Friday, July 31, 2015

Look Past the Troubled Waters

Photo by Wes Wilson
I wrote this poem several years ago in a hospital waiting room in Duluth, Minnesota, while anxiously awaiting the report from my loved one's surgery.

It was a windy day, and in the distance, Lake Superior's waves crashed violently on the shore.   The troubled waters matched my spirit.  But then, I took a longer look.  I lifted my eyes up to the horizon and saw the situation from a different perspective.  I hope my little verse can lift the spirit of someone facing the wind and waves:

Troubled waters swirl and crash
in restless waves
upon the Great Lake's southern side.

And somehow, I identify
with heavy sighings.

But still, looking up and long
I see a large horizon
deep waters fading blue,
reaching up to touch the morning sky.

And in my sighings,
hope's arising. . .

Just in time to whisper,
"All is well. Peace be still."

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

God's Servants Need This First

"Unless the life of a missionary (pastor) is hid with Christ in God before he (she) begins the work, that life will become exclusive and narrow.  It will never become the servant of all.  It will never wash the feet of others."
 -- Oswald Chambers

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Why Should the Bible Be My Boss?

As a Christian, I believe the Bible has authority over what I believe and how I behave.  Someone may ask, "Why would an ancient book, written thousands of years ago, in completely different languages and cultures have any bearing whatsoever on my life?"

The answer is that we believe that the Bible is God's Word for us.  According to 2 Tim. 3:16, it is "God breathed" (Inspired) and "Useful" (Inspiring.)

I cannot prove that the Bible is true to someone who doesn't want to believe it.  "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still."  However, let me give you three reasons why I believe the Bible is trustworthy.  There are many more reasons I could give, but for the sake of time, I'll just bring three from the longest chapter in the Bible, Psalm 119: 89-93.

I Believe the Bible is Trustworthy Because. . .

Psalm 119:89  "Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens."

The Bible isn't squishy.  It is strong. . . firm. . . rock solid.  There is a reason why it is the best-selling book of all time.  There is a reason why it has been translated into more languages and read by many more people than any other book.  There is something unique and special about it.

The Bible is not just one book.  It is a library of books:  39 books in the Old Testament and 27 books in the New Testament.  (The way I remember that is 3 x 9 = 27).  That equals 66 books -- and if you follow Route 66, you will arrive at the right destination.

We believe in the 39 books of the Old Testament because Jesus recognized them as Scripture.  He quoted directly from 24 of them in the Gospels.

We believe in the 27 books of the New Testament because they were connected directly to the apostles' inner circle, univeral and orthodox.  The New Testament was not created at the by councils as some critics claim (i.e. the Council of Hippo in 393.)  Rather, the original Scriptures were affirmed by the council. 

Just think --  forty authors from three continents over thousands of years, under God's inspiration created the most beautiful literary masterpiece in human history!

Consider the prophecies of Jesus.  There are 60 significant prophecies about Christ in the Old Testament (if you add inferences, there are over 300.)  Professor Peter Stoner of Westmont College, along with some of his students, determined the probability that only eight of these prophecies would be fulfilled in one person by accident.  The fascinating results can be found here

Psalm 119: 90-91:  "Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures. Your laws endure to this day, for all things serve you."

The Bible is rooted in history.  It is not some ethereal text, but it brings the stories of real people from real places.  Archaeology has confirmed much of the Bible.  I've experienced it myself.  I've seen the Temple Mount.  I have visited Solomon's stables.  I have seen to bone box of Caiphas, the high priest.  Skeptics used to believe the Hittites were mythological -- but then archaeologiests dug them up!  They have uncovered evidence for Pontius Pilate, the Pool of Siloam, and King Hezekiah.

The support is overwhelming and there are literally thousands of discoveries.  Try this free e-book for starters, Ten Top Biblical Archaeological Discoveries.

Look at any Bible Encylcopedia and you will discover it is packed with pictures of archaeological discoveries that confirm the Bible.

The Bible has been preserved remarkably.
One amazing fact about the Bible is how many manuscript copies have been discovered.  When considering the reliability of an ancient manuscript, we look at two things:  the time gap between the earliest copy we possess and the time it was written and the number of copies that have been found.
Comparing the Bible with other ancient works, the results are absolutely astounding! 

In 2013, archaeologists discovered a small fragment of Mark's Gospel (the size of two fingers) which was found inside an Egyptian mummy mask, used as paper mache.  It has been dated at around 80 AD, making it, by far, the oldest New Testament manuscript in existence.  If this was, indeed, written in 80 AD, this means people from the time of Christ were still alive when it was written!

The Bible is is like an Anvil.  It stands strong, and wears out the hammers that beat on it.

Psalm 119:92-92 --  "If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have preserved my life.

The very best evidence for the reliability of Scripture is how it works in people's lives.   I have found the Bible to be my greatest source of strength, peace and guidance.  I have never once met a person who spent a life living by the Bible and regretted it.  I've met many who regretted NOT doing so.  As a pastor, I have seen it speak grace to the grieving, solace for the suffering, and help for the hurting.
I read it every morning, and find something fresh and new each time.  It is a living book that brings life to me, and all who read it with honest hearts.

Recently, I noticed a friend was experiencing significant spiritual growth.  It was exciting to see her blossom.  I asked, "What has made the difference for you?"  She replied, "I started studying the Bible.  For years, I would read a little bit now and then for a dose of inspiration, but I decided to dig in and really study it, and devote myself to doing what it says.  That has made all the difference!"

Yet It Lives (Author Unknown)

Generations follow generations—yet it lives.
Nations rise and fall—yet it lives.
Kings, dictators, presidents come and go—yet it lives.
Torn, condemned, burned—yet it lives.
Hated, despised, cursed—yet it lives.
Doubted, suspected, criticized—yet it lives.
Damned by atheists, exaggerated by fanatics—yet it lives.
Misconstrued & misstated, Ranted and raved about—yet it lives.
Its inspiration denied—yet it lives.
Yet it lives—as a lamp to our feet.
Yet it lives—as a light to our paths.
Yet it lives—as a standard for childhood & as a guide for youth.
Yet it lives—as an inspiration for the mature & a comfort for the aged.
Yet it lives—as food for the hungry, water 4 thirsty & rest for the weary.
As salvation for the sinner & grace for the believer.
To know it is to love it.To love it is to accept it.
To accept it means Life Eternal.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Anvil

Last eve I paused beside the blacksmith’s door, and heard the anvil ring the vesper chime; then looking in, I saw upon the floor, old hammers, worn with beating years of time.

"How many anvils have you had,"  said I, "to wear and batter all these hammers so?’

"Just one," said he, and then with twinkling eye, "The anvil wears the hammers out, you know."

And so, I thought, the Anvil of God’s Word for ages skeptic blows have beat upon; Yet, though the noise of falling blows was heard, the Anvil is unharmed, the hammers gone.”

—Attributed to John Clifford

Saturday, July 25, 2015

How to Make the Wise Choice

The quality of life is not a matter of luck - but of choice!

Some choices don't make much difference - like "What should I wear today?" (Although some people take an extraordinarily long time deciding this!)

Other choices can change the entire course of life - like "Who should I marry?" or "How does God fit into my life?"

Sometimes small choices can turn into disastrous outcomes:

"Should I cheat?"
"Should I take this drug?"
“Should I visit this website?”
"Should I protect myself and tell a lie?"
"Should I go out with this person?"

Think it through!

Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick invented the following six-point test for making excellent decisions:

1. Does the course of action you plan to follow seem logical and reasonable? Never mind what anyone else has to say. Does it make sense to you? If it does, it is probably right.

2. Does it pass the test of sportsmanship? In other words, if everyone followed this same course of action would the results be beneficial to all?

3. Where will you plan of action lead? How will it affect others? What will it do to you?

4. Will you think well of yourself when you look back on what you have done?

5. Try to separate yourself from the problem. Pretend, for one moment, it is the problem of the person you most admire. Ask yourself how that person would handle it.

6. Hold up the final decision to the glaring light of publicity. Would you want your family and friends to know what you have done? The decisions we make in the hope that no one will find out are usually wrong.

Poor choices bring negative results. On the other hand, things usually turn out better when we make the right decisions. It pays to think first and act second.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Laws of Sowing and Reaping

Here are a few basic principles concerning sowing and reaping:

1. We reap what we sow.

You can’t sow hatred and reap love.
You can’t sow unbelief and reap faith.
You can’t sow bitterness and reap forgiveness.
You can’t sow selfishness and reap friendship.

2. Sometimes, we reap what others have sown.
Somebody paid the price for the things we enjoy and often take for granted.
We have electric lights because Thomas Edison worked through the night.  
Our family values and traditions were passed along from our parents and grandparents.
Every building was constructed at a price. Somebody was willing to pay it.

3. Occasionally, we reap the painful consequences from what others have sown.

A choice to drive drunk can shatter a stranger’s family.
A dishonest employee can bring great dishonor to the business owner.
An abusive parent can damage and harm the child for life.
A thief can leave the victim penniless.

4. We reap more than we sow.
The mighty oak is just a little nut that held his ground.
Small, daily investments bring a tremendous harvest in the end.
One seed, planted in good soil, produces a thousand seeds.
One good deed planted in God’s love, produces a thousand deeds.

5. It usually takes a while between the sowing and the reaping.

There is no such thing as instant success. It takes a lifetime.
Patience is virtue. Do not be weary in well doing.
Sooner or later, what you do will catch up to you – both good and bad.
If at first you don’t see results, remember that the first growth is underground.

6. The more we sow, the more we grow.
Don’t just sow a little bit and quit.
Keep on sowing and you’ll keep on reaping!
Sow in the unexpected places, and you will discover unexpected results.
It’s never too early or too late to start sowing.

Friday, July 17, 2015

A Challenge to Parents

Parenting is a tremendous challenge. No job in the entire world is more important that the molding of young lives. Your greatest legacy will be the investment you have made in your family.

Mom and Dad, please make sure you are taking time to treasure your children.

The following appeared in a church bulletin many years ago. The author is unknown.

If I Had My Child to Raise Again

If I had my child to raise all over again,
I'd finger paint more,
And point the finger less.
I would do less correcting,
And more connecting.
I'd take my eye off the watch,
And watch with my eyes.
I would care to know less and
Know to care more.
I'd take more hikes and fly more kites.
I'd stop playing serious,
And seriously play.
I would run through more fields and
Gaze at more stars.
I'd do more hugging and less tugging.
I'd build self-esteem first,
And the house later.
I would be firm less often,
And affirm much more.
I'd teach less about the love of power,
And more about the power of love.

Eric Buehrer said, "Your child has many hidden treasures that, once uncovered, polished and held up to the light of encouragement, will lead him to success."

Thursday, July 16, 2015

My Journey to Missional Benedictions

An excerpt from my first book, Filled Up, Poured Out: How God's Spirit Can Revive Your Passion and Purpose:

Thanks for Coming to Church
In my early years of ministry, I always ended church with, “You’re dismissed.” That’s the way my dad did it. During my upbringing, I heard over 3,500 “You’re dismissed”s at the end of worship services, so naturally, it was ingrained in me to do the same thing.

One day, George called and asked if he could take me to lunch. I thought he was just being nice, but he had a burr in his britches.

“As a diehard Presbyterian, it drives me up the wall when you say ‘You’re dismissed’ at the conclusion of the services. I’m standing there waiting for a blessing, something inspiring to take home with me, and you say, ‘You’re dismissed.’ There are only two places where I’ve heard those words: in the classroom and when I got fired from my job. Neither memory is pleasant. I wish you would give us a good, rich benediction—but if you can’t do that, would you at least say, ‘Thank you for coming to church’?”

Benedictions don’t come naturally to me, so in deference to George, I quit saying, “You’re dismissed” and started saying, “Thank you for coming to church.”

Thanks for Being the Church

That went fine for a few years, until Mark called and asked if he could meet with me.

“As a theology professor, it bothers me when you say, ‘Thank you for coming to church’ at the conclusion of the services. It fosters a sense of American consumerism, like ‘Thank you for shopping at Walmart.’ The congregation needs to be challenged to see we’re not doing God some big favor by showing up. Besides, church isn’t just a place to go to; it is who we are. Would you please consider saying something different?”

“How about if I finish with something about being the church?”

“Well, at least that’s an encouragement,” Mark smiled.

So for the next couple of years, I concluded each service with, “Thank you for being the church.”

Go Be the Church

That went along great until Andreas called and asked if he could meet with me.

Andreas, a bright-eyed missionary from Germany, has developed an effective Native American ministry in our area. I call him The German Shepherd.

“As a missional community leader, it concerns me when you finish the services with ‘Thank you for being the church.’ You’re inadvertently saying that ‘being the church’ is what we are inside the building. People might think that if they’ve sat in a pew, sung a few songs, and listened to a sermon, they’ve been the church. That’s pretty passive. Christians need to understand, that they are called to do the kingdom stuff—reaching out to the lost, praying for the sick, caring for the poor, and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom outside the church walls.”

“You’re right!” I agreed.

After that, I began ending the worship services with a challenge: “Go be the church. We have worshiped and prayed together. We have heard God’s Word. Our hearts have been filled with grace. Now, take it out into the community. We have been blessed to be a blessing. Go be the church.”

You're Dismissed

And I continued to say, “Go be the church,” until when working on this book, I had a follow-up conversation with theology professor, Mark.

After I shared my journey from “You’re dismissed” to “Go be the church” with Mark, he said, “I think there’s still something more.”

The next day, he sent me the following excerpt from McGrath’s Theology, explaining the meaning of the phrase the Mass: “This term arose in the Latin-speaking western church during the third century. Its original meaning was ‘dismissal,’ referring to the send out of the congregation into the world after the service was completed.”5 At the bottom of the message, Mark added, “So maybe you can come full circle in your “benediction narrative” to saying once again, “You’re dismissed.”

Monday, July 06, 2015

Let's Learn from our History

The following observation of the Wesleyan Church by historians, McLeister and Nicholson, is fascinating:  "It is significant that our greatest losses occurred in those periods when our church was debating questions of reform; and our greatest gains occurred in those periods when our church was most zealous in promoting holiness evangelism."   Perhaps we should learn something from our history.

(Ira F. McLeister & Roy S. Nicholson, Conscience and Commitment: History of the Wesleyan Methodist Church of America, 1976, p. 643.)

Friday, July 03, 2015

Fishing for Opportunities

The other day, while casting a line, I began to think about how fishing and discovering opportunities are alike.

If you want to "land" a few golden opportunities -- you have to go fishing! Whether at home, work, church, or civic organization -- you can catch a few golden opportunities, if you apply certain laws of fishing.

1. Go where they are.
Nobody has ever caught a fish in the bathtub or the backyard wading pool -- and you won't catch opportunities by waiting around for them to come to you. The chances of catching a fish increase greatly when you go fishing. How much energy and time are you investing in future possibilities? How often do you look for the opportunities around you? Where do you want to go in life? Does the path you are currently following lead to that destination?

2. Keep your eyes open. Good fishermen are always watching for signs of a hungry fish. Often, a causual observer will not even notice -- but an angler will see the slightest indication. When fishing for opportunities -- keep your eyes wide open! Some folks wouldn't recognize a good opportunity if it bit them on the toe! What opportunities are before you right now? What are you going to do about them?

3. Think possibility! Whenever I take my kids out fishing, we expect to catch something wonderful this time. We talk about the record muskies and the beautiful walleye we're anticipating. Even if we don't land any, it's fun to dream. When fishing for opportunities, you will maintain enthusiasm as you think about what could possibly be. Are you settling for small thoughts, or are you stretching you brain with big possibilities? Are you content with catching minnows, when you could be landing muskies?

4. Keep casting. If you get skunked, keep casting. many novice fishermen decide that fishing's just not for them because they don't catch anything right away. That happens with opportunities too. You have to keep plugging away. Keep looking for new, creative ideas. Keep your mind open -- and sooner or later, the big one will sink the bobber. Are you discouraged? Tempted to quit? Don't give up! Keep casting!

5. You can't catch all the fish. Don't mope and pout about missed opportunities. Every great fisherman has stories of the "one that got away." Missing an opportunity should simply be motivation for catching the next one. Are you spending too much time bemoaning the opportunity that passed you by? Bait your hook, and go fishing again!

6. Use the right bait. Different kinds of opportunities require different approaches. What kind of opportunity are you trying to land? Are you going about it the best way possible? If you are not landing the right kind of opportunities, perhaps you are going about it in the wrong way. Think again! Evaluate!

7. Take someone with you. Fishing with friends is a lot more fun than fishing alone. As you go after new opportunities, be sure you take others with you on the journey. Who is in the boat with you?

8. Timing is everything. The fish bite better at certain times than others -- and the same thing applies with potential opportunities. What are the natural "windows of opportunity" in your situation? How are you making the most of them?

9. Celebrate! Celebrate! Catching a wonderful fish is cause for great celebration -- and landing a great opportunity is too. Take a moment to rejoice -- and then toss out the line again!

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Fires Bring Blueberries

Strong winds blew down a swath of trees -- leaving jagged trunks jutting from the earth.

 Driving by a few days later, we shook our heads and sadly recalled how beautiful the land used to be.

 I grumbled against the wind.

 Good hearted loggers tried to clean it up a bit -- by clearing some of the windfall. Their honest efforts, however, seemed more an invasion of nature than a healing. Their cuttings left deep scars, cold and stark.

 I drove by, shook my head, and grumbled against the loggers.

 The burning followed. How the fire started is still a puzzle -- perhaps a lightening strike, an engine spark, or a careless cigarette. Regardless of the start, it took the firefighting volunteers a full effort for the finish. Acres of charred stubble marred the landscape.

 I grumbled against the fire.

 But passing time has a way of healing scarred soil and human hearts. From blackened ground, new life emerges.

Twelve seasons later, quite by accident, we happened upon the barren place and were amazed to find bushes loaded with raspberries -- and a new patch of wild blueberries growing near the earth!

We joyfully filled a couple of ice cream buckets with sweet treasure.

 Before dinner that evening, we bowed our heads, thanked God for the berries and

Blessed the wind,
Blessed the loggers and
Blessed the fire.