Wednesday, July 31, 2013

10 Relationship Commandments

My dear friend, Nickie Kohler, shared this inspiring little piece with me the other day.  Though the author is anonymous, the principles are universal:

1.  Speak to people.  There is nothing so nice as a cheerful word of greeting.

2.  Smile at people.  It takes 72 muscles to frown, only 14 to smile.

3.  Call people by name,  The sweetest music to their ears is the sound of their own name.

4.  Be friendly and helpful.  If you would have friends, be a friend.

5.  Be cordial.  Speak and act as if everything you do is a genuine pleasure.

6.  Be genuinely interested in people.  You can like almost everybody if you try.

7.  Be generous with praise -- cautious with criticism.

8.  Be considerate with the feelings of others.  There are usually three sides to a controversy: yours, the other person's, and the right side.

9.  Be alert to give service.  What counts most in life is what we do for others.

10.  Add to this a good sense of humor, a big dose of patience, and a dash of humility, and you'll be rewarded many-fold.s 

Friday, July 26, 2013

When You Feel Like Giving Up

Sometimes, we all feel like giving up. It comes with the territory of living. 
When stress is high and energy is low. . .
When frustrations multiply and patience ebbs. . .
When conflicts abound and peace evaporates . . .,
When the outgo exceeds the inflow. . . it makes us feel like quitting.

But throwing in the towel is seldom the answer. I have discovered that hardship, endured with patience, faith and the best attitude you can muster, brings tremendous personal growth.

As my old football coach used to say, “No pain, no gain.”

So, what should you do when you feel like quitting?

1.  Face up to reality. 
It pays to know the facts. Problems don’t usually disappear by ignoring them. A clear picture of reality – even if it’s bad – is better than an unrealistic hope.

Discern between a problem and a fact of life. If you can do something about it, it’s a problem. If you can’t – it’s just a fact of life. We need to fix the problems, and accept the facts of life.

2. Reach up to God 
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1). There is no better place to turn in difficulty than to God.

One day, facing a hard situation, I felt like giving up, and then I sensed God’s whisper to my heart. “That’s exactly what you need to do. Give it UP. . . to Me!”

If your problems are deep seated and long standing – try kneeling!

3.  Fill up your tank. 
Some activities drain you while others replenish you. Do you know which is which? In especially demanding seasons, make sure your energy is restored by replenishing. You will probably have to prioritize and schedule this in order to get it.

4. Straighten up your attitude 
Don’t cave into “stinkin’ thinkin’. A bad attitude will spoil everything for you. Negativity multiplies the difficulty by ten.

The best way to adjust your attitude is to begin praising the Lord and counting your blessings blessings. It is nearly impossible to say “Praise the Lord” with a frown.

5. Lift up someone else 
Another person is going through harder times than you. Find that person and bring encouragement.  Bringing blessing to others is like giving your dog a bath. You’ll both get soaked in the process.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Believe Like a Pentecostal, Trust Like a Monk

In Bible believing circles, there are two influential schools of thought regarding prayer.

1)  The Charismatic Claim it Boldly in Faith Circle
2)  The Contemplative Listen in Childlike Trust Circle.

Christians pray differently, when facing a challenging circumstance, physical illness, financial adversity, or perplexing dilemma, depending on which circle they’re in.

The “Charismatic Claim it Boldly in Faith Circle” people pray something like this:

“Lord, you said a grain of faith can move the mighty mountain!   You said a prayer of faith will heal the sick! We take you at your Word and claim your promise!  Mountain, MOVE in Jesus’ name!  By His stripes we are healed!  Your faith has made you whole!”

The “Contemplative LIsten in Childlike Trust Circle” people pray along these lines:

“Abba Father, I come to you as a hurting child.  I am broken, poor and needy.  Yet, I know your love and grace flow freely to the darkest place.  Lord have mercy.  Christ have mercy.  Please be near me as I walk this difficult valley, and help me not to struggle against it.  Teach me, from this experience, that I may be more like Jesus.”

So -- which way should we pray?

I propose that we approach the throne of grace with a blend of both!  Pray with the boldness of a pentecostal preacher and the trust of a contemplative monk!  Both perspectives are valid, yet both can lead to error.  Jesus blended the two approaches in the prayer he taught to his disciples: “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done.”

We must pray with forceful strength:  Thy Kingdom come!
We pray in faithful surrender:  Thy will be done.

Pray with Forceful Strength.  
God is bigger than any problem, and we need to pray in light of this greatness.  God is big enough for anything!  People who fail to pray boldly will see few miracles.  When we refuse to engage in the spiritual battle, we won’t experience the victory.  As Jesus said, “the Kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men take hold of it” (Matthew 11:12).

Yet, the “claim the promise” people can easily fall into arrogance, judging those suffering adversity as “lacking in faith”, and promoting their own agenda rather than Christ’s.  When prayers are not answered according to expectation, the great faith often evaporates into despair and disillusionment.  Genuine faith runs much deeper than bluster.

Pray in Faithful Surrender:
Our prayers should share the spirit of Jesus in Gethsemane, “Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done” (Luke 22:42 KJV).  Step out in faith to pray boldly -- and then, in simple trust, leave the results to God.

He might work a mind blowing miracle and change the entire situation.  Or, he might perform a hidden work of the heart, and grow us in grace.  The way He chooses is always best, and it’s not our job to second guess Him.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

How I Celebrate My Sabbath

Recently, while reading Matthew Sleeth's new book, 24/6, I was challenged and inspired to be more intentional in how I celebrate my Sabbath.

I'm not referring to Sabbath keeping in some sort of negative, legalistic  way.  Rather, it's about taking a time period each week for personal refreshment, renewal and reconnecting (with God and loved ones.)

For years, when people asked me how I observed the Sabbath, I would say, "I take Mondays off."  The problem was, as Eugene Peterson noted so colorfully, "a day off is a bastard Sabbath."

Sundays don't do it for me either -- because it's a major work day.  I'm at the church by 6:00 a.m., and normally don't get home until 1:00 p.m., after preaching three times.  Preaching three half hour sermons feels as exhausting as digging ditches for eight hours.   At then end of that, I'm totally drained.

After prayerful reflection (as a result of reading Sleeth's masterful book) I found a Sabbath pattern that works great for me.  My Sabbath is a full day -- approximately 24 hours -- which starts at 1:00 p.m. Sunday and goes through lunch time on Monday.

During this time, I try to keep my calendar free from obligations and responsibilities.  Of course, there are occasional exceptions to that (such as a Sunday evening event.)  However, I try to guard this time as much as possible, and intentionally refrain from working in it.  I don't cut grass, do laundry, go to the hardware store, do counseling, plan ministry activities, write articles, or craft committee agendas.

Instead, I use this time to stop and replenish.  Yes, I will pray and read my Bible, but Sabbath keeping is much broader than routine "spiritual" activities.   I might go fishing, read a mystery, walk in the woods, go on a drive, watch a western, read poetry, observe nature or take a nap.  I might use this time to reconnect with Cathy, jam on the guitar, play a board game with my family, or call my mother.

Then, after lunch on Monday, I tackle the "Honey Do" list, go shopping and do chores around the house (and I might even stop in at the office.)

This works wonderfully for me and I thought I'd pass the practice along, just in case there's another pastor, somewhere, wondering how to discover Sabbath in the midst of busy living..


Sunday, July 07, 2013

The Difference Between Whiners and Winners

Whiners seldom win -- winners seldom whine.

Whiners look for "why it can't be done" -- winners look for ways to do it.

Whiners see the problems in every opportunity -- winners see the opportunities in every problem.

Whiners wonder why other people get all the breaks -- winners work hard to make the breaks happen.

Whiners see the glass as half empty -- winners see the glass as half full.

Whiners are primarily concerned about their own rights  -- winners are concerned about adding value to the team.

Whiners try to fix the blame -- winners try to fix the problem.

Whiners make excuses --  winners make progress.

Whiners continually struggle to get along with people -- winners continually strive to encourage people.

Whiners want to stay in the comfort zone -- winners want to get to the end zone.

Whiners see only one or two possible options to any given situation -- winners see see multiple options.

Whiners focus on "getting my way" -- winners focus on "getting things done."

Whiners play now and pay later -- winners pay now and play later.

Whiners take the path of least resistance -- winners resist the temptation to slack off.

Whiners make the worst of it -- winners make the most of it.

Whiners sink to the bottom -- winners rise to the top.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Have You Found Your Listening Point?

Sigurd Olson, the great nature writer, with strong Hayward connections, had a cabin in northern Minnesota, which he affectionately dubbed, “Listening Point.”

In 1956, after a long search for the perfect spot, Sig happened upon the property one day, and instantly knew had found a treasure. A farm, seven miles south of Ely, had been condemned to make way for the airport. Seeing the land with eyes of the soul, Sig bought it, and built a rustic cabin where “we could just move in, spend a few hours, a night or two, or if in the mood, even a week, an outpost away from the phone and interruptions.”

Surrounded by the breathtaking beauty of pristine nature, this place, overlooking Burntside Lake, served as a special “get-away” for Sig and his dear wife, Elizabeth.

The 36 acres of property included a small beach, a quiet cove, and a prominent westward point of glaciated greenstone.

The name “Listening Point” came in 1958 when their son, Bob and daughter-in-law, Yvonne, arrived for a visit from the Middle East, where Bob served as a foreign service officer. As Yvonne explored the property with her father-in-law and heard him explain the depth of meaning this place held for him, she was struck with a profound insight.

The diplomatic community in Africa, referred to certain places as “Listening Posts.” A Listening Post was where one could hear and discern the truth of the matter about various issues. It was a way of getting the “pulse beat” along the northern coast. The key is in the “hearing” and not in the “telling.” True listening brings understanding.

“This place is a Listening Post for the wilderness!” she remarked.

Thus, “Listening Point” became the name of their special northwoods retreat from that time forward, as well as the title of Sig’s second book (which happens to be my favorite.)

In the book, Sigurd noted:
"I named this place Listening Point because only when one comes to listen, only when one is aware and still, can things be seen and heard. Everyone has a listening-point somewhere. It does not have to be in the north or close to the wilderness, but some place of quiet where the universe can be contemplated with awe....The adventures that have been mine can be known by anyone."

Do you have a Listening Point? Can you carve out some time to get away into the stillness of nature and listen? Too often, we cram our lives full of busy activity and do not allow breathing space for our souls. Our society is afflicted with “hurry sickness”, much to our detriment.

“We live in a very tense society," observed Helen Hayes, “We are pulled apart... and we all need to learn how to pull ourselves together.... I think that at least part of the answer lies in solitude.”

True silence is the rest of the mind, and is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.” -- William Penn

Stop! Slow down! Find your Listening Point and you will be able to hear yourself think.