Monthly Archives: October 2007

Some Time Later, the Brook Dried Up


I’m feeling very sad today. It’s evening, and I’ve just finished teaching my last workshop as an independent consultant. I’ve taken a job working with a ministry in another country, and the unfamiliarity of my new surroundings is making this transition even more difficult for me.

To make it worse, in a about an hour, I’m having one last dinner with a man who has become my dear friend over the years. We’ve shared many dinners together after facilitating programs in places like Nigeria and Russia and South Dakota, where no one speaks your language, so you have no one to talk to but each other. I don’t do goodbyes well. This is hard.

I think I understand a little about how Elijah felt.

One sentence after he’s introduced to us in 1 Kings 17, God tells Elijah to hide from King Ahab in the Kerith Ravine. (He had to hide, because he had just told Ahab that there would be no rain in Israel until he (Elijah) said so. And Ahab was a bad dude. He had lots of ways to make you say so if he wanted you to.)

During the time of his exile, Elijah drank from the brook in the ravine, and the ravens brought him bread and meat every morning and evening. Probably wasn’t the best (or most sanitary) stuff he had eaten, but it beat starving. We don’t know how long God had Elijah down there, but verse 7 tells us that “some time later, the brook dried up…” It was Elijah’s own fault – he had called off all the rain – and now he had to find someplace else to live.

My brook has just dried up. I got into consulting three years ago, and at the time, it felt like we (my wife and I) were doing something really bold for God. I had quit my job of fifteen years on faith. We believed that God was telling us to go, and we went. In the beginning, there were no clients, and there were no savings to draw from. We stepped out into thin air.

And God, who is wonderfully faithful, provided for us during the coming years. I didn’t always make great money, but I made good money and we got by. We didn’t have health insurance, but our family stayed healthy. I travelled a lot, but I also had lots of time at home. It was nice, and it became very comfortable.

But then the brook dried up.

For five months this year, I had no work at all. I enjoyed being home and being the involved father, but no money was coming in. For a long time, I stood looking at the dry brook waiting for it to start flowing again. I prayed that God would give it back to me. I prayed that He would show me another brook where I could camp. I prayed that He would just give me my own water tower so that I didn’t have to worry about whether or not the brook flowed. His answer was apparently, “no.”

I don’t know if you’ve ever had a brook dry up on you. It happens when God’s provision stops coming from a particular direction. He was supplying your needs in one way, but then He stopped. He doesn’t always tell you why, but He’s giving you a signal. “It’s time to move on. I’ve got something new for you to do.”

Losing your brook can be particularly frustrating. You were comfortable. Things were just beginning to work well. You were getting good at doing what you were doing. You were making plans to build a house near your brook so that you could stay there forever. Then…surprise! He took it away.

I won’t assume that I know the ways of God. He does some things for unsearchable reasons that only He knows. But I think I understand why He sometimes takes our brooks away.

It’s precisely because we are comfortable that God dries up our brook. When we get comfortable, we are no longer growing or having an impact on our environment. By drying up the brook, He gets us up off our blessed assurance and forces us to search out His provision in another place.

When Elijah’s brook dried up, God didn’t send him to a new brook; He had something different in mind. God sent Elijah to Zarephath to rescue a widow and her son from starvation. Some time later, the son died and Elijah interceded to bring him back to life. Some time after that, Elijah glorified God on Mount Carmel by calling fire down from heaven whent he prophets of Baal could not. Then, he prayed and ended the drought. Still later, he annointed several kings and selected Elisha to follow after him.

What if Elijah had never left the brook? What if he had kicked the dirt and moaned to God about how much he liked and deserved the brook? Think of all the miracles he would have missed doing on God’s behalf. Think of what would have happened to the widow and her son. Think of the victory that wouldn’t have been won against Ahab’s prophets or of the mantle that wouldn’t have been passed to Elisha, who had double the annointing of Elijah on his ministry.

It doesn’t do us much good to complain when God dries up our brook. It’s okay to be sad, but the sooner we get up and get moving, the sooner He can show us what else He has in mind for us to do. I can almost guarantee it won’t be more of the same. God only fed one prophet at the side of a brook, and He only did that for a time. Be prepared that God might be doing something totally new in your life, and trust that He knows exactly what He’s doing.

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Filed under Change, Spiritual Growth

Guard Your Gates!


The book of Nehemiah in the Bible serves as a great metaphor for living the spiritual life. In the book, the Temple represents our heart (where God meets with us); the city of Jerusalem represents our mind; the walls of the city represent our spiritual walls and the health of our relationship with Christ, and the gates of the city represent our eyes, ears and mouth.

Nehemiah built the city walls and installed the gates to protect the city and the temple. Walls keep bad stuff or bad people out. Gates allow good stuff and good people in. But sometimes, the gates allowed bad stuff and bad people in. It’s not what the gates were designed for, but it happened because those in charge of the gates weren’t guarding them like they should.

Apply the metaphor to our spiritual lives. We build our spiritual walls each day as we engage in spiritual disciplines (reading the Bible, praying, obeying God…). We put a lot of work into building those walls, because we want to do our best to follow the Lord. But there’s a problem. Sometimes, we don’t do a very good job of guarding our gates (our eyes and our ears). We allow bad stuff to come into our city (our mind), and give it access to our temple (our heart). All the hard work we put into building our walls is now compromised, because we didn’t guard our gates.

The Enemy will get into our hearts and minds any way he can. If we’ve built strong spiritual walls with no gaps in them, he’s going to attack us at our gates. We need to be as diligent about guarding our gates as we are about wall-building. So, the question is, are we?

I think we underestimate the power of media in our lives. Not just “the media,” though I’m including them. I’m talking about all the types of media that we watch or listen to in a given day or week. Music, television, magazines, newspapers, email, advertisements, gossip… We let that stuff into our brains! Are we being selective enough?

We shouldn’t be naive about this. There is programming going on. When we open our eye-gates and our ear-gates to the media around us, it gets into our brains. If enough gets in, it will make its way to our hearts. That’s okay if we are only opening our gates to God-honoring messages. Program away! It will help us walk straighter. But most of us are not guarding the gates carefully enough, and bit by bit, we are filling our minds with things that don’t honor God.

When I teach kids, I do an illustration of this with a large bowl of water and some food coloring. I tell them that the bowl of water represents their minds as God created them – pure and clean. The food coloring represents some of the bad stuff we can let into our heads – profanity, the Lord’s name used in vain, music with inappropriate themes, movies with inappropriate scenes, jokes with inappropriate punch lines, stories told from inappropriate motives…

Each time I mention a new bad thing that can get into our minds, I have one of the kids drop a little food coloring into the bowl. By the time I’m done, the pure, clean water is dark and murky. It doesn’t take much to spread all throughout the water – just like it doesn’t take much bad stuff in your gates before your thinking starts to change. “It’s not so bad.” “Everyone is doing it.” “You can’t get away from it – you just have to ignore it.” “That’s just the way things are these days.”

Our brains are incredible. They can hold more data than any computer on earth. But the bad news is that they never purge all the bad information and images we put in them. Once it’s in, it’s in for good and forever. Our only hope is that we can dilute it by allowing more good stuff in our gates. That’s hard work, and it takes time.

Nehemiah set up rules for guarding the gates of Jerusalem, and he got rid of all the riff-raff that were hanging right outside the gates. Maybe we should do the same. A few gate-keeping rules might do us some good.

* For more articles about spiritual gates, check out these links:

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Superhero


All great superheroes are, at least in part, images of Christ.  Their stories are the retelling of the greatest story ever told.   When they save those in danger, it is a picture of Jesus’ atoning work on the cross.  Their sacrifice is a mirror of His sacrifice.  Their struggle with their calling or their destiny is His struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Their lonliness in the time of trial is His lonliness when all the disciples abandoned Him and when even the Father turned His back on the Son (Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani ~ My God, My God, why have You foresaken me?)

I’m not saying that the creators of comic book superheroes set out to write about Christ.  Far from it.  I just don’t think they can help it.  THE story of love and sacrifice and salvation belongs to Christ.  There’s simply no way to improve upon it.  Every story of its kind is but an echo of the original.

When you start to pay close attention, you’ll notice images of Christ in just about every superhero story.  Take for example the latest Fantastic Four movie – not an easy match up when you think about it.  It has four heroes, and they have powers Jesus never exhibited, e.g., the ability to stretch long distances (which you might think I’m doing with this article, but stick with me).

Here are the parallels as I see it.  (Spoiler alert)  The story is about a team of heroes who help save the world.  They fight against a villain is was raised from the dead (like Antichrist will be), and one of them has to give her life as a sacrifice.  (Notice, I’m not digging so deep as to mention that one could fly, one could turn invisible and one was a Rock – or am I?)

But the surprise of the movie is that the most Christ-like figure is the Silver Surfer – starting after he becomes a good guy, of course.  Not only does he restore the life of the dead superhero, but he also gives his own life to save the entire world.  And what’s most interesting is how he does it.  If you watch the Silver Surfer as he charges into the evil, world destroyer, you’ll notice that right before the two meet, he stands up and stretches his arms wide (like Christ on the cross – thanks to my son for pointing this out).  From this stance, his power is greatest, and he overcomes the enemy.  Right before the movie closes, we see that the Silver Surfer lives again (he’s great spin-off material, you understand).

But to me, the greatest Christ-figure in all of comic-bookdom is Superman.  You almost have to believe that his creator (Joe Shuster) was thinking of Jesus when he came up with the idea.  Consider these similarities:

  • Not from this earth
  • Sent to earth by his father to save mankind
  • Possesses supernatural powers
  • Chooses to take on the appearance of a normal man
  • Restrains himself from using his powers except to help
  • Tells stories with pictures (as a photographer)
  • Loves an earthly “bride” who struggles to understand who he really is
  • Fights against an evil villain bent on ruling the world
  • Sacrifices his life to save humanity
  • Comes back from the dead

God’s love story is inescapable.  It’s the most romantic story ever told, and He buried it deeply in our hearts.  When a story of sacrifice and salvation resonnates with you, it’s because the person who created the story was borrowing from the Great Storyteller.  The story that cries out to be released from the writer’s heart is the one that God has been telling for all of time.  Recognize it for what it is, and respond to it.  Become part of the story.

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You’ve Got What You Need


Back to the story of Nehemiah from the Bible.  It’s interesting that Nehemiah built a wall without a quarry.  Where did he get all that rock?  By some estimates, the wall was over 1.5 miles long, 20 feet tall and 9 feet thick*.   That’s a huge amount of rock!  Walls using this much material would typically require years of work as men cut and carried new rock from a nearby quarry.  But Nehemiah rebuilt the wall in 52 days using the rubble of the old wall.

 

He used only what he had immediately available.  I think there is a spiritual principle here.  Sometimes we want God to give us more.  More blessing, more territory, more ministry, more, more, more…  That’s not bad.  It’s okay to pray for more, particularly if it is motivated by the desires God has placed in your heart.  But often, when we pray for more, God says, “Before I give you more, what have you done with what I already gave you?”

 

Nehemiah built the wall with the materials that God had already supplied.  True, they were a mess – huge piles of rubble and mortar.  It had to be discouraging at first, and I imagine Nehemiah’s initial reaction when he inspected the walls was, “I don’t even know where to start!”  But as he built the wall, it had to be apparent that God had given him enough.  Not enough to build the walls to their former glory, probably, but enough for what God wanted to do at that time.  Maybe later he would have the ability to strengthen the walls, but at this particular time, he had enough for God’s purposes.

 

If God is not answering your prayer for more, maybe it’s because you have enough already.  Maybe He’s waiting for you to put those resources, those skills, those gifts, those relationships to good use.  They may be a mess right now.  You may feel overwhelmed trying to make use of what you’ve already got, but start somewhere.  Place one stone in the wall.  In other words, make a single, God-honoring decision.  That’s where it all starts.  It’s the first godly decision, the first godly action that’s the toughest.  The ones that follow start to pick up momentum as you see the progress on your wall.  Before long, you’ve got a mighty spiritual wall (and you managed to clean up the place at the same time).

 

* (Nolte, David P. “A Mind to Work!” www.id.mind.net/~dnol/amindtowork.html) 

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Pack Rat


I’m on the road for the next few weeks, and a very scary thing is about to happen at my house.  Within 24 hours, my mother-in-law will get off a plane to begin a visit at our home.  (No, that’s not the scary thing.  She’s a wonderderful, wonderful woman.  Hello, Roianna.)  No, the scary part is that my wife and my mother-in-law will be together…conducting a garage sale!

I’m getting a facial tick just thinking about it.  You see, my wife can run a decent garage sale, but she doesn’t hold a candle to her mother.  Roianna is a serious garage-saler.  She does research.  She’s got years of experience.  She knows how to promote and how to prep and how to price.  She’s the complete package.

“So what?” you say.  “What’s the big deal?”

The big deal is that I’m a pack rat.  “Rat de paquet” in French.  “Ratto del pachetto” in Italian.  (Babblefish doesn’t do Latin.)  I love to collect things – usually things that have to do with teaching kids.  I’m good at it.  I’ve got several years’ worth of stuff neatly (by my standards) organized in my office and garage.  

Candidly, you would consider much of it junk – coffee can lids, shower caps from hotels, old CDs we don’t play anymore, used syrup bottles from Cracker Barrell…  I know it’s junk, but it can be magic junk if you come up with just the right lesson for it!  This stuff is hugely important to me.  I’ll go so far to say that it’s all blessed by God.  He knows its true potential.

It would be okay if I could trust my wife to be alone with my stuff, but this is not one of those cute idiosyncracies she loves about me.  No, my stuff is a burr under her saddle.  Probably because I make us pack it all up and take it to Texas each year in twelve giant tubs that are so heavy that they make the minivan do “a wheelie” (I dispute this claim) all 800 miles to her parents’ house so that I can teach a summer camp.  She was so upset last year that I almost went to Texas by myself, but I finally convinced her that I needed both of us in the front seats to keep the wheels on the ground.

And my wife can do passive-aggressive.  Better than her mom can garage-sale.  (Probably even better after reading the last sentence of the previous paragraph.)  She’s good.  I left the house with a clear commitment from her about what should be sold and what shouldn’t, but we both knew.  We knew the commitment was ceremony.  She’s in charge.  I’m not there to protect my treasures, and her mom can sell anything.  Even the used syrup bottles.  For more money than we paid for breakfast that day. 

I’m a pack rat, and I’ve left my home for two weeks in the hands of a world-class, mercenary garage-saler and a wife itching to reduce inventory.  It’s all over!  I’ll have nothing left!

And you know what?  It’s okay.  No, really.  It’s going to be alright.  I read something the other day that transformed the way I think about collecting stuff.  In the article, it said that pack rats (the human kind) are totally focused on THIS life rather than on the life they will spend in eternity.  And isn’t it true?

I once delived Meals on Wheels to a woman who wouldn’t let us come into her house, because it was piled floor-to-ceiling with old newspapers.  It was a remarkable achievement.  There were probably forty years of news in those columns.  (I know, because some men from the church went back and, with her permission, cleaned out all the paper to prevent a fire hazard and clear the stink a bit.) 

She kept the news “just in case”…just in case she needed to remember a particular story or event, just in case a neighbor asked about a certain date, just in case she wanted to work an old crossword.  But honestly, all those “just in cases” were just excuses for building her cocoon.  She was insulating herself from the world.  Managing her collection had replaced social time with friends and neighbors.  In fact, it probably scared some of them away.

I’ve been thinking.  What’s the value in collecting stuff?  If I’m just collecting it, it’s doing no one any good but me.  If I die tomorrow, I can’t take it with me, and my family will have to figure out what to do with it.  If I’m not careful, it can become an obsession that steals from the time I should be spending reaching out to others.  It can be a cocoon, a safe place, a comfort zone.

I’ve decided that I’m going to become a very different type of pack rat.  I’m going to keep collecting, but I’m going to change what I collect and where I keep it.  Instead of collecting garbage, I’m going to start collecting works of gold, silver and costly stones (1 Corinthians 3:12).  Instead of packing it away in closets and on shelves, I’m going to store it up in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal (Matthew 6:19-20).

At least that’s the plan.  I want to do a wheelie all the way to heaven!

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F.E.A.R.


When was the last time you did something really scary? The kind of scary that knots your stomach and weakens your knees. The kind of scary that makes you feel like everything is out of control.

Fear is an interesting emotion. It protects us from doing the really stupid stuff that would win us a Darwin Award, but it also hinders us from taking important risks and doing what we know we should. I’ve come to think of fear as an acronym. Which acronym you use says a lot about how you approach scary things.

For example, F.E.A.R. could mean:

False Expectations Appearing Real

This is my most common mistake. I allow my imagination to run wild and come up with the most implausible outcomes. It makes me want to:

Find Excuses And Reasons

…for not doing what I should be doing. I get the paralysis of analysis as I look at the thing I’m afraid of from every possible angle. Before long, I’m ready to:

Forget Everything And Run

…far, far away from my responsibilities and my calling. I suspect that F.E.A.R. has been much more detrimental in my life than a saving defense against foolish action.

I had an interesting experience this past summer. God gave me a five-month vacation. Really. Of course, it was without pay, but I have to say that during that entire time, my family had enough to eat and the soles of our shoes did not wear out (little biblical reference there).

But even though we didn’t have holes in our soles, we nearly wore one through the lining of our stomach worrying about how we were going to earn money. I came up with all sorts of plans, but none of them panned out. Slowly at first, then quickly as the money dried up, I began to panic. Panic led to paralysis, and I was afraid to do anything outside my comfort zone. In retrospect, this was the least effective course of action for me to take. What I needed was some risk-taking.

To make use of all this time off, I invested my time, talent and treasure into an important event in my oldest son’s life; he was turning 13. I wanted to set up some standing stones in his life to mark this birthday as a passage into the beginning of manhood. You may think I was a little premature, and maybe I was, but I felt it important to start him thinking like a man before he had to start making decisions like one. Those decisions come all too early to kids today, and many are caught unprepared and ill-equipped.

So, my oldest and I engaged in a series of ten challenges intended to give us opportunities to learn and talk about important relationships and responsibilities in his life. We went white water rafting to learn how important it was who you chose to have in your boat with you (your friends) when you hit life’s rapids. We climbed Pike’s Peak to learn the value of endurance with a worthy goal. (Incidentally, we learned the importance of having someone to make the trek with you – “two are better than one…if one falls down, his friend can help him up, but pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up.)

We took on a 20-hour project to clean the family garage to learn good stewardship, and we built things together to serve our community. We served at a soup kitchen and talked about who our neighbor was and how we were supposed to treat him. We read the four Gospels to learn how much God loves us, and we fasted for 24 hours to understand the importance of waiting for something good (this was a lesson about sexual purity).

But the reason I tell you about these challenges is so that I can tell you about the one dealing with courage. I took my son to the Royal Gorge outside Colorado Springs, CO. It didn’t take him long to realize why we were there – the Royal Rush Skycoaster, a giant swing that pulls you 100 feet up in the air and then drops you so that you freefall and swing out over the 1,200-foot-deep Royal Gorge at a speed of 50 mph.

I didn’t want to go – I had chickened out once before – but my desire to create a teachable moment for my son outweighed my reservations. After a sizeable fee was paid and we were harnessed in, we stood in line making nervous jokes about dying with the couple in front of us. The good news about standing in line to do something scary is that you get to see with your own eyes that people survive the experience. The bad news is that you get to hear with your own ears their screams as they are dropped 100 feet over a large, cement slab.

When our turn to fly came up, I couldn’t believe that I was doing it. All kinds of worst-case scenarios played through my mind. Most involved snapping cables and free-falling to the Arkansas river at the bottom of the Gorge, so I was just a little irritated with the casual conversation of the two teenagers responsible for strapping us in. “Did you see that hottie that came in here this morning?” “Dude! She’s out of your league.” “No way, Dude!” “Yes, way!” (Need I elaborate?)

Before we knew it, my son and I were soon high enough in the air that we couldn’t hear the hormonal dialogue anymore, and we really didn’t care. We were in a life-or-death moment. When we were wenched fully to the top, I considered asking my son not to pull the rip cord. Maybe we could just stay suspended like that until rescue workers could be summoned. But from far below, we heard, “3….2…..1!” and my son, obviously eager to meet his Maker, pulled the handle and released us into an airless atmosphere where I could no longer breath.

But then….but then! Having reached the end of our rope (so to speak), we swept out over the gorge and saw the glorious handiwork of God! It was so beautiful, you had to scream for pure exhilaration. We made five more sweeps and tried desperately to drink it all in. Too soon, it was over, and we were hauled in to be released.

A little wobbly-legged, we descended the stairs and headed toward the exit, but my son asked if we could stay and watch the next two people endure the test. (A little sadistic, I think, but we felt entitled.) We stopped and watched the magical transformation from fear to exhilaration happen mid-swing. My son turned to me, and with a sparkle in his eye, said, “Let’s do it again!”

So we did.

And here’s what we learned. F.E.A.R. really is False Expectations Appearing Real most of the time. If you push through it, you’ll find that it has a very thin skin and that it was probably keeping you from something important and worthwhile. Also…

  • Scary things are easier to do when you do them together.
  • Doing something scary expands your comfort zone and makes the next scary thing easier.
  • Humor (even very dark, nervous humor) kills F.E.A.R.
  • It’s easier to do something scary if you have already made an investment.
  • Examining the worst-case-scenarios helps you deal with F.E.A.R. more realistically.

That day, I made my son a promise. I promised to stop being so afraid that I did nothing. I promised to take a scary risk in the near future so that I could keep expanding my comfort zone. It’s funny how a lesson you plan for someone else can end up being more about you.

A few months later, a very scary job opportunity came up. It involved uprooting my family, selling everything we owned and moving to a foreign country. I didn’t recognize it as the “scary risk” I had promised to take at first, but I soon came to recognize it for what it was. God was asking me to make good on my commitment to my son. I swallowed hard and then pulled the rip cord.

F.E.A.R. now means something different to me. It means:

For Everything A Reason

…because God works ALL things for the good of those who love Him. And…

Face Everything And Recover

…because I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. And…

Faith Erases All Reservations

…because we are called for a purpose. Let’s get after it!

chandler-dad-skycoaster.jpg

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Man Down!


Not to put too fine a point on it, but the world’s a mess.  I’ve been lots of places and seen lots of terrible things.  Poverty, sickness, drugs, prostitution, broken families, broken lives…  They’re everywhere.  Affluent countries do a better job of hiding them, but there is not a place on this planet that’s free from these pandemics.

In my opinion, the common denominator to all these problems and many more is men.  Actually, it’s the lack of men that typically causes things to unravel.  I’m not talking males; I’m talking men.  There’s a difference.  I’ve seen many suffering families with adult males still in them, but these aren’t men.  They beat their wives and their children.  They steal the family savings and gamble it away.  They use their wife’s earnings to supply their drug or alcohol addiction.  They sit on the couch all day long and watch t.v. while the family starves.  They’re not men – just male.

Without taking any responsibility off of them, I think we need to acknowledge that men are under attack. The Enemy (Satan, the devil, Lucifer, the Deceiver, Beelzebub…) wants to take out the man, and he spends a disproportionate amount of time on making it happen.  In fact, I would propose that when Satan wants to attack the woman, he typically does it through a man in her life.

So, why would the Enemy focus so much attention on men?  Because they are strategic.  They are most often the leaders in the community, in the workplace and in the home.  Take out the leader, and you create confusion for those he leads.  But it’s more than that.  The man typically has the most power – physically and financially.  Take out the man, and you incapacitate the family.  But it’s more than that.   Most children get their first ideas about God the Father from their earthly fathers.  Take out the earthly father, and you cast a shadow over the heavenly Father.

Men, my message is for us.  We’ve got to stop taking the Enemy’s bait.  We’ve got to recognize his tactics for what they are.  We’ve got to stop giving our lives to things that are not worth our attention.  God has entrusted us with leadership in our families and often in our communities and in our workplaces.  While we may not be able to save the world, we can make a difference in whatever God has entrusted us with.

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