Tuesday, November 26, 2013

You Say What You See

"What do you say?"

Parents often use this phrase to remind their children to say "Thank you."

We hope the practice of expressing thanks will  become ingrained in
our kids if we ask this question repeatedly.

Sometimes it works.  Sometimes it doesn't.

The longer I live, the more I'm convinced that "Thank you" is an
expression of the heart, not just the lips.  We can mouth the words,
but if the gratitude isn't deep within us, we have not properly
expressed thanks.

The secret to Thanksgiving is seeing things straight.  You say what you see.

If you see unfairness -- you speak words of protest.
If you see problems -- you will complain.
If you see shortcomings -- you will criticize.
If you see failure -- you will speak negative words.
If you see stupidity -- you will roll your eyes and judge.
If you see fearful outcomes -- you will fret out loud.

Yes, life is full of unfairness, problems, shortcomings, failures,
stupidity and fearful outcomes -- if you look for those things, you
will find them everywhere.

But look again.  There's something bigger and better than all those
things combined.  See it straight.

Look for blessings.
Look for beauty.
Look for good.
Look for inspiration.
Look for hope.
Look for God

You will find what you are looking for -- and when you see it
straight, you will say "Thank you."

So, what do you say?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Hunting Mice?

I have never seen a group of hunters heading off to the woods in a valiant quest for mice.

(This thought came from seminary professor, W. L. Muncy Jr., challenging the church to tackle bigger issues.)

Friday, November 22, 2013

What You Love Most Wins

Whatever we love most usually wins.

This Saturday, throngs of people in orange will head to the woods long
before dawn.  Some will rise before 4:00 a.m., ready to roll.

Normally, they would not consider getting up that early on a Saturday
morning.  But their love for hunting is greater than their love for
comfort and sleeping in.

The same teenager that Mom drags from bed for school on Friday, is in
full orange and chomping at the bit on Saturday.  Whatever we love
most usually wins.

Sometimes, people talk about their struggle with negative habits and
life patterns.  They say they want to eat right, exercise, go to
church, make wise financial decisions, and such.  However, intentions
never get us anywhere.  An intention only leads to a rut of more
unfulfilled intentions, unless you have the gumption to take action.

The bottom line is your love.  Whatever you love most usually wins.

My son, Wes, ran a marathon last year.  He learned to love running,
and that took him all the way to the finish line.

I don't love running, but I love Wes.  So, I didn't run in the
marathon.  Instead, I drove to Ashland, stood on the sideline and

Love is willing to endure discomfort and overcome difficulties.

It is not the lack of discipline, but the lack of love that keeps us
from doing what we say we want to do.

With little love, small obstacles stops us.

Love for hunting brings the gumption to get up early.  It brings the
discipline to sit still when you want to move.  It brings the
endurance to stay in the stand when your toes are throbbing from the

How do you develop a love for hunting?  Keep hope alive that you're
going to see something, and live in the larger picture.

When hope goes, so does the love -- and so will you -- back to the car
and cabin for hot chocolate.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Self Seeking vs Self Sacrificing

Love is not self-seeking. That's what the Bible says. Popular culture, on the other hand, says something different.

Movies, television shows, and top 40 songs on the radio give us a different message. According to them, love is more like the old Toyota commercial: "I love what you do for ME."

Self seeking love approaches the relationship with a set of expectations: "You are here to meet my needs."
Self sacrificing love comes from opposite perspective: "I am here to meet YOUR needs."

Self seeking love is based on a feeling.
Self sacrificing love is based on a commitment.

Self seeking love is about getting.
Self sacrificing love is about giving.

Self seeking love insists on its own way and demands to be understood.
Self sacrificing love is willing to consider another opinion, and desires to understand.

Self seeking love tries to change the other person.
Self sacrificing love accepts the other person.

Self seeking love attacks.
Self sacrificing love attracts.

Self seeking love is blind.
Self sacrificing love has eyes wide open.

Self seeking love constantly compares.
Self sacrificing love keeps no record of wrongs.

Self seeking love is temporary.
Self sacrificing love lasts forever.

Love is a gift -- which is really nothing, until you give it away.

Monday, November 11, 2013

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.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Two Dozen Stress Busters

If you're in the "pressure cooker", here are two dozen stress busters.
Take one or two as needed.
1) Learn to say "no."  It's not that difficult.
2) When you've done all you can -- let go.
3) Focus on faith rather than fear.
4) Smile
5) An ounce of action is worth a ton of worry.
6) Most worries never come true.
7) Live on purpose.
8) God is bigger than any problem you have.
9) It's not the big job, but the little worries that drain energy.
10) Refuse to allow anxiety to take over.
11) Relax. Don't sweat the small stuff.
12) Accept problems as a fact of life.
13)  The real you shows through under pressure.
14) Life goes on.
15) Count your blessings..
16) Few things are worth fighting over. Keep the peace.
17) Take a deep breath and realize how fortunate you are to be alive.
18) Stop putting it off until tomorrow. Do it today.
19) Lend a helping hand to someone in need.
20) Don't get sucked into over-reactions.
21) Keep on the sunny side.
22) Smile.
23) Work up a sweat instead of a dither.
24) Give yourself a break.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Reflections on the Novel, Revelation

Last night, I finished reading Peggy Payne's novel, Revelation.  It was quite a bit more gritty and earthy than I expected it to be.  Since it's the story of a pastor who hears God's voice, I assumed it was going to fall into the tame Christian fiction genre.  I was wrong about that.

It's the story of Swain Hammond, a confused, and very human pastor who starts hearing a voice -- and thinks it belongs to God.  It comes at unexpected times -- and doesn't make much sense to him -- but gives him a fresh revelation of spiritual realities, as well as new courage to move beyond his normally cautious and rational behaviors.

Swain's attempts to explain these "God-encounters", leave his wife befuddled, and his skeptical congregation scratching their heads, and wondering if he is losing his mind.

Coming to grips with an accidental blinding of a young boy on the church property brings everything to a head.

As the fascinating tale unfolds, the troubled pastor begins to explore who he really is, with lots of quirky detours along the way.  Revelation is an interesting read, packed with good grist for personal reflection about matters of faith, relationships, and why we act the way we do.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Remember These Five Things When You're Changing Things

5 Foundational Principles of Change

"Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?"
Isaiah 43:18-19

1) Change is life and life is change
There's not an option. If you want to keep living, you have to go through change. It's a fact of life. When you stop changing, you stop growing! It is possible to change without growing, but all growth requires change! 

A big question people ask: "When will things get back to normal?" Answer: Never. This is normal. Let's deal with it. 
Good news -- God is unchangeable. Everything else might change -- but He doesn't. "In every change, He, faithful, will remain."

More good news -- God uses changes to change us! He develops us and grows us through the painful transitions. 

2) Change is always resisted. 
Mark Twain said, "Nobody likes change except a baby with wet diapers." 

Why do people resist change?

* Tradition (We've always done it this way.) 
* Comfort Zone/Habit (don't ask me to stretch!) 
* Fear of the unknown (What if I fail?) 
* Unclear Purpose (Why do I need to change?) 

3) People Adapt to change in different ways:
* 5% initiate change 
* 10% are early responders -- quick to jump in! 
* 70% go with the flow -- Agree when they get all of the facts. 
* 10% are late responders -- They agree kicking and screaming. 
* 5% shut down -- They kick, scream and will never agree. If positive changes need to be made -- don't let the last 5% derail the mission. 

4) Implementing Change 
* Make Sure Your Purpose is Clear -- "Why Are We Doing This?" What's the bottom line? 
* Sell the purpose, not the change -- Show the benefits of making this adjustment. 
* People best agree to changes in an atmosphere of trust. 
* Don't short-circuit the process -- Good adequate time for transition. * Not everyone will agree. 
* Not everybody who disagrees is your enemy. 
*Expect trouble -- Every change has a price tag. 
* Remember, the best is yet to come! 

5) What About Sacred Cows? 
Answer: As Bill Easum said, "They Make Gourmet Hamburgers!"

Monday, November 04, 2013

Dangerous Presence

My friend, Jason Butler, is a prophet.  I do not mean "prophet" in the weird "school of the prophets who smack people in the forehead, and incant direct pipelines from God" kind of way.

Jason is a prophet of another sort.  He is a truth-revealer.

In his new book, Dangerous Presence, Jason tells the truth about how the church has failed the city, and he doesn't pull any punches.  It's not theoretical.  All the leaders of Transformation City Church live in the heart of Milwaukee.

They hear gun shots and sirens regularly.  They've been robbed.  They've been misunderstood.  But, they're there.  Like Jesus, they closed the gap by stepping into the situation.  You can't love from a distance.

In the book, Jason shares his personal pilgrimage to understanding that Jesus stands with the poor.  It is a gripping story.

As a small town pastor, I find Jason's words about the urban plight compelling, convicting and challenging.  What is my responsibility to the city?  How can my church step in to fight poverty, exploitation and injustice?

A couple of places to start:
1)  Is there anything we can do to stand beside those who live, serve and suffer in the urban areas?  Can we send resources?  People?  Can we form partnerships to encourage, love and learn from each other?

2)  Where is the need in our own community?  For us, it's the LCO Reservation.  They struggle with the very same problems as the inner city.  Young men can't find work.  Crime rates are rampant while life expectancy is low.  I just heard last week that 43% of Native Americans suffer from diabetes.  Alcohol abuse is a major problem.  What is our responsibility there?

Dangerous Presence wrecked me.  It grabbed my heart and tore it in two.  It calls me to action of some sort, and I'm still trying to figure out what that is.

Jesus was a small town preacher -- but he served the city -- and they killed him.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Bless Your Neighbor Pies

“Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” -- Jesus

One mid-December Saturday, I received an unusual phone call from my friend, Chip.  A Sara Lee frozen pie semi truck was broken down in our community, and the freezer unit had malfunctioned.  The driver was in a quandary, trying to figure out how to get rid of 400 Sara Lee cherry pies before they went bad.  Thus, Chip called me, explaining the situation, and asked, “So, do you have any use for 400 frozen pies?

  "You bet!" I exclaimed.  I've always believed we should seize opportunities when they present themselves.  Immediately, my mind started whirling.  What could we do with all those pies?”

“I know!  I’ll turn this into a fund raiser, sell them to the congregation, and put the money in our building fund.”

Then the Spirit of God nudged my heart.

“Wrong answer.  I gave you those pies for another reason.  You are not to sell them,  You are to give them.  They are not “building fund” pies.  They are “bless your neighbor” pies.”

So, the next day at church, I explained about our bounty from heaven, given that we may give.  “Take a pie and bake it.  Then, go visit your neighbors and give it to them with a blessing.”

The results were amazing.  The next Sunday a half dozen neighbors showed up for church.

Too often, churches ask for things from the community rather than blessing and giving back.  They need to remember and apply the words they preach, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”