Monday, March 30, 2015

The Unsought Treasure

"The knowledge of God is the most glorious treasure anyone could possess, yet in most civilized countries there is but one institution engaged in promoting that knowledge, and even that institution is not working very hard at it."  -- A. W. Tozer

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Everything is Love in the Overflow

"I walked out over Boston Common before breakfast, weeping for joy and praising God. Oh, how I loved! In that hour I knew Jesus, and I loved Him till it seemed my heart would break with love. I was filled with love for all His creatures. I heard the little sparrows chattering; I loved them. I saw a little worm wriggling across my path; I stepped over it; I didn’t want to hurt any living thing. I loved the dogs, I loved the horses, I loved the little urchins on the street, I loved the strangers who hurried past me, I loved the heathen, I loved the whole world."   
--  Samuel Brengle, Salvation Army leader and evangelist, sharing about his personal immersion in Holy Love  

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Face Your Fear

Fear is a terrorist, lurking in the shadows of our hearts -- waiting to attack at any moment. 

Fear keeps us from achieving success. It destroys our dreams. It dashes our hopes. Immeasurable damage is caused by this small four-letter word.  As we run the race of life, fear is a rope that tangles itself around our legs, causing us to stumble, to falter, and to fail.

Theologian, Paul Tillich, stated that our fears put frightening masks over people and things. They appear to be more dreadful than they really are. When we remove the mask, the terror disappears.

Strangers are not so terrible when we view them as fellow human beings. The future is not nearly so fearful when we see it as it is -- realizing that life will go on.

"There is nothing to fear," quoted Franklin D. Roosevelt, 'but fear itself." It is the greatest enemy of courage, progress, and enthusiasm.  As Pogo said, "We have met the enemy -- and he is us!"

So, how do we attack fear head on, rather than waiting for it to attack us?

1. Trust in Your Creator.
The 23rd Psalm says, "I will fear no evil because you are with me." This presence brings calmness and eliminates anxiety. 

2. Practice Courage. 
Do the courageous thing -- even if it scares you to death! "Build dikes of courage," said Martin Luther King Jr, "to hold back the flood of fear." 

Meet your fears with a reservoir of courage, and they will melt away like April snow!

3. Love Sincerely. 
True love casts our fear. If you love others, you will not fear them. If you love life, it will not terrify you.

4. Keep Moving Forward. 
Do not allow small fears to discourage and defeat you.. Move ahead! Keep plugging away! Dare to take a chance! 

Life is too short to remain handcuffed to anxious stomach-churning thoughts. Break the chains, be bold, and conquer your fears today!  As Zig Ziglar said, "F.E.A.R. means Forget Everything and Run or Face Everything and Rise."  The choice is yours!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Praying the Seven Last Words of Christ

It is significant that Jesus prayed from the cross. While experiencing the worst torture a human being could endure  – he prayed.

 Most of us, in such moments of anguish, would succumb to the suffering. Our prayers would be diminished to one word: “Help!”  Reflecting on the worst moments of my life, I must admit “Help!” is the most sincere prayer I’ve ever uttered.

 Yet, Jesus went beyond a prayer for help at Golgotha. His prayers from the cross reveal the intensity of his pain – yet, a deep love pouring from his heart. Instead of being consumed with himself, he turned his focus to God and others.

 The old adage states, “We all have our cross to bear.” In our moments of anguish, we can look to Jesus, and see how he responded in his darkest valley. A review of Good Friday events shows that Jesus did three things:

1) He pressed into prayer.
2) He poured out love.
3) He surrendered all to God.

 What an example for us! In deep sorrow and suffering, we, too, can press into prayer, pour out love, and surrender all to God.

 The prayers of Christ from the cross serve as an excellent model for our praying during this holy week:

 1) Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34)

 Are you holding bitterness and resentment in your heart? Who has wronged you? Are you struggling to forgive? If you can’t bring yourself to forgive them, ask God to do the forgiving for you. Forgiveness is for our own benefit. Carrying resentment is like swallowing poison and hoping the other person will die.

 2) Today you will be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:43)

Who is lost, broken and hurting? Pray for those who are suffering from their own decisions. Rather than judge them, love them. Remember we all need grace, and our past mistakes do not necessariy dictate our future. Focus on the life beyond this life, and how God’s love draws us to where we need to be. Trust those who are wandering to God’s care.

3) Behold your mother. (John 19:26-27)

Are you so consumed with your own pain that you are neglecting those closest you? What do your dearest loved ones need from you? Do you know how they’re doing? Pray for them. Love them deeply. Show them your concern.

4) My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Mat. 27:46, Mark 15:34)

Admit your deep despair and loneliness. Where and when do you feel rejected and forsaken? This prayer comes from Psalm 22. Remind yourself that Psalm 23 follows immediately. We are never alone. In the darkest valley, God is with us.

5) I thirst. (John 19:28)

What is your deep seated thirst? What do you think you need to survive? Thirst for praise? Thirst for acceptance? Thirst for significance? Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.

6) It is finished. (John 19:30)

What needs finishing in your life? What have you begun, but not completed? What is God’s calling for you – his unique mission? Are you following it? If not, what stands in the way? What parts of you are still “under construction?” Be patient with others, they are still under construction too. “Be patient with me. God is not finished with me yet.”

7) Into your hands I commit my spirit. (Luke 23:46)

What do you need to release into God’s hands? Have you been trying to control outcomes and other people? Let them go. Release them into the hands of your loving father. Are you concerned about your future? Your past? Are you confused about your present situation? Are you struggling emotionally? Spiritually? Relationally? Physically? Surrender all to God.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Prayer of Thomas Merton

"My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow if death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone." 
 -- Thomas Merton

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Purpose of Theology is Doxology

"We should never forget that the purpose of theology is doxology; we study in order to praise.  The truest expression of trust in God will always be worship to praise God for being greater than we know."
--  Geneva Study Bible note

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Six Steps to the Throne

My sermon this morning, "Six Steps to the Throne", was inspired by a chapter from In The Day of Thy Power, by Arthur Wallis.

In 2 Chronicles 9:18 we read that there were six steps to the throne of King Solomon.  And in our prayer life, there are six steps to the throne of God:  The King of Kings.

Step 1:  Abiding in Christ

John 15:5-7
I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

This means being connected to Christ -- living in Christ - being at home with him.  There is a huge difference between saying prayers and being a person of prayer.

Two ways we become disconnected:  Disobedience (Ps, 66:18) and Neglect.  Is Jesus your spare tire or your steering wheel?

Step 2: In the Will of God

1 John 5:14-15
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

Bobby Richardson, baseball great, once prayed, "Dear God, your will.   Nothing more.  Nothing less. Nothing else."

Will of God should not be used to excuse our doubt and unbelief.  It is a great statement of faith!
How do we discern God's will?
A.  Scripture -- God's Word is always His will.
B.  Leading of the Holy Spirit - If we ask, He will show us.

Step 3: In Faith

Mark 11:22-24:
Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

Faith is bold confidence and quiet trust:  laying hold of God, and believing His promises.

Step 4:  In the Name of Jesus

John 14:13-14: 
 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

The name of Jesus is not a little tag or magic incantation at the end of a prayer.  It means praying in the authority of Jesus.  There is power in his name!

"Amen" doesn't end the prayer -- but shoots it out!  "So be it!"

Step 5:  In the Spirit:

Jude 1:20-21: 
 But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

Wesley Duewel calls the Holy Spirit our indwelling prayer partner (Jesus is our enthroned prayer partner.)

The Holy Spirit draws us to prayer, energizes us, convicts us, brings a prayer burden (especially in emergencies), and provides vision for future direction.

Praying in the Spirit means praying in holy love.

Step 6:  In Unity:

Matthew 18:19: 
Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.

Not in unison but in harmony with one another.  We may have differences, but our hearts are in harmony.

Disunity, resentment and unforgiveness hinder our prayers.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Drink from the Stream Along the Way

Recently, I found great refreshment from this poem by Susan Coolidge, based on Psalm 110:7, "He shall drink from the brook along the way."   It was in an old 19th Century volume in my collection,  Guests of the Heart, by Adam Craig:

The way is hot, the way is long,
'Tis weary hours to even-song,
And we must travel though we tire;
But all the time beside the road
Trickle the small rills of God,
At hand for our desire.

Quick mercies, small amenities,
Brief moments of repose and ease,
We stoop, and drink, and so fare on,
Unpausing, but re-nerved in strength
From hour to hour, until at length,
Night falleth, and the day is done.

The birds sip of the wayside rill,
And raise their heads in praises, still
Upborne upon their flashing wings:
So drinking thus along the way,
Our little meed of thanks we pay
To Him who fills the water spring.

And deals with equal tenderness
The larger mercies and the less:
"O Lord, of good the fountain free,
Close by our hard day's journeying
Be thou the all-sufficient spring,
And hourly let us drink of thee.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Be a Witness, Not a Judge

An excerpt from my book, Purple Fish: A Heart for Sharing Jesus:

Some church folks, as Marshall Shelley observed, are “well intentioned dragons. Their earnest desire for setting things (and people) right comes off wrong. “Nothing has done greater damage to our Christian testimony,” said Watchman Nee, “than our trying to be right and demanding right of others.”

A Barna group survey conducted a few years ago found that 90 percent of non-Christian young people between the ages of sixteen and twenty-nine view Christians as judgmental. Perhaps one reason for this is because we have assumed the wrong role in the courthouse. We play the part of judge, jury, or prosecuting attorney, rather than witness.

JUDGE
It’s tempting to assume the role of judge, especially when so many evils abound. But if you find yourself pounding the gavel, you’d better step off the bench. Jesus warned us not to judge or we will be judged (Matt. 7:1). God alone is the judge—not us. That’s quite a relief. Who in their right mind wants to carry such a burden of responsibility anyway? “There is no point trying to size people up,” said Ann Voskamp, “because souls defy measuring.”
JURY
Some church people see themselves as self-selected juries, but it’s not our job to convict people. That role belongs to the Holy Spirit. There is a huge difference between conviction by the Holy Spirit and condemnation by a narrow group of priggish people with shriveled hearts.

PROSECUTING ATTORNEY
Others take the prosecutor position: “You are guilty, and I’m going to prove it.” Prosecutors are the ones who protest with placards and engage in heated arguments about religion. That approach is terribly ineffective. I have never seen a soul argued into God’s kingdom. When you become the spiritual prosecutor, you are not assuming God’s role at that point—but rather, the Devil’s. He is “the accuser” (Rev. 12:10).

WITNESS
Your role as a Christ follower is to simply be a witness. You don’t have to pound gavels, point fingers, or cast blame. All you need to do is share your story. The beautiful thing about sharing your faith story is that nobody can deny it. No one can argue with your own personal experience. When you share personally, it touches hearts deeply. What is most personal is most universal.

We are not called to push anybody into our way of thinking. Rather, we bear witness to what God has done for us, and then leave the outcome in his hands.

“Evangelism is less about trying to manage an outcome as it is sharing events and offering an advent alternative for what everyone clearly sees,” said Leonard Sweet. “Rather than wrestling the sinner’s prayer out of a person who will say anything to get out of the headlock, it is a nudge toward the undeniable truth that is alive in all of us.”

Like the redeemed beggar, all you need to say is, “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” (John 9:25).

A few pointers on sharing your faith story:
1. Pray that God will open doors for you to share.
2. When the door opens, have courage to speak.
3. Stay humble and never portray an attitude of superiority.
4. Keep it simple and brief. Don’t share more than they want to know.
5. Tell them what you experienced, rather than what they should do.
6. Focus on the message (Jesus) rather than the mess.
7. Don’t engage in argument. If they protest what you’re saying, back off and let the Holy Spirit work.
------------------
Filled with humor and heartwarming stories, author Mark O. Wilson presents in Purple Fish an approach for sharing Jesus that is engaging, nonthreatening, and genuine. Rather than a canned program or script, Wisconsin pastor reveals his "fishin' with a mission" that leaves everyone saying, "I want to do that!"


A Funny St. Patrick Story

In the middle of the fifth century, the Irish King Aengus was baptized by St. Patrick. Sometime during the ceremony, Patrick leaned on his crozier, a sharp-pointed staff and inadvertently stabbed the poor king's foot.

After the baptism was over, St. Patrick looked down, saw all the blood, and realized what he had done.

"I'm terribly sorry!" he exclaimed. "Please forgive me, your majesty! Why did you suffer this pain in silence?"

The king replied, "I thought it was part of the ritual."

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Old Walnut Tree

Near the barnyard, by the fence, old soldier stands with gnarled hands, saluting all the passersby who happen by his shade.

Deep rooted kindness, with a furrowed brow, crusty outside, yet velvet within,  calling all the children in as he's done down through the ages "Come! Climb! Swing!"

And the old backyard centurion one summer day invited me, again, to childish play. But, laden with responsibility, I turned away.

You see, I've grown up now -- so much to do, and hurried humans hardly take the time to do such things. Yes, with a heavy hearted sighing, I turned and walked away.

But, even in the turning, my boyish heart was yearning for another swing -- impulsive, foolish thing!
My grown up soul had somehow met its match.

Old soldier may be past his prime, with knotted, brittle hands, yet deep inside I fully understand
that he can still catch me!

So, in joyous liberation, I dropped my briefcase on the ground and as a little child from grown up heart unbound, ran carefree to the old walnut tree to play, and climb, and swing.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

10 Questions to Discern God's Will

Dr. Jim "Umfundisi" Lo, recently suggested the following questions to consider when attempting to discern God's will regarding a decision:

1. Will it honour God?
2. Is it consistent with Scripture?
3. Is it the “best” thing that could be done? Is there something “better” to do?
4. Is it my heart’s desire? Is this something I really have a passion for?
5. Does it fit who I am as a child of God? Does it fit my skills, gifts, resources, abilities, capabilities, limitations, etc.?
6. Does it fit God’s overall plan for my life? Has everything He’s brought me through readied me for this opportunity, this purpose, this adventure?
7. Are there, or has there been, any providential leadings toward this course of action?
8. Am I willing to submit this decision to God’s will?
9. Is there, or has there been, an inner conviction and compulsion to undertake this course of action? Has it been confirmed through another person? Through the Holy Spirit? Through His Word?
10. Do I have lasting peace in my decision?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Enthusiasm and Brains

Some people have brains, but no enthusiasm. Others have enthusiasm, but no brains. It's best to possess both.

Fred Smith, the CEO and founder of FedEx first developed the idea for his company while he was a student at Yale. The professor didn't think it was such a great idea, and gave Fred a "C" for the project. Fortunately, Fred did not heed the "intelligent" professor's advice. Instead he went out and enthusiastically developed the world's largest express transportation company.

Sometimes "conventional wisdom" is the enemy of innovation and progress.

Unenthusiastic intelligence results in half-hearted living. It is, as Voltaire describes, "like a warming oven - always heating, but never cooking anything."

Enthusiastic people aren't necessarily shallow thinkers (despite what some folks might believe.) Peter Marshall said, "Enthusiasm is not contrary to reason. It is reason - on fire!

Enthusiasm is a positive, forceful energy that leads to vitality, success and achievement.

Missionary, Jim Elliot, wrote, "Wherever you are - be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God."

Unfortunately, sometimes enthusiasm is not accompanied by wisdom. A blind, brainless enthusiasm leads to frustration and failure.

Once a valiant knight knelt before his king and announced, "Your Majesty, we have just attacked and plundered all of your enemies to the west!"

To this the king responded, "What? We don't have any enemies to the west!"

"We do now!" the enthusiastic knight replied.

"Zeal without knowledge," said Thomas Fuller, "is like fire without light."

Intelligent enthusiasm is a powerful combination! Use both your heart and head to rise above the ordinary.

"Be renewed in the spirit of your mind." Eph. 4:23

Friday, March 06, 2015

The Greatest Drama Ever Staged

Worship re-enacts the greatest drama of human history.  There should never be a boring worship service.  As Dorothy Sayers noted,  "The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man—and the dogma is the drama."
"That drama is summarised quite clearly in the creeds of the Church, and if we think it dull it is because we either have never really read those amazing documents, or have recited them so often and so mechanically as to have lost all sense of their meaning. The plot pivots upon a single character, and the whole action is the answer to a single central problem: What think ye of Christ? "

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Navigating the Leadership Load

"A leader is a person who must take special responsibility for what's going on inside of himself or herself. . . lest the act of leadership creates more harm than good." --  Parker Palmer

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Monday, March 02, 2015

Today is a Brand New Day -- Don't Waste It

Today is a brand new day – a delightful opportunity to begin again.
I will not be held hostage by yesterday’s pain. If my heart remains open, and my spirit is right, yesterday’s pain becomes today’s gain. I will grow into a better person through the sufferings.

Today is a brand new day – and it needs to stand on it’s own.

I will not allow myself to be seduced by yesterday’s success, nor frustrated by yesterday’s failures. I shall fulfill my duty this day, and never look backwards for an excuse.

Today is a brand new day – and it’s the only one I have.

I refuse to let tomorrow’s concerns steal today’s joy. If tomorrow is going to be bad – why should it destroy the day I have? That would mean two bad days instead of just one. I want to make the best of what has been given to me.

Today is a brand new day – God’s gift for life investment. It is not to be squandered by worry or regret.

Consider the moments. Moments are the stuff life is made of. They march by us briskly in an unceasing parade. We can join in the march – or slump sullenly on the sidewalk, wondering why nobody throws candy anymore.

Today is a brand new day. Sunrise reminds us to practice resurrection.

No problem is greater than the God who holds this day in his hands. Each day breathes new life to broken dreams, shattered hopes, and rending disappointments. Somehow, situations always look better in the morning.

Today is a brand new day – so I’m going to go out and live it.

“This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24