Friday, August 31, 2012

From Growling to Growing

Physical therapy is not for the fainthearted since you're volunteering to let someone hurt you for the greater good of becoming mobile, flexible and stronger.  However, these "greater good" thoughts escape your reach when your arm (chose that limb at random) is being forced in directions it refuses to go.  You begin to weigh your options.  You can't slap the therapist without risking a lawsuit so the option of heading to the recliner, never to return, and growling at anyone who dares even look at your injury sounds like a winner, for the moment anyway. 

Just last Sunday, our pastor reminded us that "faith is like a muscle: we have to use it to make it stronger."  I've heard this all my life, but it really hadn't hit home until now, when this right arm is as weak as water and shakes like a limb in the wind when I try to raise it past a certain point.  It was much easier with a sling and knock-me-out pain pills. No one expected anything of me.

However, like my physical therapy sessions, a growing faith requires stretching followed by strengthening.  God stretches us in as many ways as there are people.  Look at the stretching exercise James hints at in the following verses:

"Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.'  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that.'  James 4:13-15

Not knowing what will happen is a daily stretch of our faith. James reminds us that no matter how much concrete or stone we use to set our plans, God has a sledge hammer.  God sends us (or keeps us) where He needs us for His greater glory, for the good of those we'll come to know, and for our own good. 
Once He stretches us, we find we're weak in our new circumstances and we have only Him to trust.  We'll wish for easier, more comfortable times when we were sure of ourselves and knew what we were doing - before God stretched us.  This is the point when strengthening and stamina begin. God doesn't leave us shaking like leaves but calls us to rest in His goodness.  He responds by building our stamina as we depend totally on Him.   Faith doesn't require us to be strong. Faith means actively depending on His unending and immeasurable strength.  

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. 
Romans 5:3-4

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Plan A+

"Commit to the LORD whatever you do and your plans will succeed."
 Proverbs 16:3

What a promising verse, but it doesn't stand alone.  Notice what changes when we read it with the before and after verses:

"All a man's ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the LORD.
Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.
The LORD works out everything for His own ends - even the wicked for a day of disaster." Proverbs 16:2-4

     Committing our plans to the LORD means we give Him input, not that we have a carte blanche to plan against His will.  What a relief! We don't have to come up with the perfect plan.  
     Why should we commit our Plan A's to the LORD? First, He can pick out from them any seeds of frustration, laziness, anger, selfishness, or misguided priorities to make our Plan A a Plan A+.  He's more interested in the character of the "planner" than the plan. He's concerned with how we arrived at the plans we bring Him, and if we're honest, our plans are almost always for our advancement and good rather than His.  Committing our day, our way, our say to Him means He interferes and saves us a world of hurt.  He evaluates motives as well as our actions.  He's not a "bottom line" God but a God of the journey toward results and output. 
     Proverbs 16:4 gives us a second reason to commit our plans to the LORD.  He alone can bring spiritual results that glorify Him.  We may think of ten ways to witness, another ten classes to start, or a dozen mission trips to take, but God alone can work everything out for the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people and Himself.  We commit our plans to the Lord to keep from spinning our wheels and wasting energy on what we think might work.
      Thank You, Lord, for not sitting back and laughing at our plans. Thank You for not waving us on to do whatever we like. Wrap Yourself into our hearts so the plans born there reflect Your priorities, Your love, Your goodness and Your goals. 
In the Name of Jesus Who fulfilled the greatest, most perfect plan of all

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


"Many are asking, 'Who can show us any good?' 
Let the light of Your Face shine upon us, O LORD."  Psalm 4:6

This weekend our church's staff met at Petit Jean (said Petteh Jean here in Arkansas) Park for a retreat and we discovered a beautiful place full of surprises.  After the retreat Tom took me to Mather Lodge for lunch and we walked to the Cedar Falls overlook where suddenly we felt very small. Standing on the platform high above tree tops in the gorge below, the calm of breezes in mountain trees began to massage our souls as only God's creation can.  
     In a few moments we heard a couple saying strange things to each other as they came closer to the observation platform: "60 feet," "45 feet," 20 feet," - "Let's try under here."  They were using iPhones to locate a "geo-cache" which turned out to be hidden not more than three feet from where we had been soaking in our surroundings.  The little packet was a sealed plastic bag containing stamps and a coin from another country, a small card with a saying, and two lists of about 30 names of the people who had found this prize before: about 30 names in all.  The couple explained how the app on their phones gives clues and uses a GPS to lead people to geo-caches hidden on every continent.  When people find them, they add their names to the list, take something from the collection, and then leave something in it for the next person to find.  Being new to the concept, we were fascinated with this modern day treasure hunt.
     However, our new friends had never found a geo-cache before and were unprepared to find this one.  They had no pen to write their names and they had nothing small to leave in the bag before replacing it in its hiding place. We started looking for something and Tom handed them a pen and the guitar pick he carries in his wallet. With these two small contributions, we became part of something global 
     God calls us to pull away from the agitators, instigators, irritants and militants yelling and opining out there and let Him bathe us in the peace and calm of His Light.  He calls us to meditate on His grandeur, His creativity, and His beauty.  In His Presence we find everything we need and a lot of what we desire if we come prepared and expectantly.  Who knows when He might reveal a God-cache and we'll want to write it down and sing a praise song.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Gravity of Attitude

Nick says he loves the first day of school and finding out who’s in his classes. He enjoys seeing his friends again and how they’ve changed over the summer. He also loves the last week of school when change again fills the air and school means winding down, watching movies, and cleaning out lockers. It’s those pesky in-between days that bring him down with the weighty gravity of math mysteries and detailed directions. These things burst the bubble of what could serve as a perfectly wonderful social experience.

Everyone needs the dose of hope a new start brings. We need hope that our relationships will work out, hope that there’s more to life than what we’ve experienced, hope that we can be more than we’ve been, and hope that we’ll make more of a positive difference in our corners of the world.

How do we fight a sagging attitude when we spend most of our days repeating what we did yesterday? How do we stay on top of circumstances that don’t and won’t change? Instead of waiting for something else to change, we climb higher and get farther down God's path for us when we accept He's using our unchanging circumstances to transform us.  Only through the transformation do we learn to transcend what usually holds us to the ground. 

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:29-31

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Through the Roof

Those four determined men who carried their lame friend to see Jesus didn't give up when crowds of people blocked their way. They fought through to the roof, tore away a large hole and lowered the man's cot to the feet of Jesus, the One they knew could help.  This quartet of friends deserves a song, applause, or a memorial, yet we don't even know their names.  Their stubborn faith and non-stop action in the right direction for their friend earned their story a place in God's Word.  I've come to a deeper appreciation for their spiritual initiative since I broke my right shoulder two months ago.  
     From the moment I hit the floor all I could say to God for six weeks were the words, "God, please."  Fighting through the fog of pain and pain-killers seemed impossible so I trusted He knew what I meant and needed.  Those simple prayers sum up my personal effort to grow for the last two months.  My mind wasn't mine to control for while after I hit the bathroom floor.  
     Job and Jeremiah now have my utmost respect.  Paul and Silas are saints for singing in prison after being beaten, but I, the spiritual weenie, needed people to carry me to Jesus.  God answered my two-word prayers by sending friend after friend with support, practical help, love, prayers, phone calls and food, food and more food.  He blessed our family with cards and car rides, affection and attention.  More people had a hand on my cot than I can count.  Friends and family carried me to the feet of Jesus and I've come through that dense, disorienting fog to testify that God is a God Who never leaves us, Who sends the right help at the right time, and loves us just as we need to be loved in the moment of our greatest need. 
     If God uses us to carry each other when we're physically hurting,  how much more does He want to use us to carry the emotionally paralyzed or spiritually dead from their darkness into the Light?   I'm getting closer to "normal" and now it's time to reach down and take a corner of someone else's cot.  Will you take another corner?  The crowds will seem impassable and the steps will be steep.  The roof may take more effort to remove than we thought and our friends' burdens could get heavier the nearer we get to Jesus, but we can't give up. Who else will carry them?