Saturday, May 31, 2014

Through the Upper Window, You'll See Me Standing By

  1. I awoke this morning with an old gospel song playing in my head:  Through the Upper Window.  What a beautiful truth for us.  Regardess of the storms we may encounter in life, we can still look up and see our loving Lord.

  1. When God spoke unto Noah, and told him to build the ark,
    The Lord knew well the vessel would cheerless be and dark,
    So God said, build a window, with outlook toward the sky,
    That when it’s dark and lonesome, you’ll see Me standing by.
    • Refrain:
      The storms will come, but fear not, oh, children, I am nigh,
      And through the upper window, you’ll see Me standing by.
  2. It may be that affliction will rack and rend your frame,
    Until your mortal body is seared with fevered flame,
    But do not be discouraged, just lift your tear-dimmed eye,
    And through the upper window, you’ll see Me standing by.
  3. Perhaps you’ll suffer losses, like houses, lands, and gold,
    And you will feel you’re homeless, and penniless, and old;
    But sweetest peace and comfort will lift your painful sigh,
    When through the upper window, you’ll see Me standing by.
  4. It may be that bereavement will take a loved one dear,
    A soul that brought you gladness, real happiness and cheer;
    But it will cheer your sad heart, when loved ones from you fly,
    When through the upper window, you’ll see Me standing by.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Can You Hear Me Now?

I'm biting the bullet and buying hearing aids this week. When the audiologist tested my ears, she said my deafness falls in the range of female voices. That explains a lot! I joke that Cathy talks twice as much as she used to, because she has to say everything twice.

Hopefully, my hearing aids will help both of us, and will at least eliminate one of my excuses.

Hearing loss is definitely a challenge. It takes tremendous concentrated energy to listen and understand. I am often utterly exhausted after conversations and meetings, because the simple act of hearing requires so much work.

I'm looking forward to my hearing aids, but dread the "old man" stigma that accompanies them. I hope to simply smile and be a happy old man. At least I'll hear what you're saying. Happiness comes through acceptance.

Cathy says I'm a better listener these days. "When you lean in to listen, I know you are paying attention and working hard to understand me. I think it's kind of cute."

I've never considered hearing loss cute, but am glad she sees it that way. I hope she thinks my hearing aids are handsome.

My hearing struggle reminds me how important it is to listen. Many people have fine set of ears, but are too busy talking to pay attention.

I'd much rather be hard of hearing than hard of listening.

In case you're wondering, here are a few indicators that you just might be "hard of listening."

1. If you smile and nod, say "uh-huh", and have no idea what the other person just said.

2. If you are busy thinking of what you're going to say next when the other person is talking.

3. If you're picking apart the other person's words, so you can use them as ammunition to win an argument.

4. If you jump to conclusions about what the other person is saying before he/she says it.

5. If you finish the other person's sentences.

6. If you say what you have to say, and then leave without pausing for the response. (One fellow said, "My wife and I had words this morning.  She said all of hers, but I didn't get a chance to say any of mine."
Of course, maybe he was better off for it in the long run.)

7. If you are unwilling to consider another perspective besides your own.

8. If you think there are only two sides to the argument: Your side, and the wrong side.

9. If you impute evil motives behind the other persons words and actions. "I know what you meant by that" (It's usually best to assume they meant well.)

10. If you always have to say the last word.

And, as Forrest Gump stated "That's all I have to say about that!"

Monday, May 26, 2014

How Gentle God's Commands

A friend recently gave me a small paperback World War I Service Songbook for my hymnal collection. What a treasure!

Leafing through the pages, I reflected on our young men, serving America in muddy trenches on the front lines of France. I imagined how, in quiet moments, the weary soldiers gathered around the chaplain for a brief time of worship. I pictured them opening up these little red books, and drawing a good measure of comfort and strength.

Several songs held significant meaning. I was especially drawn to the beautiful lyrics by Philip Doddridge, "How Gentle God's Commands" (sung to tune of "Blest Be the Tie that Binds")

How gentle God's commands;
how kind his precepts are.
Come cast your burdens on the Lord
and trust his constant care.

Beneath his watchful eye
his saints securely dwell.
That hand which bears all nature up
shall guard his children well.

His goodness stands approved,
unchanged from day to day.
I'll drop my burden at his feet
and bear a song away.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sacred Pathways

In my sermon this morning, I mentioned a great book, Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas.  It is an outstanding resource for understanding how you (and others) are wired spiritually to best relate with God.

Here's a cool self-assessment to discover which Sacred Pathway is most natural to you.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Spectacular is in the Ordinary

In searching for God, many people tend to look for the miraculous and supernatural. Instead, we should be attending to the ordinary,
-- Philip Yancy

My note: This is true in marriage and family life as well. It's the day to day interactions of thoughtfulness that count.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Just Hop Forward!

The Australian coat of arms includes the images of a kangaroo and an emu.

These were chosen because of one characteristic both creatures have in common. They both can move in only one direction -- forward! (Ever seen a kangaroo hop backwards?)

They are able to bend their heads and look in all directions -- but they don't have a "reverse". They don't move backwards.

Wouldn't it be great if we were all kangaroo/emu people? We'd be able to look around, look back -- and learn!

St. Augustine said, "We live forward, but we only understand backwards."

In other words, what we've experienced in the past helps us to understand our present situation -- and our future direction.

Gaining insight from the past, however, is much different than living in the past.

The past is a lot like the dumps of Tijuana -- an interesting place to visit -- but I sure don't want to live there!

Kangaroo/Emu people have one direction -- forward! Going backwards is no option.

Keep going!

When you're stuck in a hard situation, and don't know what to do -- take a lesson from the emu and kangaroo. Just hop forward!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

How to Live in Prayer

Here are 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 day's interactions.

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

Monday, May 19, 2014

Outside Holiness

I loved this prayer by George MacLeod, during the rebuilding of the Iona Abbey in Scotland.  Special thanks to Loretta Sunderland, who shared it in church yesterday:

It is not just the interior of these walls, 
it is our own inner beings you have renewed.
We are Your temple not made with hands.
We are Your body.
If every wall should crumble,
and every church decay, we are your habitation.
Nearer are you than breathing,
closer than hands and feet.
Ours are the eyes with which you, in the mystery,
look out in compassion on the world.
So we bless you for this place,
for your directing of us,
your redeeming of us, and your indwelling.
Take us 'outside the camp', Lord.
Outside holiness,
out to where the soldiers gamble, and the thieves curse,
and the nations clash at the cross-roads of the world...

So shall this building continue to be justified. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Difference Between Trees and Brush Piles

Making brush piles this morning, I recall the following account shared by former Wesleyan leader, Dr. Oliver G. Wilson:

"Driving across the plains of Kansas where there are but few trees, I saw in the distance what appeared to be the outline of one of those scrub oaks for which this particular part of Kansas is noted. As I drew nearer, however, and the object began to take form, I said to myself, “Not a tree, only a brush-pile.”

This started a line of thinking: Just what is the difference between a brush-pile and a tree?

The brush pile lacks two essentials: life and organization.

It might be that at one time this brush-pile by the Kansas highway had been a beautiful tree. It may be that it produced shade and possibly food for weary travelers who chanced to pass that way.

What had caused the change? Something had destroyed its life and had broken down its organization. At one time it had been symmetrical and beautiful. Now, it was a mass of tangled sticks.

There are individuals whose lives have become nothing but brush-piles. There is no great central purpose directing their activities. There is no glow of divine life.

It is to be observed that one characteristic of brush-piles is that they become hide-outs for all manner of creeping things. Should a hunter prod around for any length of time, it is highly probably that animals of many varieties would run out into the open. And a life that is a brush-pile becomes a den of ugly, vicious things. There will be jealousies, evil speaking, envies, hatreds and every evil work.

Further observation reveals the brush-pile to be in the process of decay. It will become smaller and smaller with each passing year, while a tree will expand and grow. The brush pile is a nuisance, while the tree is a blessing. The brush pile is ugly, while the tree is beautiful. The sun and rain that destroys the brush-pile feed the tree and cause it to widen its influence."

The contrasts, Wilson observed, are paralleled in the life of the person who lives by faith in God, and the one who does not.

“He who is living for God will expand and grow and produce fruit under the grinding influences of life. The person who is sinful in heart will become bitter, censorious and hateful under the hard things of life.”

Are you a tree or a brush-pile? (Boundless Horizons, p. 105)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Consider This Before Your Fight

“The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands, the foolish one tears hers down.”  
-- Proverbs 14:1 

 Of course, this doesn’t apply to just to women. Every family member is responsible for the upbuilding, and is capable of tearing it apart.

 Wisdom builds the house. Foolishness tears it down.

 When we fail to think before we speak and act, we’re likely to tear the house down. We’ve been given two ears and one mouth, and they should be used in that proportion.

 Sometimes, in a passion to say right things, we say things wrong and hurt people. We’re wrong in our rightness, and unwilling to budge an inch in spirit. I think this is at the heart of the polarization in our state and nation. People are eager to share their opinions, but few are humble and patent enough to take the time to listen and understand others.

 Too many homes are marked by unhealthy conflict and misunderstanding. Sometimes, it’s just a slow simmer of  frustration. Frequently, it leads to checking out, and giving less than one’s best. Occasionally, it erupts into full-scale, brutal warfare. In the squabble, hurtful and destructive things are spoken that can never been undone. Rash words in a fit of anger can destroy the very fabric of the relationship.

 As the old rhyme goes:

There once were two cats of Kilkenny.
Each thought there was one cat too many.
So they fought and they fit,
And they scratched and they bit
'Til excepting their nails
And the tips of their tails,
Instead of two cats there weren’t any.

 Perhaps this is why Proverbs 19:11 reminds us it is “to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”

 It’s very possible to win the battle (argument) and lose the war (relationship.) Here’s a question: Is what we’re fighting over worth the fight?

 Occasionally, it is. Sometimes, there is a significant principle or human right at stake, and only a good fight will set it straight. However, most of the time, our conflicts are over lesser things. We let our selfishness stand in the way, then hold stubbornly to our opinions as a “matter of honor.” Little issues become major eruptions when we stake our significance on them.

 Conflict is an emotional state, and the issue will not be resolved when either party is in that state. You can’t argue someone out of it. The only way to help another person move from the state of conflict is through kindness and patient understanding.

 Argument may force the other person into a corner, forcing him to agree – but it will only be a surface agreement, and definitely not be an agreement of hearts. As the old adage goes, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

Here’s an idea: fight FOR your family instead of fighting against them. What dreams and hopes to you have for your family? What actions can you take to gently move in that direction? If you don’t do anything different, you will keep following the same path with the same patterns. I appreciate Andy Stanley’s observation, “Direction, not  intention, equals destination.”

 Weigh your words. Bite your tongue. Think twice. Then, as Colossians 4:6 says, “let your conversation be full of grace, seasoned with salt so that you ay know how to answer everyone.”

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

I Praise the Dance Like Augustine

In light of Hayward's first annual Father Daughter Ball last Saturday, I share these words from St. Augustine:

I praise the dance, for it frees people from the heaviness of matter and binds the isolated to community.

I praise the dance, which demands everything: health and a clear spirit and a buoyant soul.

Dance is a transformation of space, of time, of people, who are in constant danger of becoming all brain, will, or feeling.

Dancing demands a whole person, one who is firmly anchored in the center of his life, who is not obsessed by lust for people and things and the demon of isolation in his own ego.

Dancing demands a freed person, one who vibrates with the equipoise of all his powers.

I praise the dance.

O man, learn to dance, or else the angels in heaven will not know what to do with you.

-- Saint Augustine

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Ancient Prayers

Explaining our new MorningSong worship service to my friend, Bob, I said,  "It will be a fresh expression of old traditions.  We will read passages from both Testaments, sing the great hymns, have communion every Sunday and recite ancient prayers."

"Ancient prayers?"  Bob replied, "How about Luke 18:11?   'God, I thank you that I am not like other people -- robbers, evildoers -- an even this tax collector.'"

"I think we will skip that ancient prayer."

Just because it's old doesn't mean it's good.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Andrew Murray's Favorite Hymn

The great devotional writer, Andrew Murray's favorite hymn was Moment By Moment:

Dying with Jesus, by death reckoned mine;
Living with Jesus, a new life divine;
Looking to Jesus till glory doth shine,
Moment by moment, O Lord, I am Thine.

Moment by moment I’m kept in His love;
Moment by moment I’ve life from above;
Looking to Jesus till glory doth shine;
Moment by moment, O Lord, I am Thine.

Never a trial that He is not there,
Never a burden that He doth not bear,
Never a sorrow that He doth not share,
Moment by moment, I’m under His care.

Never a heartache, and never a groan,
Never a teardrop and never a moan;
Never a danger but there on the throne,
Moment by moment He thinks of His own.

Never a weakness that He doth not feel,
Never a sickness that He cannot heal;
Moment by moment, in woe or in weal,
Jesus my Savior, abides with me still.

(Thank you Eunice LaCoy for sharing this with me.  We're going to sing it soon at our MorningSong service.)

Friday, May 09, 2014

Four Secrets for Effective Communication

Communication is to love what blood is to the body. When it ceases to flow, love dies, and rigor mortis of resentment sets in.

The ancient prophet, Amos, asked the rhetorical question, "Can two walk together except they be agreed?"

Bob, walking by his neighbor's house, saw him struggling with a couch halfway in the front door. He walked up to his friend and asked, "Hey Fred, need a hand?"

"Sure!" came the reply, "I'm glad you stopped by. This has been a real challenge,"

So, he grabbed the end of the couch and started pushing -- but it wouldn't budge an inch. For about twenty minutes, both men struggled and strained as hard as they could, but made absolutely no progress.

Finally, dropping the couch from exhaustion, Bob said, "You know, Fred, this is just crazy! I can't understand why it's so hard for us to get this couch into the house."

"Into the house??" Fred replied, "I've been trying to push it OUT of the house!!"

When we don't communicate we often end up working against each other. We can't walk together unless we're going the same direction.

None of us are mind readers, so the only way to go the same direction is through clear, loving communication.

Doesn't communication cause fights? What if the things I need to communicate are hurtful? Isn't it better to just shut up and bear it?

Certainly, unwise and thoughtless communication can cause fights, but the lack of communication causes far more fights -- a hundred times more! It's better to communicate even the unpleasant things, rather than bottling them up inside, if you want your relationships to thrive.

The secret here is to practice the fine art of "disagreeing agreeably." This is mostly a matter of keeping a right attitude and sweet spirit as you tackle challenging issues.

All relationships require give and take. Great relationships require give and give!

1) Give In. You don't have to always get your way to be happy. Sometimes, the best and most loving thing is to submit to the other person's point of view, even if it's not your preference.

2) Give More. Can you give more love, attention and energy to this relationship? Make it your aim to outdo one another in love.

3) Give Way. Allow the other person some latitude and space.  Honor and respect the unique individuality of the other person.

4)  But Don't Give Up! You can't truly love somebody until you've been through some difficult times together. Don't quit when times are tough. Instead, dig in deeper, and discover the riches of loving forbearance.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Take Your Job and Love It!

According to Gallup, 71% of American workers hate their jobs (other polls even claim figures as high as 80%.) Now, with so much job hating going around, and it seems like something should be done about it.

If you hate your job, then you are the somebody who should do something about it. Things won’t get better if you just sit around wishing it would.

Now, I understand that some work environments are toxic and intolerable. In situations like that, the best thing you can do is seek an exit strategy. If you really hate your job that bad, then look for another one.

Often, however, job dissatisfaction has much more to do with the worker’s attitude, than a dysfunctional environment. It is with this basis of understanding that I propose the following suggestions for learning to love your job:

1.   Examine your attitude. Are you allowing negativity to poison your spirit towards those you work with? If so, the problem may be more about you than it is about them.

2.   Start your day with prayer. Ask God to guide you and guard your spirit. Try this prayer, “God, help me to receive the people you send to me as a gift.”

3.  Adjust your attitude. Try to focus on the positives rather than the negatives.

4.   Make it your goal to make someone else’s day. Do something extra that makes someone smile. You’ll smile too.

5.   Speaking of smiling – if you’re feeling grumpy, then smile for 16 seconds straight. You will feel better.

6.   Keep a realistic “To Do List.” This will keep you from being overwhelmed, and you will feel good as you progress and mark things off the list.

7.   Do the most important things first. Trivial things have a way of gobbling up time, and adding unnecessary pressure.

8.   Plan ahead. When you fail to plan ahead, other people will dictate your agenda. Planning brings order to the day, week, and month.

9.  Get your schedule under control. To do this, you must think further down the road. Instead of asking, “What shall I do today?” it is far better to ask “What shall I do this week, month and year?” Start as far out as you can, and work backwards from there.

10.   Put breathing space in your schedule. Just as a campfire fizzles out when the logs are too close together, your life needs “breathing space” to burn brightly.

11.   Delegate. Are you doing things that someone else should be doing? How can you help them do it?

12.   Be flexible. If you’re rigid and uptight, you’ll always be upset. Just go with the flow when things don’t work out the way you expected. That’s just a part of life, and not worth expending the energy to fight. Just shrug your shoulders, smile and say, “Stuff Happens!”

13.   Put value into it. Regardless of your work, it is important, or you would not be paid to do it. Remember, your contribution is important – even if others don’t see it. Give it your best shot and add value to the organization

14.   Befriend your co-workers, while remembering you have a job to do.

15.   Share concerns but don’t get sucked into drama.

16.   Refuse to participate in gripe or gossip sessions. If you have a genuine concern, then bring it to the person who can do something about it, and don’t broadcast it. Shared negativity compounds and increases negativity. Your work environment won’t get any better through gripe sessions.

17.   Don’t over-react. When you’re emotions are taking over, step back, take a deep breath, and try to respond maturely.

18.  Say “please” and “thank you” often.

19.   Practice patience and be respectful of every co-worker and customer.

20.   At the end of the day – stop!  You don’t need to carry it all home with you.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Christ is Where the Action Is

God, forgive me when I shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed in the things in front of me.  Teach me to know that Christ is where the action is.

God, I’m serious about practising resurrection and I choose to act like it. I choose to pursue the things, over which Christ presides.  Teach me to know that Christ is where the action is.

God, I choose to be alert to your presence and present to your alertness. I choose to lift my eyes to the horizon to see things from your perspective.  Teach me to know that Christ is where the action is.


(A Prayer by Matt Long)

Monday, May 05, 2014

Perfect Mothers Day Gift

A frazzled mother continually complained about her stress level. "I just need some peace and quiet!" she groaned. So, for Mother's Day, her daughter Jessica went to the florist shop and returned proudly carrying the perfect gift for her mother. The arrangement included a bow inscribed, "Rest in Peace."

Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola, in their groundbreaking book Jesus Manifesto, said, "Knowing Christ as your rest and allowing Him to live His life through you is one of the most freeing things you can know as a Christian" They continue, "Resting in Christ doesn't mean being passive. It means allowing the Lord to do the heaving lifting."

My favorite Bible verse, Philippians 4:13, sums up what Paul called the "secret of being content": "I can do everything through him who gives me strength." The secret to contentment is indeed about dying—but to truly rest in peace, we must die to self and rest in Him.

An excerpt from Filled Up, Poured Out: How God's Spirit Can Revive Your Passion and Purpose

Friday, May 02, 2014

The Wholehearted Church Planter

I recently received a complimentary copy of The Wholehearted Church Planter for review on this blog (via Net Galley) and found it to be a refreshing surprise.  Instead of a bunch of leadership tips and suggestions for creating flashy events, authors, Allan Karr and Linda Bergquist say the key to effective church planting is spiritual.

The secret to launching a vital congregation is for the leaders to live in the overflow of holy character and love.  It is about passion for Christ rather than personality or programs.   I deeply appreciate this rich and biblical challenge to put first things first and to minister reflectively.

The Difference Between Average and Very Good Fishermen

I once heard lengendary Hall of Fame angler, Al Lindner, speak about the difference between average and very good fishermen. He said there are four things that set them apart.  As I listened, I thought there are some direct applications for pastors who are "fishing for people!"

An excellent fisherman. . .

1. Really Knows the Target Species of Fish. They understand the subtle differences. For instance, muskies and northern are both pikes, and are similar in many ways, but there are also some major differences. The good fishermen recognize these differences, and approach them accordingly.

* In your ministry, do you really know and understand your target audience?
* Are you sensitive to the needs, hopes and desires of various kinds of people?

2. Has a Good Understanding of Basic Seasonal Movements. These are somewhat predictable.
* What are the basic seasonal movements in your community? In the life cycle?
* How can you use this to maximize impact?

3.. Knows the Key to Success and a Good Day in the Water is Presentation, not Location.
Never say, "The fish aren't biting." They're always biting. There's no such thing as a lake where the fish aren't biting. They're just not biting what you have to offer. They have seen what you've presented and said, "No."
* How do unchurched people respond to what you have to offer?
* Have you been blaming your location for the lack of results?
* How can you improve your presentation?

4. Understands Boat Control. The great fisherman finds the sweet spot, and anchors there!
* What is your ministry sweet spot?
* What activity promises the greatest eternal return on your investment of energy?
* What currents lead you away from the sweet spot?
* How can you remain achored where you're going to catch the fish?

Lindner went on to share two qualities that separate the very best fishermen from the very good ones.

The Great Fishermen. . .

1. Exhibit Confidence based on Personal Experience. This is a matter of passion and heart.

2. Never Get Burned Out. They never lose their passion for fishing. What causes us to lose our passion? Repetition. Great fishermen are committed to learning new things all the time -- personal growth. They continually ask, "What can I do to catch one more fish?"

* What would happen if pastors carried that kind of confidence and passion into into their churches and communities?

Thursday, May 01, 2014

How to Increase Your Joy

There's a big difference between happiness and joy.

Happiness depends on "happenings". If good things happen, we're happy. If bad things happen - we're sad or angry.

Joy, on the other hand, is a deep abiding sense of contentment. It remains strong and steady regardless of the situation.

You can possess joy and still have moments of unhappiness. You can experience some happy moments, without knowing the deeper joy.

Many people try to capture joy by chasing fleeting moments of happiness. Movies, amusement parks, sky diving, accomplishments, alcohol, popularity, food and relationships are just a few of the activities individuals pursue to create some "artificial joy." The problem is that these things do not provide a cure for emptiness of the heart. They just distract us for a while.

Some folks have what John Maxwell calls "destination disease" - believing real happiness will come in the future . . .
When I get married
When I graduate
When I'm promoted
When I retire.

Wake up and smell the coffee! If you're not content now, you won't be content then either! Joy is an inside job. What happens in you is far more important that what happens to you.

Real joy comes from being connected with God. It has nothing to do with your circumstances, and everything to do with the state of your soul.

If you wish to increase the joy and contentment in your life. . .

1) Love Much .
The greatest joy in all the world is loving and being loved. Loving much means releasing resentments and unforgiveness. It means moving outside of yourself and becoming a generous person. You cannot love much when you are self-centered. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

2) Live Right.You cannot possibly maintain a joyful heart if you are carrying a heavy load of guilt and shame. When you mess up - 'fess up! Don't try to cover it up or hide your blunder. Face up to the truth. The truth will set you free.

You must not allow the past to hold you hostage. Addictions and other harmful behaviors can be conquered through the power of prayer, surrender, and self-discipline.

Declare war on anything in your life that holds you back from being all that you ought to be! Commit yourself to personal growth and right living.

3) Think Straight.Your attitude determines your altitude. Living well requires a steady diet of good thoughts. Refuse to allow the "little bugs on the windshield" (worry, frustrations, regrets, tensions) to deter you from a positive frame of mind.

The quality of your life is measured largely by what you think. Be sure you're capturing the best thoughts, and living according to your highest priorities.