Monday, December 29, 2014

A Confident Old Guy

When baseball legend, Ty Cobb, was seventy years old, a reporter asked, "What do you think you would hit if you were playing these days?"

Cobb, a lifetime .367 hitter, said, "About .290, maybe .300." The reporter said, "That's because of the travel, the night games, the artificial turf, and all the new pitches like the slider, right?"

"No," said Cobb, "It's because I'm seventy."

-- From Developing the Leaders Around You (John C. Maxwell)

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Bible Reading Plans for 2015

A friend, explaining her recent burst of spiritual growth said, "Bible study.  I've read casually it all along -- but this year, I started studying it, and that's when I began to grow."  What is your plan to read and study the Bible in 2015?  If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

Nathan W. Bingham has posted several excellent Bible Reading plans at the Ligonier website.  Anyone interested in digging into Scripture will find something good here: Bible Reading Plans for 2015.

Bible Gateway also offers several outstanding plans that can be sent directly to your smartphone or computer:  Bible Gateway Reading Plans.

Other Bible study tools can be found at Bible Hub.

A Bible that is falling apart is usually owned by somebody who isn't.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

What Are Your Plans?

The launching of a New Year is a good time for new resolutions.  Real resolutions are not wish lists, "I should's" or "Wouldn't it be nice?"

Resolution literally means "wholehearted commitment."  Every river has bedrocks, and the water flows around the rocks.

The only way to make significant change is to implement your commitments like rocks -- and then let the rest of life flows around them.  

Many well meaning people depend on inspiration to keep their spiritual resolutions.  Now, inspiration is a good booster to get the rocket off the ground -- but won't keep it flying.

Resolutions won't stick unless accompanied by solid plans!  These plans, when embraced, are the rocks -- the priorities -- and everything else flows around them.

With this in mind. . .

1.  What is your Bible Reading Plan?
If you don't have one, you won't do it.  You may intend to read the Bible regularly, but your efforts will be feeble at best.  Scripture is our spiritual food.  You need it for soul nourishment!  

What is your plan to regularly feed your soul with the Word?

Don't know how to develop one?  Youversion has a wonderful selection of over 50 Reading Plans.  Why not try one of those?

2.  What is your Prayer Plan?
If you wait until you feel like it, you will only pray during emergencies.  God should be more than our spare tire.  He's the steering wheel!  Prayer is our spiritual breath.  We cannot survive without it!

What new prayer commitments do you need to make?  How will you build these into your life?  When will you pray?  How can you strengthen your prayer practices?  How can you develop a better prayer pattern with your family?

3.  What is your Church Attendance Plan?
The Bible challenges us to "forsake not the gathering of believers."  A recent study of church attendance patterns revealed that most of our "regulars" come less than 75% of the time.
  
We're all busy -- but if we're busy to order our lives around God's priorities, then we should change something.

You need to worship with your brothers and sisters.  You need to join your heart together in corporate prayer.  You need to be strengthened by messages from the Bible and your family needs to understand this priority.

Also, your brothers and sisters need you for support, strength and encouragement.  When you are present -- you are a present (a gift) to the others who come.  Your absence leaves a vacancy that no one can fill.

4.  What is Your Small Group Plan?
Are you in a small group of believers for mutual support and spiritual encouragement?  If not, find one and join!

Don't have time?  Sorry.  The busiest people in our church are in small groups.  It's not a time issue.  It's a priority issue.  You find the time to do what's most imporant to you.

Consider the "One Another's" of the New Testament.  Most of these can only be accomplished in a small, loving group of brothers and sisters.

5.  What is Your Giving Plan?
What percentage of your income did you give last year to God's work?  Does this reflect your desire to love and serve Him?  The tithe (10%) has been the historic benchmark of stewardship.  Have you reached that?  If not, what is your plan to get there?   In the grand scheme, everything we own belongs to God, and thus, He should direct all our financial decisions.  

I have discovered, in all my years of ministry, that the loudest protesters against biblical generosity  are those who do not practice it.  Generosity is joyful, and tithers never regret it.

6.  What is Your Blessing Plan?
What are you going to do to bring God's blessing to others this year?  What, specifically, is your calling?  Start at home and work out from there.  How can you bless your spouse?  your children?  your friends?  How can you bless your boss?  your co-workers?  Your neighbors?  How can you bless those who are lost, broken and hurting in your community?  How can you make a difference for someone in another part of the world?

7.  What is Your Servanthood Plan?
Tied closely with #6, what specifically are you going to do to be a part of something bigger than yourself?  How will you invest your life to promote God's work -- beyond your own agenda?  How can you help by joining in and lifting the burden?

Every one of us needs to have at least two places of service -- within the local church (ministry) and beyond the local church (mission).  What are yours?

May God move us from being mere spectators to FULL participants in His glorious work in this world.  May we adjust our lives to reflect this priority.  

If we fail to plan -- we plan to fail!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Keeping Christmas

Let me not wrap, stack, box, bag, tie, tag, bundle, seal, keep Christmas.  Christmas kept is liable to mold.  Let me give Christmas away, unwrapped, by exuberant armfuls.   Let me share, dance, live Christmas unpretentiously, merrily, responsibly with overflowing hands, tireless steps and sparkling eyes.  Christmas given away will stay fresh—even until it comes again."

--  Linda Felver, "Let Us Not Keep Christmas"

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Reason for the Season

In the midst of the hectic shopping season, a frustrated fellow grumbled, "They ought to kill the guy who's responsible for this!"  Another shopper quietly replied, "They did."

The significance of Christmas does not lie in a cradle, but in a cross.

The angels proclaimed his birth saying, "Unto you is born this day, a Savior. . ." He came to save us!

If the world had just needed a better education, God would have sent a teacher.

If the world had only needed some encouragement, God would have sent a motivational speaker.

If the world merely needed emotional stabilization, God would have sent a psychotherapist.

If the world needed a better social order, God would have sent a politician, or perhaps, a general.

But God sent Jesus to this earth as a lowly little baby -- to be our Savior. He came to save us -- from our sins, our situations and ourselves.

Forgiveness is the greatest need of the human soul, and Jesus Christ entered our world to bring it.

My nephew, Rodney, lived in South Korea for a while. He was astonished to discover the South Koreans don't celebrate Christmas the way we do.  There are hardly any decorations. People don't put up Christmas trees,
and Christmas songs are not played on the airwaves. His English class sat in rapt attention when he described all the things Americans do during the holiday season. Then he asked, "What do you do for Christmas?" They all replied with the same answer, "We go to church."

Although I love the Christmas enthusiasm around here, I can't help but wonder if the Koreans have figured out something that we're missing.

Christmas started in the heart of God and concludes in the hearts of His people.

We need to remember the deeper meaning of the season and keep Christ in Christmas.

Joy to the world, the Lord has come! Let earth receive her King!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Jesus Was a Small Town Preacher

The majority of protestant churches are in small towns and rural communities. Many pastors, upon graduation from seminary, find themselves in one of these "ends of the earth" assignments.

Their attitude is "I'm stuck here in this one horse town until I learn the ropes.  Then, I'll move on and do something important."

Today, as Christmas approaches, I'd like to challenge the assumption that small places are insignificant.

Jesus, God in human flesh, came to the earth on a mission from heaven to transform humanity. He looked the whole world over and picked the perfect place to launch his global and eternal enterprise.

Where did he go? What was his strategic missional selection? A small town!

"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times." (Micah 5:2)

You won't get any Christmas cards with pictures of Rome, Athens, or Jerusalem on them -- It's the little village of Bethlehem that takes center stage each December.

Of course, if you want to go further -- Jesus also grew up in a small town (Nazareth), spent most of his ministry in Galilean hamlets, and headquartered in rural Capernaum.

He literally changed the world from end of it!

If you have been chosen to serve in a small place, take heart! Be encouraged! You're in excellent company. Jesus was a small town preacher too!

I pray that in days to come, small town and rural churches will rise up, reclaim their heritage, and play a significant role in the coming worldwide revival.

Monday, December 15, 2014

How About Giving?

Santa asks, “What do you want for Christmas?”   Little kids bring their lists while parents eavesdrop.

That’s precious, and I certainly don’t want to detract from the Christmas wonder little ones experience.

But, at the essence, Christmas is not for getting – it’s for giving!

'Tis the season of unselfishness.  'Tis the season to share with those you love. 'Tis the season to be compassionate for those less fortunate.

It’s not about spending money you don’t have on stuff they don’t need.  This year, especially, with financial squeeze we’re feeling – how about simplifying? How about being creative, spending a little less, and giving a little more of yourself? How about shopping locally, so you bless your neighbors by your spending, helping them put food on their tables?

How about giving something homemade? How about giving your time?

How about remembering those in need? Did you know that Americans spent $450 billion on Christmas spent year and that we could provide safe, clean drinking water for every person in the world for $10 billion? What if this Christmas, we were less consumeristic and more compassionate? Consider joining the “Advent Conspiracy” (http://www.adventconspiracy.org/)

How about your neighbors who are suffering? If you have a heart to help, you will find the path to do it.  There are many little children, right here in our own community, who go to bed hungry and don’t have adequate winter clothing. What can you do to make a difference for them?

How about putting something in the kettle, when you pass the Salvation Army bell ringer? Better yet, how about signing up for a stint of bell ringing? How about getting a few friends together and caroling at the home of someone who is sick?

Who knows? In the end, you might just say, “It was my best Christmas ever!”

Friday, December 12, 2014

ABC's of Gratitude

Alphabet Soup For the Soul

A lthough things are not perfect

B ecause of trial or pain

C ontinue in thanksgiving

D o not begin to blame

E ven when the times are hard

F ierce winds are bound to blow

G od is forever able

H old on to what you know

I magine life without His love

J oy would cease to be

K eep thanking Him for all the things

L ove imparts to thee

M ove out of "Camp Complaining"

N o weapon that is known

O n earth can yield the power

P raise can do alone

Q uit looking at the future

R edeem the time at hand

S tart every day with worship

T o "thank" is a command

U ntil we see Him coming

V ictorious in the sky

W e'll run the race with gratitude

X alting God most high

Y es, there'll be good times and yes some will be bad, but...

Z ion waits in glory...where none are ever sad!

(Special thanks to my sister-in-law, Sandy, who sent this to me.  I do not know the author.)

Your Thorns Have Roses Too

Happiness is a decision -- a choice.

If you wait for "happenings" to make you happy -- you'll be waiting
most of the time.

Life isn't easy. It brings a measure of pain, as well as joy. The thorns come with the roses.

There's no such thing as a thornless life.

John Calvin said, "We must develop a better and deeper concept of happiness than that held by the world, which makes a happy life consist of ease, honor, and great wealth."

Now, it's a wonderful thing when somebody pushes the "easy button" for us. When plans go better than anticipated, we all rejoice.

It always feels good to be appreciated and honored. We are all glad to be recognized for "extra mile" effort.

Having extra money is always nice. "Money doesn't buy happiness, but it sure comes in handy!"

Nevertheless, if we must depend on ease, honor and wealth to make us happy, we are doomed to misery

When we chase happiness by these avenues, we'll never find it. It's like trying to catch a butterfly with your hands.

When we seek the Higher Truth, rather than these lesser desires, we find what we've been wanting all along!

Follow the God-path, and the joy will follow.

"Seek first, the Kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you." Matthew 6:33

Your roses may have thorns, but don't forget -- your thorns may have some roses too!

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Are You Running on Positive Juice?

What kind of juice do you have in your tank?

Lawnmowers and cars run on gasoline.
Chainsaws and weed eaters run on a gas/oil mixture.
Sailboats and kites run with the wind.
Campfires run on wood -- And you run on one of two kinds of energy:
positive or negative (or, more likely, a mixture of both.)

What's the difference between running on positive vs. negative juice?

1. Negative juice is the "default" mode. If you don't deliberately choose the positive path, you'll end up operating in the negative. We are grumpy by nature -- and cheerful by choice. Nobody is positive by accident -- It requires a strong commitment and a new way of thinking.

2. Running on negative juice is easier at first -- but much harder in the long run. Since it is the default mode, you don't have to work at becoming negative -- it just happens naturally! No extra effort is required. However, those who operate with negative energy find that life is much more difficult. Positive energy takes more effort up front -- and less effort all the rest of the way. Guaranteed -- a negative life is harder than a positive life.

3. Positive juice continually refills its own tank. In other words -- this energy creates more energy. Negative juice, on the other hand, is always draining. The tank is continually empty. When you're running in the negative, you will find yourself always tired, burdened and depleted.

4. The biggest difference between positive and negative juice people is the way they think:

Positive juice people think about solutions rather than problems.
They think about their blessings rather than their rights.
They focus on serving others rather than themselves.
They are givers rather than takers.
They talk about what can be done, rather than what can't be accomplished.
They realize that happiness is a choice rather than a reaction.
They are directed by principles rather than situations.
They find the good rather than the faults.
They are encouragers rather than discouragers.

Nobody wants to be a negative person -- but many end up that way, because they have not determined to change the course.

Your canoe will not go upstream unless you're willing to paddle!

Here are a few suggestions to help you paddle upstream and fill your emotional tank with positive energy:

1. Intend to be a positive person. Your life will never rise above the level of your intentions. Generally speaking, you become what you intend to be.

2. Surround yourself with positive people. Who is the most positive person you know? See if you can spend some time with that person.  Positive people lift and encourage us to be our best.

3. Spend time in prayer and meditation every day. Connecting with God puts everything else in perspective.

4. Read the Bible as well as other inspiring books. Biographies of great people instill hope and inner strength.

5. Listen to "soul filling" music. What type of music fills your soul?  How can you build this into your life?

6. Capture your negative thoughts. When these emotional terrorists attack, you need to capture them and hold them as prisoners of war.  You can replace old mullings with new, inspiring ideas. The Bible  instructs us to  "take every thought captive."

7. Find a 'replenishing" place. Certain places help us to order our hearts. It is good to discover beautiful, inspiring places where we can be refilled.You can become a positive inspiring person if you make the commitment and the effort. Your family and friends will certainly be delighted if you do!

Monday, December 01, 2014

Are You Ready for Christmas?

December is here -- bringing the dreaded question everybody hates: "Are you ready for Christmas?"

Whenever that question is asked, the response is always a groan -- "Are you kidding? Don't remind me!"

The assumption here is that "Are you ready for Christmas?" means "Are your decorations all up, your cookies all baked, and your gifts all purchased? Are you finished with all of your Christmas preparations?"

Of course, the answer to that question will most likely be a resounding "NO!" (Unless you are one of those rare breeds who plans way ahead and finishes your Christmas shopping sometime around
Halloween. Many of us are "adrenaline" shoppers. We wait until the last minute, and then scurry off in a shopping frenzy.

I wonder what would happen if we moved being ready for Christmas from the "finished" side of the holidays, to the "beginning". Instead of thinking we have to be done with everything before we're ready, can't we "get ready" ahead of time? If we wait until all the tasks are finished before we are ready for Christmas, we miss out on the beauty of the season. A properly prepared heart changes the way a person experiences the days between Thanksgiving and the New Year.

One early December day, I was on a solitude seeking drive, and happened upon a monastery. If there's solitude anywhere, a monastery tops the list! As I entered the building, I noticed brown-robed monks chanting around, along with a white haired lady who was obviously a visitor.

"What are you doing in a monastery?", I asked.

"I'm getting ready for Christmas," she replied. Looking around, I didn't see any gift wrap or cook books.

"How are you getting ready for Christmas here?"

"I'm reading the works of C. S. Lewis." 

"Oh," I mumbled, "I didn't know Lewis wrote Christmas books".

She smiled as she responded, "He didn't!"

Today, as December 25 approaches like a freight train, I'm pondering: What can I do to prepare myself for Christmas? How can I tune my heart so I will fully embrace this sacred season?

Here are a few thoughts:

1. This Christmas, don't over-do it. Think ahead and refuse to overspend, overeat, or overextend yourself.

2. Refuse to succumb to commercialism. Gadgets and gizmos are merely clutter.

3. Practice the art of intentional generosity. (i.e. caroling, ringing the Salvation Army bell, helping others)

4. Renounce all "grinchiness" and willfully embrace the Christmas spirit -- love, joy and peace.

5. Keep Christ first in Christmas.

6. Express love through simple acts of kindness.

I hope the next time somebody asks the banal question, "Are you ready for Christmas?" You can respond with a surprise: "Absolutely! Bring it on, Baby!"