2017: Page 286

Page 286 was a productive fall day.  A very long day, so I’m once again not writing the day’s page until the next morning — but a very productive day nonetheless.  I arrived at work a little before 6 AM to begin the morning prayer, cleaning and building prep and with the exception of a short break to pick up fuel for the lawn mower, and food for me, I didn’t leave the property until 10:30 PM.  In between those hours, I was able to enjoy a day filled with a variety of inside and outside tasks — and even managed a few photos to start the day and a few near the end of the day.

As I pulled into the parking lot to start the day, the moon was visible through a gap in the cloud cover so I stopped on my way into the building to take a few photos and to thank God for the reminder of His presence and His faithfulness.  As I did the morning round of cleaning, I talked with God about the upcoming day and asked for the wisdom to see it more clearly from His perspective so I would be better prepared to make the most of every opportunity.  After the building was ready for the day, I took the time to write the previous day’s page as I caught up on messages and information I needed to be aware of.  

By mid-morning I had caught up on the office work and it was time to head outside and enjoy the cool fall day from the seat of the mower.  I suppose it is the combination of being outside where I’m surrounded by the beauty of creation, and riding the mower where the constant hum of the engine behind me blocks out nearly all distractions; but I don’t know of too many work related tasks that draw me near to God like mowing does.  After a couple hours on the mower, I took a break to get fuel for the mower and fuel for me as well.  

The afternoon was spent finishing up the mowing.  Not only do I enjoy mowing (as long as I have a nice riding mower to do the job with), but that enjoyment extends to seeing the results of my work even as I  am in the process of doing it.  With each pass of the mower across the lawn, I can clearly see where I’ve been and what still needs done.  Some things in life are like that, but others are not.  Many of the tasks I do are more about being faithful and trusting God for a result that He will bring about in the right time — whenever that is.  Investing our lives in people will occasionally have those moments when we can see the good results of our relationships, but more often we will struggle through the ups and downs of life with our choice to either be discouraged at so little visible progress or be encouraged that God is continuing to use us somehow in a task that we don’t fully understand.

Once the mowing was complete, the building was nearly empty again so it was time to start the prayer, cleaning, and prep all over again to get the building ready for Sunday.  I had finished one end of the building by the time the sun was starting to drop over the treeline of the western horizon, so I took my camera outside to see if I could get some new photos of the building in the evening glow to use in our online presence.  While I was outside taking photos, my wife stopped by with some meds my doctor had phoned in, so hopefully I will be able to return to some healthier sleep patterns once I get the brain chemicals that cause the severe anxiety symptoms brought back into proper balance.  I’ve written at times about how my mind stores so many experiences and things in a manner that God uses to allow me to effectively teach and preach without manuscripts or notes — a down-side of that gift is I don’t have a way to fully filter what is stored so that it is only what is good and helpful from my perspective, everything seems to get filed away.  A few years ago, about this time of year, I had my office broken into two nights in a row and that event took me downhill rather quickly from a mental perspective as I found myself in a strange combination of being unable to sleep due to severe anxiety attacks and unable to really be awake due to the lack of sleep.  As a man, and as a prayer minister, I kept thinking I ought to be able to overcome this — I mean, no one was hurt and the things that were taken could be replaced.  While that was true of the computers and cash and physical things, the internal things that were stolen weren’t so easy to replace, let alone recognize.  Anyhow, long story short, I finally went to my doctor and learned about PTSD that is much more common than just what we hear about veterans having to deal with because of their experiences.  Stress and trauma hits us all in unique ways and often even in unique forms, but it is something that ought to be dealt with honestly.  From time to time since those events, I find myself sliding down a mental path that I know will not end well.  Sometimes I can change that path through deliberate changes in my routine that seems to naturally restore the internal chemical balances.  Other times, however, I find that I need help to change my mental path and right now happens to be one of those times when the help dealing with the anxiety attacks make it easier for my mind and body to get along and be restored.  Well, not what I had thought I would write today, but maybe God will use it to help someone have the courage to get help for the struggles that cannot overcome on their own.

While I was outside, I looked down the empty field and saw a deer standing along the woods at the far end.  As I made my way to a better, and closer, vantage point, I found this nice buck who appeared to be out enjoying the sunset just as I was.  I was able to take several photos of him as he stood and watch the sunset then appeared to watch me.  He would make a few deliberate moves as if he was going to disappear into the woods and then turn around to see I had taken it as a hint to leave or if I was still there.  Eventually he did walk into the woods and out of sight, and I went back inside the building to finish the cleaning and prep that needed done.  

As I reflect on the day, here are some thoughts/lessons that stand out to me:

  • Knowing and/or feeling that you’ve accomplished something always makes a day feel better no matter how much time it took to do it.
  • I’m not always the best judge of what I’ve actually accomplished.
  • We could probably help make a person’s day by letting them know that we noticed what they accomplished.
  • I find that I stay more aware of God’s presence when I stop and acknowledge it whenever I notice the reminders that He provides.
  • Not only does my lawnmower need fuel to keep going, so do you and I.
  • It is good to have some tasks that produce visible results quickly as they become the balance for the many tasks that don’t.
  • God can, and does, bring balance to a person’s mind and body — sometimes He chooses to restore us with just a whisper from His mouth and other times He chooses to use the wisdom He has given to doctors and medical personnel in a wide variety of ways.
  • Asking for help is not a sign of weakness — in fact it often takes great strength to do so.
  • Our first request for help ought to be made to God but we must never neglect the help of others that He may direct us to.
  • Some of our life stories are easier to tell than others.  Often the more difficult ones have the greatest ability to help someone else if we would have the wisdom to share them appropriately.
  • I am always filled with joy when it appears I am allowed the privilege of being invited to share the beauty of God’s creativity with some of His creation from the animal kingdom.

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2017: Page 285

Page 285 was a beautiful day even though it looked rather gloomy outside.  Between the weather and a long list of tasks to get done, it was also another day with no new photos.  One of those tasks was continued prep work on the Growing Strong retreat and that included some time spent going through photos from a late-August trip to the retreat location with my family.  Today’s photo was one I took during an early morning walk as I could hear this guy singing loudly but had some difficulty in finding him as he was at the very top of a tall tree.  It was as if he wanted the very best vantage point to both watch the rising sun and praise his creator.  I get that.  Most of my life I had not been a “morning person”, but that changed when I realized that the opportunity provided by a sunset to be blessed and worship God in His majesty also existed with the sunrise. 🙂

The day began with the usual prayer, cleaning, and building prep time which led into some small maintenance tasks.  I also took some time to research and register for display space at the North American Christian Convention which will take place in Indianapolis next summer.  When it comes to setting up an Impact Prayer Ministry display at a large convention or conference, I always tell people I study and study the exhibit hall layout in an attempt to determine the best location still available, and then I pray that God uses my selection to reach the people He desires to connect with the prayer ministry.  The good part is that He always does a much better job of bringing people to the display than I do of choosing just the right location.  I do believe He wants me to use the intellect and logic He created within me in order to make wise decisions, but I also know He wants me to trust Him for the results.  That can be a tough balance sometimes.

I had been asked to help a prayer group get started that wanted to use the weekly prayer guides that I write, so I spent time in preparation and prayer before heading to their meeting early in the afternoon.  My part of the meeting seemed to be a combination of explaining some of my prayer routines — specifically  in regard to developing the weekly prayer guides — and answering questions about prayer focus, about regaining focus when its been lost, and about using both scripture and hymns to keep the mind centered on the things of God.  The one hour prayer meeting ended up taking nearly two hours because the introductory parts and explanations took most of the first hour and the group was committed to not just learning about prayer, but to actually spending time praying.

After the prayer group had concluded, I needed to pick up some supplies from the other side of town, so I made my way to Sam’s Club where I got a very late lunch before getting the shopping done for the things I needed.  By the time I got home, the evening was spent unwinding and relaxing with my family before calling it a day and trying to get some sleep.

As I reflect on the day, here are some thoughts/lessons that stand out to me:

  • The outside often has a profound effect on the inside.  God wants us to turn that around and allow His presence on the inside of us to have a profound effect on what is seen on the outside of us.
  • God deserves our best.  I need to be deliberate about doing what it takes to worship God with my best.
  • Finding the best vantage point to worship God often leaves me with both a greater blessing and a greater sense of having truly worshiped.
  • The best vantage point for worship is the one in which we can see God best.  Sometimes that is a mountaintop and sometimes that is in what we would consider a low position of service.
  • Trusting God often involves trusting Him to use the gifts and abilities He put within us as much as it is about trusting Him to use our weaknesses.
  • Our best laid plans are only as good as our willingness to let God use and change them for His glory.
  • It is fun for me to be able to share with people about some of the how and why of what I do.
  • Instruction is great, but without practice the instruction is more easily forgotten.
  • Learning about prayer is a good thing.  Praying is a better thing.

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2017: Page 284

Page 284 ended early as my mind and body succumbed to too many restless nights, so I write this page the next morning.  There were no new photos taken during the day, so I went way back to find a photo for today’s page.  I shot this photo more than ten years ago and then added the scripture to it sometime later.  It has always been an interesting photo to me because it was taken at the front end of my entry into digital photography — before I had realized the power that exists in capturing photos of the beauty God surrounds us with.  I was on a prayer trip to Colorado Springs — my first trip to any part of the Rocky Mountain range — and I took this photo from the airport parking lot as I was leaving town.  It is hard to even imagine now, with the hundreds of photos I will shoot in a short amount of time in similar locations, but it was the only photo I took during that entire trip!  It was shortly after that trip that I was at a conference where the participants were challenged to spend an hour in “unstructured worship” — to find a way, or ways, to worship God that wasn’t built around a structured “worship service”.  My response to that challenge was a one hour walk spent taking close-up photos of the natural beauty I would find all around me.  The worship that took place during that walk was incredible and it ignited within me a hobby that not only allowed me to worship God in the midst of it, but gave me the opportunity to share His beauty and creativity with others — and the rest, as they say, is history. 🙂

Anyhow, long photo introduction which may end up being most of today’s page as it was a quiet day filled with usual tasks and an early ending.  During my morning prayer, cleaning, and building prep time, much of my prayer focus was on the upcoming Growing Strong retreat.  I prayed for those who have expressed an interest but have not yet committed to it.  I prayed for those who are unknown to me that God is at work in their heart and mind, nudging them toward a desire to grow strong in the Lord.  I prayed for the opportunities that I’m not even aware of to strengthen others through the work God has given me.  

The weather had turned much cooler overnight, so once the building was ready I spent time once again shutting down the air conditioning throughout the building.  There is no sense in it running when it is not really needed.  Now we’ll see if it can stay off until next summer — I had shut it down once already this fall but then it got too hot for the building to be comfortable without it.  The rest of my workday was spent on some record-keeping and creating a retreat promo/invitation video.  By the time I left for a late lunch, the parents were already lined up to pick up their students at the end of the school day.  At home, I spent the evening relaxing before finally giving in to a tired mind and body by heading to bed and going to sleep at 8:30!

As I reflect on the day, here are some thoughts/lessons that stand out to me:

  • Knowing the difference between necessary, urgent, and important can be just as valuable as knowing what things are optional.
  • When things are done according to a schedule we create, we ought to allow ourselves the freedom to adjust that schedule when wisdom says we ought.
  • When God uses an event to begin something new in our life, we can either look back with regret that it didn’t start sooner or look back with gratitude on the beginning.
  • Often God begins something in our life by planting a seed long before we even realize what He is up to.
  • It is amazing how much we will begin to notice the presence of God when we look for ways to worship Him that are outside of our “normal” worship routines.
  • Our worship really does need to be all about God, but He also wants to use it to make Himself known to those around us.
  • I need to live every day with an awareness that my help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.

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2017: Page 283

Page 283 has been a quiet day.  There was a haze lingering in the air as I headed into work early this morning.  The moisture-filled air created a muted glow in the nighttime sky as the moonlight was diffused by the morning fog.  After finishing my morning prayer, cleaning, and building prep time, I checked the timer for our outside lights and discovered that I needed to add more time of light at each end of the day.  The haze had turned to light drizzle by the time I took the trash out but it was not enough to completely wash the fog out of the air.  

A large part of my day was focused on the upcoming Growing Strong retreat and the International Conference on Missions that will take place soon after the retreat.  I have given away nearly all of the prayer guide booklets I have had printed to use as samples at conventions and conferences, so I spent time updating the first edition of the booklets so I could order more for ICOM.  Once the file was updated and sent to the printing company, it was time to do book inventory to see if I needed to order any of the titles before the convention.  With nine prayer-based books in print, it takes planning to have the necessary finances at the times needed to make the books available to people who will use them.  In the times I wonder where the money will come from for the next order, God reminds me that they are His books and He will take care of supplying them if I remain faithful in sharing them.

By mid-afternoon, my workday was done and I stopped for lunch on the way home.  The rest of the afternoon and evening has been spent relaxing as I continue to feel worn out physically.  With no photos taken today, I share one from our Sunday evening walk along the river.  This blue jay was squawking at us as we went by so I stopped to take its photo.  It wouldn’t set still for very long so I wasn’t even sure if I got a good photo or not, so I was very pleasantly surprised to see how this one turned out.  Sometime my photos are the result of careful planning and other times they have more to do with being in the right place at the right time and almost accidentally shooting at just the right settings.  When I look at a photo that I really like, it would be easy to take full credit and say it was completely the result of knowing what I was doing — but that would rarely be true.  We do that in life, though, don’t we?  We know full well that the things in our life that turn out the absolute best are the result of God’s working, but we are often tempted to take credit as if the work was all our doing.

As I reflect on the day, here are some thoughts/lessons that stand out to me:

  • Sometimes the haze of fog is a nuisance and other times it adds to the beauty of the morning — the difference is usually dependent on its intensity and how far I can see through it.
  • While I generally like to see things clearly, there are times when the haziness of life creates a beauty caused by the required trust in God.
  • Sometimes the rains of life require more time to clear the fog than we would like, but God’s timing is always right.
  • A busy schedule is good only if the things on it are the things that God would have you be busy with.  
  • If I’m not careful, it is far too easy to fill my schedule with the things that I decide rather than the things that God wants me to do.
  • It is much easier to give away books and printed resources when I acknowledge that they came from God and belong to Him to be used as He desires.
  • God wants, and deserves, the credit for the work He does in and through us.

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2017: Page 282

Page 282 began under a sky filled with puffy clouds and just enough gaps in them to allow the moon to shine through from time to time.  Today’s photo is a trio of early morning shots that seemed to want to be taken as I arrived at work early this morning.  After shooting a few photos, I went inside and began my morning prayer, cleaning, and building prep routine to get the week started right.  By the time the building was ready and I took the trash out, the clouds had cleared away and the moon was shining brightly in the pre-dawn darkness so I grabbed my camera and took another photo to add to today’s page.  

Being Monday, next up on my agenda was settling in with God to put together a prayer guide for next week.  As I was praying about ideas for a topic, word came that a snake had been found in one of the offices.  My preference is to avoid snakes at all costs, so I asked if there was anyone in the building that didn’t mind snakes that would take care of it.  It didn’t seem like that was the case, so I gathered up a broom and dust pan to try to scoop it up and get it outside with as little interaction as possible.  By the time I arrived with my supplies, it had already been contained so I took it outside and released it in the woods even though my philosophy is the only good snake is a dead snake.

That interruption was one that took a while to recover from as far as getting back to the mindset of putting a prayer guide together.  I considered a variety of topics but none of them really seemed like the right one until I finally settled on discernment.  I suppose the craftiness of the serpent in the garden and the deceitfulness of satan in all things was brought to mind by the unwelcomed interruption of the morning.  God’s desire is that we have discernment so that we are not deceived by the schemes of the devil.  Discernment not only leads us away from the temptations of sin, but it also gives us the insight to choose the best instead of settling for “good enough”.

By the time the prayer guide was written, formatted, and scheduled to post online and email out next week, the workday was nearly over.  After taking care of some correspondence and maintenance issues, I headed home for a late lunch.  After lunch I took advantage of the summer-like weather and got the power washer out to start giving the house a bath.  It seems strange to me to wash the house, but my wife wants it done and it does make it look better — and besides, the water spray on a sunny day with the temperature in the low eighties kind of felt good.  After running through the first gallon of wash concentrate, I made a trip to Menard’s to pick up more and then fired up the pellet grill to make some bacon cheeseburgers for dinner.  After dinner it was time to relax for a little while before sitting down to write today’s page.

As I reflect on the day, here are some thoughts/lessons that stand out to me:

  • I enjoy using the ultra-zoom capabilities of my camera and getting close-up moon shots — but sometimes I have to pan out and get a wider view to really appreciate the beauty God provides.
  • Some tasks require more of a physical presence than a focused mental one.  By adding a prayer focus to those routines, I find greater purpose in things that would otherwise likely seem mundane.
  • All of the prayer guides I write come out of my prayer time.  There is no “secret formula” and the process is not something I can force and expect anything useful to come of it.
  • I have no use for snakes.  It doesn’t matter if it’s just a little six inch one trying to find refuge from the cold nights, it doesn’t belong anywhere near me.
  • Having a routine is useful in finding my way back into “the zone” when that routine gets interrupted.
  • Living with discernment can make the difference between being used greatly by God and settling for “good enough”.
  • Sometimes you don’t realize how dirty something is until you start to clean it.  That is just as true for our life as it is for the siding on a house.

2017: Page 281

Page 281 was a Sunday and I had the privilege of preaching at the North Wayne Mennonite Church again today so that added to the joy of the day.  My nights continue to be restless more often than not, so I found myself going through my sermon outline for today multiple times during the night.  When I finally woke up, I spent more time refining the sermon before the drive up to Dowagiac to share in the worship gathering there.  When I have the opportunity to preach, I’ve been doing a sermon series on living as the Lord’s servant.  Most of the sermons have been brief character studies of individuals in the Bible who are described by themselves, or by others, as the Lord’s servant.  Some of the people, such as today’s character, are more the seed for the idea than much of a look at their life — simply because not much is written about them.

Today’s message was titled “Serving With HONOR” and was taken from the brief introduction to a man named Epaphroditus, whom Paul said to honor men like him.  While not much is written about him, the Bible has a lot to say about characteristics that deserve honor.  So, today we looked at five characteristics that help us to serve with honor.  

  • Serve with Humility.  Serving with humility means that we serve with a knowledge of who we are and who God has called us to be.  Humility is not about demeaning our self, but about thinking accurately about our self as both a servant of God and a child of God.  I suspect that one of the reasons we know little about Epaphroditus is because of his humility.  He was able to serve the apostle Paul and not feel the need to make it all about him.  We serve with honor when we serve with the humility shown by Jesus, who “knowing where He had come from and where He was going” washed the feet of His disciples.
  • Serve with Obedience.  Serving with obedience means that we will serve according to the will of God, not just when and how it suits our preferences.  When we have to set all of the criteria for the “who, how, what, where, and when” we serve, we end up making the serving all about us rather than about the One we serve.  Epaphroditus was both obedient in being sent to care for the needs of the apostle Paul and obedient in being sent back to the Philippians to reassure them of his own well-being as well as carry news from Paul.  We serve with honor when we serve with the obedience shown by Jesus, who “became obedient to death — even death on a cross.”
  • Serve according to Need.  Serving according to need means that we make our service about the needs of others rather than about what we want.  God wants our words, and our works of service, to be a benefit to the hearer according to their need.  The entire purpose of Epaphroditus going to see Paul and serving even to the point of almost dying, was to be a representative of the Philippians in providing for the needs of the apostle Paul.  We serve with honor when we serve according to need like Jesus, who “while we were yet sinners” went to the cross to pay the penalty for our sins.
  • Serve at every Opportunity.  Serving at every opportunity means that we pay attention to both what God has equipped us to do and to where that gifting and ability is needed.  There is definitely no shortage of need when it comes to serving but sometimes we become aware of so many needs in so many different places that we simply don’t have the opportunity available to serve.  It is normal to see tragedies and catastrophes covered in various news sources and wish we could do something to help.  Sometimes we have the opportunity to serve in meaningful ways and other times we simply don’t.  Unfortunately, we often fail to see the opportunities that we do have simply because they are in places too familiar to us.  While we may not have the opportunity to help a hurricane victim, we often have the opportunity to serve our family, our neighbor, our coworker, a stranger, a church member, or a number of other people we cross paths with without paying the attention we ought.  We serve with honor when we serve at every opportunity like Jesus, who looked into the lives of everyday people and met them where they were.
  • Serve expecting Results.  Serving expecting results means that when we serve as a child of God in the name of Jesus, we expect Him to be at work in a way that bears fruit.  Sometimes it is easy to serve because we think we should, but we do so not expecting anything to come of our efforts.  I wonder how often a lack of results is because we got exactly what we were expecting?  Or how often our expectations are built around our view of results that has may have very little to do with kingdom results.  I believe Epaphroditus served both Paul and the Philippians as he served God, expecting God would use this service to produce much fruit throughout the kingdom of God.  We serve with honor when we serve expecting results like Jesus, who could boldly say, speaking of His death and resurrection, “tear this temple down and in three days I will rebuild it.”  

After the worship gathering there was a carry-in dinner at the church, so we had lunch before heading home for a relaxing afternoon.  As evening approached, we headed to the river walk in Mishawaka to finish out the day and photograph the sunset.  Today’s photo is one of many sunset photos from tonight as it was difficult to quit shooting as the sun disappeared over the horizon.  The beauty was present no matter which direction we looked as the setting sun lit up the clouds across the entire sky.

As I reflect on the day, here are some thoughts/lessons that stand out to me:

  • If I can’t sleep, I may as well make those restless hours productive.
  • I never think my preparation of a sermon is completed until after I’ve delivered it.
  • Since God wants us to honor people like Epaphroditus, who do I know that needs to be given such honor?
  • Humility is part of the foundation to serving in a way that should be honored.
  • Obedience ought to be our response to the way Jesus has served us.
  • Needs of others must be considered if we want to serve like Jesus.
  • Opportunity is easily missed when we choose not to serve “the least of these”.
  • Results of serving are best left up to God with the expectation that when we do so, He will not disappoint.
  • God’s creativity and beauty put on display for all to see is a sight I never get tired of.

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2017: Page 280

Saturdays are part of what makes my Fridays more enjoyable than they often appear like they should be.  I shot today’s photo along Lake Michigan this afternoon and it makes me think about perspective.  Sometimes it is so easy to see what is right in front of you that you miss what is beyond it.  Other times we tend to focus so much out in the distance that we pay no attention to the things that are at our feet.  It is probably best if we can approach life with a balance that pays attention to where we are while keeping an eye forward as we take in a larger picture than just today.  While my Friday night prayer, cleaning, and building prep routine is always done with an eye looking forward to Sunday, I don’t know that I often think about the intermediate view — how finishing up on Friday, no matter how long it takes, frees up my Saturday to rest and spend time with my family.

I was able to sleep in and get some extra rest to start the day, but once I was awake the first item on the agenda was firing up the pellet grill to get some pulled pork started.  As I was getting ready to start it, my wife came home and said her spring/summer market days were over.  So, our Saturday afternoon was expanded to most of the day being a family day with nothing planned.  It was a fairly nice looking day outside, so we packed up our cameras and headed out for a family adventure.  Our day included a hike at Potato Creek, a stop to photograph the trains at the Hesston Steam Museum, and several stops along Lake Michigan.  It is always a highlight when we’re wrapping up a day’s adventure and Susan tells us she had a fun day.  She is usually a pretty good traveler and puts up with all of our photo stops as long as we keep her fed and include a Dr Pepper along the way. 🙂  As we finished up our last stop before heading home, she said she was having a fun day, so I guess that made it unanimous.  

When we got home, there was time to go through the photos from the day before taking the pork off the pellet grill.  After cooking all day, the pork was ready to just fall apart when I finally took it off the grill.  I let it cool long enough to handle, then pulled it apart and filled up a crock pot for tomorrow’s lunch.  It has taken me a while, but I’ve finally learned to let it take however long it needs to cook in order to reach the proper internal temperature.  While the meat is technically “done” earlier, it won’t fall apart with melt-in-your-mouth tenderness if I take it off the grill early.  I think sometimes in life we tend to get impatient and cut corners, then wonder why things didn’t turn out quite as well as we had hoped.  

As I reflect on the day, here are some thoughts/lessons that stand out to me:

  • There is usually a bigger picture in life than what we first notice.
  • What we tend to focus on is probably just a small part of the bigger picture.
  • Often our sole responsibility is to focus on the small part that is ours to do, but we need to do that with an awareness of the bigger picture our part fits into.
  • Unplanned adventures can be fun if taken with the people you love while doing the things you enjoy together.
  • There are probably a variety of places near you that would be enjoyable family adventure spots — sometimes you just have to take the time to figure out what you enjoy doing together.
  • Cutting corners may save time, but it rarely gives optimum results.

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