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."