We Are Family!

We Are Family!

As an interlude to the daily “travelogue” posts I am working on to cover a recent family vacation, I am writing this post to share some observations from the trip.  Our family travels include my wife and I and our beautiful daughter who mostly lives at a six to eight year-old level even through chronologically she is very much an adult.  Our daughter’s disabilities include mobility issues along with other things, so the nature of our trips can often be challenging.

For the longest times, we could carry her in a front carrier and then a backpack carrier for our long family hikes.  Eventually she outgrew the backpack carrier and we had to get more creative in the hikes that were somewhat rugged.  A few years ago we came across a wheelchair designed to handle terrain that a normal chair could not.  With mountain bike tires on the rear wheels and six inch wide casters on the front, it has been down many trails that led to some incredible beauty of God’s creation.

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On one particular adventure on this last trip, we were going down a particularly rugged path that included crossing a (currently) dry riverbed.  The riverbed was various levels of shale and sandstone which made for a beautiful and rugged path.  As we worked our way across, we could see an observation platform filled with people on the other side of the river where they could get a partial view of the falls . . . and a good view of this crazy family heading across the riverbed with a wheelchair.  It caused my wife to wonder out loud, “how many photos will we be in with some sort of caption regarding ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way'”.

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Pushing a wheelchair in some desolate areas, or pulling it up or down lengthy wooden staircases, or running it up the soft sands of towering dunes can create some great memories . . . and some great conversations.  Usually the conversations lead to some form of amazement that we are out wherever we are . . . as well as an amazement at how old our daughter actually is.  Our response varies to some degree as we’ve not really given thought to it.  In fact, the response usually includes some way of conveying that we’ve not really thought of doing life any other way!  You see, we are family!  We don’t do it perfectly, but we continue to learn how to care for one another and accommodate the needs of each other to their benefit.  Some of our daughter’s special needs are rather obvious, but the truth is we all have needs that are special and need to be treated as such because we are all unique creations of God.  I hear the Marines have a saying, “No man left behind!”.  That is the way of life we try to do family as . . . we do it together with God’s help to the best of our ability.  We help those who are weak and pay attention to the weaknesses of those who appear strong.  And so the memories I am able to share through photographs are memories we have been able to share in as a family.

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If you’ve gotten this far in the story, I hope you can see lessons to apply throughout life.  While it obviously applies to the family, I believe this way of life is the way God wants the church to operate as His family.  If the family doesn’t travel together, some people may get to where they are going but many, including those who have rushed ahead, will miss out on the full beauty God has prepared for His family to enjoy.

You see, we are indeed family.  And while we are each unique and have our own interests, desires, ways of doing things, and paths that we travel; we are also a family that grows best when we find ways to include everyone within the family in this journey of life.  While I do enjoy times of solitude and silence with God alone, being able to enjoy life as a family, no matter what, is a great blessing that both comes from God and honors God.

So, yes, we are family!  Now let’s keep living as family. 🙂

In prayer,
Tom

 

 

A Restful Day

A Restful Day

For one reason or another, or more likely a combination of many different reasons, my mind and body have been yelling at me lately about the need for rest.  So, while the day held the potential for many different things that would have been good and enjoyable, I listened to the warnings and enjoyed a restful day.  As I sat on the porch and enjoyed the refreshing breeze and the beauty of my surroundings; I was reminded that rest is not just a good idea, it is God’s idea!  The concept of a day of rest each week, a sabbath, was designed by the one who designed me.  I believe it wasn’t by accident that God commanded a day of rest, it was because He knew we needed it even while He knew we wouldn’t always listen to that need.

As I sat on the porch watching the hummingbirds show up to the feeders, an aching toe from an old injury brought a short poem into my mind.

There was a day,
Some time ago.
I played a game
And broke my toe!
Now when the weather
Changes so.
That broken toe
Does let me know!

The ache in my toe stuck with me most of the day but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the restful time with God that I needed.  The view from the porch was great and with a long-reach lens I was able to capture some of the beauty with my camera.

After grilling bacon cheeseburgers for lunch, it was back to the porch for a while to enjoy more of the sights and sounds of nature.  As I continued my time with God, another short poem came into my mind.  Considering most of my poems have been rather lengthy, these short snippets were an unusual thing to find in my mind but I’m confident God can use what He gives regardless of length.

There’s often much
I’d like to say.
Until I take
The time to pray.
And when I talk
To God each day.
I find there’s less
I “have to” say!

Eventually I took the idea of rest to the next level and headed inside for an afternoon nap.  The nap eventually led to more porch time as the day of rest continued.  As the day winds down, I am thankful for a day of rest and look forward to the day of worship I will give God tomorrow.

Noticing God’s Presence

Noticing God’s Presence

“Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.
I can feel His mighty power and His grace.
I can hear the brush of angels wings.
I see glory on each face.
Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.”
(Words by Lanny Wolfe)

It seems that the more I pause, even for just a moment, the more acutely I’m aware of being surrounded by the presence of God.  I suppose I could pause and not notice, and in reality that has been the case more often than I care to admit, but once I started to really seek God I began to realize He delights in making Himself known.  

My enjoyment of wildlife and scenic nature photography has served to amplify an awareness of God’s presence as I capture some of the details of His handiwork.  Today it was some time spent sitting on the front porch watching, and photographing, the hummingbirds that frequent the feeder we have out.  Capturing the “brush” of their wings really makes it seem like I can feel “the brush of angels wings.”  And the glory exhibited in each photo I take shouts of the glory of God revealed throughout creation.

For me, photography not only allows me to capture the presence of God, it also causes me to notice that presence in everyday life no matter where I am.  While it is rare for me not to have a camera with me these days, even when I don’t, I find that I always have an eye out for the wonders that are most often simply passed by.  Yes, the world is messed up by sin.  And, yes, there is a lot of ugliness that exists as a result of human interactions with one another that don’t reflect the image of God.  And while there are many distractions to draw us away from noticing God’s presence, there is nothing that can keep it hidden if we make the effort to seek Him.  His promises are sure and He says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)

I pray that you and I would always seek God with all our heart and that in doing so we would know that “surely the presence of the Lord is in this place!”

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Good Grief!

Good Grief!

“Good Grief” seems like such an odd phrase when you stop and consider it in the midst of real grief.  So odd in fact, that I took the time to look up its origin in an attempt to understand just what was so good about grief.  What I discovered is that it is most likely the result of people substituting the word grief in the phrase they wanted to say in order to not take the “Lord’s name in vain” by saying, “Good God!”.  Since God observes the heart and motives, I’m not sure how effective such a strategy is — but that’s a matter for a different post. 🙂  While the research helped me understand the origin, it did nothing to answer my internal question of what good could be found in grief.

Anyhow, this is an article I have been working on for two years now and while I’m still short on answers, I do realize that the grieving process is natural and necessary . . . and often very different for each person.  And while the phrase was never meant to have anything to do with grief or goodness, I’ve begun to think that good grief is only possible when we allow God to change and transform us even through our losses.  But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s turn the clock back a couple years and pick up on this journey to discover good grief where it began . . . or at least where it came to the surface in the most unavoidable way.

Two years have passed but I remember the day as if it was just yesterday.  They say my phone lit up with the initial incoming call while I was leading the closing prayer time at church, but it wasn’t until we were at Subway for lunch that I noticed I had a missed call and voicemail from my brother.  The message was pretty basic — call me as soon as you can.  The urgency in his voice took me outside the restaurant to return his call with great concern in my heart for my mom and dad.  The concern increased as he wanted to make sure I was sitting down, and then the news broke . . . it wasn’t mom or dad, it was one of his kids — Bre was gone.

I don’t know that I grieve in the way most people do, and I’m not sure that I’m even capable of expressing grief in the ways most people would recognize, but that day began a journey that changed not only me, but in some way it changed everyone who knew my niece.  While I can’t speak accurately of the changes it brought to the lives of others, I can write about how it has changed me so far.  While the day of the accident and the news of it is etched in my mind, the rest of the week is mostly a blur.  I readily and humbly agreed to “officiate” the funeral service and the week was filled with long days and nights as I prepared a funeral message while taking care of a major floor refinishing project at work.  The volunteers who were going to be doing the floors had been “reassigned” to a different project and I was left alone with my work and with God to begin examining what I would share with the family and friends who would gather at the end of the week, and to begin considering what good God could do in my life out of all of this.

The first thing to change was a renewed awareness of the brevity of life.  We’ve generally come to expect that “old” people will die and while we grieve their passing, it usually doesn’t hit us as abruptly as the loss of a young person.  While Bre packed more into her twenty-one years of life than most people do with many more years, it seemed there was so much more that should have and could have been done.  Yet this moment is all any of us have and what we do with it is what builds our legacy we leave behind.  If God puts it in your heart and mind to do something and you don’t take the first step toward that today, it is always possible that the step will never take place.  Loss brings us face to face with grief and grief is designed to bring us face to face with God.  What people do when they face God in their times of grief varies greatly, but God’s desire is that they would find comfort in Him.

The second thing to change, related closely to the first, was a renewed focus on spending time more wisely when it comes to making family time a priority.  The process of grieving caused me to reevaluate many things about how I used my time.  The “good” out of this grief, so far, has led me to be much more deliberate in spending time with my wife and daughter in special ways whenever we get the chance.  Things that consumed my time with no apparent benefit to me or others went by the wayside as I would head out to nearby parks with my family, and camera, to just spend time together in God’s presence.  Vacations and even spur of the moment overnight getaways have become more meaningful as we build memories together.  While this change began gradually after the funeral, it really solidified a year ago as I concluded that memories are what we hold onto when we are no longer able to hold onto the ones we love — so make good ones!

While I suppose there are many other lessons that I have been learning which are making good come from the grief, these two seem to be primary at this time.  While loss brings much pain, when our time of grieving is spent with God, He can bring good changes to us even through the grief.  Good grief?  Well, yes . . . and no.  The cause of the grief is rarely good, but God can make the result of the grief into something good in our life and through our life into the lives of others.

And so, for now, I close this writing with a photo that includes the poem God gave me to write two years ago as this process of “good grief” began.

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Not As Planned

Not As Planned

Have you ever worked hard to get the details of something mapped out just right only to have whatever it is not go according to plan?  My guess is that we’ve all been there.  In fact, I just finished up representing Impact Prayer Ministry at a major Christian convention and it felt like the entire experience was one adjustment after another with nothing going quite as I had planned.  I suspect I’m not the only one who experiences such change-ups on a regular basis, so what should you and I do when life turns out to be not as planned?  Here are some ideas based on my recent trip:

  • Look for the silver lining.  I had planned to be on the road early Monday morning in order to get to the convention center for the start of the exhibit set-up time.  A delayed start meant I would not get there when I wanted, but as I arrived in Indianapolis later than anticipated, I realized I was just in time for an early lunch at Skyline Chili!  This was a treat for me that I don’t get often and one that I would have missed out on had things gone according to my plan.  Not everything that doesn’t go as planned will turn out better than what you had hoped, but often there will be something in the midst of the changes that might even be better than what you had planned.
  • Trust God with the changes you have no control over.  I had chosen my location in the exhibit hall very carefully as I would be directly across the aisle from a “Pastor’s Lounge” that was very popular at last year’s convention.  I’m one who diligently studies exhibit hall floor plans trying to figure out the natural flow of people so I can choose a location most likely to get the most visibility.  When I arrived, there was no “Pastor’s Lounge” set up across from my space as the sponsor had decided not to have a presence at the convention.  This left me at the end of an aisle that went nowhere and my plans for a high traffic flow vanished in a way I could do nothing about.  Because there was nothing I could do about this change in the hall layout, all I could do was trust God to bring the people by the display that He would want me to connect with.  Even the best made plans are often subject to changes by others that you simply cannot control and cannot even anticipate.  In those times, trusting God really is the only option.
  • Watch for God’s plan to unfold in the midst of yours falling apart.  This comes after you learn to trust God that He knows what He is doing even when your plans disintegrate before your very eyes.  As I found myself in a less visited part of the exhibit hall than I had anticipated, I discovered that God amplified the depths of the conversations I was able to have with the people He brought to me.  I’m not sure I’ve ever been a part of having so many people moved to tears by the work God was doing in their life.  Yet as I shared the printed resources and some of the stories behind them, God used the experience to speak deeply to many people — and through their reactions, to speak deeply to me as well.  I believe God wants us to do our best for Him, but in the midst of our best we must watch for something even better.  Often God uses my plans to get me to a certain point, and then disrupts my plans to get me to a place even further than I ever would have dreamed.

In the midst of all the disrupted plans, God continued to work and I was able to put about 500 prayer-based devotional books into the hands of people who were looking to grow in their connection to God through prayer.  I praise God that He continues to provide the resources to make the books available and the inspiration to keep writing them.  I came away from the convention encouraged by the work God is doing in and through me even when things don’t go as planned — at least not as I planned. 🙂

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A Life of PRAYER

A Life of PRAYER

I had the opportunity to preach yesterday but didn’t remember to take my mp3 recorder with me, so no audio to share this time.  As I practice, and teach about, a lifestyle of prayer, there are a number of things that I find happen through such a way of life.  I’ve prepared several sermons that highlight some of what a lifestyle of prayer is, and yesterday’s message was one of them.

Many times when we try to describe something we skip the most obvious part of it because it is so obvious we think everyone must know that much about whatever we are describing.  In an attempt not to do that, the message I shared was “A Lifestyle of Prayer is a Life of PRAYER”.  But not only is it a life filled with prayer, it is a life filled with the results of prayer and that is what the sermon focused on — some of those results.  With no audio to share, here is the outline and some of the main points from the message.

A Lifestyle of Prayer is a Life of . . . 

  • Peace:  The Bible teaches that it is through a continual process of presenting our requests to God through prayers and petitions that we can replace anxiousness with peace.  Prayer may not bring an immediate change to the circumstance that has caused you to be anxious, but it should serve as a reminder of who is really in control of the situation.  Our prayers should fill us with peace as we grow in our trust of God to carry us through, and beyond, the anxious moments of life.  
  • Respect:  As we live with prayer as a lifestyle, we find that our approach to God grows in regard to the respect we give Him.  It seems our respect often fluctuates based on how real we view God to be.  When we are consistently engaged in conversation with Him through prayer, we find that He not only demands respect but that He deserves respect.  It is this life of respect that continually reminds us that while prayer is a conversation, it is no ordinary conversation — it is communication with the living God.
  • Answers:  This is the part of prayer that we often desire most and can be the most likely to wreck our prayer life when it doesn’t happen according to our expectations.  Yet a lifestyle of prayer is a life of answers — some “yes”, some “no”, some “not right now”, and some so far removed from the answer we wanted that we fail to see it.  When our prayer life is sporadic, we often fail to “connect the dots” of God at work and thus miss the answers He is providing.  But the more that prayer is woven into every aspect of our life, the more we begin to notice that God has been answering all along in ways that are for our good.
  • Yielding:  In nearly every relationship we have, the more time we spend with someone the better we get to know them.  An active prayer life is time spent with God both talking and listening so that we begin to become familiar with the things of God that He has revealed by the power of His Spirit through His Word.  In a life of prayer, the yielding is often interwoven with the answers as we learn to accept that His answers are better than ours.  When we can pray, “not my will but Yours be done”, and really mean it, we find that we will be more likely to yield to the answers that God provides as we learn to trust Him.
  • Encouragement:  A life of prayer can bring great encouragement — not just to those who pray, but to the people that see and hear of the mighty work of God that takes place in the lives of those who pray.  It is this encouragement that not only emboldens the life of the one who prays, it often causes others to consider what a life of prayer would do for them.  While we ought to pray just for the privilege of talking with the creator of everything, many times it is the benefit that prayer brings into our life that keeps us going back to God.  Let’s face it, if every conversation we have with a person makes us feel poorly about our self for some reason, we will likely not seek to continue that relationship.  However, when our time with God brings daily encouragement to both us and those around us, our desire to pray ought to grow each day that we live.
  • Renewal:  Isaiah wrote that “even youths get tired and weary, but those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.”  A lifestyle of prayer can result in a life of renewal as we continually seek the “new mercies” that God promises each morning.  The Bible teaches that we are to be transformed by a renewing of our mind, and prayer is a major part of that change of mind that can bring about a godly transformation.  When we allow a growing lifestyle of prayer to bring peace, respect, answers, yielding, and encouragement into our life, we will find that we are indeed being renewed daily by the power of God’s Spirit and through the truth of His Word.

When we live a lifestyle of prayer, we ought to find that these qualities are growing in our life.  And as they grow, we find that we are more drawn to prayer as a way of life each day that we live.  It is my prayer that each one of us would grow in our desire to live a lifestyle of prayer that results in a life of PRAYER!

In prayer,
Tom

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Spring Reflections

Spring Reflections

I enjoy taking photographs of items that are reflected in various bodies of water.  As I’ve done this, I’ve discovered at least two key ingredients to a good (and accurate) reflection.  One is the stillness of the water and the other is the purity of the water.  In nature, both ingredients are highly variable even from one day to the next in the same body of water.  The photo below is one I’ve taken many times and sometime the water is calm and pure giving a clear reflection of the spring house, and other times there is no reflection at all.  The source of the water comes from a spring the little house is built over — thus a “spring house”.  The water is pure and clear coming from the spring, but once out in the open it doesn’t always remain so.

I suppose the same is true in my efforts to accurately reflect Christ so that He is seen when others observe me.  The source, Christ, is unchanging in its purity and clarity so any imperfection in the reflection has to come from me.  My ability to be still and know Him as God will be a determining factor in how well He is reflected in my life.  The purity I live my life with will either help people see Jesus in me or cloud their view of Him.  As I spend time at the well of Living Water and allow His Spirit and His Word to continually wash over me, I find that the turmoil and impurity of life no longer gets in the way of others seeing who resides within.

I pray that you and I would desire our lives to accurately reflect Jesus.  As we live out that desire, I pray that we would be both still and cleansed so we would not become a distraction to the reflection of Christ others should see in us.

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