Tuesday, April 30, 2013

When You Go Through the Valley of Baca (Hardship)

"Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee, in whose heart are the ways of them, who passing through the valley of Baca, make it a well; the rain also fills the pools. They go from strength to strength—every one of them in Zion appeareth before God."
--Psalm 84:5-7 (KJV)

Some time ago, after I'd preached on this verse, my friend, Jim Burmeister, loaned me a casette tape by Jack Hyles on the "The Valley of Baca."

Now, Jack Hyles isn't exactly my type. He's a snortin', yellin', narrow minded, independant, fundamentalist Baptist preacher. (Actually, he was that -- but a few years ago, he went home to glory, his rough edges have been sanded off and he's probably a Wesleyan now!)

However, driving to the hospital, ol' brother Jack really preached a good sermon to me -- snortin' and yellin' all the way. My heart was blessed. "Even though he's dead, yet he speaks."

Basically, there were two points:

1. Everybody, sooner or later, has to go through the Valley of Baca.

Baca is the place of weeping -- sickness, sorrow, trouble, loss.

2. When you are in the Valley of Baca, Dig a Well!

Dig a well for those who will follow after you -- those who will experience the same sufferings. Don't just waste your trial -- dig a well to be a source of hope and blessing to others who will follow the same path.

Monday, April 29, 2013

20 Ways to Ruin a Perfectly Good Day

1. Take the day for granted. Fail to recognize that it is a special gift from God.

2. Focus on the problems rather than the possibilities.

3. Complain! Complain! Complain! You can always find something to gripe about.

4. Recount the ways others have mistreated you and throw a pity party.

5. Forget to say "please" and "thank you." Be rude.

6. Don't take time to pray. There is not peace for an "un-centered" heart.

7. Cram every minute full of busy activity. Eliminate margin (breathing room.)

8. Criticize and belittle your family members. As Disraeli said, "to belittle is to be little."

9. Spend the entire day watching television. Contentment will evaporate as you vegetate.

10. Count your burdens rather than your blessings. Focus on the negative rather than the positive.

11. Be sure to whine when things go wrong. Whining is the cry of a shriveled soul.

12. Lose your temper! Let it explode in angry tirades.

13. Be a perfectionist. Refuse to be happy unless everything is just right.

14. When you don't get your own way, stick out your bottom lip and pout.

15. Refuse to admit your mistakes. Eliminate "I'm sorry" and "I was wrong" from your vocabulary.

16. Cry over spilled milk. Be absorbed with problems you can't fix.

17. Make excuses. This is much easier than making progress.

18. Find fault with every and situation. Be sure everybody knows what's wrong.

19. Blame other people for your own mistakes.

20. Fail to read and apply the Bible. When you ignore God and try to manage life on your own -- you're sure to mess it up!

Friday, April 26, 2013

A Prayer for Seeking God's Will

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. 
I do not see the road ahead of me.
 I cannot know for certain where it will end. 
Nor do I really know myself, 
and the fact that I think I am following your will 
does not mean that I am actually doing so. 
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. 
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. 
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. 
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, 
though I may know nothing about it. 
Therefore will trust you always
 though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. 
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, 
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
-- Thomas Merton

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Preach to Yourself First

"Take heed, therefore, to yourselves first, that you be that which you persuade your hearers to be, and believe that which you persuade them to believe, and have heartily entertained that Savior whom you offer to them."

--  Richard Baxter,  in The Reformed Pastor

Monday, April 22, 2013

Feed the Goose!

A while back, I awoke in the middle of the night with an  inspiring thought racing through my mind.

"Honey, wake up!" I said, "I just had a marvelous thought!

""Hmmnn? Whuzzat? Marvelous thought?", Cathy mumbled.

"Do you want to hear it?" I asked eagerly.

"Sure, might as well, now that I'm awake." said Cathy.

"Feed the Goose! We've gotta Feed the Goose!"

"What?? You woke me up from good sleep for that? What do you mean -- feed the goose?"

"I don't know, but it's a wonderful thought!" I beamed.

"Go back to sleep," said Cathy.

But my mind kept racing. . .

Feed the goose. Feed the goose. What in the world does that mean?

Then the light clicked on in my little brain -- aha! If you have a goose that lays golden eggs, your most important job is to feed the goose.

Don't get so busy gathering the eggs that you forget to take care of the one laying them!

What is your mission in life? What are you wired to do? That's your goose!

Consider the condition of your soul. That's your goose!

Think of a relationship you need to nurture more tenderly. That's your goose.

What brings out your very best and helps you become the person you were created to be? That's your goose!

What is your sweet spot -- the source of greatest delight? That's your goose.

In a business, family, church, or community, what is your main priority? What activity brings the greatest desired result? That's your goose.

Too often, we're so busy running the farm that we forget to feed the goose.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Pat Summerall Passed Away

When I heard that the great sports announcer, Pat Summerall, passed away yesterday, I was reminded of his beautiful testimony of God's grace in his life.  As a guest on the 700 Club a while back, he spoke candidly about his alcohol addiction, and how Jesus changed his life.

"Well, to take me from where I was, and the life I was leading, to the life I lead now with the church and with the Lord and with Jesus Christ, it's a total, total turn-around."

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Rest in Peace George Beverly Shea

All Rivers Run into the Sea

A clapboard congregation
sings heartfelt doxologies
hammered out on an
untuned upright piano
with thirteen missing keys.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Haunting canticles
in a cavernous cathedral.
Echoes of praise
ring from pipes
when songs have ceased.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

An orchestrated blend of rock and blues.
A collection of redeemed sinners
who've tasted grace.
Ancient lyrics dance upon the screen,

Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

And which is true worship?
Which is good and right?
Which is met with heaven's smile?
In which does God delight?

Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

My Waffle Wedded Wife

Monday, April 15, 2013

Half Mastings

The flags in town are half mast today. It seems we've had more than our share of "half-mastings" recently.

The flags represent our hearts -- they're at half mast too.

As the flags go down, our prayers go up.

Brennan Manning on Friendship

A friend is someone who stays with you in the bad and good weather of life,
guards you when you are off your guard,
restrains your impetuosity,
delights in your wholeness,
forgives your failures,
does not forsake you when others let you down.
The friendship of Jesus enables us to see others
as he saw the apostles:
flawed, but good children of the Father.

-- Brennan Manning

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Stress Test

Just finished reading Stress Test, a medical thriller written by Richard L. Mabry.

It's the tale of a promising young medical doctor, Matt Newman, who finds himself kidnapped by thugs at 2:00 a.m., bound and thrown into the trunk of his car.  A hair-raising escape from certain death, leads to a back alley fall and a severe head injury.

When Dr. Newman awakens, he is shocked to discover that he is the prime suspect in a murder investigation.  Falsely accused by the police, and still pursued by the bad guys, the young doctor finds himself in a frightening fight for survival.

With help from his capable and attractive attorney, Sandra Murray, Newman discovers faith, love, and the purpose of life.

(A complimentary copy of this book was provided by the publishers for review on this bog.)

Purchase here.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

How to Get Things Done

I discovered long ago, that a wish or desire is not enough to get something done. Every accomplishment starts with an idea, of course -- but the idea, alone, won't make it happen.

Even a very strong "want to" won't bring the follow through. If you want to get something done, you have to dosomething about it ahead of time!

1. What Gets Scheduled Gets Done.
Not long ago, I shared a great vacation idea with my wife, Cathy. "Hey, we should go to Florida sometime!" (I think our long winter had something to do with that inspiration.)

"When are you thinking we should do this?" Cathy wondered.

"I dunno. Just sometime next January -- or maybe February . . ."

Cathy replied, "Well, the only way that's going to happen is if it gets on the calendar."

For years, I said I wanted to author a book, but never seemed to have the time to write it. Last year, I actually did it.

Here's what made the difference.  I put" book writing" on my weekly calendar.  When I scheduled a definite time to write -- presto -- the book appeared!

If you want to get it done, get it on the schedule!

2. What Gets Planned Gets Done.
I have a lot of ideas, and most of them don't pan out. The primary reason most of my ideas end up on the scrap heap is because they are not accompanied by a good plan.

An idea is like a semi trailer  The plan is the truck. If the trailer's not hitched to the truck, it's not going anywhere!

My brother, Tim, bought a semi trailer a while back, and put it behind his house. It became his wonderful storage shed! You can find lots of fascinating treasures in there! Unhitched ideas are like that. Instead of taking the payload down the road, they become storage sheds for interesting and unused possibilities.

If you want to achieve something, you have to make a plan! If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

You'll end up like Sir John Harvey Jones who observed, "Planning is unnatural. It's much more fun to get on with it. The real benefit of not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise and is not preceded by months of worry."

3. What Gets Started Gets Done
Well, maybe. I have a lot of unfinished projects sitting around my house. Getting started doesn't necessarily get it done but I can guarantee this -- You'll ever get it done if you don't get it started!

A mountain of work won't disappear by staring at it, or wishing it away. You jut have to roll up your sleeves, jump in and take it on! My friend, Robyn Bjork, who recently climbed Mount Kilimanjaro remarked, "You get to the top of big mountains by taking one little step at a time."

4 . What Gets our Attention Gets Done
At our church, we celebrate missions. We love to touch the world from Hayward. It's thrilling to me to see people bringing a blessing to their neighbors and the nations. We make a big deal out of it. Hey everybody, pay attention! This is good stuff!

There are a few other important areas, however, where we've fallen short. (No church is perfect.) I've come to realize that we get more of what we recognize, applaud and celebrate.

Note, this works on the negative side as well. For instance, if a school teacher focuses on misbehavior in the classroom, she'll get much more of it. It would pay her better to pay attention and recognize the behaviors she wants to see displayed by her students. Then, she will get more of that!

5. What Gets Appreciated Gets Done.
People want to be wanted, they need to be needed, and they certainly appreciate being appreciated. A primary task for the effective leader is to involve people and then walk around saying, "Thank you!"

6. What Gets Finished Gets Done.
Although starting is half the job -- finishing is the other half. The job is not over until it's really been completed. It's time to finish it with a flourish! Roll up your sleeves, and get it done!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

How's Your Bible Reading Going?

I received an unexpected phone call from Darrelyn Tutt yesterday that helped "jump-start" my Bible reading program.

At the beginning of the year, I had enthusiastically launched an aggressive effort to read the Bible through in 90 days (give or take a few, when you factor in the "zag" days.)  This endeavor was inspired by a little guide, For This Reason: God's Word in 90 Days, written by Darrelyn, a poet and pastor's wife from rural South Dakota, and director of Inkwell Ministries.

Well, I did great for almost three weeks -- then bogged down due to a busy schedule, travel and a number of other excuses.  For the past couple of months, I've been floundering in my Bible reading -- grabbing little snippets and morsels from here and there and calling it good.

And yesterday, Darrelyn called me on it.

"Hi Pastor Mark!  I'm just checking in to see how your 90 Day Bible Reading Plan is going."

"Oh, yeah. . . that was a wonderful plan. . . great stuff.  But I kind of got busy and started doing something else."

"Oh, really?  What else are you doing?  Where are you reading in the Bible these days?  What truth did God teach you this morning from His Word?"

"Um. . . Um. . ." my mind frantically raced back to the few verses cobbled from the Bible Roulette Method in recent mornings . . .  "Psalm 27. . . Gospels. . . Isaiah."

"Hmmmm. . . and where exactly in Isaiah were you studying?"

"Uh. . . Um. . . Isaiah 61. . .I think. . . and  Isaiah 40??"

"And what did God reveal to you from those passages?"

"Er. . . Um. . .  good news to the poor. . . .  soaring on wings like eagles. . . ."

"I think you would benefit from getting back on track with the 90 Day Bible Reading Program."

"I do too"

"So are you going to do it?"

"Um. . . Er. . . Uh. . .  most days maybe. . . as long as I'm not too busy. . .   you know, my schedule gets kind of busy and makes it hard for me to invest this kind of time in Bible reading all in one setting. . .  and the whole Bible in 90 Days seems like running a marathon. . . and . . . well. . . I'm just making excuses, aren't I?"

"I think so."

"OK -- you're right!  I'll get back in the game!"

"I believe you will."

This morning, thanks to that little conversation -- I've re-launched the program -- started where I left off -- plowing through the entire book of Galatians, two Psalms, and a Proverb.  Wow -- how rich and rewarding!  Sure beats beating skimming for snippets and morsels.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Rural Ministry the Way Jesus Did It

"We’ve got to put roots down in a neighborhood and do it the way Jesus did. That is ‘come follow me.’ When we are way too small to get involved in large projects by ourselves, we’ve got to get people in the neighborhood involved in humanitarian outreach programs. There are people out there who really would like to have opportunities to help and work."  -- Ruth Tucker

Sunday, April 07, 2013

A Matter of Trust

I recently had the opportunity to read A Matter of Trust, a fascinating crime mystery written by Lisa Wiehl and April Henry.  This book is a page turner, featuring newly widowed, Mia Quinn, who is forced to return to work as a prosecuting attorney, following her husband's sudden accidental death.

 Almost immediately, she finds herself neck-deep in detective work,  investigating the murder of her colleague and trusted friend, Colleen, as well as the tragic suicide of a bullied teenager.

While unraveling these mysteries, she also is forced to navigate a perplexing personal life.   As a single mom, Mia experiences a teenage son who shuts her out, a daughter's terrifying episodes at night, a demanding, politically ambitious boss, an annoying investigative partner, enormous financial stress caused by her late husband's secrets, and an estranged father who "gets religion" and re-enters her life.

Wiehl's writing reminds me somewhat of John Grisham and Harlan Coban, with an inspiring (but not overt) twist of faith.  A Matter of Trust is a good, wholesome read, with a fascinating plot, interesting characters, spine tingling action and a surprise ending.

Purchase Here

(I received a complimentary copy of the e-book from Booksneeze for review on this blog, and was not required to write a favorable review.)

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Live for the Long Haul

 You were designed to live for the long haul!

 With that in mind, it's vital to keep the big picture in mind. Most of us get so caught up in the minutia of the moment, that we forget to look beyond our current circumstance.

 Most of today's pressure points aren't really that important in light of the bigger scheme of things.

 The next time you're worked up about something, ask this question, "Will it really matter ten years from now?"

That question will put things in perspective for you.

 A long haul life requires some long range thinking.

 What are you willing to sacrifice today for a greater gain tomorrow?
 What habits today will destroy your health and/or relationships tomorrow?
 If you continue in the same direction and at the same pace as you are going today, where will that lead you tomorrow?
 If your money management patterns today continue, what will your financial picture be tomorrow?
 What does your spiritual condition today say about your spiritual direction tomorrow?
 Are you content with where you are heading in your life?
 If not, what are you going to do to change things?

 Here's a wild idea: Think of something you really should be doing -- but you've just not gotten around to it.  Do it now! Start this week! Today! Right now is the first moment of the rest of your life.

A Prayer in the Darkness

O Christ Jesus, when all is darkness
and we feel our weakness and helplessness,
give us the sense of Your presence, Your love, and Your strength. 
Help us to have perfect trust in Your protecting love and strengthening power, 
so that nothing may frighten or worry us, 
for, living close to You, we shall see Your hand, Your purpose, 
Your will through all things. 

--  By Saint Ignatius of Loyola

Monday, April 01, 2013