Take The Time

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A survey done by US News and World Report came out several years ago. They had spoken with 6000 people and used the answers they gave to calculate how the average American, who lives to be 80, will spend the time they have. As I read over the results, and began to consider how I use my time, it really made me rethink a few things. Read it over and see where you fit in.

According to the survey, the average American will spend 3 months sitting at stoplights, 3 months opening junk mail, 6 months looking for misplaced objects, 1 year making phone calls, 2 year texting, 3 years on vacation, 4 years doing housework, 4 years waiting in line, 5 years watching some form of sports or video game, 6 years eating. Those who are active in hunting or fishing will spend 8 full years in pursuit of their sport, and we all spent 25 years sound asleep.

I don’t know about you, but those figures really bothered me. Time is the most precious commodity we have and when it over it’s over. How we spend it, waste it or invest it is up to each of us. You will not be on your deathbed and be given a winning ticket to have a “do-over”. Nobody gets to go back and relive those moments when they could have made a difference in another life, and didn’t.

When asked how they felt they wasted time, the majority of the people said they were usually in a hurry, or running late, and were feeling over committed to things that really were not a priority. In other words their priorities were all wrong and they knew it, but did not know how to correct the problem. For instance parents said they had no time for their children because of work. They often have to work late to catch up, they fight traffic all the way home and walk through the door too exhausted emotionally and physically to give their kids any personal attention.

People are impatient with those they meet on the street and ignore those they stand next to in line. They are in a hurry to get some place, may be glued to a cellphone or focused on sending out that all-important text. The art of personal conversation is nearly dead, and honest heart-felt concern for another seems to almost be a thing of the past. Why? Because it takes time to do these things.

We run late for meetings, are frustrated by any delay and then arrive only to find that others are running even later than us. We are late for church, for work, for dates and promised vacations. We are late for funerals and weddings, birthdays and ball games. Why? Because we don’t know how to manage the time we have and we waste much of what we do have on things that can’t be changed, or are not that important.

Let me encourage you to take a moment and think about the “time suckers” in your life. What things are a pure waste of time because they are forced on you, but produce nothing? For instance, when you eat dinner is there silence? Start an engaging conversation. When waiting in line are you silently staring at the floor? You could speak to those around you and learn something about them. When stuck in traffic do you become upset and irritable? Why not slip in a teaching CD and begin to learn French? When you are home are you too busy to give quality time to your kids? No matter what, set time aside daily to give them undivided attention and they will love you for it, and do the same for their kids.

Time is all we really have to give away to others. It costs us nothing but can mean everything. A kind word spoken to one who is troubled, or a patient look and thoughtful comment to another who is struggling, are time treasures in life. If we simply take the time, we can give these out to all who need them and leave a trail of peace, healing and blessing behind us. I want to make a difference as I pass through this world. When my time comes, I want to know I have invested the time I had in such a way that it brings increase to all who are left behind. This, my friends, is a life well lived and it’s the kind we all can have. Just take the time!

Ripple Effect

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The U.S. standard railroad gauge, which is the distance between the rails, is four foot eight-and-one-half inches. Why such an odd number? Because that’s the way they built them in England, and engineers who had been educated under that English system built American railroads. So why did the English use that measurement? Because the people who built the pre-railroad tramways, all used that specific gauge.

They used the four foot eight-and-one-half inch distance between their wheels because the people who built the tramways used the same standards, pattern forms and tools they had used for building wagons. And yes, the wagon axels, and wheels in Europe, were all set on a standard gauge of four foot eight-and-one-half inches. They had been that way for as long as anyone could remember, and that exact gauge had been taught and passed down from one generation to the next for centuries.

The obvious question now is, “Why were wagons built to that specific scale?”, and the answer is amazingly simple. Europeans knew that any other size would not match the old wheel ruts in the roads they traveled on. That in turn would cause damage, a rough ride and very slow, very uncomfortable travel from one place to another. The growth and development of Europe would have slowed down considerably had they used any other wheelbase. The results of changing this standard gauge would have literally changed the entire history of modern civilization.

So who built these old rutted roads that were made of stone blocks, and have stood the test of time? The Rome Empire built the first long-distance highways in Europe. They were engineered for the benefit of their legions as they conquered the known world. The ruts were made by a thousand years of Roman war chariots rumbling over them. Four feet, eight-and-one-half inches was the exact width a chariot needed to be in order to accommodate two horses running side-by-side.

Think of it, a measurement made by some unknown chariot maker, 2500 years ago, accommodated two Roman warhorses and changed the course of the world. Because of this simple act, every living person on the face of the earth, and every nation on the planet, is still under the influence of the Roman Empire. Even though it vanished off the face of the earth more than 1500 years ago, we still feel the effect. I wonder if it ever crossed the mind of that chariot maker that one decision he made would somehow ripple across time and literally change the entire world?

Like it or not, we are all interconnected in more ways than we can imagine. Time and distance really do not separate us all that much. As we go our way each day, the decisions we make which seem harmless enough, can have far-reaching implications. A self-serving unkind word, a text while driving, an impatient attitude with a store clerk can be devastating at many levels. An outburst that needlessly criticizes another, drinking and driving, or a moment of arrogant disrespect can be multiplied down through time and literally change our world and everyone in it.

We do these things on a daily basis and think nothing of how they might be magnified. The ripple of anger you start may become a tsunami of rage that devastates the shore of many lives. That in turn changes them and impacts everyone they meet, which then rolls on through countless others. Consider this; in 1905 a young boy in Europe named Adolf is slapped across the face and continually humiliated and abused by his drunken father. He grows up, joins the army with this hatred seething in his heart and then Adolf Hitler finds  his place in world history. He becomes a world changer all because of the actions of another!

Perhaps it’s time for us to stop and think about how our actions do make a huge difference. It’s easy to be kind, when we could have been angry, or to show mercy, when judgment was in our heart. It’s better to speak the truth than lie and not take responsibility. When you take the time to measure things out correctly, and do what is right, it’s a world-changer. Until we get hold of this reality, we will continue acting as if we can do what we want and it makes no difference.

We are all like that unknown chariot maker. A simple, insignificant act today will have a ripple effect tomorrow, far beyond anything we can imagine. Like it or not, we are all interconnected in this magnificent dance of life. How we dance today will determine who is dancing, and what the music will be tomorrow. If you want the future to turn out for the best then dance well today, and tomorrow is sure to take care of itself!

Leaning Into Fall

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Leaves are yellowed with hints of red,

Breezes cool about my head,

Splashes of color, here and there,

Announce that fall will soon appear,

Sweaters and jackets, T-shirts gone,

Blue jeans and shoes are now put on,

Morning heavy with fog and dew,

Until the sun can burn it though,

Mountain peaks are touched by frost,

Summer’s heat is all but lost,

Days may warm, but not for long,

Birds now sing their harvest song,

Apples to pick, squash to gather,

Time to bring in all that matters,

Squirrels and chipmunks store for winter,

Axes strike to make wood splinter,

The smell of pies, the taste of cider,

Water jewels on the web of a spider,

Vacation days are nearly gone,

With final “good-bys” to summer’s dawn,

The smell of wood smoke perfumes in the air,

As life slows down with time to spare,

Crisp cool evenings while days grow short,

And geese overhead sound their Fall report.

Moments Of Delay

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I had an interesting thing happen to me not long ago as I was on the way to my office. In front of me was a massive bank of dark, cool weather clouds that were moving into the area. In meteorology these are called “scud” clouds. These are low, ragged, wind-torn cloud fragments that are often associated with a cold front or what is called a wind gust front. They are very common in our area as seasonal change happens during late August.

What I love about this type of cloud is how different they are as they settle into an area and seem to have an almost solid quality about them. These dark, heavy looking lumps just hang there in formation as the wind pushes them along. They blanket the atmosphere and move across your view creating a very distinct formation called a “scud line”. This line produces a stark difference between the bank of clouds and the clear blue sky that is just in front of it. It is this amazing contrast that always grabs my attention.

What hit me that day was that I missed seeing this distinct line as it passed by. The sky was already over-run by the invading clouds and it looked like someone had thrown a huge box of dark grey cotton balls into the air. From horizon to horizon there was noting but ragged puffballs being pushed along by a gusty northwest wind. As I drove west and considered the cool day that was to come, I noticed the road ahead was blocked and I’m sad to say my attitude took a nosedive. I was annoyed and irritated that I was so close to my destination yet would now be needlessly delayed because of someone else.

A huge 18-wheeler was trying to make an impossible right hand turn onto a narrow side street. In my mind I was wondering why in the world the driver had tried to do such a stupid thing. Didn’t he realize he would block traffic and delay every other vehicle on the road? The funny thing is, it was clear that I was the only other vehicle on the road. So, I sat there and waited rather impatiently and the minutes dragged by. Each missed attempt, and need to back up, added to my irritation. Finally I was able to pass by the monstrous rig and was happy to make some headway.

And then it happened… the entire mass of clouds was suddenly lit up from underneath by a brilliant yellow-orange light. When I turned to see what was causing this, the image that hit me was amazing. There, just above the eastern horizon, was the unmistakable, knife-like scud line. It formed a clean break between the cloudbank, a single ribbon of dark blue morning sky and the tree line. However, perfectly framed within that ribbon was the early morning sun, rising in all it’s glory. Brilliant beams of yellow-orange light streamed out and hit the underside of the clouds with an almost overwhelming intensity.

Everything around me was immediately transformed. The land was washed in a hundred different hues of pink and orange. Instead of viewing dark heavy clouds, I was now staring up into what looked like massive heaps of yellow-orange cotton candy. The entire scene was almost unearthly and it simply took my breath away. All I could do was sit there and gaze up into the air in awe and wonder. A moment later the color faded  away and it was over. The sun was obscured behind the advancing cloud bank and that magnificent masterpiece of art was gone.

Why am I mentioning this? Because I could have missed it all! Had I continued on my merry way and not been delayed, I would have been in the wrong place at that very time. I would have been seated at my desk, busy organizing my daily events and never seen any of it. However, because my plans were interrupted, and my progress was held in check, I ended up being perfectly positioned to see something absolutely astonishing. All I had to do was stop, look up and take it in. I realized it was this moment of delay I had experienced that made it all happen.

Several years ago a friend of mine was in his car at a stoplight. His wife and three little children were with him. He is typically impatient and always in a rush, so the moment the light changes he is the first one gone. However this time he hit the accelerator and to his frustration, the vehicle immediately, and unexpectedly stalled out. A moment later another larger vehicle flew right through the intersection at very high speed. Had he not been delayed his vehicle would have been in that intersection and “T boned” by the speeding vehicle. No doubt some of the family would have been killed and others badly injured. He is forever grateful for that moment of delay. My question is, what about you?

Have you had your plans disrupted lately? Have you set things in motion only to discover that something else got in the way and stopped your forward progress? Were you prevented from reaching that all-important goal, and then became frustrated and irritated because of the people who caused it? Could it be that such delays are really hidden opportunities given to you for your benefit? The very thing that is keeping you in place right now might actually be there so you can slow down and get a clear vision of something even greater. Perhaps it’s even saving you from making an unseen, life-changing mistake.

Take the time to relax and enjoy each moment of delay. When you think about it, that’s what really makes this life so exciting. It is often in those unexpected delays where the real treasures of life are uncovered. In those times when you are forced to wait, begin to look up and discover what is magnificently unfolding all around you. Who knows, if you keep an attitude of gratitude you just might see something that takes your breath away.

The Man In The Mirror

So much of what is in the world around us seems to be one thing until we open our eyes and look a little deeper. Once the veneer is removed and the spotlight is off, the real condition of things is unveiled, and a much different picture often emerges. For instance, we are led to believe that fame and money are the things that can really make our lives happy and meaningful. If that is the case, then movie stars should be the happiest and most fulfilled people on earth. However, the recent suicides of world famous, academy award winning actors Heath Ledger and Robin Williams proclaim a very clear and different message.

My wife and I watched an interview being done with Mr. Williams some time ago. His candor, humor and personality were off the charts. He was a master at his craft and he kept the interviewer and the audience in a state of wonder and laughter. His view of life was so different and he could interpret it in such a way that he kept everyone in awe. Yet when the conversation moved in the direction of who he was as a person, the vacant, questioning look that came to his eyes and swept over his face was sad, if not heartbreaking. There was a dark side to him that few knew about.

What we discovered was that he did not know who the real Robin Williams was. He lived his life through the person in the script he was hired to portray. Thus his acting ability was so powerful because in front of the camera he actually became his character, or perhaps I should say His character became him. His life was being scripted by screenwriters, and he lived it well during the filming of each movie. Yet when the filming was over, and he left this fantasy world of Hollywood, he also left his identity as well.

The truth he exposed in that interview was hard to believe but tragically true. He said he had no clear concept of who he was, no defined personality of his own. When he opened his eyes the morning after a shoot was over, he looked in the mirror and did not know who he was! In spite of all his brilliance on the big screen, and his flawless comedic ability in front of a camera, he was never certain about his real value as a human being or who he was as a man.

I minored in counseling/psychology when I got my masters degree in Biology. One of the disciplines I studied was a style of counseling called “reality therapy”, by Dr. William Glasser. The main premise of Glasser’s method is that it’s impossible for anyone to be emotionally healthy until they know themselves. Every person must eventually open their eyes and face the reality of who they are. More importantly, they must take personal responsibility for the life they have and embrace the consequences for the way they have lived. Until that happens, people are clueless dreamers, sleepwalkers who hurt themselves and everyone they meet along the way. As strange as it sounds, this is exactly how much of the world lives and it is what finally caused Williams to hang himself. He did not know who he was, he felt alone in the world and therefore concluded he had no reason to live.

Now comes the big question: are your eyes open, I mean really open to the truth of who you are? What do you see when you wake up and look in the mirror each morning? Do you see a failure who is emotionally isolated from others, or someone who is interconnected by meaningful relationships that hold promise for the future? Is there hope for improvement or the feeling of being a helpless victim who is locked in a cycle that never changes? Do you have joy in the journey or does life feel meaningless and directionless? Your honest answer to those questions can bring a life-changing revolution. Why? Because how you see yourself makes all the difference in how you live your life!

Know thy self! In other words, open your eyes to the truth of who you are, and face the reality of the life you have. Then ask yourself this question; is this what I was created to do? If the answer is no then you have to open your heart to the reality of the life you should have. Allow the desire of the life you want to provide direction and compel you to change so you can begin moving in that direction. Remember, desire literally means “of the father”, and that’s powerful. The life you desire is the one God the Father made you to fulfill. In case you missed it, nothing else on earth will bring you satisfaction.

The bottom line is simple, when His desire becomes ours, that reality grips our life with purpose and great things will happen! Unless we find our identity and our purpose for being here, life really has no meaning. However, once we uncover these amazing truths they bring with them the vision, focus and satisfaction we need to fulfill our destiny. It all begins when we open our eyes and take a hard, honest look at the one staring back at us in the mirror. When we like what we see then our life has finally begun.

Surrender

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Have you been watching the news that is coming out of the Mid-East, Africa and Europe lately? It seems as if one act of barbaric aggression is soon followed by an even greater display of violence and evil against the innocent. Women and children, the old and the unfortunate who are disabled, have become targets of religious zealots and the conquest of national expansion. Ebola outbreaks, political corruption, world economies being shaken and the rise of anti-Semitism have all catapulted us into a new era. Even the global increase in catastrophic weather is hard to take in at times. It’s as if a switch was flipped somewhere, and it plunged the world into a deadly, downward spiral.

Here in the United States we are, for the most part, so far removed from these events that they don’t seem real. News correspondents on location report the events and we shake our heads in disbelief. Then, when it’s over, we turn the TV off and “poof”, it all goes away. Our world comes back into focus and the suffering of humanity fades into the distance. We get up for our next cup of coffee, eat another piece of dessert and lean back in our comfortable chair feeling irritated because our favorite show has changed time slots or, God forbid, has been cancelled.

This sums up my deep concerns for the church in America. We have been given so much for so long, and been so well protected, that the bulk of our activities seem to be built around what works for us. Are we comfortable? Is our church growing? Do we have internet appeal to attract new people? Are we doing the newest songs in worship? Do people feel welcomed when they come into church? Is the preaching entertaining enough to keep the attention of the people? What services does the church offer so people will want to be there? Do we have a Café and free WIFI? Is the service too long or too radical and scaring people off? In other words, we have been influenced by the world into a “consumer mentality” when it comes to the Kingdom of God. Yes, specific churches may be growing but the end results may not be what we bargained for.

We now have growth experts that can come in and tell us what to change so our church will start to explode numerically. We have financial experts that will teach us how to increase the giving. We have worship experts that can instruct on how to get the most out of worship and fire up the congregation. There are experts on the gifts that will come in and do seminars and activate the gifts and identify the callings of congregation members. The list just goes on and on. Yet I have a question in all of this and it is quite simple. Is this how Jesus said He would build His church so that it would last? The answer is a definitive NO!

How do you see Jesus and His disciples building His Church? Surely they must have been doing seminars, advertising aggressively, providing free donuts and coffee. Most certainly they must have brought in the big name preachers to draw in the masses. They had to have sent out bulk mailings to get those big offerings in order to begin their next building project and expand “the vision”. When we look at Scripture none of these current trends were being used yet the church was growing somehow, and multiplying to the point where it shook up the whole world.

What were they doing that brought about such explosive, lasting growth? Well first of all Jesus said His house would be a house of prayer, so that means they prayed! Imagine what your church might be like if people had a passion to pray. Consider the impact on everyone if they all built a deep relationship with God and got His heart before they did anything. Secondly they released praise and worship up to God at all times. Think of Paul and Silas, or think of David and you will understand the power that was tapped into through praise and worship. It delivers and sets the captives free. Finally it was obedience. When we do whatever He says to do we will get abundant and lasting results He say we will !

If you have been questioning why you are here and what you can do to move into the next phase of life, let me suggest the above. It was what Jesus and his disciples used and there is little doubt that it will be what God can use in your life as well. Surrender your life to prayer and build a deeper relationship with Him. Surrender your life to praise and worship so you can rise above the controlling circumstances of this world. Surrender your will to obey His and the results may just shock you.

The world around us may be falling apart but we don’t have to. There may be wars and distress upon the earth but when we surrender our all to God, for us the war is over. From that place of rest we can see and hear His voice more clearly and then be an agent in His hands to do the works He has given us to do. Are you needing vision? Are you frustrated with the church and with the life you have? The answer you are looking for is right at hand. Surrender and be used by God for great and mighty things ! 

 

 

 

Digging For Hidden Treasure

Not long ago I heard the story of what happened to a self-defense instructor and it drove home the reality of why we need to understand the power of our point of view. The woman had moved from a big city into a small rural community. On a hot august evening she was jogging down the street in this unfamiliar town and mentally making note of her surroundings. Her training was in high gear as she considered where an assailant might come from and how she could use any of the homes on the street as a safe haven if need be.

To her amazement, and concern, many of the first story windows were open in the summer heat. There was even one bedroom with a sliding glass door partly open and it only had a curtain in place to block the view of those passing by. The woman decided this might be a good opportunity to introduce herself as a new neighbor and mention how dangerous it was to leave things so unguarded. Thus, she approached the open door and to her shock heard the following conversation between a father and his preteen daughter.

“I don’t like it when you do that daddy. If mommy were here she would make you stop hurting me.” To this the father replied, “Until mommy gets back it’s just you and me so you might as well get used to it. When we are done you can leave my bedroom and go back to your own. Like it or not we are going to do this every night till mommy returns. I’ll try to be gentler from now on”.

The women outside the door was sickened by what she heard and immediately went into defensive mode. She was emotionally pulled back into her childhood and the sexual abuse she had suffered at the hands of her father. After her mother died the father pulled her into his bedroom one night and “comforted” himself. Because she felt sorry for the loss he had suffered she never reported it to the police and it continued until she left home four years later just after her 17th birthday. She vowed this would never happen to another young girl and it propelled her into a career of teaching young women how to protect themselves from sexual predators.

With this blazing in her mind, the woman dialed 911 and reported the crime then quietly pushed aside the curtain and sprang through the open door. She fired a blast of her personal pepper spray which hit the father squarely in the face as he turned to see who had charged into his bedroom. The woman then pulled the little girl off the bed and into the safety of her protective arms. At that moment the police arrive and the woman proudly handed over the terrified eleven year old to the officer who was first on the scene.

Sounds like such a heroic act doesn’t it? You can imagine the headlines in the news the next day: “New Neighbor Apprehends Father Who Is A Sexual Predator”. However, that is not what happened. What the woman didn’t know is that the man was only combing his daughters hair. She had just taken her nightly bath and since mommy was visiting family in another state, daddy was left to brush out the girl’s thick brown locks that were tangled. He was a loving father simply doing his best to groom his daughter and they both knew he was not nearly as good as his wife at the task. However, their honest words overheard by someone with a very different mind set were interpreted with a much darker perspective. 

News commentator Paul Harvey became famous because he knew that people want to hear “the rest of the story”. I spent my childhood and many of my adult years enjoying his wonderful commentary on life. By giving the news behind the news, Paul was able to pull out the truth of our humanity in ways that were honest and genuinely uplifting. He realized people automatically believe a certain way the moment they hear things, and for the most, part they never give it a second thought. When he took the time to dig a little deeper, he uncovered what was behind the story and that context made it so much more than what it seemed to initially be.

How are you when it comes to finding the hidden treasure in people, events and places? Do you look at the surface, make a snap decision and then move on your way, falsely confident that there is nothing of importance you could have possibly overlooked? I have been that way at times and this past August when my youngest son Matthew came with his family to visit for 10 days I learned a valuable lesson about the powerful concept of looking for hidden treasure.

My yard is not very big but it, and our house are in the oldest section of Johnstown. In fact our deed says the house was built in 1844 and after that the original property of several acres was divided up and sold off by 1870. With that information in hand Matthew brought his metal detector with him and we began to scan my yard. Sure enough, when we turned the thing on it went off almost immediately. It began telling us what metal was present and how deep it was under the surface. Over the course of about an hour he ended up with a pocket bulging full of old sliver coins. I have lived in this house over 10 years, mowed the lawn and stepped on every inch of it but I never knew this treasure was there, just below the surface.

Our construct of life, our preconceived ideas, and our life experience all build a framework through which we view the world, and those in it. This puts everything and everybody into nice little preformed compartments that allows our world to make sense. The problem with this built in filter is that it presupposes things that are quite often completely false. The one who is covered with tattoos, the one who has earlobe loops, the one who is overweight or poorly dressed all have their own story. They are people made in God’s image who have value and deserve to be listened to.

What we see on the outside is only part of anyone’s story. When we fail to wait and dig a little deeper, to get below the surface, we miss some amazing treasures that are longing to be uncovered. Let me encourage you today to get out of your conformity zone. Take the time to look past the outside and listen to the heart of those around you. Turn on you emotional and spiritual metal detectors and see if you can uncover the hidden treasure of who someone really is.  Take a moment in this busy life to fill your pockets with the silver of who someone is and how they got here. You will both be richer for it if you do! 

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