Rut Check!

rut checkI love classic lines from movies, but somehow I did not expect to hear one in the cotton candy of a movie New Years Eve. O me of little faith!

 “What would you do if you were guaranteed not to fail?  Go out and do that!”

Wait, without the guarantee not to fail?  Makes you think, doesn’t it?  And how about the quote attributed to author and former editor of the New York Post, Norman Cousins

“Death is not the greatest loss in life.  The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.”

But who has time to even look to see what is inside of us that could possibly be dying?  Life can be a slave master, mercilessly cracking the whip of bills to pay, mouths to feed, places to go, people to see.  We exhaust ourselves preparing to go on vacation, tire ourselves out with activities while on vacation, wear ourselves out getting back from vacation and go back to our jobs almost as exhausted as we were before we left.  On and on the cycle goes until we have worn out quite a rut to be stuck in, and it keeps getting deeper and deeper.  No wonder The Purpose-filled Life, was such a best seller!

So, what if you were given only x amount of time to spend here on planet earth, (which you have been), and, what if you could choose to invest that time in things that have both present and eternal value (which you can), then how much of that time x, would you choose to spend stuck in a rut, going around and around and deeper and deeper?

You are not in a rut just because you have had the same routine for twenty, thirty years or more.  If you are where God wants you to be, using the gifts He has given to you in your own unique way, and fulfilling His purpose for you, then it doesn’t matter if you do the same things every day till you die; you are not in a rut.  Instead, you are among the blessed and fortunate few, who have found their place in the world, and are making the world a better place, just because you are here, being yourself, and doing what you were meant to do.

If however, you have allowed circumstances that you know in your heart were meant to be temporary, and made them into something permanent, because of fear of the unknown, or pride of accomplishment; if you know deep down in your gut that God has long since told you to move on but you would not, then you, my friend may be in a nasty old rut.  But don’t feel bad.  Ruts are ninja sneaky!  One minute you are just doing everything you believe you have to do just to survive, keeping yourself busy, busy, busy, then the next time you look, you are stuck in a rut so deep and dark, you cannot even see the tunnel, much less a light at the end of it.

With the x amount of time you have left you can choose to stay there, in the rut, or you can choose to call on God to rescue you,

“He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps.”  Psalm 40:2-3

Then you can be free to invest the rest of your time, doing whatever it is that only you were uniquely purposed to do here on planet earth. The thing you know you are gifted to do; that thing hidden in your heart that your dreams are made of, that you could work hard at for hours till you are exhausted yet exhilarated because it doesn’t feel like work; that productive thing that blesses others, satisfies your own soul like nothing else, and makes you feel God smile.  Yes, that thing.

There are numerous stories in the Old Testament of the Bible about David: the shepherd, turned songwriter, turned bear and lion killer, turned giant-killer, turned warrior, turned king, turned ‘man after God’s own heart’; enough to make some pretty spectacular movies.  But it is in the New Testament, in only a half of a verse, that I believe the most profound statement is made about his entire life,

“For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, died…”  Psalm 13:36

 When David’s x amount of time ran out, he died, but the one thing that truly mattered was that he had served the purpose of God in his own generation.

So, here’s the thing, you owe it to yourself to make the time, and have the courage to do an honest ‘rut check’. If you come to the end of an average day, and know that life may be hard, you may not have gotten everything exactly right, and you are not done becoming all you were meant to be, but you know for sure you are on the right road, living and doing what was purposed for you, then that is great news!  ‘Rut check’ passed successfully.

However, if you come to end of an average day, just dreading the next, and most of the days after that, then, my friend, your ‘rut check’ light may be on and you need to pay attention.  Has someone or something challenged the status quo of your life and made you catch a glimpse of a new direction?  Did the possibilities thrill you and scare you at the same time, while deep in your heart, your “knower” is jumping up and down shouting, “That’s your new road, take it, take it!”?

You can ignore that voice, try to drown it out with busyness, or give it a sleeping pill, but like the Schwarzenegger character promises, it will be back.  Instead, have some serious conversations with God about it.  Talk to the people you trust who want only God’s best for you. Make a plan for the new direction, and before your x amount of time runs out, take that leap of faith and… just live the thing.

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Truth and Backative

truth courageFear can be a tyrant, a dictator, a slave driver; a poisonous snake full of deadly, paralyzing venom.  Not the healthy fear that triggers the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism in your brain to keep you safe from harm, or causes you to have a sense of awe and healthy respect for God, and others in positions of authority.  No, I’m talking about the evil kind; the kind of fear that poisons your relationships, kills your dreams, and paralyzes your potential.

Fear sets no boundaries for itself, considers nothing sacred, is no respecter of person or status, and makes a mockery of all who try to ignore or deny its existence and influence in our lives.  It breeds insecurities, spawns narcissism, and pits us against each other giving rise to feuds, wars, and weapons capable of destroying all life on planet earth.   Fear wears many disguises and can make us talk louder or softer; square our shoulders to strut in arrogant defiance or favor the fetal position, and laughs in our face when we try to stare it down with nothing or no one more intimidating and powerful to back us up.

The only antidote for fear is courage.  Courage is not necessarily the absence of fear, but having the resolve and the ability to do what is right and ought to be done, even if you feel afraid.  Courage is a life-giving and life-sustaining elixir blended from a root called truth, and a spirit called ‘backative’.  Let me explain.

I was about seven or eight years old growing up in Kingston, Jamaica, and spending some of my summer holidays at my aunt’s house when a scandal erupted in our extended family over a distant cousin who had become pregnant at sixteen.  The adults tried to avoid discussing the situation in front of my young cousins and I, but we knew something was up; that being pregnant so young was a scandalous thing, and that everybody was in a tizzy!  Not knowing anything about the ‘birds and the bees’, I pestered and pestered my older cousin to find out how a girl could get pregnant, and when she couldn’t stand the annoyance anymore, she told me that if you swallowed a watermelon seed and then sat next to a boy, you would get pregnant.

Wouldn’t you know it?  Not many days later all the cousins were sitting on the wall that surrounded the yard, swinging our bare feet, and contentedly eating slices of watermelon.  I had swallowed several seeds without a care in the world until, one of the young boys from the house next door decided to jump up on to the wall too and plopped himself down right next to me!  Dear Lord Jesus!  I was torn between giving the kid an almighty shove off the wall, or taking a flying leap off the wall myself, but I was having trouble doing either as fear bordering on terror wrapped around my heart because I knew it was too late!  I was pregnant!

My cousin got in soooooooo much trouble for the torture and torment I went through before I was forced to tell the adults what was wrong with me; how I had gotten pregnant through absolutely no fault of my own.  I don’t even remember who it is that finally told me the truth about how you actually become pregnant, but I do remember the flood of relief as fear fled as quickly as it had come because of my knowledge of the truth.

“Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed, and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”  John 8:31-32

Lies open the door of your life and invite fear in to take up residence, but knowledge and acceptance of truth will evict fear and slam the door shut in its face.

I was also a mouthy, skinny, stick of a kid with no chance of winning a fight unless my opponent was a lot smaller than I was, so I learned quickly when to keep my mouth shut, no matter what the provocation.  That is, unless I was with my slightly older, built-like-a-tank cousin, who because he had a really bad stutter since early childhood preferred to fight rather than argue.  I was ‘the mouth’ and he was ‘the fist’.  In Jamaica we call it having ‘backative’!  I would back him up in a verbal battle with my loud mouth, extensive vocabulary, and loads of head-shaking, finger-snapping, arms-akimbo attitude, but if things got ugly and fisticuffs were required, he would have my back.

If you have someone on your side who sees all, and knows all, who has absolute power over everyone and everything that could conceivably cause you to fear, then it is possible to begin to believe that you can be courageous; you can do what is right, what ought to be done, even if you feel afraid.  David knew this well as he writes:

“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him will I trust…  His truth shall be your shield and buckler (a small round shield)…  For He shall give His angels charge over you to keep you in all your ways. …”  Psalm 91:1-2, 4b, 11.

But even better is God’s reaction to David’s confidence in Him:

“Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high, because he has knownMy name.  He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him.”  Psalm 91:14-15

 That, my friend is ‘backative’!

 So here’s the thing, giving in the fear will only lead to disappointment, sorrow and regret.  You do not have to let your fears have dominion over you, cripple you, or imprison you.  Set yourself to know God’s truth about every fear that would torment you, confident that His love and power will always back you up, so you can keep on…just living the thing.

Tailor-made Troubles

once upon a timeOnce upon a time, the story goes, there was a town covered entirely in a thick layer of dense fog for so long that none of the townspeople could remember the last time they saw the sun shine, or felt its warm rays.  It was a strange kind of fog too, one that seemed to come alive in the daytime as they went about their business; it twisted and swirled, curling and rising like an angry snake about to strike.

One day a strange old man walked into the town, who was able to diagnose the problem, as well as offer a sure-fire solution.  As it turned out the thick, dense fog was caused by the townspeople themselves; their constant grumbling and complaining about their problems, their resentment of their neighbors whose problems appeared so small and insignificant when compared to their own, and just their general discontent and constant bellyaching, had polluted the air and blocked the light and warmth of the sun.

The solution was simple….well, as simple as simple can be in storybooks and fairy tales  A clothesline was strung up across the town square, and everyone was to pack up all their troubles and trials in a sack and secure it to the line.  Next, all the townspeople would line up for a race some distance from the line and when the old man gave the signal they were to run as fast as they could and grab any sack of trouble they wanted to have.

They could hardly believe their luck!  In no time flat the sacks were hung, and the townspeople were lined up on the other side of the square, eager to finally trade in their own troubles for their neighbors’.   Each pair of eyes moved rapidly from the old man to the sack they had their eye on as they waited for the signal to go, but as time went on, and the old man seemed in no hurry to start, their eyes lingered longer and longer on their neighbors’ sack of troubles and trials and something strange began to happen.

As each person looked more intently at his neighbor’s troubles, they began to feel sympathy and genuine concern for their neighbor, and to be grateful that they did not have to deal with those particular problems.  There was still no signal to start the race and everyone was beginning to regret their grumbling and complaining, as their own sack became more and more appealing, when seen in the light of the sun!

They were hardly aware that as their new sentiments grew the fog was dissipating, so by the time the old man finally gave the signal to go, everyone was running as fast as they could to recover their own sack to troubles and trials in the warmth and light of blue skies and bright sunshine.

I was a little girl living in the Bob Marley version of a tenement yard in a poor neighborhood in Kingston, Jamaica when I first read that story in a volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica Bookshelf for Boys and Girls.  My mom had literally pinched pennies to make the monthly payments for the thirty books that made up the encyclopedia, because she knew that I would never be a reggae singer or track sprinter, so the only way out of poverty she saw for me would be to get a good education.

Back then I found it hard to buy into the plausibility of that story because at seven years-old it seemed to me that the lack of money was the source of most, if not all problems, so given the choice I believed I would have run as fast as I could to grab a sack that had no money problems!  Age, wisdom, maturity, and maybe a little too much exposure to reality TV has drastically changed that belief.

Every person on this planet earth has their own personal sack of troubles and trials.  Everyone!  So much of how well we are doing in life is about how we perceive and manage our own sack of troubles, as well as how we regard and respond to the contents of the sacks other people have to carry.

Winifred Woe-is-me has the victim/martyr mentality of those who continually grumble and complain, oblivious to the plight of those whose problems they deem to be less serious than their own.  On the other extreme, Larry Look-at-me is full of the prideful arrogance of the self-righteous who trumpet their ability to carry their burdens and have only disdain for the struggles others have trying to do the same.

To be honest, when I first came to believe in Jesus Christ I was kind of hoping that protection from trouble, some kind of ‘immunity bubble’, would be part of the redemption/salvation package.  But why should there be?   Believe me, there would be a whole lot more hypocrites and phonies in the church, if you could make your troubles disappear just by saying, “I believe in Jesus!”  Instead, Jesus warned His disciples,

“…In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Paul knew that troubles could be put to good use in our lives by the sheer power of God to help us overcome them, and to make it all work for our good.

“…we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character hope.”  Romans 5:3-4

“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” I Corinthians 10:13

“…and we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”  Romans 8:28

But the best news about our sack of troubles is shared by David, who knew troubles both as a shepherd boy and as a king, and Job, whose very name is synonymous with troubles and trials.  They both affirmed God’s absolute control over what troubles are allowed to come to each of us who believe in Him, and He guarantees our victory over them in time and/or eternity.

“For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined.  You brought us into the net; You laid affliction on our backs.  You have caused men to ride over our heads; We went through fire and through water; But You brought us out to rich fulfillment.” Psalm 66:10-12

“Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers Him out of them all.” Psalm 34:19

“But He knows the way that I take; When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.” Job 23:10

Personally, I would rather not have any trouble at all; I wish my character could be refined and my compassion for others increased with a little blue pill, taken with a glass of good port wine.  However, since that cannot be, the absolute next best thing is to know beyond a shadow of doubt that every trouble that comes to my life first had to be approved by God, who loves me perfectly, and already has a plan in place to turn my test into my testimony.

So this is me, hope in my heart, eyes fixed on Jesus, bravely shouldering my sack of tailor-made troubles, and still  just living the thing. 

The Object of Our Hope

Hope springs eternal...
Hope springs eternal…

In the past month my television viewing has run the gamut from Little Einsteins and Octonauts, with the six and five year-old brother and sister I babysat for a few days, to  The Lord of the Rings trilogy and two seasons of Downton Abbey with my girls. But it was during one of those year-in-review news programs that it finally dawned on me just how much of our history, science, culture, and even entertainment continually celebrate the resilience of the human spirit.

It is a good thing when we, who have become so jaded, so easily bored, still experience awe and wonder at the capability of human beings to survive and eventually even thrive after overwhelming natural disasters, like hurricane Sandy; in the face unspeakable horror, like the mass shooting and murder of twenty innocent kindergartners in Newton; and against all odds, like the many stories of  those who should have died, yet lived, of loved ones thought lost forever who were found and returned to families who never stopped believing, and innocent people who would have died in prison, but were set free by the truth and choose forgiveness and healing, over anger or bitterness.

This resilience, this fortitude, this endurance of humankind may be summed up and explained in a single word, hope.  Every day, in ourselves and all around us, we see irrefutable evidence that “hope springs eternal in the human breast”.  It is why we enter yet another PCH sweepstake, or resolve once again to lose weight; why tens of thousands flock to Times Square on New Year’s Eve to celebrate the possibility of a better year and why those exhausted parents still pray at the bedside of their cancer-stricken child lying in St. Jude’s Research Hospital even after the doctors have done all they can do.

Hope rises in our hearts like a determined plant pushing, forcing, its way through that single crack in the concrete sidewalk, against all reason and rationale, to produce a single bloom; a flower blossoming where no flower should be. So we say, ‘while there is life, there is hope’, but the converse is also true, because while there is hope, life remains.  If all hope is gone we die, even while we live, but where there is even the smallest flicker of hope, there is life, even if we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death itself, that great equalizer of men and extinguisher of life and hope.

Life and hope are inextricably linked, but hope does not exist in a vacuum.  In his poem Work Without Hope, Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote,

“Hope without an object cannot live.”

Thus, even more significant than the mere presence of hope, is the overwhelming importance of the object of our hope.  The only kind of hope worth having must have a solid foundation it is built on; a source, some constant fuel that keeps it alive and burning in the brightest daylight or the darkest night, with enough power to bring to pass and make real the very things we hope for.

In fact, the object of our hope is the very essence of religion, even for those who claim to follow no religion at all.  Where we choose to place our hope reveals who or what we truly worship (give the highest value to), exposes our motives, charts the course of our desires and determines where we invest our resources.

Some choose to put their hope in nature; in the natural order of things, building their lives and belief systems on the unsure and constantly shifting foundation of scientific research and discovery.  Others choose to place their hope in humanity; believing that when all is said and done the good that exists in the human heart will eventually overcome all that is flawed, self-centered and evil in each of us; that wars will end, gun control or something else we come up with will stop mass shootings, and the United States Congress will pay off this country’s debt and balance the budget.

As for me, while I respect the immense faith of those who put their hope in nature, or in mankind, I choose to put my hope in God; in His power, plan, and purpose as revealed in the sixty-six books of the Bible, written by at least forty different authors, on three continents, in three languages over a period of 1600 years, yet never changing or contradicting each other and all agreeing that the very essence of His being is perfect love for every last one of us. Yes, I choose to put all my hope in that, right there!

In his letter to the church in Rome the apostle Paul wrote,

“For whatever things were written before, were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope…  Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:4,13

The Psalmist David wrote,

“You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in Your word…Uphold me according to Your word that I may live; and do not let me be ashamed of my hope.” Psalm 119:114, 116.

Hundreds of years later Corrie ten Boom found sustaining hope in those very words, amidst the horror of life in a German concentration camp, as told in her autobiography, The Hiding Place.

“Nothing will change you more deeply or sustain you with more hope than hearing God speak to you in the Bible.” (Dr. Larry Crabb in 66 Love Letters)

Life is always uncertain, and none of us knows what the future holds,

“…But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never  ceases, His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore, I… will… hope… in… Him.’” Lamentations 3:21-24

Just living the thing.