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Showing posts from April, 2014

Nobody Wants to be a Project

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Two determined women with Watchtower magazines showed up at our doorstep one day. “Hello, we are in your neighborhood discussing the Bible . . . and with all the horrible things going on the world right now . . .”

“I’m sorry, but we’re not interested,” I interrupted and quickly shut the door. They shook the dust from their feet and moved on to Ray’s place, across the street.

A half hour later, there was another knock. This time, I was met with two friends from our church bearing cookies.

“Come in!” I greeted them warmly, “I’m so glad you came.”

Later, I pondered the events of the day. Why did I shut the door on the first pair and welcome the second? Here’s the primary difference: To my first visitors, I was a project; and to the second pair, I was a friend. (Also, I might add, the cookies helped. Door-to-door evangelists would get a much warmer reception if they brought dessert.)
An excerpt from my new book  Purple Fish: A Heart for Sharing Jesus  (Available July 2014).

Flow River, Flow!

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"I often think of the Holy Spirit as a mighty river, but a river dammed and held back by obstacles of one kind or another.  Fancy a man standing on the dam and pleading in prayer with the river to flow on.  How absurd! 'Why,' the river would answer, 'That is just what I want to do.  Don't waste your energy in such vain repetitions. It is my nature to flow.  I am more anxious to flow than you are to see me flow.'"
-- Oswald Smith

Seven Ways to Reduce Stress

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We live in an anxious age where stress is epidemic.  It is impossible to live a stress free life, but there is a healthy way to navigate.  Allow me to suggest seven healthy ways to reduce stress and anxiety in your life.

1.  Embrace the demands.
I have discovered that it takes much more emotional energy to dread and avoid difficult situations than it does to just dive in and accept them.  At least half of the emotional drain comes from worrying ahead of time.
2.  Ask, "Why am I doing this?"
Busy activity tends to accumulate, especially for people who have trouble saying "no."  Review your commitments regularly, looking for unnecessary burdens.  Is this a part of your mission in life?  Does your schedule reflect your priorities and purpose?   What activities bring delight?  Which ones drain you?  It is ok to drop unmeaningful duties that drain you.
3.  Build breathing space into your schedule.
Busy people with demanding calanders need breathing space for the soul.  You…

Heretics!

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Wesleyan theologian, John Drury, once defined heresy as "substituting part of the truth for the whole."  He went on to say, "this is why heretics are not completely wrong and often have much truth to share. The problem with heresy is not its utter falsity, but its one-sidenesses."

I believe the Drulogian is right on target here . . . and the funny thing is, the harsh, rigid, narrow folks who are most likely to call others "heretics" are, by this definition, heretics themselves!

A Hymn for Those Troubled in Spirit

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One day, while troubled in spirit, I happened upon this beautiful hymn. It was written by rural pastor, Hugh Stowell, and published in The Winter's Wreath (1828).

From every stormy wind that blows,
From every swelling tide of woes,
There is a calm, a sure retreat:
Tis found beneath the mercy seat.


There is a place where Jesus sheds
The oil of gladness on our heads;
A place than all beside more sweet;
It is the blood bought mercy seat.

There is a scene where spirits blend,
Where friend holds fellowship with friend;
Tho' sundered far, by faith they meet
Around one common mercy seat.

Enjoy Yourself, It's Later Than You Think

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Dr. Frederic Loomis, a busy obstetrician, worked long, harried hours in his California hospital. One day, he received a letter that completely transformed his life:

Peking, China
Dear Doctor,

Please don't be too surprised in getting a letter from me. I am signing my first name. My surname is the same as yours.

Your won't even remember me. Two years ago I was in your hospital under the care of another doctor. I lost my baby the day it was born.

That same day my doctor came in to see me, and as he left he said, 'Oh, by the way, there is a doctor here with the same name as yours who noticed your name on the board and asked me about you. He said hewould like to come in to see you, because you might be a relative. I told him you had lost your baby and I did not think you would want to see anybody, but it was alright with me'.

And then in a little while you came in. You put your hand on my arm and sat down for a moment beside my bed. You did not say much of anything but yo…

In the Valley of Trouble, Dig a Well

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"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."

Jack Hyles was snortin', yellin', narrow minded, independant, fundamentalist Baptist preacher. But a few years ago, he went home to glory and his rough edges have been sanded off. He's probably a gentle Wesleyan now.

I wasn't too eager to hear Hyles yell at me, so postponed playing the tape as long as I could.   Then, one day, on a long drive to St. Mary's Hospital in Duluth, I finally gave it a shot.   I was surprised to discover substance beyond the snorting,  Ol' brother Jack actually preached a very good sermon to me -- holleri…

A Beautiful Prayer to Begin the Day

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"Almighty and everlasting God, who is always more ready to hear than we to pray, and eager to give more than either we desire or deserve; Pour down upon us the abundance of your mercy; forgiving us those things that weigh down our hearts, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen. -- Leo the Great

Just Wait Until Tomorrow

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A few years ago, after the last of four exhilarating Easter worship services, I turned to my elder associate, Pastor Ben, and joyfully proclaimed, “Isn’t this fabulous? I can’t imagine it getting any better! Being a pastor is pure joy!”

Pastor Ben grinned wryly and replied, “Just wait until tomorrow.”

Sure enough, Monday was another story. Pastoral counselor, Arch Hart, calls Monday “adrenaline letdown day.” Preaching and teaching pastor, Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church, talks about “bread truck Mondays,” when the fantasy of delivering bread is far more appealing than continuing in the pastorate.

That Easter Monday, problems sprang up everywhere. I had to deal with a leadership squabble, a budget challenge, a marriage crisis, and a swarm of other difficulties.

I called Pastor Ben. “This is absolutely horrible! I can’t imagine it getting any worse. Being a pastor is pure torture!” He grinned and replied, “Just wait until tomorrow.”
-- An excerpt from my book, Filled Up, Poured Out: How …

Looking for Jesus in the Gravy

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A little girls seemed particularly interested in the gravy boat during Easter Dinner.  She examined it carefully stirring slowly -- as if she was searching for something.

"What are you doing honey?" her mother inquired.

"Looking for Jesus."

"Why are you doing that?"

"Because we sang about it in church this morning -- low in the gravy lay Jesus my Savior."

What Did Jesus Mean By "It is Finished"?

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“It is finished.”

Those were the words Jesus Christ uttered as he hung, dying, on the cross. “It is finished!” What could he have possibly meant?

Failure Words?

At first glance, one might wonder if these were words of despair – quitting words. “It is finished! It’s a hopeless cause. I’ve failed. I quit.”

It would certainly be understandable if that’s what Jesus meant. Just think: he suffered the greatest injustice in human history. He lived a spotless life, but was sentenced to a traitor’s death.

He came to love – but was hated.
He came to help – but was rejected.
He came to heal – but was broken
He came to forgive – but was despised.
He came to bless – but was cursed. .
He came to bring life – but was brought death

Stepping into darkness and bearing another’s burden is difficult enough. It becomes nearly impossible, however, when the person who needs the help rejects it.

You could hardly blame Jesus if he had meant “I’ve had enough and I give up” when he said “It is finished.”

But th…

By Any Means

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Since I read mysteries and action/adventure novels for fun, I was delighted recently to land a free preview copy of Chris Culver's new book, By Any Means via Net Galley.
Chris Culver, a masterful storyteller, did not disappoint.  He grabbed my attention by the opening lines and kept me burning the midnight oil to see what would happen next.
While investigating a double homocide, Ash Rashid, an unconventional police officer in Indianapolis, finds himself embroiled in controversy and danger as he uncovers an international human trafficking ring.   
A "make it up as you go" kind of fellow, Ash repeatedly runs into difficulties with his superiors who are more concerned with following protocol than catching the bad guys. 
A Muslim, Ash is observing Ramadan during the entire story.  I found the descriptions of this observance fascinating, as it is something unfamilar to me.
I appreciate how the author portrays Ash's inner struggles:  conflicts between demands at work and …

Praying the Seven Last Words of Christ

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It is significant that Jesus prayed from the cross. Here he was, experiencing the worst torture a human being can endure, and through it all – he prayed.
Most of us, in that moment of anguish, would succumb to the suffering, and our prayers would be diminished to one word: “Help!” Looking back upon the worst moments of my life, I’d have to say “Help!” is the most sincere prayer I’ve ever uttered.
Yet, Jesus went beyond a prayer for help at Golgotha. His prayers from the cross reveal the intensity of his pain – yet, a deep love pouring from his heart. Instead of being consumed with himself, he turned his focus to God and others.
The old adage states, “We all have our cross to bear.” In our moments of anguish, we can look to Jesus, and see how he responded in his darkest valley. A review of Good Friday events shows that Jesus did three things:
1)He pressed into prayer. 2)He poured out love.
3)He surrendered all to God.

What an example for us! In deep sorrow and sufferin…

Beneath the Snow, Flowers Grow

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Black and white winter tends to chill us to the bone. Summer joys lie torpid in thick ice. Hopes hybernating.

Frozen in distant memory banks, spring flowers lie far beneath.
One wonders whether May will show her lovely face again.

But she will! She will! She always does!
Every spring, she springs, and sings, and brings new life.

The multi-colored days, pinioned by the bitter greys, will soon burst forth in light,

Winter is only temporary.  Beneath the snow, flowers grow.

Fix Your Attitude

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"Smile and the world smiles with you."

Psychologist, Daniel Goleman, did a study on the "bottom line performance" of companies and discovered the thing which influences a company's bottom line performance more than anything else is the mood of the leader.

Hmmmm.  Now, that's interesting. If you are a leader, and everything is a big mess, don't fix the blame -- fix your attitude! This applies in business, school, sports teams, church, and home. If you don't like what's going on around you, it's time to change what's going on within you!

"A cheerful heart is good medicine", Proverbs 17:22. Or, as Madeleine L' Engle said, A good laugh heals a lot of hurts."

We cannot afford to allow little nit-picky annoyances to rob us of joyful health. We were created for joy. We were made to laugh. When the worries and burdens of life bind us up and squeeze the happiness out of our soul, we are living below our rightful inheritance as chil…

Take a Look in the Attitude Mirror

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Life is a mirror which reflects your attitude.

If you wonder why people are giving you the "cold shoulder" it might just be that you're dishing out ice, yourself.

If a rotten, foul mood, pervades your home, perhaps it's the overflow of your own negativity.

If it seems like nobody is grateful for all you do, maybe you should measure your own motives.

If you want people to be nicer to you, you need to sow a few kindness seeds.

If the folks you meet are unfriendly, it's time to check your own FQ (friendliness quotient.)

If all you hear is "complain, complain, complain", you might just be the biggest complainer.

If your friends are finding fault, turn it around and find some good.

If the situation seems dark, you can light a candle!

If people are always dumping their garbage on you, remember, misery loves company. It is not a compliment to be on the receiving end of a gossipy garbage-load.

If everybody around you is frowning, give 'em a good smile!

Neve…

Three Humors of the Human Heart

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Three humors of the human heart interpret reality.  Humor inspired by heaven above, sustaining the soul, abundant in love.  Humor devised of earthen clay, resulting in hollow and shallow dismay. Humor forged in hellish flames, exalting abasement, mired in shame.
O, which shall my humor be?

Wisdom from Will Rogers

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1. Never slap a man who's chewing tobacco.

2. Never kick a cow chip on a hot day.

3. There are two theories to arguing with a woman . . Neither works.

4. Never miss a good chance to shut up.

5. Always drink upstream from the herd.

6. If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

7. The quickest way to double your money is to fold it and put it back into your pocket.

8. There are three kinds of men: The ones that learn by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence and find out for themselves.

9. Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.

10. If you're riding' ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then to make sure it's still there.

11. Lettin' the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier'n puttin' it back.

12. After eating an entire bull, a mountain lion felt so good he started roaring. He kept it up until a hunter came along and shot him. The moral: When you're full …

Feel the Sickness to Find the Cure

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"The state of the true Christian is a state of peace, joy, love and holiness; but before a man attains it, he must go through a course of fear, anxiety and repentance, whether long or short; for no one was ever cured in soul by the great physician, Jesus Christ, till he felt himself sin sick, and was loaded in his conscience with the burden of his iniquities; especially that of a hard impenitent heart, which he could not himself break and soften."  --John Fletcher, Vicar of Madeley

You Can Never Have Too Much Love

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A beautiful thought expressed by 18th Century Methodist leader, John Fletcher, in a letter to his dear friend, Charles Wesley:

I have the impression that we can never have too much compassion for sinners, nor overemphasize for them the love of Jesus, when he himself became incarnate and declared redemption and salvation to tax gatherers and evildoers.  I have also the impression that faith shows itself gradually in many hearts, and that it is our task to nourish the weakest spark, the faintest signs.  What is your opinion?  (Reluctant Saint, Patrick Streiff, p. 82)

John Fletcher's Heart Check Questions

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My hero, John Fletcher, the 18th Century Vicar of Madeley, was a seeker after God. His heart's desire was to press in to love Him more fully.  Visiting his grave a few years ago, I prayed, "Lord, make me a John Fletcher."
He drew up this list of questions for personal reflection at the end of the day:
1 Did I awake spiritual, and was I watchful in keeping my mind from wandering this morning when I was rising?
2 Have I this day got nearer to God in times of prayer, or have I given way to a lazy, idle spirit?
3 Has my faith been weakened by unwatchfulness, or quickened by diligence this day?

4 Have I this day walked by faith and eyed God in all things?

5 Have I denied myself in all unkind words and thoughts? Have I delighted in seeing others preferred before me?
6 Have I made the most of my precious time, as far as I had light, strength, and opportunity?

7 Have I kept the issues of my heart in the means of grace, so as to profit by them?

8 What have I done this day for the…

All Rivers Run into the Sea

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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,
electrified.

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?
ALL!

Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

It's Not Worth the Knot

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Whatever you're stewing over isn't worth the stomach knot.

It's not worth the knot!

I've found, from personal experience, that worrying doesn't help matters one bit. It just makes the burden heavier.

We all know we shouldn't worry -- but circumstances beyond our control set us off. Anxiety is toxic waste oozing through our mind and body.

It's contagious too. You can get a whole room full of people to start fretting with just a few negative fearful words.

The crazy thing is -- most of the stuff we worry about never happens. And that's a fact.

The other day, I came across my worry file. Several years ago, as I was trying to quit the worry habit, I would write my worries down and place them in my file.

Now -- over a decade later, I've unearthed my pile of worries. Guess what. Of the dozen or so worries I had placed in the file, NOT ONE OF THEM happened!! I had spent restless nights, and hours of inner churning for nothing!!

One wise guy figured it out: "D…

Contrary Winds

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Consider Becoming a Country Parson

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Tim Keller's advice to young ministers -- "Consider Becoming a Country Parson."

That's good advice for those who are eager to get out into the field of ministry. As a solo pastor, you'll get a chance to do just about everything everything.

Most young people upon graduation, hope for a staff position in a larger suburban church, but that kind of ministry does not equip one for the multiple demands of senior/solo pastorate or church planting.

The fact is. . . there is a shortage of rural/small town pastors,  and a glut of people hoping for staff positions.

One important reminder, however, is in order: a country pastorate is not merely the stepping stone to a "bigger and better" ministry. It may BE the bigger and better ministry for you.

With nearly two and a half decades of experience as a country parson, I can honestly say it is the most rewarding ministry position I could possibly imagine.

Reading Other People's Mail

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I find rich inspiration in historical letters written by great men and women of faith.  The following writings helped and encouraged me greatly in my spiritual journey.  I have included an excerpt from each writer:

The Letters of Samuel Rutherford

"They are happy forevermore who are over head and ears in the love of Christ, and know no sickness but love-sickness for Christ, and feel no pain but the pain of an absent and hidden Well-beloved."

The Letters of Madam Guyon

"Leave yourself therefore in the hands of Love. Love is always the same, although it causes you often to change your position. He who prefers one state to another, who loves abundance more than scarcity, when God orders otherwise, loves the gifts of God more than God himself."
The Letters of John Fletcher
"Let your light be attended with the warmth of love. Be not satisfied to know the way to Heaven, but walk in it immediately, constantly, and joyfully. Be all truly in earnest. You may, indeed, impo…