A Different View

Alas! Our culture continues to persist, wallow, and drown in “the immediate”. The technical term is “instant gratification”. Some things are not meant to be instant. Instant mashed potatoes? Dear Lord, NO! Instant tea? Heaven forbid! And instant coffee? That is an abomination straight out of the depths of hell! While this phenomena of “instant gratification” has been around several decades, today’s culture has improved and refined it to a lower art form and a whole new depth of wretchedness.

Now it is more than “instant gratification”–it has become The Culture Of Ignored Consequences”! But why am I surprised at this development? Focusing only on the present always leads to heinous and horrid conclusions. At one point our culture could not see beyond the end of their nose. Now they cannot see beyond the bridge of their nose. It is daft, demented and deranged that they become so upset when those Ignored Consequences come in like a storm surge in a hurricane.

But what if? What if we started looking further than the roots of our eyelashes? What if we started taking a longer view of life? What if we started looking further down the road BEFORE we made decisions, choices, and taking action? I know that to many I may sound like a schizo and have several loose screws–but there really is both hope in wisdom in taking The Longer View Of Life.

The Longer View will eliminates things like fear, dread, confusion, chaos, and anxiety. The Longer View is where we begin to form deep, lasting strength and maturity. I mean, who makes one visit to a fitness center and expects to walk out with 40 pounds less fat and 20 pounds of more muscle? The writer of Hebrews gives us both insight and a reason to take This Longer View Of Life.

All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth.

Hebrews 11:13 (NLT)

Tell you what! If you do not like The Longer View, go out right now and run your own marathon–and finish it! Most of you would think such a task would be more than crazy–but impossible. And you would be right. Marathon runners know it takes time–a long time–to build up the strength to run a marathon–and in case you did not know or forgot–a marathon is 26.2 miles. And life is more than the present moment–it is even more than a journey of years. It is an eternity. So start looking for what lasts longer than one day after the factory warranty expires–starting looking for and investing your life in what will last for eternity. You will be a lot more happier if you do.

Did You See That?

When I was the Spiritual Director for the New Covenant Emmaus Community, it was easy for me to write weekly devotions for the community. A lot of my stories came from our grandchildren, our smart and wonderful grandchildren–they are quite an inspiration to me. I could write from viewing scenes in God’s glorious creation, or a sign going down the road. It was really quite easy for me to write a weekly devotion.

Then I started this blog. And it seemed, at least for a season, there was a never ending supply of materials from which to write about; to share insights, to challenge, and hopefully to inspire others. But then I quite writing (to my followers, I guess you noticed that!). I could blame the pandemic, the Democrats, the Republicans–but the fault lies all on me! And why? That’s what I’m going to write about. I couldn’t really decide on a topic today–so the topic chose me: Why I Quit Writing!

I was looking in the wrong places. Ha! Ha! Forget that thought–I wasn’t looking at all. My focus had been taken off where God is always present and always at work. So today, amidst all the news reports and the bickering and fighting, let me challenge you, inspire you to realize what I finally realized: That I choose what I focus on! And so does everyone else.

You see, even if you don’t focus on anything, you are focusing; on a vast void. And that void is, what I would call–thanks to my good friend Andy Andrews–the lack of wisdom. God is still on the Throne, Jesus is still present–and He is still speaking to us through the Holy Spirit. And I close out with this.

One day I was walking around the yard, as I frequently do, I made the full “lap” around our place. As I was coming up from the back, I looked and there was deer–in our yard! Being an ardent and zealous hunter, that deer grabbed my attention. I did not have my rifle–and it wasn’t hunting season. She was watching me and I was watching her. Just then a second deer slowly walked across our front yard and also stopped. They were looking at me, and I was looking at them.

And what I saw wasn’t meat in the freezer–I saw 2 beautiful creatures of God. Besides, both needed to get a little bigger to shoot. (Sorry PETA, I am not a vegetarian.) But I was simply amazed at the beauty and wonder of God’s glorious creation. So, today Be Amazed! Be Amazed at everything God has for you; the things God has put in creation for you, and I, to enjoy–or to do what I did. Just to stop and marvel at the beauty that God has for us.

If all you want to see is ugliness–dear Lord almighty and Heaven help us–there is an abundance of things that will lead us to despair. But remember, you choose where you are looking. I think I am going to watch God a little more closer.

Love God with all your heart. Love others the He loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

It Depends On Where You Are

God offers us wisdom, courage, and strength to get through the mountains of difficulties we face.

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Newfound Gap, 20 January 2021, Smoky Mountains, Tennessee

Debbie and are back in the Smoky Mountains. It’s one of our favorite places. We haven’t missed many years coming here. Usually we would go in November, around our anniversary. This year we decide to come in January. The primary reason was in the hopes of it being cold and seeing snow, something rarely seen in West Central Alabama. It’s something wonderful to be sitting in a hot tub on a cold night.

It’s been cold at our cabin, but not cold enough for snow. So, this morning we went to the Pancake Pantry for breakfast (another tradition) and drove up the mountains in search of snow. And it didn’t take all that long. Remember me writing that it wasn’t cold enough for snow at our cabin? Well at Newfound Gap, it wasn’t only a good bit of snow, it was BITTERLY COLD! It is a gap in the mountains and the wind was really cold. Though the sun was shinning, the wind was blowing snow from the trees. That mountain was different from the mountain where our cabin is located. We could from our cabin that there was “snow in them thar mountains”, and we were not disappointed. It looked better up close than from a distance. And this leads me to my thoughts this evening.

Perspective is everything–how you see life as it happens in real time. But you know that. My perspective–OUR perspective changed when we stopped looking at the snow from a distance and saw it up close and personal. You can check out some other pictures on my Facebook Page. And right now I’ve been thinking about a song. It’s not played on the radio; no CD; it’s not on Apple Tunes; and it’s not heard on Sirius, or Spotify or any other music service. It was written before all of this technology. It’s Psalm 121. The first 2 verses go like this:

I look up to the mountains—
    does my help come from there?
 My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth!

Whatever I need, whenever I am weak, wherever I am fearful, there is only one place for me–and for you. The mountains around me today, the result of God’s creative power, assure me that my help comes from THE ONE who made these mountains–mountains that offer us a brief respite from God’s calling on our lives. They remind us that God has taken care of us, IS taking care of us, and WILL continue to take care of us.

It’s interesting, at least to me, that this Psalm is part of the Songs Of Ascents. They were sung by travelers on their way to Jerusalem. The mountains in front of them we difficult and treacherous. But someone was thinking beyond those mountains–even beyond the mountain where Jerusalem, their destination, was situated. Difficult and treacherous–does that sound familiar to you?

Do you feel life as it is happening right now is difficult and treacherous? Where is your hope? Your job? Your business? Your spouse? Your boyfriend/girlfriend? Your financial accounts? Your education? Your intelligence? Your wit? Your politics? Your choice of addiction? Your __________ (fill in the blank)? How’s that working out for you? Truthfully, is it really helping, or just delaying?

The Psalmist knew his help came from a much higher source–the Creator! God offers us wisdom, courage, and strength to get through the mountains of difficulties we face. If HE created this beautiful place (and He did), if HE placed HIS Image in us human beings (and he did), then HE will guide you through any and every difficult moment. Do you question the validity of my statement? The listen to the rest of the song:

He will not let you stumble;
    the one who watches over you will not slumber.
 Indeed, he who watches over Israel
    never slumbers or sleeps.

 The Lord himself watches over you!
    The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.  The sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon at night.

The Lord keeps you from all harm
    and watches over your life.
 The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.

One Inch Of Snow Can Change Your Life

The chaos of this day is the result of NOT living by God’s instructions.

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Mt. Vernon, Alabama

I took the above picture on Monday of this week. We had an inch or so of snow! I know for you folks north of the Mason-Dixon Line you are thinking, “So what? Why is that a big deal?” In west central Alabama it’s a big deal because we do not see a lot of the white stuff. For you who see this regularly it’s not a big deal. But for us? It’s a really big deal–and that got me to thinking. It took me until this morning–but I finally figured it out.

For those who see a lot of snow, an inch or so doesn’t mean much if anything at all. For us, it meant we pulled up a chair and watched it fall with great admiration at its beauty. Many of us were mesmerized by the scene as we watched it fall, collect on the tree limbs and cover the ground. Facebook blew up with pictures people were taking–each one showing the unique beauty of this very rare event. What does this all say about Kingdom Living? Glad you asked and I am even more glad to tell you.

Let’s start with something straight out of the Bible! What a novel idea in times like this! Look at Psalm 119:18–

Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in your instructions.

(New Living Translation)

There is a deep crisis within the U.S. church. It has replaced The Truth with a cultural truth. The source of the problem is that many have embraced their personal interpretations of The Truth. Churchians and Tenured Pew sitters have become so accustomed to their views on The Truth that they have stopped seeing the wonder of The Truth. Just like people who are accustomed to seeing snow on a regular basis–they miss the wonder of God’s Creation. And just like us Alabamians who rarely see snow and stop what we doing to take pictures and post them on social media–people who walk closely with Jesus understand that The Truth is always amazing to us, teaching us the beauty of the life God wants us to live.

When we are locked into our personal views, opinions, and beliefs it leaves little to no room for God to WOW us. This entire Psalm is full of WOW moments, not because it’s the longest one–but because of the way the verses are divided. Each section begins, not with the name of a person, but a Word. The Word for verse 18 is Gamal–it means to ripen, to produce. David is sharing the way to a life that is full and rich; a life that produces what God created us to produce–each in our own way. And it’s found in THE Truth–call it His Law, His Instruction–better yet, call Him by His name–Jesus!

The chaos of this day is the result of NOT living by God’s instructions. We need to stop seeing The Truth of The Bible in the ways we are accustomed to seeing it. We need to see it the way we Alabamians see snow–with wonder and amazement. When you see a lot of snow–an inch or so is no big deal. When you are accustomed to your own views of The Bible you leave no room for God to ripen our life in order to produce what HE created you to produce. So stop seeing The Bible with the same-old-same-old view. What has that view produced? Watch the evening news. That will tell you what that view produces.

Hymns and songs have been written about this verse. But let me leave you with a story about what happen when God opens our eyes to HIS Truth rather than our truth. It’s found in 2 Kings chapter 6. Elisha’s servant goes out one morning and is filled with panic. An army has surrounded him and his teacher. Listen and learn from Elisha:

17 Then Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!” The Lord opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire.

2 Kings 6:17

It takes God to open our eyes–what when He opens our eyes–an inch or so of snow becomes an experience! And what an experience it is!

Where Does Your Help Come From?

It seemed for a while that writing was a gift–a gift that I enjoyed. It began when I was selected to be Community Spiritual Director for an Emmaus community we were involved with. I started doing a weekly devotion for the Community. My sources of inspiration was seemingly unlimited. Nature, signs, conversations, and my best source of inspiration was our wonderfully unique grandchildren. I even started working on a book based on those devotions. It’s still unfinished.

I’m sure you’ve noticed I’ve been absent quit a lot from this blog. Can I be truthful with you? I lost my inspiration to write. I could blame it on the Pandemic–my routine was changed. I could blame it on the Republicans. I could blame it on the Democrats. I could blame it on the news media. I could blame any of a number of things and events. But that wouldn’t be truthful. Call me Harry S. Truman if you like, but the BUCK STOPS HERE!

God confronted me this morning with a painful truth. I would rather truth be pleasant, but sometimes, often times, The Truth is painful. Here’s how it happened. I’m a pacer; and when the weather is decent, I walk around the yard. This morning I decided to walk the perimeter of our place. I started on the east side, then the back side, as up the west side (not that much of a distance; probably took me 1 minute), I looked up and I saw a deer traversing our front yard and enter the woods and stopped. I stopped to watch it. Then another deer crossed our front yard. The first deer was watching me. It came within 20 yards of me.

And in that moment, I was mesmerized by God’s creation. For a fleeting moment I thought, “I wish it was deer gun season!” But that thought left me quickly. One creation of God was watching another creation of God. That’s when the Painful Truth hit me hard! My inspiration for writing has been here all along. I just wasn’t watching! Forgive me, Lord, for I am an unprofitable servant.

And I remembered Psalm 121–“I look up to the mountains—does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!” Please hear the plea of this unprofitable servant, don’t look at the headlines, look at the ONE who always sees us and patiently waits for us to see Him!

Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the Glory goes to Him!

Posters To Social Media–Change My Mind

This is directed to all those angry posts on social media revolving around politics and political parties by those who self-identify as Christian. I have a question for you: “Do you think God is really glorified with those negative political posts? Do you think those posts reflect HIS Character?”

Truth time: You are dishonoring His Character and misrepresenting His Kingdom. Shame on you! Change my mind about this!

There Is No Quick Fix

This is the last in my reflections of my recent medical emergency. If you haven’t read the first one, then click here.

When we are hurting–whether physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally, or relationally–we want the pain to go away and go away quickly. And here is another lesson I have learned in my most recent episode:

The quick-fix rarely, if ever, works.

In my situation of my ruptured appendix, Dilaudid made the pain quickly go away. And for a little bit the quick-fix solved my problem with pain. But guess what? The effects of Dilaudid wore off and the pain returned. Other than making me feel comfortable, the Quick-Fix did nothing to solve the real problem. Can you make the connection here?

In case you did not, allow me to explain. There are things that will help us numb the pain but cannot treat the real condition causing our pain. It’s not just in the realm of physical pain–but all other forms of pain. For example, holding a grudge against someone who wounded you deeply can hide the pain momentarily–but the pain returns. Trust me on this one; I personally know about holding grudges–it won’t heal the pain.

There are a lot of ways–chemical, emotional, and mental–to numb the pain. Yet they fail to heal the cause of our pain. This is why we turn to God in times of pain. God doesn’t offer us a quick-fix–but He does offer us wholeness. And sometimes, wholeness requires both time and a process. In the case of my ruptured appendix, they did not immediately remove that vile and evil beast. To have done so would have exposed my entire body with poisonous toxins that would have put me in further danger. By treating the poisons in me first, it decreases the probability of further complications when they will remove my appendix.

Next Wednesday I revisit my doctor. Hopefully he will tell me when they will schedule surgery to remove my appendix. Doctors have helped me understand why I need to wait–and I trust their knowledge and skills. And you can trust the knowledge and skills of the Great Physician to restore your whole health–spiritually, emotionally, mentally and relationally. You can trust Him because He created you–and offered you redemption through His Marvelous Grace. God doesn’t offer us a day-trip with a quick-fix. He offers us a journey–filled with His more than sufficient Grace–and His Presence to help us when we can’t help ourselves.

Ridding Yourself Of The Poison.

Today I’m continuing to reflect on my recent medical emergency and the lessons I am learning. If you didn’t read the first one, here is the LINK to where this all started. So here is today’s Lesson:

Get Rid Of That Poison!

As you probably know, when the appendix ruptures it release a toxic poison into the abdominal cavity. No one really knows the exact function of the appendix–lots of hypotheses–but no certain conclusion. That’s right, our body is locked-and-loaded with poison. As long as it stays where it belongs, no harm, no foul. But when it gets out–the story line changes.

Here’s how it continues to change my story line. I still have a drainage tube which requires my attention. Twice a day I take a 10-cc syringe of sterile saline, take an alcohol wipe and clean the connection, attach that syringe, turn a value and inject half of it into my abdominal cavity, turn the valve again and flush the line, and return that valve to the original position. It may sound painful but it’s not really painful. Then I measure what’s in the drainage bag and record it in a journal for my doctor.

Some may think this is another inconvenience–but my perspective tells me it’s necessary for my healing. If this poison remains in me then sepsis will set in. Sepsis happens when an infection you already have—in your skin, lungs, urinary tract, or somewhere else—triggers a chain reaction throughout your body. Untreated it is fatal. Knowing the outcome of what happens if I don’t flush out my abdomen, it’s not really inconvenient.

And it’s not just the body that internal poison is harmful–it also happens in the heart and mind. Some of those poisons are greed, fear, bitterness, resentment, guilt, shame, anger, lust, revenge, unforgiveness–these are just a few of the poisonous toxins. If untreated, they are as fatal as sepsis to the heart, mind and spirit. And as in my physical case, there are ways to get rid of those poisons. We can’t get rid of the poisons alone–we need our Heavenly Father to show us how to get rid of that poison. And they are worth the effort–because they work.

So, don’t allow those poisonous toxins create spiritual sepsis. Jesus delivered us on that Cross–and He continues to deliver us. It’s not always instantaneously–but He always makes us whole!

BUT NOT COMPLETELY!

Well, in the immortal words of Jack Nicholson. . .

It’s been a while since I’ve put my thoughts, emotions, and questions in blog form. This respite has been intentional; I’ve been in a season of observation and reflection. At this stage of my spiritual journey I have come to understand how priceless observation and reflection are navigating this world as a citizen and warrior of the Kingdom of God.

Some of the observations and reflections resulted in my previous and current sermon series. Some of my observations and reflections have been planted in my “thinking about it” garden to see what grows out of it. And honestly, this was not going to be my “return to blogging” article. But then. . .real life happened.

It started on the afternoon of Sunday, July 12. After preaching 2 services I engaged in my Sabbath Discipline, A.K.A. a nap. When I woke up, I just didn’t feel good. Tried doing a couple of things and nausea set in. Nausea turned into more pain and then vomiting. All Sunday night the pain only intensified. But late Monday the pain eased up and I thought the worst was over. So much for my thinking. Finally, I told Debbie I needed to go to the emergency room. The rules at our small rural hospital meant she could drop me off, but not stay with me. But my high threshold for pain had been exceeded.

I signed in and then had to wait even though, on a scale of 1 to 10, my current pain was at 12.5. When they finally called me back the first order of business was a COVID-19 test, and then the reason why I was there. An injection of  Dilaudid became a gift from God to me. Then things started happening pretty fast. A CT-Scan with contrast revealed a ruptured appendix. The nurse came in with the bad news and said “The helicopter will be here in just a few minutes.” It seems the hospitals closest to me that had the facilities to care for me didn’t have any beds.

When I arrived at University of Alabama Birmingham Medical Center, another COVID-19 test, conversation with some doctors, I was sent to the appropriate unit. Once there I was hooked up to IV antibiotics–and constant care. Wednesday was another day of pain and pain killers. Thursday morning was another whirlwind. I was taken for another scan; returned to my room, only to be turned around and taken back for 2 drainage tubes (one of those tubes was inserted into an orifice that shall remain unnamed).

In this same time my IV stick had to be moved 6 or 7 times because my vein had blown. My daily routine was pain, pain-killers, more IVs, and walking the halls for my physical therapy. Sunday morning I was feeling a little better, so I took a shower and even shaved. I was feeling a bit hopeful, that is, until the usual returned on Sunday night. Physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually I had been on the Roller Coaster From Hell.

Finally, on Monday, the numbers started moving in my favor. The pain was subsiding and I was feeling hopeful again. Tuesday morning one of my doctors came in and removed the most invasive drainage tube (remember the orifice I mentioned earlier?) and I wanted to sing the doxology. A little later he cleared me to go home with the other drainage tube. After a “how to flush the drainage tube” lesson and extensive discharge orders, 1 week later I arrived back to where this all started. Now I am home reflecting on these part 2 weeks. Allow me to share one of the lessons I have been learning.

We have no control over most of what happens to us in life

The need to be in control is only adding to the anger and chaos that is consuming and destroying our nation. I looked all through my calendar and to-do list and no where have I found “ruptured appendix” in my plans. The need to be in control over life, relationships, other people, families, even church–goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden when Satan offered that lie to Adam and Eve. Now I want to really upset some people:

We are not equipped to be in control!

Now that the bad news is out of the way–there is one thing over which we have absolute control. No thing or no one can control it for you. It is your reaction to what happens that you and you alone control. No whining and no excuses. Your reactions come from your perspective and no one can give you or choose for you that perspective. While lying in that hospital bed did I have a pity party? Of course I did! In fact, I had more than one. But I had a choice–do I choose to live in that pity party or do I choose to change my focus? I chose the later–and when I focused on God’s faithful presence, which at times I doubted; the pity party ended because I know that regardless of how I feel–God hasn’t abandoned me–and He is loving on me. Tomorrow I will share another lesson.