My Writings. My Thoughts.
Merry Christmas from our home to yours. It is my prayer that all my friends, family and acquaintances take time over the next couple days to stop and reflect on this chapter of your lives. One cannot read forward if you’re stuck in a previous chapter of your life. God desires a close relationship, as close as a husband is with his wife. Deeply rooted, firmly founded and of sound authority, I encourage, uplift and resound the name of the Risen King, Emmanuel (God With Us.) God literally dwells with us, and seeks the same passion and level of intimacy we have with those we love most on this Earth. It is my prayer, my wish, wounds be healed, broken hearts mended, pride and egos shattered into ruin, and those who have it rough during this time of year, find extra love and joy in their soul, from an unexpected unlikely source. Father, I thank you for my 34 years thus far, for the angel of 4 years you sent me from Heaven of whom I married, and for the countless upon countless blessings you poured out throughout the portals of time far in advance of my knowledge and conscience understanding. How small we are Lord, how tiny of a vapor we are, how fragile we humans are. Lord, reflect in our hearts your desires for us, and let us echo of the eternal love you showcased on Golgotha. Open our hearts to new ways of thinking, fresh starts of a new year, and reminding us daily of your presence and grace.
In your name I pray, Amen. – Joe
Joe and Alexandra Burke
I hear it a lot these days. People confiding in me, and venting their frustrations about how this person talked about them behind their back, and how they feel emotionally withdrawn from their peers around them. I also hear the frequent utters of some from back in the small town realm of Kentucky mentalities are causing mischief, spreading rumors, lies and doing what they do best, gossip. It’s so amusing to hear people’s reaction back home to me leaving Kentucky with their responses of uncertainty and cloudiness.
Let me give you a brief lesson in the social structure of small coal towns of Appalachia. A) Everyone knows everyone – It’s true, you can’t go to the gas station, grocery store or department store without always running into someone you know from work, school or church. B) Where Do We Go? There’s not much to get involved with back home in the hills and hollows of South East Kentucky. Sure the mountains are gorgeous, the folk are friendly and the setting is out of a Thomas Kinkade painting, the fact is, there’s very little for youth to get involved with to occupy their time and energy. Majority of the youth back home are wrapped up in drugs, drinking and living on the edge because honestly, they have nothing to wake up to the next morning. Not all youth are like this of course, there are some decent and orderly folks everywhere you go, but the overall consensus is bleak at least. C) Church or State? Churches have favorable control over the communities and citizens and have the overall say in the protective works of the surrounding areas. The churches back home have also become the black eye on modern day evangelical Christian Faith, which leads me to the whole purpose and meaning behind today’s blog post… Are We Doing More Harm Than Good?
Having established a semi-reliable basis for small town rural culture of the Appalachia’s, we can now focus on the topic at hand. Being raised Baptist, Pentecost and just about everything else under the sun, I’ve been going to church since I was 3 months old according to my mother and father. Growing up in these environments, ideas, morals and knowledge is embedded in the psyche of young developing minds about how their own faith should be justified when they become an adult. For example, when attending one denomination, it was deemed against God’s Law for men to wear short sleeved shirts, or cargo shorts. Women, on the other hand, were ordered to follow a strict dress code of dresses just above the ankles, no makeup, jewelry or decorative fashion items could be visible. Only wedding bands were allowed. I thought as a child, when I get older and mature, that these principles I would have to follow in order for me to make it to Heaven and be with God and His Son. The actuality of the situation is, these are all man made traditions that ultimately get you no where. Growing up in these diverse and strict faiths, one has a good basis for condemnation when I got the age of adulthood. Everything was a sin!
This is where religion becomes the shadow cast on the Christian walk. People are so caught up in the moment of Churchianity instead of Christianity. I’m here to tell you a truth my friends, Jesus is my Savior, NOT my religion. When you loose sight of this often overlooked and masked way of thinking, you have torn down the very fabric of your own walk with Christ. When all that garbage and clutter becomes more prominent than your own personal relationship with Jesus Christ, you are lukewarm, a poser and denying God and His power. That’s a scary place to be in, and I for one wouldn’t want to stand before the Big Man upstairs and be accountable for being known as the town gossip (but, wait, he/she went to church every Sunday, they’re okay!). How further from the truth have we come in our modern day worship? How watered down has religion branded Jesus Christ into a structured, traditional doctrine that is nothing more than man made false bravado.
It saddens me deeply, that people cannot detach themselves from other people’s lives and entangled in the world of gossip, bickering and turmoil. They must persistently invade, disrespect and blatantly intrude on other people’s lives without just cause, facts or confirmation of validity. Do you really think the Good Lord is going to give you an A+ for effort in finding out the truth about Sally Jane’s daughter (example)? NO! Focus your energy and tongue piercing talents to bring the lost to Christ, spread the good word of God, expound upon his mercy and grace and become a pillar of the community. I would like to say in closing, that it’s time we all do a “gut check” to see where our hearts and interests lie. Whatever you’re putting before God, is nothing more than idolatry. Don’t be quick to judge, drop the egos and swallow your own pride and banish it away forever. Pride is the root of all evil, and is ultimately what cast Satan out of Heaven and into Hell. Let God do the judging and condemning, not you. Revert your energy of harshness to a positive energy of hope. Drop the chains of traditions, and just do life together, with Christ at the center.
It was sometime around the middle of August 2013, that’s when I first found out about the The Angel Oak Tree of South Carolina. I follow the Christian band Casting Crown’s front man and youth pastor Mark Hall on Twitter and Instagram, when I noticed he posted a picture of this spectacular oak tree. The band Casting Crowns had been out to the tree conducting a photo shoot for their new album set to debut in January 2014 called, “Thrive.” Upon Mark’s post about the tree I was immediately intrigued by the history of this mighty oak. I think more so, I was fascinated at the stunning craftsmanship of our amazing God, and was even more stunned to find this hidden gem was just a short drive from my relatives house in Orangeburg, SC.
I live outside of Orlando, Florida, and John’s Island area of Charleston is where the tree is located. That’s over seven hours and 400 miles away, not exactly the easiest thing to get to. But as fate would have it, my darling wife Alexandra, made plans this past week to drive up and see her family for the Holidays in Orangeburg, SC. I knew we would be close to the tree, but never mentioned it the family that I wanted to go see and photograph it. Upon arriving in South Carolina at our family’s home, Linda my mother-in-law, told us of some plans she had for us over the weekend. One of which included a day trip up to Charleston, SC. Immediately, I felt a wave of enthusiasm, a rush of endorphin and then my heart kind of skipped a beat. I asked Linda, “Would it be too far out of our way to drive 15 minutes outside of Charleston to see the Angel Tree?” Like any loving momma-in-law, she said, “of course, not a problem!”
I don’t know exactly what it is about this tree that blows my lid. Maybe because it’s age is unknown, some say it’s 400-500 years old, while others claim much older; like 1,500. Maybe it’s the fact this massive organism covers over 17,200 square feet of shaded space with it’s foliage? Or perhaps it’s longest branch measures a stunning 187 feet long? At any rate, I am amazed to see proof of God’s handiwork evident and still going strong. This tree represents so many spiritual aspects of living life to it’s fullest for me. I’m reminded of a couple scriptures in writing this that reflect my thoughts. “Let your roots grow down into him and draw up nourishment from him, so you will grow in faith, strong and vigorous in the truth you were taught. Let your lives overflow with thanksgiving for all he has done.” Colossians 2:7 (NIV). And then over in Proverbs 12:12 (NIV) “The wicked desire the plunder of evildoers, but the root of the righteous flourishes.”
God places things, moments if you will, in our lives for reasons. I for one, want to stand tall like this tree, firmly rooted in the gospel, and spreading the good news of hope, grace, mercy, kindness and peace. On the top side, we see a tree for what it is, but what we often forget, is the roots below mirror what you see on the surface. Imagine a tree inverted, upside down below the ground, typically for most trees that is how their root structure works. I can’t begin fathom in my tiny human brain the root system of this mighty live oak, The Angel Tree. Signs are posted all around the tree, “No Tripods within 500 feet of the tree to protect it’s root structure.” As a man living life alongside my Savior Jesus Christ, I want to be firmly rooted, I want to let others know there is hope and rejoicing in our circumstances for His glory, not ours.
The tree has so many symbolic references of living a Godly life, moral and upright. If a sapling grows on the rocks, it will grow for a while, but will soon die because there is no soil to make it thrive. But if the same sapling is planted into rich fertile soil, with abundance, it will grow to become stronger than ever and become a beacon in the wilderness of life. That is how I want to live my life, and that is what I attempt to do daily. Strive to Thrive. Ephesians 3:17-19 (NIV) says, “So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” So whether we’re a sapling, just new in the faith, or a tree, let’s take this time to measure the fruit we bare. By fruit, I mean you living out a Christ-like life in your daily walk. It’s often not easy to do a “gut check” to determine where your heart is, but make no mistake about it, those around you see and know the fruit your tree bares. Glorify God in all that you do, not yourselves. Strip away the egos, pride and selfishness and take on a life of humility, love and compassion towards each other, and then, one day your roots will grow deeper and stronger, and you’ll tower over the rest and shine like a beacon in the wilderness of life.
Strive to Thrive.
The smoke was blocking the light of day, and blanketed the home, where a local man lived today. The dark toxic smoke engulfed the native’s home, as the flames grew closer to his location in the center of the house. The fire had consumed over 80% of the home, while the victim whose name has yet to be released from authority records, entrapped the individual with no margin of escape. The victim described the heat intensity stating, “It was so hot, I felt the hairs on my head, face and arms smoldering, and I could smell my own body succumbing to the house fire.”
The man miraculously escaped when he looked up and saw a hand reaching out of the thick smoke, and carrying him to safety. The man who assisted in the rescue has since left the scene, and could not be identified. With no physical description, authorities remain puzzled in the ongoing investigation.
Authorities concluded that there are no signs, indications or reason of arson or foul play. One officer suggested, “The fire must have started from the center of the home, and quickly spread from there.”
UPDATE: Fire’s Almost Fatal Origins Found
Do I have your attention now? Much like the news headlines of modern day media, we are so easily caught up in the lives of others, that we often become consumed by the flame of living vicariously through others, and neglecting our own motives and obligations. Like the fictitious story above, the fire that consumed the victim was not physical, rather spiritual. So easily, we can be overcome by the world and all it’s glamour, that we are consumed by it, much like a fire of the wicked, as opposed the flame of the righteous. In this case, the fire that burned indeed was a fire within the center of the man’s soul (his house). His ongoing struggle of good against evil, flesh over the spirit, straight and narrow, or the winding crooked path. The man survived the fire, because he inhaled the cindering flame of his own sin, and turned the other way to a path of divine immortality. Authorities, rulers or principalities can’t find fault with the fire that burns within a man’s heart to strive to do good, despite their best efforts. Despite what “officials” may say, never judge a book by it’s cover, even more so, don’t be so quick to judge. The flame did ignite in the center of the house, his heart, and spread like a raging inferno to ever corner of the man’s being, consuming him from the inside out. This too is evident when man chooses to turn from wickedness, and seek righteous living. No man, beast or ruler can extinguish the flame that burns inside all of us, so I say rise like a phoenix, seek redemption and there you will catch wind and ignite the land. “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” -Hebrews 12:29
Self examination is crucial to your day to day living. It’s always recommended to take personal inventory of our lives, and even more so, allow others in so we can become transparent to one another. This is where the term “Life Groups” comes into play in our spiritual lives. It’s so vital that we as Christians have a burning desire, a fire if you will, to learn more about our faith and walk with Jesus Christ. Getting connected with other Christians that share the same goals, passions and willingness as yourself is not only crucial as a Christian, but pretty much mandated. Why do you think Christ chose 12 disciples to follow him? Some got His message, while others needed a more illustrative approach. But they all shared one thing in common, a goal to follow Him. In like mind, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” -Proverbs 27:17 So not only should we cater alongside fellow Christians, but immerse ourselves in becoming disciples of His Gospel, spreading the fire of salvation, redemption, healing, forgiveness and honoring His Praise in everything we do. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” -Matthew 28:19
The fire that consumed the man in the story above can be interpreted two ways. 1) You can define that as the eternal flame of hell. 2) The flame of one man’s passion to grow in Christ and being “rescued.” It has no distinct indication to which side of the fence it’s on for that purpose, so I want the story to be open for your own interpretation. I leave you with this poem, called “Fellowship of the Unashamed.”
I am part of the fellowship of the unashamed. I have Holy Spirit power, my die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I’m a disciple of Jesus. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still.
My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, my future is secure. I’m finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, worldly talking, cheap giving, and dwarfed goals.
I no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, or rewarded. I now live by faith, lean on His presence, walk by patience, am uplifted by prayer, and labor by power.
My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions are few, my Guide is reliable, and my mission is clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of the adversary, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity. I won’t give up, shut up, let up, until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, preached up for the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go till He comes, give till I drop, preach till all know, and work till He stops me. And when He comes for His own, He will have no problem recognizing me, my banner will be clear.
It’s simplistic in nature, and captivating to the very core. It connects us to our friends, loved ones and colleagues while providing a 24/7 network of unmatched possibilty and communication. It also is destructive, addicting and for the lack of a better term, idolatry. You see, when we take more time to spend on Facebook to see what Johnny down the street has been up to the past days, rather than getting off our backsides and spending time with the ones we should be, a barrier is formed, walls are erected and personal bubbles are formed around us.
Not only is does Facebook lack the emotional connection of sitting down with your best friend over lunch or dinner and talking about life, it’s is mere cyber space, a digital realm of pixels, HTML, PHP and code. You see, one thing I’ve realized about Facebook, it must be taken with a grain of salt, and nothing concrete should ever be consumed, discussed or solidified via this social network. Why? Because lacking the human characteristics of physical touch, compassion, voice and visual communication, Facebook isn’t “Real Life.” It’s a mere projected image of what we want others to think we are, and majority of circumstances, it’s typically someone or something we are not.
My own faith was recently attacked via Facebook. And when defending my decision from removing this individual from my life, facebook and other networks, they backlashed and exclaimed that I use religion, God and the Holy Scriptures to justify my own lacking thus catering it to my needs, as opposed to it’s true intent for spiritual and Divine awakening. The point to be made here is simple, don’t use facebook as a main tool to keep in touch with the ones you truly adore. If you want to keep in touch, do it in person, because nothing says love, humility and friendship like a nice lunch or dinner, or even a coffee or ice cream. Human interaction is being decimated in volumes too large to fathom, and we are becoming solely co-dependent on things we can see in our hands, and swipe the screens, and reload the pages. That’s not what we’re deemed to be as humans and adults.
If you are one who says, “That’s it, I’m gonna delete my facebook, I’m tired of it!” only to come back the following day and continue posting, than you too are missing the point of “Real Life.” Trust me, I’m guilty of this one a time or two as well, but came to a mutual decision with my spouse that we should combine our pages into one, and share that together with friends and family. The only reason we keep our facebook is so our family can see into our world daily, and let them know we’re still accountable, fighting the good fight, and keep true to the word. Never on our page will you see rants, bickering or vulgarities, only things of good nature, positivity and compassion. No, I’m classifying myself as a monk here folks, I’m just stating, leave your dirty laundry offline and away from the digital eyes of the world.
If this note struck a chord with you, GOOD! If it didn’t, GOOD! My point is only to make you aware that we must be more than text in a digital world, we must be REAL, thus doing REAL events in our lives to fulfill the human desire and instinct to be interactive, spontaneous, understood and absorbed in physical contact and interaction with our friends, family and loved ones. Not only will your spouse, family or kids see something different in you, they will love you just a bit more when you decide to “Do Something” beyond your Internet connection. Be positive, be creative, be accountable and lastly, love by showing, not typing.
Peace & Blessings!