Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Never Saw It Coming

He should have seen it coming, but with his attention focused somewhere else he was blindsided, and it knocked him to the ground.

My ten-year-old son, Derek, played second base on his Little League baseball team. During the warm up for the game it was routine for the catcher to throw down to him as if someone was trying to steal that base. Derek had just turned to talk to another player when the throw came, and it caught him square on the bone right above his left eye.

It was awful to watch. Derek dropped to ground and didn’t move. Though unconscious for only a few seconds, to this mom it seemed an eternity. Holding my breath, I watched as an EMT ran to him. After a few minutes Derek stirred, and the EMT helped him wobble off the field.

The EMT’s words to me? “You need to take him to get checked out. His pupils are contracting in opposition to each other. He probably has a concussion or other head injury. Don’t let him fall asleep until he’s been seen.”

Though Derek was a bit loopy during the drive to urgent care, he remained awake and coherent. Still, frantic prayer from this mother’s heart pleaded for God’s mercy and grace.

And God answered that prayer. When the doctor examined him, he found that Derek’s eyes were again working normally. It was determined that while being knocked unconscious indicated a concussion, they didn’t need to treat him any further. Sweet, calming relief slowed the pounding of my heart. The black eye that resulted, while truly impressive, was a small inconvenience compared to what the outcome could have been.

black-eye

His attention wandered for only a few seconds, but that was all it took for Derek to be injured.

His pain is nothing compared to the pain we experience when we let ourselves be distracted from following Jesus. Though in the deepest core of our soul we recognize that He is what we yearn for most, other things vie for our affection. They might even be good things: our families; our jobs, or our friendships. But no matter how important they are, they cannot satisfy us the way that Jesus does. Saint Augustine put it this way: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.”

Because He created us to have fellowship with Him. When we let other things divert us from that, we become vulnerable to assigning them a priority they were never intended to have. We settle for lesser things, because there is no pleasure, no meaning, no satisfaction greater than walking in the joy of our relationship with Him. And there is no greater pain than the regret that comes when we look back and realize what we lost when our affection wandered.

Don’t get distracted, and save yourself the pain of regret.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.                                                                                     Hebrews 12:1-3 (bold is mine)

Further reflection:

1. What are some of the things that tend to distract you from focusing on your relationship with the Lord?

2. What do you need to do to keep from being sidetracked by them?

Father, to know You is truly the deepest desire of my heart, but far too often other loves war within me. Please, open my eyes to see when my stubborn heart wants to wander, and purify it to love You best.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

No Regrets

It was on YouTube, and I almost didn’t click on the Facebook link. I ended up watching it at least five times.

It was a video of a little old lady who was 80 years old, and she was trying out for Simon Cowell’s TV show, “Britain’s Got Talent”. A singing competition filled with young up-and-comers, it wasn’t a place you’d expect to see her. But Janey Cutler had been a mother to 7, grandmother to 13, and great-grandmother to 4. Not much was daunting to her after that!

janey Cutler

Escorted to the stage by one of the hosts, her feet shuffled slowly. No one knew quite what to make of her. When asked why she was trying out, she replied: “I like singing. And my friends said, ‘Janie, go for it. Better late than never, dear!’”

Her song choice? Appropriately enough, it was “No Regrets.” I think that’s how Janey has lived her life. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAwOZvvGsRs)

The audience roared to their feet as this stooped-shoulder senior citizen belted out an incredibly powerful rendition. No one expected that kind of voice to come out of her! The crowd went crazy, roaring their approval and demanding that the judges pass her on to the next round.

Obviously touched, two of the judges quickly gave a heartfelt “yes”. But the real test came when it was Simon’s turn. He isn’t known for sentimentality, or even simple kindness. His feedback was most often cutting and derogatory.

“How many years have you waited to do that?” Simon asked her.

Janey’s response? “I’m just thankful to be here tonight.”

Even he couldn’t say no to her! “3,003 yeses!” He declared.

She seemed stunned, as if she never really believed in her own dream. Shocked, but also grateful.

Planted in the deepest layers of our heart, each of us has a dream too. Occasionally we pull it out and dust it off, fondly marveling at how wonderful it is. But we never really believe it could happen, so we gently, reverently, and sadly tuck it away.

Why do we do that? God is the biggest believer in our dreams, for He is the one who places them within us. Sometimes that dream may simmer on the back burner of the mind for a long time: dormant and unexamined, but quietly persisting. Hidden and ignored, it endures. Because if it is a dream from God, it will not go away. No matter how much we tell ourselves that “it could never happen”, some part of us recognizes that the greatest failure in never trying. It is the unpursued dream that causes the most regret. Settling for less is unacceptable, because the “what if’s” are haunting.

It may take a while for the dream to be realized, because the best ones are God-sized, and He has been known to take His time. Even Abraham had to wait 25 years until the promise that he would have a son was fulfilled! (Genesis 21:5) But God loves to fulfill that which He has promised, and if we relentlessly pursue what He has placed in our heart, the waiting only increases our gratitude when the dream is fulfilled.

Janey Cutler could have talked herself out of going for it on “Britain’s Got Talent.” Most 80-year-olds would have. Rejection stings. Instead, she chose to follow her dream, resulting in the joy of hearing “3,003 yeses!” She went on to tour with the other finalists of the show, and even recorded an album. I’m betting she died with few regrets.

I want to live seeking God’s dreams for me.

God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?                 Numbers 23:18-19

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.                                                                       Romans 5:5

Further reflection:

1. Is there a dream, hidden deep within your heart, that won’t let go of you?

2. What holds you back from pursuing that dream?

3. Spend some time with Jesus, asking Him if this is His dream for you. If it is, then go after it!

Father, You are the dream-giver. You have placed things in my heart that, apart from You, I cannot possibly do. It is too big. Too hard. Too impossible. But I know that if You are in it, my biggest regret will be in not even trying. So I offer to You my yearning, my hopes, my dreams. Do with them what You will, only let me follow You.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

China, Here We Come!

I’m leaving to go to China soon. Though I love to travel anywhere an airplane will take me, China wasn’t high on my list of places I want to see. Sometimes, though, God makes His will very clear, and it’s pretty hard to say no when He does.

Beijing-skyline

Part of a short-term missions team, I’m going with five fabulous ladies from my church. We will be there for fifteen days, encouraging and teaching house church leaders and urban professionals. They have the word of God, they love it, and they know what it says. But they don’t always understand what those principles are supposed to look like in everyday life. Specifically, they have asked that we teach seminars on family relationships.

To be honest, I feel completely inadequate to teach on this subject. I know myself well, and I was a good mom. Not a great one, but a good one. There are a lot of things I wish I had done differently, though.

I know. I know. Every mom alive probably feels the same way. But trust me, I’d feel a lot more comfortable teaching about what not to do as a mother!

But that’s okay; I am getting used to being uncomfortable. I really don’t think God wants me to be comfortable anyway: He wants me dependent. Because when I try to do things in my own strength, I fail miserably. He wants to stretch me to do things that, apart from Him, I cannot hope to do. Because that is when it is crystal clear just how much I need Him.

God made it very clear that I am to go to China. And teach on particular topics. So I will do that. Knowing my own weakness, but depending on His strength. Recognizing my inadequacy, but leaning on His sufficiency. Admitting that apart from Him I can do nothing (John 15:5), but with Him all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).

Am I excited? Absolutely! Because I know that when I am in over my head—as I will surely be—God is able to do His best work. Because not only will I be dependent, but I will be desperate for Him.

And that is the best place to be, no matter what country it is.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.               2 Corinthians 12:9

Further reflection:

1. Have you ever felt totally inadequate to do something you were convinced that God wanted you to do?

2. How did you handle that?

3. How did you see God show Himself strong in that situation?

Father, I am so grateful for all the promises in Your word. I count on the sufficiency of Your grace. Because of it, I know that my weakness in nothing in the face Your power. Please, do not let me get in the way of the work You want to do in the hearts and minds of our Chinese brothers and sisters. Have Your way in me, in us, that You might receive the honor due Your name.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Never Too Busy

Sometimes technology is not my friend.

My phone has one of those particularly obnoxious ring tones, and it went off right in the middle of a meeting. I hate being one of those thoughtless people who fail to observe proper cell phone etiquette! To make matters worse, I saw that it was my daughter, Lisa, who was eight months pregnant at the time. My heart rate accelerated as I wondered if she was calling to tell me she went into early labor. More than anything I wanted to answer that call. Even as all that went through my mind, my finger automatically hit “ignore”.

Cellphone

I absolutely love to talk to my kids. Sometimes though, like then, they call when I can’t answer. Like when someone else is with me. Or I’m already on my office phone. True confession here; if I’m away from my phone I might not even notice they tried to call until much later (please don’t tell them I said this).

Other times I look down at my phone, see their name and say to myself, “I’ll call them back as soon as I have more time to talk.” Then I get busy and the day gets away from me. It’s not that they aren’t important—they are! There are just so many things tugging at my attention, and I, well, I just forget.

I am so grateful that God is never too busy to take my call. It doesn’t matter how many times I do it, He always answers. No matter how many people are talking to Him, He always has time for me. It’s never inconvenient, and He listens as long as I need without making me feel like I’m imposing. God never looks down to see who’s calling so He can decide whether or not to answer. He wants to hear from me, so He never hits “ignore”. Because He loves me, and I’m that important to Him.

By the way, Lisa didn’t deliver my seventh grandchild, Ethan, for another month. And sometimes technology is my friend; I have his picture safely stored on my phone!

Know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord will hear when I call to Him.                                                                                                                            Psalm 4:3

Further reflection:

1. Have you ever been too busy to answer the phone?

2. Have you ever had someone that you wanted to talk to, yet they were too busy to either answer your call or call you back? How did that make you feel?

3. How does it make you feel to realize that God Himself is always ready to hear from you?

Father, sometimes it is beyond my comprehension that You not only allow me into Your presence, but You welcome me! I am incredibly grateful that You always hear me when I call to You, You always listen, and You never ignore me. Thank You for this concrete proof of Your love!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Necessary Pain

There is nothing worse than seeing your son in pain, and knowing that you deliberately caused it. And my ten-year-old son, Derek, was definitely in pain.

We had just left the orthodontist, who once again tightened Derek’s already snug braces. I knew from experience that he would eat nothing but soft foods for the next few days. His mouth would ache too much to chew.

“Mom,” he moaned. “It hurts.”

“I know, sweetie.” I responded. “But think how gorgeous you will be when this is all done.”

braces 2

Simple words, but they gave me new insight into why God allows suffering in His children.

We didn’t put braces on Derek to hurt him. Quite the contrary. Derek had a pretty major overbite, and correcting that now would save him a lot of dental problems later on. We chose to let him suffer a bit in the short term so he would not suffer even more in the long term. Our motives were good, but it didn’t make the process any less painful.

It cost us something too: money, time, and a hurting son. But it was worth it, because though it was hard to watch we knew it was what was best for him in the long run. The pain had a purpose.

We did it because we love him.

So it is with the Lord.

Sometimes He allows us, His children, to suffer. We hurt, and we don’t know why He permits it. He is strong, and He is good, yet He allows our pain when He could easily dismiss it. But that’s the short-term perspective.

His motivation isn’t a sadistic pleasure in seeing our hurt. As our Father, I’m sure He aches for us. He was once a man, subject to the same pain and hurts as we. He was despised, rejected, and reviled. Yes, He understands what we go through. But He still allows suffering, because it changes us. In some profound, fundamental way, we cannot suffer and emerge unchanged. We simply are not the same as before. We have more compassion for those who suffer. We have more patience with those who hurt. We have more understanding that trials are hard, but that doesn’t make them all bad.

I know that the pain that braces cause is not comparable to other, deeper wounds, but the principle is the same.

God knows pain hurts, but He wants it to change us. With Him, the pain has a purpose. Think how gorgeous we will be when He is done with us!

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4

And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory( in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To Him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 5:10-11

Further reflection:

1. Describe a time when there was pain in your life.

2. How did it affect your relationship with Jesus?

3. Pick one of the above Bible passages about suffering, and commit it to memory.

Father, life is painful sometimes. I know You see it. I know You suffered far more than I ever will so that I can come to You when I hurt. Please, let me not waste it. May You redeem it, so that it changes me. Because I am most beautiful when I become more like You.