Walking In Your Wilderness

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Deuteronomy 32:10 says “He found him in a desert, and in a howling waste of a wilderness, He encircled him, He cared for him as the apple of His eye”. What a powerful picture is painted here of God’s concern and care for those who a wandering in a wilderness of life. It matters not if they chose it for themselves, it happened unexpectedly or God Himself actually took them there. The point is, they were in it alone, and in His own time God came to them and cared for them, whether they deserved it or not.

I say the above because there is a time in everyone’s life when they find ourselves totally alone. This is not so much a physical thing, but it’s more of an emotional and spiritual season of isolation. When it finds us, we cannot avoid the impact it has on everything we hold dear. This wandering might last a few weeks, a few months or even longer, but once it arrives, it does not depart until it’s work is done. This isolated plateau of the soul is identified in the Bible as a place called “the wilderness”. We arrive in this place by ourselves, distracted and in an unrefined condition, but rest assured, we will not leave it the same way.

In this empty season no one is there to carry us, guide us or give us the companionship we think we need. Not one person is there at our side, providing step by step instructions to bring us into the new place we need to be. The fact is, every man or woman of God who is destined to fulfill their life calling, has to make this journey. Even those who do not know God, but are hungry to do better, will be taken to this place. The truth is, I believe this trip into the wasteland of our soul, is a necessary part of healthy personal and spiritual growth. As a result, it is my conviction that these times of barrenness should not be avoided, but they should be looked at with clarity, embraced with sincerity and fully walked out.

It is only during our wilderness experience that we are fundamentally changed. Our metal is tested, our character is developed and our flaws are painfully exposed. It can be a powerful time of personal evaluation and transformation. The excess baggage and wrong thinking we have picked up in life are finally thrown off. What is really important and genuinely necessary comes into clear focus, perhaps for the first time. For some, this brings a shocking revelation of how shallow and self-absorbed they really are. For others, it is a grand adventure as they rediscover who they are, and begin to build upon that good foundation to become even better. These are powerful times we enter into alone and unsettled, but emerge focused and quite comfortable in our own skin.

I was just in such a season not long ago. I got back from a powerful ministry trip to the Philippines. Myself and an Apostle did two conferences and ministered at numerous church meetings. When I returned home my wife then flew off to California to be with our daughter, who was having our 10th grandchild. I was alone in our house, after all that attention and activity, surrounded by the “stuff” of our lives. I was totally alone for two weeks, and the impact this had on me was quite deep. It became a time of introspection, where I was able to seek God, ponder my life and consider how I got “here”. I reflected on the family I grew up in, the wilderness seasons I had been through, and the lessons I learned that made me the man I am.

To begin with, my father was a strong presence of security in our home. He made us feel wanted, valued and safe. He was an intelligent, slender, quiet, thoughtful man who spoke very few words, but meant every word he did say. He was kind and gentle, strong and tender, but had a will of iron and a backbone that could support it. He was an outdoors-men to the bone and loved the woods, but could still carry his own with any city dweller. His word was his bond. He had a peaceful strength about him that filled our lives, and had the power to make everything alright, even when it wasn’t. On his death bed, his bright blue eyes looked at me with a calm resolve and they were able to reassured me that even this would be fine.

His example, both the good and the bad, served to shape me in ways I am just now discovering. Among other things, he taught me the wholesome value of a strong cup of hot, black tea and a slow cooked venison stew. He taught me the blessing of honest work and the need for personal sacrifice when it comes to family. He showed me that failing to plan for retirement meant you could never really retire. He showed me how to love the wife God gave me, and how to care for my family no matter what the personal cost might be. He demonstrated the value of living debt free and within our financial means. He also showed me why it was important to pay cash for the things we needed or wanted. The truth is, my father taught me how to be a real man.

Because of that, I became the kind of man my children could look up to. I showed them it’s OK to not always be right, but it is good to always be willing to make things right. They learned how to be the leader in their won homes and the voice of reason to their own children, when it is needed. They were shown how to love their wives and children in ways that are meaningful to them, and to do what must be done to provide for their families. Most of all, I taught them not to see the government as their source of income. Welfare is not a lifestyle, it is only an emergency crutch until you get back on your feet. , they were taught to seek God, plan with care and work hard. These things are more than enough to bring them all the provision they would ever need.

How did I learn these things, you might ask? These truth’s became life lessons during my wilderness wanderings. They became real when there was no one to prop me up or carry me, but Jesus. It was the time I found myself needing a teaching job. I prayed and sought God, and the perfect job just opened up where there had been none the week before. It was the time I quit my teaching job, at age 35, and my a wife and three young boys followed me when I went back to college. We needed a place to live in Plattsburgh NY, and out of nowhere a place opened up near the college that we could afford. It was the time our cupboards were totally empty and I gave my sons the last of the powdered milk and instant mashed potatoes for breakfast. I went to class hungry that morning, but when I returned home in the evening, food filled our shelves, our hallway and every counter top in our kitchen. I told no one but God about our need, and He showed me His faithfulness went way beyond my imagination.

Without those wilderness journey’s my knowledge of God, and experience with Him, would be sorely lacking. Unless I had been willing to walk through those barren wastelands, I would have never seen God’s ability to bring such abundant provision. My faith was built up, my trust was properly anchored and my life story was enriched, all because of a desert trip. How grateful I am that many times God has led me into a waste-howling wilderness, to be tempted, tried and tested. At times I failed, but even in my failure I still learned valuable lessons that changed my life forever. The truth is, I would not trade those experiences for any amount of money, because they made me, and my family, what we are today.

Right now, are you looking at a dry, sandy landscape, where there is no water and everything looks dead? Are you feeling alone in a barren land, with no clear answers, and you wonder where God is in all of it? If so, let me suggest to you that your current condition is actually designed by God to change you in ways you don’t yet understand. He is simply doing with you the very thing He did with Jesus.

You need to walk it out, one step at a time, and pray with an honest and pure heart. You need to get real about your weaknesses until you find the place of rest in God. Until you are open to change and ready embrace your own weakness, you can’t exchange the whole mess you are for the strength God offers. Until then, you will find yourself as a desert dweller. Perhaps this is your time to finally change and fully embrace the truth about who you are. Once that’s been done, you can move on. Remember, today’s wilderness is the perfect foundation for the God-ordained life you will live tomorrow !

The Power Of Restoration

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Over the years, I have fished streams, lakes and the ocean around NY State, Canada and in Alaska. Every trip has been a blessing and a privilege I genuinely enjoyed. Although I appreciate every kind of fishing, my favorite will always be a small trout stream like the one in this photographed which I took yesterday. I am sure this is because I spent many hours as a boy, with a trout rod in my hand, standing beside my father. He took me into the little-known trout ponds and hidden streams that he had fished since the early 1900’s. These places, in the heart of the Adirondacks, were untouched natural gems, where we went to get away from people, be together in the woods, and bring home dinner. Dad was one of the last old-time guides in Northern New York, and his love for trout fishing was no secret. Fortunately, he instill that same love within my heart and soul as well.

A pristine trout stream, like the one above, is a thing of beauty and mystery. Each rock in the water, overhanging bank and deep bend in the river presents a new challenge, and a new possibility for catching Speckled Trout. Once you learn to “read” a particular stream, it begins to feel like an old friend that will give up it’s secrets and bounty, every time you go. That friendship can last a lifetime, but it has to be maintained, nurtured, and cared for from year to year. You steward that stream, which means you never abuse it, over use it, or neglect the signs that it may be in need of rest. I have a number of these in the Adirondack Mountains, and I cherish each one.

Over the past 30 years, I discovered these old friends through many different avenues. Some were found by driving back roads on my old 1980 Honda CX500, while others were located by searching topographic maps. Some I found during hunting season, and others I just stumbled upon as a blessing from God. One in particular, is very special to me, because I found it on a day when I was ready to give up. I stopped my motorcycle on a back road, just to rest, clear my thoughts, talk to God and settle my heart after going through a very painful divorce. The moment I shut the engine off, I heard the unmistakable sound of running water, yet there was nothing in sight to indicate it was there. When I pressed through the heavy brush, a small, healthy trout stream caught my eye, yet I had never seen it on any topo map. For a fisherman, this is the equivalent of hitting the lottery, and it changed my life.

Regardless of how a stream came to my attention, each is a treasure to me, and I guard their location with everything in me. Once a kid in our neighborhood tried to follow me to a stream, but I knew his car. After seeing the same vehicle behind me for several miles, and several turns,  I took him on a trip through the mountains.  Eventually I stopped at a diner for a very long breakfast, while he sat in his car on the road side. Upon leaving the diner, I walked up to him and handed him a cup of coffee, saying, “Hope you enjoyed this scenic Saturday morning drive”, then I drove home.  My friends have seen pictures of the trout I catch on a regular basis, and many ask me to take them fishing. My response is always the same , “sure, where would you like to go?” If they want me to reveal one of my streams, my response is something like, “If I did, I’d have to kill you”.

My reason for being so secretive about these streams is rooted in a harsh reality that showed up a few years ago. I broke the “Emmons family rule” and took a friend with me to one of my local streams. The time together was fun, but it brought out an unhealthy competition in me which destroyed the solitude, and sense of unrushed peace I  long for in those places. Worse than that, I didn’t realize by bringing another person there, I doubled the fishing pressure on that stream, which upset the management I had established for it over the years

Within two years, the size and number of trout caught in those waters dropped way off. For all practical purposes, I knew I would probably have to write that stream off my list. Then, to add even more problems into the mix, he took others to my stream. Soon I saw that several people had found this stream. There were other sets of boot tracks on the bank when I arrived to fish, and a bit of trash left behind which I picked up when I left. I realized this was the death knell to a stream I loved, and had fished successfully for more than a decade. It also sealed in me the absolute rule that I never reveal a productive trout stream to anyone.

Yesterday I decided to try one of my other dead streams again, as I traveled north on my cx500 for a morning of fishing. I stopped at my favorite diner for breakfast, and while eating my eggs and rye toast, a thought crossed my mind. I wondered if one of my old “friends” had come back to life. You see, I have not driven on this specific dirt road, past that stream for the last 4 years. I knew it had basically been fished to death. Since it was empty for so long, I wondered if everyone else had abandoned it as a lost cause. If that was the case, there might be a chance it had come back to life, and was restored to it’s former productive state.

I drove down the old familiar dirt road and parked out of sight. Then I hiked the half mile back into the woods where I knew the stream took a sharp bend. At that spot there is a deep, clean pool of water that undercuts a glacial boulder which sits right in the middle of the stream. I pulled the ultra-light rod from my creel and baited the snelled hook. The moment my nightcrawler hit the water, there was a splash, and the line was rapidly pulled under that rock.  My heart pounded as I set the hook, and sure enough, out of the water came a beautiful 9-inch speckled trout. That was the first of many I caught on that stream. I kept four, and the rest I threw back. I am pleased to say that my stream has been restored, and the power of that restoration has revitalized something in me as well.

You may be in a place where something you once loved and cherished has been lost. Perhaps it happened through a mistake you made, or through something someone else did in ignorance. Whatever caused the problem, let me suggest that the best thing you can do is relax, give it time to rest, and let things heal.  Stop second guessing why things happened as they did. Does it really matter at this point?  Embrace your situation and accept the fact that they are what they are. Just let it go!  Like my trout stream, if given enough time, everything in your life will work itself out as it should be. Restoration, in one form or another, will surely come to you. Be encouraged! If God can restore a trout stream to better than it was before, then he can surely bring restoration to you!

Now go have a great day and enjoy every moment of the life you have.

Catalytic Moments

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On the night of Thursday, December 16, 1773 the crisis with England came to a head in Boston. Members of a group called “The Sons Of Liberty” disguised themselves as Mohawk Indians. Armed with an assortment of axes, they boarded three ships moored at Griffin’s Wharf, that were carrying tons of British East India Company tea. In a span of three hours, 340 chests of British tea were chopped up and dumped into Boston Harbor. Over 92,000 pounds of tea was destroyed that night. The financial cost to the company was enormous. However, the implications of that single act were far greater. It was a catalytic moment, and few realized it would send a shock wave around the world.

As a direct result of the above action, things continue to escalate, until it erupted into what became the American Revolutionary War. It began on April 19, 1775 in Lexington Massachusetts. Shots rang out across a bridge, as American Patriots stood there ground against the aggression of British troops. The entire conflict, which was sparked in Boston Harbor, happened because of a new tax that amounted to a few pennies. The English had imposed that tax on certain goods imported into this country, and this angered the colonists who lived here. They believed it was unjust to be taxed by a government that did not give them a voice of representation in the making of those laws.

Most people at that time thought the American resistance would be crushed by England within a few weeks. However, after two years of fighting, something amazing happened. From September 19 to October 7 of 1777, the U.S. militia beat the British at the Battle of Saratoga. It was the first great American victory of the war and it surprised everyone. The tenacity of the Americans shocked the world, and this turning point led a few Colonies to triumph over the sprawling empire of Great Britain. The war concluded with the Treaty of Paris, which was signed by both sides in 1783. In that treaty, Great Britain acknowledged American independence, the U.S. northern boundary with Canada was established, and the Mississippi River was set as the U.S. western boundary.

By the time the conflict ended, more than 200,000 U.S. troops had fought the British. It is estimated that over 5,000 American troops died, and over 24,000 British troops had been killed. By the war’s end, a new nation had been birthed through the bloody conflict. In all, a congressional government had formed, the Declaration of Independence had been written, and in 1789, the Bill of rights had been written and ratified. Thus, 13 independent colonies in America had formed into the United States of America. Consider this fact; all this came about simply because of a penny tax, and tea had been thrown into Boston Harbor.

Why do I give this lesson in American history? It’s because this was a catalytic moment, a prophetic spark from world history, that must honestly be considered. A little thing like a one-cent tax, started an eight-year war that ultimately birthed an entire nation! It’s absolutely astounding, when you really think about it. Now consider this; is it possible that the little things, those things that seem so insignificant in your life right now, are actually the seeds of a revolution God is preparing to birth? Are you dealing with a catalytic moment and don’t know it? Who would have believed the Boston Tea Party would be the catalyst that birthed a nation. So the question begs to be asked; do you still believe the annoyances of daily living are so insignificant that you can continue ignoring them?

Perhaps it is time to reconsider the little events, the seemingly unimportant people or irrelevant issues that are now an irritation in your life. You know, those things you have failed to deal with, and those people you don’t have time for, but they keep showing up. You have been too busy, or too distracted, and these seem so inconsequential to the big picture you are going for. You will get to them in time…..but now is just not the right time. Oh really? Let me suggest to you that now IS the moment to begin to make time, because one of these insignificant things might very well be your Boston Tea Party.

Just like the British, you also don’t know how important one thing can be to your future, because you are so enmeshed in the present. Like them, you will know in time, but by then your ability to shape it and benefit from it, will be long gone, and out of your control. Your destiny will be, for all practical purposes, in the hands of others. Why? Because you did not recognize a catalytic moment, and you let the tyranny of today’s demands dictate your actions, and rob you of your future.

Perhaps it is time to step back, relax and look things over. Why not calmly consider what the future holds for you if you continue on your present path. Then think about what it might look like, if you begin to recognize your catalytic moments, and more importantly, you recognize the people who are part of it. Only you can make this a life priority, so don’t put it off any longer. Consider this important fact, the truth is your future is what hangs in the balance!

A Stone On Your Head

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In 1834 the following story was written by English historians who were compiling a review of County Crayke. It is the true account of a gentlemen named Simeon Ellerton.

“Simeon Ellerton died here, Crayke, North Yorkshire, England, January 3, 1799, at the advanced age of 104. He was a noted pedestrian, and was often employed by gentlemen in the neighborhood on commissions to London and other places, which he always executed on foot, with fidelity and diligence. He lived in a neat stone cottage of his own building; and what was remarkable, he had literally carried it upon his head!

It being his practice to bring home from every journey the proper stone he could pick up on the road, and place it on his head, until he had accumulated a sufficient quantity to erect his habitation, by which time, although the motive had ceased, this practice had grown so much into a habit, that he imagined he could travel the better for having a weight upon his head and he seldom came home without some loading. If any person inquired his reason, he used facetiously to answer, ‘’Tis to keep on my hat’.”

The article went on to say that local residents all thought he was a “curious fellow”, a bit touched in the head, or at the very least, a bit eccentric. Because of his practice, the term “rocks on your head” began to be used to describe anyone who acted out of the norm, or had behavior considered a bit strange. What is fascinating, is that the term is still in use today. It has come down to us in the form of “rocks in your head”. Yet the fact is, the man it was intended to mock,  actually lived an honorable life. He was trusted and respected by all who hired him, and lived to the ripe old age of 104, during a time when the average person died before the age of 50. Hardly the life of one who should be mocked!

For me this is such a great story. It demonstrates the value of quiet resolve, personal diligence and clear vision, which are so important if you are going to accomplish anything in life. Let’s face it, few people today would stop to ask why a man was walking the roadside with a rock on his head. Most would assume he was mentally unhinged, or an emotional prisoner to some trauma in life. He would most likely be reported to the authorities and locked in some psychiatric ward. Fewer still would have the diligence, fortitude and patience to carry out a practice everyone questioned. The mockery of others, and the sheer magnitude of the task at hand, would simply wear them out.

There is a powerful lesson to be learned from the humble determination of the man who carried a rock on his head. He is the model for all of us who think outside the box. We all live in a world that tries to conform us to it’s way of doing things. Dress like this, talk like that, think like this and act like so. Drive this car, use this makeup, live in this kind of house and dress in these clothes. Conform, or you are an outcast and will have no work! The point is, most people are nothing more than rats running in a social maze and they are too blind, or too scared, to see things for what they really are.

And so, those of us with a rock on our head, who carry this load along life’s road, are doing so because it secures our future.  We are carrying the stones of a place not yet built, where we will live free, think free and enjoy independence from that which influences and manipulates the rest of the world. Run like mindless lemmings, if you so desire, into the sea that this world offers. But, as for me, I will go against that flow every time, and much prefer to be the odd ball. An outcast in some circles, perhaps, but who cares! While they are running like gerbils on their caged-in treadmills, I am having amazing failures and wonderful adventures in the real world that take my breath away!

I, and those like me, are the curious ones that others wonder about, as we serve God, pray and live biblically principled lives. We gladly walk our road with a rock on our head, knowing that in time we will have a “neat stone cottage” approved by God. It may not be tomorrow, but one stone at a time it will be built. As this world goes it’s merry way, deeper into conformity and sin, laughing, mocking and looking at us with curiosity, we will be building a future that will not be shaken, one stone on our head at a time. My question is, what’s on your head my friend, and what future are you building?  If you don’t like what you see, let me invite you to join us on our journey into the presence of God. You won’t regret it! Now go find a nice stone….. and have a great day!

 

Life As A Priority

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In the early 1900’s, life in rural America was so much simpler than it is today. Many, like myself, think this was life as it should be. The steam locomotive, wagon and horse were the main forms of transportation. Every community had a hardware store and blacksmith shop. The general store, post office and barbershop were gathering places for local news. The sawmill and gristmill were centers of community commerce, and farmers brought their crops into town to sell locally. People were happy to depend on each other in times of crises, or to meet basic, daily needs.

Life was slower, less distracted and more deliberate in those days, and each season had its own necessary preparations. There were family gardens and crops to be planted in spring, structures to be built in summer, wood to be cut, a harvest to be brought in and animals to be hunted in the Fall, and winter was used to mend, fix and prep everything for the next year. Front porches on every house were lined with comfortable wooden rockers that adults sat in during the evening and they shared a cup of coffee and good conversation. Best of all, neighbors looked out after each other on a daily basis and there was a sense of belonging that cemented things into that specific time and place.

The cars, bicycles and motorcycles were novelties, for the most part, and the average person viewed them as toys for the rich. People heated their homes with wood and lighted the night with kerosene lamps or home made candles. Hand made bi-planes crawled into the air under the guidance of inexperience daredevils, who landed them in empty fields that served as airports. Doctors made house calls and left the necessary medicine for their patients, all for a whopping price of $5. Milk and heavy cream were delivered in glass bottles to the front door by local dairy’s along with eggs, cheese and butter.

A “tab” was run up at local stores by most everyone, and this was paid off without interest, at the end of the month. Loans were made, and finances exchanged with nothing more than a handshake and a verbal agreement. No signed contracts were needed, and in many cases, no one wrote down how much was borrowed. People were basically honest, but beyond that, they knew their family name was on the line if they failed to honor their agreement. There was genuine trust and respect that people gave to one another, and nothing less was to be expected.

There was one school in each community and it had locally hired teachers who taught two elementary grade levels in a single room. Each high school grade had it’s own room and teachers specialized in two or three subjects. Elementary teachers stayed with the same class all day while those in high school rotated between classrooms and grade levels to be taught different subjects. Students all walked to school, there were no busses, and they either carried their lunch in a brown paper bag or ran home to eat at lunchtime. The average class size in these community schools was 8 to 12 students per grade level, and that was also the size of each graduating class.

It’s hard to believe, but this is very close to the world I grew up in. Our small village in the northern Adirondacks seemed to have a “Brigadoon” quality about it that resisted modernization. It disliked change of any kind, and each new decade took it further and further out of step with the world that was changing all around it. Quite honestly, we were proud of that fact, and in many ways I still am. Why? Because, I got to live in a world that was quickly vanishing away. I got to know some of the life my father had lived, in the early 1900’s, and it connected me to him and to our family history. I not only heard his stories of years gone by, but I was able to experience some of them for myself, which made them real.

Dad road in an open wagon, and I got to ride in the back of his 1954 Willies truck on summer nights. He swam in Sumner Brook on hot summer days, and 55 years later so did I. I attended the same schoolhouse he did, sat in the same desks and wrote on the same chalkboards. Our family ate breakfast and dinner together as a family every day, and life rotated around when those meals were ready. We adjusted our activities to our family mealtime, not our mealtime to our activities. Eating at my mother’s table was a constant that established our family life and time together.

Now imagine this; when I was 9 years old my father called Cohen’s Hardware Store, just down the hill from our house, and told the clerk to give me two “farmers helpers”. Dad was clearing stumps and rocks from our backfield and these made the job much easier. With $2 in hand I arrived at the store, handed the clerk the money, and he gave me two paper bags. One had sawdust in it and the other did not. He then gave me stern instructions to keep them separate and take them directly to my father.

What was in the two bags? One held two blasting caps with 10 inch fuses, and the other held sawdust that encased and two half sticks of dynamite, called “blanks”. Once a blasting cap was inserted into the “blank”, and the fuse was lit, you were in business to remove any stump or rock that might be in the way. Today people would be arrested for such a thing, but back them it was just everyday life. I had a respect for the power of what I held and I also respected my father. In addition I trusted the store clerk and they both trusted me to do exactly as I was told. Needless to say I did not let them down and the whole system worked fine. There were no permits, no laws broken and no harm was done. It was regulation free and worked for everyone.

We learned respect for authority, obedience to our parents and we accepted the wisdom of common sense. We listened to what would be dangerous, or wrong, and we kept that knowledge close at hand. We took responsibility for our actions and discovered the value of honoring the old ways that served past generations so well. The deep-rooted connection to the life that had always been, was embraced as truth, and it kept us safe, brought focus and connected us together as a community.

This was the life for me during the 1950’s, and when it began to disappear, something in me disappeared with it. The sense of permanence, historical family foundations and the knowledge of knowing where you belonged, began to fade away. Then my mother moved from our hometown at the age of 90, and a few years later Normans General Store closed, after being there for 120 years. With these two events, all connection to who we had always been was gone. Every tie to family history, and the reality that I could no longer go “home” was a shock. It set me adrift, and I felt like I was floating in a sea of uncertainty in a rapidly changing world that clearly would never be the same.

I was eventually able to get my bearings because the core values of that solid, grounded, generational life, served me well. However, many today live their lives with a directionless, rootless apathy. The need for job security often moves families across the country multiple times. Statistics show that people move, on average, every 5 years. Today, huge schools bus children in from miles around, and class sizes average in the hundreds. Millions of dollars are spent on sports programs, free breakfast and lunches and special clubs. Yet with all of this, more children are overweight, the quality of education continues to fall and students are less prepared for the workforce than ever before.

Where is the answer in all of this? Are we to go back to the horse and buggy, the kerosene lamp and the hand pump of 100 years ago? No, but we might do well to go back and revisit the values, the priorities and the heart of those earlier times. Imagine what it would be like to rediscover the art of human connection. Think of how wonderful conversation could be without the constant interruption of television, computer screens or cell phones buzzing and chirping invasively into every moment of the day. How grand would it be to sit around the dinner table and eat a well-prepared meal rather than rushing off to yet another event.

How in the world do you do this? One word: PRIORITIES! The priority you place on things always determines how they fit into the life you live. There is no exception to the rule, and no way to avoid the consequences either. You will always, and I mean always, find time for what’s really important. Tell me your kids are important, yet you are always working and never have time for them; YOU LIE! Say that family is important, yet you never take a vacation together, never do fun things as a family and rarely share your thoughts or feelings: YOU LIE! Say that saving for retirement is important but you constantly go into debt and buy things that you can’t afford; YOU LIE!

Let me challenge you to live a life of priorities. Set a standard that others will be blessed by. Set the wrong priorities and it will become a curse. Living a life of priorities is the only way to live happy and fulfilled. We may not be able to go back to what was, but we can get our priorities straight and capture a better way to live. If you want to recover some of what has been lost, let me encourage you to consider the above. If you will, you can change what is, and those who follow after you will be able enjoy the history you have created. Let me ask you, in the end, what’s that worth!

The Trout Stream Of Life

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“How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.” (Psalm 1:1-3)

The above Scripture is a reminder of the keeping power and blessing that God pours on those who seek Him. It also brings to mind the days of my youth, when I spent so much time in the deep woods of the Adirondack Mountains of northern New York. It was a wonderful place to grow up. Dad was an Adirondack guide, and the caretaker for “Forest Lodge”, one of the great old Adirondacks camps that is located on the canoe carry between Upper St. Regis Lake and Bear Pond. I spent many days with my father in that place, and it was there that I learned to love the woods just like him.

The hills, valleys and lakes that surrounded Forest Lodge, were my boyhood haven for exploration and adventure. My single-shot .22 rifle was a constant companion, and more often than not, my trout rod was also in hand as I wandered about looking for another place to fish. Many small rivers were hidden away in the moist hemlock forests. They trickled down the hills and filled dozens of kettle hole ponds that dotted the property where the “camp was located. Every chance I had, I took the time to walk through thick brush and around cat tail swamps, in hopes of finding another river valley that held the next trout stream of my dreams.

Time has slipped by, and finding the best streams today is not easy. I still have to get off the beaten path, where most people will not go, and look with a keen eye, or listen for the sound a bubbling water. I explore old dirt roads on my 1980 Honda CX500 and find hidden, or overlooked streams that others have missed or passed by. Often I hike a mile or more off-road to a promising river valley and am handsomely rewarded with a nice mess of speckled trout. It takes time to walk into those secret places, where valleys come together, and ice-cold water tumbles down over untouched glacial boulders. Here is where hemlock trees hang darkly over deep, clear pools and hungry native “brookies” are waiting to strike anything that hits the water.

My most memorable days have been spent on secret streams with my trout rod in hand, nightcrawlers I picked off my lawn, and a small thermos of hot coffee tucked into my ancient wicker creel. The smell of cool, morning mist rising off the water, and the sun streaming it’s golden way through scented pine branches, just thrills my soul. I feel the peace of God, and His pleasure, in these peaceful, quiet places. Why? Because I alone have taken the time to seek them out, discover and enjoy such beautiful places, which God created. This is my forest sanctuary where I carefully walk the stream bank and catch trout, meditate on His Word, delight myself in Him and feel the joy of life that this stream brings to everything it touches.

Especially in the grip of a brutal August heat wave, these wonderfully-cool places, deep in the forest, remind me of God and His ways. He is always there, ready to refresh all who come. When I find such a stream, I cherish it and keep it’s secrets all to myself. Each time I go there, I am amazed that everything near it is still green and flourishing, regardless of the dry conditions that may be all around. Berry bushes on it’s banks are lush and full of fruit, and trout are still swimming in it’s cool, dark pools. The tracks along it’s banks testify to the fact that birds and raccoons, foxes, deer and an occasional bear have all come to this holy place to drink, and they have satisfied their thirst.

This is a stream of living water, and just like being in God’s amazing presence, I have the endless pleasure of being here in the magnificent solitude, and enjoying it any time I so choose. There is nothing to hear but the stream itself or the call of birds and the wind in the trees. All of these calm my hurried thoughts. Best of all, there is no other human for miles, and that is just fine with me. I came here to fish, hear the whispers of God, and thank Him for this sacred place. It restores me in ways I cannot describe, and with a depth that only God can accomplish. I am humbled by all of it, right down to the very core of my being.

When I am rushed, when I am feeling pressured or worn out, all I need is the Lord and time alone on a trout stream. No matter what life has thrown at me, or how people have disappointed me, here is where I find rest for my soul and peace of mind. Worries fall away, the pull others have on me gets left for another day, and I find real peace. All I need is to sit on the bank of a trout stream and enjoy the sun filtering through the trees. Let me feel a pine-scented breeze gently caress my face, and I am happy. I hear the sound of water bubbling over rocks, and in that moment God is near, and I know that life is more than good, it is wonerful!

Let me encourage you to take the time to find your place of rest. It may be on a trout stream, a park bench, a favorite spot by the lake or alone in your own bedroom. Wherever it is, you need to go there by yourself on a regular basis and meet with God. Let Him come to you, direct your path and bring you to the place of living water. There, you can be like that bush on the bank of my trout stream. No matter what’s happening all around you, you can still be full of life, and give that life away to others.

 This is what life in Jesus is all about. He is the stream, the answer you have been looking for! My question today is, “why not let Him help you find all you have been hungry and thirsty for”? Sit down by this stream of life, and trust me when I say, you will not be disappointed. In fact,  He is more than you could ever imagine!

All you who are thirsty, come to the waters of life 💦 and drink your fill.. His love for you is more than enough to quench your deepest thirst and calm your greatest fear. He is with you always and He will give you rest!

Circles Of Life

concentric-circles-in-powerpointIn this season, God has really been dealing with me about my life’s work and my calling to develop others.  I have begun to realize how precious the time is that I have left, so what I do with that time, and who I invest it in, is extremely important. We are placed here by God for a reason, and that reason has a two-fold purpose. Number one, to accomplish our own destiny, and number two, to impact and influence the destiny of others. When those two purposes intersect, it is invigorating and life-changing for everyone. However, when relationships exist where the dots just don’t connect, these become a distraction that short circuits the purposes of God for everyone.

The truth is, we must know where people are in our circles of life, and then devote our time, and invest our lives, according to the circle in which they fall. If you have set your life up correctly from the beginning, you are already in good shape. You, and those in your circles, are reaping the rewards of being correctly aligned. Your time and energies have been invested in the right amounts, and in the right people, which set you both on a collision course with destiny.  I have seen this working seamlessly in some mighty men and women of God, and it is amazing to behold. I have also seen the opposite happen in my own life, and it was heart breaking. Time and energy was poured into individuals who were living in my outer circles.  They were far removed from the purposes of God in my life, either by choice or by chance, but I missed it. This was not only a distraction for both of us, even more tragic, it robbed others in my inner circles, of the time and personal care I should have been investing in them.

God showed me that the circles of my life are concentric rings of influence that surround me. The closer they are to the core of who I am, the more important they are to my destiny and well-being, and the destiny and well-being of others. Those circles closest to me must always be my personal priority.  My time, attention and care must always be devoted to them first, and these people must know they will always be in my line of sight. As I move outward from those primary circles, things change. How much time I devote, how available I am on a regular basis, and how much they may influence me, all becomes relative. Basically, the further someone is from the purposes of God for my life, the less vital that relationship is. I will always care, but the outer circles should never get my time, or availability, designed for those in the inner circles.

Circle 1 for me is my personal relationship with God. This is always the top priority if I am to stay healthy and balanced in life. Circle 2 is my wife and family. No matter what, I am ready to help, serve and be available for them any time of the day or night. In circle 3 are those who are the real doers in our church, and fellow ministers I work with. They are with me, have my back, help carry the vision and help carry the load. They joined up and hook up all the way and they serve with good hearts. I am always ready to hear them and serve them. When they call I pick up the phone. When they need me I am there. When they want to get coffee or spend time with me, I am available. The point is, our destinies, vision and service are all interconnected on a very personal level. These are my ministry companions and others are my sons and daughters in the faith who will get an inheritance, and be part of my legacy, when I am gone. As it has been said, “they will carry on when I am carried out”!

Those in circle 4 all are part of my church. They help as they can and are more-or-less faithful in giving and serving in any assigned responsibility. They do what they can, when they can, and for the most part I can depend on them. Some may not show up at the last minute, and others may have to cover for them. In circle 5 are those who come to church but never become a part of it. They may or may not give. They may come for work days or men’s and women’s meetings, but they are basically long term visitors. It is nice to see them, but I don’t depend on them to be on time or carry any of the load. There will be no training for these people, they will have little growth and I don’t expect them to do much more than show up when it works for them. They like the blessing and benefit of our church, but don’t like responsibility and don’t want to submit under authority. These people will never really find their place or do much in the Kingdom.

Finally, we have those in circle 6. This is the outer ring and the resting place of everyone else. They are basically just out there doing what they do. These may be friends or acquaintances, or those who simply intersect my path periodically as I am living the life God gave me. They come and they go, but they really are more like shadow figures who are not going where I am going and have no clear direction in life. Some are there to be evangelized, while others are those behind the counter I am kind to and want to bring to Christ. Those in circle 6 don’t ask deep spiritual questions and they don’t really want to know what is going on with me. They contribute nothing to the real purposes of God for my life and I an able to put very little into theirs.

What are your circles of life? Are they clearly defined for you and for those who surround you? If not, then you are probably doing what I did for way too many years. You are wasting the treasure of invested time, personal care and spiritual commitment on those who are not intimately connected to the purposes of God for your life. They may invade your space from time to time, and when they leave nothing has really changed. Love everyone, serve all those you can with a good and honest heart and be kind. However, when you give the right stuff to the wrong people, you are selling your greatest treasure to the lowest bidder, and that hurts everyone. If it continues, you will not fulfill the purpose of God for your life, and neither will they.

Let me encourage you to get your circles of life in order. They are like a “bulls eye” that every thing will be focused on. if you make them clear it’s easy to hit the mark and move forward with life. If you don’t everyone will suffer. Why not begin to day to clarify your circles of life? You will feel the pleasure of God in all you do. Trust me when I tell you that there is no better way to live life, and no better way to help others do the same!