Journey to the Desert

sahara_desertThis week marked the beginning of what many Christians experience as Lent. Many identify this time as a Catholic tradition but many other Christian denominations, such as the Orthodox, Lutheran and other Anglican denominations acknowledge this time of spiritual growth. Sadly, many approach this time not really understanding the purpose; view it as a burden and find it senseless. I know this because I myself felt this way for many years of my life. But not anymore. I’d like to share how anyone looking to deepen their faith and their relationship with their Creator can do so by committing to “Taking a Journey into the Desert”. christ in desert

The temptation of Christ is detailed in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. According to these texts, after being baptized, Jesus fasted for forty days and nights in the Judean Desert. During this time, the devil appeared to Jesus and tempted him. Jesus having refused each temptation, the devil departed and angels came and brought nourishment to Jesus. He used this time to pray and reflect on His relationship with the Father. He did this by separating Himself from all that is earthly and relying solely on His faith in God to sustain Him. Upon returning, Jesus possessed the spiritual strength He would need to carry Him through His ministry, all the way to His death on a cross.

Like Christ, we all have our crosses to carry and to have the strength to do so, we need to have faith and trust in Our Heavenly Father. That is easier said than done! Life is going 100 mph and we can get so caught up in the lives the world tell us we must live that many of us may go days, weeks, even months without prayer and reflection on God’s will for us. It’s after most of us face a struggle that we turn to God for assistance and wonder why we don’t feel He is close to us. It is because we have chosen not to seek that closeness; that intimate relationship He desires to have with us through our free will; if we only pursue it!

This time in the desert, this Lenten season, is designed to do just that for those of us that approach it with the desire to grow spiritually in relationship with God. In reality we should strive to live everyday in union with Christ but we must start somewhere; and these 40 days are a prefect time to commit to change.

prayer_fastingGrowing up, I remember that the “rules” were to give up something for 40 days as well as “not eat meat” on Fridays. I didn’t get it; made no sense to me. How would doing these things bring me closer to God. Well the fact of the matter is without the proper intentions and purpose behind the actions, it won’t. I see for many that the absence of meat on Friday is interpreted as an opportunity, not to sacrifice, but to go out and buy an even more expensive seafood dinner. I know this because I myself was guilty of this for many years. Then as far as giving something up, it would be something like chocolate, alcohol, television, etc. Not that giving these things up are not good, however, for most of us we go right back to them after 40 days and the sacrifice did nothing for us spiritually nor did we do the most important thing during this time; CHANGE!

During these days of being in the desert, we are to pray, fast and give alms! Why are prayer, fasting and almsgiving especially important during this time?

prayer fast almsPrayer: Without prayer, fasting and almsgiving are merely actions we do out of tradition without much meaning. Prayer is our conversation with God. It is through prayer that we find the strength to fast. It is through prayer that we develop a closer, more intimate relationship with God. This relationship makes us so grateful for the blessing He has bestowed upon us, that we eagerly give to those less fortunate than us. We have been taught by Christ himself that prayer is essential to any actions we as Christians may undertake.

Fasting: Fasting is one of the most ancient actions linked to this period of growth and purity of our spirituality. Fasting rules have changed over the years but throughout history fasting has been considered sacred. The prophet Isaiah insists that fasting without changing our behavior is not pleasing to God. (Isaiah 58) Therefore, the goal of fasting is linked with prayer. The sharp attack of mental anguish we experience while fasting and hungry reminds us of our hunger for God, and prayer and fasting together brings us to what our “time in the desert” is about – a deeper conversion.

Almsgiving: It should be obvious by now, that almsgiving is simply a response by us to God, a response that we have come to through prayer and fasting. It is an expression of our gratitude for all that God has given us, and a realization that in the Body of Christ, it is never just “me and God”. Through prayer and fasting we come to a deeper understanding of the needs of ALL are the responsibility of ALL in the Body of Christ. Works of charity and the promotion of justice are integral elements of the Christian way of life we begin when we are baptized. Now it’s a matter of will we nurture this way of life through a deepening and strengthening of our relationship with Christ; learning to live for others, as Christ did.

Whether Catholic, Orthodox or any other Christian faith, I challenge you to take a moment to reflect on the true meaning of Christ’s 40 days in the desert and consider breaking away from the craziness that has become our society; let go of some things keeping you from the closeness you could be having with God; maybe begin doing something new that you haven’t been doing like reading some scripture everyday; working at a soup kitchen; anything that helps you to reach out to others and make an impact in the world. Let us work on changing the dry, desolate way of our hearts to that of charity, peace and love to our brothers and sisters in Christ! May your journey be powerful and impactful!

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Facts on ACTS!

ACTS logo1Have you ever been driving down the road and seen this decal to the left on the back window of a vehicle and ask yourself, “What is that all about?” I know; I did. Ultimately it has something to do with a religion, right? Well I am here to share with you that it goes far beyond religion; far beyond any specific church; in fact it is something that helps us realize how awesome a relationship with Christ and with others can actually be. Let me introduce you to something known as an ACTS Retreat!

ACTS is a retreat that has been sweeping across our country for over 25 years. It was influenced heavily by a retreat know as a Cursillo Retreat which had its start between WWI and WWII in Spain and focused on 3 main principles; Piety, Study and Action. Three gentleman in a suburb of San Antonio Texas, Ed Courtney, Joe Hayes, and Marty Sablik were instructors and coordinators with Cursillo. With years of Cursillo experience and a mutual friendship, they developed and held the first ACTS Retreat in 1987 which was designed to be more relevant in the day to day needs and lives of the church community and its members. Since then, the ACTS Retreat has exploded and is having incredible effects on marriages, families and entire communities!

ACTS stands for Adoration, Community, Theology & Service and receives its biblical inspiration from the scripture in Acts 2:42-47:

The Fellowship of the Believers

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

I can tell you from personally being a part of this ministry, both as a retreatant and as serving on several retreat teams, that this was one of the most life changing events I have ever attended in my life. The sense of acceptance, love, understanding, forgiveness and peace that I experienced cannot be put into words; no matter how hard I try! I truly understand what it means to have brothers and sisters in Christ; and on the retreat I actually felt and experienced the Body of Christ through others! It was an overwhelming sense of love that engulfed my heart and recaptured it back from the decades of self-doubt, poor self-image, guilt, loneliness and sin that had trapped me from living the life God had intended for me.

The testimonies shared by the gentlemen on the retreat were so powerful that they have inspired me to start a ministry called Divine ImpACTS; a place for others to come and experience God’s impact on the lives of others and to receive the evidence of His existence and desire to work in their lives! Through the sharing of their stories, I was able to regain a belief of hope of and inspiration that God can and will work in my life if I only open up to it! I attended my first retreat with an open heart and desire to move closer into relationship with Christ and I can honestly say that I received that through and in the relationships with all the men from the retreat. They are my brothers in Christ for life!

Fish Symbol on CrossACTS Retreats are held in over 22 states in the U.S., 8 states in Mexico, as well as Canada, Honduras, South Africa and England. They are held for Men, Women and even Teens! Once you attend a weekend, you leave aware of the fact we are all connected; all brothers and sisters; all a part of one family in Christ! There is no need to ever feel alone again as you will always have others to call on in your time of need. If there are ever any people I know I can count on its my ACTS brothers and sisters.

I have, as well as countless other people and pastors, seen this retreat transform entire church communities, igniting them with a passion for love and service in the name of Jesus Christ. Individuals begin seeking a more intimate relationship with their maker and that transcends through their actions and involvement in the community; through their service to others! They share their Adoration, love and respect for their relationship for God with their Community; seeking the Theology and understanding of their faith in Christ; and allowing that to shine through in their Service to others around them. I have never seen one weekend retreat have such a profound impact as an ACTS Retreat.

I pray that if you have ACTS Retreats in your community, that you make it a personal mission to attend one. I for one, am making it a personal goal to bring ACTS to Colorado where I currently live as no one here as ever experienced it; and I know when that time comes I will be able to count on my ACTS brothers and sisters in the South to help me make it happen!

For more information on the ACTS Retreat, feel free to visit their website at www.actsmissions.org and see what the facts on ACTS are all about!  Here’s to countless more Divine ImpACTS through the ACTS Retreat! May it RAISE YOU UP into a more fulfilling life with Christ!

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No Opportunity Wasted!

Now LogoTime: it is something that seems to be endless and from a scientific standpoint that could be true; but to each of us individually, time will stop. Be on your guard [constantly alert], and watch and pray; for you do not know when the time will come. (Mark 13: 33). For the Christian, this is typically understood in reference to the return of Jesus Christ; the second coming. But one thing I know to be certain; Believer or not, each of our lives will come to an end.

Do you find yourself taking for granted your time on this earth? Maybe your priorities are mixed up and you’ve lost sight of the things that really matter? I, for one, can be honest with you when I say I have spent countless years; years which cannot be reclaimed and have sadly and shamefully been squandered focusing on things which have made absolutely no positive impact in the world. Now, as I am reaching what I like to think is my half-time in life, I find myself reflecting and taking an inventory on  my life and asking this very simple yet important question: Is my life on this earth making a positive impact on others? Will my life here have made a difference or will it be as though I never existed? I for one cannot go another day believing that my sole purpose for being created was to merely take up space and exist. No, each of us has a much greater purpose for being put on this earth and the heart of humanity is counting on each of us to fulfill that purpose.

Over the past 12 months I have lost 2 dear friends who at one time I spent numerous hours with on a daily basis. Both of these people made a profound difference in my life and could have both been considered big brothers in my life. But as life would have it, we all get busy, we move on, our lives “seem” to go in different directions and those conversations that use to take place daily seem to shift to once a week; then a few times a month; and before you know it you are just checking in once or twice a year. Then unexpectedly, we receive the news we acted as though we would never hear; our dear friends have passed away!

The death of both of my friends completely caught me off guard and it was as if they both left forever without me being able to say goodbye; without me being able to tell them how much of an impact they made in my life; without them knowing how much I respected, cherished, and valued their friendship; without them knowing how much I truly loved them! Then we find ourselves filled with the “what-ifs”; the regrets of not just picking up a phone and taking a few minutes to touch their lives as well as allowing them to touch yours; making that connection; creating more memories; wasting no opportunities!

Through the opening of my eyes I wish to hopefully assist many of you out there whom, like myself, have been going through life with blinders on and irresponsibly allowing valuable time to pass without making the impacts we are called to make. Here are a few suggestions, all of which I am attempting to implement into my life now!

Make a list of all those who have at some time in your life made an impact on you. Once that list is established, make it a point to set aside a little time every week to reach out and contact them; tell them how you feel about them; how they have affected your life and simply thank them. Oh, and don’t be afraid to tell them you love them! The value of that relationship can be deepened and realized now; don’t wait until it’s too late. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34). We cannot possibly love those with our hearts if we are cut off from them. Reach out; connect and share your love.

Also take a look at those relationships that have been damaged, be it by your owns actions or by those of others. Take the high road, take the first step and reach out. Ask for forgiveness if you feel you need to and if they have done something to harm or offend you, let it go and forgive them. I have had some amazing relationships rekindled with old friends over the past few months because I looked past the incident and into the heart of which was our relationship. I went to re-establish peace and lo and behold I found peace; and I reconnected with a fellow brother or sister that I care deeply for.

Hour GlassSimply put, waste no opportunity to reach out and value relationships with others. Be it family members, old friends, neighbors you have yet to meet, co-workers; the list goes on. But remember that the sands within the hour-glass that is your life are quickly flowing. Make each grain count! There are people out there needing you and guess what? You need them too! Reach out; Connect! No Opportunity Wasted!

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”-(Mother Teresa).

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Communication Is Key!

Comm is Key“The tongue has the power of life and death.” (Proverbs 18:21). Relationships of substance and longevity require one very important practice; engaging on a regular basis in heart-felt conversation! Show me a person that shares their heart on a regular basis with another human being and I will show you two people who have a relationship built on respect, acceptance, understanding and most importantly, love!

Most people would agree that the problem with our society today is a lack of love in the world. People just don’t seem to have a genuine care and concern for others as they once did. What could be the cause of such a change in the heart of humanity?

My belief is somewhere we began communicating less, at least from a verbal standpoint; actually speaking to others. With the dawn of technology, we became more and more dependent on email, online chatting, texting, etc. Although this can be quick and convenient at times, it removes a very important factor from deep conversational communication; that being the human element.

True it takes a person to send the email, or send the text message but it lacks greatly. The missing element is that of human contact; the look in someone’s eye; the tone of one’s voice; the ability to pick up one another’s body language. Without these important factors that engage the heart as well as the mind, establishing the grounds for relationships that can stand the test of times are nearly impossible to achieve.

I find that the closeness I have and feel with people in my life is in direct proportion to the amount of quality conversations I have with them. It’s when I share my day, how I’m feeling, what I’m thinking about, what I’m passionate about I begin to connect. Even more important is sharing things such as how much they mean to me, the way they make me feel and how blessed I am to have them in my life. It’s these things that open us up to others and allow the communication to be of the heart and spirit as well as the mind.

But in addition to sharing with them so many things, it’s equally, if not more important, to ask genuine questions from the heart of them. Inquire of things such as how their day is going? How are they feeling? Is there anything you can do for them? Be sincere! Ask and then listen! We have all heard that God gave us each one mouth and 2 ears so we should listen twice as much as we speak! There is a lot of truth in that. But regardless, of speaking or listening, both are vital parts of the communication process. Last I checked, God didn’t give us cell phones or iPads, but He did give us eyes, ears and a mouth and coupled with a sincere heart and spirit, we can reach out and communicate with all around us; our spouse; our children; our neighbors; our friends; our co-workers; the list goes on! We can positively impact anyone we choose to engage with through conversation. Even if others don’t reciprocate, we can make a positive impact just by a kind hello or a polite word.

Remember, we can create death or life in the world. My prayer is that you make a decision to speak out and make an impact. Select one person you know that could be affected positively by you reaching out to them and then ACT! Share your thoughts; your kindness; your heart; your love, your words!

 

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Secret to a Joy-Filled Life

48 principle tommy newberryI love to read! I think it’s the best way, not to mention the quickest way, to gain knowledge, understanding and wisdom. Many people read for different reasons; some for entertainment; some to gain an understanding of a subject they may not be well versed in; some for self-improvement; others for inspiration. I tend to lead to the inspirational and personal growth. I have read many books in these areas but none have come close to making an impact in my life as the book “The 4:8 Principle”.

Author Tommy Newberry wrote this bestseller and focused it around what could be the most positive scripture verse in the bible, that being Philippians 4:8 which states “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

We live in a society today where we have a tendency to stay looking over our shoulder; drumming up the past and living in a world of negativity. But the author takes us through a few steps to make us aware of how we can, through our own decisions, begin living a life of joy.48 smiley

First, he makes us aware of the parallels between the thoughts we think and the joy we experience; or don’t. Joy can be ours if we decide to be the master of our thoughts and feelings.

Then he shows us how we can begin moving towards our full potential, our purpose, if we reject the negative emotions and thoughts that end to follow the problems and pressures in our lives that we do and will go through. God allows us to have struggles in our lives that we might be made strong; lifted up and molded. But this cannot happen if we are looking at it negatively rather than seeking the greatness and joy that can accompany these struggles. To have the strength needed to stand firm in our faith and in our belief that we are children of God and that we deserve a life filled with joy, we must be very protective of our minds and hearts; very careful of who and what we let in.

Being very selective in the things we mentally digest; things such as what we watch on TV (if we watch at all); what we listen to; and what we read. Our brains are like computers being programmed. You have probably heard the old saying that Junk In; Junk Out; well it is totally true! We must make sure that we are only programming our minds with positive, uplifting, and inspiring things; not uploading viruses of negativity, doubt, anger, frustration and lack. If you have ever had a virus on your computer then you know exactly how it can shut you down, aggravating you and shutting down production completely! We must be the gatekeepers of our minds, being very selective on what enters!

40 days joyThe 4:8 Principle is loaded with advice and suggestions on how to take the scripture above and apply it to your life and begin transiting onto the extraordinary life God created you to live. I highly recommend this book and then suggest that you follow it up with his latest New York Best Seller “40 Days to a Joy-Filled Life! It will take you step by step on how to apply everything you learned from the 4:8 Principle and utilize daily baby steps that if practiced, will transform you life to one of joy, happiness and love!

Remember, you’ll do best by filling your mind and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious; the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse! Impact your life with joy NOW!

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Juggling Through Life

JugglingDo you ever feel like you go through life juggling so many different things that it’s just a matter of time before you drop something; or in some case everything? We live in a world today where our schedules are so full of activities and obligations that sometimes we don’t know if we are coming or going. We feel that in order to live and be noticed and accepted, we have to be doing so many things that balance is difficult to fathom let alone achieve. Then soon to follow is the stress that comes from not having balance and the fear of failing one or more of the things in life you have engaged in. For starters, my hats off to those who want to be involved in life and want to make an impact in their own families and in the world. It’s folks like you that make the world go around! But I have a suggestion I would like for you to think about that might lessen the number of balls you are juggling; without giving anything up and achieving balance.

I visited with a good friend of mine; counselor, personal coach and founder of http://www.GetReadyCoaching.com, Donovan Dryer and through his personal sharing caused a light bulb to go off in my mind. It’s how we can adjust the means in which we are juggling to be more effective and efficient in the handling of the “Colored Balls” we are tossing up in our lives.

Let’s say that the red ball represents your job; the yellow ball represents your marriage; the blue ball represents the relationship with your kids; the green ball represents your spiritual life; the white ball represents a personal calling or passion in your life. You see where I am going with this. For each of us there will be a different number of colored balls of which each of them has their own place of importance in our lives. In attempt to have balance and to give each their required time and focus, many of us have a tendency to compartmentalize. We realize to be effective and focus we cannot try to juggle them all at the same time; we may drop one or all and we don’t want that to happen. So we compartmentalize and pick up one ball at a time, blocking out all others and focusing for a specific time on tossing up that one ball. But sometimes we have so many of them that by the time we squeeze the individual juggling into our days, we weren’t able to spend the adequate time truly need to be effective and impactful in any of the areas.

I know for me, I jump into things with two feet and go crazy sometimes. When I feel moved and drawn to something in which I am passionate about, I can allow it to consume my time to the point of being destructive and harmful to all the other areas of my life; in other words I begin dropping some of the things (balls) in my life that I can’t really afford to let hit the ground. So here is the idea and lesson I learned.

Multi color juggle ballsInstead of compartmentalizing and juggling so many single colored balls, begin to identify and come up with ways of combining those areas and begin juggling fewer multi-colored balls. What do I mean? Donovan had shared with me that his 7-year-old daughter was interested in writing and sharing “her” blog; and she was very passionate about it; so a very fitting compromise occurred; she wrote his blog and he posted it on his site! Some very neat things happened. For one it was some great quality time with his child; secondly he got his blog work done and quite frankly had some great feed back. It wasn’t about the content of the blog but the role the blog played in his life that day! Super time with his child, and work accomplished! Basically he combined 2 of his juggling balls into one! What a great accomplishment!

If we can begin to figure out how to merge the various single color areas of our lives into fewer multi-colored ones, we can begin improving the quality and time we spend with each; having better and more meaningful results, while reducing the stress of having to many balls to juggle! Remember when we try to do too much in our lives, the chances are we won’t be as effective unless we figure out a way to be more attentive to the people and things we choose to commit to. Colossians 3: 23-24 tells us “ Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” We must make sure our efforts are pure and from our heart and that we do not position ourselves to be unable to give 100% of ourselves to the things we commit to! Let’s make an impact while reducing the juggling! Here’s to the multi-colored balls!

 

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Standing Firm

Stand FirmDo you ever find yourself conforming to those around you? Do you allow your actions, words, thoughts and decisions to be directed by what others might think? Do you   get caught up in the concern of winning over the approval of others? I sure know I have; for a good portion of my life. The sad thing is regardless of what we may believe, most people are going to form an opinion of you and there is very little you can do to prevent it! The question is do you believe enough in yourself, your purpose and calling, to stand firm and not be diverted by other?

I have spent the past year really doing some soul-searching, a personal inventory of my life and clarifying what I really believe in, what I stand for and what am I willing to die for? For one I want to make sure that I am constantly searching and following God’s will in my life. I want to trust totally in Him and rely not on my own emotions or understanding of things; hasn’t worked very well in the past! In the midst of this clarifying and defining of who I am, it seems that I find myself challenged more than ever; in specific by certain people in my life. It is as though evil works through them and tries to make me second guess myself and more so tries to make me feel bad about where I am going and what I believe in. This is done by simple ridicule, judging and plain rudeness!

I had an incident with a co-worker yesterday that basically left me feeling judged, incorrectly to say the least, and it sent me for a tail spin, momentarily! I was swarmed with negative feelings of myself and began to allow uncontrollable amounts of things to flow through my mind, mostly conversations of how I would defend myself against it. Then a sense of peace came over me.

It doesn’t matter what he thinks; he is wrong and is trying to steal from me the joy and purpose I am currently experiencing in my life. I also had an understanding of how Christ felt during His ministry. Jesus spent his entire life being ridiculed, condemned and chastised for living a life of example. No matter how many miracles He performed; no matter how many incredible life lessons He preached; no matter what He did there were those looking to take Him out; and they did! On a cross!

But the most awesome thing is that regardless of all that, Christ stayed the course. He knew his purpose and He was able to Stand Firm knowing His Father was watching over Him. There is no doubt He had His feelings hurt; felt rejected and betrayed; and maybe even alone at times. But through all that He knew His purpose and He followed it to the end!

That is what brought the peace to me! I know that God is watching over me and will be the strength, support and affirmation that I need. As long as I stay true to His will for me and I trust that He will provide, there is no need to worry about the naysayers. They will always be there; so there is no point in changing who I am and what I believe in to please them. Even if I did, there would be others standing in line to take their place! No, I will stand firm; I will follow my destiny and I will keep my head up and my eye on the prize! Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

You can do it! What do you believe in? What will you die for? Stand Firm!

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