Friday, February 28, 2014

A Tribute to the Sons and Daughters of Consolation

Here is a beautiful tribute to those who devote themselves to the shepherding and encouragement of others. It recognizes the example of St. Barnabas, the "Son of Consolation."  I discovered this delightful little gem in an old 1914 hymnal from my collection this morning:

O Son of God, our captain of salvation,
Thyself by suffering schooled to human grief,
We bless Thee for Thy sons of consolation,
Who follow in the steps of Thee their chief.
Those whom Thy Spirit’s dread vocation severs
To lead the vanguard of Thy conquering host;
Whose toilsome years are spent in brave endeavors
To bear Thy saving name from coast to coast.
Those whose bright faith makes feeble hearts grow stronger,
And sends fresh warriors to the great campaign,
Bids the lone convert feel estranged no longer,
And wins the sundered to be one again.
And all true helpers, patient, kind, and skillful,
Who shed Thy light across our darkened earth,
Counsel the doubting, and restrain the willful,
Soothe the sick bed, and share the children’s mirth.
Such was Thy Levite, strong in self oblation,
To cast his all at Thine apostles’ feet;
He whose new name, through every Christian nation,
From age to age our thankful strains repeat.
Thus, Lord, Thy bless├Ęd saints in memory keeping,
Still be Thy Church’s watchword, Comfort ye,
Till in our Father’s house shall end all weeping,
And every want be satisfied in Thee.

The Happy Old Men's Club

The Happy Old Men's Club launched a couple years ago, when I started meeting regularly with my good friend, Nate and Steve over breakfast. The purpose of our meetings is not just chit-chat. Our aim is to encourage and support each other in the most important areas of life's journey: faith, family, friendships, leadership, the inner life, and making the world a better place. I cherish my times with these dear brothers.

 A while back, we named our group The Happy Old Men's Club because we've chosen to be happy, rather than grumpy in the sunset years of our lives.

 Now I realize age is a matter of perspective. The young geezers believe we're already over the hill, while the octogenarians call us whippersnappers. As far as we're concerned, we're still growing up.

 The bottom line is that we hope to maintain a youthful spirit regardless of age. Our little club reminds me of Samuel Ullman's poem, "Youth", which was often quoted by General Douglas McArthur:

 Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind; it is not a matter of rosy cheeks, red lips and supple knees; it is a matter of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions; it is the freshness of the deep springs of life. Youth means a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity of the appetite, for adventure over the love of ease. This often exists in a man of sixty more than a boy of twenty. Nobody grows old merely by a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. 

Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. Worry, fear, self-distrust bows the heart and turns the spirit back to dust. 

 Whether sixty or sixteen, there is in every human being's heart the lure of wonder, the unfailing child-like appetite of what's next, and the joy of the game of living. In the center of your heart and my heart there is a wireless station; so long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, courage and power from men and from the infinite, so long are you young. When the aerials are down, and your spirit is covered with snows of cynicism and the ice of pessimism, then you are grown old, even at twenty, but as long as your aerials are up, to catch the waves of optimism, there is hope you may die young at eighty.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Hymn for Mid-Winter

  1. Come, ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish,
    Come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel.
    Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish;
    Earth has no sorrow that heav’n cannot heal.
  2. Joy of the desolate, light of the straying,
    Hope of the penitent, fadeless and pure!
    Here speaks the Comforter, tenderly saying,
    “Earth has no sorrow that heav’n cannot cure.”
  3. Here see the bread of life, see waters flowing
    Forth from the throne of God, pure from above.
    Come to the feast of love; come, ever knowing
    Earth has no sorrow but heav’n can remove.
  4. Hear a beautiful video rendition of it here

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Lutefisk, Lent and Great Faith

In honor of Ash Wednesday which will be observed a week from today, I'm sharing the following story from my book, Filled Up, Poured Out:
Northern Wisconsin is Lutheran and Catholic territory, and this means two things: Lutefisk before Christmas, and Lent before Easter. I didn’t know much about either growing up. Until moving to Hayward, I had never heard of Lutefisk, and figured Lent was stuff you trap in the dryer.
Living in the Northwoods, I’ve discovered that Lutefisk is a piece of cod that passes all understanding. (Actually, it’s a rather unappetizing, gelatinous Nordic dish made from dried, salted whitefish and lye.) We’ll let the Lutherans keep it.
Lent, however, is something we’ve happily pilfered from our more liturgical brethren. We start with Ash Wednesday, forty days before Easter. I smudge ashes on the foreheads of willing parishioners, repeating, “From dust you’ve come, to dust you shall return.”
For a few years, I drove over to St. Joe’s a couple days before the Lenten season and borrowed ashes from my Catholic priest buddy, Father Bill. He pulled my leg when I asked him where he obtained the ashes. “From the funeral home, of course.” He said it with such a straight face that I believed him at first.
When Father Bill retired, I lost my ash stash. Before leaving town, he finally divulged that the ashes come from last year’s Palm Sunday branches. So now I hoard dead palm branches in my filing cabinet.
The first time I tried to burn palm branches, I nearly set the house on fire, and our smoke alarm shrieked. Cathy sent me and my pan of smoking palm fronds out the back door, and instructed me to never burn them in the oven again. So, I’ve had to take my cremation operation outdoors.
It’s fitting that the ashes are leftovers from Palm Sunday. We can’t depend on yesterday’s praises to get us through today’s problems. Former glory fades to ashes and dust.
A couple of years ago, while smudging foreheads, I decided what to sacrifice for Lent. Normally, people give up stuff like candy, coffee, television, and Facebook in order test their spiritual resolve.
I gave up doubt. I determined that for forty days I would respond to every situation with this question: What would great faith have me do?
This commitment was tested immediately. In fact, I still had the ash smudge on my forehead when our high school pastor, Loretta, came bursting into my office with an exciting but expensive idea. Her enthusiasm bubbled over. “So, what do you think?” she asked eagerly. Dollar signs rolled in my head. How on earth were we going to pay for that? But I needed to keep my vow. What would great faith have me do? I gulped, grinned through gritted teeth, and replied, “Sure, what a splendid opportunity. Let’s go for it.”
And that’s the way it went for the next forty days, responding to every situation with the greatest faith I could muster. Was I ever glad when Easter came, so I could go back to my old pattern of doubting and fretting!
An excerpt from my book, Filled Up, Poured Out: How God’s Spirit Can Revive Your Passion and Purpose :  Purchase via Wesleyan Publishing House or Amazon

Monday, February 24, 2014

When You Have Seen Enough

Good food for thought from my friend, Ron McClung:

Walter Johnson was a record-setting pitcher who played his entire baseball career for the Washington Senators from 1907 to 1927. I read somewhere about a major league player who faced Johnson for the first time when the great pitcher was in his prime. According to the story, the first pitch came blazing across the plate and the umpire yelled, "Strike One!" The second pitch came burning into the catcher's mitt to another called strike. The batter turned on his heel and headed for the dugout. He told the umpire to keep the third strike because he had seen enough.

It makes an amusing story, but it's not a great way to approach life. Yes, we have all faced the giants of life at times when we felt overwhelmed, but when you give up, you never know what victories you might have achieved.

The apostle Paul said, "Therefore we do not lose heart" (2 Corinthians 4:16 NIV). But what were the conditions under which he said that? Was he sipping lemonade under the shade of a palm tree on some balmy island?

Actually, he had experienced enough stress for a lifetime. Just a little earlier, he said, "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed" (verses 8-9).

How could he be so upbeat in the midst of such searing circumstances? He said, "We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence" (verse

So even if life hands us its worst, we dare to trust in God who has promised to bring us through every situation. And if we do not survive, we will live again, as he promised.

Samuel Rutherford, a minister in Anwoth, Scotland, went through a time of personal peril. Yet he told his congregation, "All the windows of my soul are closed, except the skylight." In other words, when the outlook turned dismal, he turned to the up-look, knowing that with God, all things are possible. Our Lord provides endurance for every situation.

Discouragement is the darkroom where fears and failures are developed. But rather than giving in to discouragement, we choose to trust in God. As Paul said, "We do not lose heart."

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Cowbells for Hermann

In honor of the 41st Birkie today, I am posting this delightful story from my book, Filled Up, Poured Out:

Hayward is home of the American Birkebeiner, North America’s largest cross country ski race. Over ten thousand skiers come from almost every state and many nations to compete in this world-class event. Spectators line snow-covered Main Street, ringing cowbells and cheering weary skiers across the finish line.

For two decades, I’ve been a Birkie cowbell ringer.

A day or two before the Birkebeiner, I always pine a little, wishing I had pulled the skis from the rafters and joined the throng of brave souls testing the limits of their endurance. But, as Birkie day arrives, I find myself content to ring cowbells. After all, if everybody skied the Birkie, there wouldn’t be anybody left to cheer.

Normally, we ring in the elite skiers who finish first. Usually the winner is some Olympic European who hardly broke a sweat. I’m always impressed.

The best part of the race, though, is the middle of the afternoon, when all of the ordinary folks—lawyers, cooks, plumbers, and preachers come in. For them, it’s a painful struggle for survival. I wipe sentimental tears and ring my bell with vigor.

It was shortly after dusk a few years ago, when my daughter, Hannah, asked if we could go back down to the finish line.

“The race is over now, honey,” I tried to explain.

“Please?” she pleaded, “It might not be over yet.”

So, against all odds, we packed up our cowbells and headed to Main Street. We arrived to see a busy crew removing snow and shutting down everything.

“See, we’re too late,” I began, when a worker with a walkie-talkie suddenly waved frantically and shouted, “Wait! Wait! There is one more skier coming in!”

Sure enough, long after the all other racers had hung their skis, ninety-one-year-old Hermann Nunnemacher crossed the finish line. Midway, Hermann fell and fractured four ribs, but he got back up and kept plodding forward!

With the crowds of spectators long gone, Hannah and I were the only cowbell ringers left—so we rang them for Hermann. We rang them with all our might!

For a few minutes, the workers stopped to shout and cheer. Some passersby also joined in the magical moment. Hermann crossed the finish line, and we all cried.

Terrell, the omnipresent reporter from the Sawyer County Record happened upon the scene and said, “You finished the race! How do you feel about that, Mr. Nunnemacher?”

Through cracked lips, the poor old guy croaked, “I hurt.”

The next Wednesday, Hermann’s picture graced the front page of The Sawyer County Record, the only time in history when the guy who finished last made the headline.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Storms Are My Choosing

Blow, winter wind outside my door,
I only love my hearthstone more
For storms are not my choosing.

But how could trees their fruitage bear,
Or summertime its glory wear,
If storms their sting were losing?

If God in love sends snow and rain,
If my life needs its toil and pain,
With Him -- storms are my choosing.

--  Clara M. Krag

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

An Open Letter to Hayward Wesleyan Church

Dear Hayward Wesleyan Church Family,

I need to apologize for something I said on Sunday during my sermon, when comparing today's church with the church of Acts.  I expressed skepticism and doubt about God raising people from the dead and working miracles like we see in the New Testament.

Instead of using the marvelous stories from Acts to inspire faith, I spoke words of disbelief.  I should have known better.

Yesterday, a kind friend spoke gentle correction to my heart concerning this, and he was absolutely right.  I appreciate his candor and am inspired by his faith.  The bottom line is, God is able to do anything he jolly well pleases, and that includes far out stuff -- like resurrections.  Just because I've never seen it, doesn't mean it is impossible with God.

This morning, while pondering and praying over this, I realized I need a fresh faith infusion.  Like the disciples, I am saying, "Lord, I believe.  Help me in my unbelief."

God reminded me that faith, like manna, must be gathered fresh daily, or else it gets stale and breeds worms.  Stale, wormy faith is not the kind that will resurrect anybody.

This is not to say I'll be pulling corpses out of coffins anytime soon.  It doesn't mean I'll automatically swallow tall tales from televised money grubbers, or start bossing God around and acting crazy.

However, those who believe in the supernatural are much more likely to experience it.  In the spiritual dimension, believing comes before seeing.

I'd like to go on record to say I believe God works miracles -- even when I can't understand or explain.

Though dead people returning to the land of the living is extremely rare, there are recorded cases of it such as Anthony Yahle in Ohio.   Who am I to say God can't work that way?

Instead of choosing doubt, I'll choose faith.   If it doesn't work out the way I had hoped, I'll just trust and leave it in God's hands.   As I've previously written:  Believe Like a Pentecostal and Trust Like a Monk. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

How to Interpret Overreactions

"Yaaargh!" he shouted.

I never expected that sort of reaction when I gave my friend a warm greeting and a little pat on the shoulder.  I expected him to smile and greet me in return.

Instead, his eyes bugged out and he yelled, "Yaaargh!"

At that moment, I had accidently hurt him.  He had shoulder surgery the week before, and the painful mending was just beginning.  I forgot -- and remembered too late.

My small pat, intended in kindness, cause severe pain.

The problem wasn't with the pat.  It was with the wounded shoulder.  Normally, a pat like that expresses friendship.  This time around, to him, it felt like a declaration of war.

And here's the lesson from the painful misadventure.  When you touch a person where they are hurting, you're liable to get an overreaction.

Have you ever wondered why some people erupt unexpectedly?  Have you experienced someone flying off the handle over something small?  Maybe you shock yourself by how upset you respond to certain people and
stressful situations.

The little issue isn't really the issue.  It's the pain beneath that causes it.

Once, a high school principal heard a loud commotion in the teachers' lounge and went to investigate.

A frantic teacher stood before a bulletin board displaying the staff's new year's resolutions tearfully shouting, "Where's my resolution?  I demand to know right now!  Where is my resolution?  Why does everybody
hate me?  Why did you leave me out?"

"I have no idea what happened," the puzzled principal replied, "I'll check."

He went back to his office and found her resolution on a card, which had been inadvertantly misplaced.  He smiled as he read, "I will not become upset over small things."

But the sad truth is, she will continually be upset over small things until the deeper pain is healed.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Pilgrim Holiness Valentine Candy

Realistic Love Songs

 In honor of Valentine's Day, my friend, Jim Watkins, provided a few realistic love songs.

 For example: "The Rose -- and Thorns"

Some say love it is a feeling, that makes the heart rate rise.  Some say love it is a hormone, that makes our race survive.  I say love it is a diaper that's changed at three a.m.  It's attendance at recitals, and games that never end.  I say love is buying Playtex products for your mate.  I say love it does for others, the things you truly hate.

Several more here

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Clearing Relational Ice

Arctic air glazed my windshield over with thick ice overnight. Early in the morning before the sun woke up, I found myself trying to carve a hole.

I searched for my scraper in vain. It was gone. Some dear friend borrowed it and forgot to bring it back. I improvised by using a cd case, which, though handy and somewhat practical, seemed hardly sufficient for the task.

Undaunted, I attacked the windshield with vigorous enthusiasm, struggling in the frigid blasts to shape some semblance of visibility.

Unfortunately, as soon as I scraped the ice away, it just frosted over again.

A half hour of scratching and scraping brought nothing more than a small peep hole, barely big enough to see while driving.

At lunch time, the same, day, however, I went to my car and was surprised to discover all of the windows were clear! Not a patch of ice on them! When the sun rose, it melted all the ice away.

I thought, “Now, there’s a lesson on how to deal with difficult situations and relationships. Love is the sun. When it rises, warming beams melt away all the resentment, bitterness and misunderstanding.”

Grim, determined chiseling (or hammering away) hardly ever brings the desired result. Force rarely solves a perplexing dilemma. You can’t clear up a frozen relationship by attacking. That just brings more ice.

Perhaps, if you find yourself in a heart-chilling struggle, you should stop working so hard to fix it, be patient, and just let the sun come up.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Leap of Faith or Wait of Faith?

"People of great faith, wait."

-- Rick Warren

A good quote -- and I need to remember it -- however, on the other hand, sometimes great faith requires us to jump!

How about looking at it like this? If you are naturally an impatient "jumper", great faith makes you wait.

If you are naturally a hesitant "waiter", great faith will make you jump.

Monday, February 10, 2014

How to Make the Most of Your Troubles

Everybody reading this is either in trouble, heading into trouble, or getting out of trouble.

If you have troubles, you're in good company.  Life is loaded with them and everybody has their share.

Troubles are simply a part of living. It's a package deal. We must accept the bad along with the good.

Some folks think they should be excused from problems. Whenever a difficulty arises, they whine and complain about how unfair life is, and remain swamped in the mire of misery.

Instead of griping about a difficult situation, it's better to face it boldly and figure out what you can do to get through the best you can.  You can cry till the cows come home, and that won't fix the situation.  It takes courage to buckle down and face the truth.

I do not know why hardships are a part of life's package. I don't have pat answers for life's perplexing questions.

However, I do know that struggles help us grow, if we maintain the right attitude.

1. Troubles teach us wisdom.

Every wise person has travelled the dark valley.  Wisdom comes from experiencing and understanding the struggle. Our problems are our teachers. When we work through them, we glean valuable life lessons.

2. Problems keep us humble.

Just when you think you're the big cheese -- WHAMMO -- A huge difficulty plops into your life. It's hard to be puffed up when you're carrying a load of trouble. In bad times, we realize that we can't control everything, and we have to trust God more.

3. Problems bring patience.

James 1:2-3 states, "Is your life filled with difficulties and troubles? Then, be happy! It is only then that your patience will increase. So, let it grow and don't try to squirm out of your problems."

4. Hardship turns us into helpers.

We become more compassionate through suffering. Instead of nursing our sorrows, it is far better to encourage others in the same situation.  There is nothing more comforting than a genuine friend who understands. The sweetest people you'll ever meet are those who have been refined through suffering.

We can face our problems with greater courage when we realize that 
they are only opportunities in disguise.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Super Bowl Hand Signals and Predictable Preaching

The mystery of the Broncos' Super Bowl trouncing was solved when Richard Sherman revealed how the Seahawks cracked Peyton Manning's hand signals.  Manning showed Seattle's defense exactly what was coming before the ball was snapped.

What a relief.  For a while, I feared aliens from outer space had kidnapped the Broncos and replaced them with Detoit Lions.

Reflecting on the debacle, I realized I've experienced something like that myself -- while preaching.  Without  prayerful reflection and careful consideration in the study, sermons easily become predictable.

Most preachers have favorite themes, phrases and delivery styles, which are unique strengths, but when overused, are overfamiliar.  Overfamiliarity in preaching = boring.

This is especially true of "fill in the blank" sermons - -the ones accompanied by notetaking guides. A few preachers do this masterfully.  Most don't.  Far too often, a note taking guide just gives away your hand signals ahead of time.  More often than not, when I've been given one of those little sheets, I've filled out at least 80% of the blanks while the preacher was making the first point.

If you are a fill in the blank preacher, please keep me on my toes by selecting words that aren't so obvious.

Every preacher should change it up.  If you normally preach three points and a poem, do a narrative sermon instead.  If your sermons are normally topical, try expository.   If you are a manuscript preacher, go without notes.  That will keep both you and your congregation on your toes.

Of course we need to be ourselves.  Preaching is, after all, divine truth combined with human personality. But, that doesn't mean we should stay in our comfortable routine.  If we're dishing up the same hash every Sunday, we come off like Charlie Brown's teacher, "Wah. . . waah. . . waah. . . wah. . . wah."

One of the best things our church did to keep things fresh was a move to team preaching.  A variety of voices from the pulpit has a far wider and deeper impact than one preacher can  make alone.  Being willing to share the preaching load was not easy for me at first.  I love to preach, and had been delivering 90% of the sermons at my church for over 20 years.

However, after a year of experiencing the new team approach, I wouldn't want it any other way.  I get to hear great messages from others.  I have more energy when I preach, and more time to prayerfully develop non-predictable sermons.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

How To Brighten a Room and Inspire Others

Have you ever noticed that when certain people walk into a room, the whole place brightens?  Somehow, they bring inspiration and hope just by showing up.  Gary Nathan, of Woodlands Developments and Realty is like that. So is Dr. JoAnne Lyon, General Superintendent of the Wesleyan Church, and founder of World Hope International.

I've pondered what sets my friends, Gary and JoAnne, apart and makes them different from others?  Why does the room light up when they show up?  Is there something the rest of us can learn from them regarding this kind of charisma?

There are certainly several other factors, but let me suggest a few:

1.  Outward Energy Flow

JoAnne and Gary both exude an outward flow of energy.  In other words, they bring energy to people, rather than hoping others will bring energy to them.  The focus is outward.  "What can I do to help you?" rather than "What can you do for me?"

The other day, my car battery just didn't have to juice to face the brutal January cold. Thankfully, Roadrunner (AAA) came, hooked up a charger, gave old Betsy a jolt, and she started right up.

That's what people like Gary and JoAnne do.  They have an independent source of energy (faith in God) and whenever they connect with others, it's a recharging and energizing experience.

2)  Positive Affirmation

Gary and JoAnne see the potential in others, and bring it out.  They tend to believe in people and give the benefit of the doubt.

Stepping into a room, their posture is always, "Here you are!" rather than "Here I am!"  They deeply value relationship, and view those around them through eyes of love.

When correction needs to be made, they do it looking primarily towards the future rather than the past.  Their belief and vision of a better tomorrow inspires hope.

3)  Gracious Generosity

Both JoAnne and Gary have learned the hidden secret of generosity. The more we give, the greater the joy, and the more we are given to give.  Resources are meant to be shared, not hoarded.  As we bless others, we, in turn, are blessed.

4)  The Extra Touch

Perhaps, the greatest lesson I've learned from Gary and JoAnne is how much of a difference a little bit extra can make.  Gary marks his work with excellence, and strives to go beyond what is expected.  He once told me it's the little things that make a big difference.  JoAnne oversees thousands of people, and yet I know she cares about me personally.  Every time we are together, she asks about my wife, Cathy and my children by name.

Out of the blue, from time to time, I've received messages of encouragement JoAnne and Gary.  Although they both manage very demanding schedules, they make time to be a blessing.

This world would be a much better place if more of us followed their example.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Just an Ugly Old Stump

A few people asked for a copy of my poem that I shared in yesterday's sermon.  The picture was taken by my friend, Heath Davis:

Just an ugly old stump -- that's all it was -- and old stumps carry no hopes or dreams.

Only maps and memory rings

of thirsty days, hard toil, and weary longings
embedded to the core.

Just an ugly old stump -- a dwarfed reminder -- of what once was. . . and all that might have been.

If only.
If only.

But old stumps carry no hopes or dreams --

Only scarred rememberings. . .

of lightening strikes and howling wind,
of squirrels and hammer heads,
of children's summer play,

All these now faded away

To just an ugly old stump -- useless for humans, but to
to sit
to rest
to think

And hurried humans hardly take the time to do such things.

Just an ugly old stump -- that's all it was -- and old stumps carry no hopes or dreams.

Or do they?

Look again. Could it be? A tiny sprout of green?

What could this possibly mean?

"A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse" Isa. 11:1

"Hope springs eternal in the human breast. . ." Alexander Pope

"The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!"