Thursday, December 2, 2021

Leadership Thought: Finishing Strong by Being Consistent Like My Friend.

Dear Friend

One of the joys of writing daily Leadership Thoughts is the encouragement I receive from others who are running the spiritual race with me. Yesterday I received the following e-mail from a good friend I knew in a former church I served. Nearly my age, this friend, a former Marine and a 'semper fi' kind of guy to the core, is determined to complete his spiritual race and finish strong. He e-mailed me yesterday in response to my Leadership Thought on avoiding "destination disease"-growing lax in our spiritual disciplines.

"Good timing. I just finished Day One of the Advent Booklet I purchased in our Christian Bookstore, the only one in our area, and gave it to my wife, who is reading through the Bible for the third time.

You remember that little, small-type NIV booklet I was reading for our church's summer reading of the New Testament? I finished it 6 weeks ago and have been concentrating on Revelation ever since, including a study guide. 

Last week I bought a 12-month subscription of the Daily Bread, which has been the source of discussion for our Men’s Group for the last 30 years and was the source of another Men's group I started about 18 years ago.

I plan to read the Daily Bread daily for my 2022 destination. ‘Gotta’ avoid ‘Destination Disease.’”

No stagnation sickness for my friend. He is spiritually ‘truckin’ and showing no signs of slowing down.

My friend has shown consistency throughout his life, He knows the race is not a sprint, but a marathon and that success is never achieved overnight; It takes time. My friend started slow, but he is now on pace to finish strong.

The growth of our spiritual life largely depends upon consistency. Length is not always strength when it comes to our prayer life. More important is consistency. Length will increase as we consistently spend time with God. It is only natural that as you grow in your love for someone, you will want to spend more time with that person. The same is true in our spiritual life. Don't be made to feel guilty when you read about those great saints of yesteryear who spent hours in prayer. It took each of them time to develop that spiritual discipline, and I bet that every one of them started slow-maybe a few minutes at first- but day after day they found themselves spending more and more time with Him.

Yes, if you want to finish strong spiritually, you must cultivate that “slow and steady wins the race” mentality.  It is important to develop consistency and pace yourself spiritually.

Moses, I am sure, knew something about consistency. In Hebrews 11:27 we read two words: “He endured.” Moses had staying power. He was durable. He was in for the long haul, and even at 80 when others had dropped out of the race, Moses was still going strong and still blessing the lives of others. That's what I want for my life, and that's what I hope you want for yours as well.

Yours in faith and friendship,

Tom

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Leadership Thought: Have You Ever Been Infected with Destination Disease?

Dear Friends,

I hope none of you ever contracts 'destination disease.' It is particularly prevalent among believers. You know you have it when you start coasting through your spiritual life. Your quest for learning and growing slows its pace or worse yet, even stops. Someone describes the symptoms this way: “If you’re green, you’re growing; if you’re ripe, you rot.” Not a good way to end your spiritual life.

William Barkley, in one of his commentaries writes, “We should count it a wasted day when we do not learn something new and when we have not penetrated more deeply into the wisdom and the grace of God.”

Paul recognized the dangers of stagnation sickness that infects us when we miss opportunities for personal growth and development and possess little or no desire to improve and become what we could be.

One writer says when this happens, “We may begin to feel regret, and if we go long enough without growing, we begin to feel like we have had an unused life. And that is not unlike an early death.”

Paul writes these words to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:15-16: “Be diligent in these matters; Give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely, persevere in them because if you do, (you) will save both yourself and your hearers.”

Another translation expresses it this way: “Take pains with these things, be absorbed in them, so that your progress may be evident to all."

Believer, do you have a spiritual growth plan designed to keep you growing, and if not, why not? Maybe today would be a good day to do a little spiritual ‘self-care.’  You might begin by assessing your bible study and devotional life and evaluate the condition of your prayer time and your service to others.  If there are some changes needed, why not develop your own spiritual growth plan?

It has been said that there is only one place where a believer must never stay; he must never “stay put."

Thinking we have arrived spiritually, and that all there is left for us to do  is to go through our own religious motions, while waiting for the rapture to take us home, is one sure way to die an early death, for death always begins where growth ends.

Yours in faith,

Tom

P.S. "The great secret of success is to go through life as a man who never gets used up." Albert Schweitzer

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Leadership Thought: Don't Laugh at Being an MVP!

Dear Friends,

I read an encouraging quote this morning on being ordinary. It said, "We meet no ordinary people in our lives. If you give them a chance, everyone has something amazing to offer." Wow!  That means as ordinary as I am, I have something extraordinary to offer God, and so do you.

Did you ever feel ordinary? You are not exceptional in any particular area. You don't have any unusual gifts or talents or abilities and mediocrity seems to be the measure of your existence. If so, you are in good company. Most all of us have felt like this, or still do, and yet it has always been the case that God uses ordinary people like you and me to do extraordinary things for the Kingdom.


John the Baptist never performed a miracle, but Jesus said of him, "Among those born of women there is no one greater." (Luke 7:28) His mission was simply to be a "witness to the light." (John 1:8), and that may be your mission and mine as well. All John wanted to do was be a voice and a light that would cause others to think about Jesus. What greater mission could anyone have than that?

Epaphroditus was a giant of a man, but few outside of the ranks of Bible teachers could immediately identify his significance. He brought a gift from the Philippians to Paul while in prison, and then he stayed to assist him and to help bring him comfort and encouragement. In doing just this, Epaphroditus nearly died in carrying out his mission. (Philippians 2:30)
How many of us know the name of the person who was used to convert Billy Graham, or the one who entered a shoe store one day and led Dwight L. Moody to Christ? Do you know who taught Martin Luther theology or who discipled George Mueller and snatched him from the pit of hell, or who inspired the great hymn writer Charles Wesley to compose great church hymns? For the most part these unknown witnesses remain anonymous to us, but you better believe that God knows their names.

Think of the ordinary people that God has used throughout history. He used a slave named Joseph to save his family, a shepherd named Moses to lead Israel out of bondage into the Promise land, a farmer named Gideon to deliver Israel from Midian, and a shepherd boy to be Israel's greatest king...I think you get the point. God can use anyone, no matter how ordinary they appear to be.

God is not primarily concerned about bigness, greatness, or all-time records.  His giants are ordinary people who do their best at whatever He has called them to do because they love Christ. You are God's MVP (Most Valuable Person), and if you don't accept that honor, then you have totally missed the point of this message.

God is looking for ordinary people who He can use to do extraordinary work. You and I are ordinary, so we qualify to be God's MVP's (Most Valuable Persons) so let's get busy and allow Him to use our ordinary gifts and talents to do extraordinary things for the Kingdom. And don't be surprised at what He might do through you.

May you enjoy a Terrific Tuesday, and yes, be prepared to experience how God is going to use your ordinary gifts in some extraordinary way to serve Him today.

Yours in ministry,
Tom

Leadership Thought: Which Wolf Will You Feed-Faith or Fear?

Dear Friends,

The other day Jean and I visited a friend who had recently been diagnosed with cancer. The news was a shock for her, and she was concerned about how she would address the fear that comes when one faces a life-threatening situation. As we talked, I thought of a simple story I heard several years ago.

It’s an old Cherokee tale of two wolves. One evening an old Cherokee Indian told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside all people. He said, “My son, “There is a battle going on inside us between two wolves. One wolf is faith, and the other wolf is fear.”

The grandchild thought about his words for a moment and asked, “Which wolf wins?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

In this simple but profound little tale, there is a wonderful lesson. Each of us has choices in life, and the choices we make, make us. They will shape our experience, for good or for bad.

One can face life’s challenges with faith or fear and the choice is left to us. The wolves of fear and faith are constantly fighting to control our mind and our thoughts and the one that prevails will be the one which we feed. Feed fear and you will be fearful. Choose faith and you will be hopeful.

Faith and fear cannot exist together. Faith is described in Hebrews 11:1 one as “Being certain of what we do not see.” It is an absolute belief that God is constantly working behind the scenes in every area of our lives, even when there is no tangible evidence to support that fact. On the other hand, fear, simply stated, is unbelief or weak belief. 

As the “wolf” of unbelief gains the upper hand in our thoughts, fear takes hold of our emotions. But if we feed the wolf of faith, we find hope and encouragement begins controlling our life.

We need to understand that faith is not something that we can produce ourselves, for faith is a gift produced in our lives by the Holy Spirit. The Christian’s faith is revealed as a confident assurance that the God who loves us, who knows our fears, and who cares about our deepest needs, will continue to provide and protect as we face whatever situation might confront us.

Our faith will continue to grow as we feed the ‘wolf of faith’ and learn of God’s many faith-filled promises as seen in the Bible. The more we learn about God’s faithfulness in trials (Read all of Hebrews 11), the more we will see Him working in our lives and the stronger our faith will become.

My closing comments to the person we were visiting were to "Stay in God’s word and memorize it- “hide it in your heart”- and after returning home I sent her the following 10 verses to help feed her “wolf of faith.”

Hebrews 11:1-40, Joshua 1:9, Psalm 23:4, 2 Timothy 1:7, Isaiah 41:10, I Peter 5:7, Psalm 91:1-10, Philippians 4:19, Matthew 6:34-35, Psalm 56:3.

Yours in faith,

Tom

Friday, November 26, 2021

 

Leadership Thought: Do You Think it’s the Light That's 'Attractin Em'?

Dear Friends,

In the backwoods of 'Gooberland,'’ a Goober’s wife went into labor in the middle of the night, and the doctor was called out to assist in the delivery.

Since there was no electricity, the doctor handed the father-to-be a lantern and said: “Here, you hold this high so I can see what I’m doing.”

Soon a baby boy was brought into the world.

“Whoa there,” said the doctor. “Don’t be in a rush to put the lantern down I think there’s yet another one to come.”

Sure enough, within minutes, he had delivered a baby girl.

“No, no, don’t be in a great hurry to be putting down that lantern. It seems there’s yet another one in there!” cried the doctor.

The Goober scratched his head in bewilderment, and asked the doctor, “Do you think it’s the light that’s ’attractin em?’”

Light does attract a lot of attention. Jesus taught us that we are to be lights. He said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under a bushel, but on the lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in the house” (Matt. 5:14-16).

This dark world, filled with discouragement, depression, disease and death needs a lot of light, and Jesus says you are just the ones I need to shine your lights and brighten up the darkness.

If you are a Christian family living in a non-Christian neighborhood you are the light in that neighborhood. If you are a nurse on the floor of a Pandemic ICU unit, or an athlete on a team, or a student in your school, or an employee in a company, or a policeman in a car or a fireman in your station, you are a light, so hold your light high and let it shine. No, not so people will see and praise you, but so that they will praise the One who is the source of your light.  Brothers and sisters, don’t worry about how bright and sparkling you are, just shine the best you can, and Jesus will be seen and glorified.

In the words of that song every one of us have sung, “This little light of mine, I’m going let it shine.”

And if you do, like that goober, you will discover that maybe it is the light that is ‘attractin em.'

Yours in faith and friendship,

Tom

 

Leadership Thought: Who are Your Thanksgiving Giving Trees?

One of my favorite books is Shel Silverstein’s, The Giving Tree. Written is a 1964 this children’s book is about a tree who happily gives what she can to a young boy.  First, she gives him shade.  Then apples.  She even lets him carve initials into her.

As the boy grows up, he needs more. So, he takes her branches and eventually cuts down her trunk.  At that point, the tree is alive, but nothing but a stump.  Yet the boy, now an old man, still needs more.  He needs a seat.  She gives it to him.  “And the tree was happy.” (The last line of the book.)

I have read the book many times over the years, and each of those times I’m impressed with this wonderful story of such self-sacrificing love. When I think of the story, I often take a few moments to reflect on those many people throughout my lifetime who have been my “Giving Trees.”

My mind goes back to my high school days and my high school football coaches Frank Shields and Chuck Woodell as well as my high school pastor, Jack Smiley. These three men were very influential in my life, teaching me discipline, determination, self-confidence, and faith. I am so indebted to them and to the many others in my life who have loved and encouraged me.

Yesterday as I was lying in bed, I took some time to recall the names of others who have touched my life throughout the years. The names came flooding through my mind as I remembered their impact and influence. I thought of Chuck Beale a college football teammate who “badgered” me to attend a Fellowship of Christian Athletes conference back in 1962. Always persistent in his encouragement to attend the conference, I finally said yes, and it was there at the FCA conference in Lake Geneva, Wisc. that I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. How grateful I am that Chuck cared enough about me enough to continually encourage me to attend what turned out to be the “conference of my life.”

And then I thought of Clarence and Elizabeth Hoff who were in their early 70’s and who were committed to helping us build an integrated church in the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the early 70’s.

At an age when most people were thinking of enjoying retirement, they traveled a distance from a white suburban community, to join with me and others in our church’s efforts to minister to a community that had quickly gone from all white to 85 percent black in just five years. Joining with those remaining white members who had not fled to white suburban communities, they helped us build one of the few truly integrated churches in the entire city of Philadelphia. There at Cedar Park Presbyterian Church white and black worshiped and served together in what was for me and my family one of the most exciting times of our ministry.

They were among the first members of our Evangelism Explosion outreach that went forth witnessing to our community team, and God used them to lead many in our area to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

And when I needed a church office because my office was in my home, (a small area off our kitchen) and we now had three little children in our family, I enjoyed little privacy for counseling and other church related ministry. Despite my efforts to convince our leadership I needed an office in the church, the response was always the same- “there is no room for an office and your three predecessors never had a church office,” but my three predecessors were all much older and didn’t have small children running all over the house.

Realizing my situation, and at the time not even a member of the church, Clarence Hoff, took it upon himself to show up one day with tools in hand, (he had previously been a contractor), and to my surprise began building an office. There was no approval from the elders. Clarence didn't work like that. He saw a need, got tired of seeing that need go unmet, and with saw and hammer in hand and in three days he crafted a new office.

You can only imagine the looks on those surprised elders as they walked in on Sunday morning to discover that their pastor had a new and beautiful church office. What could they do? Some of those elders who are still alive relish in telling that story again and again.

Clarence may well have saved my family and my ministry with his selfless act of love. With no expectation to be paid a single penny for what he did, he simply built an office out of love.

Countless are the examples I could offer of those wonderful people like the Hoffs whose love and commitment have shaped my ministry and blessed my life and the lives of our family.  Like that “Giving Tree,” they had only one purpose in life: to simply serve others because of the One who loved them and gave Himself for them.

Who are the “Giving Trees” in your life?  Maybe it's time to crawl up in some warm and cozy place this Thanksgiving Day and take a few minutes to reflect and give thanks for those “Giving Trees” who have left a mark on that life because they loved you in a special way. Their names could probably fill a page. I know mine would.

Thank you, Lord, for gifting me with such wonderful friends. I am a thankful man, and I trust that today each of you are too. May the Lord help each of us keep this little story in mind and may the story challenge us this an everyday to be a “Giving Tree” to all those who cross our path.

Happy Thanksgiving my friends and keep writing. I love to hear from you.

Yours in faith and friendship,

Tom

 

Monday, November 22, 2021

 

Leadership Change: Are You Ready for This Kind of Change in the Church?

Dear Friends,

Someone said the only one that likes changing is a wet baby. The person was probably right. Change is not always a popular experience, and it can produce a lot of damage if it is not done wisely, carefully, and lovingly.

Change is never trivial no matter how small that change may be. I remember the first time I ditched my robe in a church I served. You can’t imagine the uproar it caused in those pews. “What is Tom doing walking around the pulpit teaching without wearing a robe?” It was as if I had ascended the pulpit in my birthday suit. I can write and laugh about it today, but I can tell you I wasn’t quite prepared for the reaction I received. That experience was a stark reminder to me of the ‘tumult’ that change can produce, no matter how small that change may be.

Today we face major changes in the church. A friend of mine who is a church consultant suggests the last time the church faced this kind of change was the Protestant Reformation, over 500 years ago.

The Pandemic has forced church change in ways most of us could never have imagined. Whoever thought that 20-40 percent of church members would suddenly be sitting at home on Sundays watching their church services over the internet. And many of those sitting on sofas and worshipping from the comfort of their living rooms, may choose never to return to the sanctuary. We may not like these changes, but they are most likely here to stay, and so we must find ways to adapt and adjust to those changes if we want to remain relevant.

I love to be in live services where I can sing, pray, and worship, and where I can hold and hug other brothers and sisters in Christ. But there are some brothers and sisters who may choose to never return to be held and hugged. As a result, the church must find ways to adapt and adjust to meet our changing culture. We should not see this as an unwanted compromise-giving in to culture- but doing something new and exciting to reach our culture. I don’t particularly like such change, and while it may be a hard and painful reality for me to accept, I know to ignore it could diminish our outreach to a sizeable segment of our population that needs to hear the gospel.

I don’t want to be among those echoing the famous seven last words of the church- “We never did it this way before” and lose an opportunity to reach those who might not grow up worshipping the way I do.

When people allow their own personal preferences to usurp the church’s efforts to reach people for Christ, the church is in danger of becoming irrelevant. When change happens in the church that I don’t like, I must always remind myself that the church is not here to serve me and my preferences or traditions. It is here to reach the world, and if that change can help in accomplishing that goal, I better be championing it no matter how I personally feel about it.

I am encouraged when I think of Isaiah’s words, “See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19).

In the end, I know the church is His Church, and I can stand on the promise that because it is, the Gates of Hell shall never prevail against it.

Yours in faith and friendship,

Tom