A Shortage of Trees / A Lack of Vision

This may sound like a Christmas illustration, but it’s not. It’s a vision illustration.

There has been a Christmas tree shortage off and on for the last few years. And it could last a couple years more.

Why the shortage? Drout? Fire? Pandemic?

There are several suspects in the case, but the primary reason can be traced back to the recession of 2008, when fewer people bought trees — a trend which continued for a couple of years.

Since fewer were buying, tree harvesters planted fewer trees, thinking the need was dwindling.

As the economy began making gains, business picked up again … but short-sighted harvesters weren’t prepared. They had forgotten that there is a difference between a temporary lull and a long-term shift in consumer behavior.

Something similar can be said for ministry.

This is a temporary situation that we face today. But the lull won’t last. It requires our attention, to be sure. It requires that we be flexible in our plans and procedures.

But, as we deal with the ‘now’ all around us, let’s not be lulled. Let’s not lose sight of our vision. We must continue to look ahead, and plan forward, just as God has called us to do.

This moment in time is temporary. Our mission is long-term. Let’s make sure we’re ready when new opportunities for ministry come our way.

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. (1 Corinthians 16:13)

Beginning Now

Some of our best ideas are still waiting for the right moment.

We call it preparation. It’s really procrastination. Eventually the due-diligence phase yields to the do-it-later phase. And another good idea gets covered in cobwebs.

Let’s remember what William Feather said:

“Conditions are never just right. People who delay action until all factors are favorable do nothing.”

There’s something to be said for beginning now and filling in the details as you go. It’s not that details aren’t important or that preparation isn’t necessary, but at some point you have to quit compiling data and start pursuing results.

Do you know what the problem is? There’s no failure to face in the preparation stage. There’s no disappointment to deal with in the dream-casting phase.

It’s only after the plan has been put into practice that you confront results that maybe don’t meet expectations. It’s easy to get nervous. It’s easier to plan just a little longer.

When Abraham was well past the age where most people consider slowing down, God told him, “Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)

Abraham went, not having a plan in place, not knowing exactly what lay ahead, only that he was following the voice of God.

If there is something you know that you should do, maybe it’s time to do just what Abraham did: take the first few steps, even if all the questions haven’t been answered and all the problems aren’t solved in advance.

The results might not be immediate, and they might not be all that you hoped for. It might force you to make you make some difficult adjustments along the way. But it beats living your life forever in someday.

There’s something to be said for beginning now.

You’re Half Way There

Today’s memo goes back a few years. I look at it each year around the end of June, and I’ve even used it as a Monday Memo a time or two.

It’s a good reminder for this year, as well.

We’ve just about reached the mid-way point in 2020. Wednesday marks a new beginning, with a half year behind us, and a half year to go.

Have you thought about what the remaining months can be?

Earl Nightingale noted that if you will spend one hour a day on the same subject for five years, you can become expert on that subject.

True, no doubt. But for now, forget about five years and an hour a day.

Think instead about the next six months, thirty minutes a day.

Think about the potential that exists. What kind of headway could you make in one area of your life? Maybe attaining expert status is not realistic, but serious progress is.

• You could become conversationally proficient in a second language.

• You could learn to play the guitar; in six months you can reach the level of “decent.”

• You could walk 300+ miles.

• You could get in great physical shape.

• You could do a masters-level study of your favorite subject, such as church history.

• You could dig in-depth into one of the gospels or one of Paul’s letters, until you own it.

As one called to preach the good news, can you imagine how 30 minutes a day of focused effort could make a difference in your ability to communicate? What if, every day for the next 180 days, you devoted a half-hour to working on your craft? Can you imagine how the difference would be played out in the results you see?

The next 180 days will come and go, along with this 90 hour block of time. How will you invest it?

Some will watch 90 more hours staring at their phone. Some will catch an additional 90 hours of zzzzs. Some will do whatever they feel like doing at the moment.

And you? If you’re willing to take the road less traveled, you can use these moments each day to move forward in the calling God has placed on your life. 

“The hands of the diligent will rule.” (Proverbs 12:24)

Many Mentors. One Father.

Many Mentors. One Father.

Jack Elway, former football coach of Stanford University and father of Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway, was once asked how he dealt with being an expert in the same field his son had chosen as a profession.

Jack’s response was: “In your son’s life he’ll have many mentors, many coaches, many men to teach and motivate and correct him. He’ll have only one father. All you have to do is love him.”

Reading this quote (in Randall Wallace’s book, Living the Braveheart Life) reminded me of something I had heard John Elway say years earlier.

After his second Super Bowl loss — if you’re a Bronco fan, you’ll remember those first two Super Bowls qualified as embarrassing — the younger Elway was, of course, devastated. It wasn’t merely a team loss; John himself hadn’t played up to par.

That evening his father visited him. He didn’t break down his son’s performance or offer any advice. He just sat with him.

It was one of those moments in which Jack knew that his son didn’t need a coach. He needed a dad.

Fathers, there are many roles you will play in the lives of your sons and daughters. Keep in mind that your greatest role is to let them know that they are loved, always, as we are loved by our Heavenly Father.

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. (Psalm 103:13)

Dashrath Manjhi

Chipping Away at the Mountain

Dashrath ManjhiIn 1960, Dashrath Manjhi was a common laborer from Gelhour Hills in Bihar, India. His community was somewhat remote, with limited access to vital services, because traveling involved going around a three hundred foot mountain that stood between the towns.

Dashrath decided that what his community most needed was a road through the mountain. Since no one else was going to do it, he decided he would.

He sold some goats to buy a hammer and chisel, and set out chipping away at the mountain each day after work.

Of course, people called his plan foolish and said the project could never be completed, but he just kept chipping away with his hammer and chisel.

1960, chipping away.

1961, chipping away.

Then 1962. 1963 … let’s fast forward a couple of decades … 1980, still chipping away.

1981, chipping.

1982… And the project is finished. The road is 30 feet wide, cut 25 feet deep into the rock.

Now, instead of having to travel 55 kilometers for access to services, the people of his village need travel only 15 kilometers. And it was accomplished by one man with a couple of hand tools.

What an example of reaching for that which is beyond you. And what an example of making the most of each day.

Can you really carve a road through a three-hundred foot impasse of a mountain with just a hammer and a chisel, all by yourself?

Yes, you can. In twenty-two years you can do it, when you reach for it every day, and you keep chipping away.

To make your life what it can be, make it your daily resolve to aim for that which is beyond you, and reach for that which is above you.

Every day.

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)

What Makes for a Great Ministry?

What Makes for a Great Ministry?

When I was first starting out in the ministry, I asked a pastor of a growing congregation what are the requirements a successful pastor must meet.

He said, “You need to be an entrepreneur. You need to be organized and efficient, able to manage your time well, and able to see projects through to completion.”

I don’t know if he realized it, but he was basically describing himself. (And he certainly wasn’t describing me.)

A few days later I asked another pastor — approaching retirement, having spent his ministry in churches of all shapes and sizes — the same question. Without hesitation, he answered, “You have to love your people.”

I said, “What about being organized and efficient? What about being a self-starter?”

He said, “A person with good organizational skills will have a larger congregation — and you should develop those skills as much as you can. But a pastor who loves will make a difference in people’s lives for all eternity.”

This doesn’t just apply to those in the ministry. It applies to all Christians everywhere.

Do you want to build something big? Be organized, ambitious, and efficient. There’s no question that it works, and the results can be good.

Do you make a difference in the world, no matter where you are, no matter what your leadership skills? You do it by loving others.

If We Don’t Tell the Story

Last week, for the 54th consecutive year, A Charlie Brown Christmas was broadcast on a major network to a national audience. It’s still as good as it ever was.

It’s interesting that the scene that stole the show almost didn’t happen.

Do you remember it? As the gang is preparing for their local Christmas play, everyone gets mad at Charlie Brown for buying a pitiful, almost hopeless, tree.

Dejected, he says, “Everything I do turns into a disaster. I guess I don’t know what Christmas is all about.” And he cries out: “Is there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

Linus says, “Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.”

He then steps center stage and recites the Nativity story from Luke 2 —the story of the angels appearing before the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus.

When network executives previewed the program, they objected: “You can’t read long passages of the King James Version on broadcast TV; you’ll lose your audience.”

Peanuts creator Charles Schulz was adamant. He said, “If we don’t tell the Christmas story, who will?”

The scene stayed in, and it turned out that the network executives were wrong. After the program aired, critics praised Linus’ reading, calling it the “dramatic highlight of the season.”

Schultz has a point — one which every church, every preacher, every believer would do well to consider. “If we don’t tell the Christmas story, who will?”

I’m referring to more than merely repeating the sequence of events found in Matthew and Luke. I’m referring to proclaiming the message of the season … the meaning of it all.

Some may never know, if they don’t hear it from you or me, that Christmas means that God is in our presence: Our loving Heavenly Father sent his Son to take life’s journey with us, to make right that which had gone wrong, to save us from our sin and from ourselves.

In the coming days you may encounter a Charlie Brown, beaten down and discouraged, who wonders what this season — or life itself — is really about.

Be sure to let them know.

In the Bleak Mid-Winter

Enduring the Bleak Mid-Winter

Last year some family members and I were talking about our favorite Christmas songs. Just about everyone named one of the many bouncy, cheerful carols that we all know and love.

Mine, however, didn’t quite fall into that category.

My favorite Christmas hymn is a contemplative tune that deeply resonates with my experience of knowing Jesus. It’s called In The Bleak Midwinter. Doesn’t sound very bouncy, does it?

Here are some of the words…

In the bleak mid-winter frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter long ago.

These words so resonate with me — and with so many others, I’m sure — because we know all too well the bleak mid-winter experience. Many know what it’s like to feel alone and abandoned, to feel discouraged and disappointed — in yourself, in others, and in the circumstances of life. I would venture to say that we all have weathered, at some time, the bleak mid-winter.

And for some, the bleakness seems to never end. Life appears to be like it once was in Narnia, before Aslan arrived: always winter, never Christmas.

The good news is that the winter doesn’t last forever. If you find yourself sometimes paralyzed by fear and uncertainty, there was a simple promise made to all people everywhere on that first Christmas night, a promise you can claim as your own: You don’t have to be afraid. You can even dare to yield to joy.

These were the first words spoken by the angel to the young shepherds, as they stood terrified before the heavenly host.

Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)

Fear not, because God is here.

We know from experience that there is no solace to be found in the ice and snow, no comfort to gain from the frosty wind. But if you’re willing to reach beyond the surrounding elements of winter … to dare to put your future in the hands of the God who loves you, then you can be sure that joy, and hope, and favor await you in his presence.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter a stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

When To Settle for a Tie? (Hint: Never)

Yesterday NFL fans witnessed two examples of courageous coaching — one that paid off and one that didn’t.

Both happened in overtime.

When the Tennessee Titans had a chance to kick a field goal to guarantee a tie with the Philadelphia Eagles, coach Mike Vrabel chose instead to go for it on 4th and 2. The try was successful and a minute later Marcus Mariota threw a game-winning touchdown pass.

When the Indianapolis Colts had a chance to punt to secure a tie with the Houston Texans, coach Frank Reich chose to go for it fourth down, in an effort to continue the drive and keep the hope of victory alive. The fourth down effort failed; Houston capitalized and kicked a game-winning field goal with seconds left.

Inevitably, one will coach will be praised and the other will be criticized, because that’s what analysts get paid to do between Sundays.

However, I love both decisions. And I especially like what losing coach Reich said in his post-game press conference. When asked about the risky decision, he said:

“I’ll address it now: I’m not playing to tie. I’ll do that 10 times out of 10. That’s just the way it’s got to roll.”

(As an aside, you may remember Frank Reich as the quarterback who led both the greatest college comeback and the greatest NFL comeback in history. He’s nothing if not competitive.)

Jesus once told a story [Matthew 25] about a servant who was entrusted with an amount of money, who — instead of risking an investment — chose to bury it in the sand. The servant later reported back to his master, saying (in effect), “Here’s the money you gave me. I didn’t earn anything with it, but I didn’t lose any either. Let’s call it a tie.”

Interestingly, the master in this parable called the servant “wicked and lazy” — because he was unwilling to take a risk.

In a letter to the church in Corinth, Paul said…

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:24)

Paul is saying: Don’t live your life half-way. Don’t settle for a tie.

Fulfilling God’s call on your life sometimes involves risk: the risk of failure, the risk of opposition, the risk of hardship. But the reward, it cannot be denied, is worth more than the risk, always. The prize is worth more than the price, always.

Maybe there’s an area of your life where you’ve been tempted to settle for a tie — to run with the pack instead of running with the best. Now is the time to ask yourself:

What courageous decision do I need to make? What can I do today to run in such a way that I can win the prize?

A Living Example

A Living Example

Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. (1 Timothy 4:12)

Paul wrote these words to Timothy because Timothy’s age appears to be the one thing most likely to hinder him in ministry.

Chances are, it was more of a stumbling block to Timothy than to anyone else. Regardless, it was an obstacle that could be overcome with action: Being a living example of the person God calls  us to be, Paul said, will get you past whatever whatever limitations you may think you have.

If Paul were writing to you today, how would finish this verse? “Don’t let anyone look down on you because …”

Because what?

Because you’re old? Because you’re different? Because of your race or gender? Because you lack education or financial resources? Because you have a past? Because you’re less than perfect?

Which things, real or imagined, stand between you and your ability to be the leader God has called you to be?

Today is the day to put them aside. Focus instead on being the person God called you to be. Focus instead, today specifically, on being an example for others.

In spite of your perceived limitations, you can still show others how this life is to be lived. As The Message phrases this verse…

Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity.

Whatever your limitations may appear to be, they cannot stand in the way of your commitment to be a living example of God’s presence in your life.

Philippians 2

A Chance to Make a Difference

I read an interesting story in the Tampa Bay paper a few years back. It’s about Andy Law, a young man living in Hudson, Florida.

One morning, as Andy was reading the daily news over coffee, he came across a story that shocked him. Joseph Prudente, a sixty-six year old man in nearby Beacon Woods had gone to jail — for the crime of having a brown lawn. No kidding. A brown lawn.

Joseph had received notices from the local homeowners association that his grass wasn’t green enough for community standards. Facing health problems and struggling financially, Joseph overlooked the notices. He could barely make his mortgage payment; lawn care was a luxury beyond his means.

So the homeowner’s association did what was in their power: they filed a court order against him and had him arrested — without the option of posting bail.

Here’s where Andy comes in. He had troubles of his own. His business was failing, he was on the verge of losing his own house, and he was considering bankruptcy. But as he read Joseph Prudente’s story, Andy decided that something must be done.

He began calling friends to help out. Soon the Prudente’s yard was full of working volunteers.

During the day, others dropped off gifts. Another man came to repair the sprinkler. Andy borrowed some lawn equipment and convinced a nursery to donate sod.

By sundown, their work was done: the yard was covered with new green grass, trimmed with red mulch, flowers, and the sprinkler was working again.

As the work was completed, there was a sudden, thick downpour. Joseph’s wife, Jennifer, stood in the rain with her arms open wide. “Our luck is changing,” she said.

The next day Joseph was released from jail. Though he still faced fines and court costs, he is now a free man  … as long his grass stays the right shade of green.

From my perspective, this story is more about Andy than it is about Joseph. Yes, it’s outrageous that you can go to jail for having brown grass, and I realize there are those who will see only this aspect of the story.

More impressive, however, is the fact that one young man, also down on his luck, put his own problems on the back burner long enough to make a difference in someone else’s life.

This is an example of Paul’s words in Philippians being put into practice: “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4)

Maybe we should consider which of our worries we can put aside today, and how we can use our time and resources to make a difference in the lives of others.

Billy Graham

Billy Graham

Just heard that Billy Graham passed away this morning. He was 99. One of his best quotes…

“Someday, you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”