And I Thought I Was Just Taking a Hike!

Cloudless blue skies. 50 degree weather. Low humidity. A perfect day for hiking. I parked my truck on Highway 40 at the trailhead for the Florida National Scenic Trail.

I was slowly making progress, alone with my thoughts, wrapped in solitude. I was 4 miles into my 8.5 mile route when suddenly the loud thumping rotors of a helicopter shattered the quiet.

He passed right over, no more than 500 feet above. Actually, it was kind of exciting! I hiked another 2/10s of a mile, and then he buzzed me again. Now I'm wondering, "What in the world...?"

From my GPS I knew I was close to the clay road I had picked as the turnaround point for my out-and-back hike. As I emerged out of the woods onto the road, a  white truck was blocking my path. "What in the world...?"

A former military man got out of the truck. So here was the deal. While I was quietly hiking along, a $14 billion aircraft carrier was cruising just off the coast of Florida in the Atlantic Ocean. Top gun pilots and their crews had just completed all the pre-flight checks on each of their $60 million (each) F-18 fighter jets.

They were  minutes away from scrambling their jets for the sub-10 minute sortie to the Pinecastle Bombing Range where they would be assisted by a full ground and radar crew to practice annihilating Middle Eastern terrorists by strafing a mocked up caravan with live bombs. It was a complex mission with many moving parts that had been months in the making. All taking placing to the immediate west of the Florida National Scenic Trail.

And then there was me. Merrily hiking along, alone, but not quite as alone as I thought, clueless about how intertwined I had become in a much bigger picture.

As the chopper hovered overhead, the nice man explained everything. He didn't seem upset that I had almost aborted what must have been $10,000,000+ training exercise. I gave the pilot a wave, and he peeled off. The man drove me back to my truck.

As he dropped me off I was able to present him a signed copy of The Man in Mirror. Wouldn't it be something if that book hit home with him?

Let's face it. We are never as alone as we think. We are always part of a bigger picture. As well informed as we may think we are, there's a lot more going on here than we will ever understand. Occasionally, like on my hike, we get a glimpse, but most of the time we'll never hear about. And God may use you for the greater purpose of his will in what seems like a random situation.

So how should we respond when it feels like we're all alone, maybe even forgotten? Remember this: God doesn't do "random." God isn't caught off guard by what's happening to you. He doesn't say, "Oops! I didn't see that coming." He knows exactly where you are on the trail. And he is sovereignly orchestrating all human events, even our seemingly random circumstances, to guide us to him and to each other. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:11, he "works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will." 

"What in the world...? I thought I was just taking a hike!"

Hate

If you like something, why not just leave it at that. For example, if you love to camp in a tent, why trash someone who loves RVs. Let others be who they are. The chances of changing someone's mind are close to zero, so what good will it do? But we do know being negative separates us even more.

Who Will Remember Your Name 10 Years After You Die?

This morning I was trying to remember the name of the enormously successful businessman and iconic philanthropist in Tampa who used to own the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  His name was constantly in the press. He was far more well known that you or I will ever be, yet 10 years after the last time I heard his name I can't remember it. And there are many more just like him.

Who will remember your name 10 years after you die? What a great question by which to prioritize your life! 

Protests Are The Luxury Of The Free

These angry and sometimes rage-filled protests are one of the great luxuries of freedom. Most people around our globe would be afraid to be so angry.

Can you picture demonstrations like ours in places like China, Russia, North Korea, Syria, or Iran? Where else can you trash your President (if that’s your deal) so thoroughly, whether the one on the way in or the one on the way out, and not be executed or at least thrown in jail for a very long time?

Ironically, we get to protest against the system that makes it possible to protest. And we are blessed with the time do do so: Americans are not slavishly forced to find straw on our own to meet our quota of bricks.

Protests are the luxury of the free. The mere fact that we are able to protest, or to be protested against, is in itself a cause for celebration, but also for keeping things civilized.

A good response would be to have a spirit of gratitude, humbled by the liberties afforded by freedom.

A better response would be to not speak ill of anyone, to love those against us, and to pray for those in authority. 

What would your sign say?

A Reminder About Overcoming Adversity From The National Championship Game

Life, like football, is filled with peaks and valleys. Perhaps that's one reason we love the game so much: Football imitates the highs and lows of life compressed into a 60 minute microcosm of the human experience.

So what did the warriors in the Clemson/Alabama game remind us of? 

No matter how overwhelming the current situation looks, never ever give up. As quarterback DeShawn Watson said in the huddle at the beginning of Clemson's final drive, "Don't panic." Because anything can happen. And with one second left on the clock, it did. 

As Dabo Sweeney said, "It was our night. It was our time." And for the Alabama fans? There's always next year. 

19 Deer, a Storm, and the Syrian Refugees

Saturday morning's hike got off to a good start. Almost immediately I saw four deer in two settings. 

Radar predicted rain at 10:15 AM so I started back to our campsite to beat the storm front. It was going to be close, so I asked the Lord to let me get back to camp before the rain. 

Then I started thinking about the Syrian refugees, and how selfish my prayer was. I told the Lord to just pour down rain on me because I am such a self-centered, selfish man. 

Not two minutes later 11 deer, including two bucks, appeared in the middle of the trail. Then they loped off to my left, white tails bobbing up and down through the wire grass. 

They began to walk parallel to me at a distance of about 100 yards for the next several minutes. One buck stood still long enough for me to count eight points, and the other was about the same size.

Apparently they wanted to be on the other side of the trail, so suddenly they started hopping across the trail in front of me one at a time – that's how I knew there were 11 of them. 

Praise to the Lord for allowing me to see the majesty of His creation in this way. 

My thoughts returned to the refugees.

 I sensed the Lord speaking to my heart, "I will take care of the refugees."

And then to punctuate that His love and care for me is not dependent on the rest of the world being treated equally at every moment, four more deer jumped across the trail. 

The 19th and final deer was a baby fawn who stopped to stare at me as his parents ran away. 

To top it off, I arrived back at our campsite just before it started to rain.

We don't have to feel guilty when we're blessed, even if others are suffering. God is sovereignly orchestrating all human events. In His inscrutable way, He will take care of the refugees – and everyone else who is suffering too. How much in this life or whether the next, it is not for us to say. But we can use our blessings as a reminder to pray for those who are less fortunate.

 

Should You Go Into Ministry?

Recently a man just promoted to top management at one of the world's 10 largest companies said to me, "I'm really wondering if I should leave business and go into ministry. I don't feel like I can make as big of an impact in business as I could in ministry."

I really admire him for wanting to serve God with all that is in him.

But I shared some things with him that I would also like to share with you.

First, I told him, "I'm the guy who did that. At 42 years of age I left the world of business and started Man in the Mirror. 

"Honestly, at the time, I thought I would feel more holy. While I never thought anyone else would see it, I thought I would look in the mirror one morning and see the faint trace of a halo staring back at me. I'm still waiting!

"What I didn't expect surprised me. I thought when my calling changed that my friends would follow and support me. Wrong! A few did, but most of them had callings of their own – ones that didn't include me. I never saw that coming. As you might suspect, I really had to work through that.

"Another phenomenon I did expect, but one I could never properly prepare for, was the decrease in prestige in the eyes of the world. You see, I was the guy you tried to get an appointment with if you wanted to run for Governor of our state. But when I left the business world for ministry, I couldn't get the dogcatcher to return my calls. And I'm not exaggerating!"

So I told this man, and I'll say to you as well, "No one else can tell you what God's will is for your life on any matter unless it is specifically commanded or prohibited by Scripture. However, it seems like God has gone to a lot of trouble to either cause or allow you to be placed in a position of great influence – and especially at such a young age. 

"I suggest you consider and pray about whether or not this is your ministry – at least for now."

I continued, "Our jobs are not just a platform for ministry – they are ministry. Fixing computers, delivering packages, or managing one of the world's largest companies is every bit as spiritual as teaching at a Christian school or serving on a church or ministry staff. There is no such thing as a 'secular' job – at least in the eyes of God. Every vocation is holy to the Lord."

So should you go into ministry? You already are. The question is whether or not you should go into "vocational" ministry.

Maybe, but here's one final thought. When I was in business, about one day a week I was ready to chuck the whole thing. But now that I'm in ministry I don't feel that way anymore...now it's two days a week.

 

An Email You Can Send Your Pastor (D-R-A-F-T)

Are you passionate about discipleship in general and men's discipleship in particular?

Here's an email you can send your pastor "as is" or adapt to offer your help in the New Year.

Dear (Name)…

Merry Christmas! I know you deeply desire for everyone in our church to become vibrant disciples of Christ. Me too!

I have a couple of ideas and a willingness to work to make them happen. Patrick Morley often says, "Personally, I have never known a man whose life has changed in any significant way apart from actively participating in a church, the regular study of God's word on his own and active participation in a small group." 

What if we build the "becoming a disciple" part of our mission around three practical goals that would give men and women a way to measure their discipleship progress...

  1. attend a worship service
  2. read the Bible for yourself (e.g., four or more times a week) and
  3. join a small group.

Obviously there are other spiritual disciplines too, but these three are simple, easy to grasp, and if someone does these three things they will likely find themselves doing the others. We could build and staff two stations in the foyer...

Station 1: to mobilize people to read God's word (Bibles, reading plans, etc.)

Station 2: to help them form or join a small group (training, resources).

And it could be stated from the beginning, and repeated often, that a big part of "becoming a disciple" is to get equipped for service and to"make other disciples." Over time, we could build other stations in the foyer that offer training opportunities to make disciples (e.g., how to lead a small group), and for the other service and ministry opportunities in the church.

I could see it set up as a process – a progressive process that people ease into over the next couple of years. And from the congregation's perspective, these are simple and concrete goals at which each person could easily visualize themselves succeeding with your coaching.

What do you think?

Have a wonderful Christmas, and let me know how I can serve you in the New Year.

(Your name)