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Last week my family was blessed to spend a week in Florida with everyone's favorite mouse. If you've ever done Disney you know that by the end of the week you can feel pretty wiped out. I rode my fair share of rides but in an effort to keep things balanced I also made sure to do my fair share of walking around aimlessly, people watching and of course my favorite Disney pastime, eating. In the midst of one of my wanderings I came across this sign located at Epcot just outside one its largest attractions. I stopped and read it (yes, I'm the guy that reads all the signs at the museum, park and zoo) and was struck by the power of the words. While the words were written in an effort to speak about the importance of properly stewarding our natural resources here on Earth, they could also be applied to our relationships with one another.  Think for a moment about what a healthy God honoring relationship should look like. It's difficult to read in the photo but here's what it says:
Symbiosis 
Between the Land and Humankind

"Symbiotic relationships mean creative partnerships. The earth is to be seen neither as an ecosystem to be preserved unchanged not as a quarry to be exploited for selfish and short range economic reasons, but as a garden to be cultivated for the development of its own potentialities of the human adventure. The goal of this relationship is not the maintenance of the status quo but the emergence of new phenomena and new values." 

Rene Dubos (1901-1982)
Bacteriologists
Pulltzer Prize Recipient
Rockefeller University
Powerful words that can and should be applied to our stewarding of this amazing planet God has blessed us with but let's look at this quote through the eyes of those looking to develop healthy relationships. When was the last time that we viewed our friendships as "Creative partnerships"? Even that term, "Creative partnership" communicates intentionality. Creating is something that is designed to accomplish a specific purpose. Do our friendships have a specific purpose? Not in a negative way like you're using someone but do your friendships push you towards your overall purpose? Are you being sharpened? Are you sharpening those you are in relationship with?

Too often we choose to surround ourselves with people that are content to leave us as we are. That sounds like a good friend right, someone who accepts you as you are? What if instead we chose to intentionally surround ourselves with people that wanted to us change, not for the sake of change or their selfish gains but for the glory of God? 

What if we intentionally searched for friendships that could be defined as a "cultivating relationship" as one who cultivates a garden? When you cultivate a garden you work it, you weed it, you fertilize it, you break it down and then work towards building it back up. Does that describe your relationships? What if our friends weren't content with our status quo? What if we weren't content with the status of our friends? What if we had relationships where each part was cultivated into the emergence of something new? Not "new" in the sense that the current you or them isn't good enough but let's be honest and admit that we have much to learn from one another and when we intentionally surround ourselves with other God pursuing people we discover that we can be developed and sharpened to a greater God honoring level. My challenge is for each of us to look for and pursue relationships that are truly symbiotic. Be encouraged and keep moving forward. 
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My son's high school recently received some tough athletic news. Both the varsity football and boy's soccer teams were discovered to have ineligible players on the team, thus forfeiting both team's records to this point in the season. That's tough news to a group of student athletes who spent all summer prepping, training, getting up early, hitting the gym, putting in extra practices, staying late, eating right. That's a lot of work, a lot of effort and a lot of discipline. An argument could be made that all of that effort was for naught. What's the point when the win/loss record gets wiped out? What's the point when all of the hard work and effort seems to have landed them back at square one?

As I chatted with my son (the varsity soccer team's starting goalie) I was reminded of an important lesson that I myself too often forget. As crazy as it sounds, "I don't want to work for the recognition of others." That may seem foolish in a world where raises and promotions are granted to those who stand out the most but as I raise my sons I want their driving motivation for success to be a heart that pleases God and an internal drive to better themselves. We fail our children when we teach and model for them that hard work pays off only when titles are won and awards are presented. Coaches and parents who teach discipline, eating right, hard work and dedication are a dime a dozen but coaches and parents who teach those things regardless of the outcome are few and far between. The boys on the football and soccer teams who had their schedules wiped clean are stronger and better off not because of this adversity and unfair situation, they are stronger and better off because of the work and effort they have put in over these last several months. 

If you never receive another pay raise or promotion, if you never receive another award, another pat on the back, another plaque or another "attaboy" you're effort will be well worth it in the end. Why? Because you've been true to yourself. You've been true to the work ethic that you know is right. You've given your all to something greater than yourself. What I pray for my life and for yours is that we would give our all. Not just to be noticed, to win or be appreciated but because it's the right thing to do. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.  
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Within the world of social media there is a term known as "Ghost follower". According to Wikipedia a ghost follower or a "lurker" is someone who, "is typically a member of an online community who observes, but does not participate." These are the people that scroll your account but never like, double tap or comment. For those passionate about social media lurkers or ghost followers are the worst. They want to know who is seeing their stuff. They long to draw these lurkers out of the shadows and to interact with them. Personally, this is a 1 to me.  Like the photos, don't like them, comment or don't. I'm good either way.

As I've been thinking about this ghost follower idea I've been reminded of the words that Jesus told His disciples in the book of Luke. Bible Gateway records it like this, "Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me." What did Jesus have in mind when He said this to his followers? Follow at a distance? Follow when convenient? Follow when comfortable? I'm confident that His intention then and now is that we would follow closely and loudly.

Closely in the sense of hanging on every word that flows from His Spirit.
Closely in that we would without question hear Him when He speaks.
Closely in the sense that we would without hesitation respond when He calls.

Loudly in the sense that those closest to us would undoubtedly know who we claim as Lord of our lives.
Loudly in the sense that those in the greatest need would see Jesus in and through us.
Loudly in the sense that we would stick out as a light in the midst of a dark world. 

That's my prayer for me life and I'll pray the same for you as well (regardless of whether or not you comment or like this post). "God I pray that you would allow me to follow you closely and loudly with everything I have inside of me. May there be no question who I stand for, who I love and who I have committed my life to. Amen." ​Be encouraged and keep moving forward. 
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My wife and I decided to navigate some of the wooded trails at Mt. Airy Forest this morning. We're not big hikers but we do enjoy being outside and thought it would be fun to check out some of the local trails. We parked our car just before 11 this morning and headed towards a 4.2 mile trail. After reading on the internet that the trails at Mt. Airy were poorly marked I decided to use my hiking app to ensure that we stayed on course and didn't end up lost somewhere in the middle of Mt. Airy's 1500 acres.

What I failed to consider before we left on our hike was the battery percentage on my phone. As the percentage of my battery life continued ticking down my anxiety began to tick up. I'm deep into a trail that I've never been on, my phone is about to die and I'm standing at a crossroad in the middle of 1500 acres. 

I've never really talked about my anxiety before but from time to time I deal with situational anxiety. I'm not even sure that's a thing but that's all I know to call it. It doesn't happen all of the time, in fact it generally isn't an issue unless I find myself in situations where I feel trapped, lost, unable to reach help, etc. My mind starts to race, my legs get weak and I feel like I just want to lay down. I begin the process of overthinking the "what ifs" of the moment. 

What if we can't find our way out?
What if we take the wrong trail?
What if my phone dies?

As I turned a corner today and realized that we weren't anywhere close to what I thought we'd be I suddenly felt my anxiety welling up inside of me. All of the signs were there; lump in my throat, weak legs, mind racing. In that moment, I feigned confidence and said to my wife, "You good? I think we're almost there." I whispered a prayer to God for strength and kept putting one foot in front of the other. 

If I had stopped to think critically about my situation I would have recalled the sound of the highway in the distance, taken solace in the fact that my phone wasn't quite yet dead and remembered that if push came to shove, I could simply turn around and walk back the way I had come. But in that moment, none of that seemed to matter. I allowed fear and anxiety to overcome any rational thought. 

When we eventually emerged from the longest 4.2 miles of my life I was able to chat through those tense internal moments with my wife. As I reflected on those moments of anxiety I was reminded of the importance of continuing to put one foot in front of the other. Perhaps you are dealing with some sort of situational anxiety? Maybe your rears its ugly head more often than not. Allow me to encourage you to continue putting one foot in front of the other. Continue following the trail that God has mapped out for you and when you come to a crossroad, whisper a prayer to God for strength and keep moving. Be encouraged and keep moving forward. 
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Yesterday we talked about the power of confession. "Confession is good for the soul". Confession beats fear, the fear of wondering with the jig is up. Confession brings simplicity, "Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive." Confession allows us to speak freely without fear of "blowing it". Confession brings up positive results in our lives. 

Let's take a minute today to examine the results of a lack of confession. What happens when we fail to confess? What happens when we try to keep our junk hidden as if it never happened?

Check out Proverbs 32:3-5 on BibleGateway, "When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat."

We wear down more quickly. Unconfessed sin in our lives is like an unknown virus that saps our strength. We continue to go about our day wondering why we feel so tired, so weak. We carry a heaviness around with us. We can't seem to pinpoint its source but we feel week and strangely burdened. You and I were not meant to live this way. Jesus says in 
John 10:10, "The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life." Following Jesus as He intends should bring life, energy and vitality. If you are weary, restless and weak check your heart for unconfessed sin. 

Proverbs 32:6-9 says, "Therefore, let all the godly pray to you while there is still time, that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment. For you are my hiding place; you protect me from trouble. You surround me with songs of victory. The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you. Do not be like a senseless horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.”

We give up protection and guidance. Unconfessed sin in our lives clogs up the line. God is certainly all powerful and can do as He pleases but He chooses to work in our lives when we invite Him to do so. He desires to provide us with protection and guidance but unconfessed sin in our lives makes it difficult to understand and recognize his provision and direction.  There is only one throne of your heart and He refuses to share it with anyone or anything. If you feel lost, if you feel exposed and unprotected, check your heart for unconfessed sin. 

My prayer for you is that you would live with joy, that your sin would be put out of sight. I pray that you would have great strength, protection and guidance from the Lord. I pray that you would be surrounded with songs of victory and that you would shout with victory for the confession of your sins. Be encouraged and keep moving forward. 
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