Challenge, Encouragement, Prayer

For the Love of Rocks

I accomplished all of my own landscaping, by trial and error, but it is something I enjoy. While landscaping, I used rocks–lots of rocks. I outlined specific landscaped areas, made steps, created a retaining wall, built a sidewalk and even a bench seat all out of local, beautiful and from small to large rocks.

 

Finding all of those rocks was no easy task. They came from barn foundations and walls. Most of them were hand hewn and some had holes drilled right through them for one purpose or another. I would often pause and think about how many hands touched this certain rock, what quarry it originated from and was its natural beauty noticed for a century or more before I obtained it?

 

Recently in accomplishing yet another landcaping project at my home, I was once again in need of a few rocks. This time I had no idea how to find the particular color I needed. I voiced a request on social media and had an immediate response. I was told about a young stone mason who collected rocks, tons and tons of rocks.

 

I called him and we arranged a time to meet. This young man loved rocks more than me. He had dump truck loads spread over acres of ground. He had gray, brown, red, tan, black and even white rocks. I never saw so many rocks in one location. And when he heard of my love for these precious stones he couldn’t stop talking about them and then showing me his many, many accumulations. He knew the origination of each pile of rocks collected and he was excited about sharing a rock commonality. He even wanted to give me the few rocks I needed.

 

How is it that God cared enough to show me the way to some rock piles? Or did He so care about this young man that I was destined to meet, build a repore with him in order to share about faith? Not sure.

 

Matthew 6 tells us to not worry about food or clothes (or in this case, rocks). He feeds the birds and clothes the lilies of the field. He tells us to seek Him first because He knows where all the rock piles are located.

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Challenge, Encouragement, Leadership

A Message I Shared from 2011

Recently I received a random phone call from a friend. He was driving to North Carolina at the time while his wife slept comfortably beside him in the passenger seat. He found himself feeling somewhat drowsy and remembered that he had thrown a box of “old” CD’s in the truck with him. He decided to reach behind his driver’s seat and arbitrarily choose one. After blindly selecting, he noticed it was a teaching from 2011 when I spoke at his local church.

 

He then said this to me, “Steve, you just can’t imagine how relevant your message was to both of us at this specific time. We so enjoyed it. To think that I just randomly pulled it from a box of old CD’s and there we were listening to a message you spoke in 2011.” I thanked him for the encouragement that call was to me.

 

It caused me to think about the fact that a nine-year-old message could be a blessing to someone today. We tend to forget those messages and often wonder if anyone was listening, received anything and whether or not they actually made some sort of application to their personal life. Be encouraged if you are a trainer, a teacher, a pastor or a blog writer. You never know if the message you share today may end up being a direct blessing and encouragement a year from today, a decade from today or beyond.

 

I am simply intrigued how God does these kinds of things. Please be assured that your heavenly Father does not miss a thing in your life or those lives you are responsible for. Be encouraged to know you are affecting others just as they are affecting your life. Perhaps you need to call or write to someone as my friend did and encourage them for their faithful acts of service that have personally blessed you. Go ahead, bless someone with affirmation today.

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Challenge, Encouragement, Healing, In the news, Issues of the Day

My Encounter with a Chain Saw

I have been using chain saws since 1978. I am familiar with them and how dangerous they are. I have never had an accident with one until recently.

 

I did not become careless or reckless, but it still occurred. For some unknown reason, the brake failed to work once the gas was let off and the moving chain just happened to find my leg. Fortunately, I am married to a nurse who has all kinds of medical supplies to put one back together again.

 

Accidents are just that—accidents. It was not tried or malicious. There was no one to get angry with and no one to yell at for the accident; it just happened. But this accident needed immediate medical attention.

 

We rush in to care for a deep cut like it’s a matter of life and death. We may need a shot, stitches and oral meds to fight possible infection. But how many of us encounter an emotional cut and give it little to no attention? Perhaps there is no gushing blood, but it’s still a wound. It’s a wound that can become infected without proper treatment.

 

An emotional wound can be carried for a lifetime before one realizes it’s there or that it’s undealt with. I liken them to hidden or covered over old wounds. I have heard about wounds that start to heal only to discover there is dirt or infection below the surface. In those cases, a wound must be reopened, cleaned and re-stitched. Not a fun experience.

 

And perhaps that is what’s happening in a nation infected by old wounds. We are reminded of them; they are reopening and there is a need for medicine so there can be permanent healing—that type of healing that is once and for all.

 

May we all be reminded of the One who received wounds because of our transgressions. He took those wounds to the point of becoming unrecognizable as a man for you and for me. And after being wounded, He was nailed on a splinter-filled cross to await death by suffocation.

 

I love the One who offered this selfless act of love for all of mankind and it is He who is the ultimate wound healer. Isaiah the prophet wrote this about Him:

 

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgression, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53: 3-5)

 

Give your wounds to the One who was wounded for you. Let Him carry them to the cross so you can walk in freedom.

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Children, Encouragement, In the news, Parents

He Never Stops Searching for the Kidnapped

It’s an older story now and a Lifetime movie. In 1997, Luzaida Cuevas’ 10-day-old daughter, Delimar Vera, reportedly died in a Philadelphia, Pa row home fire. The mother searched for her baby in her crib and noticed an open window, but could not find her. The fire personnel told ‘Luz’ the fire was so hot it consumed her little body without a trace, but Luz never believed that story and tried to hire a lawyer. She could not afford those expenses, but never stopped believing that her daughter was alive. And then, one amazing day…

 

Six years later on January 24th, Luz was attending a children’s birthday party and she spotted a little six-year-old girl with a pronounced dimple she recognized immediately. She called the girl to her telling her she had gum in her hair. Having seen crime shows on TV, she was able to secure a few strands of the child’s hair for DNA testing.

 

The DNA test confirmed Luzaida’s suspicion, it was her daughter who was kidnapped by a frequent visitor to her home. The kidnapper set her home a blaze as a distraction. A local state politician helped Luz secure the DNA test and connected her with the police. The kidnapper was arrested and eventually Delimar was returned to her biological mother.

 

Reading this story about the never-ending love of a mother, a mother who did not give up believing her daughter was alive reminds me of something. After six years, that same mother just knew her eyes and her soul were connecting with the daughter she had last seen at the age of ten days. It reminds me of God’s love and God’s heart for me, for you and for all of mankind. I could just sense how our Father searches and waits to restore those who are lost, those who have been kidnapped by the world around them.

 

They are your relatives and your neighbors. Even though we may struggle in our relationships with these persons at times, God does not. He is relentlessly pursuing them with His love, His acceptance, His healing and His salvation.

 

 

“God, give us eyes to see them as You see them, to love them as You love them and to pray for them. Help us to not be angry with them, but rather with their ‘kidnapper.’”

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Challenge, Encouragement, Issues of the Day

The Aversion to Counseling

It was not unusual for me to receive a call from a spouse requesting counseling. Often I asked if their marriage partner will accompany them and just as often I would hear something like this: “Oh, they don’t think they need counseling.” I have news for that spouse and every other person alive. We all need counseling at one time or another throughout our existence on this planet.

 

What is the aversion to counseling? There are numerous I suppose, but number one on my list is pride. We pridefully feel that our spouse needs counsel far more than we do. Or, we simply do not desire to admit that we need a counselor in our life.

 

Another is the avoidance of one-on-one confrontation and the fear of having to face the fact that we might be wrong. Again, a derivative of pride.

 

Perhaps another is being married to someone who is forever, chronically seeking counsel, but then never healing.

 

And still another is that proverbial response of, “What can a counselor tell me that I don’t already know?” Great question for the person who doesn’t even know enough to realize there is safety in a multitude of counselors. (Proverbs 15:22; 24:6)

 

Wise counselors are a gift to human kind from God and to be appreciated. One of the names of God’s Son is Counselor

 

My wife and I have been to a counselor. I once bribed my whole family with pizza if they would first be willing to share with a counselor how their dad could improve upon being a dad. I have sought out counsel in many forms and fashions from experts who had keen insight into areas like finances, home repair projects, business building, child raising and leadership. God has experts in every category of life and I’ll bet you have access to some of those wise counselors.

 

Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety. (Proverbs 11:14)

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Challenge, Encouragement, Issues of the Day

Perfect—Everything is Perfect

Have you noticed lately when calling your insurance company, your bank or just about any customer service person there has been a change?  When communicating about a problem or an update the word you often hear over and over is “perfect.” Repeatedly I hear, “Yes, perfect;” “That’s perfect;” “Mmm perfect.” When they ask the spelling of my name and then answer, “Perfect,” I feel a little unnerved because now their perfect word actually becomes incongruent to the question. Of course I can spell my last name perfectly. You would think life is just perfect in their world.

 

Are these persons being trained to use this word in their dialogues with customers over and over? What’s so great about this word and who started this nuance? What consultant or training guru first said, “Use one word and one word only over and over—PERFECT.” Did some scientific study or major poll figure out we love to hear the word perfect? Is there some unknown psychology behind this word, “perfect?” Is perfect what every human being has a desire to become so they repeatedly make use of this word? Or, is it the fact that no one is perfect and these persons, no matter how frustrated we the customer become, accept what is being said because of this special, overused and overrated word?

 

I hear parents repeatedly tell their children practice makes perfect, but it does not. Practice makes better, not perfect. If perfection is our goal, then we’re defeated before we even begin. Is anything in this world perfect?

 

Only One. Read below about this Perfection:

 

II Samuel 22:31 – His way is perfect and His word is flawless.

 

Job 36:4 – He is perfect in knowledge.

 

Psalm 18:30 – God’s way is perfect.

 

Isaiah 25:1 – He is perfectly faithful.

 

Hebrews 7:28 – The Son of God, perfect forever.

 

James 1:17 – His gifts are perfect.

 

I John 4:18 – His love is perfect.

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Challenge, Encouragement, Issues of the Day, Leadership

Being Aware of Life Distractions

Important stuff versus the distractions of just stuff…

 

I seem to have this continual mental battle regarding what is the best use of my time. What builds life and love versus loss and fear? What is a good cause versus a great and godly cause? What is God’s will versus my will? What is secular, of this world, and what is of His kingdom?

 

It takes discernment and wisdom and it reminds me of a story I was reading in the Scriptures just the other day.

 

The disciple Peter was being questioned by Jesus and he was confessing Christ by his repeated answering of the question, “Who do you say I am?”

 

Then Jesus begins to speak of His coming death, how He must be killed. Peter takes Him aside and, get this, “rebukes” Him. Wow, that took some nerve, but I get that it was a desperate plea on Peter’s part. Of course, this is where (and it seems out of character) Jesus tells Satan to “get behind” Him and for Peter to stop being a “stumbling block.”

 

Following this dialogue there is this partial sentence in which Jesus expresses something significant. He said, “…you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (See Matthew 16:13-23.)

 

Bear in mind, Jesus had just told Peter that he was blessed and that his Father in heaven was revealing things to him. Apparently, this rebuke was not one of them.

 

Struggling with Which Cause to Fight For

 

It seems that every week or two our world has a new cause, a new band wagon, a new catastrophe to jump on depending on the crime or news attention of the day.

 

It is really easy to get caught up on social media with opinion, videos, responses and emotion. Perhaps we need to stop and reflect on Jesus’ words: what do we have in mind, the things of men or of God? Good things might not be God things.

 

And that’s where this word, distraction, comes in. Life is full of causes. Tomorrow and next week will be another headline. But as those who are called to reflect the mind and the image of Christ, we must seek first the kingdom of God and not be distracted by each and every cause of the day.

 

We do not want to be a stumbling block to anyone. Jesus also said that if we wanted to follow Him, we had to first deny ourself and then take up His cross. Many of the bandwagons of our day have no relationship with the cross.

 

Jesus’ final question in this passage concerning distractions was this, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?”

 

I do not think it’s the world’s gain or approval we are seeking.

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Challenge, Children, Issues of the Day, Men, Parents, Women

Fatherlessness

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation approximately 35 percent of U.S. children under age 18 live in a single-parent home as of 2016. These children have a greater risk of drug and alcohol use, incarceration, poverty, dropping out of high school, suicide, running away or homelessness. Here are the statistics to lend support to those greater risks.

*85% of youth who are currently in prison grew up in a fatherless home. (Texas Department of Corrections)

7 out of every 10 youth that are housed in state-operated correctional facilities, including detention and residential treatment, come from a fatherless home. (U.S. Department of Justice)

39% of students in the United States, from the first grade to their senior year of high school, do not have a father at home. Children without a father are 4 times more likely to be living in poverty than children with a father. (National Public Radio)

Children from fatherless homes are two times as likely to drop out from school before graduating than children who have a father in their lives. (National Public Radio)

24.7 million children in the United States live in a home where their biological father is not present. That equates to 1 in every 3 children in the United States not having access to their father. (National Public Radio)

Girls who live in a fatherless home have a 100% higher risk of suffering from obesity than girls who have their father present. Teen girls from fatherless homes are also 4 times more likely to become mothers before the age of 20. (National Public Radio)

57% of the fatherless homes in the United States involved African-American/Black households. Hispanic households have a 31% fatherless rate and Caucasian/White households have a 20% fatherless rate. (National Public Radio)

Children who live in a single-parent home are 2 times more likely to commit suicide than children in a two-parent home. (The Lancet)

72% of Americans believe that a fatherless home is the most significant social problem and family problem that is facing their country. (National Center for Fathering)

75% of rapists are motivated by displaced anger that is associated with feelings of abandonment that involves their father. (U.S. Department of Justice)

Living in a fatherless home is a contributing factor to substance abuse, with children from such homes accounting for 75% of adolescent patients being treated in substance abuse centers. (U.S. Department of Justice)

90% of the youth in the United States who decide to run away from home, or become homeless for any reason, originally come from a fatherless home. (U.S. Department of Justice)

63% of youth suicides involve a child who was living in a fatherless home when they made their final decision. (U.S. Department of Justice)

The median income for a household with a single mother is $35,400. The median income for a home with a married couple raising their children is $85,300 in the United States. (U.S. Census Bureau) (*Note: The above stats are from the Life is Beautiful website.)

Fathers Play a Very Important Role

 Men and women, fathers and mothers are different. They are both vital in the raising of a child, but they parent differently while both add to a child’s development in so many unique ways. The above statistics lend value to the role that fathers play in particular. Too many today are attempting to tell us or show us in film and TV that men do not play important roles in our societies.

 

Perhaps a reason for this is that some men have left their post and sought a self-centered lifestyle. This absence has created a psychological need to “fill in the blank” so to speak by saying, “Are they really necessary anyway?” It obviously takes a male to create a family, but it takes a man to care for and love a family all the days of his and their life.

 

Fathers who are present and committed to their families bring security, provision, discipline, help build identity, can teach respect for oneself and others, especially toward women. Male or female, God says we are equal, but neither are unimportant or unnecessary. I love how our heavenly Father designed things this way. From Adam and Eve to your family today, God has given each of us a responsibility to fulfill. His word reminds us of this when it says, “And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers…” (Malachi 4:6)

 

May our sons flourish in their youth like well-nurtured plants.

May our daughters be like graceful pillars, carved to beautify a palace. (Psalms 144: 12-13 NLT)

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Challenge, Encouragement, In the news, Issues of the Day, Leadership

Why Money May Not Be Wealth

Our international economy is in such a disarray at this time. There has been a loss of jobs, businesses and products. Along with such losses, governments do not know how to fix the issues following a world pandemic. It’s easy to be an armchair critic, but what precedent do they/we have to follow?

 

Steve Forbes has said, “Money is not wealth, but it helps create wealth.” The U.S. government responded by creating several stimulus packages to help businesses, nonprofits and individuals. Most are happy that happened. It’s something called, “Quantitative Easing.”

 

It is said if you or I print money, it’s counterfeiting and counterfeiting is a form of theft. But if the government prints money, it’s generating stimulus or quantitative easing in the case of the Cares Act. It’s a short-term solution for a long-term problem.

 

Dirt or gold?

Andrew Carnegie came to America as a child from Scotland. He worked small, odd jobs as a boy but we know him as the largest manufacturer of steel in the United States. It is said that at one time he had forty-three millionaires working for him. (In today’s terms that million dollars would be comparable to twenty million.)

 

One day a reporter asked him how these men became so valuable in order to pay them so much money? This was Carnegie’s reply, “…the men are developed the same way gold is mined. When gold is mined, several tons of dirt must be moved to get an ounce of gold; but one doesn’t go into the mine looking for dirt—one goes in looking for gold.”

 

Have you made a decision as to how you will come out of this season? For many it feels like someone has been piling on dirt. But there is gold in that dirt. Can a stimulus generate more rather than just being received and cashed? How can we mine gold and generate more from the losses we have experienced? If we sit around and just complain about all the dirt, we’ll never find the gold.

 

Bark or gold?

I know a story of a logging yard near my home that was losing money and threatening to shut down its business. A Christian business man was consulted and upon arriving on site he couldn’t help but notice mountains of bark, unused and unwanted bark removed from the logs. This man told them there must be something they can do with that bark. Out of those mountains of unwanted bark came gold. We know it today as bark mulch. Logging has not been their business for decades now, but rather bark mulch.

 

Let’s ask God for new and creative ideas to generate income, business, support for our local church, mission dollars and the like. Perhaps God in His wisdom placed gold in the dirt so we have to become creative in discovering it.

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Challenge, Encouragement, Healing, In the news, Issues of the Day

Listening to a Black Pastor from Chicago

On a recent phone conversation with my pastor friend in Chicago, I asked him how the George Floyd incident affects him. After thanking me for asking, he shared the following bullet points that I thought might be helpful for many of us.

  • Until you experience this type of thing, it’s really difficult to relate to.
  • The hope that I personally feel is the shock of this video and that maybe people will re-evaluate where they are personally at with this subject.
  • Growing up in the 60’s-70’s I had encounters with the police and was harassed. There was no weight on my side; it was my word against theirs and I would not be believed.
  • To live in a day when the police are held accountable for their actions, experiencing the rogue paying a consequence and the fact that it is causing outrage, is progress to me.
  • I recognize as a brown person in this society I am not always perceived as the same, although I have learned to navigate this. My perspective is what does my King say about me?
  • When you’re screaming and you’re ignored, it’s hard to understand that. This must be more than a moment and the church needs to show and lead the way because it’s light versus darkness.
  • Blacks, Asians, Hispanics all have their prejudices; it is not just whites.
  • My hope is that people will come to an empathetic position and engage in dialogue in ways that affect people. While you may never experience what I have, you can empathize.

My friend said, “Look man, don’t walk on egg shells around me. If you do you will not be authentic. But always consider your audience and be careful.

 

Below is a prayer that my pastor friend shared with his heavenly Father the morning he heard about the George Floyd incident.

 

Lord, I’m angry and saddened by what happened to George Floyd, his being killed by the Minneapolis police as he literally cried for help; and what continually happens to black and brown people, especially males, in this country. I believe that You are angry and saddened by it as well. I ask You to help me not to become jaded and help me to maintain a kingdom focus. Help me to hear You clearly and distinctly regarding what I should do to glorify You and be a blessing to humanity. Help me to be strong and courageous. In America and around the world, I ask You to arise and cause Your enemies to be scattered. Your Word declares that love never fails. I’m thankful that Your love is poured out in my heart by the Holy Spirit, and I’m thankful that You help me to receive and walk in Your love. You are the just and righteous Judge. I pray that You will cause justice to reign in our nation and throughout the world! LET GOD ARISE AND HIS ENEMIES BE SCATTERED!!!

Thank You for never leaving me or forsaking me. I love You, Lord, and I trust You.

 

It was John Newton, working on a ship that trafficked humans for the slave trade, who in deep repentance penned the song, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

 

“Lord, help us to see and do better.”

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