Going Through, Part II

Click to read Part 1.

When I was writing the first “Going Through” article a couple of months ago (seriously, where does the time go??) I was already thinking of part 2.  Unfortunately, rather than sitting right down and writing it then, which would have been the smart thing to do, I waited.  Now, I have two completely unrelated thoughts racing through my head and absolutely no thoughts related to the topic at hand.  But if I don’t try it now, I may never try it.  So I am gong to jump in and start…going.

I took the title of these articles in reverse.  The first article focused on the second part of the title – the “through” part.  This article, then, is on that all important first word.  The “going.”

Unfortunately for us, not only is “through the valley” not always the most pleasant experience, through doesn’t even begin to happen without us first going.  Life is not a scenic bus ride.  We don’t get from here to there without a little work.

David said, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” (Psalm 23:4a). 

Even though I walk…

This is not a passive verse.  It starts with an action.  It starts with David stepping forward into a very scary place.  He is not being carried through the valley.  He is also not going quickly through the valley.  (How I wish I could speed through the valleys!)  No, David is walking.

In the NIV translation, this passage continues “I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4b).  I love the verb tense of this line.  It doesn’t say, “I am not afraid right now.”  It says: “I will fear no evil.” Future tense, definitive.  Like a promise.

For David, fear was a choice, and he willed himself to not be afraid.  How?  Because God was with him.

This is powerful, but I think we do ourselves and David a disservice if we think it is easy.  I don’t believe we can walk into a dark valley and say, “I will not be afraid!” and have all fear immediately vanish.  Our emotions are not tied to a switch that we can flip on and off at will.  I think David probably was afraid.  In fact, we read lots of David’s writing where he is clearly terrified.  But I think he is talking here about a different kind of fear.  Not just what we feel, but what we believe.

We can feel afraid but still trust God enough to go.  Our actions can declare, “I will fear no evil,” even when our emotions say otherwise.  Sometimes it is during our slow walk through the valley – not before – that God’s presence becomes real enough for us to believe, if not actually feel:  I will fear no evil, for you are with me. 

Fear is the devil’s ploy.  Fear can prevent us from going through the valley… but only if we let it.  David knew, as we should know, that even in the darkest valley, God is with us.  His rod and his staff are there to comfort us. 

I may feel afraid, but I will not be afraid.  When God calls, I will lace up my walking shoes and go.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)

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Something More

My dog does not understand how I can sit for hours flipping pages in a book.  I hold it out to her, but she sniffs it disdainfully and walks away.  Where I see another whole world, she sees only ink and paper.  My book is utter foolishness to her who cannot read.

As I’m thinking about this, I am reminded of a similar sentiment Paul wrote to the Corinthians.  For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).  Indeed, where some see only wood, others see so much more.

I am reminded of this again, when the tables are turned, and I am dragging my dog away from some ordinary clump of grass that she is sniffing intently.  It is only blades of grass to me, but it is clearly something more to her.  There is another whole world I cannot see, except to watch her enter into it.

I think of the book, and the grass, and the cross.  It is hard to imagine, but it is not impossible to believe: beyond what I know here, there could be something more.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).

Brazilian Barbecue

This past weekend I was invited to a barbecue with some Brazilians.  I jumped at the chance.  First of all, because seriously, how fun is that?  And secondly, I have a work trip to Brazil this fall.  This was a prime opportunity to make some contacts and glean some tips for a first time visitor.

Now here’s a secret that’s really not a secret at all.  I am someone who sits very comfortably on the introverted side of the scale.  I am not someone who walks into a room and knows every person there within minutes.  Far from it.  But while at this barbecue, I managed to strike up a delightful conversation with a lady who I thought was originally from Brazil and now worked as a botany professor at a university in the U.S.  Good for me!

Twenty minutes later I learned she is actually the wife of an engineering professor and is originally from Poland.

It was still a delightful conversation, but clearly there was something lacking in my conversational skills.  As this realization hit me, I couldn’t help but look around and wonder: What am I doing here? 

I did eventually make the rounds and talk to some folks from Brazil, but I kept thinking of this incident long after the barbecue had ended.  It suddenly occurred to me that as out-of-place as I felt, I was actually in the exact right place precisely because I felt that way.  If I was comfortable all the time, if I felt fully capable of every task that came my way, if I was never thrust out of my comfort zone, then I would be in the wrong place.  It doesn’t do me any good to only take on challenges I already know how to do.  I need opportunities that force me – sometimes against my will – to grow.

I heard a piece of a sermon on the radio the other day where the pastor was saying if we are not uncomfortable in our ministry then we are in the wrong place.  If there is no opposition then we are probably just preaching to the choir.  We should be most excited when we are not comfortable, when things are difficult, and when opposition is mounting, because those are signs that we are needed.  Those are signs that we are in the exact right place.

I think it is an interesting point, and has some truth to it.  Sometimes God intentionally puts us in positions that are outside of our comfort zone.  Like Moses when God charged him with leading the Israelites out of Egypt, we sometimes look around and see others who would be much better suited to the task at hand.  Like Moses, we cry, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it!” (Exodus 4:13).  But God chooses each one of us according to His plan.  And His plan sometimes places us in positions we might not normally choose on our own.  Perhaps God does this to demonstrate his power in our weakness.  Perhaps God is keeping us humble.  Perhaps God is teaching us a skill we would otherwise not attain. 

Sometimes I think God is simply showing us He has a sense of humor.  Let’s send an introvert to the party and see how she does, ha ha! 

Think of this, the next time you find yourself in one of those, “what am I doing here??” moments:  God could have sent someone else.  God could have equipped you differently.  But God made you, just the way you are.  And God chose you, just the way you are. 

Moses said to the Lord, “O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant.  I am slow of speech and tongue.”  The Lord said to him, “Who gave man his mouth?  Who makes him deaf or mute?  Who gives him sight or makes him blind?  Is it not I, the Lord?  Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” (Exodus 4:10-11)

Today’s Quote

“It is often said the church is a crutch.  Of course it’s a crutch.  What makes you think you’re not limping?”

This quote is originally attributed to William Sloane Coffin, and was used by my pastor this Sunday during his sermon.  It made me think: how often do we shy away from derisive comments because we are afraid of the truth they may contain?  What do hard comments really say about us?  About our God?    When someone says “The church is a crutch!” my knee-jerk reaction is to exclaim, “No it’s not!”  even when part of me fears that it is.

But fear is a devil’s ploy.  Because when we face the hard questions, we are rewarded with an even greater truth.

How brilliant this response is in it’s simplicity.  How foolish I was to fear it.  “Of course the church is a crutch.”  Thank God.

 

Running

I am not a runner.  But I admire people who are.  I would like to be a runner.  Except for that fact that becoming a runner would require me to, well, run. 

I am the epitomy of everything you should not do to become a runner.  I follow no schedule whatsoever.  I wait for a day when I am entirely stressed and have been sitting hunched over a desk for way too long.  Then I leap out the door and pound the pavement until I am completely exhausted.  In other words, about a quarter of a mile.  I then can’t move for three days.

I have friends who are runners.  Impressive runners: trail racers, half-marathoners, full marathoners, high altitude sprinters.  At 7000 feet I can’t even stand up without having to pause and catch my breath.  Forget about running.  These people amaze me.  Because I (as many of you have heard me say) am training for a 5K the way most people train for a marathon.  It is a life’s goal that is going to take me most of my life to get there.  Except, of course, that my “training” is not really training at all. 

My friends give me advice.  Good advice.  They show me stretches.  They talk about posture and conservation of motion and momentum.  They say I should set a known distance and see how long it takes me to cover it.  “Run and walk it as needed,” the say, “and over time you will find yourself running more and walking less.”  Enough of my running friends have told me this that I think it must be true.  I’ve just never actually tried it.  Until recently.

Yes, that’s right.  A few days ago, I actually chose one of my favorite trails at a local park that, according to the map, is about 2 miles long.  And I ran it in… are you ready for this? 

32:44 minutes.

Now to be fair, I stopped midway through for a solid 3 minutes because my shins were killing me and I needed to stretch them out.  So if I subtract that time, I averaged about a… 15 minute mile.  And that, my friends, is why even when I am “running” I get lapped by the speedwalkers.

The interesting thing about this, though, is that it was a rather spur of the moment thing.  I needed to go for a run, and I decided that this time, this is how I was going to do it.  And yet at the same time, it did not feel like a spur of the moment thing at all.  I’ve been doing my haphazard “training” for three years now.  I’ve been hearing my friends’ advice, even though they probably think I’m ignoring them entirely.  Perhaps the last friend that said “Set a distance and run it.” finally pushed me over the edge.  Perhaps years of fermentation finally generated some action.  Perhaps I just plain had a day where I needed this particular type of distraction, where I needed to feel that strange kind of connection that occurs when you actual heed the repeated advice of your friends.

All of this makes me think of another kind of advice, another kind of fermentation, and another kind of friend.  How often do we share the word of God with another to seemingly no effect?  Or how often are we ourselves the recipient?  Perhaps you are not yet a Christian.  You hear the words, you watch others running their race, but you have not yet heeded their advice.  Or perhaps you’re already a Christian but are – as we will continually do – still growing in your faith.  Perhaps there is one particular area you’re struggling with right now, and friends around you are either knowingly or unknowingly speaking the advice you need to hear.  Perhaps you are watching someone else running a particular path you aspire to.  You want to get there, but your training seems haphazard and sporadic.

Take heart!  God is at work in all of our lives.  In those to whom we minister, and in us when we ourselves are being ministered to.  Nothing is ever wasted.  We are impacting one another more than perhaps we ever realize.  Every step, every word along the way, leads to where we are going.

For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false.  Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay (Habakkuk 2:3).