Sunday, December 27, 2015

Freedom from Fear

“Fear that does not take you to God, will take you away from God.”

  2016 is just days away. If you’re like most, you already have a few habits that you plan to change during the coming year. There’s one habit though that you probably overlooked, yet if you change this one habit – it will have a domino effect on many other negative life patterns in your life from bad sleeping patters to eating habits. What’s the habit? Fear.
  Most counselors will tell you that “fear is natural.” It’s not. Fear is alien to our original design. We are made in the image of God and the one human emotion that God does not have that we have is fear. Fear came as a result of sin. Adam’s first words after the Fall were, “I was afraid” (Genesis 3:10). Afraid of what – God and everything else.
  Please don’t misunderstand me. Fear can be helpful but it is not natural. Fear is a sometimes necessary emotional response to physical and emotional danger that’s vital to our existence. If we didn't feel fear, we wouldn't be able to protect ourselves from harmful threats.
  So what are Americans afraid of? The second annual Chapman University Survey of American Fears sought to answer that question and reveals some interesting trends about what people in the U.S. find most threatening. Personally, I was very surprised at our number one fear. Are you ready?
  The top fear Americans reported in the 2015 survey is the corruption of government officials. In fact, 58% of respondents reported being "afraid" or "very afraid" of a corrupt government. The researchers also asked participants if they had engaged in particular actions because of their fears. They found that nearly a fourth of Americans reported having voted for a particular candidate because of their fears and more than 10% have purchased a gun due to fear.
  According to this survey, the other top fears are fear that your personal information will be tracked by corporations. There is a growing fear of “big brother” type issues. 44% of Americans reported being very afraid of terrorist attacks. Some 40% are terrified of identity theft. And then over 39% fear an economic collapse.
  Fear is a real problem…even for the people of God who should be the most fearless. Other surveys might come up with a different list of top fears, yet fear continually contaminates our lives and poisons our relationship with God and others. For too many of us in a society addicted to fear, we have allowed unhealthy fear to be a habit. So what can we do?
  Stop feeding it. For me, that means limiting my intake of the media. Sadly, the media today, for the most part, does not encourage us to use our mental faculties but rather appeals to our emotions. It thrives on sensationalism and exaggerates situations and probabilities. For example, the media reports that the average American has a 1 in 250 chance of being robbed, assaulted, raped, or murdered each year. That sounds somewhat probable, but what they fail to report is that most violent crime occurs late at night in known high crime neighborhoods. In other words, when most of us are sleeping and will only venture in to one of those neighborhoods if our GPS would go psychotic. Yet, watching the media, you’d conclude that there was a serial murderer behind every tree. Add to that, the old saying is true, birds of a feather hang together. Some of us need new friends or less portions of some of our old ones. If you have a tendency to anxiety, hanging out with fear-mongers is unhealthy for you.
  Be realistic. Much of our anxiety comes from unrealistic fear. There’s even a word for it – catastrophise – that’s the process of taking an everyday event and turning it into a major catastrophe and catastrophic thinking is a major cause of anxiety. A tool to reduce anxiety is to stop catastrophising and instead see things in perspective. The ruler method is a good way to assist you in stopping your unrealistic thoughts. Here’s how it works – when you feel stressed about something, are you looking at the facts? On one end of the ruler is number 1, which is the number depicting a situation that is not at all life threatening such as a mild headache from eye strain…at the other end is number 10, depicting situations which are life-threatening such as a headache caused by a brain tumor. Whenever a situation arises and you feel you’re becoming panicky as if you’re in mortal danger, use this tool. Imagine the ruler in your minds-eye and ask yourself: “On a scale from 1 to 10, how realistic is this?”
  Replace your fears. Long before psychology was invented, God said our thoughts determine our feelings and our feelings determine our actions. If you want to change your life, you have to control the way you think. “Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts” (Proverbs 4:23 Good News Bible). Our minds are amazing! It would take a computer the size of a small city just to carry out the basic functions of our brains. The brain contains more than 100 billion nerve cells. Each individual cell is connected with 10,000 other neurons. We’re also constantly talking to ourselves. Research indicates that most people speak at a rate of 150 to 200 words per minute, yet the mind can process about 500 to 600 words a minute. The problem is that if you’re typical, you’re your biggest source of fear and paranoia. We walk into a room. A couple of our friends are whispering and then chuckling about something. Most of us will assume that they’re talking about us.
  So how do you eliminate this mental fear cycle? The Bible teaches the principle of replacement. “Fix your thoughts on what is true and good and right…think about all you can thank God for and be glad about” (Philippians 4:8 TLB). Instead of thinking about what could go wrong or things that you’re afraid of, focus on what you know is true and God’s blessings in your life (most of us are going to need to do some work here).
  The greatest antidote for the poison of fear is God’s Book of faith. The reason so many of us struggle with fear is that we don’t take the medicine God has provided. It’s a New Year. Determine to read God's Word every day — study it, memorize it, meditate on it, and apply it in your life. As you’re consistently in the Book, you’ll be amazed as feelings of fear begin to shrink. Let God replace your fears and renew your mind with His Word.
  Remember that we’re all going to get Home before dark. Most of us struggle with fear at some level. Fear has a tendency to curtail the radical, offensive and glorious message we have been called by God to proclaim and live. One wise African American Bishop said to a gathering of Christian leaders: “I have a message from God for you guys. God says that if you get over your fear, you’re going to be dangerous!” I don’t know about you but I want to be dangerous for Jesus. Steve Brown is one of my favorite preachers and often says something that’s stuck with me through the years, “We’re all going to get Home before dark.” That means no matter how horrible this world is, even if we face death, every child of God will wake up in Glory. “We’re all going to get Home before dark!" 

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Heartache of "Hello"

“Christmas can have a real melancholy aspect, ‘cause it packages itself as this idea of perfect family cohesion and love, and you’re always going to come up short when you measure it by your personal life against the idealized personal lives that are constantly thrust in our faces, primarily by TV commercials.”   Dan Savage

  There’s a gloomy, perhaps even dark side of Christmas that’s well known yet hardly mentioned. Yet, for many, it’s a stark reality. Sometimes you’ll see it in a Christmas movie that has lifelike tensions. It’s more common in some of our Christmas music, It’ll be a blue Christmas without you or I’ll be home for Christmas…if only in my dreams. Maybe that’s why the recent song by Adele, Hello, has been such a major hit. It came out during a time of year when many already feel melancholic about damaged relationships.
  If you’ve not yet heard it, Hello is a moving song. From the moment it starts, you sense how emotionally charged it is. It’s a heartrending tale of someone, in this case, a woman attempting to apologize to an old lover. The power of Adele’s songwriting is that it’s applicable in many different situations and damaged relationships. It reminds us that relationships which are broken still leave heartache, wounds and scars years…decades later.
  Perhaps the most jarring line of the song is when Adele admits, “It's no secret that the both of us are running out of time.” The clock is ticking. Most of us know someone who wasn’t on speaking terms with a family member or friend, yet waited too long to make amends. They end up living with regret for that now unresolvable relationship for the rest of their lives.
  We travel through adolescence and early adulthood idealistic. We have snapshots on the walls of our mind of Hollywoodish, perfect relationships with friends, family, even lovers. Often that’s not how it turns out. The holidays are a time of reminiscing and regret. Many of us go home, drive by an old haunt, have a meal at a favorite restaurant, or in just visiting our parents’ home, are flooded with old, sometimes unwanted memories. The history of perhaps a string of broken relationships aches like an old wound.
  Becoming an adult is a strange and flawed process. It’s the point in time in which we transition from dreamers with a vision for how we anticipate our future will be into the seasoned adults living out that future that rarely goes as planned. There’s a growing awareness that we’re powerless to go back in time to try again. If you’re like me, you look back on your life, knowing that you’ve hurt many and been hurt many times.
  In an oft repeated wording God’s Word sums up our relational responsibility with this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31). Romans 12:18 adds to that command, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” We’re to be loving and peaceable, as much as we possibly can be.
  Like a garden, damaged relationships, rarely heal with time. To be obedient and please our Heavenly Father, we must be proactive. It’s not easy, sometimes even painful, yet we’re to take the initiative. The cost of ignoring broken relationships is terribly high. That’s because…
  Broken relationships hurt us. Stress, loss of sleep, anxiety, guilt and energy wasted putting out fires, mutual friends you avoid – that you don’t want to face or answer their questions. A broken relationship can hurt in ways we’re unable to measure, but the damage is very real.
  Broken relationships hurt our reputation. When a relationship explodes, the emotional shrapnel often includes those talking about you and making assumptions about what happened. People gossip. Soon there are all kinds of stories, some real and some fictitious that are being spread.
  Broken relationships hurt our worship. Relational problems are a barrier in our relationship with the Lord. Sometimes you find yourself in a worship service and you’re amazed at how dry it is and how little you’re engaged in worship. You wonder what’s wrong. It may be that your heart is poisoned because you’re harboring bitterness. Perhaps you know someone who’s highly offended with you? For us to be able to fully engage in worship, broken relationships must be attended to.  
  Broken relationships hurt our church family. When there’s bitterness between believers, the results are devastating to church unity. The times that churches go through tough times almost always coincide with broken relationships. So what should we do?
  Start with prayer. Bring the situation to the Lord. After all, He knows all about it anyway. Share your hurt with Him. Confess known sin where you contributed to the breakdown. Ask for wisdom so that you can have perspective to be able see the breakdown from the other person’s viewpoint, and so you’ll know what steps to take next. Ask the Spirit to point out sin that you’ve committed but have been unaware of previously.
  Communicate with the person. Cultivation of a relationship requires lots of love and is hard work. Lovingly remind others in a broken relationship that you care for them. Share with them that you’re committed to restoring the relationship and then keeping it healthy. Ask if they’re willing to do the same. Commitment to a relationship is the first step to restoration and all parties in the relationship must be committed to it.
  Humble yourself. One of the most important steps you can take to restore a relationship is to humble yourself and admit where you’ve been wrong. God loves a contrite heart. He’s glorified when we take this brave step and admit how our actions contributed to the breakdown. A humble attitude demonstrates His love and encourages others to do the same.
  Don’t force it or rush it. Broken relationships are open wounds that require gentleness. No one wants a surgeon with a chainsaw. Sometimes the Lord brings broken relationships into our life so we’ll take the time to cultivate our relationship with Him. When our relationship with the Lord is right other relationships often fall into place. Remember to spend time daily with Him in His word, asking for continued guidance with the restoration. Then, when He gives an answer, trust Him to make it happen.
  Ask for forgiveness. We must ask for forgiveness. When you ask for forgiveness the forgiving party forfeits their right to ever bring it up again. We can choose to forget offenses, just as God does (Isaiah 43:25-26). The same holds true when we give forgiveness. Put it behind you to never bring up again. We’re to be like Jesus. In our restored relationship with Him after we sin, He’s never historical and we’re not to be historical with others. Forgiveness and forgetfulness are vital for restoration. 
  Jesus came to bring “peace on earth.” We’re to be peacemakers. While we won’t be able to repair every relationship, yet as much as we can, let’s make sure we’ve done our part to bring about healing. 

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Elf on the Shelf and the naughty list

“Traditions are there for a reason: to provide us with guilt when we don’t do them correctly.”  Kelly Wickham

  Since my children are all adults, there are “new” traditions with Christmas with which I’m completely unfamiliar. One that sprang up in recent years is the Elf on the Shelf. It developed from the 2005 children's picture book by Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell. The book tells a Christmas-themed story, written in rhyme, that explains how Santa Claus knows who’s naughty and who’s nice. It describes elves visiting children between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, after which they return to the North Pole until the next holiday season. The Elf on the Shelf comes in a keepsake box with a picture book and a small soft toy elf.
  The elf shows up at your house and keeps an eye on your children to ensure that they’re “good.” He reports back to Santa every night then comes back to your house and hides somewhere new where he can watch the kids. Children are taught that Santa is watching them through his minions so that they will behave. Parents randomly hide the elf in different places, to keep the kids on their toes. It’s a fun challenge to find the elf and when they spy the elf, it reminds them that they’re always being watched and had better be good…or it’s lumps of coal for Christmas.
  One Canadian mother thinks that this is a horrible idea, and probably akin to child abuse. Suzanne Beaumont is on a one woman crusade, encouraging parents to ditch this holiday tradition in favor of something with a more positive message. She believes that Elf on the Shelf sends a message to kids that they’re under constant surveillance by Santa and his pointy-eared minions. After reading the book, she felt “really disturbed” and felt something must be done to counter the tradition, so she came up with a new, more positive twist: What if the elf actually taught them something? What if his role was to be the example and give them an opportunity to practice kindness, compassion and gratitude? So she brought the elf home and gave him a new moniker, “Kindness the Elf” and explained to her daughter that the elf’s purpose was to bring kindness to them during the holidays and to encourage her to be good for goodness’ sake, not out of fear of punishment. Her daughter wakes up every morning and heads straight for the mailbox. That's where she finds instructions from Kindness the Elf telling her what positive things she should do that day.
  Now before you decide that I’m the Grinch, there’s nothing wrong with a little make-believe and fantasy. Christmas should be fun, particularly for children. Personally, I think folk like Ms. Beaumont have probably had a bit too much egg nog. And while we chose to not teach our children about Santa Claus, we were committed to making Christmas a lot of fun for our threesome. So if you want to teach your children that there’s a Santa, or Elf on the Shelf, or the Tooth Fairy, that’s a parental choice.
  Elf on the Shelf opens the window for a vital biblical truth. While most adults are far too “sophisticated” to believe someone is always watching, He is. His name is God. It’s what theologians call “omniscience.” That simply means that God is all-knowing; that He encompasses all knowledge of the universe past, present, and future. In the beginning, God created the world and everything in it, including knowledge. In other words – God knows everything. Not only does He know everything, Proverbs 15:3 says that God sees everything. “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.”
  And that’s my big problem. Since God knows everything, there really is a “naughty list,” and my name is on it (probably at the top) and so is yours. And what’s worse, I can’t ever be good enough to get my name off the list. As Romans 3:10 says, “None is righteous, no not one.”
  Santa, Elf on the Shelf, the Austrian Krampus, the Dutch Zwarte Piet (Black Peter) the German Knecht Ruprecht, to name a few…all have one thing in common – the Law. But Jesus came to bring us the Gospel (Good News). The most important truth that you need to know and teach your children and grandchildren is the distinction between and the Law and the Gospel. God is not another Santa Claus. 
  While we’re absolutely incapable of ever being good enough to receive anything but coal in our stockings, the only hope for goodness is only found in the only One capable of absolute perfection. His name is Jesus.
  Most of the world believes in some sort of Santa Claus and it’s not just at Christmas. It’s 24/7, 365 days a year. It’s the lie of “do good and you’ll be accepted by God and will receive good things. Do bad and you’ll be punished.” It’s the Law, it’s Karma…it’s even typical parenting. But the true message of Christmas is about the Gospel! Thank God for the Gospel! Thank God for the incarnation of His Son who came to earth to save us from this filthy mess into which we’ve gotten ourselves! As the angel said to Joseph, “you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). And later as the angel announced to the  shepherds, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
  We can be free! We no longer live have to live under this burden of guilt and sin, but now can live in the freedom of Christ. That’s what Christmas is really about. We no longer have to live within the confines of the Law. The Holy Spirit was not left to look over our shoulder to make sure that we’re being good enough for God. Jesus didn’t come for those who were good enough and He certainly didn’t come to rat us out. The Son Of God humbled Himself in His incarnation into the restricted form of a human body, lived a sinless life, and then willingly hung on a tree to die for those who deserved not only coal but much worse. He did this all knowing that you and I could never be good enough to appease the Father. We could never earn a righteousness of our own so God’s gift to us was the righteousness of His Son wrapped up in a blood-stained, tragic death, which culminated in a cry of “It is finished.” That cry, “It is finished” declared once for all Jesus’ annihilation of the naughty and nice list. With that cry that He stuffed Santa down the chimney and shoved that Elf off the shelf so that we could be free…free for all eternity.
  Mercy means withholding judgment and punishment that we fully deserve. After mercy, grace is giving us blessing, goodness and Heaven too…none of which we deserve. It’s all a free gift, God’s Christmas gift to us. Have you accepted God’s gift for forgiveness and salvation? 
  This Christmas rest in Him, rest in His goodness and not your own. And please, give your children the greatest gift they’ll ever receive – the grace that tells them that they have a Savior who loves them and has come to rescue them from the crushing news that they will never be good enough. 

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Sunday, December 6, 2015

Missing Mom!

“It is more important to influence people than to impress them.” 
                                                                       Adrian Rogers

  She was the quiet, steady one. It wasn’t that she was shy, it was more that before she spoke, she wanted to make sure that she really had something to say. Her humility probably had a lot to do with it too. She was never one to seek the limelight. As much as she could, she dodged it. It was her love for Jesus and others that often brought her into the light, never her desire for the spotlight.
  Heaven grew a little richer for me this past week. Tuesday morning Mom Cummins closed her eyes on this earth and woke up in Glory! Somehow I have the feeling, though the Bible doesn’t tell us, that Dad Cummins was waiting for her to get Home by the gates.
  I first met Mary Cummins (Mom) when she was already in the second half of life. She and Dad Cummins moved to Atlanta, when he became the pastor of my church. Periodically, I’d visit in their home but I never really got to know her until I was in high school. Their home became one of my places of sanity as my real Dad’s addictions spiraled more and more out of control. It was a safe haven! No one was threatening to hurt or kill me.
  Eventually, I convinced my father to send me away to high school when I was fifteen to Wisconsin. I wasn’t sure that my path and the Cummins’ path would ever cross again. But then Dad Cummins took a church in LaCrosse, Wisconsin just as I was beginning my freshman year of college at Maranatha in Watertown…and he invited me to come up on weekends to work in the church with him…the rest is history.
  So here’s a couple that has essentially raised their family. Four out of their five daughters were in adulthood. They’re on the cusp of being empty nesters but they invite this “kid” who’s training for the ministry yet he has lots of baggage to come and live with them.
  I didn’t know anything about being part of a family, at least not a normal one. Essentially, I’d been on my own since I was ten, when my real Mom was killed in a car wreck. At first, it was during the summers and weekends. Later, it would be more. Mom Cummins touched my life in so many ways. Dad Cummins and I were close but there was a special bond between Mom and I, one that I was sometimes oblivious to. I feel inadequate to even put it into words.
  What first drew me to Mom was her casualness. There just wasn’t much that rocked her boat. She had a way making you feel at ease and didn’t make you look stupid. That was huge for me! I’d been shamed and demeaned most of my early years. To be accepted and not feel like I was an idiot was like being in Paradise.
  Then, she was consistently consistent. She just didn’t have bad days. Always steady, always the same. Always with a smile. Always ready to welcome who ever stopped by. Always in her Bible and praying for others. Always ready to serve. For me, she was super woman!
  And I loved her laugh. She had a sweet giggle. She even had it to the very end. She’d surprise you because she was mischievous and you didn’t expect it. For example, when I’d come home on weekends, I’d drink a lot of milk. She had it in a special pitcher in the refrigerator but one week it had gone sour. Knowing that I’d be home soon, she left it. I didn’t realize that it was bad until I’d taken my first big gulp…and she just cackled.
  I’d never met someone so creative, thrifty and hardworking. She made her own granola, graham crackers, ketchup, etc. There wasn’t much Mom wouldn’t try and couldn’t do. She was quite a seamstress and even made underwear (Thankfully not mine!). She just didn’t seem to know how to sit down, and even then her hands would be working. Her therapy was gardening. Woe be to the poor sap who she hooked into helping “for a bit” in the garden. It was more like a month of hard labor. Even those decades younger than her couldn’t keep up with her. She’d work circles around you. You’d be spent but she was like the Energizer Bunny, still going and going and going.   
  I’ve always felt that I was a bit hard to surprise but Mom Cummins continually surprised me. One winter a group of us went snow skiing from the church and Mom went along…and she loved it. She consistently surprised me with her silence. If she didn’t like something, she wouldn’t criticize or complain, she’d get very quiet and just look down.  
  My junior year of Bible college, I went through a very dark valley of doubt. That’s not a good thing for someone training for the ministry. I wasn’t sure what I believed, if the Bible was true, or if there was even a God. I was living with them but was in a constant state of an agitated soul. To make matters worse, jobs were very scarce…so I had nothing to occupy me and more importantly, to occupy my mind.
  Finally, I bailed. I left Dad and Mom a note and hitchhiked to Texas to find a job on the oil rigs. When I’d call home, even though I’d deeply hurt them, though I’d disappointed them and wasn’t their biological son, they begged me to come home. Most people would have washed their hands but not Dad and Mom. Dad would urge me to come home, telling me that Mom was so worried about me that she couldn’t sleep.
  The clouds in my soul still hadn’t cleared but finally I did. I didn’t know how she’d respond when I came to the door. I’ll never forget it. I know a bit what the Prodigal must have felt. Though I’d caused her such heartache – it was total acceptance, forgiveness and unconditional love.
  Jane didn’t meet my biological family until the day before we got married but she met Mom and Dad Cummins almost right away. I knew that she was the one when they immediately accepted her as part of the family. They loved her as much as they loved me! When we got married, it was Dad and Mom Cummins who provided the rehearsal dinner for their “son.” They were the grandparents from my side that my children would not have had without them.
  Mom modeled love and commitment. I only saw her become irritated with Dad once in all of the years that I lived with them. Dad was the incurable romantic; she was the school girl who was bashful at so much attention and affection. That they loved each other somehow seems such an inadequate description, and that love that they had for each other flowed from them for others. Every night you’d hear them praying together kneeling by their bed before they went to sleep, praying for all those that they loved and cared for. When the Lord took Dad Home, she showed a side I don’t think any of us had seen before, a broken heart. 
  Words can’t express how much I loved her and will miss her but I wouldn’t wish her back. She’s finally Home and I’ll see her in the morning. I’m just so thankful that the Lord brought her into my life! 

Looking for quality used Christian books and other types of books at prices lower than even Amazon. Check out our family's online used bookstore at or visit our store at the Waterford Unique Antique Market at 209 North Milwaukee Street in Waterford, WI -- 262.534.3500