister smiled and said, “Oh yes. ..That was completely out of my mind  until you brought it up.  I chose to forget about it”

I was appropriately rebuked. It didn’t do either one of us any good to rehash another person’s failures. Sometimes, the best alternative for everyone is to choose to forget the whole thing.

"There are three things that happen when you get old," I once heard a gentleman say, "The first one is a loss of memory - and I can't recall the other two!" Forgetting things can be rather frustrating. All of us know the stress of attempting to pull a lost memory from the dark, cobwebbed corners of the mind.

Some people are more forgetful than others. I hate to admit it, but I'm a member of the "forgetful club." We've organized "Forgetters Anonymous" - but nobody remembers to go to the meetings!

Fortunately, I haven't forgotten too many earth shattering things along the way. Probably the worst ones were: when I forgot about a baptism I was supposed to perform or when my brain blanked out and I forgot to write my column for the newspaper- or perhaps the time I forgot to take the offering at church! I was finishing the service with a benediction, when the ushers finally caught my attention by waving the offering plates like crazy. (Whew, that was a close one!)

So far, I've done pretty well remembering important stuff like my wife's birthday, our anniversary, funerals, Christmas and Packer games. Actually, forgetting isn't as bad as it's cracked up to be.

Sometimes, it's better to forget than to remember.

It's better to forget the hurt someone has caused you.
It's better to forget to "rub it in" when you were right.
It's better to forget what others "owe" you.
It's better to forget the minor annoyances - the bugs on life's windshield.
It's better to forget your failures, your past sins, and your losses.
It's better to forget to toot your own horn.
It's better to forget your resentment and disappointment.
It's better to forget to complain.

In this regard, choosing to forge is pretty good medicine for the soul.

"Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize.." Phil. 3:13