Going to Estes Park

One of the places everyone should see at some time in their lives is Estes Park, Colorado.  I live in Fort Collins, which is just about an hour away from this scenic wonder nestled in the Rocky Mountains.  Just a short drive away down Hwy 34 is the Big Thompson Canyon which flows in its twisting turning path.  When I first heard about the “Big” Thompson I imagined this great big wide, deep river.  Being from Alabama, rivers are big.  The “Big” Thompson isn’t big.  For most of it, you could hop across it with 3 or 4 good jumps.  The “Big” Thompson, most everywhere else in the U.S. would be called a creek.  When I first saw it I thought out loud, “If this is the “Big” Thompson, I wonder what the Little Thompson looks like”, not even knowing there actually is a Little Thompson.  And... yes, as you might expect, it is even smaller.

But, what a beautiful river!  Even though it may be small by some standards, it is a powerful river with clean pure water rippling laughingly over rocks worn smooth and lined on each side by yet more rocks.  Most times you will find fly fisherman spaced out along the several miles this river flows from Estes Park toward the South Platte which ultimately joins with the Missouri, then the Mississippi, and on to the Gulf of Mexico.

I am told the river actually passes on quite a large amount of water.  Because much of it flows at a rapid rate, due to the decrease in elevation travelling from the snow melt tributaries high in the mountains toward the prairies, that it moves forward as much water as some larger slower rivers.  There are people in the Deep South that are swimming and fishing in “Big” Thompson water, they just don’t know it.

Anyway, the "Big" Thompson Canyon presents some of the most breath taking scenery in the world!  You could travel all over the planet and see other famous places and this one is right up there with any of them.  The Rocky Mountains are well named.  The foothills are rocky too.  In fact the “Big” Thompson Canyon is the rockiest place I have ever seen or probably ever will see.  The road leading to Estes Park has many hairpin turns, so many and so tight that you can almost see yourself passing yourself on the way through.  The walls of the canyon go up so steeply that you really have to crane your neck to see all the way up.

Finally, after making about a gazillion turns and passing all the little bridges that lead to all those little neighborhoods that have all those rustic cottages and cabins, you reach a place where the sky opens up again before you and there it is,  Estes Park!  There is this feeling you get when you reach this point.  It is a mixture of relief to finally be away from the dizzying turns and elation at the beauty of this charming little town surrounded on all sides by spectacular mountains.  Words cannot describe them.  If you don’t see them yourself, no amount of talking about them or even looking at pictures will do it.  You have to see them, in person, wide awake and preferably with someone else who is also looking at them.  There is a feeling you get that few things in life can duplicate.

My wife and I have taken so many friends and family there that it has become almost routine.  But when we see it all over again through the eyes of our guests, we feel a sense of pride that we could jump in the car, even with just half a tank of gas, and take our guests to such a place of beauty and be home later that day before dark.  To live in Colorado is to be real close to amazingly spectacular scenery or to be right smack in it.  Those who live in Estes Park are the latter.  We can easily visit where they live.  I suppose it is possible for those who live there every day to lose the wonder of it all but every sunrise, sunset, weather change, or location provides enough variety that I doubt any long-time resident ever gets bored with the views this place provides.

Once you arrive in Estes Park you may discover that there are a lot of other people who like the place too.  They are everywhere, many of them looking for the same parking space as you are.  But once you get parked, it is a walking town.  There are little shops with every kind of souvenir you can imagine.  T-Shirts with all kinds of humorous and wacky things silkscreened on them, jewelry, hats, nick-knacks, carved bears, almost anything you can make look like a moose, put a moose on, attach some moose theme upon it, or in any way shape or form identify the product with moosiness will sell like hotcakes to hungry lumberjacks.  Of course once you have entered and exited about a dozen such shops they begin to run together into a blur of rustic overload and you want to do something else.

That something else, for me, is to visit the famous Stanley Hotel.  The Stanley is a stately old building that was built back before power tools, back when real craftsmen took real pride in their workmanship.  It is all of wood, ornate in every way, high ceiling, lush moldings, world class architecture, custom stairway bannisters, hardwood floors and the coolest looking old world elevator anywhere.  It is built on a hill overlooking Estes and has the best view of the surrounding scenery anywhere.

I like to go to the hotel coffee shop, buy a pastry and a cup of joe, then go up the ornate stairs to take my place in a rocking chair on the large majestic porch overlooking the town and just sit there pretending I own the place and am so magnanimous as to allow all the others to visit my home and also enjoy the view.  After all, what joy it is to have such a beautiful place and not share it with my fellow human beings?

Other things close by Estes are also must sees.  Trail Ridge Road, the highest elevated interconnected road in America begins just west of town.  You pay a few bucks, follow the road all the way over the Continental Divide, see huge elk herds, big horn sheep, marmots, chipmunks, and all kinds of other critters.  You finally get way above the tree-line where the oxygen gets thin and you feel that high altitude dizziness that can be either euphoric or mildly nauseating depending on how acclimated you are to it.  But this view of being “on top of the world” is worth the weirdness of it.  I have found that chocolate fudge helps, and even when it doesn’t it is still tasty.

No matter how many times I take a guest to Estes Park I still enjoy it myself.  I am thankful to be allowed to treat someone else to this place that is so close to where I live.  Although, I suppose, I will always be a transplanted Southerner, I have been transplanted and now consider myself a Coloradoan.  This is my home.  When I visit my native city of Mobile, Alabama and get my annual fix of Southern cuisine, salt water beaches, familiar accents, and old friends and relatives, I am ready to come back HOME to Fort Collins, Colorado!  I love being pastor of “The Bridge Church” which has some of the best people I have ever known as members, and feel blessed by God to live and serve in this place to which I have been called.

If you ever find yourself anywhere close and east of Estes Park, by all means find the time to take the drive through the “Big” Thompson Canyon and spend a few hours in this special place.  If you want, go see the Stanley.  It’s OK, you can tell them that Marc Leverett gave you permission to tour the place. 

Senior Softball

A Senior Softball Player   by Marc LeverettAge- 59,  6/23/15 Team - North Colorado Select, B-2 division, Colorado Senior Softball Association, Pos. Left Field

A senior softball player is a guy who is old enough to be in the senior league (50 and older) and still healthy enough to actually play the game. He is aware that he is no longer the young jock he used to be and that his speed, flexibility, and yes, some degree of strength has been diminished by the years he has been blessed to live. Yet, the game is still the game. The grass is still the grass. The diamond still has three bases and a home plate. The glove still fits, the bat stills feels good in the hands. The ball, when caught, still feels, well, it's hard to describe if you don't already know, but there are few feelings more satisfying than feeling the ball hit right smack into the center of your glove's pocket with a good SNAP!

Did I mention the grass? There's something about the grass that makes the soul of every ball player feel wholesome, euphoric, and even awestruck, as he steps onto a ball field. It's a gift from God!  There have been times as I have driven past a ball diamond, and seen the green grass glistening with dew, and a thin haze of morning mist hovering just a few feet over the surface, that I got the same feeling of being in church or listening to great music. There have been times when I have seen a nighttime field lit up with a game in progress and memories would run through my mind like a freight train. I have even gotten a lump in my throat while beholding the familiar, nostalgic, pure American beauty of such a scene. 

Senior softball players (the majority of them anyway) played the game when they were younger and the game forever took residence in their psyches. They can identify with all players everywhere whether they are playing T-Ball, little league, high school ball, or girls softball. With all the variations, they are all played on the same basic field, a field with green grass and reddish dirt, and white lines.  Baseball is a universal language much like music or art.  Senior softball players get it.

There is a certain smell, sound, feel, and sixth sense about a ball field. Senior ball players have a lifetime of this accumulative sensory collection to heighten their love for the game and spur them on to ignore the pain brought from arthritic joints and strained muscles. There is power in the game that turns a man that had trouble all week going up the stairs, or who has to grunt to get himself up off the couch into a man who can run down and catch a fly ball, turn quickly to throw it with authority and feel only exhilaration.   (At least until the adrenaline and ibuprofen wears off.)  A senior softball player is a man that will pay the price of days muscle soreness and even endure limping around to be able to play the game he loves with his teammates on that glorious field of dreams.

A senior softball player is usually an old school kind of guy.  He sees the sport as an exercise in character just as much as a source of physical exercise.  Two words are learned early by every ball player.  These two words illustrate the moral integrity that is part of the game, “My bad”.  Those two words spoken right after one makes a bad throw, or drops the ball, or somehow makes a mistake, show the heart of a ball player as well as the heart of a gentleman.  “My bad” means, "I acknowledge my mistake and recognize it as a form of personal failure for which I take full responsibility."  We are all going to goof up now and then.  Even the very best players sometimes have to say “my bad”.  Innate with that two word apology is the unspoken assertion that we recognize a certain standard of excellence in play and hold ourselves accountable when we fail to meet it. 

In a way it is the reality that we don’t always execute every attempt perfectly that makes the times we do so rewarding. It would be boring to be totally perfect all the time.  Getting a good hit means something because there is the very real possibility of grounding out, popping out, or even the much dreaded striking out in slow pitch softball.  Just as with individual plays, there is no thrill in winning unless there is the possibility of losing. Senior softball players, like all ball players place themselves in an arena that will give them either elation or dejection, success or failure, high fives or drooped shoulders.  That’s the game.

Another old school senior softball quality is the compliment.  “Good catch!”, “Nice hit!”,  “Way to hustle!”, or “Great play!”  These also reveal the shared appreciation all players have for what it takes to play the game well.  These praises mean even more when they come from the mouth of an opponent!  Nothing is more meaningful to give or to receive than a well earned compliment for an outstanding play when that compliment comes from the other bench.  Nothing is more classy to do in softball than to be the giver of such an accolade when even though your team is behind in the score, and you want desperately to beat the other team, the human being on the other side who displayed such prowess and passion for the game impresses you to give credit where credit is due.  Also, the camaraderie that one finds in his own teammates as he puts his effort with theirs to win the game is priceless.  Seeing your teammate do something spectacular feels so good it is as if you did it also.

The senior softball bench is a sight to behold.  There are enough knee braces, compression shorts, ace bandages, and other assorted joint or muscle wraps to stock an orthopedic supply shop!  No Roman gladiator wore more muscle supporting gear than found on most senior softball players.  Between these various wrappings, various pain medications, and natural adrenaline these graying athletes manage to play at a level that often surprises younger players when they see these men take to the field in enthusiastic fervor, playing for keeps just as if it were the World Series.  Deep down, they know it isn’t the World Series.  They know that in the overall scheme of things senior league ball isn’t likely to catch a time slot on ESPN.  But the competitiveness and the desire to win makes them come out ready to give it 100% (at least 100% of what they have at this age) to the game.  They all sense that they are still better at the game than many guys half their age.

Senior softball players live with the nagging awareness that there will eventually come a time when their aging bodies may no longer allow them to play.  Several weeks ago I was getting ready for practice and watched as several senior players in the 70s and up league were walking to their field for a game.  I was surprised, amused, and impressed to see an old man (I later learned he was a decorated WW2 vet age 90!) in full uniform walking slowly, carefully, yet determinedly to his bench using his bat for a cane.  Yes, he could not walk well without help, but was going to do his part for his team.  90 years old and on a real softball team!  I noticed I was not the only one watching this old timer, and while we 60 year old players were all smiling and shaking our heads, I knew what each of us were thinking.  “God, let that be me in 30 years!     I can think of no better iconic picture to illustrate the spirit of senior softball than that old man using his bat for a cane as he made his way to the game.  Now THAT is a senior softball player!

Fishing and Fatherhood

Dear Roy (Father-in-Law, Dad, Mentor, Fishing Buddy)

I was watching a segment on TV about some men who were remembering times they went fishing with their fathers.  It set me to thinking that the only father I ever went fishing with was my father-in-law, YOU.

It was you who taught me how to tie a proper hook knot.  At first I was a bit uneasy with the implication that the knot I taught myself to tie as a fatherless boy was not as good, but I realized that the reason I felt that way was because the empty place where a father should have been hurt too much to open to someone who was not that man.  However, the knot you taught me became my knot and it is better than what I used before.  This is just one example of the role you have played in my life as my mentor through fishing.

While fishing we had great adventures and great fun.  We got caught in storms, almost got lost at sea once, had to drag the boat for about a half mile in my boxers, through the Tampa Bay canals to get it over the shallows, got swallowed up in fog, several times had to work on the motor while way out in the Gulf, and once even tried to water ski in 3 foot waves when there was a small craft advisory out.  There were times we got baked in the sun and others when we almost died of hypothermia!

I loved every minute spent with you fishing.  Some of the greatest memories I have are those we shared reeling in the fish and filling up ice chests with food that we got to take home and share with the family.  It made me feel good about myself and good about life to do something guys do with a patient, giving guy who although he had three daughters, did not have a son until he gained a son-in-law who did not know how to be a son to anyone, but got tricked into it through the wondrous, magical craft of fishing.

It was in that boat, or on that pier that we became friends.  You gave me respect and made me feel better about myself for being a fellow fisherman with a man who was a seasoned veteran of the sea.  We shared the wonders of the deep catching all kinds of fish, some of them so weird and strange that few have ever seen them except in a picture.  We held them in our hands, kept the ones we could eat, threw back the ones we couldn’t and after the end of the day went back to the women and children feeling like heroes, winners, risk takers, and providers, in other words, we were fishermen!

You taught me honesty.  I already knew it and tried to always be honest.  But there is honesty and then there is “fisherman honesty”.  You taught me that they are one and the same.  When you measure a fish and it is too short to be a keeper, you throw it back, period.  If the fish was almost 16 inches, you would say it was almost 16 inches.  You wouldn’t even round it off to make the story better.

One thing, you cleaned EVERY FISH.  Even when we were bone tired, and we already had plenty to make a good mess, you went on to clean the little fish that take as much time to clean as the big ones but hardly seemed worth the trouble to me.  I guess growing up poor and having to maximize resources is so much in your blood that even when persuaded into dumping the little ones, you did so with reluctance and some degree of guilt.  I admire that about you.

I could write a book about the fishing experiences we have had but I’m writing this to just say thank you for being my Dad by being my fishing buddy.  God used you to make me feel better, and to make me BE better.  You’re the best Dad I ever had.

Love,

Marc

Ponderings on Modern American Churchianity

Warning!  Some degree of cynicism included.

Too much of modern Christianity is not Christianity at all, but is rather baptized paganism.

The real problem with this isn’t that this is the case.  The problem is when people don’t know this.

If Jesus were to appear again, here and now, as a man among us, his teachings would not be well received among most of his “followers”.

American Christianity is only slightly better than European Christianity, which is only a thin veneer of Christianity laid over Druidism and Shamanism, mixed with a congenital and cultural bent on the perpetual pursuit of dominating others.

There is no “Christian culture”, only cultures influenced to some degree by Christianity.

If Jesus were to address some of our Independent Fundamental Baptist Associations, he could use some of the same sermons he preached to the Pharisees. 

Most of the modern preachers who use the word “relevant” really mean by that term, “hip”.

The most relevant things among us today are not “hip”.  They are transcendent.

The things that society recognizes as hip are almost completely void of real value.

If something has no real importance or transcendent value it is irrelevant.

Culture worship is just another form of idolatry and is just as sinful as any other form of idolatry.

The ancient pagan belief in “magic words” is a definite factor in such issues as the “Prayer of Jabez” craze, the “Word of Faith” movement, “quickie evangelism”,  and “ other errors among Christians today.  Once you see this, it is hard to ignore it.

“1-2-3 repeat after me” evangelism has sent more souls to hell than liquor and drugs combined.

When you can see Satan work, it is only his very lowest rank of demons involved.  A high ranking demon will be more invisible and likely to pose as one of Christianity’s great champions.  

What is good for the local church is good for Christianity.

What is bad for the local church is bad for Christianity.

90% of what we do in Jesus’ name is actually man-made filler.

The ones we often deem as not being very good Christians may be the best of Christ’s followers.

The ones we often deem as being good Christians may be the worst of Christ’s followers.

Those who are the quickest to judge others are themselves ripe for judgment.

A truly spiritual man is more strict on himself than he is on others.

A truly carnal man is more strict on others than he is on himself.

The Christians who rate the highest in heaven are most likely unknown to most of us.

We have sold Christianity so cheaply for so long that many people no longer value it at all.

Holiness is not the absence of sinful appetites, but the conscious awareness of, and careful control of them.  Otherwise only those who are comatose are truly holy.

Hormonal deficiency is not to be confused with sexual morality.

Lack of ambition is not to be confused with meekness.

Poor self esteem is not to be confused with humility.

Until we are in heaven, we will struggle against something.  This is the best anyone gets.

Many subscribe to certain “convenient doctrines” not because they are derived from sound exegesis, but because they allow one to be a Christian while having it easier than other Christians.

Too many Christians are willing to reject, and even defame their brethren, over things that God doesn’t care anything about.

If it isn’t relevant to all peoples of the earth, in all generations through history, then maybe it isn’t really relevant anywhere at any time.

If there were a shop where working voodoo dolls were sold, some church members would pay any price to get one, put their pastor’s likeness on it, and spend every waking moment sticking pins in it.

The ones who claim to be the most spiritual in a church, and want others to know it, are often the most carnal and wicked people in the community.

If evil is defined by how it hurts the local church, then some faithfully attending church members are far more wicked than the neighborhood hookers, drunks, drug pushers, and thieves.

In all my experience with church work, I have never lost a single member or suffered a lying slander due to the efforts of a lost, unchurched sinner.  I have experienced both from church members.

If a veteran pastor were to reveal all he knows that is true about his detractors, he could ruin their reputations with the entire community.  Yet these same individuals will ungratefully invent anything they can to ruin this same pastor.

Pastoring a church is the most important profession in the world.  We should not be surprised that Satan’s highest ranking demons infiltrate and hinder it.  Even Jesus had his Judas.

Whenever Christ acquired large crowds he would strongly challenge them until many, if not most, left.

Whenever Jesus confronted potential converts, he placed a barrier in front of them that they had to cross.  He never downplayed the cost of conversion.

When Christ wrote His 7 letters to the churches, His primary concern was that they had too many of the wrong kind of people in the group.  He thought their numbers were too high.

Jesus appears to be less interested in the numerical success of a church as He is in the health of a church.

A healthy church will, in time, achieve true numerical success.

Many churches that show numerical “success” are, in fact, the sickest, least effectual churches in church history.  Yet, they often become the models.

As long as church associations and fellowships feature only the large, well attended churches, as models of how things should be done, we will not have true revival.

When we can attend seminars and hear a pastor tell how he thinned his previously large crowd by following Jesus’ teachings, example, and Holy Spirit leading, we may begin to see real revival.

Setting up a church to appeal to “seekers” is very close if not identical to gearing a church around career Christ rejecters. 

Seekers should turn into finders and do so very soon upon hearing the gospel.  If they are continually comfortable in their state of unbelief, then the church that made them comfortable may be doing Satan’s highest work. 

Whatever you do to get a crowd is what you will have to do to keep a crowd.

Jesus, John Baptist, Peter, Paul, James, in fact all the apostles and every faithful preacher since have made unbelievers uncomfortable until they repented and believed, or tried to kill them.

Modern American Christianity, oddly, does not evangelize like Jesus did, nor as his Apostles taught.

Modern American Christianity has become the cheaply paid prostitute of an apostate society.

For every genuine convert gotten by use of quickie evangelism, there are 10 that are effectively immunized against the saving gospel.

Equally true, failure to draw in the net is cowardice and laziness of the most damning kind.

If an airplane full of average American clergymen were to crash into the ocean, the man-eating sharks there would still have nothing to eat.

If even just the Baptists in the United States would have presented a truly masculine form of Christianity, Islam would have made very little inroads into the American community.

A Christianity that is void of demands is a Christianity void of importance.

Relevance is never as important as importance.

During the times when becoming a Christian carried the highest price, the church grew in a genuine way.

During the times when becoming a Christian was easy, the church either declined, failed to grow, or it grew larger but weaker.

Since the majority of souls saved and discipled each year are converted in churches running 200 or less, why are those churches not the models for church growth?

My Foray Into the Fort Collins Newspaper

Condemn Extremism Not Religion - (Edited for this forum)

A recent contributor to the Soapbox column made some interesting statements about the need to relegate all religion to the area of mythology. Citing the Norway killings, his premise was that religion, even moderate religion, was responsible for much bloodshed and mayhem in the world.  I partly agree with him.  Not about all religion being myth, but about the dangerous nature of certain beliefs.

Certain religious beliefs have indeed been the motivation behind all kinds of violence. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I am appalled that some who claimed to be his followers have done some terrible things all in the name of "faith." I stand with this contributor in condemnation of those who adopt an ideology that allows them to mistreat others and commit atrocities upon their neighbors because they may not share their beliefs.

But we are missing something here. While religious extremism may have been responsible for thousands of deaths, there is another extremist ideology that is responsible for more deaths, namely secularism.  In particular, militant atheism, a particular ideology, a faith that religion is bad, has been the force behind more deaths than all of religious based mayhem combined.

To what can one compare the Leninist purges of Russia where literally millions of Russians were murdered or displaced because they did not share the tenets of godless Communism? What about Nazism, led by men who were secularists, and believed wholeheartedly in Darwinian evolution, and the concept of survival of the fittest?  They murdered millions!

What about the millions of Chinese people who were killed during their revolution as the Maoists especially targeted people of faith in their purges? Or consider the killing fields of Pol Pot, another atheist, who shared this contributor's belief that all religion should be relegated to mythology?  As we look back at the last few decades, it is statistically verifiable that while religious extremism may have killed its thousands, secular extremism has slain its MILLIONS.

If we are to lay blame upon all religionists because of the actions of a minority, are we to blame all secularists for the atrocities committed by those who also "believe" that there is no God? Maybe we need to relegate all atheism to impracticality because of the demonstrable ties this ideology has to oppression, mass murder, and genocide.

After all, according to this contributor's reasoning, "It is the moderates that allow for the extremists through shared ideology."  So are we to place guilt on all moderate secularists for the actions of some more radical secularists?

We should all condemn the kind of insanity behind the Norway mass murders. We should stand united in condemnation against Islamic extremism and so-called Christian fundamentalist extremism.

Jesus Christ taught that we are to advance our faith with words, not swords. The very worst one should fear from a follower of Christ is to be witnessed to in love, or to be courteously rebutted in the city newspaper. 

Marc F. Leverett lives in Fort Collins.

 

Trial by Fires

(About the Hyde Park Fire near Fort Collins)

They have been worrying about “the big one” for years.  Certain areas of Colorado have been so dry for so long that many experts predicted a season of uncontrollable wildfires as “imminent”.  In addition to the lack of rain in the foothills, thousands of lodge pole pines have been killed by beetles and are so dry they might as well be matchsticks waiting for ignition.  Among these trees are where many of our church families live, and where many others hold property.

The High Park Fire, just west and north of Fort Collins was a lightning caused fire that spread so fast it became a monster overnight.  Low humidity, strong winds, and tinder dry ground cover gave us no chance for an early response.  Entire neighborhoods were evacuated in such a hurry that many residents had to make instant decisions on what to take with them, and what to leave behind, knowing their homes and belongings may very well be gone forever.  Howard, a widower who teaches our senior adult class, whose mountain home was in the area first affected, had to leave so fast that he barely had time to pack some clothes and necessary items for an undetermined stay in town.  I asked him what he thought to take with him and he laughingly said, “For some reason I thought to grab my pool cue on the way out.”  It’s funny the things you think of when in that kind of situation.

He did stay in town for several days not knowing the status of his property.  The fire had spread to other places and away from his area before he finally got the news that his house was one of those that was lost in the early stages of the fire.  A lifetime of memories went up in smoke, and this man, at this stage of his life, is now faced with the decision to re-build on his property or settle out and move into town.  You can see the grief in his eyes.

Several other of our families also had to evacuate, some twice, some three separate times, as the fire moved erratically with the changing winds.  One couple hosted another refugee family only to become refugees themselves as the fire threatened their area.  Thankfully these did not lose their homes.  While they wondered about their property they stayed with relatives in town.  We had special prayers in our meetings for them and for others in the state which were also facing impending destruction.

We could see the smoke plumes rising up.  As the heat of the day gave rise to the smoke it looked like a volcanic eruption!   Several times in Fort Collins, when the wind shifted, we were inundated with smoke, soot, and ash.  At times we could see the angry orange flames just across the lake as the fires spread to the east sides of the foothills.  Scary stuff.   We had to cancel one Wednesday night service because the smoke was so heavy in town.

It is strange how going through something like this personally sensitizes you to the news reports of fires elsewhere.  Other fires popped up all over the state, the most notable being the Waldo Canyon Fire west of Colorado Springs.  We watched the news in shock as entire subdivisions were burned down house by house, street by street, and block by block.  Every one of those houses belonged to our fellow Coloradoans, our neighbors, our friends.  Those who lost their homes were sometimes interviewed on the news.  Grown men, women, and children cried unashamed on camera as they tried to answer questions from reporters about their homes.

Good neighbors pull together in times like these.  Colorado’s churches stepped up to provide shelter, support, comfort, and love for those who had to flee in the night, and for those who have been working so hard for so long to fight the fires.  People can’t say enough good things about these heroes, many of them from neighboring states, who work in harsh and dangerous conditions to contain these fires.  Because of their efforts many homes were saved that surely would have been lost otherwise.  In a different way, every pastor knows what it is like to work hard and rejoice to see some saved, but also to grieve about those who are lost. 

Marc Leverett - Bridge Church - Fort Collins, CO

Euphoria by the Bay

I am remembering one of the best evenings I've had ever.  Maybe it was because it had rained for two days.  Maybe it was because I was tired and hungry from our church work day today but a wonderful euphoria set in on Marc Leverett at about 7:45 Central Time.

Carolyn and I joined her mom and dad and her sister and her husband for a sea food meal at a little back porch place called Nan's Seas.  It's the kind of place where no one goes for the fancy atmosphere but for the absolute best and freshest sea food anywhere, period.  I got the hungry man's fried shrimp, all 12 of them were big, breaded just right and cooked perfectly.  The cocktail sauce was home made.  I like really good sauces.

After the meal we went and just sat looking over Mobile Bay.  I saw the glass-like water broken only now and then with a mullet jumping and landing on its side with a little slap of water.  There were brown pelicans gliding two inches over the surface in a primal scene that has been the same for hundreds of years.  The sky was alight with the fading hues of sunset, pink, vermilion, purple and blue.  I could barely make out a rainbow on the right as the air is still heavy with vapor.  It was beautiful.  I had what could be called an epiphany.  God nudged my heart and reminded me that life's most precious things have nothing to do with men or what men do. 

Nature is a great equalizer.  It is a binder to all hearts who can allow themselves to look at God by looking at what he has made and feeling small and large at the same time.  It occurred to me that just about anybody else could sit with me on that sea wall and share the wonders of God’s creation as children of the same Father, with no strife, conflict or discord.  The only music would be that of the laughing gulls.  The only awareness would be this display of God's wonders.  I began to long for heaven. Earth isn't heaven but sometimes heaven seems to visit for a time.

All of us on earth have way more in common than not when heaven visits.  We may not agree on some things but I value my shared humanness with others more than to allow my disagreements to blind me to our eternal brotherhood. 

Jesus taught us to love others, even our enemies, even those who mistreat us.  When we love as we ought, we become conduits for the same kind of heaven-come-to-earth experience I enjoyed one blissful night on Mobile Bay.

A Merry Heart Is Good Medicine

The Bible has many passages that teach us common sense wisdom concerning how to think and how to live.  One of the universally recognized keys to good health is to develop and maintain a cheerful attitude.  Sociologists, psychologists, medical doctors, and clergymen can all agree on this matter.  Those who are purposefully cheerful in their attitude and have a positive outlook will suffer less from illnesses and, when they do succumb, will recover sooner than those who possess a gloomy, negative disposition.

To a large degree, our attitude is a matter of choice.  True, there are times when circumstances will be such that it is impossible to be cheerful.  Tears and grief are sometimes on life's menu; and we will all taste this bitterness from time to time.  But while we may visit the "swamp of sadness", we should not put up a mailbox there and make it our residence!  God wants us to practice the arts of our faith with the result that our joy will "be full".  He wants us to "be of good cheer".  Jesus said, "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."  This new life is not just about quantity (as in eternal life) but about quality as well.

Just as there are positive benefits to having a merry heart; there is health robbing power in a broken and bitter spirit.  Immunologists tell us that someone's natural immune system is weakened by sadness and depression.  In other words, the body has a difficult time fighting off germs and other infectious elements when a person is in a depressed state.  There are several accounts where individuals actually died early for no other reason than they became sad and stayed that way until their body just broke down.

There are two powerful disciplines for the development and maintenance of a healthy disposition:  1. Stay in close fellowship with God.  Walking close to the Lord helps us keep things in perspective and employs the fruits of the Spirit to work in our lives.  and ... 2.  Maintain communion with other positive people.  We need to be in good fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  They are the ones that can pick us up when we are down, encourage us when we are faltering, and even lovingly rebuke us when we are headed the wrong direction.  David said, "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity."  (Ps. 133:1) He also said, "I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD".  (Ps. 122:1)

In church, we find a heightened sense of the awareness of God.  We also find fellowship with one another.  These are two good things for staying happy and healthy!  May God bless you as you walk with Him this week and may our fellowship with one another be a source of health and happiness!

Quotes:

 "While we may not be able to control all that happens to us, we can control what happens inside us."  Benjamin Franklin

  "The graveyards are full of indispensible men."  Charles de Gaulle

 "Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires...courage."  Ralph Waldo Emerson

"You got to be careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there."  Yogi Berra