But God …


I’ve been taking a break from blogging this summer, but continue to write. This poem came to me one Sunday after my pastor preached a message from Ephesians Chapter 2. More specifically–Ephesians 2:1-7:

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

This passage like no other impresses on me my dependence upon God. It encourages me to worship Him and give Him all the glory. I imagine we’ll be saying, “But God …” forever and ever, but allow me to get the party started. I hope you enjoy the poem.

But God …
by Scott Johnson

Death slithers by,
And laughs.
A sweet taste,
Turned bitter.
The world crashes,
And burns.
Leaves barely cover,

But God …

Rescued from bondage,
Wandering over hot sand.
The promise, eluding.
Dreams of returning,

But God …

Laws, laws,
And more laws.
Throats slit.
Blood spilt and sprinkled.
Priests entering into
Makeshift temples.
Sins atoned—for today,

But God …

Like other nations:
Good kings,
Bad kings,
Wicked kings.
Whole hearts,
Half hearts,
No hearts,

But God …

Silence reigns.
Shepherds shiver,
Watching the night.
A cry rings out
From cold, itchy straw.
Just a baby,
Only a baby,

But God …

The message proclaimed;
People ignore.
Nails pierce and tear.
Visions diced and crushed.
Death coils and strikes.
Darkness baths the land.
A last hope entombed,

But God …

Consumed by flesh,
By lust, by the world.
Blind sinner, lost,
Broken clay pot.
Stranger, far removed,
Excluded, without hope.
Child of wrath,

But God …

Cancer invades,
Heartbeats slow.
Years out number.
Feeble, old
Growing tired,
Returning to dust,

But God …

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The Great …

I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. A little inspiration can go a long way. This story was hatched on a cool Georgia night around a brand new fire pit. My daughter recently graduated from high school, and we celebrated in her honor. So take a minute and check out my short short story, The Great ... Maybe you can identify with this close-to-the-truth tale.

The Great …

By Scott Johnson

The night ran cold behind the cricket songs, as the shadows undulated with the tiki torch’s flame. My friends and family chatted nonstop around the newly constructed fire pit, congratulating and reminiscing. A milestone was reached that day, my daughter graduated with honors and the memories were laid thick like the stones of a great castle. 

I smiled at her across the dying fire as a growing pride began to swell in my throat, pushing out a stray tear or two. I thought back on Stella’s life and what it meant to me, what it meant to all of us. She had beat this thing that touched her heart and tried to destroy her. And now she would dedicate her life to study medicine, figuring out ways to save others from pain and setback. To say we are proud is an understatement.

Past images began pouring in like a rising tide. I can see me and her dancing at the Father/Daughter Dance. Seemed like yesterday. She was so pretty and only four feet tall then. The little white dress. The mask of gold paint and glitter. Up until this night, I had been leading. Now life and another man were cutting in on our final song.

I remembered the day we brought the beagle home, the sweet animal that presently lay sleeping on my lap. Her eyes lit up when she first saw the pup, and a bond instantly formed between the two. She decided to name the dog Chevy after the car her brother was in the process of restoring. It was fun watching these two grow up together over the years. This little hound dog has brought a lot of love and happiness to the Jensen household.

As I stroked the dozing animal’s head I felt her come to life, and she was looking intently toward the woods. Her nose began to sniff the air, feeling the molecules that whispered ancient secrets. I dismissed Chevy’s rousing and, instead, shifted to pondering my daughter’s future. Would her health remain strong? Would she have a good marriage and career? Would I live long enough to see her bear kids? Would Stella have a happy life? The questions were piling up now like a flooding, raging river beating against a dam.

The marshmallows swelled and blistered above the glowing coals. Others burst into light, the ones that touched the dancing flames. The perfect ones slipped away through smacking lips, savored by smothered tastebuds. Oh, the laughter, smiles, and dreams that swirled around the flagstone patio that cool Georgia night.

I noticed, presently, that Chevy was standing in my lap. Muscles twitching, fur bristling. Deep inside her a low, steady growl began to form. The hazel eyes pierced through the darkness and knew something was there. Like a rocket, she sprang from my lap toward the dark woods. I quickly stepped on the leash to stop her. She barked frantically, the kind of bark that made the neck hairs stand and the skin tingle. A scene you might imagine from a Stephen King novel.

The partiers all hushed and smartphone flashlights came on. Everyone scanned the woods with their high-tech gear as Chevy lurched and howled like a monster clawing its way toward another monster. I asked my wife to take the dog inside, as we didn’t want to disturb the neighbors. Chevy strained and resisted all the way to the house. It was both comical and yet alarming.

As the lights went off, the guessing began. It must have been a deer, one person said. Another suggested a opossum. Another a coyote. Julie, my niece, said it was Bigfoot, and she elbowed me, snickering the whole time. She knew I was a big Sasquatch fan.

But I knew it was none of these. I knew exactly who it was. I had caught a glimpse of him only moments earlier. He had slipped out of the deep woods both stealthily and calmly. Even then I could see him leaning against an oak tree, smiling at me. I smiled back. 

One by one the crowd thinned. It was growing late. Hugs and kisses were exchanged and more well wishes and words of encouragement were flung upon my daughter. Finally, my daughter and her boyfriend went back into the house. I was alone to put the fire out.

I sloshed the ice around in the the bottom of my cup and threw it on the fire. “Okay, you can come out now,” I said to the lone figure standing in the shadows. He didn’t move, but kept on smiling. His eyes were as black as india ink, and I knew it would be this way. “So it’s the silent treatment again. You always were good at that. Tell me, do you bring some good news this time or bad? Which is it, because I really need to put this fire out and go to bed.” 

Still, silence.

He stepped toward the fire pit and squatted. His expression had become neutral. But he said not a word. I could sense that even he was unsure what he had to say. He scratched his temple and stared straight into the glowing embers. His powerful hand reached out and rested on the coals. He stirred them with his index finger and they came to life.

I think the being in front of me must have struck an earlier deal with God, because I knew he could never lay his mangled finger upon my destiny. Yes, he shook my emotions many a time. He nearly destroyed my confidence on several occasions. There was a time my faith seemed as delicate and fragile as a ceramic doll. But the guy by the fire had his limits. Even he knew that.

In my younger years, I barely even knew he was there. It was only in my late teens and early adult years that he began to make his presence known. His visits became more frequent and were especially frightening. It’s hard to describe him, even the great horror writers of our time would be hard pressed to reveal his composition and character.

If it had not been for my faith in a benevolent God, the creature across from me might have sent me to the looney bin. But I gradually began to see him in a different light. Over time, he began to lose the terrifying look, and I would like to one day meet his plastic surgeon. Now his appearance is rather plain–neither beautiful or horrific. Perhaps docile is the right word to describe his demeanor, but I still know what he’s capable of doing. I would never turn my back on him.

No, this isn’t the Devil, though the two are close friends. The creature before me doesn’t take orders from the Devil, either. He just is. And I suppose he will continue to drift in and out of my life even until my dying days. In many ways, he’s made me stronger. I can see that now. An old enemy that’s become something of an ally. A villain who has defined a reluctant hero.

I look at him now with compassion, for I know he has an expiration date also. “So are you going to say something?” I asked one final time. He stood up, yawned and smiled yet again. He started to whistle an old familiar tune, turned and gingerly walked back into the woods. “I’ll see you later,” I said. And he waved his black hand in the air to acknowledge me.

Don’t think for a minute that I’m crazy or walk around with an imaginary friend. Surely you know this guy too. You’ve even chatted with him. Trembled in his presence. Sweated bullets for him. Fought against him. Prayed over him. 

Next time you’re alone by the fire or sit under the stars, look over toward the woods, because he will be there. Dogs love to bark at him as he silently laughs back. His cunning nature inspires the best campfire stories. There are people who build entire careers around this guy. He likes to stand alone in the shadows, thinking he’s hidden when he’s not. 

If I were you, I wouldn’t underestimate this one. Yet don’t cower when he seems so near. Though he’s great, he’s not the greatest. Who is he? He goes by many names in this world.

He is none other than the Great Unknown.

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Should Happiness Come Last?


I recently listened to a sermon called God Never Said That: God Wants You Happy. After watching the sermon on my iPad I totally get the point of the sermon and agree with the overall message. The world’s definition of happiness is very different than the Christian’s definition. And yes, God doesn’t call us to pursue happiness above all else.

However–and this is a big however–I believe Christians should reevaluate happiness in light of the scriptures. At face value the title of the sermon conveys an idea that God somehow minimizes our happiness and joy. Overall, we as believers tend to perpetuate this concept—and sometimes even to the point where living the Christian life seems only possible for the stoics. 

To be honest, I know many believers who are not happy. But—they’re hanging in there. And one day—when all the planets line up—or they leave this old world to experience their new bodies, they will finally be happy and experience joy.

What’s interesting is that many Christians and the world as a whole both see happiness as a by-product. If we just do X, then we will find happiness. The world says, “If you become successful, you will attain happiness.” Likewise the Christian says, “If you will just obey this commandment, you will have lasting joy.”

I want to challenge this thinking a little, because there are many scriptures where God seems to be putting the cart (happiness and joy) before the horse (attaining or doing something). There are many occasions where the apostles seem to be saying something profoundly different from our traditional logic. James says to consider it all joy when you face adversity and trials because it produces perseverance. Notice he’s not saying the perseverance (doing or attaining) produces your joy. He puts joy first. In Philippians 4:8, Paul tells us to first—think. Think and dwell on what’s good, what’s noble, what’s right, what’s lovely, what’s admirable.

Over and over, Paul uses words like: know, reckon, remember, consider, think, dwell, rejoice. Paul uses these words in the context of many things. He’s beckoning believers to wake up and realize what they already possess. He points down to our feet like we are Dorothy and reveals we’re already wearing the ruby slippers. Could one of those slippers be happiness?

I think Paul is telling us all throughout New Testament scripture that happiness and joy are part of the new spiritual mindset. It’s a realization of the new creative work God has done and is still doing in us. Joy and happiness appear on the scene very early in our new birth. Think about the time you experienced God’s Spirit transforming you, bringing you into the family of God. Was that a sad, lackluster moment in your life? No, absolutely not. Don’t you remember the joy? How soon we seem to cast that joy aside and minimize it.

I’m not saying that Christians won’t experience troubles in this life. Or that somehow we can just continue to live on the emotional high of happiness. Or that we can shelter ourselves from pain, sadness, or suffering. That’s not what I mean by lasting happiness and joy. I’m talking about something that’s part of our new spiritual mindset. So no matter what our circumstances, we come back to contentment, joy, what’s good in our life, what’s lovely, what’s right, and the realization of who we are in Christ–how God has tremendously blessed us. 

Just to be clear—I’m not talking about the power of positive thinking. That philosophy pushes that if you believe a certain thing long and hard enough, you will become that thing. And we all realize the limitations of this way of thinking. This can often lead to very unrealistic goals and frustrations.

But joy and happiness do have a strength, an advantage. Scripture says that the “joy of the Lord is our strength.” Not just an outcome. Not something we get far off into the future. Joy is a present strength. Think of joy and happiness as tools God uses to cultivate the new character He’s shaping within us. We don’t simply attain joy and happiness as we mature and grow. No, they can be the very things that bring about growth and a renewed character. More than just A fruit, they can serve as the water and fertilizer from God to produce more fruit.

So let’s not put happiness and joy last in our life. Let’s assign them a higher importance. Stop looking at them as just the by-product of our spiritual growth. More times than not, they are the catalyst for Christian maturity. By all means pursue God first. After all He’s the embodiment of our true happiness. But let’s understand the role happiness and joy play in the Christian life.

I leave you with an exercise that I encourage you to take up on a daily basis. I’m borrowing this idea from a book called The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. Although the book approaches happiness from a psychologist / secularist viewpoint, I still believe it’s a good read. 

Even secular psychology can discover principles from God. This is His world after all. And I might be misjudging Shawn’s viewpoint. He seems to imply a belief in God, although he doesn’t emphasize it. Shawn posits that we can train our brains to be more happy, by focusing on the good in our lives. What I like about Shawn’s book is that he backs up his claims with scientific studies.

I submit to you the idea that Paul already presented Shawn’s exercise in Philippians 4:8.

Here is my modified version of Shawn’s excercise. So find a notebook or journal and at the top of each page write the words: 









At the beginning or end of each day, write down at least 5 things in your life that you associate with one or more of these words. Make this a ritual, but make sure it’s a meaningful exercise. Take some time to savor the good things in your life and remember how God has blessed you.

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Have Courage and Be Kind

Last week I enjoyed two trips to the cinemas–one with my wife and the second with my daughter. Both times we watched Cinderella. Though my man-card is certainly at risk of being snatched away, please hear me out.

I didn’t have high expectations going in to see this movie. I remembered the animated Cinderella from my childhood and young parent days, so I figured it to be very similar.

And it was—but it also carried some very profound messages: forgiveness and the power of kindness.

A favorite phrase was repeated many times, wisdom passed on from Cinderella’s dying mom—have courage and be kind. Throughout the movie, the young girl honors her mother’s last words. As Cinderella slides into her lost glass slipper and then leaves her home with the prince, she turns and tells the wicked stepmother that she forgives her. A touching moment in the film.

Never underestimate the power of being kind. We shouldn’t view kindness as a technique or something that ebbs and flows with the emotions. It’s not a means to an end. It’s not a technique. It’s not always something others deserve.

So what is it?

  • It’s a fruit of the Spirit. 
  • It’s a principle lived out by a relentless character.
  • It’s unconditional.
  • It’s unexpected.
  • It’s often unspoken, even overlooked.
  • It’s something that transforms others.
  • It’s what the world needs more of.

Where does the courage come in? We must have courage to honor the principles and truths we hold dear. Kindness doen’t mean you lose and someone else always wins. It doesn’t mean you roll over and capiitulate all the time. There’s a delicate balance between courage and kindness. Stay true to yourself and your beliefs. And seek kindness with others.

I think you will find inspiration in this old and revisited story of Cinderella. Disney has done well.

But if you don’t go see the movie, I hope you practice kindness to all those around you. And no, you don’t need any fairy godmothers or magic. But with your kindness you can create some magical moments in your life and the lives of others.

Have courage and be kind.

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Inspiring Humility – Some Weekend Reads

I guess you could say I’m an analytical thinker. It seems to show up in every personality test I take. It spills into my life as an engineer, a manager, a parent, an outdoorsman, a woodworker. I tend to look at the world in terms of steps. What step comes first? Second? What are the most important steps? What are the major roadblocks and pitfalls?

When it comes to spiritual growth, I’ve learned that probably the most important step to growing in God’s grace is eliminating pride and practicing humility. I’ve found time and time again in my own life that when I not only recognize my pride, but also confess it and forsake it, a huge barrier has been lifted. Life becomes simpler. My goals more focused. My next steps, clearer. My relationships thrive. My walk with God becomes more intimate.

Somehow we all need to see this. Be reminded of this. I hope you will find some time this weekend to sit down with a cup of coffee or tea and read (or view) one or all of the following articles and messages about dealing with pride.

Killin’ It by Andy Stanley (North Point Church) A series of three messages on killing pride. Andy has a unique way of presenting God’s word and in very simple terms.

21 Benefits of Owning Less by Joshua Becker How easy it is for us to attach pride to what we own. How much we own. For several weeks now I’ve been following Joshua Becker’s blog Becoming Minimalist. This article spells out several benefits to becoming a minimalist. And he explains on his blog what minimalism means.

John Was Not the Light, But a Witness to the Light by John Piper. A great message from the thoughtful and insightful John Piper. A new perspective on John the Baptist and what it means for us.

Are You Humble Enough to Be Care-Free? Another great article from John Piper. He shows us how pride can be a major root of our anxieties.

Paradigms and the 7 Habits by Dr. Victoria Buenger. Okay, this article is not specifically about pride, but I thought it was important because moving from pride to humility requires a huge paradigm shift. As I said before, first you have to see the pride in your life. Then you can move in the direction of humility.

The Problem With Pride by Adrian Rogers. A short and to-the-point article about pride by the late, great Adrian Rogers.

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My Reading List for 2015


I hope you are having a happy and productive 2015. Each year seems to bring its new set of challenges and opportunities to learn and grow. I’ve had many new responsibilities added to my bring-home-the-bacon job, and new writing opportunities have opened up as well.

If I’m not careful my metaphorical saw begins to get dull and ineffective. One way I sharpen the saw is by turning to good books. I always start with the Good Book, and from there I selectively read books that are recommended by others, or that I see mentioned within my other readings.

Here is my list, and please use the comments field to tell us what you are reading.

  • Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
  • Simplify by Joshua Becker
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser
  • The Introvert Advantage by Marti Osen Laney
  • The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor
  • The Weight of Glory by C. S. Lewis
  • Bradbury Stories by Ray Bradbury
  • Soul Survivor by Philip Yancey
  • Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kyosaki
  • David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Death By Meeting by Patrick Lencioni
  • Man’s Search For Meaning by Victor Frankl

I’m sure this list will continue to expand. I don’t have an exact target, but I like to complete a book at least every month. If I were to pick a favorite out of the list, it would be Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Another friend and my son are reading the book together and meet once a week to discuss. This is a life-changing book, which can help set a framework for establishing and tackling your life’s mission and goals. 

And that’s another approach to reading I’d recommend. Maybe pick a book from your own reading list and ask a friend, spouse, employee, or coworker to read it along with you. Take some time each week to reflect on the book with others. In my opinion, this will take your growth and the growth of others to the next level.

Please take a minute and let us know what good books you are reading.

Gob bless!


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God Can’t Please Everybody

“God can’t please everybody.” This stated by one of my pastors who recently gave a sermon. Somehow that thought stuck with me this week.

Think about it:

One man prays that it won’t rain on his parade.
Another man (a farmer) prays for rain to quench his wilting crops.

A boy prays that she will say yes when he asks her out.
The girl is praying that the boy will just go away and jump in the lake.

A salesman prays that a business deal will go through.
Another salesman prays that it won’t.

A college graduate is praying to land his first job.
Another college graduate is praying for the same job.

A son is praying that his father will be healed.
The father is praying that God would finally take him home.

The scenarios could go on and on. It’s mind boggling to think about how God tries to balance all these requests that compete with one another. And even more importantly—how do all those requests fit into His plan? Does His plan always play into our sometimes-small, sometimes-large decisions, dreams, or wishes?

I could easily swim into some deep theological waters, but let’s stick to one point for now. I have learned one thing from my pastor’s original statement. If God can’t possibly please everybody, what makes me think that I can? After all, my circle of influence is very small. I can only influence a few people and situations in my life. And there are so many things I can’t control. I really should shoot for influencing only a handful of people in my life, and ultimately there’s only One I Who I need to please.

So let’s take stock of our lives. Who are we trying to please?

Let’s ask God to search our hearts and show us how we can please Him more and more.

God bless!

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New Handcrafted Pen Giveaway

Enter to win a handcrafted pen

win a handcrafted pen
I just wanted to share that I’m holding another giveaway for a couple of handcrafted pens over on my craft blog. No purchase necessary to enter. Click here to learn more about how to enter the giveaway.

For those of you involved in Cub Scouts, I also recommend an article I recently wrote about Pinewood Derby tips: 18 Pinewood Derby Speed Tips. Feel free to share with other Cub Scouters in your life.

Good luck on the giveaway.

God bless!

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Learning About Learning – The 2015 Training Conference

Have you taught a class or given a presentation lately? Have you ever received training on teaching others?

This past week I attended the 2015 Training Conference & Expo, sponsored by Training Magazine. The conference was held here in Atlanta at the Georgia World Congress Center. I learned tons of new things. More specifically, I learned a lot about learning. And I look forward to taking these ideas back to my training team and finding ways to apply them to our training curriculum. This post delivers a few thoughts, quotes, and resources I gleaned from the conference.


You may not be a formal teacher or trainer, but let’s face it: we’re all teaching someone. And I believe we all want to be better learners.

Thoughts and Highlights

Telling isn’t training. Most people learn best when you show them, when they have an experience or make their own discovery during or after the learning session. So don’t think you can just verbally communicate a new idea or task during a short classroom session and they automatically get it and/or apply it.

Adult learning, or what I call learning in the workplace setting is very different from the traditional educational model we grew up with. And the big difference lies in our motivation. Hopefully, as we grow into adults our learning steers away from thoughts of rigid requirements or a mandatory “sentence” of 12 long years. Instead, we seek out learning experiences to improve our skills, increase our knowledge, save time, make a better living, get closer to God, etc.

Learning sticks better when you incorporate stories. This has been proven through various studies, but it’s probably intuitively obvious to many. So don’t barrage your audience with too many facts and statistics. As an alternative, share stories and case studies. That’s what people are going to remember most. And in those stories, embed the learning objectives you want them to take away. I can’t quote back to you many Bible verses, verbatim. But, boy I can remember Bible stories, the characters, and what God did through those people.

Every few minutes stop the lecture and interject an activity. Change the context of your training, and people will stay engaged. Think about the time you taught your son or daughter to ride a bike. Yes, you probably waxed eloquently on how to ride a bike. And they stared at you and yawned. You shared techniques, maybe a few of your own war stories. The frequency of yawns began to drop. Then you showed them. Their eyes opened wider. They’re thinking, “this is going to be good.” And finally—yes, finally—they got to do it on their own. Maybe they fell the first time or two, so you start over. Reflect back on what happened, remind them about the techniques, but get out of the way and let them keep trying.

Training is not about information dumps and impressing people with what you know. It’s about getting people to learn the knowledge and skills that will enable and empower them to become better parents, students, workers, citizens, leaders, and professionals.

More training is not always the solution. I can’t teach someone how to have a better attitude or a great work ethic. That comes from within, who we are–our character and spirit. We all have the responsibility to apply what we learn and govern our own behaviors. A person’s performance is shaped by many factors, and training may only play a small part.


“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Benjamin Franklin

“I can explain something to you, but I can’t understand it for you.” Anonymous

“Brain Rule # 4: We don’t pay attention to boring things.” John Medina

“Brain Rule #10: Vision trumps all other senses.” John Medina

“Waiting to be happy limits our brain’s potential for success, whereas cultivating positive brains makes us more motivated, efficient, resilient, creative and productive, which drives performance upward.” Shawn Achor

Book Recommendations

Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath

Telling Ain’t Training by Harold Stolovitch and Erica Keeps

The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor

Brain Rules by John Medina

Zap the Gaps by Ken Blanchard

I hope you enjoyed these few tidbits from the 2015 Training Conference. Please leave a comment and share your favorite teaching or learning tips and techniques.

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Doing What We Ought To Do

I recently heard some great messages on selected passages from the Book of James. One of them that stood out was James 4:17 NIV

If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

In the past you may have heard preachers throwing around these two fancy, ecclesiastical phrases:

The sins of commission
The sins of ommission

It is helpful, however, to understand these two classifications of sin. The sins of commission are overt, sinful acts—idolatry, lying, stealing, murder.

The sins of omission are things we fail to do even though we know we should do them. This is what the James 4:17 passage speaks of.

So the question naturally arises: Which type of sin is greater or has more devastating consequences?

I think initially I sided with the sins of commission. Afterall, aren’t these the sins that will damn us? That may be true, but didn’t Christ come as the great substitution on our behalf so we might be forgiven for stealing, lying, or committing adultery?

Now I can see that the far greater sin falls on the omission side. Our ugly, obvious sins may very well damn us, but if we fail to do what we know we should—place our faith in Christ and surrender to Him—then we’ve missed the whole point of grace and His sanctifying work. We would be committing the greatest sin of all.

If you are like me, you may be focusing too much on your overt sins and focusing very little on areas often neglected—spiritual practices and disciplines. So here is a list of ideas I’ve compiled to help me focus on the things I ought to be doing. I admit, I’m not a perfect example, and I’m not consistent on all of these. I regret now that I didn’t do more of these things in the past. For 2015, my aim is to focus heavily on these things:

  • Read the Bible and meditate on it.
  • Worship and sing praises to God.
  • Continual prayer and thanksgiving.
  • Fast from food, TV, social media, etc.
  • Holding devotionals with my family.
  • Prioritizing and setting realistic goals.
  • Taking my family to church every Sunday.
  • Sharing my faith with others.
  • Quality family time each week.
  • Seeking peace with others.
  • Forgiving others and asking for forgiveness.
  • Spending quality time with my spouse.
  • Joining a small group or discipleship group.
  • Finding good mentors in my life.
  • Managing my finances.
  • Forgetting the above practices doesn’t seem as awful as looking at pornography, cursing, drinking excessively, or robbing a store, but, oh, the devastation that results if we neglect them. Not doing what we ought to do may be shackling us to the very sins we want to escape.

    Not saying that doing the above in a formulaic way will change your life. We have to do these things through faith and the power of God’s Spirit. Grace may not be based on “do’s” and “don’ts”, but make no mistake that our spiritual growth does depend on what we do and the choices we make. And oftentimes it can be under-minded by what we fail to do.

    What about you? Do you agree or disagree with what I said here? Also, do you have more spiritual practices to add to the list?

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    Outdoor Adventures in the Southeast

    For those who are fairly new to my blog, I wanted to go back and list some of my past posts dedicated to outdoor adventures in the Southeast. The South is rich with places to see, trails to hike, lakes to fish, streams to kayak.


    The outdoors has always brought me closer to my Creator and these trips tap the wells of creativity. I hope you enjoy these posts and will come visit our piece of the world. If you have questions about any of these places or other places you’d like to checkout, don’t hesitate to use the contact link above.

    Be sure to subscribe to my blog, as I will be adding future outdoor adventures, as well as reflections on God and spiritual growth.

    The Pine Mountain Trail

    Providence Canyon State Park

    Mount Cheaha State Park

    Eagles Weekend at Guntersville State Park

    Shooting the Hooch

    Cycling the Southeast

    Savannah Georgia

    Apalachicola and Saint George Island

    Chattahoochee Bend State Park

    George L. Smith State Park

    Chimney Rock State Park

    Raccoon Mountain Caverns

    North Georgia Kayaking and Fishing

    How about you? Have you visited any of the above places? Do you recommend other outdoor adventures in the South?

    Posted in Outdoor Knowledge, Outdoor Skills, Outdoor Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

    Ode by Joseph Addison

    The spacious firmament on high,
    With all the blue ethereal sky,
    And spangled heavens, a shining frame,
    Their great Original proclaim:
    The unwearied sun, from day to day,
    Does his Creator’s power display,
    And publishes to every land
    The work of an Almighty Hand.

    Soon as the evening shades prevail,
    The Moon takes up the wondrous tale,
    And nightly to the listening earth
    Repeats the story of her birth:
    Whilst all the stars that round her burn,
    And all the planets, in their turn,
    Confirm the tidings as they roll,
    And spread the truth from pole to pole.

    What though, in solemn silence, all
    Move round the dark terrestrial ball;
    What though no real voice or sound
    Amid their radiant orbs be found;
    In reason’s ear they all rejoice,
    And utter forth a glorious voice,
    For ever singing, as they shine,
    ‘The Hand that made us is divine.’

    I found this poem in a book called Song of Creation. I thought this was very clever and a great testament to our Heavenly Father. It was written by Joseph Addison (1672 – 1719), an English essayist and poet.

    Nature is a another lens, giving us a glimpse of things beyond.

    Thank you God for your magnificent creation!

    Posted in Creation Moment, Outdoor Writing, Spiritual Journey, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

    Deo Volente

    Not that I’m actively looking for new latin phrases to add to my vocabulary, but I found this particular phrase–Deo Volente–intriguing. In the early 1900’s it was common for the English to end their personal letters with Deo Volente or D.V. It means God willing, and it’s thought that the phrase was pulled from James 4:13-15.

    The James passage is what I want to focus on for this post, as it contains an important message for beginning a new year. James uses an illustration that’s timeless. A businessman plans a new venture to a city, to expand his business and make a profit. Perhaps it was a new line of robes or designer sandals, I don’t know. Maybe his marketing team had scoped out a particular town that held a certain demographic or the latest fashion trend. Anyway you looked at it, it sounded like a sure thing.

    Now, there’s nothing wrong with a business person planning to increase his or her profits. We should all be making future plans for career progression, retirement, a family vacation, an aging car, or saving for our kid’s college education. The problem that James raises is that the businessman took the attitude of living his life without God’s input and guidance. This scripture passage describes the businessman’s presumption of success as arrogant boasting.

    Instead, James admonishes us to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

    I find myself guilty of making my own plans and then asking God to bless them, like I know better than God how to plan my life. I often take such a pragmatic approach to things. But my life is just a vapor—here today and gone tomorrow. I used to think I knew what success meant. I saw it as a future outcome—more money, more possesions, a better position in my job, a higher social status, etc.

    Now, though, I see success as more of an attitude or way of thinking:

  • Is my life pleasing to God?
  • Do I have less fear and more peace in my life?
  • Am I doing the things I know I should be doing?
  • Am I content with the things God has given me?
  • Do I love the people God has placed in my life?
  • Am I laying up eternal treasure in Heaven?

  • Listening to a sermon this past week, I learned another take on success and failure. The preacher said, “failure is being successful in the wrong thing.” Again, this goes back to how we define success. People can be perceived as being very successful, but some success may not have any eternal significance. And it may not be accompanied with the peace that passes understanding.

    Anyway, as you plan your 2015, I encourage you to reflect on the James 4:13-15 passage. I hope you find more of God’s peace, and that He will lead you to different ways of viewing success.

    May this post have the effect God intends for it to have. D.V.

    What is God teaching you about success? Feel free to comment in the field below.

    Posted in Spiritual Journey | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

    So, What Did You Think About The Sermon?

    I recently read a post by Susan Barber called Hope for the Next Generation. Susan is a godly woman and teacher, and happens to be my kids favorite high school teacher. In her post, she said something that I think is very important. We, the older generation, often think of the younger generation as shallow and self-absorbed. As Susan said so well, “we choose to overload our kids with things and overlook being intentional about giving to a young person’s heart.”

    Her post encouraged me to share a little practice I’ve started in recent years, a practice I wish I’d started earlier in life. As a young couple starting out, Laura and I made an effort to find a great church, a great pastor, and, to attend services Sunday after Sunday. So our kids have grown up in a church environment all their lives. A few years ago, my wife and I started throwing out a simple question, almost every Sunday: So, what did you think about the sermon?

    Many times I would get silence. Sometimes a grunt or “where are we going to eat?” But I’ve also seen several wonderful discussions born out of this basic question. My kids have surprised me. I didn’t realize what deep thinkers they have become. They often bring up points and questions to which I don’t have a great answer. Some of their questions have even challenged my core, fundamental beliefs. But I never would have discovered these things about my kids, if it weren’t for the following two things:

  • We kept asking the question no matter the response (or lack of response).
  • Continue reading

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    The A.C.T.S. Acrostic

    My pastor recently finished a series of sermons about God’s Word–how we originally got it, how it was translated from the past to the present, and how we get it from our heads and into our hearts.

    In the last sermon he describes God’s Word as the living Word. It’s living because God’s Spirit comes to our aid and helps us discern how to use the Word for our modern-day concerns and decision making.

    The Bible is not immune to the need for interpretation. I for one want to know how is what I’m reading relevant to my life and how is it relevant to what God is doing in the culture today. And so we need God’s help, either through the Spirit directly or Spirit-led leaders. Therefore, we should take Bible study seriously and be careful which leaders we listen to. Above all, think for yourself, and don’t let others do the thinking for you.

    My pastor ended his sermon by giving us a helpful acrostic as pictured above. This should be useful every time you read the Bible and expect God’s Spirit to direct you and speak into your life. This acrostic gives you a way to focus and actively read your Bible.

    Hopefully it goes without saying that we must approach God’s Word through prayer. Though not stated specifically in the acrostic, prayer does shape the first item–attitude.

    How about you? How do you keep your mind focused on God’s Word and actively read it, as apposed to passively?

    Posted in Spiritual Growth Tips, Spiritual Journey | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

    A Couple of Writing Milestones

    This year I’ve been blessed with the opportunity of being published in a couple of places, outside of my own blog. Don’t get me wrong, I get tons of fulfillment from blogging and cherish everyone who reads my articles here on Trails of Life. I started this blog to promote a novel I self-published back in 2011. But the blog has become more than that, providing me another ministry outlet, built on a passion God has given me. Writing and blogging can now be an effective ministry for many of us. It can also help us hone our craft and learn how people respond to our writing.

    Technology has so transformed the writing community in our age. It has given us the ability to get our writing out there without having to wait eons to be selected.

    But still, it’s a great feeling to have other publications recognize our work. My blogging frequency has slowed down a great deal in recent months, but I continue to write short stories and articles for submission to magazines or contests. And I’m happy to say, it’s finally paid off.


    One of my inspirational articles, God In My Boat, was recently published in a sportsman’s magazine called The Sixthday Sportsmen (pictured above). In exchange for giving them the article, they will provide me an annual subscription to the magazine.


    Earlier in the year I entered The Story short-short story contest sponsored by Family Fiction Magazine. One of my stories placed in the top 50 stories. My story is called But It Worked For King Solomon, and it’s a retelling of Solomon’s story about the dispute between two women over a baby. My story takes place in the Appalachian Hills of North Georgia and the dispute is over a redbone puppy.

    I just want to say thanks to all my readers and a Merry Christmas! I know that many of you are writers, so I hope this post will be an encouragement. Don’t ever give up on sharing your gift with the world!

    Thanks for reading, and please share your own writing milestones in the comments field below.

    Posted in Outdoor Writing, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

    Ghost Hunt – A Poem

    I’m having some fun this week writing poetry and blending this with one of my other passions, ghost hunting. Yes, ghost hunting, but see if you can figure out what kind of ghost I’m hunting.

    I know, Halloween has passed, but ghost hunting is alive and well through the month of November.

    I hope that my friends and fellow ghost hunters have a safe and bless Thanksgiving!

    Ghost Hunt

    Colors bleed, blanketing

    A beautiful, wilting forest.

    I peer through skeletons,

    Seeing deeper than before,

    Secrets uncovered.

    Unseen forces swirl,

    Carrying away the dead.

    Bare branches quiver, afraid,

    Ashamed of their nakedness.

    Startling, eery sounds

    Wail and creak in the distance,

    Giving my heart pause.

    The selfish, sinister Cold

    Grips me with

    His bone-chilling strength.

    Shhhhh. What is that

    Tiptoeing on tiny hooves?

    An apparition of sorts.

    The creature rises from the ground.

    Steeples point to sky,

    Hovering above gray

    And nervous thoughts.

    Deathly daggers they are,

    Penetrating mind and soul.

    The dark eyes threaten a spell.

    My chest contains the thuds.

    Time sputters and stumbles.

    The ghost turns slightly,

    Morphing back into woods.



    Waiting, listening, watching.

    Come back.

    Please, come back.

    Haunt me one more time

    Posted in Outdoor Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

    Reading the works of Flannery O’Connor

    Over the summer, I’ve been reading works by Flannery O’Conner. For those who don’t know, O’Conner was born in Savannah Georgia and is well known for her literary fiction. She wrote two novels Wise Blood (1952) and The Violent Bear It Away (1960). And she published two books of short stories. In 1964, she died from lupus at the young age of 39.

    Back in March, I purchased The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor and particularly liked these stories:

    A Good Man is Hard to Find
    The Displaced Person
    Everything that Rises Must Converge
    The Life You Save May Be Your Own
    Good Country People
    You Can’t Be Any Poorer Than Dead
    The Enduring Chill
    A Late Encounter with the Enemy
    A Circle in the Fire
    The River

    Today much of our Christian fiction tends to be a bit sanitized, predictable, and sometimes on the preachy side. I suppose I’ve been guilty of that in my own attempts to write Christian fiction. Perhaps I can learn some things from O’Connor.

    O’Connor was a devout Catholic who lived in the “Bible Belt” South, a protestant-dominated world. Though her characters can be grotesque and the storylines shocking, I’ve grown to love her work. The themes of transformation and grace stream through her stories, and her characters are often transformed in violent or disturbing ways. I’m also drawn to the southern backdrop of her stories. The issue of race seems to play in the background, though I’m not sure she intended that it be a dominant theme.

    I know, her writing may not be for everyone, but I would recommend it, and I believe more Christians should read great literature. Also, the writers of today can benefit from the geniuses of the past. I’m not saying these works supplant the Bible, but we get to experience God and our humanity through minds deeply influenced by the Divine.

    In my opinion, reading good literature is a moral activity in itself. And—our imaginations are a lot like muscles that need to be stretched and limbered up every so often. We can grow and stretch our faith through God’s power and the power of story.

    How about you? What literary works have influenced you or have brought more meaning to your life?

    Posted in Outdoor Writing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

    Think Differently

    Saw the above quote this week and just had to share.

    Are some people born to be more creative than others?

    I don’t know, but maybe if we slow down and put more thought into what we see, hear, and feel, we might be surprised at the new ideas that materialize.

    In the end, isn’t creativity about seeing connections that others don’t take the time to look for?

    How about you? How do you think what others haven’t thought?

    Posted in Learning | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

    The Fork in the Road

    Last week I shared with you Psalm 104, how God is taking care of our world. No doubt He is active and concerned for his creation. And He’s concern for and active in His children’s lives.

    This week I listened to a sermon by Jim Cymbala called The Fork In the Road. I felt led to share some ideas from that sermon, and I encourage you to listen to the whole sermon here.

    Cymbala shared some verses from Acts 16 where Paul, by the Holy Spirit, was redirected to minister in Macedonia instead of Asia or Bithynia. Paul recognized a legitimate need in Asia, and yet the Holy Spirit was saying to Paul, “it’s not your time, and you’re not the man I’m sending to Asia.”

    Cutting to the chase, Cymbala’s sermon emphasizes how we need to maintain a closeness and intimacy with God’s Spirit so He can direct us and guide us. It’s not like God is pointing the way and saying, “go that way and be careful. Take care, okay.” No, He’s taking us by the hand, and saying, “let’s go this way together.”

    The Bible gives us several guidelines on making decisions, on choosing which fork in the road. Take choosing a spouse as an example. As a young twenty-five year old, I knew the Bible. I knew that I wanted to marry a christian who loved God. I wanted someone without baggage in their life. I wanted someone who took their walk with God seriously. Someone who wanted to start a godly family with me.

    The problem though—there were many young ladies out there who fit the bill. How do I know which one to pick? There wasn’t a verse telling me to go marry Jane Doe, her sister, Mary Doe or my eventual wife, Laura Smith.

    The point here is that the Bible can only take us so far. It places us in a great position to make some of life’s biggest decisions. But what gets us to the final and best decision. The answer—God’s Spirt, His guidance.

    This goes for all kinds of decisions: what job to take, where to minister, where to give our money, community volunteer work, etc.

    How do we know we have God’s Spirit and His guidance? Look at the following verse:

    Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts … Colossians 3:15

    That’s it. If you’re walking closely with God, He’s ultimately going to give you peace in the decisions you make. That doesn’t mean your life is going to be easy and you’re going to get rich and become prosperous. Peace is worth a lot more than all that. Peace means you know it’s the right thing to do, and it’s the right time to do it.

    Bottomline, we need God’s guidance everyday–that business deal, that financial decsion, new relationships and friendships, choices regarding our health.

    Anyway, thanks for reading this post. Again, I encourage you to take some time and watch Jim Cymbala’s sermon, The Fork in the Road.

    God bless!

    Posted in Spiritual Journey, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments