Thursday, January 24, 2013

Live Forward, Understand Backward

In times of transition, people often wonder, “When will we get back to normal?”

The answer to that question is “Never.”

Normal is not something you can go back to. Regardless of how comforting the thought may be, you can’t get back to normal. The old normal doesn’t exist.

You can only go forward to a new normal.

Life is a river. It flows continuously forward, not backward. It changes as it flows. You cannot step into the same river twice. It’s different every time.

Our moments and relationships are like that too. We all are changing, growing, moving forward in time. We can’t go back to the way it was.

Of course, we can understand our present situation by reflecting on the past. As Winston Churchill said, “The farther backward you look, the further forward you are likely to see.” Pondering the past brings clarity and understanding for the future.  We live forwards and understand backwards.

A stroll down memory lane recalls experiences both good and bad. We realize that in the end, everything seems to work out somehow. Everything we’ve experienced has brought us to where we are today. The things we’ve gone through have shaped, instructed and molded us.

The good times have brought us joy. The bad times, though painful, have shaped our character.

It does us good to remember the past.

When it’s all said and done, however, we must clear the cobwebs of yesterday, and live. Embrace today! Pining for “what was” doesn’t bring it back. We cannot live in the past. It is impossible to go back to reclaim it.

The better course is to appreciate and draw meaning from the past, then, with courage, live fully in the present. If we do that, the best memories of life are still to be made!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Cold Within

Six humans trapped by happenstance
In bleak and bitter cold.
Each one possessed a stick of wood
Or so the story’s told.

Their dying fire in need of logs
The first man held his back
For of the faces round the fire
He noticed one was black.

The next man looking ‘cross the way
Saw one not of his church
And couldn’t bring himself to give
The fire his stick of birch.

The third one sat in tattered clothes.
He gave his coat a hitch.
Why should his log be put to use
To warm the idle rich?

The rich man just sat back and thought
Of the wealth he had in store
And how to keep what he had earned
From the lazy shiftless poor.

The black man’s face bespoke revenge
As the fire passed from his sight.
For all he saw in his stick of wood
Was a chance to spite the white.

The last man of this forlorn group
Did nought except for gain.
Giving only to those who gave
Was how he played the game.

Their logs held tight in death’s still hands
Was proof of human sin.
They didn’t die from the cold without
They died from the cold within.

--  James Patrick Kinney

Monday, January 21, 2013

How People in Wisconsin Handle Winter

60 above zero:  Wisconsinites plant gardens.
50 above zero:  People are sunbathing in Green Bay .
40 above zero:  Wisconsinites drive with the sunroof open.
32 above zero:  The water in  Hayward gets thicker.
20 above zero:  Wisconsinites throw on a flannel shirt.
15 above zero:  People in  Wisconsin have one last cookout before it gets cold.
Zero:  Wisconsinites close the windows.
10 below zero: Wisconsinites dig their winter out of storage.
25 below zero:  Girl Scouts in  Wisconsin still selling cookies door to door.
40 below zero: People in  Wisconsin let their dogs sleep indoors.
100 below zero: Wisconsinites get upset because the Mini-Van won’t start.
460 below zero: ALL atomic motion stops (absolute zero on the Kelvin scale). People in  Wisconsin can be heard to say, “Cold ’nuff fer ya?”
500 below zero:  Hell freezes over.  Wisconsin public schools open 2 hours late

Read more:

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The True Test of Character

"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."          --  Abraham Lincoln

Friday, January 18, 2013

Advice for a New Pastor

A friend recently contacted me, seeking advice as he began the pastorate of a new church.  Here's how I responded:

1)  You only have four jobs:  preach, pray, lead and love -- and not necessarily in that order.  Your prayer life is the single most important factor in your ministry -- you must maintain a robust soul, overflowing with Christ for effective ministerial service,.

2)  Loving people is the key -- and not just the people in your  congregation -- but the whole community.  That means intentionally going out to seek them.  By defailt, most pastors stay in their offices too much, when they need to be out where people are.

3)  Look for those who are suffering and bring love to them -- and better yet, take someone with you when you go.  This is a blessing in more than one respect -- and will multiply favor and blessing when you demonstrate the compassion of Christ.

4)  Don't get worked up about little things -- most issues aren't worth the fight.  Go with the flow mostly - -and save protests for the big stuff.

5)  Assume 85-90 percent of the responsibility for getting along with people.  (some are unreasonable -- that's why I don't say 100 percent) -- but if you "get along" with others, they will "go along": with you.

6)  Preach with stories -- illustration works far better than explanation.

7)  Schedule at least one connection with a non-church person each week -- more if you can.

8)  If you don't know them already, within the first week or so, make appointments with community leaders -- such as the mayor, police chief, school supt, postmaster, funeral director - -they need to know who you are and what you're doing.  When you meet them, make it brief - -without any requests or expectations.

9)  Mobilize your people to bless the community -- have discussions with them -- what are the  dark placees in our community?  How can we light a candle in the darkness?

Four Communication Secrets

Communication is to love what blood is to the body. When it ceases to flow, love dies, and rigor mortis of resentment sets in.

The ancient prophet, Amos, asked the rhetorical question, "Can two walk together except they be agreed?"

Bob, walking by his neighbor's house, saw him struggling with a couch halfway in the front door. He walked up to his friend and asked, "Hey Fred, need a hand?"

"Sure!" came the reply, "I'm glad you stopped by. This has been a real challenge,"

So, he grabbed the end of the couch and started pushing -- but it wouldn't budge an inch. For about twenty minutes, both men struggled and strained as hard as they could, but made absolutely no progress.

Finally, dropping the couch from exhaustion, Bob said, "You know, Fred, this is just crazy! I can't understand why it's so hard for us to get this couch into the house."

"Into the house??" Fred replied, "I've been trying to push it OUT of the house!!"

When we don't communicate we, we often end up working against each other. You can't walk together unless you're going the same direction.

None of us are mind readers, so the only way to go the same direction is through clear, loving communication.

Doesn't communication cause fights? What if the things I need to communicate are hurtful? Isn't it better to just shut up and bear it?

Certainly, unwise and thoughtless communication can cause fights, but the lack of communication causes far more fights -- a hundred times more! It's better to communicate even the unpleasant things, rather than bottling them up inside, if you want your relationships to thrive.

The secret here is to practice the fine art of "disagreeing agreeably." This is mostly a matter of keeping a right attitude and sweet spirit as you tackle challenging issues.

All relationships require give and take. Great relationships require give and give!

1) Give In. You don't have to always get your way to be happy. Sometimes, the best and most loving thing is to submit to the other person's point of view, even if it's not your preference.

2) Give More. Can you give more love, attention and energy to this relationship? Make it your aim to outdo one another in love.

3) Give Way. Allow the other person some latitude and space.  Honor and respect the unique individuality of the other person.

4)  But Don't Give Up! You can't truly love somebody until you've been through some difficult times together. Don't quit when times are tough. Instead, dig in deeper, and discover the riches of loving forbearance.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Winter in Wisconsin

It's winter in Wisconsin 
And the gentle breezes blow 
Seventy miles an hour 
At twenty-five below. 
Yes, the weather here is wonderful 
So I guess I'll hang around 
I could never leave Wisconsin 
'Cause I'm frozen to the ground!
(from a poem sent to me by my friend, Shirley)

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Secret of Inner Strength

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

Friday, January 11, 2013

Meals on Wheels

Human Trafficking Awareness Day

Did you know Congress has declared January 11 as Human Trafficking Awareness Day?
Time to raise awareness. Let's test your knowledge: 
  • What is human trafficking?
  • How much does a slave cost?
  • How old are most first-time victims of sex slavery?
  • How many people are currently trafficked?
Stumped? Find your answers here.

2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, yet more people are trafficked today than any other point in history.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

For Every Look at Self, Look Ten times to Christ

Recently, in my devotional reading, I stumbled upon The Hidden Life by18th Century Hungarian Presbyterian, Adolph Safir.  It is a deeply spiritual book, anchored in Scripture.

Here's a good quote I've been mulling, "For one look to self, take ten looks to Christ."  (Safir is actually quoting the Scottish clergyman, Robert Murray M'Cheyne.)

I appreciate this thought for two reasons:

1)  It reminds us that self-reflection is essential.  Transformation comes only by admitting the truth and we must to examine ourselves to find it.  John Fletcher's Heart Check Questions prove helpful in this regard.

2)  Yet, it also encourages us to keep Christ as the central focus point.  When we fix our eyes on Jesus, we won't sink in the murky depths of morbid introspection.

Look around -- be distressed.
Look within -- be depressed.
Look to Jesus -- be at rest.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

How to Deal with Post-Stewardship Sermon Poundings

This past Sunday, I preached my annual Money Sermon. I've done this every January for the past 19 years. 

This is my 21st January in Hayward, but my first two years I was too chicken to talk about financial generosity. The closest I got was "God is nice to you, so it would certainly be nice for you to be nice back to Him." And all God's children scratched their heads and said, "Huh??"

The first time I ever preached on financial stewardship, a livid lady with a red face stormed up after the service and reamed me out. "Money! Money! Money!   When will you preachers quit talking about money??"

I had gone over 120 weeks and not mentioned it once -- and then I got clobbered for "money grubbing."  She must have been watching way too much Christian television.

For the next few years, I dreaded the January Money Message, because some touchy person would always get offended and blow a gasket.

Then, I finally figured it out. It's not my problem!

I am called to preach the whole counsel of God -- and that certainly includes how to handle your money. Jesus, himself, spoke more about money and possessions than he did about heaven and hell combined. It's the topic of 16 of his 38 parables.

There are about 500 verses in the Bible about prayer, less than 500 about faith, and over 2000 about money. Certainly, then, it is not unreasonable for a preacher to bring it up once a year on Stewardship Sunday.

I've found a way to approach it, where people don't flip out and yell at me after church.

I preface my annual stewardship sermon with something like this:

 "I'm just going to tell you what God's Word says about your money. The love of money can twist our hearts, and distort our thinking, so we're not seeing straight. If you get offended by what I say this morning, and come up to me and rant after the church service, that only proves my point. It shows me that you have an inordinate affection for money, and you need to surrender that to God. It proves that you are not mature -- because mature people are unselfish and generous and they don't act that way."

Since I've started saying that, I'm glad to report, there have been no further "post-stewardship sermon poundings."

Monday, January 07, 2013

Go Back to Pre-School for Continuing Education

Sometimes, when folks are all grown up, they forget the valuable lessons they learned as youngsters.  Perhaps it would be a good idea to send every adult back to pre-school for a refresher course.

If we all went back to pre-school, here are a few important things we'd learn to say again:

1. Please.
So often, people make selfish demands of other people, forgetting that gentle requests are far more productive than dictates and ultimatums.  Just think how pleasant our world would be, if we all treated each other with courtesy and respect.
"Would you please. . ." goes much further than "You'd better. . . or else!"

2. Thank You.
Ingratitude lies at the heart of most misery. Your emotional and spiritual health is directly linked to your level of thankfulness.  If you go around thinking that "life owes you",  unhappiness is guaranteed.  Gratiude as the root, produces joy as the fruit.

3. I'm Sorry.
A measure of maturity is how we own and admit our mistakes. Whenever we've hurt someone, intentionally or without realizing, we must go back and try to make amends.  Saying the actual words, "I'm sorry" is the first step towards healing in a fractured relationship.  A failure to admit failure is the greatest failure of all!

Generally speaking, an offended person will be reconclied with a humble, heartfelt, honest apology.  

Of course, the mere words, "I'm sorry", don't mean too much if they are not followed with appropriate action.  As Momma said, "Sorry is as sorry does."

4. I Forgive You.
Forgiveness is difficult, but essential.

It isn't "letting the other person off the hook", as much as it is "letting ourselves off the hook of bitterness."

Small children have a beautiful way of making up after a conflict. They can have a spat one minute, and then, get over it and be best buddies the next.  Wouldn't it be great if we grown ups could learn to let our offenses go like that?

Yes, I think sending every grown up back to pre-school every few years, for continuing education is a splendid idea!

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Make New Tracks

The New Year is like freshly fallen snow.  We have an opportunity to make new tracks in it.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Salvation Army Provides Answer for Spiritual Cliff Crisis

I was delighted to hear the Salvation Army Band playing "Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus" in the Rose Parade this morning!  A beautiful and courageous statement of faith, in a culture that is increasingly hostile to Christ.

I realize addressing the fiscal cliff is important --but not nearly as important as the spiritual-moral cliff we're heading towards as a nation.  Kudos to the Salvation Army for reminding us to embrace our mission in this world:

  1. Stand up, stand up for Jesus! ye soldiers of the cross;
  1. Lift high His royal banner, it must not suffer loss:
  1. From vict’ry unto vict’ry, His army shall He lead,
  1. Till every foe is vanquished, and Christ is Lord indeed

  2. Stand up, stand up for Jesus!  The trumpet call obey;
  3. Forth to the mighty conflict, in this His glorious day;
  4. Ye that are men now serve Him against unnumbered foes;
  5. Let courage rise with danger, and strength to strength oppose.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus! Stand in His strength alone,
The arm of flesh will fail you, ye dare not trust your own;
Put on the gospel armor, and watching unto prayer,
Where calls the voice of duty, be never wanting there.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus!  The strife will not be long;
This day the noise of battle, the next the victor's song;
To him that overcometh a crown of life shall be;
He with the King of glory shall reign eternally.