Sunday, April 26, 2015

There's Sunshine in My Soul Today

The words of this old Gospel song came to my mind this morning.  I have not heard it since childhood:

There is sunshine in my soul today, more glorious and bright
Than glows in any earthly sky, for Jesus is my light.

Oh, there's sunshine, blessed sunshine when the peaceful happy moments roll.
When Jesus shows his smiling face, there is sunshine in the soul.

There is music in my soul today, a carol to my King,
And Jesus listening can hear the songs I cannot sing.

There is springtime in my soul today, for when the Lord is near,
The dove of peace sings in my heart, the flow'rs of grace appear.

There is gladness in my soul today, and hope and praise and love,
For blessings which he gives me now, for joys "laid up" above.

Text: Eliza E. Hewitt, 1851-1920
Music: John R. Sweney, 1837-1899

Friday, April 24, 2015

And What Kind of Church Shall We Be?

There are three generations in the church:
  •  the "traditional" generation,
  •  the the "emerging" generation,
  •  and the "bridging" generation.
 Each generation serves an important function.

 The traditional generation keeps us rooted in our rich heritage, reminding us of our larger, historic, faith community.

The emerging generation pushes us forward into the future, bringing cutting edge vision for tomorrow's effectiveness.

The bridging generation lives between both worlds, helping both the traditionalists and the emerging types to respect, value and understand each other.

The key to effective congregational change is in the hands of the bridging generation, but that's a difficult role to play.  As Rick Warren noted, "The problem with being a bridge is that you stepped on from both sides."

Without someone bridging the gap, however, a church will either stagnate and die of traditionalism, or, rejecting it's heritage, will wander from orthodoxy in blind arrogance and consumerism.

Yesterday's emerging generation became leaders, and are now today's traditional generation.  The traditions are different -- but the spirit is the same.  It takes humility, courage and patience for these leaders to release authority to the rising generation.

Congregations are most healthy when they are intergenerational -- based on mutual respect and honor.  This calls for patience and the hard work of understanding and forbearance.

Instead of battling over preferences, we must remember that our fight is not with each other.  We're on the same side in our struggle against evil.   Perhaps we should follow Dr. Earle Wilson's sage advice, "Build a bridge and get over it!"

Monday, April 20, 2015

Assume the Best

Have you noticed how humans tend to process difficult conversations and negative interactions, giving a play-by-play post-encounter analysis?

Occasionally we process it up. Most of the time, we process it down. 

We walk away and start stewing:
"What did she MEAN by that?"
"I wonder what he was thinking!"
"Did you notice his body language?"
"It's what she DIDN'T say that bothers me!"

Cooking conversations after the fact is like overcooked spaghetti -- a tangled gob of mush with a stench.

The problem with processing conversations downhill is our inclination to make false assumptions.  An incomplete perspective, fueled by emotion and imagination blows everything out of proportion like a reflections in the carnival funny mirror.

Here's a good rule of thumb: always assume the best.

Whenever we suspect and impute motives onto people, we end up going down a dark trail of negativity, breeding mistrust. Most of the time, we assume things are worse than they really are. We "fill in the blanks" with monsters of our own imaginings.

If you're going to read between the lines, how about doing this? Read good into it! Read the silent blessings! Assume the very best! Process it up!

If they meant you well, they will be encouraged.
If they meant you harm, they will be astounded.

Either way, you both win!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Grow For It

Personal growth is the secret to organizational growth. Self leadership is a valuable and necessary art. If you can't lead yourself, you won't be able to lead anybody else.

If you want things to improve in your business, your family, your church or community, the first thing to start improving is yourself!

How can we begin the personal growth journey?

1. Learn something every day. 
Every experience of life is a learning lab. How sad it is for people to have difficult experiences and fail to learn from them. You can learn from anybody and anything. Keep your thinking cap on at all times. Wisdom is the process of gleaning insight from our daily experiences.

2. Be a reader. 
Reading is one of the best methods I know for personal growth. If you want to deepen your understanding, read widely and deeply. Don't just read "fluff" - -but find books that challenge you to become a better person.

3. Share new insights with others. 
As you share what you've been learning, you grasp it better. The best way to learn something is to teach it.

4. Plan for personal growth. 
If you don't do it intentionally, it won't happen. List the improvements you want to make, the books you want to read, the experiences you want to have, and the people you want to meet. Start planning! What are the first steps to accomplish these wishes?

5. Rise above the crowd. 
If you commit yourself to personal growth, you will have to step out of the crowd. Most folks are content with going through the motions of life -- work, eat, watch t.v., and go to bed. You can't let yourself get sucked into that negative cycle. Others may not understand, but you can't let small people hold you back.

6. Surrender to self-discipline. 
Growth is never easy. As John Maxwell said, "You can tell you are on the path to success -- it's uphill all the way." If you wait until you feel like it, you will never start moving forward. The time is now -- whether you feel like it or not! You have to get up and get going to make a difference.

7. Keep the vision alive. 
Don't stop growing, regardless of how old you are or what you've accomplished. I once asked a famous author what books he's been reading. He replied, "I don't read books anymore -- I just write them!" He may be famous but the poor fellow is heading downhill fast. After a while, he won't have anything good to write. We're either growing or shriveling.   Coasting goes only one direction.

The architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, at age 83 was asked to select his greatest masterpiece. His reply, "My next one!" That's called keeping the vision alive!

George Fisher said, "I don't know if you will like this or not, but he who stops being better, stops being good."

Listening to Your Life

“You never know what may cause them. The sight of the Atlantic Ocean can do it, or a piece of music, or a face you’ve never seen before. A pair of somebody’s old shoes can do it…. You can never be sure. But of this you can be sure. Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next.”  
-- Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Come Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove

Blessed this morning to ponder this beautiful consecration hymn by Isaac Watts, Come Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove: 

Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove,
With all Thy quick’ning powers;
Kindle a flame of sacred love
In these cold hearts of ours.

Look how we grovel here below,
Fond of these trifling toys;
Our souls can neither fly nor go
To reach eternal joys.

In vain we tune our formal songs,
In vain we strive to rise;
Hosannas languish on our tongues,
And our devotion dies.

Dear Lord! and shall we ever live
At this poor dying rate?
Our love so faint, so cold to Thee,
And Thine to us so great?

Come, Holy Spirit, heav’nly Dove,
With all Thy quick’ning powers;
Come, shed abroad the Savior’s love
And that shall kindle ours.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

How Much Having Does a Person Need?

How much "having" does a person need?

“How much money would it take to make you happy?” someone asked business tycoon, John D. Rockefeller.  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?" 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Prayer to Prepare for Worship

Good and loving Father, as the deer pants for water, so my soul thirsts for you.  Today, when I worship together with brothers and sisters, please quench our thirst from your spring of living water. 

Open my heart that I may receive your grace.
Open my eyes that I may glimpse your heavenly vision.
Open my ears that I may hear your marching orders.
Grant me courage to follow them.

Help me to encourage and bless others.
Help me to be humble and gracious. 
Help me to be charitable and not critical.
Renew a right spirit within me.

Use this worship service to grow me in Christlikeness.
Use me, in this sacred hour, in your service for others.
Increase my faith.
Increase my love.


Thursday, April 09, 2015

Who Are Your Church's Customers?

"Congregations have two types of customers.   Primary customers are the ones who are not yet part of the congregation because they do not have a personal relationship with Jesus.  Secondary customers are the disciples who are alrady involved in the congregation.  These secondary customers are developed to reproduce more primary customers.  When that order is reversed, of if a congregation loses sight of its primary customers, a leader will passionately do everything possible to right that situation -- even it if costs friends and relationships.  A leader is passionate about what to do, with whom to work and how to expend limited resources."  -- Paul D. Bordon in Direct Hit: Aiming Real Leaders at the Mission Field

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Best George Whitefield Biography Available

As a church history buff, I was delighted to recently discover Thomas Kidd's outstanding biography of George Whitefield.   It is the best work on Whitefield I have ever encountered.

George Whitefield: America's Spiritual Founding Father is both scholarly and spiritual, feeding both intellect and soul.  I appreciate Kidd's candor in his fair treatment of the turbulent relationship between Whitefield and the Wesley brothers.  My tribe (the Wesleyans) usually gives a slanted perspective on this controversy.  Others (such as Dallimore) are biased towards Whitefield's perspective and fail to present a fair assessment.  Kidd does a great job going beneath the surface to investigate the deeper roots and ramifications of the conflict.

This book reveals an extraordinarly gifted man, totally devoted to Christ's mission.  Yet, it does not shrink from revealing his faults and inconsistencies (such as a misguided views on slavery, a perchant to harsh judgments on those who disagree, and alliances with radical extremists.)

It also highlights Whitefield's marketing genius and vibrant partnership with publisher, Ben Franklin.

An outstanding book for anyone interested in understanding the roots of American evangelical Christianity and Methodist,

Purchase here.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Just Wait Till Tomorrow

Mark Batterson calls what pastors experience the day after Easter a "Holy Hangover."  Most ministers can relate to that feeling.  In light of this, let me share a story from my book, Filled Up, Poured Out.

Just Wait Till Tomorrow

A few years ago, after the last of four exhilarating Easter worship services, I turned to my elder associate, Pastor Ben, and joyfully proclaimed, “Isn’t this fabulous? I can’t imagine it getting any better! Being a pastor is pure joy!”

Pastor Ben grinned wryly and replied, “Just wait till tomorrow.”

Sure enough, Monday was another story. Pastoral counselor, Arch Hart, calls Monday, “adrenaline letdown day.” Another pastor talked about “Bread Truck Mondays”, when the fantasy of delivering bread is far more appealing than continuing in the pastorate.

That Easter Monday, problems sprang up everywhere. I had to deal with a leadership squabble, a budget challenge, a marriage crisis, and a swarm of other difficulties.

I called Pastor Ben.

“This is absolutely horrible! I can’t imagine it getting any worse! Being a pastor is pure torture!”

Pastor Ben grinned and replied, “Just wait till tomorrow.”

Christ is still risen, indeed!

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Six Things I Learned from Robert Schuller

The news of Dr. Robert Schuller's passing leaves me reflecting on his life and legacy.  I marvel at this man's powerful influence on the world, and specifically the landscape of Christianity in America.  I've heard several great pastors, such as Bill Hybels and Rick Warren, express a debt of gratitude for Dr. Schuller's influence in their early days of ministry.   He taught us that churches need to think outside the box in order to reach non-believers.  He also demonstrated the power of possibility thinking and inspiration.   If there was no Schuller, they may not have been a Willow Creek or Saddleback Church.

Robert Schuller was willing to go the extra mile and reach out to people who didn't understand church culture.  As a result, he led the actor, John Wayne and stunt man, Evel Knieval to Christ.  He also was invited to preach an unprecedented Christmas Eve sermon on national television in Communist Russia.  Only heaven will tell the multitudes who embraced faith in Jesus Christ as a result of Dr. Schuller's witness.

 Although we certainly had major theological differences, Dr. Robert Schuller personally impacted my life, attitude and ministry.

Back in 1991, as rookie, preparing to take my first pastorate, I wrote Dr. Schuller a letter, asking if I could meet with him for a few minutes to glean some insights on effective ministry.  He graciously agreed and invited me to his office in the Crystal Cathedral tower.

At first, he misunderstood what I wanted, thinking it was just a photo op.  But once he saw my heart and realized I was on a genuine quest for wisdom, he smiled warmly, invited me to sit,  and offered refreshments along with sage advice.

During the course of our conversation, which went a half hour longer than was scheduled, he shared the following suggestions:

1.  "If there are enough people in your community to keep you going strong, invest your whole ministry in the same place.  Try to imagine what your church could be in 40 years, and then start chipping away towards that goal.  Inch by inch, anything's a cinch."

2.  "Work with Jesus to build a better church than anyone in your community could ever imagine.  Don't let small thinkers dictate your dreams.  Operate from the perspective of what God can do rather than what we've done before."

3.  "Some congregations run on positive energy.  Others run on negative energy.  You can grow a church with either kind -- but positive energy attracts positive people and negative energy attracts negative people.  If you want a bunch of negative people, all you have to do is run the church on negative energy. You'll get plenty of them."

4.  "Knock 'em alive!  Give 'em heaven!"  I swiped these phrases from Dr. Schuller and say them frequently to those who will be speaking or singing at our church.

5.  "Make a list of ten options.  When faced with a difficult decision, force yourself to write down ten possible solutions.  Then, review the list, choose the best one and try it first. If it doesn't work, you still have nine good ideas to go.  Your answer will be somewhere on that list."

6.  Look at what you have left.  Never look at what you have left."

A day before the meeting with Robert Schuller, my father was hospitalized in Ohio with a blood clot.  I immediately purchased a ticket to fly home.  My meeting with Dr. Schuller occurred between the phone call and the flight.  When I shared this concern with Dr. Schuller, tears came to his eyes, and he told me his daughter suffered an amputation as the result of an accident.   He had written about this in his book, Tough Times Never Last But Tough People Do.

He opened it and wrote these words, "Dear Andrew, look at what you have left.  Never look at what you have left.  p.s.  Your son, Mark, is great!"

Sadly, another blood clot hit Dad's heart, and he died before I was able to give him the book. However, Dr. Schuller's inscription was a great comfort and help to me in my hour of grief.  I decided to treasure the memories, count the blessings and to "look at what I have left."

Dr. Schuller suffered several sad losses towards the end of his life, including the bankruptcy of his beloved Crystal Cathedral.  But today, as we remember this great Christian ambassador, let us look at what he has left.  As the poet Longfellow said,  "Lives of great men all remind us we can make our lives sublime,  and, departing, leave behind us footprints on the sands of time."