Showing posts from March, 2014

10 Suggestions for Successful Small Town Ministry

A young pastor recently asked me what ten things I would recommend when beginning a ministry in a small community.  I took some time to ponder his question, and decided to write this post in response.  My list is not exhaustive.  I could probably write a hundred thoughts.  But here are my initial ten:

1.  Think Big and Little.
Too many rural pastors suffer from myopia -- small vision.  "How can anything significant happen in a little place like this?"  However, it pays to remember that Jesus launched the greatest mission in human history from rural context.  If you have the right perspective, you can touch the world from the end of it!  Refuse to be small minded.

Do something special with what you have.  Go the extra mile and put some "wow" into it.  It doesn't take much more to make a huge difference.  Remember, in a small community, you don't have to be great to be spectacular.

Take a risk and do something big.  Plan a significant event and invite the wh…

Focus on the Fountain, Not the Streams

"Many in our churches make the serious blunder of confining their attention to the outer, to the neglect of the inner life.  They work at the streams, and fail to give their first and chief attention to their great necessity -- purity at the fountain.  They struggle in a life-long effort to raise the streams higher than the fountain or to purify the fountain by working at the streams."

"Their only success in this effort is to get the outward and apparent of their life out of all proportion or harmony with their inner and true character.  Who can bring a clean thing ouf of an unclean? Not one!"

-- J. A. WoodPurity and Maturity

A Baker's Dozen Writing Tips

1.  The secret to good writing is rewriting.  Every first draft stinks, but by the sixth or seventh edit, it takes shape and sing.

2. Word reduction makes writing crisp.  Don’t use four words where you could use one. 
3. Avoid passive sentences.
4. Play with your words.  Have fun creating pithy phrases and colorful word pictures.
5. Eliminate as many adverbs as possible.  An adverb should never be used to prop up a weak verb.  Instead, kill them both and use a stronger verb.
6. Declare war on exclamation points.  This was a challenge for me.  I love exclamation points, and riddled my manuscript with them.  Then Kevin, my ruthless editor, eliminated them all.  “If you must rely on an exclamation point to give it punch, then you need to rework it.”  A good sentence carries its own punch.  Exclamation points are like jalapeno peppers; they add a zing, but should be sparingly.
7. The same thing applies to quotation marks.
8.  Think of a specific person as your target, and then write with him/her…

Hope for the Troubled Heart

"What lies behind us, and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Pain from the past often permeates the present.  Certain moments have a way of defining us.

the accident
the death
the divorce
the argument
the illness
the failure

Hurtful experiences come in broken shards with jagged edges that cut deep and pierce the heart.

If we hold our hurts close, clutching them tightly in our grasp, we will never move beyond the pain. Sometimes, it's more "comfortable" to hang on to old hurts than to risk releasing them. Maybe doing so means letting go of our very identity.

But faith calls us to release the past -- to begin the long journey of healing.

Looking the other direction . . . towards the future . .trouble is a brewing! Every person has problems coming down the pike.

Why are we so surprised when trouble knocks at the door? It's normal. Hardship comes with the package of living.

However, there is plenty of blessing to g…

When God Showed Up at John Wesley's Prayer Meeting

About three in the morning as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground.  As soon as we recovered a little from the awe and amazement at the presence of His Majesty, we broke out with one voice, 'We praise Thee, O God, we acknowedge Thee to be the Lord."  -- John Wesley

Get Rich Quick!

1 Timothy 6:18 reveals the secret to instant riches!

Reflections 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

It Doesn't Hurt to Ask

“ASKand you shall receive, that your joy might be full.” (John 16:24)

“ASK, and it shall be given unto you. Seek and you shall find. Knock, and the door shall be opened unto you.” (Matthew 7:7)

“ASK of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance.” (Psalm 2:8)
“One thing I ASK of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple”. (Psalm 27:4)

“They ASKED, and he brought them quail and satisfied them with the bread of heaven. (Psalm 105:40)

“ASK the Lord your God, for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or the highest heights.” (Isa. 7:10)
The Sad Response: But Ahaz said, ‘I will not ASK. . .” (Isa. 7:11)

“If you would ASK, then ask; and come back yet again. (Isa. 21:12)

A Sad Word of Judgment: “They did not ASK, ‘Where is the Lord?” (Jer. 2:6-8)

“This is what the LORD says: "Stand at the crossroads and look; ASK for the ancient paths, ask where the good way …

When You Are Angry

1.  Remember, you can be wrong in your "rightness."
2.  Recongnize the damage of uncontrolled anger.  (It's only one letter away from danger.)
3.  Prayerfully face the underlying issues -- why am I angry?  What triggered it?
4.  Deal with it directly -- keep short accounts.
5.  Replace anger with kindness.
6.  Guard your responses.  An angry response to anger escalates anger.

Leadership is a Corduroy Road

"The leadership journey travels along a corduroy road. Success is mixed with failure. It is failure, not success, that sorts out leaders from non-leaders. Invariably, when a leader fails, it is a learning experience for the person. When a non-leader fails, the whole world falls apart for him or her.The journey of leadership is the story of moving from one crucible to another as the individual moves higher in visibility and greater in responsibility. When we enter the crucible, we embark on two journeys a leadership journey in which we rise in visibility and responsibility and a spiritual journey in which we descend to the depths of our character and faith."-- David McKenna

When Chased by Trouble Use Your Wings

While digging through my father's old files, I found some interesting clippings from The Wesleyan Methodist Magazine.  These articles, written over five decades ago by Dr. Oliver G. Wilson, struck a deep chord with me.  Although culture has changed considerably since that time, the essence and need of humanity remains the same.  We all need to belong, to be loved, and to be encouraged.  This is true for all people at all times, in every culture.
One delightful article told of Dr. Wilson’s friend who, driving down the street, saw a mallard sitting on the sidewalk.
The gentleman was intrigued by the unusual sight.  He stopped his vehicle, got out and approached the sitting duck.  Alarmed, the duck sprang to his feet and started running as fast as his little ducky legs could carry him.  The man decided to follow the worried bird.
Anxiously looking back over his shoulder, the terrified mallard ran faster, and the man speeded up behind him.
Finally, after a running a couple of city blocks,…

Why Carry Those Heavy Burdens?

In that misty state between wakefulness and sleep, I dreamed I was climbing a mountain with a heavy backpack on myshoulders, making the steep journey almost impossible. Then Jesus appeared on the path before me and asked why I was struggling so.

“My pack is too heavy,” I complained, “I don’t think I can make it.”

Then, Jesus gently said, “Let me see what I can do to help.”

He proceeded to open the backpack and remarked, “No wonder it’s so heavy!Why are you carrying these?”

Jesus removed two huge rocks from the pack and said, “You needn’t haul these heavy things around.” Then he hurled the rocks over the mountain’s edge. My load was instantly lightened, and I joyfully resumed the upward journey.

Reflecting later, I labeled the rocks “fear” and “problems.” I realized that in my ministry, I’d been carrying an unnecessary load.

The weight of everybody’s problems combined with fear of failure had overburdened my heart, leaving me frustrated and less effective in the pastoral work. Through that…

How to Pray Without Ceasing

A pilgrim, on a quest to "pray without ceasing", travelled widely and heard many sermons on the subject.  None of them seemed to help.  He heard many prayer lessons, but none taught him how to do it.
Finally, he heard of an old prayer warrior in a little village, so he went to him with his inquiry:  "How can I learn to pray without ceasing?"
To this, the old saint replied, "Ceaseless interior prayer is a continual yearning of the human spirit toward God.  Pray and ask God to teach us to pray without ceasing.  Pray more!  Pray more fervently!  It is prayer itself which will reveal to you how it can be achieved unceasingly. . . but it will take some time."

(From The Way of a Pilgrim)


I just finished a real page turner, Distortion, by New York Times bestselling author, Terri Blackstock.

 Book 2 in the Moonlighters series, Distortion  is a crime mystery novel with realistic characters who, though imperfect, are trying to live out their faith under difficult circumstances.

Returning a rental truck after helping his sister-in-law move, Physician, Bob Cole, is brutally gunned down in front of his wife, Juliet.  At first the horrifying crime seems like an act of random violence, but upon her return home, she receives a chilling voicemail demanding fifty million dollars and "the codes."

This frightening turn of events leads Juliet and her sleuthing sisters on a quest to identify her husband's killer.  Along the way, she discovers he has been leading a secret life of crime and immorality.

Perplexed, while trying to protect and comfort her two young sons, she struggles through her own grief and continues in the quest for truth -- wherever that may lead.


A Funny St. Patrick Story

In the middle of the fifth century, the Irish King Aengus was baptized by St. Patrick. Sometime during the ceremony, Patrick leaned on his crozier, a sharp-pointed staff and inadvertently stabbed the poor king's foot.

After the baptism was over, St. Patrick looked down, saw all the blood, and realized what he had done.
"I'm so terribly sorry!" he exclaimed. "Please forgive me, your majesty! Why did you suffer this pain in silence?"
The king replied, "I thought it was part of the ritual."

Dust if Your Must

Dust if You Must, by Rose Milligan,  is a great poem to keep spring cleaning in perspective:

Dust if you must, but wouldn't it be better To paint a picture, or write a letter, Bake a cake, or plant a seed; Ponder the difference between want and need?
Dust if you must, but there's not much time, With rivers to swim, and mountains to climb; Music to hear, and books to read; Friends to cherish, and life to lead.
Dust if you must, but the world's out there With the sun in your eyes, and the wind in your hair; A flutter of snow, a shower of rain, This day will not come around again.
Dust if you must, but bear in mind, Old age will come and it's not kind. And when you go (and go you must) You, yourself, will make more dust.
(HT, Steve McVey)

On the Wings of a Dove

I remember this song from my childhood. No matter what happens, God helps us rise above it.

The Beautiful Melting of Christmas Evans

All Hayward rejoiced over our recent snow melting.  Every conversation at the post office and grocery store began with, "What a beautiful day we have!"  It's been a long winter -- and for many, a long winter of discontent.

Spiritually, I experienced a melting recently, as God warmed my heart, refreshing my soul, and bringing a fresh infusion of faith, joy, and peace.  Like my friends at the post office, I can't help but bubble over with it, "What a beautiful Savior we have!"

This morning, while reading one of my old favorites, The Revival We Need, by Oswald Smith, I came upon this delightful passage from the great Welsh minister, Christmas Evans.  What a beautiful reminder!

"I was weary of a cold heart towards Christ and His sacrifice, and the work of His Spirit---of a cold heart in the pulpit, in secret prayer, and in study, for fifteen years previously, I had felt my heart burning within, as if going to Emmaus with Jesus.

"On a day ever to be rem…

How to Live in Prayer and Bless People

There's a big difference between saying prayers and being in prayer.

Two ways to live "in prayer":

1. Spirit of Prayer: This is a day by day, moment by moment awareness of God's presence -- maintaining a prayerful attitude throughout all the interactions from the day.

2. Seasons of Prayer: Setting apart extended time, each day, to pray deeply. This also applies to getting away for a day (or half day, or two days, etc) for prayerful reflection -- hearing from the Lord.

The most loving thing you can do for others is to pray for them.

Here's a great way to BLESS your loved ones:

B -- Body: Pray that God will grant strength, energy and healing.
L -- Livlihood: Pray that God will help them in their work, school, and all the details of living.
E -- Emotional: Pray that God will keep them from discouragement, depression, anxiety and fear. Ask that they will be filled with deep inner peace.
S -- Social: Pray that God will bless all their relationships.
S -- Spiritual: This is the …

40 Ways to Fail

Over the years, I've seen lots of articles on how to succeed, but
never one on how to be a failure. Thus, I've composed the following
list: 40 easy ways to fail.

1. Focus on all the reasons why it won't work.

2. Don't bother praying.

3. Intend to begin, but don't start.

4. Stop proceeding at the first speed bump.

5. Facing backwards, try to recreate the past.

6. Whine and complain often.

7. Fear making an investment.

8. Put in only what is required.

9. Be a self-centered pig.

10. Find someone to blame.

11. List a dozen good excuses, and use them all.

12. Absorb and reflect negativity.

13. Ignore wise counsel.

14. Hoard.

15. Manipulate people for personal gain.

16. Belittle yourself and others.

17. Fail to write down your goals and dreams.

18. Major on the minors and minor on the majors.

19. Don't prioritize your use of time.

20. Don't budget your money.

21. Live humorlessly.

22. Over-react when someone disappoints you.

Four Obstacles to Spiritual Depth

George Barna identified the following four obstacles to spiritual depth in American Christianity:

1.  Commitment:  Although American Christians say they have made some kind of personal commitment to Christ, their lives do not reflect this priority.

2.  Repentance:  Although they have repented of their sins and asked forgiveness, they continue in the same pattern.

3.  Activity:  Although busy with many activities, they do not engage in such spiritual growth practices as sharing their faith, fasting, solitude, extended time for prayer and medition.

4.  Spiritual Community:  Although they generally find comfort and connection at church, they do not share at a level of vulnurability and accountability.

A Hebrew Prayer for Healing

Ba-ruch a-ta, A-do-nai, ro-fei ha-cho-lim. We praise You, O Lord, the Source of healing and health.

God, in our hearts, we name those who are facing illness and pain. We join our prayers with the prayers of all who love them. Give them renewed comfort and courage. Strengthen in them the healing powers You have placed within us all. Guide the hands and hearts of those who are entrusted with their care. May the knowledge of Your love and ours give added hope to them and to their dear ones. May they find even greater strength because our prayers are linked with theirs.
-- Rabbi Harry K. Danziger

Cantankerous Christians and Toothpaste

Are there any unmistakable outward signs in a person surrendered to God? Would he be cantankerous? Would he smoke?

C.S. Lewis:
I think of the advertisements for ‘White Smiles’ Tooth Paste, saying that it is the best on the market. If they are true, it would follow that:
(1) Anyone who starts using it will have better teeth;
(2) Anyone using it has better teeth than he would have if he weren’t using it.
But you can’t test it in the case of one who has naturally bad teeth and uses it, and compare him with [someone] who has never used tooth paste at all.
Take the case of a sour old maid, who is a Christian, but cantankerous. On the other hand, take some pleasant and popular fellow, but who has never been to Church. Who knows how much more cantankerous the old maid might be if she were not a Christian. and how much more likeable the nice fellow might be if he were a Christian? You can’t judge Christianity simply by comparing the product in those two people; you would need to know wh…