Are You a Practicing Atheist?

A vast majority of you will say “No, I’m not an atheist,” while some will say “Yes, I am.” But why would I ask that question? Back to that in a minute.

Atheism has been defined as a lack of belief in God, a total denial of His existence, Atheist Symboland variations of the theme in between.  The word atheism comes from the Greek negative article “a” which means “no,” and “theos” which means “god.” Therefore, atheism is the belief that there is no god. Did you catch that? A belief that there is no God. On the other hand, many of us believe that there is a God, He is knowable, He loves us, and is involved with mankind.

The polytheistic Romans in Jesus’ day, who believed in hundreds of gods, accused Christians of being atheists simply because Christians believed ONLY in the HolyDSCN0464 Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit); while the Jews accused Christians of polytheism BECAUSE they believed in the Holy Trinity. The accusations depended on the point of reference. But that’s a story for another time. (This cross is on Mount Helix in San Diego County, just four miles from where I grew up.)

Many atheists probably don’t consider themselves anti-theists, but non-theists. Many are good, ethical, moral citizens, and strong Americans; and most atheists claim that atheism is not a belief system or a religion. But I call atheism a religion. Why?

In the atheist’s belief system: there is no God; nothing formed itself into a well-organized, majestic universe; organic life evolved from rocks; man evolved from … who knows?; there is no life after death; belief in God is wrong; and so on. But all of that is a matter of faith, and that is religion. Simply put: the atheist’s non-belief system is, by definition, a belief system. Biologist George Klein wrote: “I am an atheist. My attitude is not based on science, but rather on faith. The absence of a Creator, the non-existence of God, is my childhood faith, my adult belief, unshakable and holy.”

Many strong atheists are often aggressive in their conversations with theists and try to shoot holes in theistic beliefs. (And, sadly, many Christians are equally argumentative.) Atheists like to use logic and anti-biblical “evidences” to denounce God’s existence. However, I’ve had many interesting discussions with scientific atheists in the past, and most of them are still my friends because we didn’t hammer, degrade, insult, or malign each other. Rather, we expressed our beliefs – yes, religious beliefs – and allowed each other freedom of religion, freedom of thought, and freedom of expression.

Remember, we cannot change anyone’s mind. We must, as simply or as complex as the situation requires, present our beliefs and convictions to them and allow the Holy Spirit to work in their heart and mind.

Question MarkBut now I have several questions for you: If you are a Christian, are you a practicing atheist? Keep reading.

1.       Do you effectively deny God by your lifestyle: your language, actions, thoughts, motivations, work ethics, choice of humor, the places you go, what you watch at the theaters, on computer, or on television?

2.      When someone begins to bad-mouth God or another person, do you just sit by? Or worse, do you join in the negative conversation?

3.      If you attend church, do you attend for social purposes, out of obligation, or for business contacts?

4.     Without being abrasive or overbearing, do you openly proclaim Christ to the world, or do you hide your Christian faith in the social shadows?

5.      Would some folk be surprised if you told them you are a Christian?

A “yes” answer shows you are effectively denying God: being a practicing atheist. But if you claim to be a Christian, I want you to think about your relationship with God. Do you truly desire to live for God? I am not encouraging you to cram your religion down someone’s throat; that would be wrong. But we do need to openly, definitively “let our light shine” for the Lord – if indeed we are Christians. 

Matthew 10:32-33 says, “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I willBible.docx also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.”

Let’s not try to intimidate others, but let’s allow them to experience truth and life through our lives. Let’s give them a glimpse of Christ by the way we live.

Insufficient Power

In November of 2012, Carol and I were in Dulce (pronounced:  Dool-say), a small town on the Jicarilla (Hickareeya) Apache reservation in Northern New Mexico. On Friday afternoon, Carol was preparing lunch and I was preparing a sermon; but my computer was having difficulty conducting simple operations.
Then it informed me that the battery was exhausted and would shut down in ten minutes. It had been plugged in all day, so how could it be that tired?  Thinking that a restart might wake it up, I decided to shut it down manually; but I first saved my work and printed my sermon notes. Good decision! An unhappy surprise was awaiting me.

Upon restart, an information box appeared. It told me that the computer requires a 130-watt power supply to operate, but that I was using an insufficient 65-watt supply. I remember buying this travel transformer when I bought the computer, so how could it be the wrong one? Then the dreaded order appeared: “Restart using a 130-watt power supply.” Guess what? I had left my primary power supply at home 854 miles away.

I took the fussy computer – and the insufficient power supply – fifty-three miles to a computer shop in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. During the interrogation, it slowly dawned on me: the 65-watt transformer came with my previous computer! When I upgraded to my Dell Precision M6300, I didn’t think of purchasing an updated travel power supply, and had not needed a backup power supply again until this trip.

I had two options: either go home to retrieve the primary power supply, or … no. Driving a round trip of 1,708 miles in eighteen hours was impractical. Even if I could average 95.44 mph for the entire trip, the police wouldn’t approve. I had only one, real option: buy another one!

The store manager said she could have a new power supply in two weeks and my machine would be down-n-out until then. But after making an emotional appeal – and paying an extra $20 – the 130-watt power supply arrived in only five days. “Live and Learn” is what they say. But I was happy that I had printed my sermon notes!

Do you realize that we humans sometimes develop the same problem of exhausting our batteries? We often find ourselves with insufficient power to finish the job at hand. Sometimes we even start a job without the appropriate power. Perhaps we are either not plugged in, or maybe we are plugged into an improper power supply. Attempting to operate on low or inappropriate power often works for a while, but living that way can eventually generate a nasty little condition called burnout. Or even Failure!

There are various reasons for exhaustion or lack of power, but a major principle that my friend (Tom Whittlesey) and I learned decades ago addresses many of them. A simplified version is: “God’s work, done in God’s time, done God’s way, will never lack God’s provision.” Let’s break it down for easy understanding.

  1. A pastor in New Mexico decided to tear down a historic church edifice and build a modern one. He presented the idea to the church body and it was voted down. Nevertheless, he persuaded the board to approve it. He then overcame numerous roadblocks, and arduously accomplished the project. Half the people left the church, and the other half was saddled with an almost bankrupting million-dollar debt. The pastor had his monument but his anticipated feeling of accomplishment and elation never materialized. It wasn’t God’s work; and demoralized, he resigned within a year.
  2. William Booth was a pastor/evangelist with the Methodist Connexion in England. Ministering to thousands every week, he was stopped one day by a beggar who said, “Mr. Booth, if I believed what you say you believe, I’d do something about it.” During the next few weeks, Booth began to realize that it was God’s time to start a different kind of ministry. He resigned from the pastorate and in 1865 started what became the Salvation Army. It was God’s time.
  3. Years ago, the director of the YMCA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, had worried himself almost to a nervous breakdown. He was working about 85 hours a week while worrying about the myriads of problems that surrounded him. Depressed, he finally went for counsel.

The doctor said, “George, you’re going to ruin your health with worry unless you back off. You must turn all your worries over to God, and learn to trust your staff.”

After thinking it over, George took a long walk in the woods. Sitting down against a tree, he got out his pencil and paper, and wrote:

Dear God,

I hereby resign as Executive Director and General Manager of the Universe.

Love, George

“Wonder of Wonders,” George said later, “God accepted my resignation!” Within days his strength returned and he could think more clearly. And within a few months the YMCA operation improved dramatically. He learned to do things God’s way.

  1. God rewards and blesses those who cooperate with Him to the best of their abilities.

Living this way, we can experience a fulfilled, balanced life. We’ll get sufficient rest, eat properly, see life more clearly, and our batteries won’t run down.

God’s work, done in God’s time, done God’s way, will never lack God’s provision.

Hot Air Balloons

After speaking for the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Chapter in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I was going to take Pastor Clarence Gutierrez of the Christian Family Church (Taos, NM) back to Taos. The pastor’s daughter was driving him up from Albuquerque, and I thought I’d have a 15-minute wait. But it’s a good thing I learned not to be in a hurry because the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta generated so much traffic on I-25 that traffic was stalled for more than an hour. I kept in touch with Clarence by cell phone, and relaxed as I drank coffee and talked with other friends.

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is an annual festival that takes place for My Pictures0008nine days in October and is the largest balloon event in the world. Several balloon shapes include: an F/A-18 fighter jet, giant turtle, a car, telephone, cow, covered wagon, soda cans, and hundreds more. Over 1,000 balloons participated in the year 2000, but in order to focus on quality, event organizers now limit the number to 600. Over 100,000 spectators are present each day during the event, with untold thousands more throughout the city observing the balloons as they rise high in the Southwestern sky.

One popular night-time portion of the event is called the “Glowdeo” (glowing rodeo). That’s when participating balloons are inflated but do not lift off the ground, while the propane flames illuminate the various-shaped balloons.

From an historical news clip, we read:

The Balloon Fiesta began in 1972 as the highlight of the 50th birthday celebration for 770 KOB Radio. Radio station manager Dick McKee asked Sid Cutter, owner of Cutter Flying Service and the first person to own a hot air balloon in New Mexico, if KOB could use his new hot-air balloon as part of the festivities. The two began discussing ballooning with Oscar Kratz, and McKee asked what the largest gathering of hot air balloons to date had been. “19 balloons in England”, Cutter replied. Kratz asked “Can we get 19 here?” Cutter agreed to try.

Twenty-one pilots agreed to come, but only thirteen showed up because of inclement weather. That event was on April 8, 1972 and it quickly became very popular. But since autumn produces better flying conditions for balloons, October was decided as the best time to continue the annual event.

The largest and most popular part of the 9-day fiesta is what they call the “MassMy Pictures0006 Ascension”. This is when participating balloons ascend in two waves – 300 in each wave – and the city is filled with “Oooohs” and “Aaaahs” as they rise majestically with the unsurpassed beauty of the 10,679 foot high mountain, called Sandia Crest, providing a spectacular backdrop.

The Balloon Fiesta is one of New Mexico’s most popular tourist attractions, and hundreds of food vendors are on hand to provide almost any kind of food your tummy might desire. For a number of years, the Kodak Company was a major sponsor, and the event was called, the “Kodak Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta”.

The balloons rise off the ground because the propane burners produce a large quantity of heated air that is less dense than the surrounding air, and rises – pulling the gondola (the basket), the propane equipment, and the people with it. This is the same principle in which lighter oil rises above denser water. The balloons stay aloft until the heat dissipates and the balloons begin to come down. The pilots skillfully operate the burners to “fly” the balloons: rising, lowering, and landing where they choose – normally

My Pictures0005But there are also problems associated with the Balloon Fiesta. Traffic gets jammed as drivers watch. Sometimes the propane burners malfunction. Balloons sometimes hit power lines. The wind may blow a balloon over while the burner is operating causing the balloon to burn. Traffic accidents happen because of gawkers.

Pastor Gutierrez finally arrived and we joyfully headed for Taos. The next day, Sunday, the District Superintendent, Mike Dickenson, ministered and we had an enjoyable meeting. Clarence, Mike, and I are long-time friends and our fellowship is based on our love for Jesus Christ.

As you travel through life, stop and smell the roses; don’t get in a hurry. Don’t allow the irritations of life (like traffic jams) bother you, and learn to see the good in every situation. Psalm 111:10 says, “Wisdom begins with respect for the Lord; those who obey his orders have good understanding.”

Guided by GPS

navigation-system-147970I’ll never forget the first time I asked to be guided by a GPS gizmo. Ron, our oldest son, and his family were with Carol and me as we were traveling. It was night time, and we were looking for the motel. Ron said, “I’ll look it up on my cell phone.” That was a bother for my wife who had been my navigator all of our married life.

Carol said, “I can find it on the map like I’ve always done.” But I wanted to try out a new scientific gadget for the first time.

“Okay, Ron-ole-boy; find the motel.” So he programmed in the address, and we drove up to the side gate of an army base. As I turned the car around, Carol said, “I can find the right street by using the map.” But I wanted to try the GPS.

Ron reprogrammed and we drove around town, only to find a different gate to that army base. By this time Carol was a little irritated.

Ron reprogrammed once more, and we found the main gate … to that same army base. So I drove up to the soldier and asked him for assistance. He directed us to a 7-11 store. There, the clerk informed us that there were four (yes: 4) streets in town with that name, and the primary street was on the army base.

Have you ever been stabbed with a visual “I Told You So!”? Carol found that motel for us, but the “weather” remained cool for a while. (She forgave me the next day.)

GPS programming improved dramatically in the ensuing decade, and it seems that a great many folk have a GPS unit of some sort. I heard on the news that presently, there may be 10 billion cell phones with GPS apps installed. But what is GPS?

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a satellite-based navigation system consisting ofearth a network of at least 24 satellites placed into orbit by the U.S. Department of Defense. GPS was originally intended for military applications, but in the 1980s, the government made the system available for civilian use.

These satellites circle the earth twice a day transmitting signals to earth. Receivers triangulate this information to calculate our precise location. The more satellites that are involved, the more accurate the results, and GPS units today are very accurate. Carol even likes using them now.

It’s fun watching the little blue dot (we call it the Blue Bug) moving across the screen of the cell phone as we drive across country. Carol often says, “The Blue Bug is staying with us.” But at times she will say, “The Bug is getting lost.” That’s when I make a correction and get back on the right street.

However, since the GPS units know our location, they also know our altitude. They enable precise operation for our interactive maps and our compass apps. The little gizmo can tell us where the restaurants, motels, and gas stations are, and can even tell us the temperature outside – all within seconds.

When we take pictures with our cell phones, the built-in GPS units record when and where they were taken. And when we cross a time zone, Carol and I always have a contest: whose phone changes time first?

Some folk worry that these technological advancements are a way for the government to keep track of us. That is correct. But they are also a great help to us. Many vehicles are equipped with OnStar which has helped a great many folk. OnStar located my car several years ago after it had been stolen.

But another GPS is available to those of us who honor Almighty God. I call this GPS “God’s Protective Service”.

Bible.docxAs I live by Godly principles that are found in the Bible, as I live for the Lord, as I as I honor God in every way that I know how, the Holy Spirit guides me. He knows where I am every second of the day, and knows what kind of difficulties I am facing. He sees what lies ahead of me, and gives me precise directions. If I am about to make a wrong decision, God sends a signal to get me back on track – if I’m listening.

Have fun with the GPS gizmos; but tune in to Almighty God for both temporal and eternal directions.

Forgive, and … What?

I overheard Clarence give the following advice to a mutual friend in Tulsa, “Forgive and forget, then forget what you forgave – otherwise you have not forgiven.” (A colleague had lied to the boss about Richard’s ability to do the job.) Later I told Clarence, “If the Bible says that, I will believe it.” Within a day or so he came up with the following verses:

Isaiah 43:25 – “I, I am the One who forgives all your sins, for my sake; I will not remember your sins.

Psalm 25:7 – Do not remember the sins and wrong things I did when I was young. But remember to love me always because you are good, Lord.

Hebrews 8:12 – I will forgive them for the wicked things they did, and I will not remember their sins anymore.

However, according to my studies, they did not verify Clarence’s statement, so the discussion turned to God’s character and the word “remember” in these verses. Agreeing that God is perfectIMG_1799B in every way, which includes His memory, Clarence asked if God can choose to forget. I suggested that we not confuse the issue, but stick to what the Bible says.

The word “remember” means “to be mindful or cognizant of” and “to hold in continual remembrance.” So, if God “remembers my sin no more” it means, based on my repentance, God forgives me and does not keep thinking about my error. Another way of saying it is: He does not hold that sin against me. I’ve been pardoned.

We then moved to the word “forgive.”

 “To forgive” means “to remove the blemish on the record resulting from the wrongdoing” or “to pardon.” The act of forgiving does not erase the offense or the event in real time because we cannot erase the past; but it is focused on purging the legal record related to the offense.

When President Obama pardoned seventeen people, he “… granted these individuals clemency because they have demonstrated genuine remorse and a strong commitment to being law-abiding, productive citizens and active members of their communities.” Obama did not eradicate what they did, but removed legal liability. That’s what God does for us, and is what we are supposed to do for those who offend us. The offense or event in real time is not erased, but the judicial verdict or sentence related to the event is expunged from our record.

When we allow the Lord to heal us from hurts caused by others, the memory of the offense may actually become clearer and the details of the offense take on sharper focus; yet the pain will be substantially lessened – and possibly erased. Nevertheless, although the offense often IS forgotten, forgiving does not necessarily include forgetting.

Forgiveness is a decision based on our attitude towards God and relationship with Him. One woman in California fabricated a rumor about someone she was jealous of in church. With the intent of damaging the woman’s reputation, the rumor made its predictable circuit and grew substantially in the process. Not yet knowing the outcome of the rumor, the perpetrator’s conscience began to bother her so she went to her victim, confessed, and asked to be forgiven.

The victim said, “I will forgive you, but first let me tell you what you did.” As she recounted the repercussions (which included the breakup of her marriage) of the rumor, both women were deeply sobbing with their arms around each other and the two women became life-long friends.

Personal forgiveness does not always set people free from legal mandates or from physical consequences on the human level. For these two women, repentance was deep, forgiveness was genuine, reconciliation was complete, but the memory remained for life.

In the later 1960s a man in Southern California was arrested for murder. The family of the victim showed up in court and in Christian love truthfully told the judge, “We forgive this man and would like to set him free.”DSCN5212

The presiding judge wisely said, “It is good for you to forgive him, and both God and I honor you for it. Your forgiveness clears the record between you and God. However, this man has also offended the United States of America and justice must be dispensed.”

dscn0464[1]Forgiveness is not about letting the offender off the hook, but returning the right to dispense justice back to God and to the appropriate human authorities. Forgiving others, and asking to be forgiven when we err, keeps our consciences clear.

Clarence and I cleared up the allegations about Richard’s abilities, and the slander backfired on the perpetrator. But the memories remain; so along with the Apostle Paul, we are to humbly forgive others, and use those memories as stepping stones for personal and spiritual growth.

What Does it Take ….?

I’m sure you’ve heard the question many times: What does it take to be a good leader? Of course, the answer depends on who is responding to the question.

Two major concepts are: a leader is born; and training produces a leader. Government and many large organizations lean toward the latter: proper training makes a good leader. And if someone fails, just retrain him or refresh his training. If he fails big-time, replace him and start over.

The late Dr. Lem Boyles, Col. ChC. USAF (Ret.) said in his book, Leadership: The Minister’sIMG_1819 Responsibility, “The need for well-trained, highly qualified leaders in the Christian realm is one of the most critical problems we face in the church today.” I agree, and that also applies to the secular world. Without well-trained leaders, our churches and organizations are faltering. But Dr. Boyles taught that training alone is not sufficient. True leadership entails more than just filling a vocational slot: true leadership involves a higher calling.

So, what does it take to be a good leader? I have an interesting book by Hans Finzel titled The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make. In other books we find many formulas and lists of qualities such as: “10 Keys to Successful Leadership” (different sets of ten by Sonya Shelton, Jill Geisler, Jonas Clark, and others). There are other sets of three, five, seven, twelve, and more. Various writers call out attributes such as emotional intelligence, influence, or authority as the key. But although those qualities are involved in leadership, they fall far short of being the keys.

John Marks Templeton stated a good point in his book Discovering the Laws of Life, “Someone who possesses good leadership abilities can accomplish much more [by leading] than one who pushes.” A leader is not one who stays in the background pushing for his agenda, but is out in front leading by example. Pushing people is similar to herding cats–it doesn’t work.

PrinciplesIn his book, Principle-Centered Leadership, Stephen Covey said, “…we often attempt to short-cut natural processes–substituting expediency for priority, imitation for innovation, cosmetics for character, style for substance, and pretense for competence.” Although they might not realize it, this is designed failure by incompetent leaders.

Covey stressed that true leadership is practiced or manifested “from the inside out.” Ruth Simmons, 18th president of Brown University, emphasized “There is no formula for inner work. Leadership is a habit of mind.”

Covey and Simmons point us to the true person: the core of our being: character, integrity. Character is involved in every aspect of our lives. Poor character is based on a façade of some sort, but good character is based on a foundation of truth. And good character is built into our lives by habitually choosing proper responses in every situation. As living and working safely is a result of good habits, so is good character.

So, what does it take? It takes a person of Godly character; one who listens to counsel but is not swayed by pressure. It takes a person who has committed to live by a high moral standard no matter what the circumstances are. Whether one is to be a leader in church, scouting, military, local or national politics, school, or business, the multiple and diversified qualities that are required can be boiled down to one word: Character. Make that two words: Good Character. Good leadership is character-based leadership.

So, what is good character based on? Humanism? No, that includes relativism. Reliable or trustworthy character can never be based on a “whatever is right for you” philosophy. That denies leadership. Is good character based on “all religions lead to the same destiny”? No. Various religions contradict each other; and some religions mandate killing people. That generates confusion and results in tyranny.

The bottom line is: Good character, integrity, is based on God’s law. And JesusCross summarized the law in His statements in Matthew 22:37-39; “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and most important command. And the second command is like the first: Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” This is the foundation for good character and sound leadership.

Do you desire a leadership position? Establish your relationship with God and ask Him to guide you. Establish a wholesome relationship with people. Take proper training. Excel in your vocation. Don’t push people. And when the opportunity arises, humbly accept the responsibility and remain accountable to others.

Slow Down and Live

Some years ago, I was sitting at my typewriter – actually at my computer – looking out the window. It was cold with a light breeze blowing. The clouds, which are usually water vapor, looked more like swirling snow ready to grace our countryside. My snow shovel was ready, my boots were at the door, and Carol could have hot coffee or hot chocolate ready within five minutes if I needed to leave my comfort zone to clear the sidewalk and driveway.

We lived in a community of 3,000 people in the hills of northern New Mexico at 7,825 feet above sea level. (For comparison, Albuquerque, NM is about 5,000 feet in altitude.)  

A winter storm would often drop two to three feet of snow at a time, sometimes up to five feet,PICT0181 and we would be temporarily locked in the house. That was great for the skiers, and it made the landscape look more beautiful than words can tell. And if there was no wind while the snow was falling, the big fluffy snowflakes absorbed all the background noise which created a living Winter Rockwell Painting. Beautiful!

If the snow was less than two feet deep, my 4-wheel drive vehicle with good tires would get me anywhere I wanted to go. But if it was deeper than two feet, we just stayed home. Carol would get out the coffee or hot chocolate; maybe bake several dozen cookies. We would start a fire in the fireplace, make sure the cat and dogs were warm if they weren’t playfully romping out the in the field; and Carol and I would do what we enjoyed doing best: Spend Time With Each Other.

With our schedules jammed and our lives so full of activity, being snowed-in gave us time to tell each other what we meant to say several days or weeks previously. We had time to actually LISTEN to each other.

PICT1265With critters in front of the fireplace, a table nearby with a puzzle or a scrabble game on it, steam rising from two cups of hot chocolate or coffee, a big window across the room with snow gently falling outside–we have another Rockwell Painting. Periodically I would go out and clear the walks and uncover the car before the snow got too deep.

Carol and I understand the value, and the need, to spend time together; so at times we still declare a “snow-day” and stay home. Years ago, we decided to slow down and live. Slowing down can actually make our lives fuller and richer. Not fuller with more things to do or richer with more money in the bank; but fuller and richer with what really counts in life.

Since we don’t have a guarantee that we will be alive on earth tomorrow, why not invest our time and our lives into people now? After all, material possessions can give satisfaction for a little while, but healthy, wholesome interaction with family and friends can last a lifetime–and beyond.

It’s called making memories together, and it’s more enjoyable than watching a football game.

When family members or friends that we love leave this life, we will miss them. We will be sad, and tears can flow. But if we invest our lives into them while they are here, we will have those memories to hold on to, and those memories will help sustain us in our sorrow.

More importantly, we should invest our time studying the Bible and learning to know Jesus. First Thessalonians 4:13-14, which applies to those who live for the Lord, says “But we do not want you to be uninformed about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. (NRSV)” What a promise! Therefore, even in sorrow we can experience joy.PICT0192B

Well, it didn’t snow that day, but my boots and the shovel were ready just in case it did. 

Oh, Carol just told me that lunch is ready. I think I’ll turn off the computer and spend time with her. Maybe we’ll play scrabble. We like that game. As of this writing, we are tied at 368 wins.

Detours in Life

Have you ever encountered a road-block or a detour? Is it frustrating? Aggravating? Do you wish you could give someone a piece of your mind?

Throughout our many travels, Carol and I find ourselves on detours periodically. For example,thFS0NDQ2Y several years ago we were minding our own business heading west on Interstate 70 when, suddenly, the dreaded sign appeared: Detour Ahead.

Carol had been napping, and although I was tired, I decided to stay awake – primarily because I was driving. But when the monotonous road noise changed, she woke up.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“Well, I was making a bee-line to Denver, but at present, your guess is as good as mine.” Watching the actions of other drivers, it appeared that they might not have been as nonchalant as I was about the turn-of-events. I chuckled.

Carol asked, “What’s funny?”

“Precious, those poor drivers have not learned that emotional upheavals cannot change the way the highway departments do things – either good or bad. And they haven’t yet learned the value of detours in life.”

“Yeah, I suppose you are right. But where ARE we going now?”

“We’re heading north on Kansas State Road 232. Anything interesting on the map?”

After a few minutes of confirming our location, she said, “There is something called ‘The Garden of Eden’ on highway 18 between Lucas and Luray. Wanna go?”

“Sure; why not?”

We discovered Wilson Lake, and the scenery was beautiful. We stopped at The Garden of Eden to check it out. (We don’t recommend it; it’s not what the name infers.) After a bite to eat, we continued to Walde, Kansas. There we could have followed the detour signs and headed south toward Russell, resuming our monotonous freeway noise again. But since we were having such a good time seeing part of the country we had never encountered, we continued going through the towns on highway 18 until we arrived at Bogue, Kansas.

There we got onto highway 24 and drove another 100 miles to Colby where we were reacquainted with I-70. Carol and I thoroughly enjoyed our detour and learned more about our country. The detour set us back almost 3 hours; but that was not lost time–it was time invested together. And more importantly, my Precious and I made new memories together.

IMG_1434On another trip, we were returning from Missouri where we spent several days with two of my sisters and a brother. We had a good time. On the way back I said, “Let’s go home on some roads we’ve never been on. Carol chimed in: “Then let’s go to the War Eagle Craft Fair.” I agreed.

We turned onto Missouri highway 86. At a small town called Blue Eye, we headed south and found Arkansas 221. Again, Carol and I were enjoying the beautiful scenery. But at one point without warning, the asphalt highway morphed into a gravel road.

“Are you lost?” Carol asked.

“No, but we ran out of 221.” We laughed.

When we stopped at a cabin for advice, the man told us how to get back to civilization, eventually getting to Rogers, AR.

“Where will that route take us?” I asked.

“That’ll take ya through Eureka Springs, less you wanna either truck on the way yer goin fer nuther two hours throwin gravel, or back-track cupla hours.”

I thanked him and got back in the GMC Envoy. After discussing our options, we laughingly headed up to Eureka Springs–on a road we didn’t even know existed–and had dinner at one of our favorite places. We barely got to the War Eagle Craft Fair in time to check it out.

Detours don’t upset or aggravate us. They’re part of life. Our traveling motto is: “If we hit a detour, make a vacation out of it.” We’ve learned, however, to schedule into our plans extra time to allow for such excursions. And if we encounter no detours, we arrive early. Yay!

Some time ago I learned the following: “Inner peace begins the moment you choose not to letPICT0033 another person or event control your emotions.” I cannot control you or the highway department, but I can control my plans and reactions. I do this by asking God for direction in life which enables me to face life’s uncertainties with confidence.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.” Who knows? Maybe God purposely arranges some detours to gauge our maturity level.

Happy traveling, friends. 

Seven Helpful Habits

From 1994 to 2005 I was an operations officer in the Nuclear Physics division at the Los Alamos7 Habits National Laboratory. One of my responsibilities was to assure that our staff’s training was up-to-date. One day I read about a seminar titled, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change.” That intrigued me, and I attended the seminar to see if I should recommend it to our staff. I’m glad I did, and it was my privilege to meet and talk with the speaker, Dr. Stephen R. Covey. Dr. Covey condensed his seminar into a book titled by the same name: “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” (He passed away in July of 2012. America misses him, but his teaching will go on. And yes: I recommended this course to our staff.)

Covey taught that developing good habits presents more long-term benefits than trying to build a good image – corporate or personal. He said:

“The difference between the two approaches is similar to the difference between cramming for an exam and taking care of a farm. ‘Cramming’ is an image-based approach that nets temporary results, whereas taking care of a farm requires continuous, daily attention that will provide long-term dividends.”

And ‘taking care of the farm’ is the phrase he used for developing good habits for living.

The first three habits deal with the Personal Level. Individuals develop Independence by adherence to these habits.

Habit One focuses on taking control of life: Be Proactive. Don’t create or accept excuses for failure or lack of progress. Blaming or accusing doesn’t help anyone. And stop being overly concerned about things over which you have no control, but respond properly to situations. Covey called this: “response-ability”.

Habit Two is the development of a Personal Mission Statement: Begin with the End in Mind. Leisure time? Travel? More efficient teamwork? More effective sermons? Quicker meals? Whatever it is, define it. Whether you are a husband, wife, business owner, student, pastor, etc., develop goals to define your direction. This can be difficult; but once accomplished it will help you develop more effective leadership qualities needed in your personal or business life. It makes life easier and more enjoyable.

Habit Three is the essence of personal time management: Put First Things First. Separate tasks or projects under “urgent” – “important” – “necessary” – “desired.” This takes insight, planning, preparation, and promotes efficiency. It also greatly reduces time spent in crisis-management. That, in itself, is rewarding.

The next three habits deal with the Interpersonal Level. This section is more complex because practice of these habits leads to valuable Interdependence, which leads to personal and corporate maturity.

Habit Four is the philosophy that creates more productive, long-lasting relationships: Think Win/Win. We do not have to step on someone in order to succeed (except for sports games: one team must win). We need to fix in our mind that in order to truly get ahead we must depend on and help others. No one ever succeeds by himself. We must ignore our competitive instinct and help others succeed. The Win/Win concept requires courage and trust, but pays big dividends.

Habit Five is the skill that allows Win-Win to work: “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.” This concept made a long-lasting impression on me. Learning to actively understand someone else and his/her point of view is mandatory in order to effectively communicate our thoughts. If the other person realizes that I am concerned about him, he will be open to hear from me and perhaps willing to help me.

Habit Six is Synergize. Often (but not always) a corporate concept produces a better solution than our individual ideas. And this is actually the fruit of Habits four and five.

And Habit Seven is Sharpen the Saw. Our skills and methods are never perfect. Therefore, we need to continually hone or refine them.

PrinciplesThe information I gained at the seminar, and in reading the book, did not guarantee quick fixes to any personal, interpersonal or business problems. But I was supplied with tools to improve my communication skills, my outlook on life, and reduce unnecessary friction.

I also recommend two other books: “The Leader In Me” and “Principle-Centered Leadership.” To learn more about the “7 Habits” and other Covey books, contact Franklin Covey Co., Debra Lund, 801-244-4474; Debra.Lund@FranklinCovey.com.

Enhanced Character Reduces Stress

So you want to improve your character? Zig Ziglar said: “The foundation stones for a Dad's 85th0009balanced success are honesty, character, integrity, faith, love and loyalty.”

So how do we improve our character or integrity? Think about the following account.

An acquaintance of mine was on his way to an appointment when his right front tire blew out. He immediately lost control of the car; he hit the guard rail, bounced into another car, and finally came to a stop in the median. It was called an accident.

A legal definition of accident is: an unforeseen event that occurs without anyone’s fault or negligence.

Sooooo, was this truly an accident? The answer is No. Why? It could easily have beenPICT0027 prevented! He knew that his tire pressure was very low but he wouldn’t take time to inflate it to the proper pressure. “I’ll take care of it next Saturday.” he said. But he didn’t.

Proper tire care can prevent many automobile calamities, and really, we are never too busy to be safe. My friend understood the benefit of punctuality (honoring others by being on time) but he didn’t quite figure out the benefit of initiative (accomplishing what needs to be done in a timely manner).

While not all problems are this simplistic, many of them are. A fatal situation I read about some time ago was when a father ran over his five-year-old son in the driveway of his own home. Was that truly an accident?

The father said that he didn’t know the child was out of the house. Guess what? The kid is dead! All the dad needed to do was walk around the car to check for children, bicycles, toys, etc. before putting the key in the ignition. If the father had made alertness part of his daily habit (being aware of what is happening around me so I can respond properly), the child might still be alive today. Believe me: he does the walk-around now.

Jesus wants us to be safe and aware of what is happening; so being alert enhances not only our character, but also can make us more like Christ.

So I ask the question again: were these events truly accidents? The answer in a great many situations will be “No.” Instead, these situations were caused by negligence, ignorance, apathy—or a combination of the three. So what is needed to rectify those situations? What does it take for personal growth?

You can call it character, integrity, reliability, or spirituality. I don’t care. Whatever you call it, I call it Godly Character. Character is what determines a person’s response regardless of the situation.

In Reflections On Faith & History [found at https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=node%3D154606011&field-Front cover - finalkeywords=Reflections+On+Faith+%26+History], I addressed numerous questions that many people asked me through the years. My desire was to help people grow both spiritually and intellectually by helping them to gain a more complete understanding of the Bible. I did this by presenting some of the history and culture of the times as it related to the Scriptures. Learning also helps us grow in our character or integrity. It is actually learning to become like Christ.

1) We learn to know and to incorporate the mind of Christ.

2) We learn to interact with others in a wholesome, uplifting manner.

3) We learn to stop being self-centered.

4) We are enabled to fulfill our destiny and enjoy life.

I was a bi-vocational pastor while working at a national laboratory. I had previously worked in the aerospace industry, direct sales, and several other areas. Wherever I went I watched people at work, at play, in the stores shopping, and driving their cars. It was apparent that many people–including Christian–were either uninformed about how to properly conduct themselves, or they didn’t care. It didn’t make sense to me until I began studying about character and integrity.

I found that if we attentively–the key is attentively–read about the Lord and study His integrity, His character, His nature, and diligently apply Biblical principles to life and life’s circumstances, we will be surprised at how our lives will be changed for the better. We will be able to traverse life with less stress, less frustration, more understanding of people, more personal contentment, and live a more fulfilled life. Reading First Corinthians 13:4-7 will help.

So, how does this reduce stress? I’m glad you asked.

As I grow in my understanding of life, I have less reason to get upset over mistakes, errors, or misunderstandings. I am more apt to see things from Jesus’ point of view, and can more easily forgive people. This allows peace to flow through my being and I can share that peace with others.

As you think on the character of Jesus, I pray that you, too, learn to incorporate His integrity into your life.