Stress Test

Every few years my doctor orders a stress test for me. Well, today is the day. Later this afternoon I will be going in for a stress test. The purpose of this test is to see if there is anything in my heart that needs attention or correction in order to avoid a major heart attack or heart failure later on. They will put me on a treadmill increasing the speed and slope until my heart rate is accelerated, then they monitor me for signs of trouble.

I normally have two or three stress tests a week, but seldom do I have the privilege of scheduling one. God orchestrates or allows these stress tests in my life on a regular basis. These tests are not necessarily, in the short term, to make me stronger, but rather, to reveal to me where I am weak.

God gave these tests to the Israelites throughout the Old Testament. Jesus did the same thing with his disciples. God did not give these tests so He could find out where they were in their development; He already knew. The tests were for them to learn. Sometimes the Israelites passed the tests and sometimes they failed.

Failing a test is hard. We often discover that we may not be as strong or as mature as we thought. Failing a test is no excuse for beating ourselves up or for quitting. Failing a test means that I learn something about myself that is true and now corrective action must be taken.

I have always loved passing tests – who doesn’t? Passing a test tells me I am somewhere between OK and great in that area. Failing means that God and I have work to do in my life.

I cannot say I am looking forward to this afternoon’s stress test, but I am glad it is happening for what I can learn and change. Failing a test today could result in saving my life tomorrow.

Let’s recognize the stress tests in our lives and embrace them as growth opportunities.

 

 

Let’s Pray!

If you have checked the international news at all, you know that the Middle East is a powder keg. Every human being has to be troubled by the brutality and the loss of innocent life in Syria.

Both sides of the political aisle are suggesting caution because of major political consequences. There are cries for President Obama to take decisive action against the Syrian government, while others are demanding no response or delayed response.

I am glad I am not in the position of being an advisor to the President and his team, but I do know One with infinite wisdom.

The Scriptures challenge followers of Christ to pray for our governmental leaders. This is not only commanded, but also pleasing to the Lord. Please read 1 Timothy 2:1-8 and Romans 13:1-7.

May I encourage you to take some time today to pray for President Obama. Let’s pray that as he seeks God’s face, that the Lord would give him wisdom in the kind and timing of action. May this prayer be continual from the people of God.

The multiple problems of war, injustice and hostility around the world remind us that man cannot solve man’s problems. True peace can only come from the Prince of Peace!

 

Rest

As I write this blog, I am returning from more than two weeks of a break in my normal schedule or routine. For those of you who know me, work comes easy – rest is hard. Carolyn and I had planned a fairly tightly scheduled vacation in the Carolinas, but a few days before it started we decided to stay home, make day trips, rest, and enjoy each other at a camp in rural Ontario.

Rest was modeled by God and commanded in the Scriptures. In fact, God used one of the Ten Commandments to challenge us to rest. Because of the demands of Sunday for us, Carolyn and I have made Monday our day of rest.

For many years I did not take a day of rest. I enjoyed the work God had called me to do and honestly I did not feel like I needed rest. It took me years to realize how self-deluded I was in that I desperately needed rest.

When I started taking a day a week to rest and reflect, I thoroughly enjoyed it and then realized what I had been missing. The worst part was not learning a simple lesson late, but realizing that I had actually been sinning against God. He knew what I needed better than what I did.

Ultimately, my passion to do the work of the ministry at a frantic pace was nothing more than pride and perhaps finding some of my identity in the work of The Lord rather than in The Lord. That’s when work can become an idol. I have found the forgiveness of God and I have discovered the benefits and joys of rest. If you can identify with my story, please learn from my mistakes.

This block of time has been so beneficial to me. Over the years I would return from vacations with a dozen different new ministry ideas – much to the dismay of our staff. This rest has allowed time to refocus – not on new ministries or programs – but on the center of who I am and my relationship with my Lord.

Spending time in solitude in the woods or alongside a campfire invites a person to explore the inner places less travelled. Is it possible that we avoid these times through busyness because of a fear of being alone with God?

Reading, meditating, praying and listening brings new perspective and calls for changes in the most important areas of life. Attention to the inner, private life helps give direction and meaning to the public life.

This block of time has also helped to recharge the batteries. When we get run down physically, emotionally or spiritually, we become shallow and even dangerous – like an accident waiting to happen. Recharging the battery makes us more effective in our mission and more enjoyable to be around.

I am thankful for the Woodside family for allowing us this time of rest. Thank you for your prayers. We feel rested, refocused and recharged – ready for the challenges and opportunities of ministry at Woodside.

Love Works

During some vacation time, I am trying to work my way through a stack of books. I just finished Joel Manby’s book, Love Works: Seven Timeless Principles for Effective Leadership. This was a quick and enjoyable read as Manby weaves his life and experience with biblical principles.

After a successful history in the auto industry with Saturn and Saab, Manby became the president and CEO of Herschend Family Entertainment, the largest family-owned theme park corporation in the U.S. “Manby and his team have proven you can get financial results and lead with love, generating a 14% annual return to shareholders while also helping thousands of employees in financial need via the company’s Share It Forward Foundation.” (taken from the jacket of the book)

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which beautifully illustrates what followers of Christ already have been taught in the Word. Love is a priority in the Bible. When asked by a lawyer what was the greatest commandment, Jesus responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)

Manby explains that love is not an emotion but rather a verb, an act of the will. Love is not only a biblical priority, it also works.  Manby’s stories are wonderful and heartwarming reminders of how love can change a business and transform people. And yet this love does not come naturally. Love emanates from who we are and what the Holy Spirit produces in us.

I would highly recommend Love Works and I am delighted that we have Joel Manby as the keynote speaker for the launch of our Kingdom Builders on Sept. 9.

Grieving, Praying, Grateful

The life of a church and many families can be forever changed in a matter of seconds. That was the case a few days ago when the Colonial Hills Baptist Church bus was returning to Indianapolis from a summer camp in Michigan. After traveling 365 miles, the bus had one mile to go when apparently the brakes failed, the bus hit a barrier and turned on its side.  Of the 37 on board, three were killed and dozens were injured.

The three who died included the student pastor and his wife, Chad and Courtney Phelps. Courtney was pregnant leaving one more fatality. Another who died was a mother of five.

The pastor of the church has a huge task of helping the church through this, complicated by the fact that the student pastor was his son. This pain seems unbearable. The Phelps share the same alma mater as my wife, Carolyn, and me.

We have been grieving for these families and the Colonial Hills Baptist family.  Please join us in prayer for them during this time of grief and pain.  Let’s pray that these dear folks would know the comfort and healing that can only come from the God of all comfort.

We find comfort in the truth that to be absent from the body is to be present with The Lord.  I will contact the church today to assure them of the prayers of Woodside.

When I heard this story break, I had a flashback to a similar incident over 35 years ago. We were returning from a youth activity on an old church bus when the brakes gave out. After a scary high-speed ride of a couple a miles, the driver was able to bring the bus to a stop. It could have ended in the same way as this recent tragedy.

I am so thankful for the safety that The Lord has given through all of the travel associated with Woodside ministry whether here in Michigan or around the world on short-term trips.  We try to make sure our buses and the buses we rent are current and well-serviced, and yet our trust is in The Lord.

The Birth that Changed the World

The headlines of our papers broke the news, “IT’S A BOY!” Will and Kate gave birth to a boy who now stands third in line for the throne. The fascination and interest in this birth circles the globe to differing degrees. Lots of questions still capture the interest of people in our nation, the first of which is, what are they going to name him?

With all of this news bombarding us everyday, I kept thinking of another birth centuries ago. It was the birth of Jesus in a stable or cave in Bethlehem. There was no media coverage other than an angel – then a choir of angels saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

The comparisons and contrasts of these two births are obvious. The wealth of one, the poverty of another. Jesus became poor so that we could become rich. The pomp of one and the humility of the other. The designer baby clothes and blankets vs. the swaddling clothes. Contrast the manger to the palace. A baby that will live his life with servants caring for him standing in contrast to a baby who came not to be served, but to serve and give his life a ransom for many. A baby awaiting a name vs. a baby who was named centuries before he was born. He shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace. Emmanuel-God with us. He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

If this baby, third in line, ever reigns, his reign will be figurative. But, Jesus is the first in line to reign on the throne of his father David. His reign begins in the hearts of people, but one day his reign will be expansive and will last forever. No king can bring true peace like King Jesus. When Jesus reigns, whether in our hearts or in the world, everything changes.

One day the marriage of this young boy will bring worldwide attention, but that will be nothing in comparison to Jesus the bridegroom when he presents his bride glorious and without spot or wrinkle. The Marriage Supper of the Lamb will be unprecedented.

May the continued news out of England remind us of a bigger, better story of love, sacrifice and salvation in Jesus.

Summer is often the season when many of us carve out time to recharge the batteries. Over time we wear down and get tired out physically and emotionally. When this happens, our productivity as well as relationships suffer. Those vacation breaks are so very important to get us back on track.

But what do we do when the soul needs attention? Our spiritual life can become monotonous and even feel empty. Many years ago, my van stopped running while I was on the way to an appointment.

I pulled over to the side of the road, only to discover that I was out of gas. The confusing part was the gauge read FULL. The gauge said full, but the tank said EMPTY. Have you ever been there spiritually? What is in the tank? How much?

I am so encouraged by the fact that God is interested in my soul. The psalmist reminds me that The Lord, our shepherd, restores my soul. He brings it back to where it should be. I love the words the psalmist uses to describe his passion for The Lord.

He says, “My soul clings to you, your right hand upholds me. (Psalm 63:8)

     “As the deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.” (Psalm 42:1)

We desperately need The Lord and our walk with him must be fresh. As I read the scriptures, the Lord is eager to meet our needs and satisfy our longings.

     “For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry souls he fills with good things.” (Psalm 107:9)

     “For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish. (Jeremiah 31:25)

I don’t think God ever intended for us to fill our own soul. Let’s not try to do God’s job. This is not a matter of trying harder. It may involve seeking The Lord though fasting and meditation. It may involve reading as well as listening and then journaling.

We may be able to glean a lot from reading the biographies of others. It does involve crying out to God in prayer, asking him to do whatever is necessary to replenish my soul.

By all means, take care of yourself this summer. Enjoy that break from work in order to recharge your body and your emotional tank. C. S. Lewis once wrote, “You do not have a soul. You are a soul. And you have a body.”

Give The Lord the opportunity to replenish your soul this summer. Have a great summer of safety and growth.

Changed Lives

One of the things I have always loved about serving the Lord is to see lives changed. Sunday evening, at Woodside’s annual celebration, we all witnessed dozens of lives that have been changed over the last few months. Each carried a placard that declared on one side what the person was and as they flipped it over it revealed what he or she had become. It was by far the highlight of an amazing evening.

Just a few words told a big story. People shared how they had come to know salvation through Christ. Others shared how they were able to introduce a friend or family member to Christ. Many shared the impact of their neighborhood group on themselves or the people on their street.

Some experienced the healing of cancer or another disease. One shared how his cancer had drawn him closer to Christ. Some had experienced the grace of God to forgive the one who abused them as a child. Marriages have been reconciled. People have been set free from the prison of their addictions.

Prayers have been answered. Families have been baptized. Discipleship groups have been launched and have grown.

As people filed through with their stories, I was reminded that this is what we work and pray for. I did not want the line to end; I could listen to those stories all day and night.

I thought of the Apostle Paul’s words to the Colossian church, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” The gospel of Christ not only changes a person’s eternal destiny; it begins a process where the Word and the Spirit can change a person’s life.

Sometimes the changes take place slowly in our lives, while at other times more abruptly. Sometimes we change by simply applying a Bible truth to our lives. Often the changes come through trials and even pain.

At times we change as the result of lessons learned through mistakes. Change to be like Christ is always good, although at times the journey can be hard. We thank God for the changes and we thank God for the journey.

The fact of the matter is that none of us will ever reach complete maturity or perfection this side of heaven. We are all in the growth process. Real and lasting changes take place from the inside out.

        “And we all with unveiled face, beholding the glory of The Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from The Lord who is the Spirit.”  (2 Corinthians 3:18)

If you are reading this and wondering if you can ever really change or be changed, let me assure you, you can! I have seen God change me in so many ways and He is not finished yet.

Recently I was asked to speak for the National Day of Prayer in Troy. The topic I was given was, “When will prayer become a priority?” I have thought of the topic for a long time. Prayer should become a priority when we realize that to not pray is a sin. Prayer should become a priority when I realize that God can use prayer to work in my life. Prayer should become a priority when I realize I do not have because I have not asked. All of these should be compelling reasons to make prayer a big deal in our lives.

And yet we all know those things and still we admit our prayer life is insufficient. Why? I think the reason is that we have not come to the point of need, perhaps desperation. The author of Hebrews writes “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Once we recognize the “time of need,” prayer will become a priority. Recently one of our young men suffered an aneurysm and was hospitalized in intensive care. No one had to convince his family that they needed to pray. The need to pray became more important than work, than food, than the playoffs, than sleep, than anything…

As long as we sense that we can manage the problem through our human resources, prayer is just a default route. Just in case…we will pray. When all else fails…we will pray. Sometimes we even hear people try to provide comfort to a hurting friend by saying, “I wish I could do something to help…but I can pray (as if prayer is the least we can do).”

Until we recognize that our time of need is not restricted to storms, cancers, fires and earthquakes, prayer will not become a priority. Don’t we need His mercy and grace all the time? It is so comforting to know that we have 24/7 access to the throne of God where mercy and grace are granted. An old songwriter put it well, “I need Thee every hour…I need You …Oh I need You…”

Let it Rain!

I drove to work this morning in the rain – heavy rain. The rain slowed down the traffic and increased each drivers’ attention and intensity.

I could not help but think about rain in the Bible. I know that God brought the rain in Genesis 7 when “the windows of heaven were opened.” God’s judgment came because of the great sin in the land. The Lord rained down on Sodom sulfur and fire. God at times would stop the rain to get his people’s attention. “When heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against you, if they pray toward this place and acknowledge your name and turn from their sin, when you afflict them, then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel, when you teach them the good way in which they should walk, and grant rain upon your land, which you have given to your people as an inheritance.” (1 Kings 8:35, 36)

But most often rain speaks of God’s provision and His grace.

The early rains were a blessing to the farmer and his crop while the latter rains were an extra special blessing to expand the crop before the harvest (Jeremiah 5:24). The Lord provided food for his people by raining down manna (Psalm 78:24).

You and I are blessed by the rain of God’s grace. His rain of common grace falls on all mankind as he blesses with life itself, skills and wisdom. Those who know Jesus have experienced his special grace involving life in Christ, the indwelling Spirit, the promise of his abiding presence, answered prayers, and the list goes on and on.

While we may want these April showers to come to an end, we are thankful for the rain of God’s grace and we rejoice in it.

I like the tagline of Todd Agnew’s rendition of “Amazing Grace”:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now I’m found
Was blind but now I see so clearly

Chorus
Hallelujah, grace like rain falls down on me
Hallelujah, all my stains are washed away, washed away

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed

Chorus
Hallelujah, grace like rain falls down on me
Hallelujah, all my stains are washed away, washed away

When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun
We’ve no less days to sing Your praise
Than when we first begun

Chorus
Hallelujah, grace like rain falls down on me
Hallelujah, all my stains are washed away, washed away

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