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If it’s all the same to you…

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Setting outside this morning, I am struck at how beautiful, calm, and peaceful it is here. The sun came up just as it always does, rising above the treetops in slow motion as it unveils an endless kaleidoscope of color. All around me butterflies are darting from flower to flower, gathering the nectar that ensures their survival. The colors and patterns of their wings give evidence that God’s imagination and creativity far exceeds our own.

Flying about are birds of all kinds, each singing their uniquely beautiful song. One can’t help but be envious at the incredible variety of sounds they make. It’s almost like attending a concert, where every song is different and if you hang around long enough, you will eventually hear that special one that thrills your heart. Occasionally, all the birds will start screeching at once, and we have learned that this is the signal that a Bobcat is hiding in the grass or under a shrub close by.

Squirrels, of which there are many, are chasing each other in an endless game of tag. Only the heat of the day slows them down, yet the evening finds them once again running all over my back yard.

In the dead palm tree that I intend to make a weathervane post out of, several birds have taken up residence in the holes the Woodpeckers have created in their search for insects. I’m pretty sure at least one nest has babies in it, so the weathervane post will just have to wait a while longer.

On top of that, a beautiful Red-tailed Hawk has recently taken a liking to the top of this palm tree. From atop this perch it watches for the slightest movement on the ground, and its arrival sends every playful squirrel on a mad dash to the safety of the thick cluster of gnarled Oak branches all of us have in our yards.

There is enough here to make this now retired country boy feel like there is no place I’d rather be. Unfortunately, I cannot stay here forever, as my increasing list of ministry responsibilities calls me out into the world to do what I know God has called me to do.    

Leaving this idyllic scene, I step out ever so cautiously into the world where I am immediately greeted by noise and chaos. I am confronted by people who are scared, angry, apprehensive, and uncertain. “When are we going to get back to normal” they ask. Shouts of “I can’t take any more of this” are heard on a frequent basis. The difference between my backyard and the outside world could not be more dramatic. I cannot wait to get back to my sanctuary.

Everywhere I go, the prevailing topic of conversation is COVID-19. For reasons I am not completely sure of, this virus has paralyzed most of the world. Yes, of course it is serious, however it does not mark the beginning of the end of the world as many in the media would have you believe.

If there is one thing this pandemic has revealed about us here in America, it is that we do not handle uncertainty well. Uncharted waters throw us into a frenzy of apprehension and uncertainty. We need to feel as though we are in control of our destiny, and right now control has slipped through our fingers leaving us dazed and shell-shocked.

Disease frightens us in ways that few things do, especially disease that there is no rational explanation for. The unknown tends to either frighten us or make us angry. We are fearful of that which cannot be explained to our satisfaction, angry at our inability to eradicate it by throwing vast sums of money at it, or even angrier at the level of distrust that exists among those who should be united in leading the efforts to solve this current crisis.

As I reflect upon the scene unfolding before us, I cannot help but think of the number of books I have read about other periods of hardship in America. Two World Wars, the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, Polio, Poverty, etc.

Any one of these events could have brought America to its knees and prevented this nation from ever rising to the heights of prosperity it has become accustomed to. 

Yet none of them did, and the question begs asking “why didn’t they”?

I believe it was because of two primary reasons:

  1. Americans come from the hardy stock of immigrants who asked only for an opportunity. They supplied the hard work and “can do” spirit that enabled them to overcome adversity and misfortune. These hard-working men and women forged a nation out of prairies, forests, and mountains, willing to pay the price of endless pain and suffering to make a better life for their families. In short, nothing would deter them from taking full advantage of the opportunities before them.
  2. During past times of severe crisis, Americans always turned to God for help. Acknowledging their own inabilities, they looked to the One who could pull them from the depths of despair and hopelessness that often attempted to crush their dreams. They knew, as did their own ancestors, that survival meant they had to stare down adversity and press forward.

Today, I hear very little in the way of pleading for help from the Lord. I hear no cries for mercy, no repentance for the way that we have rejected the Almighty. It is as if God has been erased from our consciousness.

What I do hear are the voices of fear and uncertainty. As if on que, the TV newscasters cannot wait to tell us of the next shortage of meat, toilet paper, or hand sanitizer. Followed immediately, of course, by a camera shot of an empty grocery store shelf to prove the validity of their story.

I see the fear in some of the faces of the elderly at Walmart. You can always tell which ones have endured hard times before. They quietly go about their business and get on with their lives. They don’t hoard because they’ve been here before. They understand that any extra, unneeded purchases mean someone else who is in need may have to do without.

Those who have lived a life of relative ease are just as easy to spot. They are the ones who buy as much of a given product as allowed, because fear of the unknown grips their hearts. They have never done without or had to ration what they had in order to make it last. They are the ones with a grocery cart piled high with toilet paper and frozen dinners.

These are trying times, of that there can be no doubt. As for returning to normal, whatever that is, I’m not convinced we will ever see that again. I feel as though we have turned the page in the book of God’s prophetic timetable. To be perfectly honest, I believe we are on the threshold of the days Jesus described as the “beginning of sorrows”.

Even though it’s not possible, if it’s all the same to you, I’d just as soon hang around my back yard and watch the coming events unfold. I much prefer the birds, butterflies, squirrels, and hawks to the anger and uncertainty “out there”.

Take care everyone, and remember: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble“. Psalm 46:1

Ron

 

 

Help in trying times

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I sincerely hope that this post finds all of you safe and as well as can be expected during these times of unrest and uncertainty. 

It seems that all of us are impacted in one way or another by COVID-19, and the staggering toll this virus is taking on the entire world leaves many wondering how much longer they can endure the restrictions, closures, quarantines, lockdowns, and empty grocery stores.

Of course, none of these temporary hardships can begin to compare with the loss of lives, those still hospitalized, and the hundreds of thousands of confirmed cases.

By actual count as of 3/28/2020 @ 3:16 PM EST the numbers look like this:

  • Coronavirus Cases = 650,926
  • Deaths = 30,299
  • Recovered = 139,555

Source = https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

All of this says nothing about the impact to families, businesses, schools, and even churches. The financial impact alone is almost incalculable. No one has a clue as to how long real recovery will take or even what that will eventually look like. 

Now that certain states are contemplating the closure of their borders, one has to wonder if we won’t soon see armed military guarding all entrances to states in an effort to stem the tide of this deadly pandemic.

If all of this seems more than a little surreal, you are not alone in thinking that. Americans all across this nation are now confronted with an enemy that strikes at will, and to date has met little resistance.

That being said, and contrary to the 24/7 NNN (Negative News Networks) portrayal of hopelessness, we know that we can go to our Lord in prayer for help and support during these trying times. All throughout the Bible we have examples of God’s people turning their hearts toward Him in their hour of distress, and we are afforded the very same privilege today!

Wanting to encourage our church family, yesterday I recorded a message for our church’s radio broadcast and entitled it simply Strength for These Uncertain Times. In this message I recounted the story of David and his army, who upon returning to their home base of Ziklag, found the city burned and their wives and children taken captive.

So distressed were David’s men that they talked among themselves of stoning David to death. Knowing he was outnumbered and that his life was in peril, David did the only thing he could do; he strengthened himself in the Lord his God. [1]

I love this particular story because it points to the fact that when we are at the end of our rope and out of options, God is more than able to help us if we will turn our hearts toward Him. David found this to be true when he recovered all of their families that had been taken.

For many of us however, God is always our last resort. We will try everything in our own power to fix, overcome, or otherwise do it on our own before as a last resort calling upon the Lord.

I would like to encourage all of us to tackle the challenges we are facing today in a different, even radical manner. How about we look to the Lord first instead of as our last option?

If we would just remember that God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble, it is my firm conviction that He will give us the strength we are all going to need for the days to come. [2]

It is true that we are facing an uncertain future, a future that is changing at such a rapid pace that few of us can keep up. 

Just as true however is the certainty that none of this has taken God by surprise. The very One that knew us while we were yet in our mother’s womb is also the One who holds the future in His hands. What is uncertain to all of us, God has already seen.

I end this post with a final thought from the Psalmist of Israel:

The Lord is on my side. I will not fear. What can man do to me”? [3]

Take courage beloved, God is still God, and He always will be God!

Ron

 

[1] 1 Samuel 30:6

[2] Psalm 46:1

[3] Psalm 118:6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cold, hard truth is that this COVID-19 virus is unmanageable for a President, a Prime Minister, a Chairman, or any governmental powers. If anyone says otherwise, or that they could have reacted better or faster, or that they have the solution, to them I say you are either a liar or you have no conscious. Otherwise you would have stepped forward and made your case.

This is the worst possible time to be pointing fingers, but the nauseating debacle of getting the stimulus package approved was a classic example of a childish game of “it’s all your fault”.

How disheartening that the politicians on both sides of the aisle made it clear that the 2 Trillion dollar relief bill wasn’t really about you, it was about them getting their pet projects approved.

Any rational person understands that every cent of that 2 Trillion dollars should be earmarked for costs directly associated with this virus, not more pork from Washington. Under the guise of a $1,200 relief payment, politicians from across this nation have once again shown us that they are not worthy of our trust.

I bring this up dear reader, because regardless of your political affiliation, what has just happened here shows you once and for all that you and I simply do not matter. We are merely pawns in this diabolical shell game between warring factions of arguably the most corrupt political system the world has ever known.

And that is a bitter pill to swallow. It didn’t start out this way. It was never supposed to be this way.

Unfortunately, it is, and no upcoming election will change things. The lines have been drawn in the sand. The word “compromise” has been stricken from the vocabulary of this current crop of politicians.

You want to know the real tragedy in all of this? What we are currently witnessing is mild compared to what awaits us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pearls from the Princess

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Recently my Princess and I were discussing how important it is to remain teachable regardless of ones age or position in life. You probably know someone who has convinced themselves that they have ‘arrived’, and that they no longer need to work on improving themselves. Fun people to be around. NOT

Often these kinds of people feel that there are no areas in their life that are in need of God’s help or attention. In their minds it is enough for them to say “I got this”, meaning that they alone are in complete control over every circumstance in their life.

In actuality however, these are dangerous people. They are a danger to themselves and a danger to others. More often than not they are controlling and manipulative. They work tirelessly to build themselves up while neglecting others. Every thing they do points back to themselves instead of towards others.

No where are such people more of a threat than in the Church. That is because one does not expect to find such an attitude among the redeemed, as church has always been thought of as a safe haven. God’s house, or so we have been taught, is a refuge from the evil that is so pervasive in this world.

It is precisely this mindset that enables such dangerous people to hide in plain sight, blending in with the rest of God’s sheep. This is how sexual predators in the church get away with their deviant crimes for so long. It’s also how deceptive and manipulative individuals are able to exercise dominion over unsuspecting people.

These are described by the Apostle Paul as “having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away”! [1]

Conversely, people that remain teachable understand that they may have several short-comings. Perfection is not a part of their vocabulary. They are not self-reliant but rely upon the Lord to help them get those areas under control. Far from “having arrived”,  they know that they are a work in progress.

Through prayer and the study of God’s word they see that He is doing a work in their heart. Yes, it is a life-long process, but they are able to see progress nonetheless. The important thing is that they remain humble, not lifting themselves up with a prideful, arrogant spirit. [2]

Two very different types of people; those who remain humble and teachable and those who have convinced themselves that they “have arrived”and thus are in command of their destiny.

I have worked with and for both types in my lifetime, in the church as well as the corporate world. At some point in my life I am certain that I was both of those people. Just as certain is the fact that I much preferred one over the other.

I know that who I am today is not who I once was. In His own good timing, the Lord has a way of weeding out the hinderances to our spiritual growth if we will allow him to do so. And yes, that includes things, circumstances, and even people.

Having the choice of the two, I know the type of person I desire to be. I want to be the teachable, malleable, humble vessel that God chooses to work through.

There’s an old saying that says “you’re never too old to learn”. This saying should come with a disclaimer however that says “as long as you’re teachable”.

Have a blessed day everyone!

Ron

 

[1] 2nd Timothy 3:5

[2] Proverbs 16:18

 

Being a difference maker

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Have you ever been in a place where you desperately needed to hear a word of hope or encouragement from a friend, family member, or pastor but all you heard were crickets? Something tells me that most of you have been in such a situation. It’s not a good place to be in, is it?

I’ve been that person so many times that I’ve lost count. I’ve paced the floor from midnight to dawn all while asking the Lord “why doesn’t anyone care enough to help me”? I have been so broken that I nearly convinced myself that there was no hope for me. Seriously, when your every waking thought centers around the hopelessness of your situation, you are in a dark, dark place.

I’ll never forget going to a “friend’s” house one day, desperate for friendship, a ray of hope, or just a kind word. Instead of being on the receiving end of any of the above, I spent the next two hours listening to his problems and encouraging him. I actually left there in worse shape then when I arrived, and I certainly didn’t think that was possible!

I imagine that some of you have been there as well, haven’t you?

There is a silver lining to this sad tale however. Through it all I have learned that when help is nowhere to be found, look again. You are never far from help if you look to Jesus. If you look for him, he WILL be found! Pace the floor all night long if you feel you need to, but please realize that it is not necessary.

I have learned that our God is faithful to sustain us no matter how dark or bleak our world may appear to be. As a matter of fact, scripture teaches us that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble”(Psalm 46:1). The enemy of our soul would love to plant the seeds of doubt in our hearts and minds that God cares about us, but the Word of God declares that He is our helper!

There is something else that has come out of all of this, a lesson I wish to pass on to all of you. I have determined that whatever people did not do for me in my time of need, I cannot allow that to prevent me from helping others. What was is gone forever, but tomorrow is a new day, offering hope through the power of the risen Savior.

All of us need to be the difference maker in someone’s life. That’s why we’re here after all. That’s why God saved us from our sins, to be Jesus to someone in desperate need.

Have a blessed day!

Ron

Shikata ga nai

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This is my last post of 2018, and I wanted to leave you with one last tidbit of wisdom gleaned from my days of working at Honda. As I have mentioned previously, the culture I was immersed in at Honda provided an insight into a totally different way of seeing things.

For example, when confronted with situations we cannot control, many of us from western cultures react in somewhat predictable ways. Sheer panic, complete indifference, or somewhere in between best describe most of us I believe.

The Japanese however have the unique ability to deal with things that are beyond their control in a very unusual manner. One can only assume that because they are an ancient people, they have learned that no matter how bad things may be, eventually conditions will improve.

They sometimes use the phrase Shikata ga nai (pronounced shee-kah-tah-gah-NIGH),which means “it cannot be helped”. As the Japanese are overwhelmingly non-Christian, it is one of the ways they have devised to come to terms with situations beyond their control.

Earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons, hurricanes, and volcanic eruptions are all very real threats to the people of Japan. And they are all out of the control of any person.

Shikata ga nai, or “it cannot be helped” is a good attitude to have should a natural disaster strike and you are on your own. Such an attitude can help one move beyond the fault finding and blame game so common in our own society.

From the Christian perspective,there are also many things that are far beyond our control. If you doubt that, just do a quick mental review of 2018 and you will probably see what I mean.

Rather then take the approach of “it cannot be helped”, Christians know that we can call upon the Lord to help us through difficult situations.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1

As we say goodbye to 2018 let us always remember that we are never alone. Even when situations are far beyond our control, we do not have to resign ourselves to defeat.

We have a loving Savior who sets at the right hand of God, making intercession for us. He is in control of the chaos, he makes sense of the things that we cannot understand.(Romans 8:34)

Happy New Year everyone!

Ron

 

The Secret Place

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Have you ever wanted to run away to some secret place where you could escape the pressures and stresses of this life? Someplace where no one could find you until you wanted to be found? A place of safety, where no angry voices can be heard and no one can harm you?

I imagine most of us have had those thoughts haven’t we? Who knows, maybe you have tried to find such a place, only to be disappointed when you realized that you’re still here and so are very things you want to get away from.

Most people, at least Christian believers, believe that such a place does exist and it’s in a place called Heaven. I am convinced of it, and believe that one day I will see and experience it for myself.

There’s just one problem however. To get there, you have to leave here, and unless the Lord returns there is only one way to get there, and that is by way of the grave. That’s a nicer way of saying you have to die first.

But what if I could show you from the Bible that there is a secret place of hope and peace, a place that is accessible to you while you’re still here on earth? Read on if you’d like to know more about this secret place.

1 He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress;
My God, in Him I will trust.”

3 Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler
And from the perilous pestilence.
4 He shall cover you with His feathers,
And under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your shield and buckler.

5 You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
Nor of the arrow that flies by day,
Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.   Psalm 91:1-6

Known by many as the Psalm of Protection, Psalm 91 speaks of the assurance we have that God is our shelter and our fortress. It speaks of the deliverance available to God’s children in the midst of hardship.

Because we are filled with his Spirit, we have an all access pass into the Presence of the Great King. Here is where we can hide under his wings, just as a baby bird is sheltered from the elements by it’s parent.

I’ve been to this secret place many times and without fail the Lord has been faithful to meet with me there. This is the place where fears melt away and our faith is renewed in the God who is the Most High.

My prayer is that if you are in a hard place and can find no one to help you, that you will call upon the Lord and ask Him to shelter you under his wings.

He is your protector, and will go before you to make a way where there seems to be no way.

Be blessed, in Jesus name!

Ron

 

God uses the ordinary to do the extraordinary

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Several weeks have passed since the devastating hurricanes in Houston, SW Florida, and Puerto Rico. The news trucks have long ago departed for their next assignment, the local newspapers have pushed any stories related to hurricanes to the 3rd page, and those not seriously impacted by the storms have returned to their normal lives.

hurricane Maria

NASA satellite photo of hurricane Maria

For the tens of thousands whose lives were devastated however, normal will never be “normal” again.

Living all but the last year of my life in the Midwest, I had never encountered a hurricane until Irma came rushing through SW Florida. Like most Midwesterner’s, I never thought much about hurricanes, as tornadoes and the occasional blizzard were the worst type of storms we had to deal with.

Believe me, my thinking has been altered after witnessing the devastation all around me, and I’ll never think of these storms the same way for the rest of my life.

To gain a better understanding of the situation, I was privileged this past week to attend a meeting of SW Florida pastors and their associates where we were to receive an update on the various rebuilding projects in the aftermath of hurricane Irma. After a wonderful fellowship meal, we were ushered into the sanctuary for a time of worship, which I have to say was much needed and appreciated.

MWOA worship

Broadway Community Church, Ft. Myers FL.

There were two local pastors there who spoke of the devastation their churches received at the hands of hurricane Irma.

To see the videos and pictures, plus hearing their first hand accounts, was a bit overwhelming to this previously “sheltered” country boy.

It was immediately apparent that it’s altogether different seeing the news on TV vs. hearing it from someone who lost everything. Listening to the anguish of a now homeless mother, seeing the tears of those rendered helpless, these are very powerful and very moving things.

Of course, many churches and businesses in the area suffered catastrophic damage, just as thousands of homes did. Trying to grasp the level of devastation to families who have lost everything is not easy to do. No wonder such a feeling of helplessness hangs over the affected areas. Can anyone blame those who ask “God where are you”?

 

The main speaker of the evening was the denominational leader for Men and Women of Action for the Church of God, who gave a riveting,”boots on the ground” account of their work in Houston, SW Florida, and Puerto Rico.

Hurricane’s Harvey, Irma, and Maria have kept them going nearly non stop, and to say this team has been busy would be quite the understatement!

His message centered around the theme of how God will take ordinary men and women and use them to do extraordinary things for the kingdom. MWOA 1

I heard powerful stories of God’s provision and care to those in need, and it was a blessing to see first hand how ordinary men and women are transformed into the hands and feet of Jesus.

This is real ministry. 

The main takeaway for me was that even though during a major disaster we sometimes feel as if God is a million miles away, or question why He didn’t stop it from happening in the first place, the truth is God is never far from us.

In this life it is very likely that we will never understand why we must endure the catastrophic events that are a part of our lives. In reality, we can drive ourselves nearly crazy trying to figure these things out.

What I have found to be most important is not the “why”, but rather knowing that in spite of the storms of life, God is there to help us pick up the pieces and rebuild. Hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, etc. are just as much a part of life as the personal tragedies we endure. Yet in spite of it all, God is still God!

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;    Isaiah 59:1

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.   Psalms 46:1

Be blessed!

Ron

Trusting in the Lord; hurricane edition…

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I had really hoped to get at least one year of retirement under my belt before having to deal with a hurricane, but alas Irma has other plans.

All of my life I’ve watched the effects of hurricanes from the safety and comfort of my living room, but that,unfortunately, is about to change very soon.

As I write this, hurricane Irma is a Cat 5 storm of unprecedented strength and is quickly approaching Florida. Any hope of evacuating via the interstate highway system has evaporated as I-75 is at a snails pace,and will get even slower as more people try to escape via the highways.

Anything and everything related to hurricane supplies has flown off the store shelves several times already, and a sense of panic has definitely set in here.

Of course, the weather forecasters are working very hard trying to put an accurate track on this storm, but it’s still too early to know where it will land here in Florida. As big as this storm is, I’m not sure it matters where it lands because everyone will feel its impact.

Our family is trusting God to see us through this storm,but that doesn’t mean we aren’t making preparations. An hour ago I finally put the last hurricane shutter on the house, and let me tell you, that was hard work! Especially in mid nineties temps!

The other morning I was at Walmart at 5:00 am to pick up water and batteries, and I was so fortunate to find them then. Within two hours, everything was gone. Gas stations are running out,as are groceries and other necessities.

In spite of all of this, God is still God. He’s God when the weather is beautiful, which is most of the time here, and He’s God when the storms arise. If there ever was a time when people needed a refuge from the storm, its right now.

I love scriptures that speak to the security we have in the Lord, so I thought I would share a couple of them in this post.

I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust”. Psalm 91:2

The LORD is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knows them that trust in him”.   Nahum 1:7

O Lord, you alone know what our future will be. It is you Lord that knew us while we were still in the womb, and even now you have the very hairs of our head numbered. You know where the winds originate from, and where they will end up. Our tomorrows are anchored in you O God, and in you we place our trust.

Be blessed everyone!

Ron