Friday, November 30, 2012

The Fierce Urgency of Now

Shortly before his untimely death, pitchman, Billy Mays was interviewed in American Way Magazine. He remarked, "I'm not going to let other people who may have a problem with me-the way I pitch--deter me because I have a lot to give and a lot to do yet in my life. I think there's a bigger platform out there for me now."

Dr. Jeff Myers, professor at Bryan College, happened upon this article and made the following observation:

"I think there's a bigger platform out there for me now."

Those words haunted me. How often have I pinned my hopes on the platform I could stand on in the future, or the greater good I could do tomorrow, or the ideas I have for someday.

This simple interview with Billy Mays reminds me that there are no guarantees. My careful planning for tomorrow must not trump the influence I must seek to have today.

When it comes to mentoring, coaching and discipling the next generation, this moment, now, is the most important platform there is. Take time now to give a blessing. Go to lunch today with someone who needs your encouragement. Be reconciled with others today. Make that phone call now.
Martin Luther King was right: "There is a fierce urgency of now."

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Good Morning Ozarks Radio Interview

Enjoyed doing an interview about my book, Filled Up, Poured Out this morning with Charlie and Keith on KLFC's  "Good Morning Ozarks" radio program in Branson, Missouri.  Listen online here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

On Zig Ziglar's Passing

I was saddened today to hear that motivational speaker and writer, Zig Ziglar passed away after a brief bout with pneumonia.  Through his inspiring writing and speaking, he helped me develop a positive perspective on life.

We'll see ya at the top, Zig!

Stressed Out? Try This Approach

I saw an interesting sign on a box a while back-- "Warning, contents may explode under stress!"

Don't you wish volatile people had labels like that? "Warning -- This person is stressed out and ready to explode!" Then, we'd all know when to steer clear! Of course -- from time to time, we'd all have to wear a label like that -- because stress is common to everyone.

Life is stressful. The day you're free from stress is the day they carry you away in a coffin. We can't expect to be stress-free this side of heaven. Businessman, Malcolm Forbes recognized this when he said, "If you have a job without aggravations, you don't have a job."

We can learn to deal with our situations, however, so the stress won't get the best of us! Here are a few thoughts on beating stress in your daily life:

1. Try to take life one day at a time.
Poet Robert Frost said, "Just take things as they come, and handle them the best you can."

2. Remember that God is always bigger than your problem.
Your mountain may be great -- but God is greater. Faith can move those mountains in your life!

3. If they don't derail you, your problems will develop you!
As long as you keep an open heart, you will grow through your painful situations. Refuse to retreat into a hard shell. Instead, with an open heart, face the situation and embrace what comes.

4. Use what you have. Don't worry about what you don't have.
We must each paint our rainbow from the colors we've been given.

5. Remember the JOY recipe :
Jesus first,
Others second,
You third!

6. Don't allow dread and gloom to cast dark shadows into your life.
A lot of folks are like Charlie Brown, who said, "I've developed a new philosophy -- I only dread one day at a time."

7. Dump the baggage.
The more junk you carry with you from the past, the less likely you will be to experience a better tomorrow.

8. Think beyond the present situation.
As Albert Einstein observed, "The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level at which we created them."

9. Never believe any problem is unsolvable!
There's always a solution somewhere.

10. Pray!
This is always the FIRST and last option. If your problem is deep seated and long standing -- try kneeling!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Giving Free Reign to Complaint

Reading Job this morning, I happened upon an interesting verse (10:1) which strikes me as profound:  "I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free reign to my complaint."

Frequent complaining reveal more about the condition of one's soul than the conditions (or people) causing such upset.

Monday, November 26, 2012

How to Nurture a Grateful Heart

Humans are created to be thankful. Deep in our hearts, we know we're supposed to be content. Unfortunately, envy, resentments, and various circumstances derail us along the way.

Instead of being positive and thankful, we become negative, ungrateful, and petty. (In other words - hard to live with!)

Think about it for a moment. If you were to measure your uplifting thoughts of gratitude v.s. your mental visits to the "complaint department" during the last week, which would win out?

Most folks would find that the complaints far outweigh the praises.

Nobody is grumpy on purpose.  We don't intend to be ungrateful. Discontent sneaks up on us and attacks us from behind. Often, we don't even realize when we are being a negative pain in the neck!

The Bible recognizes this fact of human nature, and reminds us to "Give thanks in all circumstances." (I Thess. 5:17)

If you wish to nurture a grateful heart, consider these suggestions:

1) Declare war on petty negativism!
As soon as you are aware of its nasty presence in your heart, evict it immediately and lock the door. Why keep that smelly skunk in the house?

2) Count your blessings.
There are many things going right in your life. Focus on these, rather than the annoyances.

3) Refuse to compare yourself with others.
The comparison trap breeds selfishness, self-pity and greed.

4) Change the channel!
Your mind broadcast the day's events either through Channel P (positive) or Channel N (negative). You get to choose your announcer. In our house, if someone is being a grouch, it's not uncommon for somebody else to say, "It's time to change to Channel P!"

5) Keep God at the center of your mind, and you will not dwell on the garbage.
A person who habitually complains, gossips, and criticizes needs a spiritual tune-up!  Thankful hearts and healthy souls are always found together.

6) Commit yourself to encouraging others.
As you focus on helping others, your heart will be filled with sunshine! I've never met a negative encourager.   When you encourage others, you give a gift to yourself.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Whatever Comes. . .

I referred to the following experience in my book, Filled Up, Poured Out: How God's Spirit Can Revive Your Passion and Purpose.  It holds deep meaning for me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Not All Turkey and Touchdowns

My friend, Baylor history prof, Thomas S. Kidd, wrote a great Thanksgiving piece about the Pilgrims:  Not All Turkeys and Touchdowns.

Thanksgiving is an Attitude

Thanksgiving is not a holiday -- it's an attitude! If it's just a holiday for us -- then we let ourselves off the hook too easily. "I'll celebrate Thanksgiving one day a year, and be grumpy the other 364!" Actually, Thanksgiving Day is simply a reminder of how we ought to live every moment-- a special day to celebrate what we are called to be all year long!

Thanksgiving is "Thanks-living!"

Did you know that thankfulness and mental health go together? Counting your blessings can bring healing and strength into your life. Everything goes downhill when you are swamped with negativism and self pity.

How does a person cultivate a thankful heart?

1. Go hunting for small blessings.
Your life is packed with millions of small treasures! Sometimes, we are so hung up on petty annoyances, that we forget the abundance of joy.

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

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

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

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

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

6. Smile. Your day automatically goes better when you face it with a smile.

It makes you feel better, and look better too! All of your friends will thank you for smiling. Who wants to look at a grouch?

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Signs of Conflict Brewing

Rural church pastor, Johnny Moore, shares the following signs indicating potential conflict:

*  Dark Clouds -- negative comments are surfacing more than positive comments.  The "tattle-tale" syndrome is on the rise.

*  Heavy Winds -- personal agendas are being emphasized more than the mission of the organization.  Attendance begins to drop.  Momentum is feeling the resistance.

*  Sudden Temperature Change -- Key leaders appear withdrawn and distant.  Signs of discouragement, confusion and negative influence begin to appear.

For some great suggestions on how to handle church conflict when it arises, read the rest of the post, Navigating Through Conflict, here.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Be Thankful!

Be thankful for the pile of dishes in the sink, because it means you had plenty to eat.

Be thankful for the dog hair on the carpet, because it means you have a loyal friend who shows unconditional love.

Be thankful for the messes, because it means some living is happening in your home.

Be thankful for the difficult conversations you have with your spouse, because they mean you have a partner who cares.

Be thankful for the annoyances at work, because they mean you have a job.

Be thankful for paperwork, because it means you have been trusted with responsibility.

Be thankful for the light bulb that needs replacing, because it means you have electricity.

Be thankful for the leaves that need raking, because it means you have beautiful trees.

Be thankful for clutter in the living room, because it means you have a family.

Be thankful for a lawn that needs mowing, because it means you have yard.

Be thankful for your lumpy mattress, because it means you have a bed to sleep in.

Be thankful for the annoying talking heads on television, because they mean you have freedom of speech.

Be thankful for an empty gas tank, because it means you’ve been privileged to travel far.

Be thankful for tires that need replacing, because they mean you don’t have to travel by foot.

Be thankful for house repairs, because it means you have a home.

Be thankful for college bills, because it means your children are getting an education.
Be thankful for the extra six cents you pay on the dollar for sales tax, because it provides smooth highways and other needed services.

Be thankful for a busy, stressful day, because it means you have something important to do.

Be thankful for your health challenges, because they mean you’re still alive.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Lovin' Jesus from the Deer Stand

Through 21 years of living in the north country, I’ve come to recognize that, by default, deer hunting season is Wisconsin’s other “holy week.”

It took me a while to figure this out. Year after year, I stood behind the pulpit on the third Sunday of November, and looked with dismay upon an empty sanctuary.  In Hayward, most of the men, and half the ladies vanish into the woods on deer opener, and they normally don’t re-appear for church on Sunday morning.

Of course, there are always a few devoted members of the flock who endure the annual Thanksgiving sermon, anxiously awaiting the concluding “amen” so then can hurry up and get out there. I’m happy to report that my Thanksgiving sermon usually has the intended effect. When it’s over, there’s a collective “Whew, Thank God!” then a mad scramble for the doors.

I regretfully admit that in years past, I’ve attempted to heap guilt and shame on the poor hunters of the congregation in the weeks leading up to “the great departure.” They hung their heads, as I poured it on. “Surely, you can give your Creator ONE hour of your precious hunting time. Where is your commitment? Where is your sacrifice? Where is your priority?” I even made a vague suggestion that if they agreed to sit in church for an hour, that heaven would take note of such devotion, and perhaps reward them with a trophy buck.

They didn’t buy it.

Several years ago, in mid-November, I went for the nuclear option. “People, if you truly love Jesus, then you’re going to prove it by coming HERE next Sunday morning, rather than traipsing out into the woods before dawn!”

They didn’t buy that either.

The good folks of Hayward instinctively know the odds of bagging big buck are much greater from a deer stand than a church pew.

One older fellow shook my hand afterwards, and gave me a Norwegian rebuke,  “Pastor, thank you for sharing your perspective.  But next Sunday, I’ll be lovin’ Jesus from my tree stand.”

That day, I learned a valuable lesson. My job, as a northwoods pastor, is to bless the dear hunters, and not try to force them into being something else.

Besides, what other season affords such opportunity for solitude and reflection? What occasion brings a better place for prayer? In the normal course of life, most folks don’t carve out enough time to be quiet and listen to God’s voice.

One can certainly worship in the woods. In fact, there is no greater cathedral. The splendor of creation inspires the soul to greater heights.

Hunting season imposes “Sabbath” on us. The entire town slows down, and it’s hard to find a mechanic, a repairman, or a barber. Slowing is good medicine for the soul.

Wisconsin’s deer hunting season includes Thanksgiving – and that certainly is appropriate for such a holy week.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Why Spiritual Things Seem Less Important

"If we spend sixteen hours a day dealing with tangible things of our world, and only five minutes a day trying to find God, it is not wonder that the tangible things are two hundred times as real to us as God is."
--  Dean Inge (as quoted in Achieving Christian Perfection by Bishop Marshall R. Reed, p. 55)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Thoughts on Sowing and Reaping

Here are a few basic principles concerning sowing and reaping:

1. We reap what we sow.

You can’t sow hatred and reap love.
You can’t sow unbelief and reap faith.
You can’t sow bitterness and reap forgiveness.
You can’t sow selfishness and reap friendship.

2. Sometimes, we reap what others have sown.
Somebody paid the price for the things we enjoy and often take for granted.

We have electric lights because Thomas Edison worked through the night.Our family values and traditions were passed along from our parents and grandparents.
Every building was constructed at a price. Somebody was willing to pay it.

3. Occasionally, we reap the painful consequences from what others have sown.

A choice to drive drunk can shatter a stranger’s family.
A dishonest employee can bring great dishonor to the business owner.
An abusive parent can damage and harm the child for life.
A thief can leave the victim penniless.

4. We reap more than we sow.
The mighty oak is just a little nut that held his ground.
Small, daily investments bring a tremendous harvest in the end.
One seed, planted in good soil, produces a thousand seeds.
One good deed planted in God’s love, produces a thousand deeds.

5. It usually takes a while between the sowing and the reaping.

There is no such thing as instant success. It takes a lifetime.
Patience is virtue. Do not be weary in well doing.
Sooner or later, what you do will catch up to you – both good and bad.
If at first you don’t see results, remember that the first growth is underground.

6. The more we sow, the more we grow.
Don’t just sow a little bit and quit.
Keep on sowing and you’ll keep on reaping!
Sow in the unexpected places, and you will discover unexpected results.
It’s never too early or too late to start sowing.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Four False Identities

1.  I am what I have.
2.  I am what I do.
3.  I am what others think.
4.  I am what I've gone through.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

So, Which is It?

"High expectations are the key to everything." -- Sam Walton

"The secret to happiness is low expectations ." -- Barry Schwartz

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

The Paradox of Prayer

"So, the paradox of prayer is that it asks for a serious effort while it can only be received as a gift.  We cannot plan, organize or manipulate God:  but without a careful discipline, we cannot receive him either."

Monday, November 05, 2012

I Will Rejoice and Be Glad in It.

Each morning, before crawling out of bed, I repeat Psalm 118:24: “This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it!”

This simple little practice, which I began a couple of years ago, has  proven helpful, bringing a daily “faith lift.”

THIS IS THE DAY -- It reminds me that today really counts. In fact, it’s the only day I have! I don’t have yesterday. It’s already gone. There’s no guarantee about tomorrow. But I do have this golden opportunity called today! It’s important to treasure and make the most of it!

John Wesley encourages us to “redeem the time, for that’s the stuff life is made of!” Moments are precious. Every breath we take is a special gift.

This is the day to live! Some folks live in the memories of the past. Others live in the anticipation and fear of the future. But, we are called to live today!

Make it count! Make it count!

THE LORD HAS MADE -- I realize that I’m not in charge.

A guaranteed way to be miserable is to try to control outcomes. We have no control over much of what happens in life, and we certainly can’t control other people or their decisions. The only thing we can control is how we respond to the situations we encounter.

If our happiness depends on what somebody else does (or doesn't do), we’re automatically doomed to unhappiness.. Nobody – let me repeat that – nobody – will always do what makes you happy. Nobody can fulfillsevery expectation!

Even God doesn't fulfill every expectation. I've talked with several people who are mad at God because He didn't do what they wanted.

But, the point is simple. We’re not in charge! We don’t have to control it! The Lord made it – so He can handle it however He sees fit. What right do we have to think we can boss the Creator of the universe around? Our job is to simply trust God and not manipulate.

I WILL REJOICE AND BE GLAD -- This is an attitude issue.

No matter what happens, I am going to look for a blessing. I’ll look for something to be thankful for.

Even in the worst circumstances, I still can rejoice and be glad. That’s because joy and gladness do not come from external experiences – but rather from the heart. My position in life is not nearly as important as my disposition!

A few years ago, I was at a Wisconsin Dells indoor water park. I looked around and saw happy families enjoying the experience together. Then, I noticed an angry, upset family. They were all yelling at each other. Now, I don’t have any idea what was really going on in their lives, but it struck as ironic. I wanted to go up to them and say, “You made a lot of effort and sacrifice to have this fun family experience at the Dells – and now you’re letting these little frustrations get in the way. Don’t do that! Stop quarreling and enjoy yourselves! This is the day the Lord has made! You need to rejoice and be glad in it!”

For about two seconds, I thought about saying that, but then decided not to meddle. I didn't want to get punched in the nose!

Then, I realized that sometimes I act just like them.  I, too, get frustrated and upset, forgetting to enjoy the blessings around me. I shouldn't judge them, when I’m guilty of the same thing.

Humbled, I walked away, with a renewed commitment to live Psalm 118:24 throughout the day, rather than just saying it in the morning.

Friday, November 02, 2012

The Best Jesus Biography You'll Ever Read

In my recent early morning devotional time, I've been blessed by reading from Jesus: A Theography, by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola.

This 424 page volume is a spiritual treasure trove, blending poetry, Scripture, theology, history and biography into a sweeping and inspiring overview of Jesus, our Savior.

They explore the majesty of Jesus, with a grand "before time" introduction (unlike most Jesus biographies which begin with the nativity) and conclude with an inspiring presentation of Christ our coming King (unlike some others that leave him in the grave.)

Through the rest of the book, they unpack his entire earthly life -- drawing deep meaning from his experiences, teachings, miracles, crucifixion and resurrection.  The authors approach the subject with reverence, and as I've journeyed with them through the chapters, they've said, "Let me show you something beautiful!"

Viola and Sweet capture and reflect the essence of our worship -- a deep, abiding love for Christ -- so amazing, so divine -- which demands my love, my life, my all.

This is the greatest biography of Christ I've ever read, and it will doubtless be considered a classic for years to come.

Purchase Here

A Beautiful Rendition of the Lord's Prayer