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Separation… The distance between us says a lot about our relationships.  It can be reflected in physical dimensions, but in reality it is the total sum of emotional, physical, and spiritual space between us that really matters.

I read a great book which I highly recommend called The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith.  Doctor Smith does an outstanding job of identifying the false narratives we may have about God and comparing them to the narratives Jesus gives us about God.  I’ve thought about this idea of separation and intimacy a lot over the past few months at least in part because of this book.

I love the story of the prodigal son.  At different times in my life I have identified with any and all of the three characters in the story – the wayward younger son, the dutiful older son, and the hopeful father.  In telling this story Jesus illustrates this theme of separation and restoration in a manner that brings out the physical, emotional, and ultimately spiritual distance that exists to be bridged.

‘Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

“ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ ”’  Luke 15:11-32

Even while he was physically present in the home of his father, the younger son was emotionally and spiritually distant.  His heart was drawn toward foreign lands and taboo customs.  I feel certain his father knew this.  Yet rather than force the younger son to stay physically present he not only allowed him to go, he enabled him to physically leave.  I’d never really considered it before, but the father wasn’t obligated to give the younger son his inheritance.  In fact, there are two things striking here.  The inheritance is not due until the father dies.  And the inheritance for the younger children is usually meager.  The oldest son was due the bulk of the estate and the younger children were to be given a small inheritance – enough to start a life, but not half the farm.  Yet that’s what this father did.  In so doing he provided the younger son the means to put into effect the physical distance that matched the spiritual and emotional distance he had always had.  The father gave the son the means to do the very things he had taught his children all their life not to do.

In Jesus telling of the story, the older son doesn’t really show up much until the end.  I want to point out that the older son also had his fair share of distance to overcome.  At the end of the story when the younger son has come to his senses, when he has repented of his sin and recognized his self-imposed distance between himself and his father, we see rejoicing and reconciliation between youngest son and dad.  But the separation between father and oldest son then becomes evident.  I believe that this separation was predominantly spiritual up until this point.  In his pouting, the oldest son expresses anger emanating from a prideful spirit.  The distance that had likely remained mostly hidden was brought to light.

I’ve always been intrigued by why Jesus tagged this on at the end of the story, almost as a footnote.  I think the answer lies in this thought of the distance between us and God.  One of the paramount messages of Jesus was the elimination of the distance between God and His children.  Jesus was Emmanuel – God with us.  That was a radical thought back then, even as it still is for many today.  The entirety of “God with us” is a bigger truth than we can fully comprehend.  But in this story we see the father doing something radical… and painful.  I had never really seen it as what it had to be – the father’s extreme faith.  Toward the youngest son it was faith that when he hit bottom he would look up and realize that the distance he had put between himself and his father was something he didn’t want to exist any longer.  For the oldest son it was faith that he would understand that physical closeness was not the same as intimacy and that one day he would move into true intimacy with his father.

Our Father will do anything to eliminate the distance between us.  He wants intimacy with us and He is willing to suffer to see it accomplished.  For years I’ve marveled at the suffering Jesus endured at the cross.  As my faith matured and I became a dad, I also marveled at the suffering God the Father had to endure to send His Son to suffer on our behalf.  Today I realize that God feels the pain of separation with those He has called to be His children.  Yet He allows us to “walk away” because His greatest desire is for our complete reconciliation with Him.  To achieve this we have to see the distance for what it is – separation from the only Love that is truly healing… separation from the only Love that can completely reconcile… separation from the only Love that completes us…separation from intimacy with our Father Who is Love.

Through my work with our church’s care team and in our home group, I am praying for several folks who have prodigal children.  My heart aches for them because we too have experienced children who walk away from us and from the Father.  I suspect there are those who are reading this who’s feet may fit the shoes of someone in this story… the parent or one of the two children.  Know this, God is with you wherever you are even if you have turned your back on Him.  He loves you beyond your understanding.  He loves you with an everlasting love.  And He has done everything to make it possible for you to experience intimacy with Him and within the family of love He has called you to.  Simply turn to Him.  Call out to Him.  Ask Jesus to help you.  Ask Him to show you how to eliminate the distance between you and God.  You’ll be amazed.  The distance can be bridged in moment through a whispered, “Yes Lord.”

Be blessed today and be a blessing.

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The most difficult care conversations are those where people have lost hope.  Hope is an anchor.  Hope keeps us from being lost when the storms of life break over us and threaten to destroy us.  Persons who lose hope are vulnerable to multiple temptations that will only make bad situations worse.  The downward spiral that is hopelessness is difficult to break once the path is set.  This is when the life-giving words of Jesus are so important to hold on to.  Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26 NIV.

Yesterday we prayed with a man whose family has experienced two suicides within the course of a month.  This is the ultimate losing hope.  Two of my friends then shared nuggets of gold which I want to share with you today.  First Doug, a teacher for many years, mentioned an experiment that he has read about.  Laboratory mice were subjected to a stress test that measured the impact of hope.  The mice were placed in a tank filled with enough water that the mice were forced to swim.  For one group of mice the tank was then covered with a box that completely sealed off the light.  The average lifespan of the mice in the dark box was 3 minutes before they drowned.  The second group of mice were treated the same except for a small hole in the box which allowed a small amount of light to enter the box.  The average lifespan of these mice was 36 hours.  Such is the power of hope.

As Doug finished, Greg asked if we had a good definition of hope.  I think I said it was a belief that things would be better in the future.  Greg said hope is H.O.P.E – Holding On to Promises Eternal.  My definition could be true, but it could just as easily be the definition for wishful thinking.  In reality, that’s what a lot of people accept as hope.  But Greg’s definition is tied to something solid… something that has stood the test of time and proven true.

So, I want to share with you some of the Promises Eternal that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt to be true.

“I will never leave you or forsake you.”  God speaks this to several people in the bible.  He spoke it to me in Sept of 1983 in a small chapel at Camp Hartner in the piney woods of central Louisiana.  This is the first and foundational promise of my faith journey.  I pitched my anchor trusting it would hold fast in this promise.  It has for over 34 years.  I am certain it will hold into eternity.

“I know the plans I have for you.  Plans to prosper you and not to harm you.  Plans to give you a hope and future.”  Jeremiah 29:11.  The Lord kept this verse in my thoughts the entire week when I was told my job was eliminated in 2007.

‘So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. ‘  Isaiah 41:10.  The Lord clearly gave me this verse as I was about to go to work one morning fully expecting to hear that my team was being downsized.

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. ‘  Matthew 6:33.  In this simple admonition, Jesus gave the recipe for prioritizing life which ensures my needs are met.  While there have been a few times that my wants went unsatisfied, I’ve never missed anything of significant value.  One of the things I’ve learned about “wants” is they usually have a great big “I” in the middle of them and they don’t advance God’s purposes in my life or the life of those around me.  Yet with a few unfulfilled wants, there have been numerous times when God’s blessings have absolutely overflowed into my life and the lives of those I know and love.

‘Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”‘  Matthew 11:28-30.  I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve “limped home” to hear the Father whisper the words “Rest in Me.”  He has always carried the bulk of the load.  At times I’ve attempted to shoulder more than I was supposed to and forge on in my strength.  Yet in His gracious mercy, He has always been right there to step in as soon as I realize my error and lean into Him.

‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.’  Proverbs 3:5-6.  Again there have been times when I’ve gotten focused upon my plan, my work, my way that I’ve lost track of God’s call and purpose.  But He is faithful to His promise here and when I turn to Him fully committing my heart and ways to Him, He has always, ALWAYS been there to guide and direct me.

‘Delight yourself also in the Lord , And He shall give you the desires of your heart.’ Psalms 37:4.  I’ve learned that deepening my relationship with the Lord – delighting in Him, has been the greatest blessing of life.  At times I can clearly see how martyrs and the persecuted saints through the ages have been able to worship God even in the face of intense personal pain and suffering.  He gives eyes to see things unseen.  He causes our hearts to know of things eternal.  He changes our heart so that His desires become our desires.  He accomplishes those things that will bring about His glory and our joy.

I meant to keep this to a short post, but I have failed again.  Please forgive me.  While I am just getting warmed up, I know it is time to sign off for today.  Before I do, I would be remiss not to emphasize, these are your promises too.  God loves with an overwhelming love.  He has written His love story for you as well as for me.  Every promise of God is true and you can rely on them.  Wherever you are in life, you can pitch your anchor into God’s Promises Eternal and that anchor will hold.  Jesus gave His life for you and He gives His promises to you.  That my friend is HOPE.  That my friend is for you.

Blessings to you today.

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Brad said it 10 days ago yet it is still bouncing around in my head.  “The Kingdom advances at the speed of sacrifice.”  We are revisiting our core values and the 4th is Having a Kingdom Mentality.  Very briefly, this means we fix our eyes on Jesus and seek to live each day from the understanding that we are members of God’s kingdom.  Living from this perspective changes the way we approach many situations.  Instead of worldly wisdom, we seek to apply biblical wisdom to the challenges of the day.  Living from the knowledge that the God of the universe is actively engaged in the redemption of life on this green planet alters how we think, how we act, what we say – essential everything is flavored by this new perspective.  A key principle is that love and sacrifice are pillars in the Kingdom of God.  The following story from the gospel of John portrays this beautifully.

‘Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.” When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. ‘  John 13:1-20
https://www.bible.com/bible/59/JHN.13.1-20

Jesus demonstrated His love for us in numerous ways.  Washing the feet of visitors was one of the lowest of servant roles in Jesus’ day, yet Jesus didn’t hesitate to minister to the disciples in this manner and then called them to follow His example.  But this wasn’t the first or the last time Jesus would model sacrifice.

On the cross Jesus fulfilled the righteous requirement of the law paying the penalty for sin… for all sin… for your sin and my sin, so that we might enter into relationship with the Father.  His sacrifice is the watershed in all world history.  Everything is changed because of His sacrifice.  Yet, He calls us to partner with Him in the redemption  of the world.  The good news of Jesus’ love and sacrifice hasn’t reached everyone.  There are those who have not heard it because of their physical location.  There are those who haven’t heard it because of local beliefs and false religion’s hostility to the gospel.  And there are those who have not heard because the message is not compellingly delivered.

There is nothing wrong with the gospel.  But at times we fail to deliver the message from a true kingdom mentality.  Have we been on our knees in prayer interceding for our friends before we share the gospel?  Do we allow God’s principles to guide our actions causing us to live differently enough that people notice and are attracted by God’s grace showing through us?  Do we allow the Holy Spirit to guide our actions such that when we are nudged to step out of our comfort zone we promptly respond even if we may look a little foolish?  Are we willing to sacrifice when all the clamor around us says indulge, enjoy, treat yourself?

Let’s journey together this Lent and look at what this kingdom mentality looks and feels like.  I have been nudged to sacrifice a bit of sleep for the next 40 or so days to share some thoughts on the matter.  Please join me and share your thoughts.

Love and peace to you this Ash Wednesday, 2018.  May the Lord bless you with the richness of His grace.

 

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I expected colder temps as I set out for the mountains at 4 am.  What I failed to expect was that the calm where I lived would be replaced by 15 – 20 mph winds.  Fortunately I dressed warm and for the most part I was comfortable.  The hike from 5500 feet to 6000 feet also kept the blood pumping which meant for the first hour I was relatively comfortable.

Shining Rock in the Pisgah National Forest was created as one of the original federal Wilderness Areas when that designation was established in 1964.  The high mountain range consists of a concentrated number of mountain peaks in western North Carolina with several over 5000 feet and three, including Black Balsam Knob, over 6000 feet in elevation.  Surrounded by thickly forested mountains slopes the closest town, Brevard, NC is some 20+ miles south.

As I emerged from my car near the trailhead I was stunned by the vast number of stars visible this far from manmade lights other than those I had just turned off.  Since the moon had set, the stars had the stage all to themselves, and what a performance they gave.  For the second time in two weeks I caught the glimpse of a shooting star as it’s long and invisible existence came to a brief, yet fiery end colliding with the earth’s atmosphere.  The wind was howling as I entered the 200 meters of trail running through the strip of fir trees just off the service road.  I prayed a prayer of thanks for the folks who had laid white rock on the trail through the trees.  It would have been very easy to lose the trail without it.

Breaking through the trees, the expansive view opened to the first hints of light on the horizon.  An hour before the official sunrise, I had time to soak in the immensity and grandeur of the night.  Even without the moon, the stars were bright enough to give a sense of shape and flow to the land.  The dark shape of the mountain rising to my left and the swaying form of the trees I had emerged from falling off to my right were silhouetted against millions of stars.  Toward the eastern horizon the hint of color slowly grew with one bright star shining above the brightest point.

“The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.

They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.

Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.”

Psalm 19:1-4a

Creation speaks if we listen.  It is not loud or demanding, but more of a gentle whisper… most of the time.  The message is one of beauty, power, and majesty.  From the top of a cold, windy mountain bald far from civilization I knew the creator’s presence not as in an artist’s work created and left behind, but in a world that He Himself fills and sustains.  God – the Almighty, was there on the mountain and my spirit soared to embrace His loving presence.

Another thought came.  When I look at creation, I realize the utter emptiness of an atheistic point of view.  The belief that all of this – the sun, the moon, the stars, earth and the exact combination of so many variables necessary to sustain life, just happened in a cosmic accident, is far too hard to believe.  That all of this came from nothing is the definition of foolishness.  I don’t make light of the fact that there is much we do not know about life and the universe.  There are mysteries that we mere mortals do not and may not ever know.  But evidence and logic make an indisputable case of an intelligent designer and creator.

As the sun rose I realized that winter had come to the high places.  The trees were all bare and the grass-covered bald was colored in various browns and greys.  As a lover of light and color, the view through the photographer’s lens was much closer to bleak winter than the festive fall I had hoped to capture.

I hiked to the top of Black Balsam Knob.  By this time I had been out in the wind for a couple hours.  Being stationary while trying to snap long exposure shots, the chill had seeped through my gloves.  The fleece-lined jeans were doing their job and my son’s borrowed yarmulke had my head toasty, but I realized my fingers were numbingly cold.  The intensity of the wind made it a challenge to get my fingers warm.  Frost-bite was suddenly a concern.  I looked for shelter, but the trees were about a mile back down the trail over the open mountain ridge.  I had selected the rock out-cropping I was standing by to serve as a foreground element in a few shots.  I suddenly remembered David and Elijah taking refuge in the cleft of a rock.  Sliding down the lee side of the rock from the wind I found immediate relief.  As an added bonus the morning sun was now hitting me without the wind stealing it’s warmth.

Sitting beside the rock I was aware of warmth emanating from within as well as from outside.  The physical rock behind which I sheltered brought to mind the Rock Who is my forever shelter – Jesus Christ.  I had felt His presence the entire time on the mountain, but as the winds swept over and around the rock, I thought of the challenging times of my life when He walked me through.  Sometimes He had to carry me.  Always, His strength was able to supply what I lacked.  With a smile on my face I rested in the relative warmth of the sun and the eternal warmth of the Son.

I did manage to find some color at the lower elevations.  The following shots are some of my favorites of the day.

At mid-afternoon I found myself standing on Caesar’s Head overlooking the Blue Ridge escarpment falling off into the South Carolina piedmont.  A couple hawks and then buzzards flew by, but I did not see any of the Peregrine Falcons I had hoped for.  It was fine though because the view, like so many this day, inspired yet another thought, this time from Isaiah.

“Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”

Isaiah 40:28-31

It’s fitting that the last act of this trip was to make two new friends with whom I shared not only the view off the mountain, but a faith in the Lord.  As we stood there and chatted, we realized that we had been inspired by the view in a very similar manner – with wonder and praise for the Creator of such beauty.  We were standing on a different rock outcropping than my Black Balsam Knob, but since rock was a common thread running through this day, I enjoyed the thought that my two new friends and I were knit together as family because of our common faith in the Rock.  And that Rock’s name is Jesus.

I hope you enjoy the pics.  But even more I hope you are encouraged by the truths the Lord has given to us… to you every bit as much as to me.

“Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.”

Psalm 62:8

“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.”

Romans 8:37-39

Be blessed today and be a blessing!

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We were fortunate to be in the center of the eclipse that crossed the USA this week.  It was surreal seeing the clouds on the northwest horizon suddenly go dark while clouds all around were still brightly lit.  Within a few seconds the light went dim as if a dimmer switch dialed down our celestial light just short of the “off” position.  As I slowly spun around, the “sunrise” visible on all 360 degrees of the horizon was beautiful.  The corona flared from behind the sun while pearls of light trickled through lunar valleys 250,000 miles away.  One hundred a fifty-three seconds after it started, the diamond ring appeared and our eclipse glasses had to go back on.  It was an amazing, and for most of us once-in-a-lifetime, experience.

Since I am in a sling I wasn’t able to do much photography during the eclipse.  However, I found several really good pics on the website BoredPanda.com.  I am attaching ones that I particularly enjoyed.  I hope you enjoy them too.

The hype for the eclipse was tremendous here in the USA, and particularly for those of us  in the “zone of totality”.  The eclipse became a cultural event crossing the US from coast to coast.  It was a nice respite from controversial matters, if only for a day.  One commentator in Oregon even made mention that for some the eclipse was a “spiritual” event.  While I don’t subscribe to the stars dictating things of the spirit, there is precedent of the Lord using the stars and other celestial bodies to point us toward truths that He wants to emphasize.  Here are some truths that yesterday’s eclipse brought to mind.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5
https://www.bible.com/bible/59/JHN.1.5   The sun is hidden from view during an eclipse, but is never put out; likewise, Jesus is the one and only Light of the World.  His enemies try myriad ways to diminish or divert His light, but they cannot.  The light of the sun was darkened for a time, but it was never put out.  All we had to do was wait and trust in the light we couldn’t quite see and shortly the light again shown brightly upon us.

“The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.” Psalms 19:1-6 https://www.bible.com/bible/59/PSA.19.1-6

The ancients thousands of years ago saw the same sun, moon, and stars we do.  They stood in awe of the marvels in the heavens and realized that the intricacy and order in the universe point to the existence of a creative hand.  The second law of thermodynamics states that all things progress from order to chaos without the input of energy.  There had to be an intelligent designer- creator to achieve the tremendous complexity and perfect inter-relationships we see in creation.

“”Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”  Matthew 24:29-31  https://www.bible.com/bible/59/MAT.24.29-31

There is a day coming when Christ will return.  By His resurrection, Jesus has conquered death, hell, and the grave.  Yet God has chosen to allow life on earth to continue until a set time, a time of His design.  Until then every person has the opportunity to draw close to God or to turn away from Him.  There is a climax to time on this earth and one set of heralds of this end are amazing signs in the heavens.  One of these signs sounds like an eclipse that is witnessed by multitudes.

Those who follow Jesus, who have traded their broken sinful lives for His, will rejoice at His appearing.  Those who have chosen to follow anything other than a relationship with Jesus will be dismayed.  They will mourn, for they have chosen not just the lesser thing, but the wrong thing.

My prayer as I close is that you will be lifted and encouraged by the pics to consider the awesome Creator Who provides such amazing sights.  And as great as His creative genius is, His all encompassing love is even greater.  I encourage you to seek Him while He may be found.

Be blessed and be a blessing today.

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Good Morning or Guten Morgen as we are docked in Kel, Germany this morning as we awake. I have had a challenging time keeping up with my pictures and posting to you due to the fullness of our schedule. (Also, the number of pics I am taking.) Hopefully now that we are onboard the Longboat Eir on the Rhine River, the pace will slow enough to edit and post a few pics. This morning being Sunday I’d like to post a few pics of our Mt Pilatus excursion and tell a story of affirmation that the Father gave me up on the mountain.

Several weeks ago, my friend Greg shared with me how God powerfully spoke to him one day when in a time of prayer and meditation he asked, “Lord, what would you have me know today?” I was thinking about that a few days later during my prayer time and so I asked the same thing. Upon asking that question I opened my bible and these verses literally jumped out at me.

Proverbs 3:5&6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and he will make your paths straight. (or direct your steps as I’ve memorized it).

Proverbs 4:4 “Take hold of my words with all your heart; keep my commands, and you will live.”

Proverbs 2:7&8 He (the LORD) holds success in store for the upright, He is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, He guards the course of the just and protects the of His faithful ones.

That has turned into a recurring theme for me in my prayer time since. And our Mt Pilatus adventure was one of three or four times on this trip where the Lord has again affirmed my role of trusting in Him fully and His faithfulness in guiding and leading.
MT PILATUS

The day broke cloudier than forecasted, but as morning warmed, the low clouds dispersed some and sunshine and beautiful blue sky became predominant. Our drive from Zurich to Lucerne revealed the charming Swiss countryside – crisp, clean, and green. While navigating into Lucerne I could see the much higher mountains across the lake were visible on the lower reaches, but shrouded in clouds at the top.

We met our guide, Annette, and boarded the bus to the cable car for the ascent up the mountain. Up to the first and second cable car connections we remained under the clouds and the view became increasingly expansive and majestic. We switched cable cars at around 4000 feet elevation where we were still under the cloud cover, but in deep shade because of them.

The final cable car was a 30- passenger car that swiftly whisked us up from 4000’ to the visitor center near the summit at 6700’. I fly frequently so the sensation of entering the clouds and “white out” is common. However, it was a little disheartening when you are anxiously anticipating the amazing 360-degree view which includes close-ups of the Alps and you exit the cable car to white-out outside and gift shops inside.

The girls headed to the gift shops and Jeff and I wandered outside into the fog. We walked around a bit managing to find a trail to a mini-summit with a cross on it. The picture in the fog was a little hard to see, but we snapped it to show we had “climbed higher”. To add insult onto injury, there were posted placards that showed the amazing view we could be seeing if we weren’t wrapped in the deep fog. I have to admit, I was feeling a little sorry for myself.

I know what some of you may be thinking… “Dan, you are on this amazing trip… you had all the beautiful views on the way up… you are with your wonderful wife on an adventure of a lifetime and you are feeling sorry for yourself? What ingratitude!” Well, you happen to be right.

Fortunately, it was only a little later I realized that for myself. As Jeff and I worked our way down this little path I noticed another path diverting along the mountain top. I took that path off into the fog as Jeff headed to check on the girls.

I’ve learned that for me, as for many people I imagine, it is hard to really focus upon God, to seek His wisdom and guidance, and to clearly hear Him speak to my heart when: 1) I am ungrateful, 2) I am focused upon my own schedule / plan / or goals, or 3) when I am surrounded by to many distractions, like hundreds of other tourists. When I started down that foggy mountain trail, I had given up my goal of seeing the view from the mountain top because there was no view to view. I headed down a trail that the crowds either didn’t know of or care about.

As I trudged with my camera in hand I felt my heart softening as I realized what I have mentioned above. I was not where I wanted to be in my heart. The reality that the God of the Universe loves me and has provided bountifully for me began to fill my awareness. I repented of my self-centeredness. I moved into thanking the Father for the many wonderful blessings He has provided to me and the ones I love. Then I began praying for family, friends, my Radmen friends, and others whom I knew God was going to send across my path.

As I am sure many of you have experienced, I felt a weight lift. My soul was lifted as I turned my heart toward our good, good Father. And I hiked through the fog with an uplifted spirit. After a little while I noticed a couple young Swiss ladies hiking up from down below. I asked how far down until I could be below the clouds. Through their minimal English (and my non-existant German) I understood it was several hundred meters. I prayed asking the Lord to guide me whether to hike down or not. I sensed to stay the course, so instead of hiking down I exchanged pictures with them and continued along the path in the fog.

The next 10 – 15 minutes of hiking the rugged mountain trail in the fog was delightful. I had given myself over to accepting whatever opportunity I was provided to meet people and love them with Jesus’ love. I remember whispering one little prayer, “Lord, I’d love to see some of the view from up here.” But that prayer was uttered from a place of complete surrender. Whether the fog lifted or not, I was satisfied the Lord would do what was best.

I stepped into the gift shop to find girls and then a water closet and when I stepped out I was shocked – I could see all the way across the patio… and even the near-by summit that had been completely shrouded in fog the entire day. I quickly hustled out with camera in hand and snapped a few pictures. I saw the trail to the highest peak beside me and I quickly headed up the final 300 feet toward the now- visible summit. I had not gone far before the clouds began to close in again. I realized I had gotten exactly what I had asked for although now having a taste, desire for more sprang up tempting me back into the self-centered funk I had been in earlier.

“NO! God, you have been good to me. Lord, I thank you for the glimpse that you have given me. It was beautiful. And I loved the fact that across on the summit opposite me there was a cross.”

I remembered at that moment that our guide explained how the mountain got it’s name. Surprisingly it is named after Pontius Pilate. It seems that when he died, no one was willing to take his remains. So, they brought them to this mountain and threw them in a lake. The irony that on the mountain where Pontius Pilate’s remains may lie, there is a beautiful cross just resonated God’s greatness.

At that moment, I sensed the Holy Spirit whisper, “Do you trust me?”

“Yes, Lord, I trust you”

At that moment, for about 3 seconds, a single ray of light broke through the cloud and illuminated me and the trail where I was standing. While that thrilled me, I sensed I was to hike on to the top. The clouds quickly swirled back around me, but I pressed on. In less than 5 minutes I was at the top. As I arrived the clouds opened again for about 3 minutes. I did something a little uncharacteristic for me. Instead of whipping up my camera and snapping dozens of shots, I moved from side to side soaking it in and praising God. I did get a few shots before the clouds completely settled back in, but I mainly just worshipped.

There was one other thought that I believe was a gift from the Lord. One of the shots that you will see is of the cross on the other summit. It was clearly seen when I first got to the top, but I didn’t take the picture until it was almost obscured again. I was a little sad when the fog closed back in and I couldn’t see the cross. That was when the Holy Spirit spoke to me again. “Do not worry. Like that cross which is still there even though you don’t see it, I am always with you.”

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The start of the first chair lift in Kriens.

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Two happy tourists – our daughter Rhiannon and my photography padewan, Jeff. He’s also our son-in-law.

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Just getting started. About 1500 – 2000 feet up I believe.

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Just about to enter the first cable house. Still 15 minutes to go in this car.

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The distance from cable house one to cable house two where we exited to the final cable car.

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View back to cable car house one. You can see the Swiss central highlands spread out past Lake Lucerne.

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Cable Car house two and our first exit. Elevation about 4000 feet and just under the clouds.

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This high valley had a ropes course, a toboggan ride, and other extreme sports activities. We had to wait about 10 minutes for the 30 person cable car to the top.

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Sign showing our trip.

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In the 30 passenger cable car heading out from the station.

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Last view before going into the clouds.

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This was one of the clearer shots when we first arrived. These horns were so mournful when we hiked around and could hear the sound in the deep fog. One other remembrance – when the fog lifted, the guy was playing Amazing Grace. I don’t know if he started before or after the fog lifted, but it was so cool.

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Jeff as we head up to the mini-summit.

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Jeff at the foot of the cross.

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Me at the cross. See how deep the fog is. This was true for almost the entire first hour we were up here.

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Look how steep the “not steep” side of the trail was. We were a good ways into the alpine region above the tree-line.

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I am on the steep side of the mountain. The Swiss girls took my picture for me.

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This was what I saw when I came out of the water closet. That is the mini-summit where Jeff and I had hiked about an hour earlier.

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Another shot during the first brief opening in the clouds.

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View over the gift shop during the first opening, but as the clouds were sweeping back in.

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View at the highest point I hiked to on Mt Pilatus – summit Esel at 2118 meters or 4000 feet.

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The entire moutaintop at the clouds begin to settle back in.

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Summit Tomlishorn, a little higher at 2138 meters. This is where the cross I mention in the story is. This is my wide angle lens so it is so far away it is hard to see.

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The cross on the summit of Tomlishorn, the highest peak of Mt Pilatus.

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Heading back down the trail, confident that God is always with me. Just like that cross that I could no longer see because of the fog, yet I know is still there, God is with me and with you even when the fog of trials, challenges, and difficulties arise.

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The cog-railway we rode down. It has the steepest incline of any railway in the world with one section at a 48 degree descent.

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Final view of the mountain top from the cog railway on the ride down.

Friends, it was thrilling. In fact, I guess it qualifies as a mountain top experience – twice over!

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A friend of mine introduced me to trail running a couple years ago.  It combines two of my favorite activities – running for fitness and hiking in the outdoors.  I definitely prefer trails to running on the road.  However there are more opportunities for mishaps in trail running.  My experience after 15 or so solo trail runs, there are also numerous opportunities for “life lessons” while on the trail.  I had a number of life lessons reinforced in a single run this week.

There is a state park between the plant where I am working and my hotel.  Morrow Mountain State park is a rolling, wooded haven for deer, squirrels, lizards, and more in central North Carolina.  I’ve hiked and run there a number of times and I enjoy the peaceful solitude.  On the trails I have encountered few other travelers although the trails appear fairly well travelled.

Trail running in West Virginia last week I slightly tweeked my ankle, so I was a little apprehensive considering this trail run.  The Morrow Mountain trails are very rocky with a plethora of tree roots providing trip and ankle-rolling hazards.  For this reason I made sure I told two folks at the plant my plans.  In the back of my mind I thought, “In case I don’t show up at work tomorrow, they will know where to send a search party.”  Both gentlemen shared stories about adventures at Morrow Mountain with snakes and ticks being a predominant theme.

When I pulled into the open field that serves as the parking lot I was only slightly surprised there were no other vehicles.  While this is the parking lot for the horse trailers as well as the start of a hiking only trail, my sense is that is primarily a summer and weekend activity.  My plan was to run about 4 miles.  Looking at the map I made a plan to start on the hiking trail for about a mile, jump onto a cross-over hiking trail for about a half mile, then pick up the short loop horse trail for the remainder of the run.  At the last minute I folded up the map and slipped it in my pocket.  I’m glad I did.

I set off and I had to remain focused on the number of roots and rocks in my path.  The hiking trail was neither smooth nor level.  My hyper-caution was making the run less fun.  When I first began trail running I was amazed to learn that trail running really only took a little greater attention to the trail than street running.  However since I had tweeked my ankle last week, I was too focused on the trail and I was overthinking my steps.  Life lesson #1 It is easy to slip into the need to control everything.  We can’t.  Trying to do so will rob the enjoyment out of life.  Trust God and the instincts He has given us.  Prudence is to listen to the Lord and walk (or jog) in wisdom.  I stopped after about 1/3 mile, stretched, and made my mind up to run more naturally and quit trying to plan every step.  It was mentally fatiguing and, as I had experienced in the past, unnecessary.  Running after that was much better.

After about a mile I was to jump on a cross-over trail.  I didn’t notice the cross-over when I first passed it since it was on a steep downhill descent.  I overshot it by half a mile.  When I realized my mistake I cringed.  If I kept to my original plan, them my run just became a 5 mile run instead of a 4 mile run.  I am a 3 – 4 mile run guy.  It’s been awhile since I ran 5 miles and I wasn’t sure I was up to it.  Life lesson #2 – Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that demand more of us than we think we are able to give.  Sometimes we realize we are headed in the wrong direction.  Seek God’s wisdom, follow His leading, and press on wherever He guides you.  If we find we are heading in the wrong direction, turn around.  He is faithful and true.  He will not abandon His child.

I found the cross-over trail and set off down it.  It was a section of trail that I had not been on before.  I had hiked this trail further ahead where it steeply ascends Morrow Mountain, but this section appeared on the map to run downhill for a ways and cross a couple streams before turning up the mountain.  I had run for a few minutes and crossed at least one stream when I noticed the trail turn up a steep slope.  “On no,” I thought.  “I’ve missed the turn again and now I’m heading up the mountain.”  My recent memory of adding a mile to the run was fresh in my mind.  I did not want to add any more distance to today’s run.  A quick consult of my map and I saw that the trail I wanted shouldn’t be more than 100 yards east of me since I had just crossed that stream.  So I headed off the trail toward what I assumed was the right trail.  Well 100 yards became 200 yards.  When I realized there was no trail, I turned south intending to cross the Bridle trail that showed up on the map.  That was IF my new estimate of my location was correct.  I wandered around in the woods for about 5 minutes with three thoughts.  First was the thought that the trail has to be around here somewhere.  The second and third thoughts were about snakes and ticks.  I’m not sure why that part of my earlier conversation made such an impression.  Life Lesson #3.  Fear is a poor partner in decision-making.  Fear can and will steer you off the proper path if you let it take an inordinate role in making decisions.  Fear has a role.  It can cause us to stop and think through a situation critically.  Once you stop though, use data and rational thinking to make your decision.

I finally stopped and did a serious reconnoiter.  My Boy Scout training kicked in.  Panic was the enemy.  Fear of running too far and driven me off the trail.  Now fear of snakes and ticks were clouding my critical thinking.  And for the first time in several minutes I prayed.  “Lord, I need a little help here.”  Was I lost?  Well, I didn’t know exactly where I was.  But I knew the direction where the trail I had left should be.  I set off in that direction not sure if it had turned away and up the mountain or not, but at that moment getting back to that trail was my best bet.  I had only gone a little ways when I saw movement and color up ahead of me.  It was a hiker, the 2nd and last I would see all evening.  I knew I was headed right direction.  I picked up my pace and soon I was on the right trail.    There was another life lesson here.  Life Lesson #4.  When you lose your way, God is right there with you.  Call to Him.  Ask for help.  Follow His guidance.  Critical thinking is very good.  Prayerful, critical thinking is the best.

My attempt at avoiding adding extra distance to my run added about a half mile.  I was at the point that should have been a little over a mile and I was not too far from 3 miles into my run and I was pretty sure I had at least 2 miles left to run.  I set off again now that I had the trail.  It was familiar and, being predominantly a horse trail, it was wide and smooth.  Life Lesson #5.  Life, like the trail that day, has twists and turns, ups and downs.  The Lord has laid out a path for us.  While the path won’t always be easy, it is the tried and true way to your destination.  Don’t seek to avoid the challenges, but rather face them head on and persevere to the end.

The remainder of the run was relatively uneventful.  I guess I had enough to consider after all the lessons of the day.  As I jogged and prayed I sensed the Father’s presence encouraging me to press on.  Nearing the end of the run was a quarter mile, very steep incline.  I knew it was coming and as I got to the base of it, I simply started walking and gauging my fatigue level.  While tired, I was confident that if I stayed the course I would make it.  And after 5-1/2 miles and a little over an hour I found the parking lot and my car.

Thankfulness for the Lord’s kindness, care, and the life lessons which made a physically demanding run so insightful flooded my soul.  I think I’ll be back… but I will probably hike instead of run…. and I will definitely stay on the trail.

Be blessed today my friend.  And be a blessing to whoever the Lord brings into your life today.

 

 

 

 

 

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