The Power of Eye Contact

Matthew 6:22 “The eye is the lamp of the body.”

 

My wife Julie and most of my friends have been required to use reading glasses for more than 10 years and at 51, somehow, I have escaped.  However, recently when I look at the type in my bible it is fuzzy and requires adjustments in my focus to read the text.  My favorite Christmas gift has been bright LED flashlights so I can see the small things I am working on.  I thought I was cheating time, but it has caught me.  To my dismay, I visited the eye doctor and she confirmed my condition and changed my prescription so that one contact helps for reading and the other for distance.  I am adjusting to switching from eye to eye depending on what I am looking at, but expect it will become automatic.

Following the exam she asked me if I had any questions and she probably did not expect what I have been chewing on the last couple weeks.  She was using sophisticated instruments to look into my eye, but following the exam I looked her in the eye and asked her the question I had been thinking about that had little to do with my eyes.  Have you ever noticed that you can’t make eye contact with someone unless you person to person.  I had been watching speakers on video and noticed that no matter how directly they looked in the lens of the camera I could not make the connection that you get in person.  You cannot make eye contact with a photograph.  I enjoy using Facetime to communicate with our son, Drew, at Auburn University, but the eye to eye contact is not the same as in person.  There is a deep personal connection that happens when you make human to human live eye contact.  Eye contact can communicate respect, interest, sincerity, appreciation, understanding, warning, empathy or any one of thousands of human emotions with a brief glance.

For all my career I have been in a sales or relationship building capacity.  I have flown across the country and across the world to share a meal and have a personal face to face meeting.  I make this effort to convince my customer or vendor that I am worthy of their trust to fulfill an important responsibility that they must accomplish.  Whether you as selling a one-time consumer purchase on Amazon or selling a custom-built piece of machinery, trust has been established.  There is a person behind every transaction and people buy from people they trust.  We have a customer that recently awarded us business based on the trust of a personal referral.  We have accepted a significant responsibility to co-develop a new technology that involves technical risk, close collaboration and a financial risk of such a large endeavor.  I am driving three hours to have a meeting with their owner so I can look him in the eye.  I want to know if I can trust him and I want him to know he can trust me.  Somehow, I will look him in the eye and I will know.  It will only take a moment and we will shake hands and may share lunch, but it is the eye to eye contact that will reach beyond the physical and give us a sense of trust and confidence necessary to go through the challenges we will encounter on this journey.

What is it that is so powerful with human to human eye contact where in a brief moment you can instantly sear a connection between the souls of two individuals?  It does not happen over the phone, internet, photograph or Facetime.  It is more than identifying life.  I can look into the eye of any animal and instantly know if there is life inside.  If you look into the eye of a fish, snake, squirrel, horse, chicken there is no connection other than a recognition of predator or not a predator and an appropriate reaction.  I have read that the only other animal that can read human emotion is the domesticated dog and there is no doubt that I can communicate with my dog, Cooper, by just eye contact.  Evidently clinicians have been able to measure an increase in the amount of oxytocin upon recognition.  This is the same hormone that bonds a mother and infant.  Maybe this is why dogs can be so effective and therapeutic to humans.

As I surfed the internet reading about the power of eye contact I came across an experiment that demonstrates the power of human to human eye contact.  We don’t need to know each other or even speak the same language.  Take a moment and experience the power and emotional connection that comes from eye contact.

So what does the bible tell us about eye contact?  The most famous story is told by Luke about Peter denying that he was one of the followers of Jesus.  Luke 22:60-61 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.”  Immediately, while he was still speaking, a rooster crowed.  The Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had told him “Before a rooster crows today, you will deny Me three times.”  Can you imagine the guilt and shame that pierced the soul of Peter at that moment?  In a brief glance, the eyes communicate painful betrayal and loss.  Do you think that experience changed Peter?  Do you think the guilt that Peter felt may have been a motivating factor to become the bold and fearless disciple and church leader that ended with him defending his faith to his death?

In Mark 5 we are told the story of the bleeding woman who was healed by touching His garments.  Mark 5:30 Immediately Jesus, perceiving in Himself that the power proceeding from Him had gone forth, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My garments?”  And His disciples said to Him, “You see the crowd pressing in on You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’  And He looked around to see the woman who had done this.  But the woman fearing and trembling, aware of what had happened to her, came and fell-down before Him and told Him the whole truth.  And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction.”  It does not specifically say that there was eye contact, but I can see Jesus scanning the crowd until he locked in on the woman eye to eye.  What did the woman feel when Jesus turned to the crowd to see her?  Clearly she knew she had an encounter with the Lord and fell on her face to worship Him and tell Him the “whole truth.”  What do you think she told him?  Do you think she wanted to know Him better and for Him to know her?  After she was healed and Jesus looked into her eyes she opened up to Jesus and confessed the “whole truth”.  Do you think she felt His mercy, grace and love for her in His eyes?

The bible tells the stories of many personal encounters with Jesus.  In John 4 we hear the story of Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman at a well.  He asks the woman for a drink and tells her that those that drink of this water will thirst again; but the water that Jesus gives provides eternal life.  At some-point I can see her look into the eyes of Jesus.  What did she experience as she connected eyes with Jesus?  Luke 19:5 tells us that Jesus was passing through Jericho and spotted Zacchaeus in a tree.  He made eye contact with Zacchaeus and then called him by name.  What will it feel like when Jesus makes eye contact with you and calls you by name?  Mark 5 tells us of Jesus’ encounter with a demon possessed man.  In verse 6 “When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him.He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”  When the demon saw Jesus he recognized him from far away and feared Him.  Think about all the encounters that Jesus had with others Mary, His disciples, John the Baptist, the leper, the lame man, Pilot, the thief on the cross and many more.

So what can we learn from the power of eye contact?  We know that when we connect with people through our eyes we communicate at a deeper level.  For children who probably interact more with an LCD than face to face we teach them to have a firm handshake and look others in the eye.  Engage others in a personal way and look them in the eye.  It will serve you well.  When people connected with the eyes of Jesus it changed their world. Personally we can reflect on what it will be like for us to look in the eyes of Jesus.  For those of us that believe Jesus as our Savior we have the Holy Spirit living in us.  When we connect with other people who do they see?  What do we communicate?

May your life be enriched and may you bless others by recognizing the deep communication power that you have to connect through your eyes.

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Happiness

BE HAPPY!

I am just starting Randy Alcorn’s book Happiness with my Friday morning men’s group and thought I would organize and preserve some of my thoughts that were useful to me and hope can be useful for you.  The timing for this study is good because our family has been enduring a struggle that is beyond our ability to control.  We are weary in our fight and sadness tends to creep in at times to overtake us.  As I prepared for this study I asked myself the question, what is Happiness?  Happiness is being content in your circumstances.

First be reminded God commands us to be happy.  Paul encourages us in Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!  Naturally we find some happiness in the things that God has created for us to enjoy.  These include social relationships, hobbies, leisure activities, “stuff”, food, wine or the many things that we pursue to be content and experience happiness.  In Deuteronomy 27:47-48 Moses tells us “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and a glad heart, for the abundance of all things; therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger, in thirst in nakedness, and in the lack of all things; and He will put an iron yoke on your neck until He has destroyed you.”  That is a pretty strong admonition. They had an abundance of all things, yet they were not glad in heart because they did not find their happiness in God Himself.  When we pursue the created things we are never completely satisfied, but always end with wanting more.  I am reminded of John D Rockefeller’s quote when asked how much is enough?  and his reply, just a little more.  Satan uses the good things God has created for our enjoyment to divert our satisfaction from God and deceive us in putting our trust in the created things for ultimate happiness.  The end of this pursuit is at best discontent and often lead to tragedy and destruction.  We misdirect our attention to the things God has provided for us to enjoy, but miss the ultimate source that supplies happiness.  John Piper in his many books encourage us to find our ultimate happiness in God Himself.  He famously quotes “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him”.  When we pursue God Himself for our satisfaction, enjoy a trusted relationship with Him, take pleasure in His creation with the knowledge that He created this all for our enjoyment, and trust that the trials we endure are for our benefit and His glory we find ultimate contentment or happiness.

Can we be happy in difficult circumstances? Paul goes on in chapter 4 of Philippians to give us the answer.  Philippians 4:11-13 “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.  I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and and going hungry, both having abundance and suffering need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.  This was something Paul “learned”.  Paul learned and practiced through a lifetime of experiences to recognize God in every circumstance and to realize and to trust Him in and through every circumstance.  For those that love God and trust in Him he uses the good, the difficult, and even tragic circumstances for good and His glory.   For those that love God and trust in Him find the strength to do all things.

Ecclesiastes 7:14:  When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other.

During the past 5 years I have often questioned why God was allowing me to experience some of life’s challenges.  As I trusted in Him, put my faith in Him and determined to be content I also have learned and can strongly testify that God is good and uses times of abundance and experiences of suffering need for His glory and I am content in Him.  I currently reside in the midst of a very difficult and challenging circumstance that I do not understand, but through my life I have learned and do choose happiness and contentment in trusting Him.

I believe Joy is this deep seated contentment internalized to the point that we are saturated through and through.  Joy overcomes sorrow that we will all endure.  Joy is the result of traveling through and experiencing Gods great blessings, challenges and even tragic circumstances that result in learning and practicing to trust in Him and finding our satisfaction in Him alone.  It is joy that overflows and is attractive to others.  It is joy that testifies to our happiness in the midst of our circumstances and gives us the privilege to share with others the love for God and the satisfaction that He along can provide.

It is my prayer for you that you will also lean into God during the times of abundance and suffering need.  It is my prayer that you will recognize His love for you in all of life’s circumstances of blessing and trials.  It is my prayer that you will realize this truth in your life and let it saturate you through and through so that you can reflect His love back to Him and to reflect His love to others that have been entrusted to us.  It is my prayer that you will choose and experience happiness and joy in all of life’s circumstances.

Psalm 68:3 – “But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.”

2 Corinthians 7:13 – By all this we are encouraged. In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you.

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Merry Christmas!

Luke 2:10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord"

Luke 2:10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”

My Christmas came early on Saturday night December 3.  Second Baptist invited the singing group Veritas to give a concert for worship.  Their music along with the orchestra and choir was moving, powerful, amazing and stirred the soul.  As I serve in the new member ministry I have the great privilege to be a small part of confirming people’s faith in Jesus.  There is no doubt the highlight of my celebration of the Christmas season came this evening.  There can be no better reminder of the incredible gift of grace and mercy we all have been given through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  What an amazing gift and reason to celebrate the birth of our Savior.

I often arrive at Christmas hurried and miss the opportunity to truly contemplate the enormity of God’s gift of redemption.  Tonight I was stopped in my tracks by the powerful music that resonated in my soul.  Following that time of worship I received another special gift and high privilege of being a very small part of confirming Wilson’s acceptance of Jesus as his Savior.  Christmas came early this year.  Celebrating the “Good News of Great Joy for All the People”.  Merry Christmas!

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Can God use Donald Trump for His glory?

2 Chronicles 7:14 and My people [d]who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

Daniel 2:20-21 Daniel said, Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, For wisdom and power belong to Him. It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding.

The Republican primary started with 16 candidates.  The least likely and most unqualified was Donald Trump.  It was a presumed publicity stunt for the Trump brand, but his unpolished, in-your-face, anti-establishment rants won him a fan base.  There was no way Donald Trump would survive against these other polished, qualified, well spoken candidates.  One by one dropped and Donald Trump won the nomination.  Polls said 60% of the Republicans could not stand to think they would vote for Donald Trump.  He could not seem to control himself and responded unprofessionally and improperly to criticism.  His opponents and the sitting president claimed he was unfit for the Presidency, he was a loose cannon and unpredictable.  His repeated gaffs, crazy antics and seeming inability to control his emotions made for great Saturday Night Live skits.  He offended nearly every minority group and was an embarrassment to himself and our political process.  NBC released recordings from Access Hollywood of his sexist, arrogant, ego maniac comments made about women.  Donald Trump is a deeply flawed person and candidate that is unfit to be President of the United States.  His opponent, Hillary Clinton, is also a deeply flawed candidate but immensely qualified, has the backing of the sitting President, media-elite, educators, rising minority population.  Hillary is well spoken, stays on message and seemed unstoppable. 

The stakes for the election are very high.  The next President will have the opportunity to appoint several judges to the Supreme Court which will shape the laws of our country for the next generation.  Our nation has lost it’s moral compass and secular humanism is driving social change where we have seen the “progressives” push for legalized marijuana, legalize same sex marriage, blurring gender identity, open borders and expanded abortion rights just to name a few. Our churches for the most part have remained silent, failed to effectively share the good news of great joy for all the nations, failed to live out the truth of Jesus to attract this generation to know the love, grace and mercy that God has for his people.  We are past the tipping point and on the fast downward slide of self glorification and idol worship of our culture.

But there is a remnant, a minority in our nation that still knows the God of the ages.  Behind the scenes millions of Christian Americans got on their knees and prayed for God’s mercy.  Considering the terribly flawed options presented by both parties, Christians prayed for God’s mercy on our nation.  Evangelical Christian leaders came together to pray for America and support and pray for the candidate that ran on the Republican platform.  According to the Washington Post 80% of evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump.  Against all odds and all predictions Donald Trump won the Presidency. 

The peaceful transition of government that is the beauty of American democracy has been initiated.  Donald Trump has appointed Governor Mike Pence, who is well-known for socially conservative policies, to lead the transition team.  It is notable and hopeful for our nation and evangelical Christians to see that Donald Trump is nominating men and women that are outspoken committed Christian leaders to the highest positions of leadership in our government.  Some of the names emerging for Trump’s transition team include former Governor Mike Huckabee and Governor Sam Brownback, a socially conservative Catholic, are being considered for agency posts according to Buzzfeed. Ken Blackwell, a senior fellow at Perkins’ Family Research Council, is overseeing domestic policy for the transition team, according to Politico. Others that have stood for Christian values include Senator Jeff Sessions, Reagan aide and former Attorney General Ed Meese, and immigration conservative Kris Kobach. Other names that will likely serve in top leadership spots include Dr. Ben Carson, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, and Michelle Bachman. 

I do not identify as a Republican or Democrat, but an independent Christian that votes for those who stand for conservative Christian values.  I am hopeful that God will use Donald Trump and other flawed people to bring revival to the United States of America.  I am hopeful that God will act in a super natural way to change the hearts of men to know His love and follow Him.  I am hopeful that our country will have Justices in our Supreme Court that will uphold biblical truths that protect the sanctity of life and religious freedom for all people and religions.  I am hopeful that our country will again be a beacon to the values of liberty and freedom that give hope for all men to pursue life, liberty and happiness.  I am hopeful that the United States will support Israel and will resume as the world leader of hope.

Is it possible that God can use Donald Trump for His purpose and His glory?  As I struggle with the person of Donald Trump leading our country I reflected on the people God has picked to use for His glory. 

Abraham -Was old.

Elijah – Was suicidal.

Joseph – Was abused.

Job – Went bankrupt.

Moses – Had a speech problem.

Gideon – Was afraid.

Samson – Was a womanizer.

Rahab – Was a prostitute.

Samaritan Woman – Divorced.

Noah – Was a Drunk.

Jeremiah – Was young.

Jacob – Was a cheater.

David – Was a murderer.

Jonah – Ran from God.

Naomi – Was a widow.

Peter – Denied Christ three times

Martha – Worried about everything.

Zacchaeus – Was small and money hungry.

The Disciples – Fishermen who could not stay awake while praying.

Paul – A Pharisee who persecuted Christians before becoming one.

God did not choose people who were the “most likely to succeed” or the most popular and influential candidates, but worked supernaturally through the broken, the weak, the left behind, the sinners, the unreligious and the outcasts.  Those least likely to bring honor and glory to God He chose to represent Him and do great works that changed the world for His purpose and His glory.  Can God use an immensely flawed Donald Trump?  Can God use me or you?  Yes He can!  My hope is not in Donald Trump or in the people he puts in place of leadership, but in Jesus Christ.  My hope is that God has mercy on us and bestows His undeserving grace on our nation so that we may respond to His call to know His love, worship Him and love our neighbors.  God is still in control.  May God bless America!

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Chase the Lion by Mark Batterson

One of the men that I study the bible with on Friday mornings sent this book to me with a note of encouragement for the “Lions” I have chased and the friendship we share.  Chase the Lion is a book written by Mark Batterson and based on the inspiration of one of David’s warriors named Beniah.  chase-the-lionAs recorded in 2 Samuel 23:20 Beniah chased a lion into a pit on a snowy day and killed it.  David surrounded himself with a band of courageous and loyal warriors that would endure any hardship, fight any battle and take on the strongest of enemies.  Mark Batterson builds off the resume of Beniah who went on to become commander-in-chief of Israel’s army under king Solomon to write a book that will inspire young men that have yet to take on the challenges of conquering a 500 pound lion and encourages those of us who have lived to face a few lions in our life.  As is my habit while reading books I underline sections that I agree with, challenge me, encourage or give me inspiration.  The following are some of the highlights that encouraged me and inspire me to continue to pursue dreams that God brings to my heart.

P 2. – If your dream doesn’t scare you, it’s too small

P 3. – In every dream journey there comes a moment when you have to quit living as if the purpose of life is to arrive safely at death.  You have to go after every dream that is destined to fail without divine intervention.  You have to go big or go home.  You have to take the road less traveled or settle for status quo.  You have to bit the bullet or turn your back on your dreams.  I have a theory:  your favorite scripture will become the script of your life.  (By the way I wrote in the margin 2 of my favorites Proverbs 3:5 and Ephesians 3:20)

P 4. – At the end of our lives, our greatest regrets will be the God-ordained opportunities we left on the table, the God-given passions we didn’t pursue and the God-sized dreams we didn’t go after because we let fear dictate our decisions.   Most people believe God is real, but few people actually live like it.

P 5. – God honors big dreams because big dreams honor God.

P 8. – What impossibility do you need to repent of?  It’s not just our sin that we need to repent of.  It’s our small dreams.  The size of your dream may be the most accurate measure of the size of your God.

P 13. – Your greatest legacy isn’t your dream.  Your greatest legacy is the next generation of dreamers that your dream inspires – the dreams within a dream.

P 21. – If you want to live an epic life, you have to overcome some epic challenges.  You have to take some epic risks, make some epic sacrifices.

P 22. – You can’t steal second base if you keep your foot on first.

P 26. – One of the best ways to discover your destiny is to study your history.  The seeds of your dreams are often buried in your memory, three levels down. Take inventory. …p 27.  It’s not until we inventory our inciting incidents that we begin to see why we do what we do.

P 29. – I want to die doing what I love to do, doing what God has called me to do.  I want to pursue God-sized dreams until the day I die.  And if it kills me, so be it.

P 30. – Sadly, many people die long before their heart stops beating.  We start dying the day we stop dreaming.  And ironically, we start living the day we discover a dream worth dying for.

P 30. – I need a life goal to keep me going.  I need a noble cause to keep me committed.  I need a God-sized dream to keep me from getting demotivated.

P 33. – But once the door to the future opens, the door to the past slams shut.  There is no turning back.

P 36 – What was the genesis of your dream?

P 40. – Focus on becoming the right person.  If you keep doing the right things day in and day out, God will hold up His end of the bargain!

P 55. – When we fail to take action, we forfeit the future.  And just as inaction is an action, indecision is a decision.  As Edmund Burke famously said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

P 57. – Don’t let what you cannot do keep you from doing what you can.

P 59. – You need to identify the battlefield you’re willing to die on.  Then you need to fight the good fight until your hand freezes to the sword.

P 63. – A dream without a to-do list is called a wish list.

P 78. – change of pace + change of place = change of perspective

P 81. – I’ve since discovered that God-ordained dreams often go through a death and resurrection.  Only when the dream is dead and buried can it be resurrected for God’s glory………Don’t put a period where God puts a comma.

P 82. – When we operate in faith, we aren’t risking our reputation.  We’re risking God’s reputation!

P 83. – Don’t settle for your plan A.  Go after God’s plan B.

P 84. – Many people hit a dead end in their dream journey because they’re waiting for God to go first.  In my experience signs follow.  If you wait for God to part the Jordan River, you’re going to be waiting the rest of your life. You have to sep into the river and get your feet wet before God will part the river.  Faith is taking the first step before God reveals the second step.

P 85. – Faith is climbing our on a limb, cutting it off, and watching the tree fall down.

P 87. – If you want to experience the supernatural, you have to attempt something that is beyond your natural ability.  If you want to experience God’s miraculous provision, you have to attempt something that is beyond your resources.

P 100. – Success isn’t winning or losing; it’s obeying.

P 121. – Don’t accumulate possessions; accumulate experiences.  (I would add:  accumulate relationships)

P 135. – You are never going to be more than about 80 percent certain….Don’t let 80 percent certainty hold you back.  …A goal is a dream with a deadline.

P 144. – In the plot line of our lives, dram markers are defining decisions.  …How much is your dream worth?

P 145. – If you want God to bless you beyond your ability, try giving beyond your means.

P 159. – Even when you feel as if you aren’t making a difference, God might be using you in ways you aren’t aware of.  And it’s not the immediate impact that matters most; it’s the exponential impact, to the third and fourth generations.  …Legacy is the influence your dream has on others even after you die.

P 160. – Until you can selflessly invest yourself in someone else’s dream, your not ready for your own.

P 162. – You may not influence a million people, but who knows?  You may influence one person who influences a billion people.

P 163. – They are not dead who live in lives they leave behind.  In those whom they have blessed they live a life again.

P 168. – Your potential will be determined by the people you surround yourself with.  So hiring decisions become the most important decisions you make because they have an exponential effect.

P 170. – I need to be around people who make me feel small because their dreams are so big.  I need to be around people who make me feel far from God because they’re so close to Jesus.  I need to be around people who make me feel as if I’m doing next to nothing because they’re making such a big difference.

P 171. – The true test of greatness is measured by the accomplishments of those you surround yourself with, those who come after you.

P 175. – Leadership is first and foremost servanthood.  Is your dream about you?  Or is it about others?  If your dream is about you, no one will rally around it.  If your dream is about others, you won’t be able to keep people away.

P 183. – The best way to learn leadership is to serve under a gifted leader.

P 191. – What are you doing today that will make a difference one hundred years from now?

So I have been inspired by men like Jim Elliott, who died as a missionary to the Auca Indians.  Jim’s wife Elizabeth tells of a time when Jim went to a football game and dreamed about stadiums of people cheering for Jesus.  Bill McCartney, former football coach of the Colorado Buffalos and founder of Promise Keepers dreamed of stadiums filled with men desiring to pursue Christ.  Bill McCartney, “Big dreams create the magic that stir men’s souls to greatness.”  I am a product of the influence of my grandparents, parents, pastors, camp directors, friends, bosses, the bible, books I read, life experiences and my own children.  These have all greatly influenced me and I hope that I can influence my children and others I know and share my work with to influence millions for many generations to come.  Thank you Mark Batterson for being a leader who chases big dreams and for the encouragement and inspiration you have provided to me.

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My Life Speaks – Neply Haiti

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Ben and Summer attracted the kids

my-life-speaksMy wife, Julie, and I have a list of goals and adventures that we want to share with our children to expose them to sports, culture, history and life experiences.  One of these goals was to take them on a mission trip where they can connect with other real people in another part of the world that has a very different life than we live in the United States.  I first heard about My Life Speaks after a friend shared about their family experience at this mission.  Through emotion and tears Julie shared My Life Speaks with me and it was pretty clear that I had little choice in the matter and we were going to Haiti.

As I considered the trip I realized how many friends and connections I had to Haiti.  I am happy to do any labor, but felt that if I were going to go to Haiti there were other areas of much higher value that I could contribute if I would do some planning ahead of the trip.  Most of my career I have worked to build a network of connections and find value in connection people and opportunity.  So I started to contact some of the people that had interest and investment in Haiti.  Kanakuk Kamps is associated with a group that operates many schools and a farm to teach people farming.  Focus On the Family has resources for the family and for abstinence based sex education curriculum that has been translated into many languages and successfully used across the world call No Apologies.  My Rotary Club has made 7 trips to Haiti to train and certify people in repairing of medical equipment in hospitals.  My parents introduced me to a couple from Haiti in their bible study class who had political ties in Haiti and had run for President of the country.  I have college friends from Baylor who are now pastors of churches that have missions in Haiti.  So I set about learning about the missions and making connections with the local missions in Haiti.  It did not take long to stir up lots of conversations, meeting and some excitement.  At the end my main goal was to connect the resources to My Life Speaks so that the various missions could know each other and possibly collaborate on mutual goals.  I also brought the Focus on the Family, No Apologies, resources in digital and print form to My Life Speaks in English and French. I had the most hope for building on the work to repair medical equipment that my Rotary Club had started.  They have certified and trained dozens of people to fix equipment and have technical support and inventory in Houston to supply parts and coaching.  They also have a stream of inventory that is continuously being taken out of service in the Texas Medical Center and could be shipped to Haiti.  All they really needed was an entrepreneur and leader in Haiti that could organize and build a business with one hospital and begin to employ technicians, execute the operational plan in one hospital and eventually grow to other hospitals and clinics.  All they need is one entrepreneur to be the catalyst to begin to make a difference to a clinic, community and a family through employment.  We have a local Rotary Club and individuals prepared to make connections and provide mentoring services.  We also have Rotary International that could build on a successful program and spread it across the world.

Port of Prince

Port au Prince

So armed with some contacts and a business plan I had hope we could make a difference for Haiti.  What I encountered when we arrived in Port of Prince and along the journey to the My Life Speaks mission was like nothing I had ever seen.  The lack of basic government services, crowded streets, shanty houses pieced together with relief tarps and remnants, burned out cars, cooking on the street, cows, chickens, pigs, goats and dogs going through the mountains of garbage piled up on the streets, in the gutters and filling the rivers.  The only word that could describe the appearance was apocalyptic.  I had come to Haiti with a great hope and my hope had taken a direct hit and was severely damaged by the circumstances that I witnessed as our van crawled through the dirty streets.

Arriving at My Life Speaks close to the coast and in the midst of sugar plantations was a much better sight.  Mike and Missy had moved with their family to live in the village.  img_0672The village does not have running water or electricity.  They have adopted several abandoned kids with various handicaps and sponsor 4 host families who have also adopted kids and live with them.  Mike and Missy are respectful of the community and have gradually earned trust and are now employing some of the villagers who identify kids in the village at risk from not having enough to eat.  My Life Speaks feeds 120 kids each day.  The groups that come from the U.S. serve the community by going to the homes of the elderly and doing their wash and make improvements to the sponsors homes to care for the special needs of the handicapped kids they have adopted.  The groups provide buyers for local entrepreneurs who sell drinks, snacks and hand-made gifts.  One of the sponsors has created a partnership with Austin Children’s Hospital who has established a clinic to take care of the medical needs of the community of 2,800 people for a $3 office visit if they can afford it.  We worship together, clean up garbage, have crafts and give back rubs to the elderly, and various other projects to improve the community.  I have been a skeptic of many “missionaries” that have asked for support and whose mission does not really involve living amongst the community and closer to an international study abroad program.  Mike told me that he plans to live the remainder of his life in this community and have a viking funeral where they put the body on a boat, set it on fire and push the boat out to sea.  Mike and Missy are the real deal and live every day with the daily hardships.  Mike happened to be in Nashville when hurricane Matthew hit Haiti and Missy rode out the storm with the village.

Sponsor Family home

Sponsor Family home

During our trip I mostly worked on putting screens and rat wire around the porch of one of the sponsor homes where Cami lived.  Cami has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheel chair.  She spends most of the day on the porch and does not have the ability to swat the flies on her.  Cami watched as we secured the frames, screen an rat wire.  Trapped in a body that does not function well is a beautiful person that enjoys being around people.  When I spoke to Cami her face lit up and you can see in this picture the little girl who was rescued and is now one of several kids that are in the care of My Life Speaks.

Cami can light up a room with her smile!

Cami can light up a room with her smile!

The village of Neply is an amazing place where people live differently than we do in the United States.  They may not have the material possessions or things we expect and take for granted, but they are are raising families, have love for each other, serve each other and are happy in the lives they live in this small sugar cane farming community.  We feel the need to help them be like America, but as they consider the opportunities that their american connections may be able to offer they are wise enough to recognize both the good and the bad that will come to the families and community with some of the conveniences we take for granted.  It was a great experience to live and work with the people of Neply.  It was a privilege to be invited into their spaces to pray with them.  They were nice enough to let us do a bad job hand washing their clothes in the river water.  They accepted us in their community and make us feel like family.  We got to teach their kids Bible stories and even put on a play of famous Bible stories for the whole community.  Our kids got to know and just be kids with the children of the village.  Can you imagine what the neighboring community thought when we all showed up in a bus to cheer on the Neply soccer team.

Go NEPLY

Go NEPLY

I want to commend Mike, Missy and their family for the commitment that they have made to this community, to the children that were left for dead, and to a life of service in a country and community that has been a forgotten nation and is close enough to be a neighbor to the United States.  Mike and Missy are examples of self sacrifice for the love of others.  Love your Neighbor.

Love your neighbor

Love your neighbor

Matthew 22:36-40  36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

How would you like to establish your heart without blame in holiness before your God and Father?  I Thessalonians 3:12-13 tell us how.

1 Thessalonians 3:12-13 – 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else(Love your neighbor), just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.  

 

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Highlights from You and Me Forever by Francis & Lisa Chan

you-and-me-foreverWhat I really like about Francis Chan is his eternal perspective on life and the way he challenges us in the midst of our “normal” lives to take decisive action on the familiar commands of scripture.  My practice while reading any book is to underline thoughts and paragraphs that teach me something new or cause me to think or re-think about a subject. The following are some of the highlights for me from You and me Forever – Marriage in light of eternity by Francis Chan & Lisa Chan

P 11 – We are sad because godly marriages magnify God’s ingenious creation, but few marriages radiate that glory.

P 16 – These are the spiritually bedridden, resigned to spending the rest of their lives studying the Word without over making disciples or tangibly caring for others.

P 16 – Why not assume you should adopt kids unless you hear a voice telling you not to?  Wouldn’t that seem more biblical since God has told us that true religion is to care for the widows and orphans (James 2:27)?

P 25 – If we don’t stare at God, we’ll spend our time staring at lesser things.  Namely, ourselves.

P 29 – The words in your Bible carry an unparalleled power to penetrate to your very core.

P 52 – The Spirit fuels us so powerfully from the inside that His active presence is tangible and indisputable (see Gal. 5:22-24).  If the actions aren’t pouring out of your life, you have to ask yourself:  Is He in you?

P 54 – You are now called by God to showcase the power of His Spirit by the way you live.

P 55 – We are called to paint such an attractive picture of marriage that it causes people to long for the coming marriage with Jesus.  God calls us to display the love and humility of Christ through our marriages.

P 62 – Life is about Jesus.  We are not here to tell our story, but His.  We are here to live His story, not ours.

P 67 – We teach that even though Jesus lived simply, we have the right to live luxuriously(some prefer the term “comfortably”).

P 76 – He left the glory and comforts of heaven for you.  He endured torture and ridicule for you.  He endured the Father’s wrath for you.  No one will ever love you that much nor endure that much pain for you.  He didn’t sit passively in heaven criticizing you.  He zealously came after you.

P  81 – No woman wants t be led by a joyless man.  Let Christ fill you so you have plenty to give your wife.  Find all your security and worth in being a child of God, a member of Christ’s body.  He “nourishes and cherishes” you, which enables you to do the same for your wife.

P 98 – …you should sit down with your spouse tonight and figure out how to structure your lives around the command to make disciples.  This command should dictate everything about your life:  where you live, where you work, where you spend your money, how you spend your time – everything!

P99 – He wants us living life with others so we can demonstrate a life of obedience and teach them to do the same(1 Cor.  11:1).  True discipleship involves opening up our homes, schedules, and resources to others in order to allow them to see Christ and follow Him.  For more on this.  www.multiplymovement.com

P 107-108 – You feel trapped in meaningless routine and everything in you knows you were created for more.  Life might be fun and relationships might be good, but you know something deeper is missing.  You sense that you were created for more.  You want to experience a deeper communion with God where the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit is flowing thorough you undeniably.  You want to touch God rather than merely talk about Him.  You long for a knowledge of God that goes beyond your intellect, the kind of deep knowledge that only comes from experience.  This happens only when you are on His mission.  His love and power flow through you to others as you seek to bring them into His kingdom.  There is nothing like it, and there’s no other way to get it.

P 116 – Can you really call your marriage “good” if your focus on your family keeps you from making disciples, caring for the poor, reaching out to the lost, and using your talents and resources for others?

P 117 – Marriage-centered marriages have become accepted and applauded rather than Christ-centered ones.

P 122 – I can testify that the mission is far more appealing than the safety of the status quo.  Yes, sometimes I am tempted to pursue an “ordinary life”.  There are moments when I just want to be selfish and not think so hard about what God wants.  But it’s too late.  Once you have experienced true life, there’s no going back!

P 154 – Lisa and I want to raise children who love Jesus far more than they love us.  We want them to trust Him more than us, to enjoy Him more than us, to find more security in Him than in us.  And we are convinced that the best way to teach this is to demonstrate it.

P 157 – Our kids must be taught and shown that the world does not revolve around them – it revolves around Jesus.  We live for Him.

P 168 – “You saw that there was nothing mom and dad were not willing to sacrifice for the gospel, not even our lives.  Now go and do the same.”  How many of us are living in such a way that we can say the same to our children?

P 169 – The greatest lesson you can teach your kids is how to make decisions with an eternal mindset.

P 174 – As important as a commitment to the church is, your kids need to see God’s truth shaping your lives throughout the week.  If they can see you living out the gospel in the most intimate relationship you have, they will have an authentic picture of what it means to live according to the Word rather than the world.

P 175 – Our kids hear us pray often that we would all love God more and more, Truly, that is the heart behind every prayer we will ever pray for them.  To love God more is the fulfillment of the Great Commandment (Mark 12:28 – 30).  It is the on e thing that will keep them in step with His Spirit and obeying His word.

P 188 – Wherever you are in the journey, picture how you want this life to end.  We make our best decisions in hindsight, so imagine yourself standing before God.  How would your ideal life have looked?

These are just a few of the things I underlined in my read of You and Me Forever.  I am personally challenged to take bold action and live out what I claim to be truth.  I have experienced the truth and reality to many of these claims and still want to be a shell fish and stay in my comfortable shell.  I know that the adventure and reward that God provides by trusting in Him, taking action, accepting risk and living out life for others is an abundant life that He calls us to live.  To live in our family, to live in our occupations, hobbies, community and church.  The Chan’s provide additional resources on their website:  You and Me Forever.

Thank you Francis and Lisa for this encouraging and challenging work.  May you continue to experience the abundance of life that God supplies for those that accept His calling and live to bring glory to His name.

5 minute video, Be INSPIRED:  THEIR STORY

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Ben’s Eagle Project

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Finished!

I am so proud of Ben and his efforts to achieve Eagle Scout.  Ben loves the outdoors and has really enjoyed his time as a scout.  Scouting has exposed him to so many skills and adventures.  Scouting has given him the opportunity to accept leadership positions, learn diverse skills and required discipline and perseverance.  Among other leadership positions, Ben served as the Senior Patrol Leader.  He went to numerous Boy Scout camps including hiking 100+ miles at Philmont where it was told that he carried some of the cooking gear to give the mule a break.  

I was briefly involved with scouts, but did not have the same experience as Ben.  My father and grandfather both earned the rank of Eagle Scout so Ben earns the honor to continue this tradition in the Applegate family.  

Eagle Scout is the highest achievement or rank attainable in the Boy Scouting program of the Boy Scouts of America(BSA). The designation “Eagle Scout” has a long history since its founding over one hundred years ago. Only four percent of Boy Scouts are granted this rank after a lengthy review process. The requirements necessary to achieve this rank take years to fulfill. Since its founding, the Eagle Scout rank has been earned by more than two million young men.[2]

Requirements include earning at least 21 merit badges. The Eagle Scout must demonstrate Scout Spirit, an ideal attitude based upon the Scout Oath and Law, service, and leadership. This includes an extensive service project that the Scout plans, organizes, leads, and manages. Ben selected a project to provide a sensory garden that is used as part of equine therapy for the treatment of autism.

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Special Cheers

 Special CHEERS is an occupational therapy center located just behind our home that treats children and young adults with physical and mental challenges utilizing a multi-faceted approach to achieving functional living skills.  The sensory garden that Ben and his troop built had 3 elements.  

 

 

On the scheduled weekend, Houston had major flooding and the project had to be delayed.  See these photos of us kayaking down Clay road and into Special Cheers.

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This is Clay Road

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Special Cheers – Eagle Project cancelled

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Teeter Totter is a exercise that works on balance and core strength as the horse moves across the tilting platform.  The platform also provides a different surface where the hoofs will “Klip-Klop” as the horse walks.  The therapist will walk along side the student to assist as necessary.

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Building the Teeter-Totter

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Teeter Totter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Crunchy Course is a path of pea gravel that provides a different texture and sound as the therapist leads the horse along the path.  We had to fill areas of the path that were flooded prior to laying timber, ground cover, sand and pea gravel.

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Building the Crunchy Course

Crunchy Course

Crunchy Course

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The changeable hanging obstacle has foam noodles that the therapist leads the horse through.  This helps the horse become comfortable going through brush and allows the student to navigate the obstacle.  The noodles are secured to the cross beam with D-rings.  The therapist can change the obstacles by simply removing and adding new obstacles.  There is a flag on one of the posts that can also be raised and lowered.  Leaning to the side helps with balance and core strength.

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Mixing cement for the posts of the Hanging Obstacle

 

 

 

 

 

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Hanging Obstacle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you to Bayou City Lumber for their generous support of our project!  It is a great testimony to the scouting experience that business leaders support the leadership and service activities of scouting.  Thank you Bayou City Lumber.  Ben has a great troop that was very supportive of his project.  We could not have completed our project in one weekend without their help.  Thank you Troop 13!

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Ben’s friends from Troop 13 Houston Texas. Thank you!

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The Circle Maker

The Circle MakerI mostly read books to get new ideas, learn from others and get inspiration that I can apply to my own life and work.  As I read, I underline the statements or sections that resonate with me and I may want to recall.  If they are really good, I will write it on a note card and put it in a box if notecards that I specifically use as quotes or illustrations in other writings or lessons.

The Circle Maker, by Mark Batterson is one of those books that encouraged me in a number of areas and I thought I would share some of the ideas and thoughts that I underlined.  The book is based on a true legend of Honi the circle maker.  He was a first-century Jewish sage whose prayer ended a drought and saved a generation.  I hope that you are also encouraged and inspired by some of Mark’s thoughts.

  • P.25 Define your dream, claim your promise and spell  your miracle.
  • P.37 But we should praise God for disappointment because it drives us to our knees.  Disappointment is like dream defibrillation.  If we respond to it in the right way, disappointment can actually restore our prayer rhythm and resurrect our dreams.
  • P.44  The older you get, the more faith you should have because you’ve experienced more of God’s faithfulness.
  • P.45 We lose faith in the God who gave us the big dream and settle for a small dream that we can accomplish without His help.  We go after dreams that don’t require divine intervention.
  • P.48  But if you aren’t willing to step out of the boat, you’ll never walk on water…In order to experience a miracle you have to take a risk…You cannot build God’s reputation if you aren’t willing to risk yours.
  • P.57   If you give beyond your ability, God will bless you beyond your ability.
  • P.58  Writing is praying with a keyboard
  • P.73  God is infinitely bigger than your biggest problem or biggest dream.
  • P.112  We want a one-week or one-month or on-year supply of God’s provision, but God wants us to drop to our knees every day in raw dependence on Him
  • P.127  I’m grateful for the moments God got in the way of my plans and rerouted me.
  • P.165 Those moments of absolute brokenness before God are too few and far between.
  • P.196  I’m not looking for the path of least resistance; I’m looking for the path of greatest glory.
  • P.213  When you dream big, pray hard, and think long, there is nothing God cannot do.

My hope is that these thoughts can also encourage you in the challenges you encounter and dreams you have.

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Art Briles Symbolizes the Loss of Innocence for College Athletics

Art Briles

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” – Edmund Burke

This week has been a horrible week for Baylor football fans.  Our beloved coach who finally brought the Baylor Bears football program to national prominence has found himself in a real mess.  The tragedy is that we know the core of Art Briles as a man of integrity, grounded in his Christian faith and extremely passionate for the game.  Art genuinely cares for his players and has an intense and contagious desire to win.  However, Art Briles is also human.  Conference championships, Heisman trophy winners, and new river-front stadiums create fame, National TV exposure on ESPN Gameday, fortunes, high expectations, and extreme pressure to win.

The boys who make up the program have just left the nests of their hometown and are experiencing independence and freedom living on their own for the first time .  They don’t have their parents, siblings, family and community to hold them accountable.  They have been recruited from their humble positions because they were good athletes in high school by powerful men that appeal to their egos and offer the very best the world has to offer. The very young men who are still early on in developing their own identity in one day step from a regular high school kid into the big-time college football world of power, fame and fortune that is totally unknown to most of us.  The young men who enter this program, wear the uniform, and drink from this fountain of success are in no way prepared to handle the privilege and responsibility that comes with being part of a successful college football program.

Operating under extreme pressure, 24 hour a day scouting, recruiting, planning, university appearances, fund raising, speaking engagements, preparing and coaching football we also expect our coaches to parent and police the activities of these testosterone-filled, recently independent and uniquely privileged young men on a campus surrounded by thousands of beautiful young women and party every day temptations.  It is an impossible task.  With all the responsibilities and expectations of our coaches it is certainly understandable to see how dismissing the many innocent mischievous events, looking the other way at a few general misconducts, and then working with authorities to downplay some criminal behavior can be rationalized, but leads down a path of destruction.  There is so much at stake.  First, the lives of the young women and others that are forever changed because of the poor choices of these young men.  Secondly, the efforts to recruit these young men, the talent that they possess, the personal relationships developed, the aspirations for their individual success and the tragic loss and impact to their future if they were dismissed from the program also weigh heavily on a coach.

The board of regents took the right action.  It was too late.  Evidently there was a pattern of concealing transgressions and looking the other way.  Had they admitted to the problem earlier, confronted the difficult decisions head-on and made the tough personal choices the fans, media and world would have had compassion on them, given them second and third chances to fix the problem.  It was too late.  Proverbs 28:13 tells us “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion”.  

We can all learn from this tragedy.  All of us are corrupted by small compromises.  All of us conceal transgressions.  We must recognize that these decisions and non-decisions will lead to destruction.  However, if we recognize our sin, confess this as sin and forsake it so as not to continue down this path we will receive compassion.  Compassion from our friends, family, co-workers, fans, media and even our God.  Remember 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Because of grace, we also all have the opportunity for redemption.  John 3;16 “16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His [a]only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

The situation we have created for our players, coaches and administrators in college football is an impossible situation.  It is impossible that the situation at Baylor does not happen every day in every major college program in the nation.  It is also too late for college football.  College athletics has forever changed from an athletic competition to an entertainment industry.  The loss of Art Briles symbolizes a much bigger loss –  a recognition of the loss of innocence for college athletics.

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