Thursday, February 26, 2015

25 Self Reflection Questions

1. What is the "hub" of your life? (The central theme)
2. If someone were to look at your calendar and checkbook, what would they discover about your priorities? 
3. What is your single greatest strength?
4. What is your earliest memory from childhood? Is there any connection between this memory and your life today? 
5. Where do you invest your most significant emotional energy?
6. What role does God, prayer, the Bible, and church play in your life? 
7. What "turns your crank"? What do you love to do? 
8. Regarding the above question -- Are you carving out time to do it? If not -- Why not? 
9. What holds you back from being your best? 
10. Who has had the most significant influence upon your life?
11. Are you happy with the condition of your inner life?
12. When do you "recharge" your emotional and spiritual batteries?
13. Are there any unresolved issues poisoning your mind and heart?
14. Have you forgiven everybody as far as you know?
15. Is there any restitution you should make?
16. Is your love for your family members reflected in the time you spend with them?
17. How do you communicate your affection and appreciation?
18. What is your plan for personal growth?
19. What helpful books have you read recently? What are you reading right now? What are you going to read next?
20. Who needs your help? What can you do to make a difference?
21. What are your unique gifts and abilities? How can you maximize them?
22. Does your attitude need an adjustment? Are you a hopeful optimist or a frustrated pessimist?
23. What problems are weighing you down? How can you get on the "solution side"?
24. What vision do you have for the future? What do you hope to accomplish?
25. What three changes could you make that would bring about a significant improvement?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

My Greatest Spiritual Task

“The great spiritual task facing me is to so fully trust that I belong to God that I can be free in the world–free to speak even when my words are not received; free to act even when my actions are criticized, ridiculed, or considered useless…. I am convinced that I will truly be able to love the world when I fully believe that I am loved far beyond its boundaries.” -- Henri Nouwen

"Don't wrestle -- just nestle." -- Corrie Ten Boom

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Cowbells for Hermann

In honor of the 42nd Birkie today, I am re-posting this delightful story from my first book, Filled Up, Poured Out:

Hayward is home of the American Birkebeiner, North America’s largest cross country ski race. 10,500 skiers come from almost every state and many nations to compete in this world-class event. Spectators line snow-covered Main Street, ringing cowbells and cheering weary skiers across the finish line.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 20, 2015

God Gets Better as He Goes

A little girl, sitting on Grandpa's lap as he read her a bedtime story, asked  "Grandpa, did God make you?"

"Yes, sweetheart," he answered, "God made me a long time ago."

"Oh," she paused, "Grandpa, did God make me too?"

"Yes, indeed, honey," he said, "God made you just a little while ago."

"God's getting better at it, isn't he ?"

Thursday, February 19, 2015

God Misrepresented

"Revival is when God gets so tired of being misrepresented, he shows himself." -- Leonard Ravenhill

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Lutefisk, Lent and Great Faith

In honor of Ash Wednesday, I'm re-posting the following story from my first book, Filled Up, Poured Out:  How God's Spirit Can Revive Your Passion and Purpose.

Northern Wisconsin is Lutheran and Catholic territory, and this means two things: Lutefisk before Christmas, and Lent before Easter. I didn’t know much about either growing up. Until moving to Hayward, I had never heard of Lutefisk, and figured Lent was stuff you trap in the dryer.

Living in the Northwoods, I’ve discovered that Lutefisk is a piece of cod that passes all understanding. (Actually, it’s a rather unappetizing, gelatinous Nordic dish made from dried, salted whitefish and lye.) We’ll let the Lutherans keep it.

Lent, however, is something we’ve happily pilfered from our more liturgical brethren. We start with Ash Wednesday, forty days before Easter. I smudge ashes on the foreheads of willing parishioners, repeating, “From dust you’ve come, to dust you shall return.”

For a few years, I drove over to St. Joe’s a couple days before the Lenten season and borrowed ashes from my Catholic priest buddy, Father Bill. He pulled my leg when I asked him where he obtained the ashes. “From the funeral home, of course.” He said it with such a straight face that I believed him at first.

When Father Bill retired, I lost my ash stash. Before leaving town, he finally divulged that the ashes come from last year’s Palm Sunday branches. So now I hoard dead palm branches in my filing cabinet.

The first time I tried to burn palm branches, I nearly set the house on fire, and our smoke alarm shrieked. Cathy sent me and my pan of smoking palm fronds out the back door, and instructed me to never burn them in the oven again. So, I’ve had to take my cremation operation outdoors.

It’s fitting that the ashes are leftovers from Palm Sunday. We can’t depend on yesterday’s praises to get us through today’s problems. Former glory fades to ashes and dust.

A couple of years ago, while smudging foreheads, I decided what to sacrifice for Lent. Normally, people give up stuff like candy, coffee, television, and Facebook in order test their spiritual resolve.

I gave up doubt. I determined that for forty days I would respond to every situation with this question: What would great faith have me do?

This commitment was tested immediately. In fact, I still had the ash smudge on my forehead when our high school pastor, Loretta, came bursting into my office with an exciting but expensive idea. Her enthusiasm bubbled over. “So, what do you think?” she asked eagerly. Dollar signs rolled in my head. How on earth were we going to pay for that? But I needed to keep my vow. What would great faith have me do? I gulped, grinned through gritted teeth, and replied, “Sure, what a splendid opportunity. Let’s go for it.”

And that’s the way it went for the next forty days, responding to every situation with the greatest faith I could muster. Was I ever glad when Easter came, so I could go back to my old pattern of doubting and fretting!

An excerpt from my book, Filled Up, Poured Out: How God’s Spirit Can Revive Your Passion and Purpose : Purchase via Wesleyan Publishing House or Amazon

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Training Only Goes So Far

"The question I want you to consider is simply this: Which is more important, the birth or the training? I suggested what training can do and what it cannot do. And so the matter comes down to this: the nature we have is the one we were born with. Training can go so far, but birth, especially the new birth, establishes the true nature. And this is the difference between what I will call “denominational churchianity” and true Christianity. We are training people every week to be good church people. But when left to themselves, they will revert to their real nature and act like themselves. They have been trained to act like a good Christian on Sunday, but it is only an act. The rest of the week they act like themselves, naturally."

-- A. W. Tozer, "Experiencing the Presence of God"

Monday, February 16, 2015

To Love is to Be Vulnerable

"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wronged and possibly broken. If you want to be sure of keeping your heart intact, you must give your heart to no-one - not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully around with hobbies and little luxuries. Avoid all entanglements with others. Lock it up safely in the coffin or casket of your selfishness. But in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless - it will change. It will not become broken. It will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The only place outside of heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love is hell."   -- C. S. Lewis

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Good Marriage Requires Star Dust

Several years ago, while straightening up after a wedding rehearsal, I found a candy valentine heart lying near the altar.

"Hmmm", I thought, "Maybe there's a little nugget here for tomorrow's wedding sermon." I was hoping to find one of the old standard phrases such as "Love Forever", "Truly Yours", or "Ever Devoted". Instead, I was disappointed to find that this little green heart said, "Star Dust." "Star Dust?" I exclaimed, "Good grief! Who thinks up this stuff anyhow? They were scraping the bottom of the barrel with that one!  How on earth can I use Star Dust in a wedding sermon?"  Here's how I figured it out:

Unfortunately, too many people have a "Star Dust" view of love. They think there's some magical poof from Cupid, and they'll live happily ever after. Before long, however, the "Star Dust" turns to "Star Wars." Marriages may be made in heaven, but they have to be worked out on earth. Then -- a brainstorm hit me! If a marriage is going to go the distance, it needs the another sort of S.T.A.R.D.U.S.T.

S- Spiritual Foundation
When a couple has a rock solid spiritual commitment, they love each other more deeply. The Bible says God is love -- and as we love Him more, our love for each other increases. No other foundation stands strong through life's storms. Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain that build it.

T -- Troubles
Every relationship runs into troubles sooner or later. As my sweetheart, Cathy, said, "You can't love deeply until you've been through some 'stuff' together." She's absolutely right. With open hearts and humble spirits, we will learn and grow through adversity. The very things that threaten to tear us apart draw us closer together.

A -- Attitude Adjustments
We all have the tendency to slide into negativism and fault finding. Every day, we must take our thoughts captive and refocus our attitudes. If you look for the best (or the worst) in your partner, you will find it.

R -- Responsibility
In a strong marriage, both partners take full responsibility to make it work. It's not a 50-50 proposition -- but a 100% commitment on both sides. "I will go the extra mile for you." 

D -- Dedication/Devotion
This says, "I will be yours forever. The other 'D' word (divorce) will not be a part of our vocabulary. I am determined to do whatever it takes to build a great relationship. This requires honesty, humility and the courage to resolve difficult issues.  It's hard work -- but the reward far outweighs the price.

U -- Understanding
Seek to understand rather than to be understood. George Truett said, "The reason why marriage is for a lifetime is because that's how long it takes to understand each other." Actually, understanding is a wonderful journey -- an exploration into the fascinating person God has placed into your life.

S -- Selflessness
I believe almost 100% of marriage problems are a result of selfishness. The best way to marriage harmony is to have a mindset that says, "I'm here to serve."

T -- Trust and Tenderness
Trust is the glue that holds homes together. This is why truthfulness is so vital to every marriage. Tender thoughts, words and actions are love expressed! True love shouldn't remain bottled up inside. It must be communicated.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Finney's Great Refreshing

". . . that times of refreshing may come from the Lord." -- Acts 3:19

Ministry is so intense when you put your whole heart into it, that it automatically leads to depletion. We must have continual refreshings from the Lord in order to flourish.  Without the inner refreshing, ministry becomes a heavy burden.  There is no greater frustration than serving from an empty soul.

Soul work is hard work.  It takes time, effort and courage to make the necessary space for prayer and inner reflection.   It's much easier to hit the ground running full speed ahead -- tackling "to do" lists, and responding to demands, duties and details.   We accomplish many tasks on the run -- but the great question at the end of the day is "am I doing the most important thing?  How is it with my soul?"

There is never enough of us to go around, and so the work always remains undone.  There are always more people to serve, more projects to undertake, more loose ends to tie up.  This is why hearing from God and living at a prayerful pace is so essential.  When we're close enough to hear the Savior whisper, he will tell us just what we need to do to please him.   It it okay to leave the rest until later.

The great 19th Century evangelist, Charles Finney recorded such a season of depletion in his own life.   His schedule was full, serving as pastor of a thriving congregation in New York as well as teaching theology at Oberlin College in Ohio, and he found himself spiritually and emotionally drained.  He desperately needed a time of refreshing.  Finney's biographer, Basil Miller, records the following reflections:

That last winter in New York God was pleased to visit my soul with a great refreshing.  After a season of great searching of heart, he brought me. . . into a large place and gave me much of that diving sweetness in my soul.  That last winter, I had a thorough breaking up; so much so that sometimes for a considerable period I could not refrain from loud weeping. . . Such seasons were frequent that winter and resulted in great renewal of my spiritual strength and enlargement of my views in regard to the privileges of Christians and the abundance of the grace of God.

Lord, please fill my heart so I can serve you daily with joy from the overflow.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Four Ingredients for Having a Good Day

Would you like to have a good day?  It's possible.

My friend, Stan Toler, recently shared the following insights on the subject, and  graciously granted me permission to share them with you:

Not everyone can have a great day. The sun doesn't always shine. Factually, the customer isn't always right. The traffic lights aren't always in sync. BUT, EVERYONE CAN HAVE A GOOD DAY. Let me give you 4 ingredients for having a good day.

Nothing puts a cloud over a sunny day any more than mind-wrestling a To-Do list. Go ahead and get crankin’ on that to-do item staring at you like a mean dog. At least start on it. Take a small step, it may prompt another. Doing all or part of something that needs to be done is a push toward the finish.

Your day isn't complete until you've done something for yourself. That’s not selfish, it’s actually generous. When you reward yourself with doing something you like to do, you’ll be in a better condition to serve others. Take yourself out for breakfast or lunch. Grab a book and go to a secluded spot, without looking around or back. Time for yourself will give you a boost for giving time to others. The “break” in “breakthrough” is like a musical Rest before the Crescendo

I don’t know what there is about a plan, but when it starts coming together it’s like washing down an energy bar with an Espresso. (Or if you’re from West Virginia like me, it’s like washing down a Moon Pie with an RC Cola.) A visionary, well-crafted development plan has legs. You may not get past the planning stage today, but you’ll be farther along than yesterday!

Find the fourth ingredient here

You don’t have to make a day out of these four ingredients, but take a taste of each and you’ll have a better day. “Annie” was right “tomorrow is only a day away.”

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Long-Haul Measuring Stick is Character

A few years ago, our family visited the birthplaces of two famous Americans on the same day - inventor, Thomas Edison and former president, Warren G. Harding.

When we arrived in Milan, Ohio, we immediately noticed that they were proud of their native son, Thomas Edison. A big sign on the edge of the small village proclaimed this was his birthplace. A statue of Edison graced the public square in the center of town. His family home had been restored, with a museum dedicated to his honor. Even the street lights were erected in Edison's memory, as was the Edison Family Restaurant, and the Edison Memorial Methodist Church.

Leaving Milan, I remarked that those folks sure were proud of Thomas Edison - especially considering the fact that he moved away in early childhood.

A couple of hours later, we arrived in Blooming Grove, Ohio, where Warren G. Harding was born.

We were surprised to discover the only thing denoting Harding's birth was an insignificant, faded historical marker languishing near a farm house.

"How does this figure?" I wondered. "Why does an inventor get a whole town to memorialize him, while a president only gets a dinky little sign?"

It wasn't about power. Harding certainly had much more clout than Edison. It wasn't about fame. Harding was recognized throughout the entire world.

My theory - I think it was about character.

Edison is known today for his persistence, creativity, and determination. He invented the light bulb after over a thousand failures. He's the one who said that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

Harding, on the other hand, is known today for the scandals of his administration, his dishonesty, his immorality, and his willingness to "bend the rules" to fit his agenda.

Edison had character - and the town of his birth still celebrates. Harding was a character - and he gets a sign by the chicken coop.

The moral - the greatness of a person is measured by integrity and truth.

Your position in life is not nearly as important as your disposition.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Small Church Pastors Need Both Skis

Pastoral work glides on two skis:  leading and loving -- and love is always the lead ski.

I used to think that loving was the only ski required for an effective small church pastorate.  But that is not the case.  Most small church parishioners want their pastor to take them somewhere.  They desire to make a difference for eternity rather than merely going around in circles.  They long for life, energy, spiritual passion and momentum.  They want to see something happen!

It is a myth that members of small congregations don't want change.  Except for a few dysfunctional power brokers, saints in small churches don't want to settle for status-quo.  As Carey Nieuwhof says, "most people actually want change.  They just want well-led change."  (And some of the "dysfunctional power brokers are just good-hearted folk who love their church too much to let it be hijacked by stupidity.)

Resistance to pastoral leadership in a small church is almost always a matter of trust.   They want their pastor to lead -- but are afraid they may be led off a cliff.   They want to know their shepherd really cares for them -- individually and corporately as a flock.  

Earning trust requires humility, compassion, understanding, and good deal of empathetic listening.  It means helping them fulfill their deep desire for spiritual renewal and mission engagement.

Effective small church leadership is loving the church too much to let her languish in the swamp of despair and mediocrity.  It is removing obstacles that get in the way of Christ's mission of multiplying disciples by inviting, connecting, growing and sending.

Love is the the entrance ticket.  If you don't love them, you can't lead them.  But leading is the responsibility of every pastor -- regardless of congregation's size.

(Photo from American Birkebeiner Foundation)

Friday, February 06, 2015

Working Hard vs Hard Work

There is a huge difference between working hard and doing the hard work.  By keeping ourselves busy with overwhelming responsibilities, a multitude of tasks, and packed schedules, we have an excuse for avoiding difficult conversations and hard decisions.

If things are sagging, don't defend yourself by pointing out how hard you are working.  Instead, ask yourself whether or not you've been avoiding the hard work.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

The Beautiful Melting of Christmas Evans

This morning, while reading one of my old favorites, The Revival We Need, by Oswald Smith, I came upon this delightful passage from the great Welsh minister, Christmas Evans.  What a beautiful reminder!

"I was weary of a cold heart towards Christ and His sacrifice, and the work of His Spirit---of a cold heart in the pulpit, in secret prayer, and in study, for fifteen years previously, I had felt my heart burning within, as if going to Emmaus with Jesus.

"On a day ever to be remembered by me, as I was climbing up towards Cadair Idris, I considered it to be incumbent upon me to pray, however hard I felt in my heart, and however worldly the frame of my spirit was. Having begun in the name of Jesus, I soon felt, as it were, the fetters loosening, and the old hardness of heart softening, and, as I thought, mountains of frost and snow dissolving and melting within me.

"This engendered confidence in my soul in the promise of the Holy Ghost. I felt my whole mind relieved from some great bondage; tears flowed copiously, and I was constrained to cry out for the gracious visits of God, by restoring to my soul the joys of His salvation; and that He would visit the churches of the saints, and nearly all the ministers in the principality by their names.

"This struggle lasted for three hours: it rose again and again, like one wave after another, or a high flowing tide, driven by a strong wind, until my nature became faint by weeping and crying. Thus I resigned myself to Christ, body and soul, gifts and labors--all my life---every day, and every hour that remained for me; and all my cares I committed to Christ.

"From this time I was made to expect the goodness of God to churches, and to myself. In the first religious meetings after this, I felt as if I had been removed from the cold and sterile regions of spiritual frost, into the verdant fields of Divine promises."  --Christmas Evans.