Bring On The Heat

You may be thinking the post title alludes to baseball or a romantic story. In a way, it is about my love affair with this time of year—spring and the approaching summertime.

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Ah yes, summertime, way overdue here in the South. And as Johnny rosins up his bow, we are preparing a consolation prize for the Devil himself—a year’s supply of Head & Shoulders. You know, the whole dandruff thing.

We southerners got laughed at this past winter, and maybe rightly so. But I think southerners are, frankly, freakin’ brilliant. And I’m not just saying that because I am one. Perhaps one mystery has been solved: why people of the South hold the general reputation of hospitality and friendliness. I think it’s because we don’t have to put up with ice, snow, cold weather, power outages, and cabin fever for very long—or very frequently.

The rednecks, you see, made a decision to live in a place where there’s not a lot of the white stuff or polar vortex temperatures (with the exception of this past year). So this may leave some testimony of our intelligence. Most of us have never seen a snow drift or owned a snow shovel or built a snowman. Our best snow angels leave us filthy and less than entertained. If it does snow here, a few of us have been known to save some of it in the freezer—right next to our ice cube trays.

On a brighter note, we enjoy fewer taxes that might otherwise support things like road salt and snow plows. However, our local governments still find plenty of ways to spend our money, like repainting interstate lanes so they match the width of our vehicles. Or activating the national guard to protect stranded motorists stuck on I285 during Snowmageddon. Or help with relocating football and baseball stadiums every few years.

But finally I arrive at this article’s main thesis: Why I enjoy summer in the South. Hold on just a minute while I take a sip of my ice tea, sweet ice tea, that is. Now—where was I? Ah, yes, here are a few reasons why I say—bring on the heat:

Short sleeves, shorts and sandals.
Fishing and swimming.
Goodbye dry itchy skin.
Getting outside more.
Trips to the beach.
Picnics, pig pickins and cold watermelons.
Sweating and losing a few pounds.
Pleasant—and sorely missed—night sounds.
Expensive gas bills be gone.
Green colors return.
Planting tomatoes and bell peppers.
Cutting grass (ok–maybe this one not so much).
More grilling and BBQs.
Atlanta Braves.

How about you? What are your favorite things about summer?

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Let’s Go Home

A few weeks ago, I took this picture of my beagle, Chevy, while walking down a trail in Chattahoochee Bend Park. It was our turnaround point.

I know this leash drives her crazy. It would drive me bonkers too.

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Here’s a dog bred to chase and run until her heart beats out of her chest. As soon as I take the leash off, I know what will happen. The instinctive drive will take over and the scent of rabbits, squirrels, or deer will lure her to the world’s end–well, maybe the next county.

My calls will fade away like a dream and the ground becomes her gritty, new reality. The sight of her will soon turn to sound, bays that vanish into the night.

Or will it? You know–I don’t know. Truth is–I don’t want to know. Truth is–I don’t want to lose her.

Am I holding her back? Or am I keeping her safe?

Is this free will? A controlled destiny? Perhaps, something else?

She sure looks happy most the time. Looks healthy. Looks alive. What would she do though, if I let go?

No, I can’t. Can’t do it.

I stoop to the ground, hailing her name. She turns to my voice and sees my face. The oscillating body and wagging tail run full force into my arms. Her slimy saliva coats my chin, and I smile.

Surprise, surprise: the leash has disappeared. You know, I don’t think it was ever really there.

The bond between us is strong, woven with something transcendent, something more than hemp or nylon fibers. More than commands, rewards, and obligations.

Just try breaking the cords of faith, hope, and love.

Chevy, lets go home.

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Wait To Worry

I love the materials that the Walk the Talk group continues to churn out. This past week I received an email notice from them about a book called Attitude is Everything by Vicki Hitzges. Below is an excerpt from the book that highlights Vicki’s #1 rule for staying positive. I hope you enjoy and please pass this on to others.

Rule #1 “Wait to Worry”

I used to worry. A lot. The more I fretted, the more proficient I became at it. Anxiety begets anxiety. I even worried that I worried too much! Ulcers might develop. My health could fail. My finances could deplete to pay the hospital bills. A comedian once said, “I tried to drown my worries with gin, but my worries are equipped with flotation devices.” While not a drinker, I certainly could identify! My worries could swim, jump and pole vault!

To get some perspective, I visited a well known Dallas businessman, Fred Smith. Fred mentored such luminaries as motivational whiz Zig Ziglar, business guru Ken Blanchard and leadership expert John Maxwell. Fred listened as I poured out my concerns and then said, “Vicki, you need to learn to wait to worry.” As the words sank in, I asked Fred if he ever spent time fretting. (I was quite certain he wouldn’t admit it if he did. He was pretty full of testosterone — even at age 90.) To my surprise, he confessed that in years gone by he had been a top-notch worrier!

“I decided that I would wait to worry!” he explained. “I decided that I’d wait until I actually had a reason to worry — something that was happening, not just something that might happen before I worried.” “When I’m tempted to get alarmed,” he confided, “I tell myself, ‘Fred, you’ve got to wait to worry! Until you know differently, don’t worry.’ And I don’t. Waiting to worry helps me develop the habit of not worrying and that helps me not be tempted to worry.”

Fred possessed a quick mind and a gift for gab. As such, he became a captivating public speaker. “I frequently ask audiences what they were worried about this time last year. I get a lot of laughs,” he said, “because most people can’t remember. Then I ask if they have a current worry — you see nods from everybody. Then I remind them that the average worrier is 92% inefficient — only 8% of what we worry about ever comes true.”

Charles Spurgeon said it best. “Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, but only empties today of its strength.”

How about you? How do you overcome worry or cope with worry in your life?

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Eagles, The Outdoors, and Family Fun

Last weekend my family and I made our annual pilgrimage to see eagles in Guntersville, Alabama. Everyone had such a fun time. What a pleasant break from the icy weather thats been visiting the south this winter. I felt like God was shining down on us and the eagles, thawing the earth and our spirits.

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This year we found additional nests, all filled with baby eagles. The eagle nest is such an impressive structure. Did you know that eagles’ nests are roughly the size of a Volkswagen Beetle cut in half?

The trip to Guntersville Lodge is always a spiritual and mental growth experience. I learned some new things about eagles, owls, and hawks. I received plans on how to build a screech owl box. And I sat through a short seminar on outdoor photography. Lots of things to learn at Eagle Awareness Weekends in Guntersville, Alabama.

If you want to watch an eagle from the convenience of your living room, here is a link to an eagle cam on the Berry College campus. This is the only eagle cam currently available in Georgia. This eagle is incubating a couple of eggs.

Below, I’ve posted a few shots my daughter took with a lower-end camera. I’m impressed with how well these photos turned out.

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Please share your family adventures in the comments below.

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Face to Face

Do you ever wonder if your writing is making a difference?

I found a nice reminder today in the Epistles of John—relationships trump message. In an age of ebooks, blogs, the creation of tribes and followers it’s easy to think our message means everything—especially, if that message promotes us rather than something greater than us. Don’t get me wrong—the message is still important. Just don’t forget the face-to-face.

I love to write, and will continue to to so, but my writing has it’s limitations. And I sometimes wonder if my writing—or the intent of my writing—is getting through.

John must have realized this too as evidenced by 2 John 1:12.

12 I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.

He goes on to repeat this idea in 3 John 1: 13,14.

13 I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. 14 I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.

So did this mean that John stopped writing or became disillusioned with his writing. I don’t think so. Perhaps, his attitude of putting relationships first, made him a stronger writer. Maybe his people-oriented approach encouraged others to read his writing more.

Joy seems to be the end goal for John. Not just for him, but also for his audience.

How well do you understand the people you write for? Does your writing produce joy in your readers? I’ve often heard the advice to write for the one—the one person you know the best. Or the person who relates the most to you.

Who is that person for you? Maybe it’s time to put down the pen or fold up the key board and do a face-to-face.

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Hanging Out In James

Are you tired of making foolish decisions? Tired of saying stupid stuff? Are you tired of struggling with your sins and fostering a long-distance relationship with God? Want God to answer your prayers?

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If you said yes to those questions, then you’re, well, pretty much like the rest of us. This week, I’ve been hanging out in the book of James. I’m always reminded and impressed by how much wisdom and truth comes packed in this short book of the Bible. In this post, I want to share a few key scriptures from James that will encourage you to grow spiritually and relationally.

God generously offers us His wisdom, but it does seem to come with a condition, that we ask for it with a heart devoted to Him and that believes in Him. See the passage below:

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

James 1: 5-8 (NIV)

Perhaps the only place I see God use the word religion in a positive light is this next verse. Pure and undefiled religion makes a difference in peoples’ lives. It meets practical needs. It animates the love of God throughout the world. Check this out:

26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James 1: 26-27 (NIV)

The next passage has met controversy over the years, and I’m not sure why. If you read this within the greater context of the Bible, it’s simply saying that those who have been transformed by God are going to show it. A true and loving relationship with God inevitably affects our passions, our decisions, our deeds.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

James 2: 18-19 (NIV)

More than ever I’m realizing how much I need to control what I say. What I say can lift people up or crush their spirits. How I say something can draw people to me or push them away. With my words, I can invite success or create failure.

5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

James 3:5-6 (NIV)

I need look no further than the mirror for the source of my marital squabbles, dysfunctional friendships, and relationships grown cold. How often I try to get something with the wrong motives.

1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

James 4: 1-3 (NIV)

We often find ourselves distanced from God. But it’s not God Who has moved. What a wonderful promise lies in this next passage:

7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

James 4: 7-8 (NIV)

I often greet the day by thinking about my goals—what am I going to do today, how can I prosper or thrive, how can I make a buck. However, the wise man takes an attitude that always seeks God’s will first.

15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.

James 4: 15-16 (NIV)

And finally: Never underestimate the power of prayer.

13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

James 5: 13-16 (NIV)

How about you? What other verses in James reach out and grab you?

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Learn On, Lead On

Last week I stumbled upon this quote by Ken Blanchard. I can certainly identify with these words in my own life. One of the keys to growing as a leader—whether as a manager, father, mother, teacher—is to never stop learning. Great or small, we all lead someone. And there’s always something new to learn.

So how do you keep learning and growing?

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Your God My God – The Story of Ruth

Before Christmas my pastor did a series called Chick Flick–the story of Ruth. This Old Testament story is, no doubt, one of the best “chick flicks” found in the Bible. Only four chapters long, Ruth doesn’t take long to read, and I encourage you to check it out. Faithfulness is a major theme of the book and the main characters are Ruth, Naomi (Ruth’s mother-in-law), and Boaz (the kinsman redeemer). God’s love and grace shine clearly in the relationships between these three characters.

As I read the book, the verse that kept popping out the most was Ruth 1:16.

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.

We who are married all possess mother-in-law stories. I have come to love and respect my mother-in-law, and clearly Ruth and Naomi shared a special bond. I wonder how many of us–God forbid if our spouse should die–would stay as committed to our mother-in-law as Ruth did. That’s exactly what happened in the story. Ruth’s husband died and Ruth had an opportunity to return to her people. She chose to stay with Naomi and endure some bleak circumstances. Ruth and Naomi’s relationship speaks volumes to us today, and I believe there’s a cool lesson here on evangelism and discipleship.

What if we could build a few close bonds with those around us to where they would start calling our God their God? I’m not saying that we can do this with everyone who comes across our path, but surely there are a few God will bring into our lives. Evangelistic plans and scripts have their place, but I’ve never felt very genuine just parroting a script. That is a shotgun approach, I think, but couldn’t we also be just as effective by intentionally focusing on a few people.

So think about your family members, small group friends, coworkers. Do you love and care for them to the point where they want to know the source of your love and hope? Do they see God as the engine that makes your life run? Will they eventually want to say: your God my God?

God bless and please share a comment. I would love to hear how you are finding ways to build relationships with other believers and nonbelievers.

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Don’t Die From Something Stupid In 2014

Recently, I had a conversation with a colleague who went to the doctor for a routine procedure. He told me something the doctor said that continues to resonate in my mind: Don’t die from something stupid!

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Yes, we all must meet our Maker one of these days, but hopefully it’s not because we did something stupid. I realize many of you, like me, are people of faith, so I’m not minimizing God’s overall plan for or knowledge about our destiny. But I’m not a fatalist either. I believe that God teaches that our destiny can rest solidly on our wise (or unwise) decisions and choices.

Of course, there are some things about our future we can’t control. Still, there are many more we can control.

I encourage you (and myself included) to make some wise choices in 2014. So why not take action and do some things you might be putting off, or reestablish those habits you may have left behind:

Go get that test, annual check-up, prostrate exam, etc.
Change those worn tires with new ones.
Exercise more and eat healthier.
Test those smoke alarms around your house & review your safety plan.
Check your fire extinguisher.
Buy a weather radio.
Safety off that ladder, and wear the necessary safety gear.
Secure your weapons and make sure they are safely stored.
Don’t allow substances to impair your judgement.
Look before you back.
Turn off the cell phone while driving.
Use the buddy system—don’t go it alone.
Learn how to administer help—CPR, first aid, etc.
Put on the sunscreen.

So how about you? What else would you suggest we add to the list? Stay safe and healthy, my friends!

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Be Strong And Courageous

I don’t think I could find any more appropriate verses (Joshua 1:6-9) to start 2014. Joshua faced a new challenge in his life, a challenge that would require a lot more courage and faith in God. Imagine being in Joshua’s shoes after the death of Moses. But God reassured Joshua that He was still with him through the journey. God is faithful in His promises, and there’s always a greater mission to complete.

Thank you God for these words you gave to Joshua, words that speak to each of us even now as we enter a new year. God bless you and happy new year!

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6, Be strong and courageous because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.

7 “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.

8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.

9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

What challenges are you facing in 2014? How can we pray for you in your journey?

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Merry Christmas!

This will be my last post for the year, but it ends with the best story of the season. Thanks to each of you who have read and commented on my blog this year. I pray that God will bless you and your family this Christmas and in the coming year.

Below is a link to a favorite clip from Charles Schultz’s creation, Peanuts. Linus reminds Charlie Brown about the true meaning of Christmas.

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=kVGJgJ5cReg

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Nature Provides

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This beautiful Red-shouldered Hawk perched on a tree in our backyard on Saturday. My wife snapped the picture. It’s pretty common to see these hawks being chased by crows and to hear their distinctive kee-yeeear vocals. This particular snapshot also inspired me to write the accompanying haiku.

God Bless!

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Modern Parables

I’m always looking for creative ways to share God’s word with others and help them see it in a new light. Stories continue to be a powerful way to convey God’s message and his love for us. So I want to introduce a teaching series called Modern Parables. I have personally used a couple of these videos for a group I led a couple of years ago. The videos were well received by the group. I also plan to share one in an upcoming meeting with my men’s group.
Prodigal Son
I generally don’t suggest that a teacher supplant their teaching with video, but it’s good to change things up from time to time. And the format of these videos helps facilitate good discussions. They don’t take the teacher out of the mix.

Modern Parables is produced by Compass Cinema, and it’s a 12-lesson study. You receive 6 parable films and 6 application videos and that makes 12 complete lessons. Parables included: Samaritan, The Shrewd Manager, The Sower, Prodigal Sons, The Widow & Judge and Hidden Treasure.

The parable films are not very long and they are the same stories Jesus told, only retold in a modern-day context. The films also come with study guides which help the teacher facilitate the lessons.

Another thing I like about this program is that you don’t have to show all the films as a series. You can pick and choose which ones you want to do. You can also purchase the films separately if you want to just do one on a trial basis.

The films are great for small groups, Sunday School classes, schools, and family time.

If you have used these in the past, please give us some feedback on your experience.

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Meditating On God’s Stories

Who doesn’t love a great story? For this post, I want to explore the power of stories, particularly Bible stories and what they mean to our spiritual growth and our relationship to God.

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I love stories and especially the stories found in the Bible. In my opinion, we can go to the extreme sometimes and “over principalize” scripture. Okay, “principalize” is not a real word, but I thought it seemed fitting here. Stories can often engage us so much better—even just reading them at face value. They can inspire us, encourage us, teach us something, or leave us filled with wonder. Maybe even mystery. And that’s okay.

I believe Bible stories do even more. They serve us in at least three ways:

They keep us honest and humbled.
They keep Bible characters human.
They keep our faith real and strong.

Keeping us honest and humbled.

Just when you think you have scripture all figured out, go back and read about the story of David, or Solomon, or Sampson. God did miraculous and extraordinary things through these men. Men who were adulterers, murderers, deceivers. And then we read that David was a man after God’s own heart. What?

Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon—go figure.

Sampson, long hair, herculean strength, the jaw-bone of an ass—very bizarre.

To me, it doesn’t all add up. But I don’t think it has too either. God is just being honest. He’s indeed a mystery, and I realize now that I shouldn’t put him in a box or somehow hold him accountable to my feeble attempts in logic. Scripture doesn’t have to be like a jigsaw puzzle where all the pieces come perfectly together. Or where the guy always gets the girl, strikes it rich, and then rides off into the sunset to live happily ever after.

Keeping Bible characters human

As I read God’s amazing stories, I’m reminded that God deals with each of us on the same level. We’re all human. Elijah was once a human and he operated with the same struggles, fears, sins, and challenges that I do today. Some of the stories I’ve enjoyed the most involved a protagonist that discovered a flaw or an obstacle to overcome. The Bible is full of these characters, story lines and themes.

An important takeaway: The God who was available to the Bible characters of yesteryear is the God who is available to you and me right now.

What will your story be? What will others say about you after you’ve eaten the dirt sandwich?

Keeping our faith real and strong.

Looking back on people like Noah, Abraham, Moses, Ruth, Mary, the Apostles, they lived out an intense faith. Reflect on what these men and women endured. The tasks that God asked them to do. The barriers they overcame. And they operated with less revelation than we have. Most of these people had a closeness with God that, I dare say, most of us today don’t have. Think about that for just a minute. Has God somehow stopped looking for that kind of intimacy from us? Have we just become content with reading God’s word like a computer reads code? The Bible is a tool and a means for us to get closer to the Author. If that’s not working for us, then maybe we’re looking at the Good Book all wrong.

The wonderful thing about stories is they are extremely readable and sharable. And usually you don’t need a seminary degree or to consult a commentary to get their meaning. I’m not saying we should focus on Bible stories exclusively, but let’s not underestimate their value either. Obviously, God gave them to us for a reason.

So go grab an ice tea, sit down and have a blast reading a great story from the Bible. Enjoy it and meditate on it. For your convenience, I’m giving you this Bible story link. It will direct you to a list of Bible stories along with scripture references.

Hope you enjoy! And have fun reading God’s word this week!

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Thanksgiving Quotes

I hope everyone is doing well this time of the year. God bless all of you and thanks for reading these posts. Here is a short collection of what I simply call Thanksgiving Quotes. A good mixture of inspirational and humorous thoughts related to the turkey-eating, family-gathering, football-watching, and counting-your-blessings season. Oh, and I just about forgot to mention deer hunting–hey, I’m right there with the Pilgrims.

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Pride slays thanksgiving, but a humble mind is the soil out of which thanks naturally grow. A proud man is seldom a grateful man, for he never thinks he gets as much as he deserves.

Henry Ward Beecher

Thou hast given so much to me,
Give one thing more, – a grateful heart;
Not thankful when it pleaseth me,
As if Thy blessings had spare days,
But such a heart whose pulse may be Thy praise.

George Herbert

I do not think of all the misery, but of the glory that remains. Go outside into the fields, nature and the sun, go out and seek happiness in yourself and in God. Think of the beauty that again and again discharges itself within and without you and be happy.

Anne Frank

It is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor.

George Washington

To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven.

Johannes A. Gaertner

Perhaps it takes a purer faith to praise God for unrealized blessings than for those we once enjoyed or those we enjoy now.

A.W. Tozer

Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving.

W.T. Purkiser

Coexistence: what the farmer does with the turkey – until Thanksgiving.

Mike Connolly

Thanksgiving dinners take eighteen hours to prepare. They are consumed in twelve minutes. Half-times take twelve minutes. This is not coincidence.

Erma Bombeck

Thanksgiving, man! Not a good day to be my pants.

Kevin James

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In All Your Ways …

Over the years, the Proverbs 3:5,6 passage has taken on a powerful meaning for me. I’d be a hypocrite, if I told you that I follow these verses religiously. My humanness often defaults to what “works” and the old college try.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him,
and He will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:5,6 NASB

But our lives are so much more complex than we first might think. Each habit we form, each relationship we build, and each decision we make entangles and covers our soul, almost like those good ole kudzu vines we find here in Georgia. Laughable would it be to claim a mastery over kudzu by simply plucking off a few leaves or clipping a couple of vines from the mix.

As I think about this verse, one word that I zoom in on quickly is “all.” Trust in him with all your heart. In all your ways, acknowledge him. I believe more than ever that God wants us to take a holistic approach to life. Maybe holy approach would be a more appropriate expression. What I mean there is stopping short of simply dropping the spiritual into one convenient cubbyhole. Why not bring him into every cubbyhole you have? (I know—easier said than done)

I usually cling to this Proverb under the common or stereotypical conditions: sickness, depressed, down-and-out, desperate, tempted, confused, spiritually weak.

But what about the peachy-keen times—when things are going well? The small, everyday decisions. At work, when things really are working—and at home, and at play. Casual relationships—not just the formal. I tend to lean a lot less on him during the good times. Perhaps that is why he tells me to maintain an attitude of thanksgiving.

We could argue God is with us always, regardless. Changing us, molding us. In that case, most of this post is wagging the dog. Truth is: we have the calvary (or Calvary) by our side, everywhere we go. Maybe we just need a little nudge or a little shaking to crack open the eyes of our new self.

I know I do.

How about you? What do you think the Proverbs 3:5,6 passage is telling us?

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Falling Into God

Two weekends ago my wife and I went to see the box office hit, Gravity. You have to see this movie, and it’s especially good in the 3D version. A cliffhanger to the max. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney played their characters well. The realism of the film surprised me. Seemed like the scenes were actually shot in outer-space, but that has to be a negatory, Houston.

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I know I’m probably reading too much into it, but there’s symbolism in this film that I just can’t let go. I believe stories can often teach us things that pure analysis or logic might miss. As I thought about God’s word this week, a verse kept popping into my mind—James 4:8a.

“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”

And then there are other verses which imply this “gravitational” effect of God: John 6:44, John 12:32, Hebrews 7:19 and Hebrews 10:22.

Being closer to God is something, I think, most people want. Could it be, though, that drawing closer to Him is not as complex as we make it out to be. Perhaps it’s a simple (not necessarily easy) matter of letting other things go. Or waking up and realizing we’re meant to be some place else, instead of floating about in emptiness. Picture an astronaut. Now picture those who are far from God; they continue to gaze on His beauty from a distance, tethered to their manmade ideas, cocooned in suits of pride. But space has been, and will forever be, a dead zone, a lifeless place where humans aren’t equipped to dwell.

When Sandra Bullock returned to earth (spoiler alert) in the escape pod, all she needed was a little thrust. Gravity had actually taken over because the space station had begun to drift back to earth. We have very little effect on gravity, but, oh, what an effect it has on us. Bullock suffered many things as that pod catapulted back to the planet: fear, uncertainty, heat of re-entry. As we try to escape the Godless space around us, falling into Him won’t be easy. Addictions can grip the best of us. Corrosive relationships can keep us drifting for years, maybe decades. There will be friction to overcome. But isn’t the escape worth it if we end up where we’re supposed to be?

Surely every astronaut who returns to earth kisses the ground and breaths deeply. That’s what I want in my life—to breath deeply, tucked away in the bosom of God. Hey, this is what I was designed for—where I’m meant to be.

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Chasing Rabbits – A Poem

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Dances, does the telling tail.

A zig, a zag—nostrils flare.

A ghost oozes from the ground,

Casting her ageless spell.

Tangled hosts hide her now,

The hound’s way foils the plot.

A rustle, a leap, a bound.

The bay rises, rushes forward,

Echoing into the fray,

Chasing, darting, escaping,

Into the forest, around.

The sound softens, then builds.

Start becomes finish,

Finish becomes start.

Joy and frustration collide.

Life, too, pounds the hard soil,

Winding through hills and woods,

Down dark valleys, up bright peaks,

Familiar trails, strange ones,

Venturing out, coming home,

Breaking up, reuniting,

Failing, succeeding,

Living, dying.

Alive, once again.

And the hunter’s never far:

Watching, waiting, listening

To the spiraling pursuit,

The journey that never ends.

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How To Start A Discipleship Group

Why use the description Discipleship Group? I could just as easily used the term Bible study group, small group, Sunday school, men’s group, women’s group. Sometimes the name does describe subtle or large differences in what a Christian group wants to accomplish.
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However, if we study the example Jesus laid out for us with the twelve, and if we examine the pattern of the Apostles, we see an underlying purpose to all Christian gatherings.

Not only did the early Christians assemble to speak the Good News of redemption and God’s grace and rejoice in that, but they also met to keep the relay race—this thing we call discipleship—going. They met to encourage and strengthen new followers—the being part of discipleship—and they also focused on building more disciples. Evangelism, leadership and the mission.

So no matter what you call your group start-up, always remember the underlying purpose of discipleship. And with that, I give you some practical ideas for forming a group:

  • Understand what God is calling you to do. Go to God in prayer. What are your strengths and what target group do you feel pulled towards? I most enjoy the men’s group format and on a small scale—five to six men. You might want to lead a couple’s group. Groups form and exist to address a wide variety of life and spiritual needs.
  • Continue reading

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    Sweet-gum Trees and Sin

    I hate Sweet-gum trees. If you have some in your yard, you probably know what I’m talking about. The other day, I broke a shovel trying to dig and pry one out. They are an odd and peculiar tree. Sweet-gums possess this relentless ability to multiply and root themselves in the ground.

    Have you ever tried cutting one up and splitting for firewood? If not, don’t even try it. The grain pattern is so irregular, that even Superman himself would have a tough time chopping these things up.

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    Don’t get me started on the sweet-gum balls. The southern comedian, Lewis Grizzard tells the story of selling sweet-gum balls to yankees by passing them off as porcupine eggs. These things are wicked looking.

    Perhaps God gave us the sweet-gum tree because of his sense of humor or maybe he’s trying to teach us something. I don’t know, but I do know that God turns to plant analogies several times in the Bible.

    One note-worthy passage can be found in Hebrews 12:15 (NASB):

    See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled;

    I see two key phrases in this verse: “see to it” and “root of bitterness.”

    The general idea here is that some sins can lead to other sins, and sins can poison others around us. As an engineer, I was trained in something called root-cause analysis. Every problem can be traced back to a root-cause—if you ask the right questions.

    You might say that we can trace our root-cause back to Adam. True, but all of us are different, and we’ve all allowed different root-cause-sins to grow and flourish in our lives. For one it might be a deep-growing root of lust. For another it might be anger. And for some it could be bitterness. These well-nourished roots have allowed other habits or sins to join the vine.

    To extend the analogy, our friends and family come and eat from the poisonous fruit. The way we live influences our closest relationships. I try not to forget that.

    I also like the phrase “see to it.” We must see to it that we and our fellow believers stay planted in God’s grace. His grace is not a fire insurance plan or license to sin–its fertile soil brings about growth and change. Remember the parable of the different soils?(Luke 8: 4-8) The right soil can mean everything to a plant. So I ask myself: Is God changing my soil—my soul? What am I mixing into my soul and spirit to feed these bad habits? What am I allowing others and the world to plant in my life?

    So allow God to do his work. Relax your grip on those troublesome roots—humble yourself before him. Let his axe fall where it may. It’s better to let that axe fall now than when our time here is up. He is actively tending our soil, but we must let him do his job.

    God bless, and thanks for stopping by. Now, back to digging up more sweet-gum trees. Please contact me if you have a backhoe.

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