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Christian Life Hacks-INTERACTIVE

The Internet Universe is over stuffed with “Hacks”, clever, small actions that improve your life. There are hundreds of thousands of “Hacks” out there showing you what you have been doing wrong. With them, you can improve everything in life from peeling pomegranates to ironing shirts. This is a list of spiritual practices. You aren’t necessarily doing them wrong but you might need a little jump start in order to experience a bigger spiritual impact.

Some of this list was collected from other places while others are my own. This is a living document. Please add your own in the comment section!

1. Bullet Point Journaling:“BUJO” is all the rage and has streamlined my rather hit-or-miss journaling. Another post on this blog shares my heavily adapted system. This system of journalling systematically and efficiently uses your journal as icon, focusing your spiritual goals in everyday living. The first page is an index followed by few pages of lists and goals. Know where you have been, where you are and where you are going in Christ through them. The rest creates space for daily lists of your encounters from each day. Rather than prose, you make bullet point lists-simple, clear and focused lists. One small blank book replaced my scattered notebooks.

2. Use color in your journal: I am not all that artistic but adding a cheap assortment of colored pens to my $5 blank book keeps me in the word longer and opens me up to the scripture from a different part of my brain. Simply adding the act of doodling helps me pray more creatively and connect with the word.

3. Create a “Monday Morning Briefing”: I have three e-mail devotional sources of different perspectives that I read each Monday and glance at through the week. This is an addition to and not a replacement of Scripture and prayer. You should choose three-A single source is thin while more than three clutters your in-box. Here are my three: Cary Nieuwhof-leadership, Patheos-a variety of posts that either edify or tick me off, and “Talent Smart”/Travis Bradberry-Emotional intelligence.

4. Create an email account for devotional posts: This keeps Spiritual matters from becoming lost in the pile and keeps you from checking work stuff at prayer time. My IPhone made this easy to check.

5. Keep it simple: I have chosen a small blank drawing-paper book and a small double-spaced journaling testament for morning devotions. These reside in my bag and go wherever I go. Prefer a tech solution? I carry an Ipad and phone anyway but I find too many distractions in them for quiet time. Analog or digital, keep it simple and easy.

6. Create a fixed devotional space with a mobile solution: My desk at home and at word are sacred spaces. At my knee is a bag where my prayer and devotional items live. I can work on sermons or pray through an issue wherever I am. My prioritized work list and prayer list share the same space and carry the same spiritual weight. How could this work in your life and

7. Make a photo of a critical prayer matter and use it as wallpaper: My kids, grands and church family rotate across the front of my phone as a reminder to pray and not just talk about praying. Even if your are just praying about bad weather, keep it up front.

8. Bookend your day with God: Condition yourself to make prayer your first conscious thought and a disciplined habit of your final thought as you go to sleep. This simple habit will change your life in Christ.

9. Turn those daily repetitive task into prayer time: I hate unloading the dishwasher and folding clothes but look forward to the prayer time. These mindless tasks are exceptionally rich times for prayer. The old monks worked with their hands while they prayed. We can make any space sacred.

10. Make Lists: Lists of Books read, edifying movies watched, Bible verses by topic, birds watched, prayers answered, and such can provide focus and depth for your devotional time.

11. Own a Psalm: Choose one psalm, pray through it until you own it, then choose another. This is God’s own devotional book and will open you up to spiritual riches.

12. Have and be a prayer partner: Devotional time is solitary but you were never meant to travel along. Find your intercessor then be available to someone else. NOTHING opens a disciple of Jesus up to deeper things like blessing another person in prayer.

Success, Elusive Success…

What is success? The common answers are usually and emblem of success such as money or power. OK, but what is the essence of success and how does the Christian life inform it. Success will be our exploration for the January 2018 sermons at Cheatham Memorial UMC.

It is also a personal reflection from a personal struggle and would apply to anyone struggling to find success in their life.

I am turning 60 this year. For the first time, people are offering to give me the senior discount at restaurants! I feel fruitful as a Christian, passionate as a pastor, loving as a husband and grandparent, and a real part of my community. However, looking back, I really struggle seeing my life as a success. Do you ever feel that way? I would like to know what God’s definition of success is through scripture, witness and a season of prayer.

Please share the journey with me. Write a comment below with an answer to these questions: What is a picture, emblem or symbol of true success? Who is the most success person in your life and why? Finally, “what is success in your life and what does that look like”?

The four sermons for January will explore Christian success in four characteristics, through the witness of four Biblical Figures, These messages are:

  • January 7, in Communion Sunday and will explore, ” Success requires Focus: Peter’s success” from Mark 8:27-Peter grows from a bumbling disciple who is always tripping on his own tongue into the ͞rock͟ upon which the church is built. His influence is still felt today and his success transcends monetary success.
  • January 14 brings, “Success Requires Love: Ruth’s Success” from Ruth1:1–22. Relationships and family ties have more to do with success than money does. In Christ are the seeds to strong families and and influential faith.
  • On January 21 , “Success Requires Direction: Paul’s Compass to Success”” from Galatians 5: 13-25. Following the dollar is not enough. The spiritual compass is not always the easiest to follow and the life in Christ is hard to account for. We need to know how to read our scoreboard.
  • Finally on January 28, ” Success Overflows: The Wealth of the Christ. ” looking to Matthew 25:14-30. True success brings in the Kingdom of God-That means everyone’s lives improve. Success was never meant to be held but to overflow in ways that bring salvation .

I continue to look at these questions very personally. My answer? Success happens when my surroundings, family, church and community, are better because I am there. Faith in Christ is central to my definition of success but Jesus must be more than an excuse to explain any short comings. Journey with me as we find our way together. Success simply must be more than just driving a nicer car.

(Photo credit: Amanda and Jason Patzke)

Our August 2016 Prayer Challenge

“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”  James 5:16

compass of faith

Our Texas Annual Conference offers a “Wellness Program” with a structured exercise program through our health insurance.    Each week or so we are offered a motivational “challenge” that expands “Wellness” beyond exercise and weight loss.  The current challenge is “to journal a prayer daily”.  How wonderful to remember that our spiritual side is a crucial part of being healthy people.

So here is your challenge.  Write at least one brief prayer each week and post it in a comment at the bottom of this post.  Post as many as you wish!

Check in often and pray through the prayers of others who post.  This could be a part of your personal well and a jump-start to a richer prayer life.

Below is a worksheet that I use in classes and for writing group prayers in strategic planning.  If you are not sure how to form your written prayer, this provides a starting place.

As for me…..  I am going to write 100 brief prayers of this style in August!  Each time the Spirit moves, I am carrying a blank notebook to write them down.  Please join me and share how Jesus is touching your heart in prayer.

collect worksheet for individual prayer in gif

 

Monday School: November 30, 2015, Coping with Christmas 1 of 3, Matthew 20:20-28

This is an overview of our discussion and not a text for success.  This is not just a Holiday thing either.  We are sharing stories and principles for coping with life and not just Christmas.  This is not a discussion of right and wrong behaviors but of healthier and unhealthier.  This is not a discussion of living stress free wither-only dead people are stress free. The trick is living in heathy stress and not constant distress. There are no quick fixes but this story gives us a framework for discussion.

Read our story from the Gospel of Matthew and follow along as we ask the text some questions:  Click here for Matthew 20:20-28

Our discussion of the text:  James and John show up to see Jesus with their mom.  She asks them to make these two the number two and three people in His messianic kingdom.  She misunderstood the kingdom to be an earthly-political one while Jesus was teaching that it would be one in heaven.  While she only had her community model to understand a kingdom, she knew Jesus, recognized  and she had faith that He could make her request happen.

Jesus gave them all a question as an answer and used Holy Communion language to teach them.  He is asking, “do you really know what you are getting in to.  They said sure and then Jesus said, “You’ve got it!”  BUT the three seats of leadership are not His to give nor theirs to receive-they are for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Later, Jesus would gather them together, with all of the grumbling, and explain that their mission was not to set up another human led, lord and master government system.  The Kingdom of God would be spiritual and focused on serving others rather than being the big dog in charge and being served.  Jesus did not die the make them power people but to be their ransom-payment-redemption, freeing them for a rich life that changes the world.

After this rather lively discussion of the text, we turned the worksheet over and asked these question.

  1. Who brought whom to Jesus? Did mom bring the boys? Or did the boys bring mom to fade the heat?  Who brings their mom to something like this!  Perhaps mom was that strong willed and didn’t trust her kids to stand up for themselves.  Maybe the sons brought mom to take the heat and passively do their talking to Jesus for them.  It makes a difference in our family dynamics.  Who is the strong willed in your family and who waits to be brought along.  Neither is more right or more wrong but you need to understand how that works to understand how a group of people come together and operate in a healthy way.
  2. Why did anyone have to bring anyone? The short answer is anxiety.  one or another was worried more than the other and pushed this action to relieve the anxiety.  Mom worried about sons, or sons worried about what Jesus would think or all of them just wanted to make sure they got to the front of the line.  Some things to consider
*The anxiety of each person in any group or family effects the anxiety of others.
*Some handle stress and anxiety better than others but everyone is two people; how they are normally and how they are when anxious.
*Self identity effects how we see God and hence how we see everything.  “Know thyself!”
*When unhealthy living is all you know, that’s how you go about living and will strive to make that happen.  Likewise when your family is healthy you will strive to maintain healthy living.
  1. First from verse 22: He calmly refocused the question in a spiritual way  in a calm place in a focused way.  When our family is in crisis we can begin by getting focused around facts and not emotion.
  2. Second from verse 23:
  3. And third from verse 25     How did this effect the group dynamic?  I made the other 10 “indignant”!  It caused stress and acting out.  He and gathered this family of disciples.  Being together in a familiar place is powerful but has to be mutually respectful  to be healthy
  4. What happens in football when you have 12 players on the field.. “Too many players on the field” gets a flag and the loss of control.  When an outsider or one unhealthy voice gets control the play has to change directions!  This is hard and usually goes against long standing patterns.  Jesus didn’t let the two define the mission that was to be their lives.
  5. What happens when one (or more) try define a group members identity.  anger with yelling?  anger with silence, isolating?  or….calmly sharing the cause and asking God to lead rather than the emotion of the moment.  Prayer is amazing when we do it at first instead of as a last resort.  Following Jesus’ calm yet firm persona.  He did not yell back and taught then retaught the role they would have and the one they would follow.  Consistency and discernment is a key.  Seeing God clearly through the fog of anxiety is key to getting started.  Knowing whose you are is key to knowing who you are and living in the healthy light of faith.
  6. What correction did Jesus offer?  Seek to serve and not be served.  Seek to follow God in spirit and truth rather than lead from your own limited vision and strength.  His witness and example would lead and guide all of those who follow.  It was suggested that this confrontation by James and John’s mom was embarrassing!  They probably knew the answer but pushed the point any way.
  7. Fusion versus differentiation:  Sometimes we are “Fused” as a group to the point that we lose all individuality-this is called fusion.  Sometimes we are so focused on ourselves that we don’t need anyone else-this is called differentiation.  The truth is that we float around somewhere in the middle.  We must know ourselves well enough to go to Jesus without mom making our case for us.  We also have to take on our life’s role with or without Mom’s approval and be ok.  We must be connected to our group but not to the point we have no identity-that describes a cult.  To lack any need for our family makes us empty shells and narcissists.
  8. Ideally, who should we “fuse” with?  The only perfect person that ever walked was Jesus.  He is the one who gives us an identity that gives us a life of significance here and life eternal hereafter.

 

 

 

 

 

Weekly Sermon Brief: November 15, 2015, “The Church isn’t a church isn’t at Church”, Mark 13:1-8

 

Click here to read This week’s text for this sermon bite.

This past Saturday I was rewarded with an honor that shows that my vast array of gifts and graces are finally being recognized  Members of our Historical Society, who care for our magnificent Edgewood Heritage Park ( it is a living museum!), sought carefully and bestowed upon me the august honor, I sniff back a tear just thinking about it, of making me a Judge, yes a juSlide1dge…..of the pinto bean competition.

While I am only a talented amateur at this time, with the proper training, focus and motivation I might go professional in the future.  Sadly, the title would not fit onto my business cards but I will prevail as people recognize this honor and see me in the light of a true pinto bean judging professional.  And when the pronounce, out of jealousy, that I am full of beans, I will proudly proclaim my gracious thanks for recognizing this wonderful filling within me.  Hallelujah and amen.

Silly isn’t it?  Be we  often have trouble see ourselves in our real significance as a redeemed child of God.  The disciples in our story have spent the day being taught by the one who spoke creation into existence and at the end of the day, all they can say is, “wow, we sure have a beautiful church.”

Look at the title;  The Capital “C” Church is the worldwide saving enterprise of which our small “c” church-congregation is a part.  and while it meets at the Church-House or sanctuary, of which we are blessed to have a great facility, the building is NOT the church.  Those smiling people at the top of the post are the real sure enough, Jesus following, Spirit led CHURCH. 

Slide2Admittedly the Jerusalem Temple was a big deal. Originally built in 957 BC, Destroyed around 604 BD, Rebuilt a century later and then remodeled just before the time of Christ’s earthly ministry, it was a huge facility that was more than a church.  This was an icon of the Jew’s national, racial and religious identity.

To the Jew, the Temple was a sign that God’s victory over the world and was a center of the world and not just the center of Israel.  The Temple is where God lives and provided a place to speak to and about God!  This was where people were led to God and learned the stories that edified faith.  However, it had sadly become and idol to some and an amusement park to others rather than a power center of God.  The Roman invaders used it as a tool of manipulation.  By controlling Temple worship and giving local leaders municipal “Bean Judge” type titles, a small force would control big crowds through brutality and civic organization.

Jesus would prophesy in verse 2 of the destruction in 70 AD.  It would beSlide3 the building that was defeated and not God!  This took the newly forming Christians back to the desert tabernacle and dispersed them throughout the world.  Jesus was taking the formal faith of the temple back to its roots.  He speaks of false messiahs, soul stealing rumors, family upheaval, political and natural disasters and redeems them from sources of fear to the validation of this new faith in Jesus the Christ, our God incarnate.  Jesus told them to expect these things, be ready for injustice and to speak in the power of the Holy Spirit.   The Christ would call for patience as “the Gospel must first be preached to all nations.”

This past Friday, this old pattern would come to call in the attacks in France:   At this writing there are 129 dead  with 352 others wounded, 99 of them critically in premeditated and coordinated attacks — This isn’t merely terror, it is war.  This is also not faith but a false and narrow chaos dressed up as religion.

In light of the horrific attacks in Paris, terrorist  tactics haven’t really changed that much since the first Century.  Neither has the Gospel.  We can watch terror groups who wage this war on us as they prey on populations who are  desperate , and will grab onto anyone that gives hope.  Beyond the extortion and brutality, modern terror groups are fixing basic needs, Providing an identification and a purpose “organizing social welfare programs and even recreational activities for children, distributing food and fuel to the needy, and setting up clinics.”*  This helps build community around the groups ideals.  They build on earth for war while we build for the Savior and His Kingdom.

Last Friday, the command to love our enemy became far more difficult and  Romans 12 says “17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[says the Lord.  The voices who spout wrath  can be attractive.  But wait a minute and consider a truly Christian response to this terror.

First, DON’T FORGET GOD, we must respond by a smart faith. Rage isn’t enough.  Warmongering at all cost in the Name of God on our own will is the height of spiritless and human centered Sin.  On the other hand Peace Mongering at all cost in the name of Jesus is lazy and far less Christian.  We cannot lose our souls by replacing our faith in the risen Jesus with faith in government and weapon systems.  Seek Christ by holding fast to Christian Standards and principals and recognize in this text, that this isn’t God’s first experience with this  behavior.  We must pray, search the scriptures and engage our enemy like never before and do it AS THE CHURCH.

Second, find ways to cope NOW: take care of our kids and other sensitive people by limiting the terrible images.  Stay informed but don’t add to the sensationalism of the Media.  Stay connected with God in prayer, study, service and worship.  Keep it real and not just routine to keep the fear in perspective. Be prepared to grow spiritually and be challenged in this “Desert Spirituality” in its great cloud of unknowing- “Wars and rumors of wars”.  Prepare for the future with and for the living God. We must fight by faith and remember that we do not fight alone.

Again, this is not easy but by God’s grace it is possible.  This isn’t about beans!  With the proper training, focus and motivation we will be able to judge a secure truth through the eyes of Christ.

*http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/12/world/meast/who-is-the-isis/index.html

This post is a follow-up to our sermon from last Sunday and I pray it touches your heart and that you have a church to be “Welcome Home”.  If you don’t, please click on the link below and check out our Family.  We would love to welcome you whenever you find yourself in our corner of East Texas.  Come and see us!

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Sermon Brief: November 1, 2015, “All Saint’s Sunday”, John 11: 32-44

All Saint’s Sunday is that day when we celebrate the lives of those who have passed away in faith.  It honors our dead BUT , like all worship, is for the living disciples of Jesus to remember that life matters and death has not victory over us. 

Our Text is the story of Lazarus from John 11:32-44.  However, we have saints among us who have been delivered from the grave.

Click here and see what an everyday saint looks like:

These stories have a lot in common with our text.  Each was rescued from the grave by an unseen hand, each experienced a variety of feelings, both in faith and in testing, and all left with a story to tell.

Jesus was not stranger to strong emotions.  He is seen in the Gospel being furious, frustrated, hungry, and even sad to the point of tears. At the grave of his dear friend JESUS WEPT.  In his tears the disciples would see love and not weakness.  The crowd would complement Him for them and then curse Him in the same breath.  This crowd could not have guessed the power over the grave that Jesus would show them, a demonstration of what would come again at the cross.

Lazarus and his sisters were old and dear friends.  In this came a tangle of emotions at the grave side. Mary began by faithfully knowing that Jesus COULD have saved her brother. Then, Mary was mad, in faith, and chewed out the creator of the world for His thoughtlessness.  Faith subsided, she was surrounded by her church family at the tomb.  They stuck with her throughout this four days and when it came down to rolling the stone, she  was more worried about the smell that her faith in the Lord.

They opened the grave first, then Jesus prayed loud enough for all of the people to hear.  He ordered His friend to trade death for life.  When Lazarus came out, Jesus simply told those who had the courage to go in with him to takes off the rags of death and this crowd would know that this was no ordinary man.  Lazarus was free and yet Lazarus would indeed die and enter into eternal life.  This brief reprieve would not cheat Lazarus out of his heavenly home.

So what?  What does this mean to us.This is what this means to me:

As Lazarus was freed, so are we.   The life in Christ a life sentence and not a death sentence.  This was a demonstration of God’s power to the living of today and not just then.  All Saint’s Day remembers those who have died, but this time is for us.  Confidence in living is ours and fear is crushed by faith.  Yet we grieve.

Grief is a part of LIFE, you aren’t whipped, It is not weakness, it is not condemnation, it isn’t because you did life wrong and it does not mean that God has given up on you.  We grieve BECAUSE LIFE MATTERS.  Jesus came to give us life and to have it more abundantly-both here in our time and eternally in our heavenly home!  In that abundance, in this time, comes loss.  With each loss we are reminded that all that we see is not all that there is to see.  With each loss we learn and grow and trust. Sometimes that trust will only come when the unseen hand of Jesus is all that we have.

Our losses are not always to death.  Yours could be a relationship, job, money, health, or our frustration with life changes.  The sisters in our scripture were faithful, certain of Jesus, rich, generous and still have the same grieving as all of the rest.  And Jesus was faithful to meet them there.  He is faithful to meet us where we are also.  In out faithfulness, there is still loss-that is Not defeat it is a human condition. A condition conquered by the sanctifying faith and grace of Jesus Christ.

Two things:  First, we must be rid of our grave clothes. In Christ you will find victory when life stinks.  You will have to work for it sometimes and the journey of faith will often be scary and uncertain but it will not be boring.  This is your life-Die like you are living eternally and don’t live like you are dying.  Participate in your lives and squeeze all of the good stuff out.  Then share your story.

So second, we don’t live only for ourselves.  Take another look verse 44:  “Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.””.  Them, brothers and sisters, is us.  We  are the everyday saints,  not perfect but redeemed, we are God called to share true living with those bound in a mummy’s rags. our story of faith matters.

This is what ministry is,  Many activities, done in many ways, using our many talents, at various times, to build us up, and ultimately to point to the resurrected Christ to others.  This service remembered our dead, but it is ministry to you, me, and we as the church as we celebrate and share the gift of the abundant life in Christ.

This post is a follow-up to our sermon from Sunday and I pray it touches your heart and that you have a church to be “Welcome Home”.  If you don’t, please click on the link below and check out our Family.  We would love to welcome you whenever you find yourself in our corner of East Texas.  Come and see us!

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Monday School-A Precept Study of James Chapter 4, One more chapter to go!

The Adults Get to Color too...
The Adults Get to Color too…

It may sound silly but we employed three powerful spiritual tools for our study this week; God’s word, popcorn and crayons.    We ate popcorn as we pulled out three categories out of chapter 4:  What does God want us to DO, DON’T and what are His answers WHY? This was done randomly as we spoke the chapter out loud.  Ok, this not the usual outlining and discussion but the popcorn was good and the conversation was great.  I appreciate the group indulging me.

In Monday School, It is as important to know HOW to study as it is to know the information. We are not seeking simple intellectual knowledge but God’s wisdom.  To do this we will hone three skills:  Observation-spiritual reading, Interpretation-spiritual seeking, and Application-putting truth into practice.

Please take a moment and read the text before you read our note.  CLICK HERE FOR JAMES CHAPTER 4

We made our observations as the chapter was read and each person found their own voice in these powerful words.  We noticed that when you boil the do’s and don’ts, it came to two central points-Be Humble and draw near to God.  If you do those two things you are setting yourself up for spiritual success.  By this our plans become God’s Plans and not merely our own, our Prayers become God’s prayers and not just our words,  our Lives become God’s and hence devil free, our growth become spiritual growth and not just self-help, Our minds become focused through God and not random and scattered, and our misery turns to joy.  How often do we leave God out of our daily living.  It seems that the more stress we are under or the more important the issues the easier it is to forget the one with the direction and wisdom that we need.  As one of our group said, Obedience pays off.

Next week Chapter 5, the Final Chapter:  All are welcome to join in the study at any time on Mondays at 6:00.   Group members and anyone with an observation on the text are welcome to add a comment

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