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Archive for February, 2015

I was at my parent’s home in Northeast Georgia this week when a snow storm hit.  They got 6″ of snow overnight and the morning dawned a crisp, clear winter wonderland of snow and sun.  I got my camera and hiked around in the woods and then hit the roads to see what I could see.

IMG_3662I was out in the snow the night before and I enjoyed the intense quiet of a world muffled of sound by the blanket of falling snow.  I had the feeling of being in a majestic cathedral empty of anyone except for the Ever-living One and myself.

IMG_3667As I slowly walked through the woods that morning I paused thinking I would again be surrounded by silence but instead I heard the sounds of a forest coming awake.  IMG_3685The birds were calling, in the distance a dog barked, and interestingly, every few seconds I would hear a rustling and a gentle whoosh.  I paused to ascertain the source of the sound and finally I saw it.  IMG_3712From the very tops of the trees, where the sun was just hitting, a clump of snow would release and fall to the ground.  The clump did not remain a clump for long, but usually struck a lower branch and burst into a fine powdery cloud floating to the ground.  IMG_3694If I was facing the sun the cloud of snow dust became a cloud of sparkling diamonds fluttering to earth.

The worshipful feeling was again strong as I enjoyed the beauty of God’s creation without manmade sounds other than my sometimes labored breathing and the click of my camera.  IMG_3722It’s amazing how majestic the mundane can become when it is clothed in a fresh mantle of pure white snow.  It reminded me of what Jesus does for us when we give Him our lives and put our trust in Him.  A holy exchange takes place.  We give up our sin-stained outer garments and we put on a robe of Christ’s righteousness.  From Isaiah 1:18 we read, “Come now, and let us reason together says the Lord.  Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be like wool.”

IMG_3738I walked through the woods and along the road simply praising and clicking, praising and clicking – it was glorious.  I had in mind to try and get a view of Yonah Mountain, a local peak that is a few miles away from my parent’s home.  While I didn’t succeed in gaining a good vantage point, the search took me throughout the neighborhood and to many great pics.IMG_3754

As I stood at the end of the road with fields on either side that were surrounded by trees weighed down with snow another lesson came to mind.  IMG_3798I was still mindful of the whoosh of snow as a tree would shed it’s burden so I was watching with camera ready to catch the event.  I am sure I was comical looking to anyone watching.  I would be pointing at one area waiting to catch the snow just as it released and I would hear the whoosh off to my side.  Whirling to the sound I would snap a picture of a branch devoid of snow and whatever snow cloud had existed had vanished.  Of course you know what happened right after I turned… that’s right, the snow whoosh would occur back where I had been pointing just a moment before.  That lesson was that patience and trust are two key attributes I still lack.

Looking at the rows of trees bent over from the weight of the snow I thought how they represented people weighed down with the cares, worries, and problems of life.  I had even seen signs where some had broken limbs and suffered damage due to the weight.  IMG_3818As I stood watching and waiting, I realized the magnificent sunshine was melting enough of the snow in the trees that the burdens were slipping off all around.  As the upper limbs became unburdened, they stood up a little straighter and reached a little higher as if offering uplifted branches in thanks and praise to the sun that had set them free.

I realized we are the same.  We are often burdened by the difficulties life can bring.  But Jesus promises He will never leave or forsake His own.  Whatever challenge we face, we can do so knowing that the Lord of the universe is with us in the midst of it.  And just like those trees along the field we just need to patiently trust in the Sonshine to relieve us of our burdens.

I smiled and headed for home, happy for the lessons in the snow and somehow walking a little lighter realizing that a little more of my cares had melted away too.  While I wasn’t going home with the great shot of a snow whoosh, I had a reassurance of the Lord’s tender care for me and for you that was so much better than the perfect picture.

But just for good measure, the Lord provided a great opportunity to catch some snow whooshes in the final walk home.  I hope you enjoy the pictures and lessons as much as I enjoyed getting them.

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Here are a few other of my favorite pics from my walk in the Sonshine and Snow.

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Be blessed today and be a blessing.

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Do you have trouble becoming distracted?  In the Movie “Up”, this is humorously captured whenever a squirrel shows up or even the mention of a squirrel takes place.  Retaining a sharp focus upon the task at hand is a necessary trait for success.  The ability to articulate a definitive vision and goal, and then determinedly stick to the plan to achieve them is a critical element of success.  This is true on the grand scale of nations and armies as well as in our personal lives and with daily activities.  During our week in Honduras, we got to see this dogged determination play out in a fun and inspiring manner when we went “fishing” with Erlin and his father.

IMG_6725 The gentleman in the yellow shirt is Erlin’s father and Erlin is the young man in the middle of the green boat.  That was our vessel for the trip into the bay on that sultry Thursday morning.

Getting into the bay required weaving through a mangrove forest down a narrow channel until we got to bigger water.

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Erlin’s father knew the waterways well since his living was made plying the waters catching fish and crabs and performing whatever odd chores he could find.  Fernando made it a point to take us on this tour not only to give us a picture of what every day life looked like to the locals, but to give this family a little income.

IMG_6863  We passed a few other fishing boats.  The term fishing was used rather loosely to refer to any activity around the water that entailed catching food for the dinner table whether it was fish, crabs, oysters, shrimp or whatever.

IMG_6747Twelve year old Erlin sat beside his father acting as the first mate.  As we made it out into more open water I looked around for the life preservers.  IMG_6749  I realized then how much our lives in the US are regulated.  There were not only no life preservers, there was no load rating on the boat, no throwable floatation devices, actually there wasn’t much at all other than a small boat that resembled a dugout canoe with a rather antiquated 25 horsepower motor, one gas can and nine passengers.

When we got into the bay we traveled for about 20 minutes along the mangrove covered shore.  Having covered three or four miles through various channels and streams to get into the bay I realized we were a long and arduous distance from any civilization.

Now I mentioned yesterday that the village was called Playa Grande which can be translated as grand or large beach.  Well, I have to say the name had to be applied either in jest or as very wishful thinking.  Up to this point we had seen nothing resembling a beach.

The heat of day, the gentle slap of waves against the hull, and the buzz of the boat motor had lulled me into a drowsy state. Suddenly I noticed the wind created by our movement die down and the motor idle back.  We then turned into the beach for our picnic.   IMG_6824

At the risk of chasing a squirrel, I want to make a point about different perspectives.  To our new friends this was their understanding of what a beach was like.  I expect many of my readers got a little chuckle as they saw this beach that doesn’t exactly fit the picture of a beach most of us have.  Perspective is huge isn’t it.  To all of the young people and to many, if not most, of the adults in Playa Grande their experiential base is what they can see within a days walk of their home.  The broad sandy beaches that we associate with a beach simply isn’t within the experience of most of the people of Playa Grande.

As we ate our mangos and drank our drinks, a discussion between the men broke out about whether they could catch crabs here to show us.  They thought it was possible, but they would have to move away from the beach to do so.  Erlin, listening intently to the discussion, said there were crabs close by and he could catch one.  A little smack-talk ensued which seemed to only strengthen Erlin’s resolve.

IMG_6833The men spread out and disappeared while Erlin walked a few feet and away and shouted, “there’s one down here!”  (Fernando was giving us the play by play interpretation since all the conversation was in Spanish.)

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We watched as Erlin started digging furiously into the mud.

Every now and then he would stop to listen.  Then he would dig speedily again.  IMG_6842

He was down on the ground reaching as far as his short arms would reach trying to get his hand into the crab hole and around the crab.IMG_6848

Finally he shouted and Fernando announced that he had a hold of a crab.  A minute later Erlin walked back to the group with his prize.

It was really fun to watch this unfold as Erlin was the first back to the beach with a crab.

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This vignette reminds me of what the author wrote in Hebrews 12:1-3IMG_6853

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing out eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  For the joy set before him He endured the cross, scoring it shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” 

Our vision is to be and do all that God created us for and Jesus died for us to walk in.  A steady focus upon the Lord combined with a consistent, determined pursuit to know Him is the path to an abundant life in Him.

Paul states it in a similar way in Ephesians 3:12-14.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  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.”

I am so thankful that we had an opportunity to spend this week in Honduras.  It was especially gratifying to see the Lord touch and change lives – ours as much as anyone’s.  And I will never forget the lesson of a persistent young man with mud up to his neck, a grin from ear to ear, and a wriggly crab in his hand.

 

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I am convinced that every one of us was created on purpose for a purpose.  You are neither an accident nor is it an accident that you are where you are in life.  You may have made some decisions in your life that have gotten you to a place that you never expected or didn’t plan for, but take heart, God has not abandoned you.  One aspect of every person’s purpose is to help meet the needs of people God puts in our path.  We were created to be inter-connected.  We are not meant to do life alone.  That is in the intimate friends, family and spouse sense, but also in the larger community of faith, geographical region, and as part of all people God has created.

In May of 2008 my brother Steve, my daughter Christin, and I traveled to Honduras for a week to work with Fernando Acosta in a church plant in Playa Grande.  We held a day camp for the young people with a soccer tournament, daily lessons, games, and singing each day.  We wrapped up with a celebration including pinatas and a party on the final day.  Over the next few days I want to share some of the impressions from that trip.

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One of the indelible impressions was the ability of our new friends and faith family to live above their circumstances.

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In the pictures you will see mostly smiling, happy faces.  Our event was a wonderful diversion for children and adults alike.  Some of the pictures will show the living conditions.  Mud huts are common.  Cinder block is perhaps the majority along the roads where we traveled.  Many homes are only one room.  There was no running water.  Water is delivered into the family pila once every third day.  We lost electricity almost every day for periods of 30 minutes – 2 or 3 hours.  Homes were not closed up and there was no air conditioning.  When we were there in May the temperature was 94 – 96 degrees every day with 85 – 90% humidity.  For us used to air conditioning the sleeping was probably the most challenging.

The home we stayed in was one of the nicer homes in the area.  The family who owned the home were working in the US.  They bought the home with money they made in the US so they would have a place to live if they had to leave the US.

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It had a real kitchen with essential appliances.  It had a large living room area where we held the mid-week service for about 50 – 60 people.  We were packed in and it was stuffy and really hot, but the Lord blessed the time in a wonderful way as 6 young people chose to follow Christ that night.

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Another home we visited simply had a fire pit inside the home for cooking.  It struck me that the arduous task of cooking a meal for this mother was essentially the same a campfire cooking that I have done a number of times.  She does it every day, multiple times every day.  Additionally in her one room home she raises her four children without a husband.

Despite the joy that we got to see, the life of the people in Playa Grande is a very hard life.  Unemployment is 25% or higher.  Despair and hopelessness are two of the greatest struggles.

IMG_8124IMG_5512There is one private doctor who lives several miles from Playa Grande, but very few of the villagers could take advantage of him.  Medical care is government provided, but that means you have to arrange transportation to the capital of Tegucigalpa which for us was a 5 hour trip in and a 6 hour trip back.  The pattern for most young people is some schooling until they are 9, 10, or 11 years old and then it is off to try and find some sort of work even if it is simply subsistence farming of the family vegetable garden and few animals.

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I have been around poor living conditions here in the US, but I have to say the scope of poverty does not compare.  In the US people have options that simply do not exist in Playa Grande.  That despair and hopelessness are the two biggest challenges is not in the least surprising.  It drives me to be incredibly thankful for what we have, but it also makes me desire to help.

Playa Grande is a real place God has used to touch my heart.  However there are Playa Grande’s everywhere.  Each one of us has opportunities all around us where we can reach out and help.  You do not have to go a thousand miles away to meet needs.  They exist in your own community, perhaps within your family, surely through your church there are real needs to be met.  I encourage you to join me in seeking areas where the unique gifts and talents that you and I possess can be put to use for the good of others.IMG_8133

Have a blessed day and ask the Lord to make you a blessing to others today.

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A World Wide View

Mt Carmel (47) Mt Carmel (48)

The last few years Lisa and I have been able to pick up a new hobby – international travel.  As you might expect the picture of the world based solely on what we see in the news is not exactly the whole picture.  To get closer to the truth I try to pull information from several different sources spanning the spectrum.  Fortunately we have now been able to add some personal experiences to the list of information sources.

Today’s blog is going to be different.  I have been stirred for the past couple of weeks because of a number of events occurring around the world that point to a significant “culmination of events”.  While I do not consider myself a biblical prophesy expert, I have read enough to know there are certain things that will be in place at the end times and it looks like the stage is pretty well set.

1) The rise of ISIS and the Vision of an Islamic Caliphate.  I was surprised to learn that the teachings of Islam have end times prophesy not unlike the bible.  The prophesy of the end times has battles in the region of Syria and Iraq taking place with a charismatic leader rising from this time to unite the nation of Islam and attack Israel and all unbelievers who will not convert.  Today, ISIS leaders believe it is their destiny to usher in the end times.  Unlike typical soldiers who willingly put their lives at risk, but strive to do so in a manner that allows them to fight another day, ISIS fighters are convinced paradise awaits them as soon as thy die if they can do taking a bunch of infidels with them.

It is important to note that Iran is very much tied into this part of the story too.  Iranian influence has grown greatly in the region.  The government overthrow in Yemen over the last month was orchestrated by rebels loyal to Iran.  Libya is mostly overrun by rebels loyal either to ISIS or Iran.

Saudi Arabia is very much at risk to Iranian influenced rebels / terrorists.  I read an article about the Islamic end times prophesies and it pointed to the death of the Saudi king being a trigger point for the end times.  Within the past month the Saudi king died.  Iran, ISIS, and to a degree a large part of the Muslim world believes the end times are near and it is incumbent upon them to help usher it in.

I saw a clip yesterday of Glenn Beck speaking to this topic and I believe he had some sound advice.  His words to our leaders are to understand what we are getting into if we seek to put boots on the ground to wipe out ISIS.  While we need to seriously consider whether we are ready to launch World War III, we need to be aware that to the Islamist, this is truly the war to end all wars.

2) Weapons of mass destruction.  One of the untold stories in the mainstream news was the validation of the Bush era concern of weapons of mass destruction.  While they were never found and trotted out for the world to see, it now appears that they did indeed exist.  Unfortunately they where successfully hidden when the United States helped overthrow Saddam Hussein, but ISIS may have found them. Admittedly this story is one that my trust-o-meter is only about 50 – 60% on, but my gut gives it credibility.

But Iraq was not the only source of weapons of Mass Destruction.  Two other nations that are not our friends either have, or will soon have the capability to have nuclear weapons.  Pakistan is already equipped with nuclear capability and out relationship with that nation is not very strong.

But far and away the biggest threat is Iran.  Have you ever wondered why a nation with tremendous oil reserves and such a strong push-back against their nuclear ambition would continue to strive so hard to achieve nuclear capability?  They would be so much better off if they ditched their nuclear program.  The world would rush to embrace them, relations with many nations would normalize, and prosperity would come to the nation.  But instead they doggedly push for nuclear capability they don’t need.  Why?  I believe it is for the bombs they intend to make.

3) Jesus reaching out to Muslims and others.  This is one of the most exciting things I have heard.  I have heard a number of reports of the Lord sovereignly reaching out to Muslim Imams, Hindu leaders, and others through dreams and supernatural “coincidences”.  The stories are like Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus.  And the results are amazing.  Within the “enemies’ camp” the Lord is raising a testimony to the one true God and Jesus Christ, the only way to be reconciled to the Father.

4) Financial warfare and the fragility of the worldwide economy.  I am reading the book, “The Death of Money” by James Rickards.  He knows financial systems and has helped our government strategize and develop protections against financial attack and cyber warfare.  While some in our government grasp the significance of the threat many do not.  Personally, I have been uneasy about the $18 trillion of government debt and what that is liable to do to future generations but I didn’t know enough to be really concerned about financial warfare.  Now I do and I realize that we live in a time when tremendous damage can be inflicted upon millions and millions of people without ever firing a shot.  A panic can be created within our financial systems that brings on a recession or worse around the world and it has already some close on a number of occasions.

A piece from network news that touches on the vulnerability is the hacking of Sony pictures databases by North Korea and the subsequent international blackmail that stopped the release of a movie that portrayed North Korea in a negative light.  I didn’t follow that story to the end to see if it was really North Korea alone or in collaboration with others, but the point is if a nation that is so seriously under-developed can make such a huge impact simply through a few keystrokes, then our financial systems are an open target.

To be balanced here the US is still probably the most sophisticated and advanced in the realm of cyber-warfare.  We can do the same or worse to others.  The problem is we are not equipped to anticipate and prevent a major well-executed attack without suffering major damage to our financial systems.  Wealth would be destroyed, businesses would go under, people would lose their jobs, and in the midst of this distraction a real war, say in the Middle East aimed at Israel, could begin.

5) The New Prime Minister of Greece – Alexis Tsipras.  I only mention this because of how much his rapid accent from relative obscurity so closely reminds me of Nicolae Carpathia in the Left Behind series of novels on the end times.  It concerns me greatly when unknown persons who proudly deny the existence of God, rise to rock star status and tremendous power in a matter of just a few months.  It appears that at this moment this gentleman has within his grasp the ability to make or break the European Union AND he is very close to Russia.

Oh, just a tidbit that could play into this is that some of the richest persons in the world are actively promoting and working toward a one world government to solve the world’s problems such as climate change.  Bill Gates and George Soros are two men who have dumped large amounts of money into making the world fit their vision of what it should be like.  I see a charismatic leader filling the political role and then deep pockets people like Gates and Soros being able to provide the platform to usher it in.

6) I didn’t even mention the war in Ukraine.  It is telling that this major event – Russia fostering war in a sovereign, western-leaning nation, is at the position of #6 on the list of events.  In more normal times this would be a headliner with a strong, consistent US response.  Right now it is barely on the radar for us… but not to the people suffering through the offensive by Russian supported separatists.

I mentioned at the start of this article that Lisa and I have been able to travel some in the past few years.  We went with a group from our church to Israel this past year.  In fact it was the trip right after my heart procedure.  One of the sites we visited was Mount Carmel.  It was really cool to stand on the brow of the Mountain and hear the story of Elijah in 1Kings 18:16-46.  Elijah stood alone as the single prophet of God before 450 prophets of Baal.  God showed up in a mighty way that day demonstrating His ultimate power, delivering Elijah and showing the people who the true God was.

After that story we then walked up to the top of the church to the balcony which got us above the trees for a view of the Jezreel Valley.  It was a beautiful view and I will attach a few pictures.  Our guide then explained how another name for this valley was the Valley of Armageddon where the final battle would take place.  In Ezekiel 38 and 39 it speaks of a major battle in Israel with the location most likely being in this location.  Revelation 16:16 is the only place where the specific term Armageddon is used.  In both descriptions God sovereignly intervenes for the nation of Israel with a mighty earthquake and fire from heaven.

I find it interesting that the very areas that the bible describes in Ezekiel – Gog, Magog, Cush, Put, Persia, Meshech, Tubal, Gomer correspond to the lands that are right now engaged in the conflicts mentioned above – Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Ethiopia, the Saudi Peninsula.  And for the record, the biblical prophesies in Ezekiel were written late in his life probably around 575 – 571 BC.  That’s over a thousand years before Islam’s great prophet was alive.

So what are we to do with this information.  I must admit as I read and digest this it tends to begin stirring a sense that I need to “do something” to get ready.  In reality we all need to do something, but it depends totally where you are in relation to the God of the Universe.  The reality is that all this is transient.  It always has been and one day, perhaps sooner than most people can conceive, it will all come to an end.  Eternity is real and, as the name implies it is forever.  God’s plan is, and always has been, to redeem those who would follow Him.  He did this through sending His Son, Jesus, to die for our sins.  He asks us to simply exchange our sin-wracked life for His perfect sinless life.

So if you do not know Jesus your first step is to get to know Him.  Ask God to reveal Himself to you.  Please reply to me if you are interested in learning more or if you want to go ahead and take your next step.  The church I attend is also very dynamic and has an excellent online service.  Check it out at NewSpring.com.

If you are a believer then the “do something” is to pray and tell people about the Lord.  More than ever people will be looking for answers since the world cannot give answers that truly fulfill the deepest questions.

The thing the Lord keeps reassuring me is to Trust Him.  He is in control.  I do not know if this is the end times or another difficult time in world history like the middle ages or WWII, but I do know that the Lord is sovereign and whatever happens He is working in it for the greater good.

I close with Paul’s exhortation to the believers in Rome who were facing some persecution, but soon to face so much more.  Romans 8:28-39

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.  For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; and those He justified, He also glorified.

What then shall we say in response to this?  If God is for us who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not also, along with Him graciously give us all things?  Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?  It is God who justifies.  Who is he that condemns?  Christ Jesus, who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  As it is written:

     For your sake we face death all day long: We are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. (from Psalm 44:22)

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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On March 14, 2014 I had a heart procedure that saved my life.  Eight days after the procedure we were to leave the country on a two week vacation.  At my one week post procedure doctor’s visit I was told that I probably would have died on our two-week vacation if I hadn’t gone to see the doctor and then found and corrected the blockages.  Below is the post that I put on Facebook on March 16, 2014.  I thought I would repost to give context to my post from earlier this week since I have a lot of new friends who may not have heard or read the story the first time.

I am a new heart disease survivor. Two weeks ago my brother-in-law, Keith, and I ran about 3 miles. Friday I had 3 stents placed in my heart where there were 2 – 90% blockages and one 99% blockage. One of the blockages was in the widow-maker. I am so thankful for my family and their faith and encouragement, but I want to acknowledge in the most heartfelt manner my thanks to the Lord for making it clear to move and move quickly.

I want to share a few warning signs for others so you can benefit from my experience.

The first sign that something was not right was getting winded heading up the steps to the daily meeting I attend at 9 am. It was only a few steps but it was enough that I noticed. My thought was that I had to get back into condition. The wild weather this winter combined with lots of long days at the plant had gotten me out of my routine.

The next sign was that I could not run as well when I did run. Keith and I have been enjoying 2 – 3 mile runs over the past several months. It is good exercise and fun to talk about life. But I actually had to stop during a couple of runs. There was one run a month ago that, looking back now, was a clear sign something was up. But I laughed it off and then ran two miles after that convincing myself I was okay, just out of practice.

About a week and a half ago I got home with enough light to run and I did. But the entire run was a challenge. I remember at 2 miles clearly thinking something’s not right because my legs felt like lead and I was laboring with my breathing. I should have said something to Lisa but I didn’t.

Tuesday of this week. The clearest description of what my symptom felt like was to put on a very tight t-shirt. That uncomfortable tightness across your chest that makes it hard to breath. Well I experienced that for 15 seconds going to the morning meeting. A little annoying. That evening I took the wheelbarrow and some tools to the back yard and when I got there I had the sensation for 45 seconds. OK, now I was beginning to be concerned. After supper I took Lisa for a walk and told her what had been going on. We agreed I needed to get checked out.

That night I had a dream. I walked into an open garage on a very windy day. There were no cars in the garage.  As leaves blew in I thought to get a broom and sweep them out. As I began to step in for the broom I noticed a coffee table in the center of the garage with a ball of snakes writhing underneath. I realized they were poisonous and one broke free from the ball and came at me. I knew it was coming to get me. I took one step back and thought to myself, “I’ve got to deal with this.” At that instant my clock alarm went off.  And shouting in my memory was the thought, I’ve got to deal with this.

That morning I was in the doctor’s office. Vitals all looked good but the EKG was A-typical. A call to the cardiologist and I was in their office the next day. I thought a stress test was the next step but after looking at my EKG and hearing my symptoms, the doctor put me in for a heart catheritization the next day. I went in mostly hoping that they would find everything fine, but instead they found and repaired three blockages. An overnight stay in the hospital and I was home before noon on Saturday with 90 mm of SS mesh tubing in my heart. Honestly my head is spinning when I think about the implications.

FITNESS ALONE DOES NOT PROTECT YOU.
For the past 7 years I have become a runner. The past three years I averaged running 15 – 20 miles a week. In preparation for the Cooper River Bridge Run last April I was running 30 miles a week. One of the reasons I took up running was because my Dad had a heart attack at age 54 and I wanted to be sure I didn’t have that problem. I completed the 6.2 miles of the Cooper River Bridge run in less than 49 minutes… I thought I had NO PROBLEMS with any ole heart problems because I was FIT!

STRESS IS NOT YOUR FRIEND.
Over the past few months the stress level at work has increased significantly. While we have been successful in many ways there is still so much to be done… and I take a lot of responsibility for trying to keep my team and the plant progressing. Lately at least 4 different co-workers had asked me if I was okay and they encouraged me to take it easy and not push myself so hard. I realized this morning looking in the mirror how much different I look. I was worn out and tired most of the time and stress was a major reason. This morning I look 5 years younger.

EATING RIGHT IS NOT A GAME.
In addition to the stress I had some opportunities in my diet. I was not a terrible eater and I had made substitutes over the past few years to go “heart healthy”. I added fish to my diet and lot’s of chicken. Red meat had been a staple but I was down to 2 – 3 times a week usually. However it was more of a game than a lifestyle. If I decided I wanted a cookie, I told myself I’d just run a little extra distance. When I did eat red meat it was a well-marbled rib-eye. To balance it out I began eating the petite portion size. I was not committed to a healthy diet. I assumed that I was fit and my vitals were always very good when I had them checked so it was OK for me to cheat on the heart healthy diet.

REGULAR CHECK-UPS MEANS MORE OFTEN THAN EVERY FIVE YEARS
Okay, I guess I have uncovered another area where I went astray. As I approached 50 I had a full physical. Since then I have had annual screenings where they check my vitals and tell me they look very good.  I had even gotten a little smug… “yeah my heart rate is always real low like that because I’m a runner and I take care of myself” sort of smug.  I am ashamed at this moment but I have committed to being honest and transparent in hopes my experience can help others so there is the truth of it. Last fall I set up a full check-up which I canceled 30 minutes prior because we had some crisis going at work. Having good intentions but not carrying through = 0. The result is exactly the same as never having thought of doing the right thing. In my case a November check-up might have revealed a problem that could have been dealt with in a simpler manner.

OTHER RISK FACTORS: SMOKING, DRINKING, CAFFEINE
For myself the other risk factors have not been an issue. I recognize that they are known to be harmful to me and to a degree to those who would be around me, so I don’t smoke or consume alcohol or caffeine.

As I mentioned before my head spins as I think of the implications… I had a time bomb in my chest getting close to going off… I almost missed the warning signs… I can’t hide behind being “fit” to ward off everything that can take me down… God knows me well enough to know I needed a nudge (OK more like a push) from that dream to move and move quick.

One final thing that I remembered a little while ago and told my wife. On Thursday morning (before my visit to the cardiologist) as I was heading to work I turned on His Radio for a little soothing music. While I was not scared exactly, I was running through my mind the likely paths this would take. The possibility that there was a problem with my heart was high on the list. You can’t help but to think about the what if’s in such a situation? What if I don’t survive and my family has to deal with my loss. About that time a song came on and the refrain repeated God’s words to us – “I will never leave you. I will never forsake you”. As the melody and these words soaked into my soul the tears came. Not tears of sadness, but tears of joy and release. I KNOW that God lives and that He is in control of my life. He has given me stewardship my time on earth, but as I release my life to Him I can trust Him completely. He gave me a crazy dream about snakes at exactly the time I needed it to motivate me to head to the doctor. Today I celebrate the reality of Who He is and another marvelous thing He has done for me and my family.

I cannot praise Him enough… but I’m gonna try!

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I don’t know about you, but choosing to die is not my first choice.  In fact in almost every scenario that comes to mind I am choosing the path that provides at least a glimmer of hope of survival.  Our sense of self preservation is strong.  But Jesus preached and modeled something radically different than self preservation.  In Matt 16:25 He said, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me will find it.”  As we follow His life we see that Jesus willingly lived in obedience to God’s plan and for our salvation which included dying to His self.  As a professed believer and follower in Jesus it is of paramount importance that I come to grips with what Jesus is asking me to do.

Dying to self is the foundational act of faith.  Truly living a life where Jesus is Lord means that we are not.  We, or at least I, are selfish creatures.  In most cases my world revolves around what I see, perceive, and deem appropriate.  Although I am loathe to admit it, I often want what I want and I will act in accordance with that desire much of the time.  Judging by the world around me that is true of most people.  When I committed my life to Christ, when I gave Him my life, I recognized that this innate selfishness was liable to be a problem.  But I trusted Jesus to do something about that.  As I look back over 30+ years of following Him I can see much progress yet there are still times that the old selfish man rises up.  Thankfully God has given us the Holy Spirit to help us with this.  Our response is to die to self daily and trust Him to help us.  And He does.

Jesus modeled dying to self literally.  Not everyone is called to willingly put themselves into situations where physical death is the likely outcome, but that is part of what we sign up for.  As I mentioned yesterday history is full of the faithful losing their lives at the hands of despots and tyrants who war against the one true God and His people.  Today as I write this many believers will perish at the hands of ISIS followers.  My heart hurts for them and I am moved to intercession.   We also have a dear family that we love and support that have been ministering in central Asia now for 11 years.  They recently relocated to Turkey and are beginning a new work among the Muslim population there.  Please join me in praying for God’s protection, grace, and mighty power upon all those in this part of the world.

In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Mt 26:39.  I have prayed something resembling the first part of that prayer many times… “Lord get me out of this bad or unpleasant situation.”  That is not dying to self though.  Dying to self is the entirety of Jesus’ prayer… a request for another option other than the obvious, but total submission to the Father’s plan and purpose.

Because Jesus submitted to the Father’s will He did have to suffer an agonizing night and day of torture, humiliation, crucifixion, and death.  However, He also purchased my forgiveness and forgiveness for anyone who trusts in Him.  He also launched the Church to proclaim the truth of reconciliation with God through faith in Him.  He broke the power of hell and the grave as He proved that heaven is our final home and the grave is just a doorway into larger life.

I don’t know about you, but I get pumped up when I think about what Jesus has done for me and for you.  Before I close I want to flesh out a little more what dying to self looks like for us.  Let’s get practical.  I think the fifth chapter of Ephesians is a good place to start.

For husbands it means cherishing your wife, listening to her, working hard to understand her needs and then striving to meet them.  In the list of priorities after you wife would be your children.  These come first – before the man-cave, guys night out, or your pet project.  I’m not saying that those fun things can’t happen, but they have to be down the priority list and only occur when others are considered and acted upon first.  I have to laugh because I have handled this in every way imaginable and most of them have NOT been the right way.  To do these things for your wife and children, but be secretly pouting for the guy things, is not dying to self.  Time spent with the Lord asking and allowing Him to instill in us the desire to love and cherish our family is how we get to the place we can do this right.

Wives dying to self really comes down to a very simple word – submission.  I know that opens a can of worms and I am not going to take the time to chase and catch them all.  Staying simple, Jesus is your Lord as a believer.  You are to submit to Him just as your husband is to submit to Him.  To the extent you can do so without violating the specific leading of the Lord in His Word, you are to live in harmony under the leadership of your husband.  Just like the husband who must give up his will to seek the Lord’s will first and then serve you and your children, so too you must dwell in your prayer closet with the Father to have His heart and attitude in this.

I can think of dozens of scenarios and situations and I am sure you can think of many unique to your life.  In every case the right path is similar.

It begins with a vibrant relationship with the Father through consistent, constant prayer and reading of the Word of God.

It is undergirded by the consistent petition, “Lord make me more like you.”

It progresses through consistently asking and acting upon the thought, “what is best for the other person.”

It is solidified by celebrating the joy and blessings in the lives of others.

It finds it’s rest in thankfulness to the Father for allowing you to be an agent of His grace.

And along the way, without ever focusing upon yourself or your wants, you will find yourself blessed with peace, joy, love, and a deepened faith in the One who loves us more than we can ask or imagine.

Be blessed and be a blessing today my friend.

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Good Morning and Welcome to Lent 2015. Lent is the season of preparation immediately preceding Easter. In the early church this time was spent in final training for Easter baptism for persons who had decided to give their life to the Lord.  While the faith and commitment of a life given to God remains the same, there have been many adaptations through the years.  As we begin our Lenten journey together this year let’s take a look at some of the roots of the Christian faith and allow our Father to inspire us this year to deepen our walk with Him.

Life commitment.  For much of the history of the church, being objects of persecution has been the norm.  The Roman Empire had a god and he was the Caesar.  In reality they had a lot of “gods”, but what was officially frowned upon was a religion that espoused a solitary, supreme God that was not under the Roman boot.  As such the early church experienced repeated periods of intense persecution which included being treated as second-class citizens, torture, and even publically sanctioned murder simply based upon the fact they were Christians.

Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:24 – 27 sets the bar for what it means to follow Him.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me will find it.  What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?  For the Son of Man is going to come in His Father’s glory with His angels and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.” 

Becoming a Christian is not simply responding to an altar call to receive a get-out-of-hell card.  It can start there, but the Lord is calling us to something so much more demanding and so much more rewarding than that.  And the early church dedicated time to teaching initiates about that with Lent being the final exam if you will.

As Christians in the western world we have experienced very little persecution directly impacting our lives, yet the reality is it has always existed.  The prince of this world, Satan, has and still does wage a relentless attack against the people of God.  Recently we have had the brutality and evil of it exposed in the atrocities committed by ISIS.  This is not really new however.  In the past 1200 years over 270,000,000 people have been murdered in the name of Islam.  To be Jewish or Christian and to hold to that faith was to be under a death sentence.  And in large parts of the world today it still is.

The point of this is that a commitment to follow the God of the bible, to trust in the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross, cannot be taken lightly.  What God calls us to is not a life of ease (although we are to rest in Him) nor is it a trouble-free life (but do not worry because Jesus has overcome the world), but it is a life that will be filled with God’s grace and abundant love.  When a person accepts Jesus as their savior and Lord, they truly move from death to life.  While that may make us targets of Satan (and Islam) it also comes with so many amazing benefits – Jesus’ promise to never leave us or forsake us, we are given the Holy Spirit as our counselor and helper, we are sealed as God’s possession forever, and the list goes on.

Over the coming weeks let’s dig deeper into what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.  I would love to hear back from you.  Please share your thoughts or experiences with how God has stretched you, taught you, and helped you grow in your faith.

Until tomorrow I pray you will be blessed and be a blessing to another.

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