Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Deep Roots

Looking up, I was amazed. Even with my neck craned back I could scarcely see the top, leaving me to marvel at the immensity of it. If you’ve ever seen a Sequoia tree you know what I’m talking about. They are huge!

My family loved them so much that we camped in Sequoia National Park on four separate occasions. Over time I learned some pretty interesting facts about them.

sequoia tree for send your roots deep

For instance, the Sequoia’s bark contains a natural fire-retardant called tannin. It gives the two-foot thick bark its unique reddish color and renders the tree resistant to brush fires, disease, and insect invasion. It’s also why you can find them darkened with burns where lightning or fire has hit, leaving it scarred and hollowed but still growing.

Often growing over 300 feet tall and weighing more than 2.7 million pounds, these giants need incredible amounts of water to thrive. The root system extends out to a distance equal to the height of the tree. Every drop of rain that falls gets snatched up and utilized.

With its many environmental adaptations this tree has the capacity to live a long time. Some of them are among the oldest living things on earth, guesstimated to be close to 4,000 years old.

My first impressions of the trees were always about how big, imposing, and enduring they seem. That is why when on a short hike, we were shocked to see some of them lying upended and dead. The root system appeared intact--what on earth could have happened to uproot such an enormous tree?

I stopped a park ranger to ask that question. The answer was simple. He said, “The root system is only about three feet deep. As big as these trees are, a strong wind can blow them over.”

Shallow roots—that’s all it takes to fell these giants. In spite of all the other survival traits that God gave them, in spite of the fact that the trees appeared healthy, there was a fundamental problem. The roots simply did not go deep enough to sustain them, and in the end all it took was a strong wind to topple and destroy them.

In the same way, we’ve seen those we would call “spiritual giants” toppled from their pedestal. They are leaders. They are Christians, and it shocks us. While appearing to be strong and healthy and growing, none of them were impervious. Humans are just that—human—and prone to weakness and failure. For some reason, the faith roots of these men—and women—did not go deep enough to sustain them in the face of the doubt, pride, or temptation in their lives.

We grieve for them, for all that they lost, and for their families. We are saddened by the harm it does to the cause of Christ, giving unbelievers another chance to dismiss our faith.

I’m no different. In the busyness of life I sometimes find myself so on-the-go doing things for Jesus that I neglect to just be with Him. It becomes easier to opt for form over substance, image over transparency, and shallowness over depth. It leaves me susceptible to the strong winds that will inevitably come.

Deep roots of faith are essential. The only way to grow them is to look to Jesus, who waters my faith so I can soak up the truths, the challenges, and the encouragement in His word. He refreshes my soul in the times my spirit feels dry. The disciplines of prayer, surrender, and stillness sustain me and cause me to hear His still, small voice saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21)

These deep roots enable each of us to stand firm and hold fast to the truth of His word. (2 Thessalonians 2:15) They cause us to cling to His promise that His grace is sufficient in the midst of our weakness. Above all, they make it possible for us to endure and overcome the challenges we are sure to face.

When the strong winds come may we be counted among those of whom this is said:

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, ‘The Lord is upright; He is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in Him      (Psalm 92:12-15)

Further reflection:

  1. How do you think your root system is doing these days?
  2. What are you doing to make sure the roots of your faith grow deeper?

Father, thank You that even creation bears out the principles of Your word. You are the author and perfecter of my faith and only as I come to You is my faith deepened. Help me to trust You, even when the winds of doubt or temptation blow. Apart from You I can do nothing, but with You all things are possible.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Stinging Nettles

Stinging nettles. Now there’s a close encounter you’d like to avoid. I’ve only run into them once, and that was one time too many.

During one break from school my four younger kids and I were looking for an adventure. Since we didn’t have time for a camping trip, we decided to try for a camping day instead.

I packed my own four and three neighbor friends into my trusty Suburban for the trek across town. Kit Carson Park was our destination. It had lots of trees lining the creek, and a trail at the far end that we had never explored.

The clearly marked trail wound all the way to the far corner of the park and ran alongside the creek. We followed it contentedly for a while. It was quiet and tree-lined, giving us the illusion of being far from home.

After a time the trail began to seem a little tame, and the lure of greater adventure beckoned. We abandoned the path and scrambled down to walk alongside the creek. Surprise! One of the boys fell in and not only found it much colder than he’d imagined, but also discovered how badly stagnant water can smell. Then one of the girls cut herself playing “Indiana Jones” in the bamboo. So much for adventure! We clambered back up the bank through some innocuous looking weeds.

When we reached the top, I felt like some angry insect had stung my legs multiple times. Immediately I realized that those not-so-innocuous weeds were actually stinging nettles. I’d heard of them, but unfortunately in all our many camping trips I’d never had them pointed out to me. Before now.

weeds for stinging nettles

Hoping to forestall a wave of copy-cat complaints I decided to suffer in silence. It was a short-lived hope. Two of the girls had inadvertently wandered through them as well, and were now hopping madly up and down, shrieking and howling. The youngest boy—the one who had fallen in the creek—also discovered that the dirty water that had splashed in one eye was causing it to swell rapidly.

The camping day had turned into a camping hour. We returned home.

The mistake we made was to leave the trail. True of that hike, but it’s also true of life.

God has a path, a trail for each of us to walk and it’s found in a right relationship with Him. There is joy, peace, and security there that can be found nowhere else, because He has designed us to know and love Him. But all too often, we leave that path and abandon that relationship because something else seems like more fun.

Sin can appear like more fun, but it is never without consequences. Self-will leads to the stinging nettles of life: discouragement, lack of joy and peace, and discontent. God knows that pain is sometimes the only thing that motivates us to heed His voice. In our human wisdom There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death (Proverbs 26:25).”

God allows those stinging nettles because He loves us and desires for us to return to the path that includes fellowship with him. He gives us His wisdom if we ask (James 1:5). He gives us His word that gives us direction for our everyday lives (Psalm 143:8). He gives us light for each step (Psalm 119:105).

So what did my kids and I learn that day? We’d rather be on the right path than to ever again encounter those awful stinging nettles.

Show me your ways, LORD, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.     Psalm 25:4-5

Further reflection:

1. Have you ever strayed from the path of fellowship with the Lord?

2. What was that like for you?

3. What did it take to motivate you to renew your relationship with Him?

Father, You are the source of everything good. My heart is satisfied as I walk with You, on the path You have designed for me. Thank You that when I have wandered off, You sent stinging nettles to remind me to trust Your wisdom rather than my own.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Pudding and a Pill

I could see the pain in his eyes. My 79-year-old dad had fallen a few days earlier, breaking his arm in two places right at the shoulder. This was the day after the surgery that had put in a plate and screws to keep the bone from shifting.

It obviously hurt him. A lot.

It’s hard to watch someone you love suffer, and my dad had already been through plenty; prostate cancer, thyroid cancer, a brain tumor, and lung cancer. He really was a walking miracle, as his doctor later admitted he initially gave him virtually no chance to survive the brain tumor for even a year. But the chemotherapy and radiation treatment had left him weak, tired, and unsteady on his feet. That’s what led to his fall.

The surgery had gone well, but this first day post-op left him without any appetite at all. The pain medication that he’d been given bounced on his empty stomach. The ensuing nausea made him vomit the meds back up, so there was minimal relief for the pain. It was such a frustrating cycle.

medicine bottle for pudding and a pill

My sisters and I finally found something that worked: pudding. Yes, pudding. It was the one thing Dad could make himself eat, and put just enough food in his stomach to keep the meds from bouncing.

Pudding and a pill made my dad’s pain go away, and judging from the loopy grin on his face also made him one happy camper. Dad went on to heal nicely, and the next summer he took all four of us kids, and our spouses, on an Alaskan cruise!

Life can be full of pain. Broken family relationships. Unfulfilled dreams. Disease. Death. None of us are untouched, and there is no pill we can take to make it go away.

Jesus understands our pain, because He also suffered greatly.

In the Garden of Gethsemane He endured the emotional pain of betrayal by one He called a friend, of seeing His fear-filled disciples flee from Him, and of hearing one closest to Him, Peter, deny Him publicly (Matthew 26).

He suffered mental anguish at the hands of people who maligned Him, accusing Him of being possessed by the devil (Mark 3:22). He was taunted, mocked and rejected by those He came to save, even as they called for His death (Matthew 27).

He endured the excruciating physical pain of being flogged, tortured, and crucified.

Finally, He bore intense spiritual agony as God the Father turned His back on Him and laid the complete penalty for sin on Him.

Unlike my dad we do not have any magic pill to make our pain go away, but we do have Jesus. There is no suffering that He cannot sympathize with. There is no sorrow He cannot understand. And death? It may stink, but because of Jesus, it does not win!

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet He did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.                      (Hebrews 4:15-16)

Further reflection:

  1. What has been the biggest hurt in your life?
  2. What happened in Jesus’ life that would be similar?
  3. How does this help you accept His compassion?

Jesus, thank You that You understand my pain. You suffered, too. Thank You that in You I have a high priest who can empathize with my weakness, yet You give me the perfect example of enduring. And thank You that death does not win—You do!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Phone

Yes, it’s true…I really did flush my cell phone down the toilet.

Of all places, it happened at a funeral reception. I was helping at church that day, so the phone was in my pocket when I went to the restroom. I looked for somewhere to set it, but didn’t see any options.

I know what you’re thinking, and no, I was not using the phone—no calls, no texts, no Facebook, I promise—when I entered the stall.

The phone just flipped out of my pocket. Plop! The sound of it hitting the water registered before the sight did. I stood there for a second in disbelief before instinct took over, and I reached for it.

Too late! The auto-flush toilet was already sending a cascade of water. Before my hand could make contact, the phone was gone. Not just drowned and no longer functioning, but the phone had actually made the turn in the toilet’s plumbing and completely disappeared.

I really hate those auto-flush toilets.

There was absolutely no way to retrieve that phone, and pointless even if I could. Was I bummed? Oh, yeah. It wasn’t that my phone was all that cool. It was actually a hand-me-down. But it had numbers stored that I had collected for years. I won’t even know which ones I lost until I need them! Plus I knew how my phone worked. I’d had it for quite a while, and navigating its functions was second-nature. Like an old friend, it was comfortable.

What’s more, as the Director of Children’s Ministries a phone is one thing I absolutely have to have on Sunday mornings. Since this happened on a Saturday afternoon. My husband and I raced to the nearest Verizon store as soon as the funeral reception ended. I walked back out the door with a brand new iPhone.

iPHone for the phone

This thing is amazing! It has a weather app, so I can see what the weather is like in the Midwest where some of my kids live. The maps app has a built-in gps system. And it’s an iPod, too? I cannot wait to figure out all the cool stuff it will do!

While I would never have wanted to lose my earlier phone (especially in such an inelegant fashion), I love, love, love my new iPhone.

Sometimes, we have to give up what is good in order to receive what is better. This applies to things a lot more important than a cell phone. It might be a relationship, or a job, or a dream. Whatever it is, it has been a good thing in your life. Losing it may not be your choice, but getting it back is not an option.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose  (Romans 8:28).

When the reality of loss settles in, do we truly believe this verse? Not just in an intellectual way, but in a practical experiential way? Times of loss test what we believe. When we lose something good, there is normal human emotion involved. But there is also a choice:  are we going to trust the Lord in this circumstance? Are we going to trust that what His word tells us is true is far more reliable that what our emotions tell us? As my senior pastor would ask, “Are you going to think with your faith attached?”

Too often in my life I only realized all the good that came out of those situations as I saw it in the rearview mirror. What I’ve seen is deeper trust and greater hope in the Lord, and a greater reliance on His word. Sometimes, I’ve clearly seen that God actually took what was good, and replaced it with something even better.

Gotta’ go now, my new phone is ringing.

…We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us  (Romans 5:3-4).

Further reflection

  1. What is something that you lost and wish you could have back?
  2. Where do you see God at work in that loss?
  3. Pray and ask God to show you the good in it.

Father, all that I have comes from Your hands. Please help me hold on to You more tightly than I hold on to anything else. Help me treasure You, and the truth of Your word, the most. I want to see Your goodness at work during, and not just after, loss. Help me to offer You the praise You deserve, for You are the giver of every good and perfect gift.