Saturday, February 26, 2011

Wrestling Redemption

A student of mine is an extremely talented wrestler. As a freshman, he placed second in the Kansas state high school wrestling tournament. He was very pleased and proud of himself, and, like many young athletes, it went to his head. He became arrogant. During practice his sophomore year, he was unwilling to listen to his coach, thinking he could win on his own. He thought he was good enough that he no longer had to work hard in practice. He made poor choices in the wrestling room. Before he had a chance to qualify for the state tournament again, he made poor choices off the wrestling mat. As a result of these choices, he was no longer able to compete .He lost his dream of a state championship.
Missing a state tournament cost him dearly and gave him time to regret his poor choices. Fortunately, he got another chance. With a different attitude, he rejoined the wrestling team his junior year, willing to listen to the wise advice of his coach. He was not only willing to work hard in the wrestling room, but he voluntarily worked harder than anyone else. He easily qualified for state, winning his regional.

At state, he stayed focused on the goal of a championship and wrestled well, earning a spot in the finals. In his match for the state title, he was so dominant he pinned his opponent in the first period. His joy at winning the state championship was evident to the thousands of spectators who watched. Repeatedly, he jumped for joy, pumping his fists in the air. He ran to his coach, jumped up and hugged him. Then he ran to an unsuspecting cheerleader, grabbed her in a bear hug, picked her up and swung her around. He exhibited pure, unbridled joy!

The story of the wrestler enables us to better understand God’s redemption. Like the wrestler, we sometimes become arrogant. We think we can handle life by ourselves, instead of trusting God to give us the guidance to develop our God-given talents. Like the wrestler, we make poor choices in life. We refuse to listen to God’s word and instead do what seems right in the eyes of the world. The wrestler got another chance. He recognized his poor decisions and decided to change his ways, to work hard, and to listen to his coach. Fortunately for us, our God is a God of second chances. No matter what poor choices we’ve made, God is willing to give us another chance. If we are willing to recognize our poor decisions (our sins), and change our ways (repent of our sins), we are given another chance to learn from God, our Coach.

Once the wrestler changed his ways and achieved his goal, he was filled with inexpressible joy. When we repent and seek God’s guidance, He fills us with inexpressible joy. We may not jump up and down (some of us can’t!), but following Him can give us overflowing joy in our lives, no matter what the circumstances. Maybe when we get to heaven we’ll jump up and down for joy, then run, jump up and hug our Coach.

Father, spiritual coach, I am so grateful for your wise advice Thank you for giving me second chances.

 I John 1:9 (NIV) “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

At the Beach

One summer Scott and I flew to San Diego to visit our cousin Zelda. While there, we spent some time at the Pacific Ocean’s shore. Just standing at a very small edge of this huge body of water was awe-inspiring. Looking outward from my vantage point on the sand, I could not imagine the immensity of this vast body of water, stretching for thousands of miles in every direction. I spent some time wandering along the shore, always looking out to the water. The waves never ceased. Constantly they rushed the beach, always the same, yet always different. They followed one another, curling and rolling, white spray flying high. White gulls skimmed the water’s surface, diving into the tops of the waves to capture fish for breakfast. Each wave must have contained thousands of gallons of moving, roiling, rushing water. Their strength amazed me. Even when I stood ankle deep at the very edge of this ocean, the waves, running to the shore and then back home, pulled at me, nearly knocking me off my feet. “Come out into the deep,” they seemed to say. The locals said, “Always face the waves.” I learned to keep my eyes on the waves and never underestimate their power.
I tried to discern a pattern in the way the waves ran at the beach, but the variety was endless. They came in intervals—for a time many smaller waves hit the beach, then bigger waves—wave after wave—pounded the shore, rolling, breaking, rushing to the sands, and then retreating.

The sound of the waves was astounding. Right at my feet was always the soft, sibilant sound of waves running at the beach, scrubbing the sand, then running back home, pulled by the ocean as a small child runs back to her mother and father. But farther out, where the waves curled on themselves and broke, the waters boomed and roared, boomed and roared. Even from a half mile away their crashing noise echoed. I closed my eyes and soaked in the sounds of this majestic ocean. The early morning air was cool, and I basked in the amazing experience, wishing I could stay longer. I stood, I looked, I listened, trying to absorb it all.

It occurred to me that the incredible beauty, immensity, and power of the ocean are, on a small scale, a reflection of our miraculous God. When I stood on the beach and gazed at the ocean, it seemed so enormous, yet I viewed only an infinitesimal portion of this massive body of water. So it is with God. We are privileged at times to catch glimpses of God’s immensity, but we see only a small portion. We glimpse His power, yet we experience just a tiny glimpse of His majesty. In Isaiah 45:15, we read, “Truly you are a God who hides himself, O God and Savior of Israel.” Paul reminds us how little we know of our awesome God in I Corinthians 13:12. “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

God, thank you for the tangible reminders of Your greatness.

Psalms 93:3-4 “The seas have lifted up, O LORD, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves. Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea—the LORD on high is mighty.”

Friday, February 18, 2011

Our Source of Power

One winter we had a terrible ice storm that knocked out power lines all over the city. Nearly a fifth of the people in the area suffered without electricity for a time. At our house the power blinked out on Tuesday night—just after we had finished dinner. We had candles ready, and lit them immediately. Then we set up the card table in the middle of the living room and played games for a couple of hours. By that time it was beginning to get chilly in the house, so we bundled up, loaded extra blankets on the bed, and snuggled in for the night. By morning the temperature in the house was in the fifties, and I dreaded getting up; I really wanted to stay in bed and stay warm. As I lay there wide awake, pondering what to do when I crawled out of my warm cocoon, the power suddenly came on. It didn’t take long for the house to warm up. Later, we found that we were more fortunate than many. Tens of thousands of people were without electricity for days. Some had no power for more than a week, and the outside temperatures hovered in the twenties!

Even in our short time without power, we realized how much we relied on it. Without electricity there was no heat, no cooking, no television, no radio, no music, no news, no hot shower. We began to realize how much we took electrical power for granted when we flipped on a light switch whenever we walked into a room—even though we knew the power was out.

Isn’t this the way we take God’s power for granted? How often do we contemplate just how powerful He is? The book of Job gives us a quick reminder of the awesome power of God. "Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Who marked off its dimensions? Who laid its cornerstone—while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb?" (38:4a,5a,7,8)

Who has the power to do all this and more? God. I am most humbled when I contemplate this unimaginable power. The God who has all of this power surely has the power to help me to know Him better, to serve Him more completely. I am grateful for that brief time without electrical power which forced me to slow down and reexamine the true source of power in my life.

Almighty God, maker of the heavens, the earth, and all that is in it; as I meditate on your power, help me to place all my trust in your might. Let me always remember the true source of power in my life.

II Corinthians 12:9 “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.”

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Parable of the Baby Birds

Crraack! Mr. Churchman awakened with a start. The strobe lights dancing in the room confused him. Boom! boom! boom! The recurring noise shook the remaining cobwebs from his sleepy brain. “Wow, what a thunderstorm,” he muttered as he rubbed his eyes. The rest of the night he tossed and turned, listening to the thunder, seeing the lightening through closed eyelids, wondering what damage he would find in his yard in the morning. He dozed off before dawn, and woke to a quiet, sunny morning. Quickly pulling on jeans and a tee shirt, he grabbed a cup of coffee and walked outside. The early morning sun glistened on the wet grass, and the world looked fresh and green. He deeply inhaled the clean air. Glancing around the yard, he took a quick inventory: fence still standing, trees and bushes intact, flowers still on their stems. He breathed a sigh of relief. Apparently, there had been no damage from the powerful thunderstorm. Sipping his coffee, he strolled to the silver maple tree in the corner of the yard. “Hey, what’s this?” he said to himself. Under the tree lay a sparrow, apparently killed in the violence of the storm. Nearby, he saw another, also dead. Looking up, he spied a nest in a low branch of the tree. Standing on tiptoe, he saw a clutch of eggs—three small, pale blue ovals.

He wondered if the dead birds were the mother and father to the tiny birds growing inside those eggs.

Throughout the morning he peered at the tiny nest with its precious cargo. No mother bird came to sit on the nest. “The baby birds,” he thought, “will surely die.” That afternoon he carefully removed the nest from the tree. He set it on a small table in the patio. Trying to keep the eggs warm, he carried a lamp out to the patio, plugged it in, turned it on, and aimed its spotlight
 on the blue eggs.

Every evening for a week he checked on the eggs, praying that the lives inside would be spared, praying that they would break the shells and emerge into new life. The following Saturday morning as he walked out the back door with his coffee cup, he heard them. Cheep! Cheep! Cheep! Holding his cup as still as he could to keep from spilling the coffee, he hurried across the patio. Sure enough, three scrawny baby birds pointed their wide open beaks skyward. Mr. Churchman had prepared for this moment. He had some food the pet store owner had assured him would provide nutrition for the newly hatched chicks. Carefully, he dropped food into their open beaks. Every hour that Saturday he fed the newborn chicks.

During the night he thought he heard them crying for more. “Surely they don’t eat all night long,” he thought as he wearily rolled over and went back to sleep. The next morning he fed them quickly before driving to church. After church he took his wife and children out to eat at their favorite restaurant. As soon as they returned, he sat down in front of the television to watch his favorite team. After the game he remembered the baby birds. He grabbed his packet of food and hurried to feed them. Their cries echoed loudly across the patio. To his surprise, only two chicks sat in the nest. Looking around, he saw the remains of the third chick at the edge of the patio, and watched in dismay as the neighbor’s cat slunk around the corner. “Oh, no,” he wailed. “I didn’t think about cats getting into the nest!” Quickly, he fed the remaining chicks, and then went inside to do his bible study and prepare for work the next day.

The next week was extremely busy for Mr. Churchman. He had an upcoming deadline for a big project at work, Wednesday night worship service, and the church’s monthly board meeting. His days and evenings were hectic. He was so busy he forgot the two little birds. Saturday morning came, and after sleeping in, Mr. Churchman decided to drink his coffee on the patio. When he opened the back door, he remembered the baby birds. Walking to the nest, he dreaded looking inside. Just as he feared, the two little birds had died, their tiny bodies shrunken and dried. Sadly, he picked up the nest and dumped it into the trash can. Then he sat at the patio table enjoying his morning coffee.

All you churchmen (and women) listen to the interpretation of the parable. Mr. Churchman represents all Christians. The chicks in the eggs are the non Christians we know. We are eager to see them experience new life. We want them to “hatch out” of their darkness and accept Jesus Christ. We pray for them or talk to them about making this important decision. We rejoice when they accept Jesus Christ and are born again. Unfortunately, like Mr. Churchman, once our new Christians are born, we often fail to properly care for them. We rejoice in new life, yet we fail to responsibly nourish that new life until it is able to fly away and feed itself.

Oh God, forgive me for failing to nourish and teach the baby Christians. Show me ways I can help them grow into mature Christians.

Ephesians 4:22-24 “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Shadow of His Wing

High above the Kansas prairie, the hawk soars. Effortlessly, he rides the currents of the wind. Wings outstretched, he swoops and veers, then hovers, nearly motionless. What a majestic sight! The beauty of the hawk’sflight takes my breath away.
Seen from below, deep within the prairie grasses, the sight is quite different. Here, unseen by human eyes, lives an assortment of small creatures. These small animals do not notice the beauty of the hawk’s flight, for the mice and other mammals that dwell here can easily become the hawk’s lunch. They do not even look up to see the flight of the hawk. They see only the shadow of its wings as it soars far overhead. But the shadow of the wings is enough to inspire terror. When noticing just the shadow of the wings, the mice and other creatures scurry for shelter, for they know the speed, strength and power of the hawk.

In the Bible the imagery of God’s wings helps us to glimpse the nature of God. In Ruth 2:12 (NKJ), we read how Ruth, a young widow in a strange land, is promised refuge: “The Lord repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.” The image of the mother bird holding out her wings to her young is vivid. In the same way the mother bird shelters and protects her young, God provided shelter and protection for Ruth. The psalmist uses the image of a mother bird protecting her young, too. “I will abide in Your tabernacle forever; I will trust in the shelter of Your wings” (Psalm 61:4 NKJ). This protection of God’s is promised to His people: “He shall cover you with His feathers, And under His wings you shall take refuge” (Psalm 91:4 NKJ). To people who spend time outdoors observing nature, this image of the protection of the wings is understandable and comforting. Through this imagery, we can more fully understand the love God has for us.

The image of God’s sheltering wings appears repeatedly in the Bible. So, too, does the image of the shadow of his wings. In the natural world, the wings provide shelter and comfort, but what about the shadow of the wings? In nature the shadow of the wings inspires fear, not comfort. Imagine a bird of prey, like the hawk, soaring in the blue sky, seeking prey. Imagine its prey seeking refuge, not under its wings, but from its talons. The shadow of its wings is a reason to fear.

Are we to fear the shadow of God’s wings? In numerous places, the Bible commands us to fear the Lord: “O fear the Lord, you His saints” (Psalm 34:9 NKJ), “Come and hear, all you who fear God” (Psalm 66:16 NKJ), and “Fear God and keep His commandments, /For this is the whole duty of man (Ecclesiastes 12:13 NKJ), to name a few. This puzzles me, because the two images seem contradictory: how can we be sheltered under His wings, yet fear Him? Shouldn’t we gratefully anticipate His presence, rather than fearing Him as the animals fear the coming of the hawk?

When in doubt about words, I look in the dictionary. The stumbling block of my understanding is in the definition of the word fear. As expected, one definition of the verb fear is this: “to be afraid of” (Webster’s New World Dictionary). To my surprise, the second definition of fear is quite different: “to feel reverence or awe for.” Now these seemingly contradictory images make perfect sense. When we are commanded to “fear God” (I Peter 2:17 NKJ), we are being told to revere God or express awe for Him. Thus, finding shelter under God’s wings and asking Him to “hide me under the shadow of [His] wings” (Psalm 17:8 NKJ) make perfect sense. Yes, God wants us to fear Him, but not in the way that small animals fear the shadow of the hawk’s wing. Now when I look into the sky and see the beauty and majesty of the hawk, I can fear, or have reverence and awe, for God’s majestic creation. When the shadow of the hawk’s wings passes over me as he rides the wind across the prairie, I fear the creator of such a beautiful and powerful animal and, at the same time, find refuge and joy in the shadow of His wings.

Oh God, your power and majesty truly inspire reverence and awe. Help me abide under the shadow of your wing.

Psalm 36:7 “How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings.”

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Sun's Warmth

I love to feel the sun shining on my face. Its rays soak into my skin, leaving me warm, mellow, and comfortable. In the sunshine my spirits lift, energizing me for the day’s tasks. On a cloudy, wintry day, the chill penetrates my body, leaving me cold and shivering. The sunless, gray sky reflects my own gloomy mood. I long for the sun to warm and cheer me. At night the lack of sunlight causes the world around me to darken, and I have difficulty finding my way. I cannot see my path, and I yearn for the sun to illuminate my world. At times it seems the sun will never return.

I know, of course, that the sun is still present on a cloudy day, but I hunger for its warmth. The sun still shines; the cloud cover merely obscures the light and the warmth. Likewise, I know the sun still shines at night. The earth has merely turned its back on the sun, so I am in its shadow, unable to see the light, unable to feel its warmth. Clear nights are illuminated by the moon, which merely reflects the sun’s light Even though it seems that the sun is gone, I know that it shines in the heavens, no matter what I see or feel on an overcast day or pitch black night.

So it is with the Son’s presence I love to feel the warmth of His love enveloping me. His warmth soaks into my soul, leaving me filled with joy, peace, and love. In days when His presence shines brightly, my spirits lift, energizing me for the day’s tasks.
At times His presence is obscured from me by my sin, my busyness, or my unwillingness to seek Him. Then my soul feels cold, my mood gloomy. I long for His presence to warm and cheer me. At times I am in spiritual darkness; my soul wanders lost, unable to see without His light. Trials and troubles overwhelm me, and I have difficulty finding my spiritual way. I can no longer see the path to Him, and it seems that His presence will never light my path again.

I know, of course, that He is present, even when I cannot see His hand in my affairs, but I long to feel His warmth. Behind my clouds of doubt or despair, He is always there. I know He is present, even when I am in the depths of spiritual darkness. I have merely turned my back on Him; I am in His shadow, unable to feel His light, unable to feel His warmth. Yet in the deepest spiritual night, even when I have turned my back on Him, I see His light reflected by my Christian brothers and sisters who lead me out of the darkness back into His light. Even though it seems, at times, that He is nowhere near, deep in my soul I know that He is always with me, surrounding and filling me with His love, if only I open my eyes to see His light.

Father, forgive my blindness Open my eyes; make me aware of Your abiding presence.

Isaiah 60:19, 20 “The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end.”

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Potter

Have you ever watched the potter at work? He centers a lump of clay on the wheel, creates a small indention in the middle, then pours water over the clay. As the wheel spins, his clay-covered hands deftly shape the lump until he has created his pot in the exact shape he wants.

In scripture God is compared to a potter. Can you see Him at work, creating with clay, molding and shaping each vessel until it is the perfect shape and size? The master potter is carefully, lovingly, uniquely forming each person into His image.

Unfortunately, in our human perceptions, we view ourselves, the vessels He is shaping, and wish we were different. “Perhaps a different shape or size would be better,” we think, or we wish to use this pot for a different purpose. We constantly resist His hands, molding us to His will. But God, in His wisdom, knows what He is doing, and our wishes to change only illustrate how we doubt His wisdom. Still, we constantly try to “correct” what God has made.

At times we look at others, too, and wish to change them. “If this pot were just a little wider,” we mistakenly think, “it could be used for a different purpose. If this pot had a slightly different shape," we assume, "it would be beautiful.” And we try to change that vessel into the image we have for it, rather than the image its Maker has. When we do that, we doubt God’s wisdom; we doubt His handiwork. The clay never dictates to the potter what shape it should be; neither does it tell the potter how to shape other pots.

God created the world in seven days, yet He constantly refines and perfects each of us. Can you see Him at His wheel? He pauses a moment at His work, steps back, looks, and says, “It is good.”

Father, make us aware of your hand in our lives, shaping and molding each of us into your image. Help us to yield to Your hand and to Your judgment of the size, shape, and purpose for each of your precious vessels.

Isaiah 64:8: (NKJ): “Yet, O Lord, You are our Father; We are the clay, You are the potter; we are all the work of Your hand.”