This is my new lighted picture over my work station. Isn't it gorgeous? Scenes like this reach out and pull me right into the place until I can almost smell the spruce and pine, feel the snow-chilled wind whip across my face, and hear the echos bounce from ten rocky peaks.

Beaches do it for me too, but mountains...I don't know, there's something about them. Nature in all its wild beauty reminds me how much bigger the universe is than whatever problem I might be fussing about. Its vastness, untamed, helps me keep life in perspective. "What is man that Thou takes notice of him?"

So I sit at my computer and lift my eyes every so often, breathe in the pine-laden air and have an instant vacation. Colors look more vivid, the senses more alive, and I can return to my work in progress with more vigor.

What inspires you? What mini-vacations do you give yourself to keep recharged?

Which Way Are We Headed?

Does anyone else feel it? Maybe it's me. Maybe aging does this to everyone, but I don't think that's entirely it. For the past couple of years, I have watched our world, our culture, the status quo careening sideways at an alarming rate. The history of the world is littered with crises: wars, natural disasters, acts of terrorism, famine, moral decay...But never before have we slipped from such a lofty position.

This is not a tirade against the younger generation nor a moral soapbox from which to condemn everything I find uncomfortable. Never in my life have I been so personally comfortable. It would be easy to turn my head, close my ears, and refuse to acknowledge the haunting unease that is strengthening every day.

It's a sensation, intuitive, just a whisper, like an apparition glimpsed from the corner of your eye. You try to focus on it, and it's gone. But you know it was there. You're affected by it, even though you don't understand what it is.

The battle between the idea of moral absolutes and the popular mindset is heating up. All over the world, the suffering of mankind is escalating, much of it due to man's own evil; yet, no one refers to evil anymore. The idea of absolute right and wrong is no longer acceptable. Instead, we talk about "healthy choices," "affirming self image," "lifestyle alternatives," and "disease." None of those labels carries with it any personal judgement.

Africa is being decimated by AIDS, overwhelmingly due to the immoral lifestyle choices of the people. Yet, to hear the popular media address it, you would think it was a plague similar to polio. No one but the handful of missionaries working in the field ever speaks the truth. South American countries are being overrun by terrorists and ruling entities who seem to have no conscience. Yet, our own government--the one nation under God--plays word games and elevates dictators to the position of benevolent rulers, supporting their tyranny for political gain.

Much has been said and written about the United States's rapid decline, yet few Americans truly believe they are part of the problem. "Just as long as I'm comfortable," is the hymn sung by most, even those professing to be followers of Christ. "Don't make anyone feel bad about themselves," has become the accepted mantra of well-meaning people. But how wrong that is.

Until we see ourselves the way God sees us, until we feel terrible about our contribution to moral decay, until each of us cleans up our own act in whatever little ways we can, the slope into destruction only gets slicker.

We view our own choices as private, as though we alone have the right to define evil for ourselves. We call good what God calls abhorrent. We value what God detests. We rewrite history to exclude any intervention from Heaven. Yet, when the ship begins to sink, we all cry out to God to save us, as though the God we've renamed and redefined to suit ourselves has no choice but to obey our every wish.

The world is pushing for global unity, global ideology, global everything to the extent that soon the idea of nationalism will be viewed as suspect. The Land of the Free, the once-honorable champion of liberty, has abused the concept of liberty to the extent that we will soon be slaves once more. Those crying out to stop this headlong race to self-destruction are universally booed, labeled "phobic," and accused of "hate-mongering."

It's happened before. All throughout history, those who stood for truth and righteousness were mocked and belittled, eventually silenced. But never before has the descent into darkness originated from the brightest era of light the world has ever experienced.

We could have it all. It's right in front of us: the technology, the experience, the science, the convenience to allow us to devote ourselves to righteous causes, lifestyles of honor and purity, clear-headed decisions based on dignity, fairness, and an undisputed standard of right and wrong.

But we're going to miss it. While plunging headlong into the chaotic mess that will eventually destroy us, we think we're becoming more enlightened. We won't realize how foolish we were until it's too late.

And I'm afraid, for much of the world, it's already too late.

A Prayer for the School Year

As kids head back to school this week, there are a few things that we can all agree on as we pray for them and their year, no matter what schooling situation they may be a part of. Having had a child in almost all of these at one point, I'm well aware of the pitfalls and potential for Satan's snares inherent in each.

For the public school students:

Lord, give them strength and nobility of character to stand alone, no matter what friends, teachers, or the cool kids say or do. Let the Scripture that's been planted in their hearts rise to the surface with every challenge. Let your truth come from their mouths as they answer their tempters, and with every true word spoken, let their hearts grow stronger. Allow them to see their school as a mission field, filled with hurting people who long for truth and not be swayed by the popular opinion of the day.

For the Christian school student:

Father, even within the supposedly Christ-centered hallways, darkness lurks and temptation waits, hiding in the hearts of those who are not there to learn truth, but to disrupt. Protect our children from themselves, and the tendency to become careless or shallow in their faith, assuming that anything they hear or do must be Christian, since that's the name of the school. Let them see clearly the difference between those professing the Name, and those with You entrenched deeply in their hearts. Let this time of growth and discovery prepare them with the ability from now on to tell the sheep from the goats and to never be led astray by false prophets.

For the homeschooled student:

As hard as we try, Lord, no parent can train the sin nature out of a child. They are each your unique creations with a free will. Guard the homeschooled child from puffed-up pride and self-centerdness. Rebuke the tendency to assume spiritual superiority. Just because they can quote whole chapters of your word doesn't meant their hearts are any more tender than the most hardened criminal. Let them see the struggle others must face and develop compassion for the lost and hurting who they may not see as often as they would in another mode of schooling. Help them to recognize that their relationship with You is not based on Mom's relationship with you and that God holds each one accountable for what he's been given.

For the college student:
Lord, this is a tough time in the life of any kid. The buffet of the world's choices is spread before them, tempting, inviting them to just "have a taste." Deepen their convictions now, Lord. Strengthen their minds that they can make the standards they were raised with their own. Bind the spirit of confusion that will try to muddle Your clear mandates and let them think clearly and rightly and refuse to be sidetracked. Give them a vision for their future, for a path You've created for them. One that will excite and motivate them to finish the race. Deliver them back to us whole, stronger and wiser, ready to use all they've been given to impact their world.

We pray that this school year will produce mighty warriors for God's kingdom from every school in the nation and from every family. Amen.

To Love Mercy

What does the Lord require of me?

To do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with my God.
(Micah 6)

The book I'm working on now has a theme I'm wrestling with and I hope that when I finish the book, I will have a deeper understanding of it myself. The prevailing question the characters will face: Is showing mercy better than exacting justice? Should the commitment to justice always take a backseat to showing mercy to the offender?

Obviously for a society, mercy can't rule or there would be anarchy. In our personal lives, there is a time for mercy and a time to require justice. Each situation must be decided on its own merit and I hope that my readers come to a deeper understanding of what God wants by living this situation with my characters.

I find myself falling asleep arguing the merits of both sides and pondering it during the day. The verse above is the kingpin of the message and I haven't mined the depths of it yet, being only a hundred or so pages into the book--with many rewrites still to come.

So how have you done in whittling your life down to these three things? Do you always do justly? Do you long to show mercy to those who offend you? And do you walk daily in humble fellowship with your God?

Life looks pretty simple when we boil it down to the bones, doesn't it?