Time Out, Please

One regret I have about our world today is the lack of time.
 
We don’t take time anymore — time to listen, time to read, time to ponder and consider motives and effects, time to pray, time to allow something to percolate or the real substance to be distilled.
 
We don’t have time anymore — time to gather information and form our own thoughts, time to be uncertain for right now about how we feel about an issue, time to have conversations with those around us whose wisdom we respect. Our news feed fills with what those managing our media perceive we already believe, news that reinforces our already-held slants and fears. Memes are made, slogans generated, tweets retweeted, reactionary rallies formed. Celebrities speak and politicians react. People rush to the front lines of the new battle that has formed; we don’t want history to find us having done nothing. University presidents and ministry leaders feel compelled to make a statement because people are demanding to know where they stand on this issues. “Are you for or against?”
 
This all happens in the first 24 or 48 hours and is based, of course, on partial and changing information because the whole truth isn’t available yet, only first impressions and sound bites.
 
I am sorry and more than a little frightened about the rush we are in.
 
I have decided that I will breathe and I will pray and I will learn what I can. I will take time for conversation with those around me. I will think. And when I have had time, when I am a little wiser, when it is time, if it is my time, I will speak and I will act.
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Lessons from a High-Ropes Course

 

This is something I wrote nearly ten years ago. I’ve thought of it several times lately and decided to pull it out, dust it off, and post it here.

high-ropes

     One day, way back in 1986, my husband and I took our youth group to Camp Joy to do a high ropes course. We did some group-building activities on the ground, had lunch and then headed for the ropes. After learning the rules and safety precautions, we headed up to the treetops to begin our adventure. I started out on the first obstacle. Almost immediately I was overcome with fear and grabbed the nearest tree. 

I found I couldn’t let go. 

I stood hugging that tree for a while, sweat pouring from me in fear, and finally

I had to give up and go down. 

   

     At the same time, one of our youth,  a 12-year-old named Jon,  was beginning his turn on the course. I’m not sure how he began or when he first fell. But I do know that he seemed fearless as he completed the entire ropes course. Oh, he didn’t do it flawlessly. It seemed he was hanging by his harness almost as much as he was on the ropes. I can almost see him dangling there like a spider. He would try the obstacle, fall as often as not, then get back up and try it again. He completed the entire course in this manner.

 

     One day years later, as I recalled that day, the Lord began to use that experience to teach me a lesson. You see, that day in the tree I was so afraid of falling that I could do nothing. I was paralyzed by my fear. I had listened to the same instructions as Jon had (indeed, I had probably listened far more carefully than he had!). I understood that if I followed the instructions I was given, I was perfectly safe. I could not fall. I knew all that in my head. 

But, I didn’t believe it. 

Not deep down where it really mattered. Logically I knew I was safe, but my fear of falling was so strong that I couldn’t hear what logic was saying. I was listening only to my fears, and I was paralyzed. 

 

     Jon’s story was different. You see, Jon fell. He didn’t fall on purpose, he just slipped, but he fell almost right away. And once he fell, Jon knew he was safe. He didn’t know it just in his head as I did.  He knew it with all his being. If the system of harness and straps and carabineers was not enough to save him, he would have been twenty feet below, badly injured or dead. But it was enough. He had fallen and he was okay. He knew then that he was safe, and now he was free to try every challenge the course offered.

     

     When I looked back years later, God showed me something.He showed me this:

I was so afraid of falling that I could do nothing, but Jon fell and, therefore, was afraid of nothing. 

He could do everything. I saw myself living frequently out of that same kind of fear that I had had on the ropes. Sure, I knew that God loved me and would never leave me.  I knew that his grace was enough to cover any mistake I might make. But I didn’t live like I really knew it. I have often lived a timid life – afraid to try anything new or anything that I didn’t already know I could do well. I was afraid of many things, but failure was the biggest, especially failure in front of people. So, I rarely risked anything for God. I would cry out to God to use me for his glory, to do great things with my life, but I ended up doing very little because I was afraid to try, afraid to fail.

 

     On the other hand was Jon. Jon has grown up in the years since. He continued in our youth group until he completed high school. During his senior year, he allowed God to get ahold of his life. And after finishing college, he worked as a youth pastor for several years at a church we were serving, so I had the opportunity to witness his life over many years.  I have seen him live his life just as he did that day on the ropes. He has a confidence in the God who holds him. He knows that God is his safety and his security. He knows it like he knew that day that his equipment would hold him safely in the trees. With that settled, he is free to live for God – to live fully, an all-out, no-holds-barred abundant life for God.  Fear is gone. He knows that he can try anything for God, because if he slips, if he makes a mistake, or when he makes a mistake, it isn’t fatal. He falls, rather, right into the hands of God, his loving Father, who helps him climb back onto the ropes and go again. 

 

     Over the past several years, as God has taught me the lesson of the high ropes course, I have resolved to live differently. It wasn’t an instant change. It has been slow at times, but I am changing. I have decided that anytime I have the opportunity to do something for God I will try it. It has led me to try some new, and sometimes risky, things. At first I would sometimes feel led to stand during worship when everyone else was sitting or to kneel when no one else was, and for a change I would do it.  It wasn’t much, but it was risky for me – what would people think!  I have taught the middle school Sunday School class (every adult knows how scary that can be!). I have led singing at VBS and After-School Club and, believe me, me singing is risky! I have been on a few international mission trips. As I stepped out in faith, trusting him, he has led me to bigger things. In recent years, God has led me into prison ministry and Aaron and I into adopting a teen-age son. If I had not learned the lessons of the ropes course and been willing to try the smaller things, I would never have been able to “let go of the tree” and try either of these. Some of the things I’ve tried have been successes, but some haven’t (leading VBS music…). And I’m okay. I’ve learned that

falling isn’t fatal.

He really does catch me when I fall!

 

     A few years later, as a counselor at a junior high camp, I had an opportunity to try the ropes course again. I really wanted to do it all this time. It was so hard! I was crying as I climbed the last couple feet of the climbing wall and stepped over onto the first platform. But this time, I kept my focus on my equipment and the people instructing me. I kept reminding myself that they were trustworthy. I called down to ask my instructor, Sarge, if he was really watching me. I checked and double-checked my carabineers, my connection to the safety cables, and yanked on my straps. Then, knowing they were secure, I took one step at a time until I had finished the course. It was actually fun! I had moments when the fear would come back, but I would refocus my mind on the people below whom I could trust (calling out to Sarge one more time to see if he was really watching me) and on my secure connection to the safety line (touch the carabineers and yank on those straps again), and I could go on.  

 

     When I got to the end, I had to push off the final platform onto a zip-line that took me streaking through the woods and then safely down to the ground. It was so hard to push off that platform! Again, I had to remind myself (I actually had to say it aloud!) that Sarge was watching me and my connection to the safety equipment was secure.  

Then I did it! 

I pushed off into space. And it was one scary ride, but much more fun than I expected and I landed safe and sound and excited about my big accomplishment!

   

      I want to remember this lesson all of my life. I want to do anything God asks me to do. I want to face any challenge that comes my way. I have decided not to focus on my fears, but to remember that

my God is trustworthy and my connection to him is secure.

     

     You see, just like on the ropes course when, if I fell from the obstacle, I could only fall a couple feet because I was firmly connected to the cable, if I fall in life, I remain firmly connected to him and I can only fall into his hands. What could be safer than that? A fall isn’t fatal; it’s a fall into my Father’s hand, the Father who will gently set me back upright and onto my path. So, I tug a little on my connection to him and might even call out to him, “God, you’re watching, aren’t you?” Then, truly knowing that he is faithful, I can push off into space, confident that, as he says in Jude verse 24, He is able to keep me from falling and to present me before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.

 

     Is there anything keeping you from stepping out into the risky and the unknown in your life? Is it that no one has ever challenged you to dream big?  If so, I would recommend that you ask God to begin to lead you, to break your heart with the things that break his heart. Then, get moving. 

 

     Or is it that, like me, you are afraid you might fail?  You might look stupid?  I understand where you are. I lived much of my life there.  I want to encourage you to remember your “instructor”. Remember that, what Sarge did for me, God will do for you. He is always watching out for your interests and will keep his eye on you. You know, I never called out without finding that Sarge was right with me. He took his responsibility seriously and he understood my fears. He cared for me. In the same way, remember that God understand your fears and takes you seriously and that he is 

“able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.”

Double-check your connection to him. Are you abiding in him? Are you following him? Trusting him for your very life? If so, hang onto that, ask God to lead, and start living adventurously for him now. It might be a scary ride, but will likely be more fun than you expected. And you will land safe and sound in him and excited about being used for his kingdom. 

There is no telling what you and God might do!

How is Your Focus?

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the world? Or stuck in the middle of a middle of a road going nowhere? Are you tired with the fight, weary from your burdens? Feeling despair? Here are some reflections from my devotional reading today from Called:?! Following a Future Filled with the Possible:
 

“The unlikely heroic Hobbits, Frodo and Sam, find themselves discouraged to the point of despair. Their lives seem stuck somewhere in the long middle of the greatest story. Frodo is ready to throw in the towel. Sam reaches deep and speaks these inspired words to his friend:two-towers

‘It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how
could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.
‘ (The Two Towers)

“Faith is not a proper belief, but a passionate grip. Yet faith calls for a release of control, a confidence in what can’t be seen, an assuredness surrounded by doubt and discouragement, that determine to persevere anyway.

“In the end, I think there is only one secret to following the call of God. It’s perseverance. Every enemy of God comes against the called ones in an allied attempt to derail the story. The world, the flesh, and the devil conspire to seduce, corrupt, and destroy the fledgling plant of faith. But every ounce of heaven, the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, the Scripture, and the saints stand with all who want to respond to the calling of God. . .the battle between heaven and hell is the mismatch of the ages. . .[and] the posture of the Called is humble kneeling. The prayer of the Called is, ‘Come, Holy Spirit!’ The battle cry of the Called is, ‘Thy Kingdom Come!’

“The perseverance of the Called is not one of ‘bucking up’ or ‘trying harder’ or ‘optimistic self-talk.’ The biblical idea of perseverance is distinct. It requires steadfastness, yet underneath this is a hyper-focus. It comes together in statements like ‘For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God,’ and ‘They did not receive the things promised. They only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.’” 

Brothers and Sisters, fellow followers of Jesus Christ, no matter what has happened or will happen in our lives, our nation, and the world, we can be steadfast when we are hyper-focused. And the great secret is to focus ourselves on Him. Continually laying ourselves down before him and keeping our eyes fixed on him.

J.D. Walt continues: “What would it mean to fix our eyes on Jesus? What will it take to get our gaze off ourselves? What would a life look like that was completely and astonishingly abandoned to the beholding of this God? It is from him we have come and it is to him that we live and move and have our being, and it is to him we are going.”

Sisters and Brothers, let us not allow anger, fear, hatred, news stories or Facebook posts distract us. Let us resolve to remain hyper-focused on Jesus. For even this darkness must pass. And when the new day comes and the sun shines it will shine out the clearer for the darkness that has come and gone. Amen

Do Not Be Terrified

Luke 21:9-18

And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. 12 But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake.13 This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17 You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives.

 

This was part of my Bible reading the other day and it jumped out at me. I have been hearing so many people speak of being afraid lately. People are voicing their fears everywhere. I hear people talking and read them posting of how frightened they are about the world their children and their grandchildren will inherit. I read of their fears for our nation if the other person gets elected. I heard someone speak tonight of her fear of danger for poll workers in our nation tomorrow. Someone else spoke of feeling safe in the walls of the church but fearful going outside of them.

People are wondering what lies ahead, are fairly certain it won’t be good, and many are filled with fear.

In this passage Jesus faced a frightening future head on. He didn’t mince words, but foretold a coming time of great tragedy: wars, tumults, nations against nations, earthquakes, famine and pestilence, terrors from heaven, persecution (leading even to the death of some of his followers), and betrayal by friends and family. Great and terrifying tragedies, indeed. Enough to frighten anyone!

But he began this teaching by saying, “Do not be terrified.” When you hear of this, don’t be afraid.  How, Lord? How could they hear your words and not be terrified? How can we read them and not tremble? How can we face the coming days (whatever they might be) and not be afraid?

His answer? “This will be your opportunity.” Opportunity? Yes, these coming tragedies, these unspeakably frightening events, rather than destroying them, would be an opportunity for his people to bear witness to Christ. He even instructed them not to worry ahead of time about what kind of witness they would be, saying he would provide the words for them; he would give them “a mouth and wisdom”.

Again Jesus warned that the days ahead would be terrible. Even their closest family and friends would betray them. All of his listeners would be hated, and some would be killed. Again, how could they hear all this and not be afraid? And again Jesus reassured them: “But not a hair of your head will perish.”

What did this mean? How could it be? He just told them that some would die! Perish must mean more than physical death, something worse, something eternal. Apparently a person can die but not perish, for this is exactly what he said here.

Obviously this is the same idea he had in mind in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” We know people who believe in God loving the world through his Son Jesus and, yet, have died. Obviously, physical death isn’t perishing. For though we die in this world, we will live in the next. 

When I read this the other day I thought of Jesus, in the book of John, telling his disciples that in him they could have peace in the midst of the world’s troubles. He said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16:33) When he said this Jesus foresaw all the troubles of the world, even the terrifying ones he talked about in our passage today.

 

So when I read Luke 21 this week, I prayed:

I know, Lord, that many are scared. I hear people talking about their fears, fear of what is happening in the world, fear of the world their children and grandchildren will inherit. I don’t know what is coming or when it will come. I do know that our world is changing, dangers are creeping nearer our doorsteps, and your people are afraid.  And that’s why I love this passage today, Jesus. You speak of unimaginable horrors and trials, all we fear and things we’ve not yet thought of fearing. But your words are these:

Do not be terrified.

This will be your opportunity.

Not a hair on your head will perish.

You have told us about it ahead of time. You have promised never to leave us. You said that you have already overcome it. And you assure us that,

By endurance, you will gain your lives.

God, you know I am not eager for difficulties, for terrifying times. I’m not. Especially for my children and grandchildren. But I am not afraid any longer. Thank you for delivering me from fear. In you I have peace. You have overcome the world. You are with me. You will give me a mouth and wisdom. Not a hair on my head will perish. And I WILL gain my life!

A Date With My Soul

What if you had an entire day with NOTHING on the calendar? And what if you received one assignment for that day: Go on a date. Make a date with the artist within you. Do something, just the two of you, you and your creative soul, something that nurtures you both.

What would you do?

That was my day today. I’m reading a book called The Artist’s Way. It is written to be read and implemented one chapter per week. Each week includes several writing and personal exploration tasks and an Artist Date. I am on Chapter One, so this was my first date.

The Date can be anything you choose: a visit to a museum, a couple of hours enjoying a delightful coffee shop, baking bread at home, anything that feeds your soul and nurtures your creative consciousness. Through the week I tossed around different ideas. Several of them were promising and I’ll use them in weeks to come but

I knew from the beginning that there could be only one destination for my first date,

perhaps the place that has fed my soul more than any other.

So, at noon today, I packed up the essentials for the trip, grabbed my water bottle and a blanket, and headed out, stopping by a Wendy’s nearby to pick up lunch. And this is where I went. 

I walked the old familiar paths just to get my bearings again, to get reacquainted with this home away from home for my heart.

After we were settled in together, Stages Pond and I, at the far bird blind, I sat for a while and ate lunch, just soaking in the beauty — and the new Wendy’s grilled chicken sandwich, which is just as good as the commercial makes it look.

After lunch, I wandered for a little bit looking for the best place to settle. And to my delight I discovered a new trail — a new path mowed through the meadows surrounding the kettle lake, a lake previously only seen from a bird blind at the front of the park. This trail wandered nearly a mile through the meadow and around the lake and came back out onto Kettle Lake Trail near where it had begun. I traced its length and then came back, finding The Place, the perfect place for our date, laying out my blanket and unpacking my Bible, books, journals and pen, water bottle, and reading glasses.

Then I didn’t move for the next two hours. 

I started with reading and praying Psalm 32, ending with meditating on the fact that I am surrounded by the Lord’s unfailing love. I am surrounded by the Lord’s unfailing love. I AM surrounded by the Lord’s unfailing love. I am SURROUNDED by the Lord’s unfailing love. I am surrounded by THE LORD’S unfailing love. I am surrounded by the Lord’s UNFAILING love. I am surrounded by the Lord’s unfailing LOVE. That’s good stuff, right there!

Then I moved on to my current reading in Luke, chapter 13 today and asked God to work his kingdom into and through me until I am thoroughly changed by it in every part of me, like the leavening in the parable.

I read a little in a book on hearing the voice of God (Four Keys to Hearing God’s Voice) and asked him to speak to me as I tried journaling what I heard him saying. This is new to me — I journal regularly my responses to His Word in the Bible and journal prayers of reflection and response to him, but I am new to trying to listen and journal what he might be saying.

I read this week’s chapter in our church-wide study book, Meet the Goodpeople, and asked God to help us make our church services relevant to the culture of the people we are trying to reach for him, as John and Charles Wesley did in their day.

Then it was time for the two of us — my inner artist and I. We wrote. We had two tasks from the Artist’s Way to work on today. They were fun, light-hearted (one involved imagining five different lives for ourselves other than the one we currently live — what would we be, just for fun, if we could) and lying on our tummies we wrote them leisurely in my journal, lingering on the parts that were especially enjoyable. Still lying there, we looked in every direction, enjoying the view from down so low.

Finally, we laid back and looked up at the sky, the clear, blue, October sky, and just soaked it in until our hearts were full.

And we closed our eyes and listened. To the rustling of the trees and drying grasses as the breezes rose up and died down. To the birds calling to one another across the meadow. To the bees buzzing busily in the fall flowers of the meadow. To the constant buzz of a million unknown insects that sounded at first to be one steady, unchanging pitch, but with careful listening could be separated into distinct sounds and rhythm. To the occasional airplane passing overhead and the far-off sounds of cars on country roads and farmers bringing in their corn. Listened. 

Finally we were done. My inner, artistic soul and I had had our first date. It went well. We had a good time. We like each other. I don’t know yet how the relationship will progress, what will come of it. I don’t know yet if I can trust my inner artist, if she is the real deal or just an imposter and not artistic at all. She may be a complete waste of time, but I intend to pursue this relationship and see. Either way I’d say we’re off to a good start.

We packed up our books and belongings and headed back to the car, 

where I traded my backpack and my date for my running shoes.

With a full heart and eyes wide open to this beautiful day in this beautiful place, I turned back to the trails and ran, ran them all, stopping when I needed to catch my breath and to take a picture

of a flower

or a tree

or a field of soybeans in the late afternoon sun

or a view of the lake demanding I not overlook it 

and to visit for a minute with a man resting on a fallen log and to enjoy the surprise I had hoped for from the time my foot hit the trail at the beginning of the day

a whitetail deer standing just twenty feet away from me in the edge of woods, both of us stopping for a full minute and taking each other in before turning and heading our own ways. 

I’m wondering,

maybe I hadn’t left my inner artist in the car after all.

Perhaps she had come with me on my run, wringing out every last drop of joy in this October day, drinking with me the delights of Stages Pond.

 

Spider Webs Along the Trail

I like breaking spider webs along the trail.  
IMAG2840
    I have no particular animosity toward the spiders who labored through the night to make the webs. In fact, I feel bad about destroying their work and perhaps depriving them of a meal. And I certainly get no pleasure from the sticky strings wrapping themselves around my arms and face, clinging to my clothes and hair as I pass, especially when they bring the occupants along with them. 
    Still, I like breaking spider webs along the trail. Each one declares that no one else has walked this way today. Like the ribbon at the finish line broken only by the lead runner, each silvery strand I meet calls out to me, “You are first! You’re the first one to pass this way. No one else has ventured this far.”
Each web I break tells me that only I have seen this day from this place.

 

And so, I like breaking spider webs along the trail.

Thoughts On The Planned Parenthood Scandal or Where Did We Think We’d Find Ourselves?

What did we think would happen?

Where did we think this path would lead? Where did we expect to find ourselves?

When we decided that unborn babies were not human, what did we think would happen?

When we realized that unborn babies were probably human but decided their lives were not worth defending, where did we think the path would lead?

When science showed us undeniably that unborn babies were human but we decided that the one we were carrying, or that our daughter/wife/girlfriend carried, would negatively effect our lives and, therefore, must be destroyed, where did we think that would take us?

Planned Parenthood selling babies’ body parts, Kermit Gosnell’s horrifying clinic with trash bags and milk jugs of babies’ bodies, uncounted incidences around the country where babies were born alive during abortion procedures only to have their spinal cords severed with scissors — aren’t these natural outcomes of denying the humanity of people we don’t want. The results are shocking. Horrifying. Disgusting. Incomprehensible. But, really, should we be surprised?

And, in reality, why should we care?

If these babies are not human, if they carry no intrinsic value simply by being, if we deem them disposable, why would we care what people do with their remains? Can we pretend to dignify their lives with feigned respect after we’ve approved of their murders? Would a more subtle disposal of their bodies make any difference?

Did we expect those who snuff out the lives of babies, one after another, day after day, to remain unchanged? Did we expect their hearts to remain tender? Did we think our nation would remain unchanged? Where did think we’d find ourselves?

And, this is a hard question to pose, but what difference does it make? As a nation we want the right to discard our children at will, to kill those who are inconvenient. Does it matter, then, what people do with their remains? What if we treated aborted babies with respect. What if, after each abortion, a bell tolled and there was a moment of silence? Would it change anything? If we buried each aborted baby in a cherry casket lined with satin and trimmed with cherubs, would it matter? A person who was alive is now dead at our hands.

Of course partial-birth abortion is horrifying. It’s barbaric.

Of course, profiting from the sale of human body parts is shocking. It’s inhuman.

But we have given our approval to the killing of our babies. We’ve allowed people to profit by their deaths. We’ve taken our wives and daughters and girlfriends to the killing centers. We’ve abandoned women in need so they believed their child’s death was their only option. We’ve pretended killing a child was sometimes a caring choice. We’ve turned our heads so we wouldn’t have to see it. And the result is the same. A person who was alive is now dead at our hands.

And then we have the nerve to be outraged about what people do with the leftover parts. Dear friends, brothers and sisters, where did we think we’d find ourselves?