Photo Friday- Solitude

Sunrise on Hopkins Prairie- Ocala National Forest

We live in a very noisy world.  We have been conditioned that the constant noise we experience everyday is normal.  That we should just get used to it.  Noise is action and progress.  Noise is part of life.  We have been indoctinated that noise is a good thing.  But is it really?

For me getting away from the noise is a way for me to recover and recharge.  To find a place where there is no road noise or a place where I can really see the stars is magical.  Once you strip away the noise and the choas of everyday life, you have the ability to reattach to the natural world.  Where we came from.  Where we can find the peace and the solitude.

I have been striving to be more intentional about disconnecting and getting away from the noise.  Even a few hours to walk in nature provides the opportunity to unload stress and recharge my batteries. 

I must seek the solitude.  It will not find me.  I have to reach out for it.  

The photo above was taken backpacking the Florida Trail at Hopkins Prairie in the Ocala National Forest.  At sunrise, when this photo was taken, it was COMPLETELY silent.  Seems when you cut out the noise your other senses become energized.  You can really SEE the beauty, SMELL the foliage, FEEL the breeze and RENEW your connection to the natural world.   

Next week I will be spending time alone backpacking on the Appalachian Trail.  Backpacking has been a great way for me to relax and recharge.  Carrying everything on your back has way of making the things you bring simple and essential.  No extra stuff.  No luxuries.  

I am looking forward to dumping the noise and finding the solitude.  Unloading the schedule and responsibilities.  Exploring to seek out the majesty and also finding the hidden beauty.  A time to let my mind wander.  The opportunity to delight in the natural world around us. Regain the balance.  Reconnect.  Recharge.  Refresh!         

Can you identify with this? Do you feel renewed when you find solitude? Click on “Leave a Comment” and let me know your story!

That Baby!

Photo Credit: WDIV Detroit

Seems like we ALL are ready for this year to end! This has been a VERY tough year for many folks. Some have lost loved ones to the virus. Some have lost their jobs or their life savings. I’ve continued to hear stories of severe pain and misery this year. I think we all had big plans for this year and have been left watching the virus hijack our plans.

For many, the most immediate pain of this year resulted from the isolation and separation that was brought on by social distancing and the shutdowns. I have experienced this myself. I miss getting together with family, friends and especially spending time with the ones that we have that are most vulnerable. What a despicable disease to target those that may have the least amount of time remaining to see family and friends! I ache for these folks as they continue to sit in isolation waiting for this virus to finally go away.

This disruption and pain has a way of making us reflect on where we are.  What is important.  What we take for granted.  This feeling of uncertainty typically results in fear.  Fear is a very powerful emotion.  It strikes deep in our being.  Are you afraid of getting sick from the virus?  Are you afraid of what the future looks like for you after this is over?  

Yet, I can assure you that even with all the fear and uncertainty, there is still hope.  Hope in the future.  Hope that things will be made right.  For me, my hope is the little baby in the manger.  That baby! See, I have felt His love.  I have seen that He is faithful.  I have enjoyed the countless blessings that He has lavished on me and my family.  I know that he has plans for me and they are good.  And most of all, I know the end of the story and it is also good!

Do you feel hopeless? Having trouble seeing a way out? Does the virus or your situation leave you in fear of the future? Maybe the problem is that you don’t know the end of the story. You are holding on to this world as if the world is all there is. You see death as the end of the story. Yet, I can tell you that there is so much more. If you are feeling uneasy that is because you were made for eternity. You were made without an end. Death is NOT your final act.

That baby!  That’s the difference.  God’s gift to us.  This is the hope that we all need.  Listen- your story is bigger.  MUCH bigger.  He made a way so that you would have joy and peace.  So you could enjoy yourself and your time here on the earth and live WITHOUT fear.  That baby.  The Christ.  Emmanuel.  God IS with us!

Thank you for your continued support! Blessings to you and yours this holiday season!

Merry Christmas!

Photo Friday- You Have No Excuse!

Photo taken at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens by the author

I snapped this picture while walking with the twins at the zoo on the day after Thanksgiving. A beautiful flower, might be a golden rain tree, but exquisite in color and unique with its upright form. The zoo is a great place to see and appreciate the diversity of life. It is also a bit depressing to me to see these magnificent animals in cages for a lifetime of display. I am sure that they would all choose freedom in lieu of a life of protection and easy meals.

I believe that the incredible diversity and breathtaking beauty of nature points directly to the Creator. If everything was based on mere chance and natural selection, I believe we would see certain species dominate and we would miss the huge display of thousands, really millions, of unique species, crazy colors and beautiful shapes and designs. Chance would not result in this level of diversity.

When the scientists were mapping out the human genome, one of the lead scientists had an “ah ha!” moment in which he recognized that someone designed the DNA. It’s like seeing a precision machined part and recognizing that this part could not just occur naturally. He saw the fingerprints of the Creator. He recognized that it was too intricate and precise to happen by chance. He was an atheist before this discovery but this “ah ha” moment completely changed his viewpoint.

In the first chapter of the book of Romans, the scriptures declare that we have “no excuse” to deny the existence of the Creator. His work is breathtaking, delicate, massive, complicated, and orderly. He created as an artist works to create unique beauty for pleasure. He made our world both practical and beautiful. Without the artist touch, everything would resort to simply plain and practical.

I have witnessed beautiful flowers growing up through the debris next to a pile of trash in the inner city. I have heard birds singing in a burned out forest. The beauty of His work will overcome the ugly and our abuse of the land.

He hasn’t put His brushes down. The Creator continues to amaze with each and every sunset.

Don’t you see him?

He’s calling you to spend time with Him. Walk with the Him in the cool of the morning. You have no excuse. He wants you.

YOU are his greatest masterpiece!

What Easter Means To Me.

So what is Easter?  The start of spring?   Easter eggs and the Easter bunny.  Baskets filled with candy?  What a strange group of things bloomed out of a holiday of faith.  I guess Christmas is not much better.  Santa Clause and Christmas trees?  All of these have a history and although they are probably harmless, they tend to water down and distort the true basis for the holidays.

 

So what does Easter mean to me?  A few facets of my faith and feelings about Easter without the churchy talk:

Easter gives me purpose

If it was not for my faith, I would live, gather and die like everyone else and that would be it.  My goals would be focused on the relatively short period that we inhabit the Earth and would concentrate on accumulating, enjoyments and self-focus.  However, I know there is more.  The Bible says that we are wired for eternity.  We know there has to be more.  While this life can be great at times, there is also a lot of pain that goes along with it.  We live in a world without real order.  Without things being fair or honest.  A jumbled up mess.  I am looking forward to order and justice.  A place where everything is right.  Easter reminds me that there is a place that is right and this is but a stop along the way.

Easter helps me belong

I belong to the largest family that has ever existed.  A family of people who think alike.  A family with a vision of what true life is all about.  That takes care of one another.  That helps you when you are down.  A family that puts others ahead of themselves.

Easter means all things are new

Easter is like the morning.  A new day has begun.  Yesterday was tough.  I screwed up.  I made some stupid mistakes.  But then the sun comes up.  And it is a new day.  A new start.  The old is gone and the new is here.  Easter washes away the dirt of the past and makes all things new.  Like a shiny penny.  The way it should be.

Easter gives me focus

The opportunity to get my mind off of myself.  To really see others and their needs first.  To love others more than myself.  Easter gives me an orientation where I am no longer the center of my universe.  I can focus on others and I can stop thinking about my situation, wants and needs.

Easter is peace

I can relax in the realization that I do not need to worry.  I do not need to try to do it all.  I do not need all of the answers.  I can trust.  I can let things go.  I do not have to guide and control.  I can relax.  It will be fine.  I will be fine.  This is the basis of faith.

I will admit that I am still a work in progress.  I still struggle sometimes, but I know when I look back I see progress.  When I look forward, I see a path.  The Easter message is one of hope.  It is a message of love.  And purpose, belonging, renewal, vision and peace.

I hope you can see this and truly grasp the power of the Easter message.  

And to you and yours- Happy Easter!

Don’t forget to hit “Leave a Comment” and let me know what you think!  

So Who Are You Really Thankful For?

Kathy and I have been serving in a new homeless ministry (new for us) near our house for the past few months. Tuesday during a discipleship study at the mission while discussing thankfulness, I reached a conclusion regarding this subject.

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We all have things that are blessings in our lives. Our families. Our jobs. Our home. Our security.  Our things.  While many of these may be connected to to us due to choices we have made as we have lived our lives, the root of the blessing is the same.

We need to thank the Lord as he is the originator of all that we have.

This may be a great discussion for the thanksgiving table among your family. Do you really think that YOU originated all of these blessings or was it just luck?  The miracle of life, our amazing bodies and intellect, our strength and courage, our ability to love one another and take care of each other, the amazing and unexplainable things that have happened to all of us. Could luck really result in the what you have and your many blessings?

If that is the case we should call it Happy Luck Day!

As you go around the table and share what you are thankful for, ask your family who brought you this thing that you are sharing? Where did it come from? And where did this holiday (pastor called it by its original definition- holy day) come from?

By definition “thank you” is a response to a person.  You don’t thank a tree.

Everyone loves Thanksgiving. Everyone has things in their lives that they are thankful for. Our job is to remind them who is the author of all of these blessings!

Happy Thanksgiving!

So what are you most thankful for?  Do you understand who is the author of those blessings?  Click on “Leave a Comment and let me know what you think!

Photo Friday: Majesty

 

Wake Up Sleeper!

Salt Lake

Last weekend I made a quick trip to Salt Lake City to ski with a friend from work.  The schedule was to fly in, ski two days and fly back.  A quick trip.  I have never been to Salt Lake City.  Along with that, I had not experienced the breathtaking beauty of the Wasatch Mountains.

We had a little time on Monday before our flight so we had the opportunity to visit Antelope Island which is an island located in the Great Salt Lake.  It was a cold morning and it has snowed overnight so the area was blanketed with a light covering of snow.

The views were fantastic!  Although the island had few visitors, we did notice visitors taking pictures of the amazing scenery.  The best word I could come up to describe what we saw is majesty.

Majesty is a unique word.  It describes something large.  Something powerful.  Something a bit overwhelming.

When I see something that I would call majesty, I think of the hand of the Creator.  The potter and the clay.  The architect and builder of our amazing planet.

There is a verse in the Bible that says that we have no excuse to be ignorant of the hand of the Father.  Creation screams His name.  I cannot believe that all of this beauty was created by chance or by accident.

I asked my friend if he felt that looking at the mountains each day would dull this feeling of majesty.  He quickly told me no.  He believed that the mountains and the beauty would never get old.  They would retain their power over anyone who looked their way.

So the key is to look!  Look for His hand.  Look at what He made.  Look at what He does in your life.  Look at the way He blesses you.

An accident, good luck or chance?  Can’t be.  Chance does not have this order.  Chance does not have this variety and beauty.  Chance does not produce majesty.  Chance is not this good.  Not even close!

LOOK and wake up sleeper!        

So what do you think?  Can you see His hand in creation?  Do you think this world was created by chance?  Click on “Leave a Comment” and tell me what you think!

 

 

 

 

Six Ways The Church is Missing the Boat

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I hate when I miss an opportunity to do something great. Something that will result in real change. Many times these opportunities will just present themselves and then be gone in an instant. I feel like the Christian church is at a time when She can be a real force for good. The Church has a huge amount of resources and some of the greatest people that the world has ever known. Yet the impact is watered down. I think we are missing the boat. There are many reasons but here are a few:

Division Between Denominations: The continued lack of a cohesive force between all denominations has neutered the impact of the Church worldwide. Do you really think that when you reach heaven that the Father will tell you “well done faithful servant” because your theology/doctrine/way of doing church was correct? We spend way too much time and effort trying to be “right” and miss the boat on what the focus should be. Serving others. Feeding the poor. Helping others. Sharing your faith. Mentoring the next generation. Being a united force for good. Right? Do churches cross over? Rarely. It’s like the Tower of Babel. Churches want to talk- but have a very difficult time listening.

Super Christians: Every church has them. The super spiritual. The ones that have memorized the Bible or can sling the bible darts on command. They do two hours of quiet time each day. Searching out the next great awakening or the latest prophet. This dedication sounds good, but the result is that these distinctions lead to cliques and division in the local church. Are they really better?  The rest of the congregation just doesn’t “get it”. They are lesser Christians. They are just not dedicated enough. They can’t be a leader or have real influence. They are not as close to the Father as the rest of the extra spiritual group. Doesn’t this sound like a Pharisee? Does to me.

Inwardly Focused Churches: Many churches are great at the Sunday morning experience. They have great worship teams, children’s ministry, coffee bar, etc. I get it. The Sunday morning thing takes a lot of resources and the average Christian family expects a pretty high level of service. But aren’t we called to reach others? Aren’t we called to get out of the church? Why do we spend so much of our resources on the Sunday morning experience? We are missing a great opportunity for good instead we are spending huge resources on facilities, staff, utilities, etc. just to do Sunday morning.

Inwardly Focused Christians: Many Christians are very dedicated to intimacy with the Father but they do not get out and serve. If Jesus on earth is the perfect model, Jesus did spend time in prayer and time with the Father, but he spent much more time ministering to the poor and needy. Experiencing God is part of the journey, but the highs can be like a drug. You want more and more and this want is completely focussed on yourself and not on others. We are called to disciple and serve others. You are here, not heaven. You need to get out and serve!

Fractured Community: The most powerful force in joining people together is serving together. When you minister together to help others, you form a strong and powerful bond. The act of serving provides a great opportunity to share your experiences, gifts and passions. This is a very natural way of sharing your story with others. Serving as a church can bring bonding across age groups, genders, cultures and economic differences. Without a way of providing a cohesive bond that crosses these barriers, the church will look like a bunch of distinct groups. New folks will struggle meeting others. The young will not learn from the old. Discipleship will not occur. A sick church.

The 80/20 Rule: Last but not least, the Church is not mobilizing the congregation. The old adage says 20% of the people do 80% of the work in the church. Can you imagine the power of 100% participation? It’s time to mobilize everyone is the church. This means finding the passions and gifts of every member and getting them marching forward in the work of the Kingdom. Everyone is equipped for a special purpose to advance the Kingdom. This might not be your vision.  We need to encourage others to walk into that purpose. Instead we are trying to coax them into whatever the vision is of the church as outlined by the leadership. What about their special calling? Aren’t they uniquely designed for a special purpose from the Father? If you don’t recognize this then where are they? Following your vision????

We have a long way to go. We have been entrusted with the most powerful force on the planet. When will we step into the role we were made for? When can we stop the power games? If we truly believe that He will take care of us, then the rest is our pride our insecurity? Right?  Can we own up to that? What will you do? You tell me! Please! Please!  Please! I want to know what you think!

The Power Of Your Story

 

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Yesterday, we visited a women drug and alcohol rehab center in Alajualita to minister to the women at the center. Kathy had been there many times, but this was my first visit. During our time at the center, our group shared some of our own personal stories of addiction, rejection and shame. As we shared through an interpreter, you could visibly see the connections being made between their situation and our struggles and our stories. This instantly broke down the walls between our cultures, our distances, our languages.

I’ve seen this before. Being transparent has a way of connecting people together. Having the courage to share a painful story or your personal struggle confirms that you are not alone in your struggles. There are others that are just like you. You are not weird. You are not broken. You are not alone.

If you don’t tell your story, how will they know?

One of the persons in our group shared a miraculous story of deliverance from a very serious drug addiction. They came to the end of the rope. They were tired of the cycle of failure. They gave up the struggle, asked the Lord for help, and finally surrendered. Completely. None of this “one foot in and one foot out”. Quit trying to do it one their own.  They realized that it was impossible without His help. And like the gracious father that He is, in an instant, it was gone. No more hunger for drugs. No more depression. No more shame.

They were glued to every word. I sensed that the ladies were most afraid of failing again. You could see the fear in their eyes. They had all tried to stop before. One woman shared that she was a “rehab expert”. She had been in rehab twenty times. They all wanted it to end.  They desperately wanted this instant transformation and change.

Radical transformation is what they are seeking. A new beginning. Freedom from the slavery of drug and alcohol abuse. Freedom can be instantaneous or it can be a process. We want it quick, in an instant, but the Lord may have other plans. The key is to surrender. Completely. Give up the fight and give it to Him. You cannot do it on your own, with your own will. It’s the Jesus story. We couldn’t live the perfect life so he sent His son to the rescue. To give us a way out. He is the good, good Father!

The good news is that in the end He always wins. He wants the very best for you. And, if its not in an instant, you will get stronger each day. You can do this. Wash away the old and fill yourself up with the New. The Lord is gentleman. He won’t do anything without your permission. Move towards Him. Surrender. He’s waiting for you!

So what do you think?  Have you experienced the power of your story?  Have you seen the walls come down?  Why do we try to hide?  Click on “Leave a Comment” and tell me what you think!

Photo Friday: Beautiful World

Flower

We are surrounded by beauty.  The Creator’s hand is evident everywhere you look.  What could possibly create this kind of beauty and diversity?  If it was “survival of the fittest” we would have one aggressive flower, right?  He’s given us amazing beauty everywhere we look in abundance.

Are you looking?

Vacant House

I am a noticer.  I see things that many others miss.  The beauty hits me in the face everyday.  Even in the strangest places, like this vacant house.  The picture above is the yellow flower you see in the yard.  Same flower.  Your just have to look past the noise to see the beauty.

Slow down.  Notice.  Your will enjoy what you see!

You Can’t Look Back!

Kathy and I were having breakfast with a man after Street Corner Saturday morning who was recovering from a brutal beating which almost cost him his life.  He was in a coma for several weeks and the doctors were not optimistic about his recovery.  While he was in the coma, the Lord spoke to him and reassured him that He still had work on the earth for him to complete.  He told us that he remembers being separated from his body and looking down on the doctors and his family similar the common near-death experience.  He eventually recovered and has had a dramatic life change as he is convinced he has been given a second chance at life.

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This man had a history of drug and alcohol abuse and was associated with some bad people.  As he continued with his story he began to express self-doubt and a feeling of not fitting in with the other men around him.  He continued to share about his past failures and insecurities and I stopped him mid-sentence and told him-

Stop!  You can’t look back! 

We all have junk in our past.  We have all made mistakes.  You simply cannot dwell on the past.

I told him that he was a new person that has been transformed and forever changed.  The old self is gone.  The voice telling you that you about your past, your previous failures, that your not good enough …is NOT the voice of the Father.  This is the voice of the enemy.  You cannot listen to this.

The enemy uses self-doubt, shame, and guilt to take away our power.  When we turn inside of ourselves we have destroyed our ability to influence others in a positive way.  We cease in our ability to make a difference in the world.

He shook his head yes and thanked me for the reminder.  He viewed many of the other men around him as hypocrites for just “talking and not walking” in their faith.  I reminded him that he can influence them by doing the right thing and walking in the light.  The rest is up to God.  He needn’t carry that burden.

Looking back can bring you down but it can also be an encouragement.  Look how far you have come!  You are not where you used to be.  And you are moving forward.  You are making a difference.  Push that negative voice out of your head.  It is not doing you any good!

Realize that you are here for a purpose much bigger than yourself.  To change lives.  To build up.  To restore and create.  This is the voice from heaven.  Listen for it!

So what do you think?  Don’t be a stealth reader!  Click on “leave a comment” and let me know what you think!  If you like this post press the share button and post it on your Twitter feed or Facebook page!  Yep…I can use some encouragement too!