Saturday, January 5, 2013

A Life Lesson From A Long Ago Leader

"All men are approachable at some time or in some way. It is very imprudent to rush at everybody as soon as you see them..."  These words seemed to come alive as I read them today while putting the finishing touches on Sunday's sermon.  They are not original to me, Charles Spurgeon penned these words in 1880 in preparation for a sermon of his own.  Over a century has passed since God gave Spurgeon this inspired thought, yet while our linguistic patterns have shifted the powerful message of Spurgeon's declaration still rings true.  I am inspired to share a larger portion of His May 9, 1880 message, confident that it will offer the same challenge to you as well:

If I desire the salvation of anyone I ought to tell him as best as I can what his condition is, and what the way of salvation is, and how he may find rest. All men are approachable at some time or in some way. It is very imprudent to rush at everybody as soon as you see them, without thought or ordinary prudence, for you may disgust those whom you wish to win: but those who earnestly plead for others, and bestir themselves to seek them, are generally taught of God, and so they are made wise as to time, manner, and subject. A man who wishes to shoot birds will, after a while, become expert in the sport, because he will give his mind to it: he will after a little practice become a noted marksman and know all about guns and dogs. A man who wants to catch salmon has his heart set upon his angling, and becomes absorbed in the pursuit. He soon learns how to use his rod and how to manage his fish. So he who longs to win souls, and puts his heart into it, finds out the knack of it by some means, and the Lord gives him success.

 I could not teach it to you, you must practice in order to find out; but this I will say, no man is clear of his fellows’ blood simply because he has prayed to be so. Supposed we had around this parish of Newington a number of people who were dying of hunger, and we were to have a prayer meeting that God would relive their wants: would it not be hypocrisy worthy to be ridiculed and help up to reprobation if, after having prayed for these people, we all went home and ate our own dinners and did not give them a farthing’s worth of bread? The truly benevolent man puts his hand in his pocket and says, “What can I do that my prayer may be answered?” I have heard of one who prayed in New York for a certain number of very poor families that he had visited, and he asked the Lord that they might be fed and clothed. His little sons said, “Father, if I were God I should tell you to answer your own prayer, for you have plenty of money.” Thus the Lord might well say to us when we have been interceding, “Go and answer your own prayer by telling your friends of my Son.” Do you sing, “Fly abroad, thou mighty Gospel”? Then give it wings covered with silver. Do you sing, “Waft, waft, ye winds, his story”? Then spend your breath for it. 

There is a power in your gifts; there is a power in your speech; use these powers. If you cannot personally do much, you can do a great deal by helping another to preach Christ: but chief and first you ought to do somewhat by your own hand, heart, and tongue. Go and teach the good and right way, and then shall your prayers be heard.

"Go ahead and teach the good and right way and then shall your prayers be heard."  A powerful challenge to respond to God's heart for the lost and see God respond to your heart.  

Friday, December 14, 2012


It is part of our human nature to ask the question, why?  When faced with the reality of unspeakable tragedy our initial response is to determine who can be held responsible... we want answers. All too often there are none.

I was challenged today by the comments of a good friend:

We look to blame. When the dust settles, democrats will blame republicans; republicans will blame democrats. Somebody will say we don’t have enough gun control. Somebody will say we have too much gun control. Somebody will blame Obama. Somebody will blame Bush. Somebody will blame the violence in our culture. Somebody will blame video games.

Already some of my well-meaning Christian friends have used this tragedy to soap-box about election results, taking prayer out of schools and America turning her back on God, etc. etc.

PLEASE just shut up.

Now is not the time for preaching and condemnation. Now is the time for sadness, mourning, love, grace. Somebody said a few moments ago on the news that this is a sign that it’s time for America to go running back to God. I completely disagree.

There is a time for repentance and I believe America needs to repent, BUT the beauty of Christmas is that God comes to US. God is not sitting in heaven waiting for America to run back to Him today. God is running toward Newtown, Connecticut. His heart is grieved by evil. Just as we have all seen those parents and grandparents running to reunite with their children and grandchildren today, God is running toward His kids.

God hold us all in your loving arms.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

You've Got To Do Your Own Growing No Matter How Tall Your Grandfather Is

A conversation earlier today reminded me of a blog entry I posted several years ago, and after reviewing it I thought I would repost it:

In my personal reading this morning there was a thought that spoke volumes to me: "Nothing in your past guarantees that you will continue growing toward your potential in the future--not positions attained degrees earned, experience gained, awards received or fortunes acquired." It echoes the old Irish proverb, "You've got to do your own growing no matter how tall your grandfather is." It is all too easy for us to allow our past victories or failures to define us, and to live in past pain or former glory. No matter where we come from in our journey, where we go from here is our choice.

Moving forward requires a willingness to grow and an acceptance of change. Most people fight against change, especially when it affects them personally. Tolstoy said, "Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself." The ironic thing is, change is inevitable. Everyone has to deal with change, yet the growth change offers is optional. You can chose to grow through life's changes or you can fight it. If we are unwilling to change or grow we will never reach our full potential.

My prayer for you is that God will place within you a willingness to grow and change in whatever ways necessary to reach your full potential in Christ... because He has great things in store for you.

"For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height -- to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God."
Ephesians 3:14-19

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Pilgrim's Perspective

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful…"

There are approximately 6.4 million U.S. citizens living abroad—students at universities in Mexico City and Manila, members of trade delegations in Peking and Pnom Phen, embassy staff in Jerusalem and Johannesburg, newspaper reporters in Moscow and Madrid — and this Thursday most, in some way, will take time to observe Thanksgiving. However well they connect with their host country's culture the other 364 days of the year, on Thursday they will be very consciously American. 

Many other nations give thanks, of course. The Hebrew people have been celebrating the ingathering of the harvest since the earliest times. In Canada, Thanksgiving Day is celebrated in early October... mostly because by the end of November it is much too cold to be thankful for much of anything J. One of the most popular services in a British church, often crowding Christmas and Easter for prominence, is Harvest Home. Folks in small parish churches scattered across the English countryside decorate the sanctuary by piling upon the altar the produce from farm, field, and garden.  Mankind has sought expressions of  thanksgiving for the harvest since the dawn of creation.

Yet for most of us that idea of Thanksgiving is an anachronism. Few of us earn our living by working in a field and only a very small percentage till up that plot of ground in the backyard to produce a crop (love the veggies Mom & Dad). In short, the harvest has little to do with typical life these days. And yet, each November we celebrate it still by taking a day off from work, eat until we can't consider another bite, and watch parades and football on television.  

That’s all well and good for your average harvest festival, but the truth about Thanksgiving, as far as the United States of America is concerned, is that it was intended to be much more than a simple expression of gratitude for a good yield of produce. The original design of this November holiday was significantly more profound.  Thanksgiving is most emphatically a celebration of the birth of a nation and a statement of devoted thankfulness to God for His faithful hand upon this great land of ours.  Thanksgiving is an intentional connection with that small company of pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock and laid the foundations of a new world founded on life and liberty.  These pilgrims came for reasons of faith, not fortune. They, in the language of the New Testament, "showed plainly that they desired a better country"—not only a life without poverty, but a life without fear, a life in which they could obey God and serve Him according to conscience.  The songs we sing at Thanksgiving include not only, "Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart" but also "Land where my father’s died, Land of the Pilgrim’s pride, From every mountainside, Let freedom ring!"  The word "pilgrim" has vastly extended its range since 1620. Wave after wave of pilgrims have surged to the United States of America stubbornly determined to carve out a new life. And whether the pilgrims were English or German, Hungarian or Irish (God’s favorite); they were all seeking liberty to breathe, act, think, and worship in their own way.

Unfortunately, the truth about Thanksgiving is that the pilgrim consciousness disappeared from the national life for a long period of time. It was 240 years after our ancestors first sank a knee at Plymouth that Thanksgiving was reinstated on the calendar and proclaimed as an official holiday; and that was done when things were going quite badly. Sir Isaac Newton once said, "all nations grow odious in prosperity." While I am not sure that is true, it does seem they grow careless. Sadly, it took the tragedy of the Civil War and the scarred spirit of Abraham Lincoln to recall our pilgrim heritage, hoping that remembering the devoted disposition of our forefathers might in some way soothe our nation’s hurting heart.

In Lincoln’s words: "We have forgotten the Gracious Hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and strengthened us, and vainly imagined all these blessings were produced by some superior virtue or wisdom of our own. Intoxicated by unbroken success we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity for redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God who made us."

Thanksgiving as we now know it was a stroke of genius that Lincoln sought to bind up the nation’s wounds by instilling in a divided national heart its former unity. His attempt was to bring North and South together by recalling their pilgrim beginnings. On October 3, 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued the first national Thanksgiving proclamation:  "In the midst of a civil war of unequal magnitude and severity . . . I invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States . . . to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father . . . And I recommend they fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty’s hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as may be consistent with the Divine purpose to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and union."

We all tend to romanticize the past, but it is practically impossible to over-idealize the Pilgrims. They had tremendous courage in venturing to the New World, leaving their homeland and families in order to establish an intellectual, educational, and spiritual community in a foreign land. The truth about Thanksgiving is that, for Americans, it is more than a harvest festival—it is a time to remember the sacrifices and accomplishments of those who have gone before us, and God’s hand of blessing that was so evidently upon them.

Now is the time to thank God for those things He has allowed us to accomplish. Few persons beg for new opportunities at Thanksgiving time. Instead we enjoy the rich blessings God has already given us. The harvest is in, so to speak.  It is quite clear to each one of us what he or she will have accomplished by the end of the year. Therefore, Thanksgiving is a time of remembrance, yes—it is a time for gratitude, yes—it is a time of celebration and enjoyment. But let us celebrate in the spirit of the hymn writer, who said: All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above; Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord for all His love. J 

Monday, November 5, 2012

After The Last Ballot

President Obama and Governor Romney are each finishing their last lap around the country... the debates have been debated.... $1.7 billion has been spent in attempt to convince us not to vote for the other guy....  Political pundits and late night talk show hosts have talked endlessly about the election....  Friends and coworkers have passionately shared how they think we should vote....  Thankfully, in a few short hours the campaigns will come to a close and the decision will be made.  Tomorrow morning polling places across the country will be filled with voters casting their ballot for the candidate of their choice.  Our vote is both a tremendous right and a civic responsibility.  But, what do we do after the ballot has been cast?

Paul's challenge to Timothy is a powerful statement to us, " I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers,  intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—  for kings and all those in authority,  that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness  and holiness.   This is good, and pleases God our Savior."    God's Word provides great wisdom on what our post-election disposition should be:

Paul's admonition instructs us to "first of all"  take a posture of request and prayer.  This is a vivid reminder that we are to look to God as our source.  It is so easy to lose perspective and as a result have misguided passion.  The realization that "every good and perfect gift comes from the Father" fuels a healthy dedication to God. 

Paul further encourages us to intercede for those who are in positions of leadership.  1 Peter reminds us that we are to honor those who are in positions of authority, without any allowance or exclusion if we are not in agreement with their leadership approach.  A powerful truth is that  prayer has a remarkable way of filtering our thoughts and guarding our emotions.  Simply said, it is tough to hate something/someone you pray for regularly.

Finally, this directive of Paul implores us to be thankful for those in authority.  We can be confident that kingdoms rise and fall in accordance with God's will.  Solomon states in Proverbs 19, that "many are the plans of man, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails."  Our current position might not allow us to recognize how God is using those in authority, yet we can trust the promises of His Word.  

Our democratic process is a key part of what makes our country great.  Our ability to freely share our praise/problems with those pursuing political office is a vital part of our democracy.  Our right to passionately endorse the candidate of our choice is both a right and a responsibility.  We are blessed to live in a nation that is free.  It is with that freedom in mind we close with Peter's declaration, "Live as free men,  but do not use your freedom as a cover–up for evil;  live as servants of God.  Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers,  fear God, honor the king." 

Happy Voting!!!  

Sunday, April 22, 2012

It Really Was A Dark And Stormy Night

…for such a time as this.”

So many writers have begun with the words, “It was a dark and stormy night.”    Yet, if I were to write the story of the defining moment in my life I would have to begin with those words.  A dimly lit, rain soaked street and drunk driver running late for work proved to be no match for a teenager on a bicycle; and in a moment my world changed.  In the aftermath of a horrific collision that left my bicycle mangled beneath the front bumper of a station wagon and found me with a broken leg lying in the grass, my focus quickly changed from school and Friday night’s game to life and destiny.  Earlier in the day I enjoyed the first day of school, the beginning of my  high school junior year.    A typical school day was followed by a late football practice, under the lights in anticipation of our first game of the season.  It seemed like so many days I had lived before, but it would prove to be a day I would never forget… a defining moment.
Biblical and church history is filled with those who were engaged in the routine of life when their defining moment became evident.  David was tending his father’s flocks when Samuel sent for him to be anointed as the future King of Israel.  Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress when the angel of the Lord appeared and commissioned him to lead the armies of Israel.  James and John were preparing for a day of fishing when Jesus' call changed their life forever.  Esther was a young Jewish girl living in relative obscurity when Ahasuerus, King of Persia chose her as his queen; a position that would afford her the opportunity to save her people from the evil plot of Haman.  Her uncle brought to her attention the defining moment when he challenged her with the thought, “perhaps you have come into the kingdom for such a time as this?”  Esther’s response is a model for all who desire to see God’s power in their life:  I will do what is right and “If I perish, I perish!”
Each one of us have our defining moments, those times when the ordinary has the potential to become extraordinary and our destiny can be forever changed.  The definition of our life is determined in large part by how we respond in those moments.  More often than not our decision will involve some risk, potentially a great deal of risk.  The temptation is to maintain the status quo, to avoid the risk, to play it safe.  Yet, those who have significant Kingdom impact and have become heroes in the faith consistently chose to accept challenge and see God take them beyond the risk to the reward.
History will show, should the Lord tarry, that 2012 will prove to be a defining moment for those who endeavor live as fully devoted Christ followers.  The risks involved in our faith journey and the challenge of fulfilling God’s mandate before us provide a huge platform for God to do the miraculous.... this will be an exciting adventure.
Trust God in those defining moments, take those risks when He presents opportunity, allow the Holy Spirit to guide you through new territory.  An exciting adventure awaits!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Ice Cream Man

I have a confession to make. I hate the ice cream man. He takes a nice content moment and turns it into cravings for something my children don’t need and can’t afford – and turns contentment into discontentment. But there’s an awful lot of ice cream trucks out there, aren’t there? They don’t all go around with children’s music piping out of their speakers – but they can make us feel discontent no matter what we have.

For me they are things like “For sale” signs in front of homes we can’t quite afford, classified ads for cars that are nicer and newer than what I drive, going to people’s homes where they have much nicer furniture or really cool home stereo systems. Just as worry and anxiety can steal our joy and keep us from living a fulfilled life, discontentment can do just the same thing. If we want to be joyful, somehow we’ll have to discover a way to find contentment in our present situation.

Want some good news? No matter what is happening in your life, you can know contentment. God’s word tells us how to do it:

First, He tell us that Contentment is a Learned State. Contentment is not something that comes naturally. Paul said that he had to“learn to be content”

Secondly, Contentment is Not Found in Possessions or Circumstances!
“ know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”
Scripture declares that regardless of our circumstances, whether we have money or not, whether we have abundance or are in a very strained circumstances, we can still have contentment because the secret is something other than what we do or do not possess. Paul tells Timothy that we start with nothing and we end with nothing. So contentment is not about what we accumulate, it is about living with satisfaction one day after another. “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have….”

Third, Contentment Comes From Learning To Appreciate What We Have in Jesus Christ.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” True contentment comes from living life understanding that everything pales in comparison to knowing Christ.

Consider this: US News and World Report did a study on the American Dream. The story said that for Americans with household incomes of under $25,000, polls showed these people believed it would take $54,000 to fulfill the American dream in their lives. The same survey also showed that for those who make $100,000, they’d like to make about $192,000 for their version of the American dream.

In other words, the American Dream usually lies nearly twice the distance away, at least financially.

So if the secret to being content is not in amassing personal wealth or getting everything you want, how can we know contentment?

What is the secret? “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Paul echoes the teaching of Jesus, when he said "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

It doesn’t get much clearer, does it? Apart from Christ we can do nothing of lasting value in our lives, but we can do everything through Christ who gives us strength. One of those “everythings” is finding contentment in all situations.

Whether we are experiencing plenty or want in our life right now – the secret to being content is staying connected to Jesus. It is HIS strength that will provide the contentment we need. It is HIS power that will help us find hope even when the cupboards are bare.

When we spend time on a regular basis praying to Jesus, studying God’s Word, and surrendering our life to the power of the Holy Spirit, we discover that no matter what else is going on in our life – we feel more content. Why? Because when we’re living our life connected to Jesus Christ, we come to understand that nothing happens to us without His knowledge. Nothing that happens, either good or bad, can take us away from God’s love, and He has our final destination in mind!