Monday, December 28, 2015

New Year Reflection

Here we stand at the threshold of the New Year. 2015 will soon be passed and packed away, living only in the attic of memories.  Looking ahead to 2016, I can guarantee one thing: a lot of living will go into it.

How will it turn out? Only God knows. This chapter may be drama. Perhaps it will be romance. Action adventure. Comedy. Tragedy. Mystery.

Next December, upon reflection, you will be able to describe the events of 2016 – but not now. The best you can do is throw your shoulders back, trust God, and march right in.

You see, although you don’t know anything about the upcoming months, God does – and He will be with you as you travel from mountain top to valley.  Nobody knows what tomorrow holds, but we do know WHO holds tomorrow.

Sometimes, in lonely moments, it feels as if we are alone, but God has promised never to leave you or forsake you – even in the darkest hours.

An anonymous writer captured this idea with these inspiring words:

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year,  “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”   And he replied, “Go out into the darkness and put your hand in the hand of God.  That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

Transition from one year to the next calls us to:

1. Sober Reflection. 
2. Sane Calculation. 
3. Serious Resolution. 

So, don’t let yourself. . .

Fret – when you’re doing the best you can.
Rush – when success depends on accuracy.
Assume – evil of someone unless you have the facts.
Judge – another person’s motives.
Belittle – others with your actions and words.
Quit – in the face of difficulty
Allow -- bitterness and resentment to remain in your heart.
Make -- excuses for not doing what should be done.
Waste – time and energy on things that don’t matter.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

How to Be Led by the Spirit

 You will make better decisions when you are led by the Holy Spirit and this guidance is available to you right now!  As Romans 8:14 says, ". . . those who are led by the Spirit are children of God."

 But this begs the question:  how does the Spirit lead us?  Here are a few ways.

 1)  Scripture:  Search the Scriptures daily, and God will give you a special word that fits your situation.  Whatever you're going through, God has a word for it!  You will never go wrong by living in the Word.

 2)  Prayer:  We fail to find guidance in our prayers because we are too prone to tell God what He should do, rather than asking Him what WE should do.  If we ask, He has promised to grant us wisdom (James 1:5.)  Consider your pressing issue:  Have you seriously prayed about it?

 3)  The Grand Purpose:  Rather than getting hung up on "What is God's will for me?" it might be better to ask, " What is God's will for the world?"  Then, join Him in that glorious cause.  The Spirit moves us -- a bias for action!  You are meant to DO something.  "Let me pray about it" is sometimes a clever device to buy time for excuses.  If you sense a holy nudge, follow up!  If God doesn't want you to go through that door, He can close it.  Action, rather than intent, makes the difference.

 4)  Community of Faith:  Often, the Spirit speaks to us through spiritually mature friends who love God and have our best interest in mind.  No person is an island.  God places us in a church family, so we can encourage, correct and help each other.

 5) Circumstances:  The Lord loves us too much to waste our painful experiences.  Sometimes, He uses difficult circumstances to move us to the place He wants us to be.  When we are tempted to cry out, "Where are you, God?", He responds, "Right here, guiding you through this."  God does His best work through those refined in the fire of affliction.  For instance, the Jerusalem Church faced severe persecution, and multiplied exponentially as a result.

 6)  Sanctified Common Sense:  Jesus died to take away our sins, not our brains.  God made our minds and trusts us to use them to make wise decisions.

 7)  The Spirit Adventure (or Treasure Hunt):  The seventh step takes everything to a whole new level.  Adding this to the prior six, your life can be infused with daily flowings of the Holy Spirit.  You can live naturally in the supernatural!  God really works that way -- if you only have the faith.

Lately, I've been experiencing this.  God has been taking me on amazing adventures, I like to call "Treasure Hunts".

Early in the morning, I pray something like this::  "God, show me someone you treasure today, and help me to bring blessing, hope and joy to them.  May your Spirit fill, guide and flow through me to others.  Wherever you go, I'll go.  Whoever you send, I will receive as your gift.  I'll follow your nudges wherever you lead.  Help me stay out of the way and let your work!"

God has recently answered that prayer in astounding ways!  This is real -- not just a matter of philosophy, world view, or evangelical sub-culture participation.  It is truly participating WITH Jesus as He accomplishes the greatest mission on earth.

You can live in the first six -- leave out the seventh -- and live a mundane, boring Christian life.  Or you can step out of the little box and go on the grand adventure.  I recommend the latter.  It's definitely worth the risk.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Paradox of the Manger

A special Christmas guest post by Ryan Wilson.  Great food for thought:

 It’s near. Can you feel it? It’s that sense of dread as you realize that you forgot to buy a gift for your Secret Santa. It’s that feeling of deflation as you look at your schedule and you realize that you don’t have a free evening from now until December 26th. It’s the season of red and green décor at Walmart, tacky yard decorations, and obnoxious songs on the radio (If I hear that refrain “We’re simply having a wonderful Christmas time” one more time, I think I’m going to deck someone’s halls!) Verily, verily I say unto you: The Christmas season is upon us once again!

 I may be overstating the negativity that surrounds the Christmas season. It’s not all bad after all! We all love (hopefully) re-connecting with friends and loved ones, and the festivities can certainly be fun. But it’s undeniable that the holidays can be an overwhelming, loud, and stressful time.

 Why do we do this to ourselves? Some may argue that it has to do with making a grand occasion out of the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It’s his birthday, after all. Shouldn’t we be happy about the coming of Christ? Is this not reason to celebrate?

 But maybe you’re like some others who argue that all of the gifts, Christmas parties, cookies, punch and egg nog, bright lights and bombastic, ubiquitous Christmas songs actually serve to detract from the remembrance of Christ’s advent. Some even go so far as to criticize any of the customary Christmas practices at all – spurning the cultural norms of gift giving, Christmas cards, and decorations. The season of Christmas, they reason, should be a time of quiet reflection, not all of this noisy merriment.

 So which one is it: Loud, or quiet? Celebratory, or reflective? Joyous, or Somber? Joy to the World, Or Silent Night? Should we be partying? Or should we be contemplating the mystery of the incarnation?
 The correct answer is both.

 Make no mistake about it: The birth of Christ changed the world forever, and it is reason to celebrate! When the angels showed up in the shepherds’ field, it was BOOM! CHRIST IS HERE! GO NOW AND WORSHIP HIM! HALLELUJAH! And they left their flocks and ran to the manger, praising God!

 But the story is more than that. It also is a story of how Christ humbled himself in order to lift the entire world out of the devil’s snare. The glorious, eternal, majestic Son of God, made into humble human flesh. And there weren’t any trumpets blaring, calling attention to that fateful birth in Bethlehem. He wasn’t born in a palace, or lifted high so the whole world could see him (like Lion King). Most of humanity actually missed this critically huge moment in history. Most people didn’t take any notice of the ostensibly common child in a common girl’s arms.

 But for those in the know, it was the greatest moment in human history up to that point in time. The magi travelled far to worship him. Most scholars actually believe that they didn’t see the child until he was two years old. But they understood intuitively the enormous implications of that Silent Night when the God-child came into our world. It was the first fruits of a deconstruction of the figurative curtain separating the human from the divine, the holy from the common, the heavens and the earth. It was the beginning of a revolution that marches on to this day, and will continue on until Christ’s second coming. That is reason to be ecstatic at Christmas time!

 So this Christmas – when you, like me, are feeling a bit anxious for the Christmas season to be over and for life as usual to continue, take the time to ponder how the little child in your nativity set has changed the world forever. Remember that it is because of his advent that we can have hope beyond the grave. He is, as the cliché expression goes, the reason for the season, and the appropriate response… the wise response… is to worship him.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Churches are Like Horses

An old farmer once gave the following advice to their newly arrived rookie pastor:

 "Go slow, son. Churches are a lot like horses. They don't like to be startled or surprised. It causes deviant behavior."

 (I found this little gem in Larry Osborne's excellent book, Sticky Teams)

Thursday, December 17, 2015

March to the Manger is a Beautiful Tradition

On Sunday, December 20, Hayward Wesleyan Church will once again celebrate a beloved tradition:  March to the Manger.  We've done this for six years now -- and it is always heartwarming and beautiful.

In the weeks proceeding Christmas Sunday, we encourage the congregation to prayerfully consider what they will offer Jesus for His birthday. We ask every man, woman, teenager and child to plan ahead and give careful thought to this request. (Think about a special Christmas gift for Jesus -- just like you would for all you other loved ones.)

This Sunday, our people will bring their gifts wrapped up (or in a special envelope provided) to the worship service, where they will present them to Christ.

Of course, a financial offering is always appropriate (March to the Manger is the offering), but we ask the church to reflect much deeper than that. What does it mean to offer YOURSELF to Jesus? What new commitment do you need to make? Is there a promise to keep? Is there something you should quit or start? What is the deepest prayer of your heart?

We will present an inter-generational Living Nativity, with Mary, Joseph, shepherds, angels, wise men, and Baby Jesus, while singing familiar carols as the drama unfolds.

Then, at the end, the whole congregation will come and join the Christmas nativity, singing “O Come All Ye Faithful.”   Every time we do this, a beautiful sense of God’s love fills the church as the congregation flows forward bearing their gifts for their Savior.

March to the Manger is always a high point of generosity:  often, the largest offering of the year, helping us with our general fund, as well as missions, benevolence and building fund.

But far beyond the monetary gifts, there are always significant spiritual commitments.  In the past, gifts from March to the Manger have included cut up credit cards, packs of cigarettes, bottles of alcohol, lottery tickets, watches (giving my time to Jesus), gifts for needy children, items for the community food shelf, letters of spiritual surrender, blankets, acts of kindness, all sorts of things.  Also, every year, there are some who take the step of faith and commit themselves entirely to Christ!

I look forward to seeing what special things God does this Sunday!

My Bad Hearing Does Not Trouble Me


I can identify with this poem by Beethoven and am sharing it in honor of his birthday. . .

 My bad hearing
 Does not trouble me here.
 In the country
 Every tree
 Seems to talk to me, saying, "Holy! Holy!"
 Inside the forest is enchantment
 Which expresses all things –
 Sweet peace of the forest!

 Almighty, I am happy
 In the woods,
 Blessed
 In the woods,
 Every tree has a voice
 Through thee.

 O God, what glory
 In such a woodland place!
 On the heights is peace –
 Peace to serve thee –

 How glad am I
 Once again
 To be able to wander
 In forest and thicket
 Among the trees,
 The green things and the rocks.
 No mortal can love
 The country as I do;
 For woods and trees and rocks
 Return the echo
 A man desires.

I found this at Your Daily Poem

 This poem is in the public domain.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The End of Me

In his wonderful new book, The End of Me, Kyle Idleman shares a counter-intuitive approach to reaching a place to be effectively used by Jesus.  Using the Sermon on the Mount as his launching pad, Idleman says the blessings begin when everything turns upside down and we:

  • Are broken to be whole
  • Mourn to be happy
  • Are Humbled to be exalted
  • Are Authentic to be accepted
He also states our strength begins when we are:
  • Empty to be filled
  • Helpless to be empowered
  • Disqualified to be chosen
  • Weak to be strong
This book challenges status quo Christianity for consumers.  It is a call for self-denial -- downward mobility -- in order to rise in faith.

A very inspiring and convicting read -- and a great resource for small groups and/or possibly a sermon series.

Purchase here

A complimentary copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher for review on this blog.  I was not required to write a positive review.

Christmas is For Giving

Christmas is For Giving.

Santa asks, “What do you want for Christmas?” Little kids write letters with lists of things they want.   That’s a precious thing, and I certainly don’t want to detract from the wonder little children experience at Christmas.

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 all 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 when you DO spend, it’s helping your neighbors put food on their tables?

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

How about remembering those who are in need? Did you know that with the  $450 billion Americans spend on Christmas each year, we could provide safe, clean drinking water for every person in the world and have $10 billion left over?  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?  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 help 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 11, 2015

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Two Dozen Symptoms of Insanity


1) Trying to talk your way out of a problem you behaved your way into.

2) Believing that your situation will get better, but refusing to make changes.

3) Blaming others for your failures and shortcomings.

4) Neglecting the important priorities (God, family, personal health), while chasing after trivia.

5) Thinking you won't get caught when you do something wrong.

6) Lying to "make things better". (You can cover up a skunk, but it still smells!)

7) Hoping money will buy happiness.

8) Procrastination (Putting off the important matters because of the "urgent".)

9) Trying to please everybody.

10) Self-centeredness (The world doesn't revolve around you.)

11) Thinking another person will make you happy.

12) Expecting your children to follow your orders rather than your example.

13) Falling into a pattern of complaint, criticism and negativity. (Gratitude is an important aspect of mental and spiritual health.)

14) Thinking you can fix a problem by yelling.

15) Thinking a big problem will go away by ignoring it.

16) Rationalizing bad behavior with, "That's just the way I am."

17) Suspecting that the whole world is against you. (People are not as opposed to you as you think. The fact is, hardly anybody is thinking about you at all! They're too busy thinking about themselves!)

18) Refusing to settle for less than perfection. (As a human being, you will wind up with less than perfection whether you "settle" for it or not.)

19) Carrying a grudge and expecting that it won’t hurt you.

20) Depending on others to clean up your messes.

21) Believing you can get something for nothing (or a lot for a little.)

22) Failing to consider the "price tag" of your decisions.

23) Being rude to others and expecting kindness in return.

24) Squandering money you don’t have to buy things you don’t need.

The best definition of insanity I ever heard is: "Doing the same things the same way and expecting different results."

Monday, November 30, 2015

John Wesley on Social Media

"
 "Let us not then trouble and embroil ourselves and our neighbors with unprofitable disputations, but all agree to spread, to the uttermost of our power, the quiet and peaceable gospel of Christ."

Thursday, November 26, 2015

I Am Thankful for These Five Things

Reflecting on the old Thanksgiving hymn, For The Beauty of the Earth, I am truly grateful. . . 

1) For the Beauty of the Earth
  Those of us who live in the northwoods, have a front row seat to enjoy the grandeur of creation.  What a  beautiful place -- with splendid seasons -- each one proclaiming God's praise. 

2) For the Wonder of Each Hour
  Time is fleeting, but I’m thankful for the moments – the special moments we pause to treasure, sitting in  the Thanksgiving Chair.

3) For Thy Church
 In worship (holy hands above) and service (pure sacrifice of love).
 I am so thankful for our church, and the outstanding leaders who serve with me.

4) For the Joy of Human Love 
 Brother, sister, parent, child.  I am thankful for my beautiful family, and am looking forward to celebrating Thanksgiving with them. We will miss Adam, Luke and Emily dearly – but are thankful for Skype!

5) For Thyself – Best Gift Divine.
 God has been my source of strength and comfort. I find that fellowship with Him is sweeter as the years go by. In my daily quiet time, He gives me the spiritual motivation and strength to face whatever comes throughout the day.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Be Thankful

Be thankful for the pile of dishes in the sink, because it means you had plenty to eat.

Be thankful for the dog hair on the carpet, because it means you have a loyal friend who shows unconditional love.

 Be thankful for the messes, because it means some living is happening in your home.

 Be thankful for the difficult conversations you have with your spouse, because they mean  you have a partner who cares.

 Be thankful for the annoyances at work, because they mean you have a job.

 Be thankful for paperwork, because it means you have been trusted with responsibility.

 Be thankful for the light bulb that needs replacing, because it means you have electricity.

 Be thankful for the leaves that need raking, because it means you have beautiful trees.

 Be thankful for clutter in the living room, because it means you have a family.

 Be thankful for a lawn that needs mowing, because it means you have yard.

 Be thankful for your lumpy mattress, because it means you have a bed to sleep in.

 Be thankful for the annoying talking heads on television, because they mean you have freedom of speech.

 Be thankful for an empty gas tank, because it means you’ve been privileged to travel far.

 Be thankful for tires that need replacing, because they mean you don’t have to travel by foot.

 Be thankful for house repairs, because it means you have a home.

 Be thankful for college bills, because it means your children are getting an education.
.
 Be thankful for the extra six cents you pay on the dollar for sales tax, because it provides smooth highways  and other needed services.

 Be thankful for a busy, stressful day, because it means you have something important to do.

 Be thankful for your health challenges, because they mean you’re still alive.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Loving' Jesus from a Deer Stand


Through 25 years of living in the north country, I’ve come to recognize that, by default, deer hunting season is Wisconsin’s other “holy week.”

It took me a while to figure this out. Year after year, I stood behind the pulpit on the third Sunday of November, and looked with dismay upon an empty sanctuary.  In Hayward, most of the men, and half the ladies vanish into the woods on deer opener, and they normally don’t re-appear for church on Sunday morning.

Of course, there are always a few devoted members of the flock who endure the annual Thanksgiving sermon, anxiously awaiting the concluding “amen” so then can hurry up and get out there. I’m happy to report that my Thanksgiving sermon usually has the intended effect. When it’s over, there’s a collective “Whew, Thank God!” then a mad scramble for the doors.

I regretfully admit that in my foolish, early years past, I attempted to heap guilt and shame on the poor hunters of the congregation in the weeks leading up to “the great departure.” They hung their heads, as I poured it on. “Surely, you can give your Creator ONE hour of your precious hunting time. Where is your commitment? Where is your sacrifice? Where is your priority?” I even made a vague suggestion that if they agreed to sit in church for an hour, that heaven would take note of such devotion, and perhaps reward them with a trophy buck.

They didn’t buy it.

Several years ago, in mid-November, I went for the nuclear option. “People, if you truly love Jesus, then you’re going to prove it by coming HERE next Sunday morning, rather than traipsing out into the woods before dawn!”

They didn’t buy that either.

The good folks of Hayward instinctively know the odds of bagging big buck are much greater from a deer stand than a church pew.

One older fellow shook my hand afterwards, and gave me a Norwegian rebuke,  “Pastor, thank you for sharing your perspective.  But next Sunday, I’ll be lovin’ Jesus from my tree stand.”

That day, I learned a valuable lesson. My job, as a northwoods pastor, is to bless the dear deer hunters, and not try to force them into being something they're not.

Besides, what other season affords such opportunity for solitude and reflection? What occasion brings a better place for prayer? In the normal course of life, most folks don’t carve out enough time to be quiet and listen to God’s voice.

One can certainly worship in the woods. In fact, there is no greater cathedral. The splendor of creation inspires the soul to greater heights.

Hunting season imposes “Sabbath” on us. The entire town slows down, and it’s hard to find a mechanic, a repairman, or a barber. Slowing is good medicine for the soul.

Wisconsin’s deer hunting season includes Thanksgiving – and that certainly is appropriate for such a holy week.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Andrew Murray's Favorite Hymn: Moment By Moment

This beautiful hymn,  Moment By Moment, was the great devotional author Andrew Murray's favorite hymn. I understand why.

 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.


 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.

 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.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

How a Minister Finds the Freshness and Fullness of God's Power

"We need a generation of preachers who seek God and seek Him early, who give the freshness and dew of effort to God, and secure in return the freshness and fullness of His power that He may be as the dew to them, full of gladness and strength, through all the heat and labor of the day."
 --  E. M. Bounds (Preacher and Prayer)

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Ugly Old Man

A few years ago, I took my daughter, Hannah, to Perkins Restaurant for a daddy-daughter date.

As we finished the last of our french fries, I waved down the waitress and asked for the bill. She smiled and said, "I have good news! Somebody else in the room paid it for you this evening."

"Who?" I wondered.

"Well, he said if you insisted on knowing, blame it on the old ugly man sitting across the dining room."

"Sitting where?" I asked.

She furtively nodded in the general direction. I glanced around the restaurant, and right away, I spotted Don, one of my parishioners, having dinner with his wife.

I strode across the dining room, and greeted Don cheerfully: "Thanks a million, you ugly old man, you!"

The startled expressions on their faces immediately informed me that I had made a big mistake! I'd picked the wrong ugly old man to thank!

"I beg your pardon?"

"Er. . . but. . . the waitress said. . ." I tried to explain with a red face, but the hole kept getting deeper. Finally, I quit digging. There was no graceful way out of this one.

Tom, another parishioner, sitting in a booth two tables away, roared with laughter, while his wife, Joan, rolled her eyes with a grin.

"That was the best entertainment I've had in years!" he hooted and slapped his knee. "Definitely worth the cost of a dinner!"

I made a hasty exit.

A few days later, Don's wife came by the church office.

"I really don't think your husband is an ugly old man. . . honest."

She just grinned.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

I Fought for You

For all those who served our country. . . Thank You!  Freedom always comes at a price.  I think your heart will be touched by this video:






Tuesday, November 10, 2015

East of the Evergreens: A Tribute to Veterans

A special Veteran's Day tribute by John Miller of Brule, Wisconsin:

 East of the evergreens lies a grassy knoll, which has been there from days of old.
 The only route to the grassy knoll is by a narrow, winding gravel road.
 A cloud of dust can be seen afar, created by a long procession of cars.
 Their travel resembles a snail's pace, passengers are with heavy hearts and somber face.
 As the procession arrives and comes to rest, many have come to pay their respects.
 Honoring a Veteran, America's best.

 Proceeding to the top of the grassy knoll, white crosses are visible in numerous rows.
 Near each cross there is placed a small American flag,
 Signifying those brave souls who were courageous and true,
 Who fought and died for the Red, White and Blue.
 Suffering, sacrifice and lives that were lost, the price of freedom at a terrible cost.

 The preacher made certain that everyone heard, this Veteran confessed that "Jesus is Lord",
 Assuring all he is now in a better place, with streets of gold and pearly gates,
 Telling all there is no cause to fear, for God shall wipe away all his tears.
 While his body lies in the grave, his spirit as returned back to God, because he was saved.
 He resides in his mansion forever more, because he confessed that Jesus is Lord.

 Honor guards step forward with the Veteran's final salute,
 With thundering sounds, they begin to shoot.
 They lower their rifles to the ground, after completion of 21 rounds.
 The American Flag is folded in a patriotic way,
 And presented to his widow who is standing near his grave.
 A new, white cross will be aligned with all the rest.
 A small American Flag will be placed near his monument,
 Signifying here is buried a Veteran, one of America's best

 The bugler begins playing taps, that sad, familiar sound,
 Around the grave, silence, no distractions are found.
 Before he finishes playing the final note,
 Many have tears in their eyes and a lump in their throat.
 The crowd disperses and the procession drives away,
 Only the family remains gathered around the grave.
 Reminiscing what the Veteran once told his family and wife,
 For freedom one day, he would have to sacrifice his life.

 Veterans and troops that are with us today,
 Let your ears hear the sincerity of our praise,
 For your sacrifice and years of service that you gave.
 Our freedom exists from the battles that you have won,
 You have persevered, your patience is second to none.
 Our appreciation for your commitment will never grow cold.
 Stories of selflessness will be forever told.
 Honor and respect will be heard long after you have been laid to rest,
 In that peaceful place, east of the evergreens, beneath the grassy knoll.

Veterans and troops, we will never forget.









Monday, November 09, 2015

How to Find Your Happiness

"If you seek your happiness in God alone, you will never be disappointed, if in anything else, you surely will, for all creatures are broken cisterns."  -- John Wesley

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Path to Peace in Jerusalem

In light of the recent violence in Israel, I share the following excerpt from my book, Filled Up, Poured Out:

Jerusalem literally means “City of Peace”, but down through the centuries, it has been anything but that. Although we continually “pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” (Psalm 122:6), the answer seems long delayed. Holy Land violence, like a simmering pot, threatens to boil over at any moment.

Touring the Old City a few years ago, our group witnessed a riot at the Wailing Wall. A woman rabbi from Manhattan decided to pray at the men’s section of the wall. The Orthodox rabbis went ballistic. Authorities locked down the gates and it took a whole platoon of soldiers to quell the uprising. Needless to say, I was glad to get out of there.

My dear Palestinian friend, Hanna Massad, has chosen not to get out of there. Exiled in Jordan after the last persecution, Hanna, a Baptist pastor, keeps coming back home to Gaza, one of the darkest places on earth.

Amidst raging conflict and deep poverty, he ministers between two fires: militant Islamic aggression, and harsh Israeli occupation.

Their Bible Society was bombed twice. The church was caught in the crossfire of a Hamas – Fatah shootout, critically injuring an employee. Arsonists torched the church’s public library on three separate occasions.

Extremists kidnapped Hanna’s friend and co-worker, Rami Ayyad, and executed him, simply because of his bold Christian testimony. He left behind two precious children, and grieving wife, Pauline, who was pregnant at the time, giving birth to a daughter a few months later.

Despite the persecution, Dr. Massad and his wife, Suhad, chose to remain in the Middle East to serve their suffering friends, rather than seek asylum in America. Standing with the vulnerable and poor, they stand with Jesus as they feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for orphans, proclaim the Gospel, encourage the saints, and train leaders.

There is not a hint of bitterness in this godly pastor. His tender spirit reminds me of Jesus, who approaching Jerusalem, wept, and said, “If you, only you had known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:42).

The Palestinians and Israelis don’t see it yet, but Hanna and Suhad offer the illusive key to ending the Middle East conflict: Christ’s peace.

Just as the Nativity brought poor Jewish shepherds and rich Arabic wise men together in one humble place, so the gracious work of Jesus ripples forth from the Massad’s and other sincere Middle Eastern believers, as they sow seeds of righteousness, expecting a harvest of peace.

Click Here to learn more about Hanna Massad's Mission to Gaza 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Having the Right Eyes

"I remember the puzzlement and insecurity of one's first confrontation with his work, along with his name, which is just as new. And then for a long time, nothing, and suddenly one has the right eyes."

-- Poet Rainer Rilkie describing his first exposure to work of artist Cezanne

Monday, October 26, 2015

How Much "Having" Does a Person Have to Have?

How much "having" does a person have to have?

“How much money would it take to make you happy?”  Someone reputedly asked business tycoon, John D. Rockefeller, how much money it would take to make him happy.”

The business magnate replied, “Just a little bit more!”  But then, again. . . maybe not.

Contentment, after all, isn’t having what you want. It’s wanting what you have.

Leo Tolstoy, the great Russian author, told of Parkham, a poor peasant who dreamed of having a "break" in life. Much to his good fortune, he heard about a tremendous opportunity in a distant place. The government said that he could have all of the land he could encircle by foot in a day.
Excited about this wonderful possibility, Parkham sold all of his possessions and journeyed to the place where he could pursue his dream of becoming a landowner.

At the first crack of dawn, Parkham took off to claim his land! He ran at top speed all day long. Nothing was going to deter him! He wanted to cover as much territory as possible before the sun went down. Without stopping for food, water, or rest, he continued his relentless pace through the heat of the day.

Just as the sun began to set, Parkham completed the circle! He was the proud owner of a huge estate! His lifelong dream had been fulfilled. Oh, the sweetness of victory!

Then, the exhausted Parkham suddenly dropped dead. All he needed now was about six feet of earth.

"What good is it for a man to gain the whole world and yet lose or forfeit his very self?" (Luke 9:25)

Friday, October 23, 2015

I Prayed for You Today

Even though I wasn’t sure exactly what to say,
 I talked to God and spoke your name. I prayed for you today.

I asked the Lord to give you strength, to calm you from your stress,
 To free you from the things you fear and bathe your mind with rest.

I asked the Lord to help you in the uphill days to come.
 I asked our precious, loving God to complete what He’s begun.

He whispered in the quiet and He filled my heart with peace.
 He said that you are deeply loved, and that His love will never cease.
 --  Greg Asimakoupoulos

Monday, October 19, 2015

Love is in the Listening

The following is an excerpt from my first book, Filled Up, Poured Out:

You and I were given two ears and one mouth. That’s because we’re supposed to listen twice as much as we speak; but talking and explaining come easier than hearing and understanding.

Why is it so hard to listen? Consider this: We speak at 100 to 150 words per minute. We are able to comprehend at 250 to 300 words per minute. We think at 600 words per minute. So, if you are a fast thinker (600 wpm) and the other person is a slow talker (100 wpm), you still have 500 words per minute left over for thinking about other stuff. For efficient folks, that’s a lot of wasted communication space. Therefore, the fast listener tends to zone out and think about a myriad of other things. Zoning out is evidenced by such responses: “Um hmm,” “Yes, dear,” “I don’t know,” and “Whatever.” Listening is hard work.

True listening is more than hearing the words. It’s processing those words and seeking to understand their depth and meaning. As Jim Elliot journaled, “Wherever you are, be all there." Margaret Wheatley said, “Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but we don’t have to do anything else. We don’t have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen.”

“Momma, are you listening to me?” little Heidi wondered. “Um hmm,” the distracted mother replied. “No, Momma, I need you to listen with your eyes!”

Lately, my family has been making fun of my hearing loss. I make them repeat everything, and then accuse them of mumbling. It’s my price for listening to Bob Dylan through headphones as a teenager. Since I can’t hear as well these days, I’m trying to listen better.

Being hard of hearing is not nearly as bad as hard of listening.

Christians have a reputation of being hard of listening. As Rick Warren noted, “For some time now, the hands and feet of the body of Christ have been amputated, and we’ve been pretty much reduced to a big mouth.”

Sigurd Olson, the Northwoods naturalist, affectionately dubbed his wilderness cabin on northern Minnesota’s Burntside Lake, “Listening Point.” Sig explained, “I named this place Listening Point because only when one comes to listen, only when one is aware and still, can things be seen and heard.”

Can you imagine how rich our relationships would be if we approached them all as listening points?

Every person, after all, has a fascinating story. Dave Isay, the founder of StoryCorps, discovered this traveling across America in the daunting task of archiving the nation’s oral history. He recorded over ten thousand personal stories and concluded, “Listening is an act of love.”

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Solution Finding is Better Than Fault Finding

In any given situation, there are two kinds of people:  Fault Finders and Solution Finders.

Fault Finders immediately see the flaws of the world, the nation, the community, and others.  They seem to get a morose satisfaction in pointing them out.  Of course, there’s no intelligent alternative solution offered – only criticism.

Fault Finding isn’t rocket science.  You don’t have to be very bright to gripe and complain.  In fact, such behavior indicates small mindedness.

Great minds talk about great ideas.  Average minds talk about the weather.  Small minds talk about other people.  Or, as Benjamin Disraeli said, “To belittle is to be little.”

Solution Finders, on the other hand, commit themselves to the harder work.  Like the Fault Finders, they see the problems – but unlike them, they believe there’s a positive solution if you keep looking.  Solution Finders believe that every problem contains the seeds of its own solution.

Fault Finders arrive at the problem, and then pitch their tents at Complaint Campground.  It’s easier to whine about a problem than to go about the hard work of tackling it.

Solution Finders won’t let a problem stand in the way for long.  For them, difficulties are detours rather than destination points.  They believe in GROWING through the hardships rather than just GOING through them.

Fault Finders spend their energies fixing the blame.  Solution Finders invest themselves in fixing the problem.

Fault Finders view little bumps along the path as roadblocks to progress.  Solution Finders view huge mountains as challenges to be conquered.

At the end of the day, the Solution Finders make things happen, while the Fault Finders criticize and condemn.

I’d rather be criticized for doing something, than to criticize and do nothing.

I’m reminded of the great evangelist, D. L. Moody, who was rebuked by an agitated detractor, “Moody, I don’t like your methods of evangelism!”

To this, Moody replied, “And tell me sir, what are your methods of evangelism?”

“I don’t have any.”

“Then,” said Moody, “ I like mine better than yours.”

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Deeper Experiences of Famous Christians

A tattered book on my library shelf, Deeper Experiences of Famous Christians, by James Gilchrist Lawson, has been a tremendous blessing and spiritual benefit to me down through the years.  The stories of these godly men and women from the past inspire me to plunge in to the deep end of the prayer pool -- and live in the overflow of holy love.

A digital copy is available here for free.

Monday, October 05, 2015

And Then I Shall Be Free

 
Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free.
 Force me to render up my sword, and I shall conqueror be.
 I sink in life’s alarms when by myself I stand;
 Imprison me within Thine arms, and strong shall be my hand.
-- George Matheson

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Shooting Blessings

The following excerpt is adapted from my first book, Filled Up, Poured Out: How God’s Spirit Can Revive Your Passion and Purpose:

------------

Driving down Main Street, several years ago with my little girl in the back seat, I glanced in the rearview mirror, and caught her aiming a finger gun at unsuspecting pedestrians. “Pow! Pow! Pow!”

“Hannah, cut that out!” I scolded, “It’s not nice. We don’t shoot people; we bless them.”

After riding in silence for a few minutes, she started up again—this time with two fingers, “Pow! Pow! Pow!”

“Hannah, didn’t I tell you to stop shooting people?”

“But Daddy,” she replied, “this time, I’m shooting blessings!”

Shooting blessings requires a few essentials.

Positive Energy
Some folks run on positive juice, and others run on negative. We bring blessing with the positive.

Encouraging Words
Everyone’s imperfect, but we must look for the good rather than finding fault. Building up others is called edification, and this begins at home. Are you speaking your most encouraging words to those closest to you?

We all need encouragement, but that won’t come in families or communities bent on devouring one another. Focus on the good in each other.

Common Ground
An attitude of superiority is easily detected and alienates us from others. We must remember that we are no better than anybody else. We are all made of the same stuff.

Mission Enlistment
One of the best ways to bless people is to get them to help you serve others. An invitation to join you in helping those in need is a great way to bring a blessing. You can’t bless somebody else without being blessed yourself.

The Big Yes Bias
When it comes to blessing people, we should always have a “Yes, I care about you” attitude, and every “no” must be spoken within the context of the bigger “yes.” The art of gracious refusal is a valuable skill to learn.

How you treat others is more important than just about anything else. Poet Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Thursday, September 24, 2015

How to Evict Worry From Your Life

Two men were climbing a steep hill on a bicycle built for two. When they finally made it to the top, the first man said, "Whew! That was a stiff climb. I think it was the hardest hill I've ever been on.""It certainly was," his companion replied, "and if I hadn't kept the brake on, we would have slid down backwards!"

When we worry, it's like pedaling uphill with the brakes on. Anxious thoughts make life ten times harder.

Unfortunately, our natural human tendency is to worry about our situations. Is there anybody on this earth who is not familiar with the uncomfortable gnawing of worry in the belly? I seriously doubt it.

Yet, although worry is familiar to us all, we don't have to treat it like a welcomed guest. In fact, we have every right in the world to kick it out! "No Vacancy" -- There's no place for anxious thinking here!

How can we evict worry from our lives? Let me offer a few suggestions:

1. Talk to yourself!
A great way to abolish worry is to ask yourself the right questions such as,
* Why am I feeling tense right now?
* Will the world end if what I'm worrying about comes true?
* Is stewing over this making it any better?
* Who else is worked up over this issue? Why or why not?
* Is this worth losing sleep?
* What is the bottom line fear in this situation?
* So what?

2. Sell yourself some hope.
Y ou've already been selling yourself on fear, tension, and all the "What if's". Why not switch gears and start looking for what's going right?

Elmer Wheeler, in The Wealth Within You, said, "we become courageous by the same process that we become fearful; successful and confident by the same process that we become failures. Both are ideas that we sell ourselves. If you are timid and fearful or feel inferior, you do not need to learn the technique of selling ideas to yourself. You are already a past master at the art. All you need to do is change the ideas you sell. Suggest confidence to yourself in exactly the same way you have been suggesting failure."

3. Seek wise counsel.
It really helps to talk the issue through with someone who has a level head and the wisdom of experience. Good advice is worth more than gold.

4. Pray about it. 
A burden is really a call to prayer. If it's big enough to fret about, it's big enough to pray about. The Bible tells us to cast our cares upon the Lord because He cares for us! Prayer increases faith, which puts the kabosh on worry.

5. Take a dose of reality.
Worry casts long shadows on little things. It exaggerates the problem, and turns mice into monsters. If you think your situation is really bad, why not look around? You will find lots of people who have it worse. Chances are, your problems are not nearly as terrible as they seem.

6. Think "through" not "to".
Often, people think "to" a difficulty and then panic. When we come up against a big problem and then camp out, it only leads to frustration and worry. The much better path is to keep exploring solutions. Refuse to let the issue get the best of you. Working at a solution drains the worry away.

7. Keep moving forward.
Worry and positive action don't usually go together -- You're either invested in one or the other. If you're spinning the worry wheels -- it's better to get onto another track of thinking.