October Breeze

Cinnamon and sage, straw men on display
Warm apple pie begs my feelings sway.
Pinecone and apple; the leaves try to grapple
with the truth they soon must drift away

And two lovers are holding hands beneath a maple tree;
The lonely cast a watchful eye and dream of what might be.

Cocoa and amber, a hay ride and campfire,
Pedestrians in disguise for candy glee
The harvest moon is shining, the pumpkins are smiling
And autumn fruit is ripe on the tree

And the lovers snuggle closer, keeping warm beneath the tree;
The lonely gaze up at the sky and dream of what might be.

Daylight fades faster as soon comes November,
But for now I bask in the cool October breeze

And the lovers have said goodnight to that old maple tree;
The lonely close their weary eyes and dream of what might be.

(“October Breeze” by yours truly)

Fall has become my favorite time of year, replacing the snows of winter and the longer days of summer. Yes autumn is the best time of year. As for spring… does “Ah-choo!” ring a bell? Yeah. Spring ain’t my friend.

What do I enjoy most about the autumn? I really enjoy:

  1. 271541205_6a5302f305_oThe imagery. Halloween stuff aside, I like the hay bales and pumpkins, and the colors of brown, cranberry, sage and orange. I like the friendly scarecrows (an oxymoron, I know) and the colorful leaves. I really like the Thanksgiving decorations and the “bless this house” and “in all things give thanks” messages.
  2. tree leaves blownThe first cold front of fall. I’ll never forget the thrill of opening my front windows in North Texas as a most pleasant chill filled the air, brought by the wind to replace the humidity and heat of a summer that wouldn’t seem to end. That first cold front of fall is like a cleansing of the atmosphere, a rebirth of sorts. And it fills my spirit with energy.
  3. xmas_tree-01Christmas decorations!!!!!! OK, I know I’m a wee bit crazy about the holidays but seeing this year’s decorations line up on store shelves fills me with the Christmas spirit. The arrival of fall signals the final countdown to Christmas and that really excites me. Let the four-month celebration begin!!!!!!!

As this fall sets in, I find myself in the mountains of South-Central New Mexico, where it is unseasonably warm but the locals tell me it will be one brutal winter ahead. “Fourteen feet of snow!” they warn. “You won’t be able to leave your house for days! Better have enough firewood…” Just to prove the point, one neighbor keeps passing in front of my property with trailer load after trailer load of firewood.

Of course, other locals say those locals are blowing smoke and trying to scare a Texan into leaving, which I will gladly do at the first sign of a fourteen-foot snow drift….

A few weekends ago we had the Golden Aspen Bike Rally here in Ruidoso, when hundreds of leather-clad biker dudes and babes invaded the tourist areas and hotels. The rally is supposed to coincide with a natural autumn event here during which the aspen trees up on the higher mountains turn a brilliant shade of yellow before losing their leaves. I got to witness it two years ago here and, to even greater effect, near Santa Fe, and it was really cool. But this year the aspens are delaying their big show. It’s just too warm, I guess.

“Proof!” my neighbor, Mac, told me. “Proof! Fourteen feet of snow, I tell ya. And that’s on a good day!” Mac thinks the later that it is warm, the colder the winter will be. I’ll have to talk to the National Weather Service about that…

However, another neighbor, Vince, told me, “See all of those those does (female deer)? Have you noticed how many of them have little babies right now?” “Yeah, I’ve noticed,” I replied. “Little ones are all over the place.”

“Well, that just shows that even the deer don’t think this is going to be a bad winter. They’d never drop their fawns this late in the season. They know something we don’t know. Always trust Mother Nature.”

Vince is a Native American and, I assume, a man of the land. Roger, on the other hand, is a man of science. Conspiracy science.

Roger, who is my neighbor down the street and the apparent new owner of a 300-foot-tall pile of firewood, dropped by my place the other day. “You ready for winter?” he asked me. I walked over to his truck in my shorts and t-shirt, suntan lotion and wide-brimmed hat, and replied, “I guess so! I’m leaving.”

Roger is a big proponent of the “El Nina” theory of mass winter extinction. Or snowfall. Or cold weather. Or… well, he believes in it. The warm water effect in the Pacific Ocean is believed by many to be the upcoming cause of a bitterly cold winter in the western United States. Whenever I talk to Roger, I seem to have dreams of tropical beaches and suntans… go figure.

But first there is the fall, a season of cinnamon and sage, of pumpkins smiling and hayrides, of candy-craving children and cool October breezes. I hope your fall is a really good one!

I’m getting out of Dodge before the snowpocalypse hits…

— John

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Fight, Flight or Faith?

I said, “If only I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and find rest.
How far away I would flee;
I would stay in the wilderness.” 
(Psalm 55:6-7)

If you could fly away from your troubles, where would you fly? Would it be to some remote mountaintop? How about a deserted beach somewhere tropical? Speaking of deserted, here in Psalm 55 King David longed to fly away to someplace very familiar, the barren Judean Wilderness, where he was the Bear Grylls of desert survival for the first decade of his adult life.

Anyone want to go to the wilderness?

Psalm 55 is one of my favorites to teach on because it encapsulates a very tempting response to heartache, brokenness and stress. David starts out the psalm by pleading with God to answer his prayer for help. His words are woven with intense emotion, the type of emotion you or I have when our hearts are immensely distressed.

God, listen to my prayer
and do not ignore my plea for help!
Pay attention to me and answer me!
I am restless and in turmoil with my complaint; (55:1-2)

David is restless. If his state was anything like Psalm 6 or Psalm 51, he probably could not sleep. He was a restless heart. Have you experienced something similar? Have you ever lost sleep over an issue that stole your thoughts and tortured your spirit? Have you cried out to God for His answer to your pleas, His response to your requests, and His compassion on your soul?

Unlike other instances of David’s restlessness, in Psalm 55 it wasn’t his sin that kept his heart in turmoil. It was pressure from the outside. In the next few lines of his song, David says that his enemies are taunting him, pressuring him, and bringing disasters upon him. Shoot, they may have even repossessed his chariot at 11 p.m. while he stood helplessly by. How cruel!

There is some debate about which instance in David’s life the great king refers to in this psalm. I tend to think it was when his eldest son, Absalom, led a military coup and sent his old man fleeing for his life. The coup happened unexpectedly and David’s heart and emotions were sent reeling. His own son! Not only that, but some of David’s inner circle backed Absalom, adding further insult to injury.

It is after his complaint before God that David thinks of his options. Does he fight, does he take flight or does he just try to forget about it?

My heart shudders within me;
terrors of death sweep over me.
Fear and trembling grip me;
horror has overwhelmed me. (4-5)

I hate those feelings! Don’t you? Now, David had a tendency to overstate things just a bit. But when you wear your emotions on your sleeve like he did, even little things seem really big! I personally think David would’ve made a great New Yorker. Maybe from Queens or the Bronx. My friend Jerry is from Queens and he wears his emotions a lot like David. Everything is BIG.

The great Israelite king starts to daydream in verse 6.

I said, “If only I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and find rest.
How far away I would flee;
I would stay in the wilderness. Selah
I would hurry to my shelter
from the raging wind and the storm. (6-8)

Just like you and me, David longed for rest from his troubles. And even though he knew that God was his spiritual refuge and his physical defender, David longed for relocation above all. Let me escape this mess I’m in! I’ll go somewhere that I know protects me from pursuers. Saul couldn’t get me in the wilderness, neither will my enemies!

The Judean Wilderness is kind of like Mars. Dry, inhospitable, and great for hiding.

The Judean Wilderness is kind of like Mars. Dry, inhospitable, and great for hiding.

Historically and biblically, the wilderness was David’s greatest proving ground as a leader and as a God-follower. It was there that he grew from a teenager running from Saul into a defender of the poor, leader of the outcast, and king-in-the-making (see 1 Samuel 22:1-2). It was during his desert days that David wrote many of the psalms attributed to him.
And so David dreamed of taking flight and not fighting his foes any longer. In the king’s mind there was rest to be had if he just ran away from his troubles. Assuming his troubles didn’t eventually find him, of course. Which we all know that they eventually do!

Fists or Flee?

Some people choose to fight when they’re backed up against the wall. They come out swinging, accusing their enemies of everything they can think of and firing back with verbal barbs and insults. Lawsuits, cold shoulders… they do whatever they can in order to fight back against their troubles.

Some people are like David. They choose to run away during tough times. Just recently, police arrested a man who hid out along the Appalachian Trail for six years while running away from embezzlement charges. But while running may seem like a good idea, it doesn’t solve anything. In fact, all it may do is make things much worse!

David knew that his dream of flight was but an emotional wish. That’s why he turns his attention in the psalm to God’s justice on his enemies. In verses 9-15 and 20-21, David describes the depth of his distress. We find out that not only are his enemies causing havoc inside “the city” (Jerusalem?) but they are being led by a close friend, someone that David worshiped beside at the tabernacle! And so the king cries out for justice. Wouldn’t you?

Jogging the Memory

But I call to God, and the Lord will save me.
I complain and groan morning, noon, and night,
and He hears my voice…
God, the One enthroned from long ago,
will hear… (from 55:16-19)

Something you and I would be wise to remember when we go through tough times is that God never, ever closes His ears to us when we pray. No matter how angry we are about our situation, God loves His children dearly and will always hear us when we need Him. This is not because of our own goodness or because we “deserve it.” It is because we have Jesus Christ sitting at God’s right hand, whose blood is sufficient to cover our faults, and serving as an Advocate for us.  I love how the author of Hebrews puts it, “Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help (Hebrews 4:16).”

God hears you. Know that with confidence! David said he complained and groaned all day long. Hey! I can do that, too! And God heard his voice, just as He hears yours and He hears mine. David’s memory of God as being “enthroned from long ago” is his assurance that God isn’t new to this whole “save the sinking soul” party. He has a track record! And that record is one of salvation… over and over and over again.

So What Should We Do?

Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you;
He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.
God, You will bring them down to the Pit of destruction;
men of bloodshed and treachery will not live out half their days.
But I will trust in You. (55:22-23)


Those two things stand out above the rest when we are facing troubling times. They work hand-in-hand, too! To “cast” is to throw something away from yourself. Think of the old children’s game “hot potato.” A burden is in your hands… throw it to someone else! In this case, throw it to the one being who is more than capable of handling your situation: God.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your care on Him, because He cares about you (1 Peter 5:6-7).”

The exhortation of Peter is the lesson from David! To “trust” means… well, I think you know what it means. Let it go!

In Psalm 55, David says that the Lord will sustain the one who gives their burdens to Him. Isaiah, 200 years later, said that,

“(God) gives strength to the weary and strengthens the powerless.
Youths may faint and grow weary, and young men stumble and fall,
but those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength;
they will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:29-31).

Cast and Trust.

In my life experience, God has sustained me through words of encouragement and little “helps” from co-workers and friends. He has also provided humor to take my mind off of myself and deep conversation with loved ones so that I’m reminded of God’s love for me and of His provision.

DO NOT BE ALONE DURING YOUR TIME OF TRIAL. Seek out others. Some of them may be carrying a pair of eagles wings just for you!

When you cast your burdens onto the Lord’s plate, you must trust Him to answer your pleas and help you. God may not act quickly — certainly not as quick as we’d like — but He will always help His children. ALWAYS. So keep your head up, keep looking around you, and if you are casting and trusting, I think you’ll soon be finding that God is offering help all around you! Look in the least likely of places. God is everywhere and He is working everywhere.

I don’t know what kinds of troubles you may be going through this very day. But I pray that you find His help during your moment of great need. Look for it! And trust Him.

Be God’s!

— John

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Of Pope, Politics & Power

Have you been following Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S.? I’m captivated.

Every time I look at what’s happening, it seems that the pontiff is doing or saying something really amazing. Amazing in a good way. He is speaking out for the poor, visiting with the homeless, hugging little children, blessing those who are just nervously standing by, and rendering those he contacts utterly speechless. And he is doing all this effortlessly, as if he is imitating someone… that person… umm… lived a long time ago… took compassion on those he met, too… what was his name?

GTY_congress_13_Pope_mm_150924_4x3_992Seriously, Francis is reminding me a lot of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry on this tour. Considering that he occupies such an important place on the world’s leadership stage, seeing him model Christ, even if imperfectly and with some theological flaws according to Protestants, is really, really refreshing. Pay attention to this pope’s actions and think of Jesus, the perfect model for how we should interact with this world.

It is so incredibly refreshing to see a world leader be a shepherd and not a wolf.

Oh, and since he’s such a rock star, His Holiness is even going to release a pop-rock-other album. Yep. Rock star.

However…. American politicians seem to have stepped up their attack on Pope Francis and his messages. I simply do not understand it. It’s nuts. What saddens me even more is that most of the opposition is coming from inside the universal Church, a.k.a. people who claim to follow Jesus Christ.

The pope has become an election year punching bag for some.

Yes, the pope is for compassion for immigrants, illegal or legal, for slowing climate change, and for reducing the poverty gap around the world. This is his message. Democrats applaud it.

He also is for humanizing the homeless, ending abortion, is against gay marriage, and supports the other causes of the Church. This is also his message. Republicans applaud it.

Both sides of the American political aisle claimed the pope was speaking for them during his message to Congress on Thursday morning. But Shepherd Smith, the Fox News anchor, had the perfect response to those who were dragging the pope into the political war of our country.

I think that we are in a weird place in the world when the following things are considered political. Five things, I’m going to tick them off. These are the five things that were on [the pope] and our president’s agenda. Caring for the marginalized and the poor. That’s now political. Advancing economic opportunity for all. Political? Serving as good stewards of the environment. Protecting religious minorities and promoting religious freedom globally. Welcoming [and] integrating immigrants and refugees globally. And that’s political?

Smith went on to conclude, “I think these were the teachings in the Bible of Jesus.” This is God, as described in the Old Testament by Moses:

For the Lord your God … executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. — Deut. 10:18-19

The past few days I cannot help but wonder how the Lord of all Creation, Savior of the World, would be received in this country. Imagine that Jesus went incognito, like he did on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. The two disciples on that road thought they were just talking to another Jewish pilgrim. What if Jesus came as, say, a political figure and did some of the exact same things that He did in the Gospels and said most of the same words? I wonder which side of the political aisle would be attacking His messages the loudest? I wonder. In the Gospels, the religious right were His main opposition (Pharisees). In fact, they demanded His death. The secular left didn’t care for Him much, either (Sadducees).

Look, I’m conservative in my politics, for the most part. But I also see the sickening hypocrisy between our current political leaders and what they claim to believe and who they claim to follow. In this presidential election season, politicians are saying ANYTHING to get an audience to applaud or get emotionally worked up. If that means tearing apart the pope’s messages of compassion, then so be it.

Power and the lust for it will destroy even the best-meaning souls. If you want the throne and you believe your audience can put your back-side on it, wouldn’t you say whatever they wanted to hear in order to ascend to your desired place?

Why would anyone even want to be president? Haven’t you seen what the position does to people? Haven’t you seen how it ages the men in office, stresses them into health issues, and tears apart their moral fiber as they have to say things they don’t mean and promise what they cannot deliver?

150924105434-pope-francis-speech-congress-global-arms-trade-00002219-large-169Lately, my heart has been moved by two seemingly-tortured political souls. Both sat behind Pope Francis as he spoke before the U.S. Congress. Both share his faith.

On Wednesday I watched a powerful and very sad video clip of Vice President Joe Biden as he was interviewed by a Catholic news service. Biden is a man I have deep compassion for these days. Not only is he a widower who lost his wife and baby daughter in the same tragedy, but he just lost his son and closest confidant, Beau, to brain cancer. Added to this is the intensifying pressure on him to run for president, which he does not want to do. He’s a grieving man who is coming to terms with life and mortality and his active Catholic faith.

Biden in the interview admitted how he hates abortion, how it is wrong, and how he believes life begins at conception. He believes in the Church’s teaching on life. But the years of Democratic politics have poisoned his soul and forced him to put aside his personal beliefs in order to cater to his political base. In the clip, he looked and sounded like a man tortured and regretful and so used to giving people an untruthful answer on abortion that he seems like a man on verge of spiritual tears.

Then there is Speaker of the House John Boehner, a Catholic, who cried when listening to Pope Francis speak before Congress on Thursday. Boehner is another tortured soul who announced his resignation from Congress today after what was, I’m sure, decades of tough political life in which he had to endure broken promises, partisan lines, and, as Speaker, rebellions that might or might not have damaged our government. He had to serve as a mediator between his party and the president, which is hard enough, and now he’s simply exhausted and had enough.

Why would anyone want to be President? Or Speaker? Or Pope! My goodness….

Above all the political fray, the personal attacks, the issues that divide the country, here is my exhortation to you and to myself:

Be God’s!

— John

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7 Spiritual Consequences Of Living A Hurried, Busy Life

“Culture’s obsession with busyness and hurriedness isn’t just a scheduling problem. It’s a heart problem. It’s time to consider the cost of a hurried life.” — Frank Powell

I came across this article today from blogger Frank Powell on how our fast-paced way of life might hurt our relationship with God. It was re-posted on the Relevant Magazine website. The funny thing about my find is that I was going to write on a very similar topic today! I probably will find a different angle on this.

Anyway, it is this fast-paced, stressed-out culture that led me to form Restless Heart Ministries. Christians can often get so busy in life that their relationships with God, loved ones, and neighbors suffer and break. I would love to provide a place of biblical counsel, rest and refocus to help stressed-out believers take a deep breath, re-structure their priorities to follow biblical, God-honoring truths, and learn to be still (cease striving) and know that God is God.

— John

Click on the link to read Frank’s article.

Read Source: 7 Spiritual Consequences Of Living A Hurried, Busy Life

For more on Restless Heart Ministries, visit my website HERE.

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