Friday, June 26, 2015

Is Following Jesus Hard or Easy?

“Only the one who follows the command of Jesus single-mindedly, and unresistingly lets his yoke rest upon him, finds his burden easy, and under its gentle pressure receives the power to persevere in the right way. The command of Jesus is hard, unutterably hard, for those who try to resist it. But for those who willingly submit, the yoke is easy, and the burden is light.”  

-- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Four Secrets for Effective Communication

Communication is to love what blood is to the body. When it ceases to flow, love dies, and rigor mortis of resentment sets in.

The ancient prophet, Amos, asked the rhetorical question, "Can two walk together except they be agreed?"

Bob, walking by his neighbor's house, saw him struggling with a couch halfway in the front door. He walked up to his friend and asked, "Hey Fred, need a hand?"

"Sure!" came the reply, "I'm glad you stopped by. This has been a real challenge,"

So, he grabbed the end of the couch and started pushing -- but it wouldn't budge an inch. For about twenty minutes, both men struggled and strained as hard as they could, but made absolutely no progress.

Finally, dropping the couch from exhaustion, Bob said, "You know, Fred, this is just crazy! I can't understand why it's so hard for us to get this couch into the house."

"Into the house??" Fred replied, "I've been trying to push it OUT of the house!!"

When we don't communicate we often end up working against each other. We can't walk together unless we're going the same direction.

None of us are mind readers, so the only way to go the same direction is through clear, loving communication.

Doesn't communication cause fights? What if the things I need to communicate are hurtful? Isn't it better to just shut up and bear it?

Certainly, unwise and thoughtless communication can cause fights, but the lack of communication causes far more fights -- a hundred times more! It's better to communicate even the unpleasant things, rather than bottling them up inside, if you want your relationships to thrive.

The secret here is to practice the fine art of "disagreeing agreeably." This is mostly a matter of keeping a right attitude and sweet spirit as you tackle challenging issues.

All relationships require give and take. Great relationships require give and give!

1) Give In. You don't have to always get your way to be happy. Sometimes, the best and most loving thing is to submit to the other person's point of view, even if it's not your preference.

2) Give More. Can you give more love, attention and energy to this relationship? Make it your aim to outdo one another in love.

3) Give Way. Allow the other person some latitude and space.  Honor and respect the unique individuality of the other person.

4)  But Don't Give Up! You can't truly love somebody until you've been through some difficult times together. Don't quit when times are tough. Instead, dig in deeper, and discover the riches of loving forbearance.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Prayer Doesn't Bring Revival

Samuel Chadwick is one of my favorite holiness authors.  His little book, The Way to Pentecost, is a classic.  Lately I've been pondering this observation from Chadwick: "Prayer doesn't bring revival."   At first glance, that doesn't sound right. Anyone who knows anything abour revivals says that prayer is essential to every great movement of God.  

But, prayer, alone, does not bring revival.  If it did, then the Pharisees would have been the greatest renewal leaders in history -- they prayed a lot. However, their prayers were mostly perfunctory.

The secret is found in 2 Chronicles 7:14, "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then they shall hear from heaven. I will forgive their sin and heal their land."

So, there we have it -- some important things that need to go along with our praying if we are to experience significant spiritual breakthrough.
1) Humility (Realizing our utter dependence upon our Savior)
2) Seeking the Face of God -- His Lordship -- saying "yes" to His will.
3) Turning from Wicked Ways -- to renounce sin (not just DE-nounce it, but Re-nounce it -- turn away from it!)

Seek God in humble obedience. turn from sin and then look out! Big change is on the way! The Lord wants to do something wonderful in your life!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Before You Give Up, Read This

We all feel like giving up sometimes. It comes with the territory of living.  When stress is high and energy is low. . . When frustrations multiply and patience ebbs. . . When conflicts abound and peace evaporates . . ., When the outgo exceeds the inflow. . . it makes us feel like quitting.

But throwing in the towel is seldom the best answer. I have discovered that hardship, endured with patience, faith and the best attitude you can muster, brings tremendous personal growth.  As my old football coach used to say, “No pain, no gain.”

So, what should you do when you feel like giving up?

1.  Face up to reality. 
It pays to know the facts. Problems don’t usually disappear by ignoring them. A clear picture of reality – even if it’s bad – is better than an unrealistic hope.

Discern between a problem and a fact of life. If you can do something about it, it’s a problem. If you can’t – it’s just a fact of life. We need to fix the problems, and accept the facts of life.

2. Reach up to God 
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1). There is no better place to turn in difficulty than to God.

One day, facing a hard situation, I felt like giving up, and then I sensed God’s whisper to my heart. “That’s exactly what you need to do. Give it UP. . . to Me!”

If your problems are deep seated and long standing – try kneeling!

3.  Fill up your tank. 
Some activities drain you while others replenish you. Do you know which is which? In especially demanding seasons, make sure your energy is restored by replenishing. You will probably have to prioritize and schedule this in order to get it.

4. Straighten up your attitude 
Don’t cave into “stinkin’ thinkin’. A bad attitude will spoil everything for you. Negativity multiplies the difficulty by ten.

The best way to adjust your attitude is to begin praising the Lord and counting your blessings blessings. It is nearly impossible to say “Praise the Lord” with a frown.

5. Lift up someone else 
Another person is going through harder times than you. Find that person and bring encouragement.  Bringing blessing to others is like giving your dog a bath. You’ll both get soaked in the process.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Stop Whining and Start Mining

I have some bad news and good news.

The bad news is that you are going to have big troubles.  It's pretty much a guarantee that problems are headed your way.  Sometime, somehow, somewhere, you are going to experience difficulty.

Problems are a part of the human experience.  We shouldn't be so surprised when they show up.

The good news is that you don't have to let your troubles get the best of you.  If you process them right, you will grow and become a better as a result.

A few years ago, a buddy of mine called and told me his wife left him.  This terrible ordeal was the most painful and discouraging period of his life.   Someone else made an unfortunate choice that caused his life to crash.

I was impressed with how he handled this heartwrenching situation.  Instead of caving into dispair and giving up on life, he decided to become a railroad engineer.

Even from early childhood, he always wanted to drive a train.  But, life got in the way and circumstances brought him to a job he hated.  The heartbreak also broke the chains around his dream -- and he was free to fly.

Today, he's living his dream --  driving trains across the country and tooting the whistle at intersections.

When life throws you a lemon, make lemonade.

Treat your troubles like a goldmine.  You will find something worthwhile if you keep digging.  In hard times, stop whining and start mining.

Troubles are never neutral.  If they do not do you good, they will do you harm.  You must face them head on with courage and optimism.  The best is yet to come!

If you are walking through a dark valley, remember this is a tunnel, not a tomb.  Keep moving on.  Don't give up.  Sooner or later, you will come out on the other side, with a wealth of wisdom, faith and experience.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

When You Need a Little Space

Behold us, Lord, a little space from daily tasks set free,
and met within thy holy place to rest awhile with thee.

Around us rolls the ceaseless tide of business, toil, and care;
and scarcely can we turn aside for one brief hour of prayer.

Yet these are not the only walls wherein thou may'st be sought:
on homeliest work thy blessing falls, in truth and patience wrought.

Thine is the loom, the forge, the mart, the wealth of land and sea;
the worlds of science and of art, revealed and ruled by thee.

Then let us prove our heavenly birth in all we do and know;
and claim the kingdom of the earth for thee, and not thy foe.

Work shall be prayer, if all be wrought as thou wouldst have it done;
and prayer, by thee inspired and taught, itself with work be one.

Friday, June 12, 2015

I Will Rejoice and Be Glad in It

Many morning, before climbing out of bed, I repeat Psalm 118:24: “This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it!”  I do this especially on days when there are major challenges before me.

This simple little practice, is like hitting a spiritual/emotional reset button, and has  proven to be a helpful “faith lift."

THIS IS THE DAY -- It reminds me that today really counts. In fact, it’s the only day I have.  I don’t have yesterday. It’s already gone. There’s no guarantee about tomorrow. But I do have this golden opportunity called today! It’s important to treasure and make the most of it!

John Wesley encourages us to “redeem the time, for that’s the stuff life is made of!” Moments are precious. Every breath we take is a special gift.

This is the day to live! Some folks live in the memories of the past. Others live in the anticipation and fear of the future. But, we are called to live today!

Make it count! Make it count!

THE LORD HAS MADE -- I realize that I’m not in charge.

A guaranteed way to be miserable is to try to control outcomes. We have no control over much of what happens in life, and we certainly can’t control other people or their decisions. The only thing we can control is how we respond to the situations we encounter.

If our happiness depends on what somebody else does (or doesn't do), we’re automatically doomed to unhappiness.. Nobody – let me repeat that – nobody – will always do what makes you happy. Nobody can fulfillsevery expectation!

Even God doesn't fulfill every expectation. I've talked with several people who are mad at God because He didn't do what they wanted.

But, the point is simple. We’re not in charge! We don’t have to control it! The Lord made it – so He can handle it however He sees fit. What right do we have to think we can boss the Creator of the universe around? Our job is to simply trust God and not manipulate.

I WILL REJOICE AND BE GLAD -- This is an attitude issue.

No matter what happens, I am going to look for a blessing. I’ll look for something to be thankful for.

Even in the worst circumstances, I still can rejoice and be glad. That’s because joy and gladness do not come from external experiences – but rather from the heart. My position in life is not nearly as important as my disposition!

A few years ago, I was at a Wisconsin Dells indoor water park. I looked around and saw happy families enjoying the experience together. Then, I noticed an angry, upset family. They were all yelling at each other. Now, I don’t have any idea what was really going on in their lives, but it struck as ironic. I wanted to go up to them and say, “You made a lot of effort and sacrifice to have this fun family experience at the Dells – and now you’re letting these little frustrations get in the way. Don’t do that! Stop quarreling and enjoy yourselves! This is the day the Lord has made! You need to rejoice and be glad in it!”

For about two seconds, I thought about saying that, but then decided not to meddle. I didn't want to get punched in the nose!

Then, I realized that sometimes I act just like them.  I, too, get frustrated and upset, forgetting to enjoy the blessings around me. I shouldn't judge them, when I’m guilty of the same thing.

Humbled, I walked away, with a renewed commitment to live Psalm 118:24 throughout the day, rather than just saying it in the morning.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Praying the Library Nature Trail

I have used the Library Nature Park Trail as a prayer pilgrimage on several occasions and felt prompted to share this experience with you.   It will take approximately an hour to complete this prayer journey, depending on how long you spend at each station.

Station 1:  Family Sculpture
Pray for each member of your family, using the five large stones as a guide to B.L.E.S.S. them.
B - Body (for health, strength, and energy)
L - Life (or livelihood -- the concerns of  their everyday life)
E - Emotional (for love, joy & peace)
S - Social (relationships)
S -  Spiritual (their relationship with God)

Station 2:  Bookends Sculpture
Pray for beginnings, endings and transitions.  

Station 3:  Library Nature Park Sign (Birds Eye View, Knowles-Nelson Stewardship)
Pray for a broadening of your perspective and that you will be a good steward of what has been entrusted to your care.

Station 4:  Tree Cookie
Prayers for healing and strength.

Station 5:  Outdoor Amphitheater
Pray for your friends, neighbors, co-workers, and companions on life’s journey

Station 6:  Wetland Habitat Bridge
Pray for faith to lift you above the swamp  (the circumstances that bring you down.)

Station 7:  The Resting Bench
As you sit, listen for God’s love and rest in his grace and peace.

Station 8:  Sally Snag --  I Am Dead But I Live On
What areas of your life seem to be dying?  Ask God to breathe new life into them.  Bring your disappointments and failures to Jesus.  He receives and resurrects them into new life.

Station 9:  Pondering Bench
“Ponder anew, what the Almighty can do.”  Soak in the wonders of creation and reflect on how great God is.

Station 10:  Confession Bench:  I Am Not Very Pretty
Ask God to reveal anything within your heart that is not right.  What thoughts, words, deeds, or attitudes have not been “very pretty.”  Confess them to our gracious God, who is full of mercy and forgives us.

Station 11:  Singing Bench
What is the song of your heart?  Sing it as a prayer to God.

Station 12:  The Bridge to Others
As you cross the second bridge, pray that you will build bridges of peace and reconciliation.  You may wish to use the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; Where there is sadness, joy. O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek To be consoled as to console, To be understood as to understand, To be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.

Station 13:  The Blessing Bench
Lord, make me a blessing.  Who should I bless today with a kind word or deed?

Station 14:  Life Cycles:  The Changing Forest
Reflect on your stage in life.  What do you need to do in light of where you are?  How will you honor your elders or mentor those younger than you?

Station 15:  The Hidden Bench (Off the Path)
Pray for wisdom and insight for the decisions you must make.  Ask God to reveal truth and make the hidden things clear.

Station 16:  The Watching Bench
“Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation.” -- Mat. 26:41  What dangers should I avoid?  What do I need to see that may harm me or others?  What needs attention?

Station 17:  The Thank You Bench
As you sit and view the little trees, thank God for the many small blessings in your life that bring you great joy.  And as you exit the trail, the bell is a reminder to say “thank you.”

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Much Given, Much Required

"Much will be required from everyone to whom much has been given." -- Luke 12:48 ISV
"There is not one saint in the Old Testament who received a fraction as much as you have in Jesus Christ.  Yet, we act as if all God wants from us is 'Oh, hi Lord', then we go about our way.  And we count millions of converts who have done nothing more than salute the Lord and continue in their wicked ways." -- Richard Owen Roberts

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Squishy Faith

Have you noticed that American Christianity has gone squishy? 

Perhaps it’s the consumer culture. Maybe it’s the “Me Generation” coming of age. It might be that the Bible has taken a back seat to the entertainment industry in the recent decades. It certainly has something to do with a lack of sound doctrine being preached and taught in our churches.

A lot of people are now under the impression that it doesn’t make any difference WHAT you believe, as long as you believe something. Of course, that is faulty logic. For instance, you might believe it’s safe to step out of a flying airplane without a parachute, but you’ll come to a rude awakening in a few seconds. WHAT we believe is vitally important.

We need to know the Truth in order to be set free. (John 8:32) Hosea 4:6 says, “My people perish for a lack of knowledge.”

The average church member knows less about the Bible today than the average non-believer did a hundred years ago. When Christians decry the demise of our culture, we must understand that the failure began with us. Somehow, the church has lost her voice when it is needed most.

Friend, I have two questions for you.

1) Do you know what you believe?
2) Do you believe what you know?

I am committed to helping followers of Christ know more fully what they believe. Of course, we will have differences of opinion on a wide variety of subjects – but in the main things – the most important things – we need to know, understand and agree.

John Wesley said it this way: “In essentials, unity; In non-essentials, diversity; and in all things, charity.”

Perhaps, the bigger question of the two is the second: Do you believe what you know? We might SAY we believe something – but if we don’t live it, do we truly believe it? Our faith and love is proven by what we DO rather than what we SAY.

In old English, the word “believe” means “live-by.” Do you live by it??  If your faith isn’t worth living, then it’s not worth much.

Really living what the Bible says, through the power of the Holy Spirit is called holiness. That is what God calls us to be – a holy people.

What is the evidence of living it? Loving God with all your heart and loving your neighbor as yourself.

God help us to know what we believe, to believe what we know, and to truly live what we profess.