Inspiration

A Few Things Sharks Can Teach You— but That You Probably Won’t Find on Shark Week

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I love sharks. I find them fascinating and beautiful. So Shark Week is an exciting time. But it occurs to me that there are (at least) several lessons that sharks have to teach that you won’t find on Shark Week.

  1. Inexplicable peace: I know what you’re saying—“What?! Don’t sharks usually bring anything but peace?” You would think so. But I can tell you from my experience that one of the greatest senses of peace I’ve ever felt was lying on my back on the ocean floor, looking up at a feeding frenzy of sharks. It was both surreal and serene. And now and then, I’d reach my hand up to touch the belly of a shark that was passing over me. It was so awesome. It reminds me of Phillipians 4:7—“And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Should I have felt such ease amid 15-20 sharks? Of course not. That’s why it was inexplicable. That’s why it was beyond all comprehension. And that’s the same kind of peace that God offers to you and me.
  2. Healthy fear: Proverbs 9:10a says that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” That idea has often bothered me. God is the consummate loving Father. If I trust Him, then what have I to fear? And yet, in several scriptures, the Bible suggests that we should fear the Lord (which is not to be confused with fearing our circumstances, because we certainly are not instructed to do that). But let me—or, the sharks actually—give you a little illustration that might shed some light on what healthy fear might look like. On the same SCUBA trip I just described, the inexplicable peace was very suddenly shattered when our boat’s captain was bitten by a shark! He would later argue that the whole thing was his own fault. He was being careless with a crate of fish while trying to set up a photo opportunity for another diver. He had become so familiar with sharks over the years, so comfortable with them, that he forgot briefly how powerful they are. It seems like we can do the same with God. We take His benevolence for granted, and forget to revere Him for who He is.
  3. God’s Sovereignty: On October 31, 2003, Bethany Hamilton was attacked by a shark while surfing. If you’re familiar with her story, you’ll recall that she lost an arm in the attack. And since then, she has been speaking and writing and traveling. And she’s had TONS of amazing opportunities to share her testimony with others. I can’t imagine that she would have been anywhere near as powerful a witness for God if she hadn’t gone through what she did. Romans 8:28 tells us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Bethany is living proof of that.
  4. Perseverance: James 1:2-4 instructs us to “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.” Remember Bethany, and how I said she’s been speaking, writing, and traveling over the last decade? Well, she’s also been SURFING! I don’t know if you’ve tried surfing before, but I have and I couldn’t do it. Not with two arms. So the idea of surfing with one arm (and professionally, at that) blows me away. And it wasn’t easy for her to get back to that point. But she persevered. And now she is a witness, a role model, and a hero of the faith.

Yep, I’ve learned a lot from sharks over the years. Now I hope you can say that you have, too. Happy Shark Week, everyone!

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The Body

The other night, in the middle of the night, Tijge came to lay by us. He kept tossing and turning, unable to get comfortable—until, that is, he found a cushiony spot on my not-so-flat-anymore belly. Always a source of insecurity for me, I’m ever conscious that my abs aren’t as tight or flat as they once were, let alone as much so as I’d love for them to be.

Lying there with Tijge, though, I was reminded of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12:18 and following. In that passage, he compared the Body of Christ to the human body, in which every part has an indispensable purpose (except for the appendix, perhaps). Specifically, he spoke of parts that were weaker, less honorable, and unpresentable.

I know what you’re thinking—Paul’s point was about fulfilling our role and calling within the Body of Christ. But, if the purpose of an analogy is to use something well understood to shed light on something less well understood, that suggests that the Christians in Paul’s day had a better grasp on the value and the function of the human body than we do now. We may know more about disease, diet, and exercise than they did. But we don’t see our bodies for either their God-ordained purposes or their inherent worth. Sometimes the parts of our physical bodies are called upon to serve painful, mundane, or seemingly undignified purposes. And then sometimes, they are called upon to serve as a pillow to cushion the head of a beautiful and perfect 3-year-old boy. And oh, how I cherish those times—and the “squishy parts” that make those memories possible.

1 Corinthians 12:18-27 

But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them,
just as he wanted them to be.
If they were all one part, where would the body be?
As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!”
And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”
On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,
and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.
And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,
while our presentable parts need no special treatment.
But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it,
so that there should be no division in the body,
but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.
If one part suffers, every part suffers with it;
if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

 

The Parable of the Cyclist

Proverbs 15:1
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” 

James 1:19-20
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

Our pastor recently described parables as earthly stories that point to heavenly things. So here’s a good one. Not long ago, I was driving down the road on a Sunday evening. The light was hitting the windshield just so, and producing a slight glare. And, as it turns out, I also had a small blind spot at the right front corner of my car. Well, I inadvertently missed and failed to yield to a cyclist. As soon as I saw him I stopped and tried to make an apologetic gesture.

But his first response was to greet me with, well, a non-apologetic gesture. Maybe his response was conditioned by countless intentionally negative encounters with motorists; or maybe the rider was used to looking for the bad in people, assuming the worst of intentions, and failing to offer the benefit of the doubt. Either way, I felt compassion for him—maybe because I could easily relate. My own focus is so often on the negative, and other people’s failures and shortcomings (and my own), that I look past the good—and assume the worst. I get easily offended, I respond defensively. I put up walls to keep people out.

I realized, as I looked upon the cyclist with a sense of pity—over all he was missing—that he was a mirror into my own heart. I saw how my suspicions of people’s actions and intentions, and my failure to give people the benefit of the doubt, robs ME of the blessing of seeing the good in them. If you can relate, perhaps you’ll join me in deliberately looking for the good in others—in order that we may bless them while being blessed ourselves. Finally, let’s remember the words of James (1:19-20), who admonished us all to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

#YOLO

Luke 12:19-21

“And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.’” But God said to him, “You fool!
This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’”
So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

The kids these days have a saying—YOLO (you only live once). So, the way it works is: if you want to do something stupid or impulsive or dangerous, you just follow it up (or precede it) with, “YOLO” or “#YOLO” (if you’re into using hashtags). I’ve heard it used to justify everything from staying out late the night before a test to flying down a water slide head first.

Just this week I had my own version of a YOLO experience. You see, for many months, I’ve been thinking about incorporating bangs into my hairstyle. Now, in my case, the decision wasn’t impulsive. As I said, I’ve spent months deliberating—even agonizing—over it. I mean, what happens if I don’t like them, how long will it take them to grow out, and will my hair ever be the way it was again? I know, I know, it’s the epitome of a first-world problem. And for that reason, I decided to go ahead with it. It was a big deal for someone as risk averse as me. And the verdict’s still out on the outcome. I’m still getting used to my new look. (Stay tuned for pictures 🙂 )

The whole process go me thinking, though, surely there are more useful applications for this YOLO idea. Maybe we could apply it to decisions with more permanent, or even eternal, consequences.

  • Not sure if you should help someone in need? YOLO.
  • Nervous about sharing the Gospel with a stranger (with the leading of the Holy Spirit, of course)? YOLO.
  • Can’t decide if it’s worth sacrificing your personal time to spend a little more of it with your family? YOLO.

I’ll bet you have some ideas of your own to add to this list. Feel free to share them in a comment. And let’s get to living like we only live once! #YOLO

Beautiful Feet

Isaiah 52:7

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”

 It’s not often that I wear slip-on shoes to church (they don’t provide enough support—but that’s a story for another post), but whenever I do, I find myself tempted to slip them off during worship—and sometimes I give in to the temptation. This practice hearkens back to a message I once heard in the company of a group of high school kids on a church retreat. The worship leader had everyone take their socks and shoes off upon entering the room. Why? He said it was because we were, just as Moses was so long ago, standing on holy ground.

That made sense, although it was a fresh revelation for everyone in the room. And besides that, I think a number of us were a bit uncomfortable with the idea. It occurs to me now that the reason for this sense of awkwardness may have been the built-in sense of humility. Unless you’re a foot model, you can probably identify some source of dissatisfaction associated with your feet: too small; too fat; high arches; flat feet; bunions, blisters, warts; and the list goes on. Feet are by and large dirty, deformed, afflicted, misshapen—in a word, ugly.

I, personally, think that this sense of humility goes all the way back to the Bible days, and not just to Moses’ encounter with God’s holy presence (Exodus 3:5). Think about Jesus’ act of servant leadership in the washing of the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17). They were mortified at the thought. And they were humbled by Christ’s act of humility.

In spite of all of this, I also think of Isaiah 52:7, which says, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” Implied in this promise, I believe, is the humble spirit in which we are to bring the Good News—not of ourselves or for our own glory; but on behalf of the one whose Spirit we possess. And when we do, God does something amazing. He makes the ugly beautiful. So here’s to you—may you go forward on beautiful feet! 

Soar!

I had a couple of other posts in mind for today, but in light of the glider ride I took yesterday (a Groundhog Day present from my wonderful husband), I felt like this post (written on May 20th of this year) would be apropos. The others will just have to wait for another week. I hope you enjoy this one, and that each of you have a wonderful holiday weekend.

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As I sit writing on a sunny, 80-degree day, with birds chirping and calling to one another overhead, I’m reminded of a recent exchange with Tijge. I was pointing to a bird soaring in the sky, excitedly telling him to watch. I surprised myself with my own fascination.

To understand why, you have to understand how I generally feel about birds. I laughed and adopted a friend’s sentiment once, when she said that “birds are nothing more than flying rats.” I’ve been saying it ever since, and trying to teach Tijge to recite the same description (much to his dad’s dismay). So far, “birds are dirty” is as far as he will go with that. But honestly, for me, it isn’t just birds. It’s any living, flying thing. So bats, butterflies, other flying insects—they all creep me out.

But, in a departure from this general policy, I love birds of prey. Why? I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s because they don’t fly. And now you’re saying to yourself, “What?!” But they don’t. Tell me, when was the last time you saw a hawk or an eagle flapping its wings frantically and helplessly in a strong wind? Have you ever? Probably not. And it’s because they love the wind and have learned how to harness its power. According to Google, the word soar means to “maintain height in the air without flapping wings or using engine power.”

And just like the birds of prey that I find so fascinating, I want to soar. And Isaiah 40:31 says that I can. It says that “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” So hope in the Lord, renew your strength, and SOAR!

Scraps

Luke 15: 20; 23-24

“So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off,
his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son,
threw his arms around him and kissed him.
Bring the fattened calf and kill it.
Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again;
he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”

“Daddy, made a mess.” This phrase is forever etched in my memory. Over a decade ago, as a 20-something single, I heard a gifted speaker and teacher utter those words as part of a message aimed at an audience of teenagers. He was sharing an illustration about his daughter, and how she would sometimes be eating Fruit Loops in the back seat of the car when she would spill them (or dump them out, as the case may be), and then casually call to the front seat, “Daddy, made a mess.” He compared her nonchalant response to us, as children of God. He explained that, often, we are careless with our decisions and our actions; then we turn to God, expecting Him to drop everything and clean up our mess. When he shared this story, I had no children, and no intention of ever having any. And yet, the story resonated with me. Largely for this reason, I think, I tend to see my kids through a lens that allows me to relate their behavior to spiritual lessons. I say all of that to introduce today’s “lesson,” or illustration, if you will.

Enter Laredo. Her breakfast sat on the table: fresh strawberries, Cheerios, and raisins (a favorite of hers at that time). I left her at the table and turned away for a minute. When I looked back, I was surprised to find her squatting down beneath her high chair, eating dried-up food scraps that had admittedly not gotten cleaned up from the night before. Gross.

But, when you think about it, it’s not so much different from the rest of us. For example, consider the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), eating pig slop in a barn when there was a feast waiting for him back home. We also are, very often, content to sit with our table scraps and garbage, instead of embracing all that God has for us. Remember that we are co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17), and that God longs to bless us in ways that we can’t even imagine. We need only let Him. 

The Wren Effect

Thrity-four. That’s how old Wren was when she passed away. She was younger than I am now, and had three young children, ranging in age from one to five years old. I can’t say I knew her well, but I could tell that she was a godly woman of great faith. And I’m sure that she thought often during her final months of how much she wanted to say to her kids and her husband—but there just wasn’t time to fit it all in. Between cancer treatments and the more mundane duties of motherhood—not to mention wanting to spend every spare minute enjoying the company of family—who wants to spend their last days holed up on an office, writing it all down? And how do you decide which of your insights are most important? Worse still, what if, when your time comes, you have no advance notice, no time to even say good-bye, let alone share any parting wisdom?

So, since Wren passed away, I’ve ramped up my efforts to record, well, everything: photos; quotes from the kids; my own thoughts, feelings, experiences—basically anything that will allow my kids to see into my heart; my heart for them and for Jesus. And even if I live to a ripe old age, I imagine these memories will be a valuable window into the soul of an old woman they know simply as “Mom.”

Much Heaven

Okay, so if God has set eternity on the hearts of men, what does that mean for us? If you agree with my earlier proposition that, in some ways, Solomon got it wrong; what could he have done differently? How could he have “gotten it right?” And more importantly, what can WE do to get it right in the here and now?

Well, to me, it’s a matter of living out our earthly lives daily and fully; but with an eternal focus, purpose, and perspective. I once knew a woman who would often say that she was “just waiting around to die.” Bear in mind that she was 102 years old, and had a pretty poor quality of life for the last few of those years. I could see where she was coming from, and must confess that I’ve often felt the same way. I know that heaven is going to be so amazing that I get impatient with the waiting.

But I have work to do here yet. I know that because I woke up this morning, and I’m still breathing. When I get homesick or impatient, it helps me to think of the possibilities; to think of each day as an opportunity to find and fulfill God’s purposes for my life. And then I give thanks—for all I have, for all I have been able to see and do, for all of who God is, and for His promise of more.

It occurs to me just this moment that, in this world, we can find a little bit of heaven. And that reminds me of the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), in which the master replies to his faithful servants, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” And so, I want more than anything to be faithful in this place, knowing that “much heaven” awaits.

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Solomon’s Folly

Ecclesiastes 1:2 (NIV)
“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
 says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”

 Ecclesiastes 8:15 (KJV)
“So I commended enjoyment, because a man has nothing better under the sun than
to eat, drink, and be merry; for this will remain with him in his labor
all the days of his life which God gives him under the sun.”

 No one knows for sure, but many scholars believe that Ecclesiastes was written by King Solomon—son of King David. I’m inclined to agree with them, for all it’s worth. And Solomon was the wisest person who ever lived (1 Kings 3:5-15). And yet, despite all of his wisdom, I would argue that he came to the wrong conclusions: first, that all is meaningless (Ecclesiastes 1:2); and second, that we should just eat, drink, and be merry (Ecclesiastes 8:15). I believe there are a couple of reasons why he arrived at these erroneous conclusions.

First, his perspective was off. On the one hand, he spoke of the eternity that God had set in the hearts of men, and man’s limited capacity to comprehend God’s completed and infinite works. On the other hand, though, he evaluated his own accomplishments through a finite lens—not seeing the eternal value of his own contributions. Think about it. He built an elaborate temple to God, and one that in many ways foreshadowed the relationship that God desires with His people. He wrote the Song of Solomon, which continues to inspire couples and strengthen marriages to this day. Who else’s wedding vows have so stood the test of time? Then, he wrote the book of Proverbs, which is chock full of practical wisdom for everyday living. Many a snare has likely been avoided through diligent application of his advice. These, and many other of Solomon’s achievements were far from meaningless. But they do point to another reason for his errant conclusions.

Solomon’s motives sometimes went awry. The examples above demonstrate that, when Solomon’s motives were focused on God, his efforts were NOT in vain. In contrast, when his motives were self-centered and pleasure-seeking, they resulted in heartache and disappointment. But because he couldn’t see past his present circumstances, he decided that the best course of action would be to continue on as he had been—pursuing the pleasures of the flesh. But, as Einstein said, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” is not the definition of wisdom—it is the definition of insanity. Instead, I propose that we work as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23) and trust that He will bring to completion the good work that He has begun in us (Philippians 1:6). In short, all is NOT meaningless.Garner State Park 12