Friday, March 23, 2007

The Dragonfly

The Dragonfly is known to have 3 life stages. First, Dragonfly eggs are deposited directly onto aquatic plants or dropped into the water. Dragonflies begin life as a nymph living underwater. This nymphal stage can last for as long as four years for some species. Many species overwinter as nymphs in ponds and marshes and emerge in the spring as adults. When the nymph is completely grown and ready to become a dragonfly it will crawl up the stem of a water plant and emerge out of the water. The nymph is now ready to change from an underwater insect into an aerial one! The adult dragonfly emerges from the skin of the nymph. After emerging from skin, the dragonfly body and wings grow rapidly as it pumps fluids into to them. From this point on, the Dragonfly will spend the rest of its life flying in the air.
I spent the afternoon with another chaplain at the hospital. I really appreciated the opportunity to once again observe how these men minister to people who find themselves in some of the most difficult and vulnerable circumstances. I continue to be impressed with how well they listen, how gentle they love and how meaningful their compassion is to all the people they visit.
On this particular day, we spent some time on the pediatric floor. The chaplain had a unique way that he comforted these young patients...origami. One of his favorites creations was the dragonfly and as he would construct this flying insect out of paper, he would educate the patient about the life cycle of a dragonfly and then tell this story:
One day, a water bug was swimming in the water with his friends when he noticed someone was missing. Yet, this was not the first time something like this had happened. Over time, many of the friends they had swam around the pond with suddenly disappeared.
"Where do you think they have gone?", one water bug asked.
"I don't know", came the reply.
"Then we must make a pact", said the first water bug. "If one of us ever finds out, we must come back and tell the others."
"Yes we must", they all agreed.
And then one day, one of the water bugs decided to crawl up a tall plant extending high above the water. And when he reached the top he realized something had changed. He had shed his water bug skin and beautiful wings had emerged. He began to fly high into the air and the feeling was wonderfully more than he had ever imagined...and then he remembered.
"I must go and tell my friends. Now I know and so must they."
Yet as he descended upon the water, he realized he could not go back. He would bounce off the top of the water. Now that he had wings, he could not descend beneath the surface. He watched his friends as flew in the air and realized, "They will join me soon enough. And they will be so glad when they do."
The chaplain would tell this story as he made the insect out of paper. If someone had lost a loved one, he would relate this story to heaven and the promise of God for those who trust Him. If a child was frightened, he would encourage them with the promise that things will get better. It was a wonderful tool that he would use to communicate a most important message in a most gentle way.
Another lesson learned from the chaplains.

Monday, March 19, 2007

When Faith Eclipses Fear

Sometimes there’s nothing left but to believe
Sometimes it’s in an instant
Sometimes we wait for years
But it comes down to the moment when faith eclipses fear
Your wandering is over
The other side is real
You’ve broken through
Your mountain moved
And mercy is revealed
His mercy is revealed

The author of these beautiful words may surprise you. But before I reveal the source, let me comment on these words.
Perhaps most impacting to me is the phrase “when faith eclipses fear”. I like this because it does not deny the reality of fear. Instead, it accepts its reality and says that mountains move when faith eclipses fear – not when fear is eliminated.
This is somewhat comforting for me as a person who regularly deals with this issue of fear. Maybe it’s the fear of failure, the fear of disappointment or the fear of future tragedy. No one thing in particular, just the same concern over things I am personally powerless to control. To me, that is the definition of the outcome of fear:


The antithesis is a good definition of the outcome of faith:


In all this, we ultimately find rest in His mercy. For our Creator knows every detail of our life and how He made us. He understands our weaknesses and our struggles. His mercy will never allow us to experience a moment in time where His power is not sufficient to carry us through. For His power is perfected in our weakness.
But that takes faith! For in most cases, the events that He is able to bear would most assuredly crush us if we tried to carry them on our own. Therefore, He reminds us, “Come unto Me all you are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Our weariness often comes from enduring burdens we were never intended to bear. Our burden of concern over things we are powerless to control can only wear us down. Through faith, we trust in Him, and His load is one that we can carry all day and all night. It is light and gives rest to our soul. I must learn to "trade burdens". I give mine to God, for I cannot carry it on my own. I take His, knowing His mercy and strength will make the load light and give refreshemnt to my soul.
The words of the song (Suddenly) written by Toby Mac give a wonderful picture of what it means to experience the peace of God that passes all understanding. It is a truth I am trying less to understand and more to experience. In the words of a follower of Jesus in the New Testament, “I believe. Help me in my unbelief.”

Saturday, March 10, 2007

A Barrier Free City

There is a young cancer patient (mid 20s) who was on my mind in recent weeks. I met her husband during a triathlon event. I have run into them at local restaurants and they seem to have a good support group from their church. Since they were on my mind, I had called a left a message on their home phone to tell them I was praying for them and would continue to do so. She is battling her cancer well, but her illness is terminal and the end is likely in the not too distant future.
Only a couple of days after leaving the message, one of my former hospital employees came into my office to tell me about a benefit for those in our community with disabilities. Apparently, this young cancer patient had been to a Lance Armstrong cancer camp and had returned with a challenge from Lance to make our city "barrier free" allowing people with disabilities to have equal access to any venue they wish to attend. It was an audacious goal, but one this patient was passionate about accomplishing.
This event (planned in less than a month) was organized so that she could make her plea. I was asked to say a few word as a representative of the hospital. To be honest, I was reluctant to do so. On one hand, I wanted to support this patient that God had put on my mind just days before the invitation to speak, but on the other hand, I was selfish and just wanted to stay home and relax.
The pressure to do the right thing won out. I decided to attend the event and to my surprise, it was a huge success. The place was packed with what looked like at least 400 people. I saw physicians, public figures, city council and many others. What I thought was going to be a small venue where I might say a few words turned into a crowded room filled with some amazing people. None more amazing than the people in wheelchairs, those walking with assistive devices, some unable to speak, others working diligently to mumble recognizable words. Uncoordinated, disabled and incredibly courageous. These people were there because they wanted to experience more in life than what our society currently allows. It was an inspiring sight!
I had planned to say only a few words and I wanted to say only that which was most encouraging to this courageous young lady and her husband. I gave a quick personal story about how I met the husband at a triathlon and the things I learned from this little hobby of mine. Namely, I talked about the environment of a triathlon event. The amazing encouragement from spectators and competitors alike. I talked about the importace of finishing well and striving for your personal best.
It was at this point that I told the large crowd that participating in a triathlon pales in comparison to those in the room who battle a disability every day and do so with amazing courage. I talked specifically about the cancer patient I knew and what an inspiration she is to anyone who desires to make a difference, leaving a legacy and finishing the race of life well. I then asked the crowd, in the spirit of the a triathlon, to stand and cheer on this cancer patient along with each of the courageous people in the room who stand strong despite the challenges they face each day.


It was a moving experience. Moving, not because of anything I had to say. Moving because the room came alive in the celebration of lives lived well. Lives of people who face difficulties unlike many of us will ever see. Lives that refuse to give up. Lives that desire to make a difference in the world for those who have a disability that they didn't deserve and never would have chosen.
It begs the question: For those of us who have 2 arms and 2 legs, those of us who can walk and talk and experience most everything the world has to offer - Do we live life with the same zeal as those who would give anything to have what we have? Are we as passionate about making a difference in the lives of others?
And from a spiritual perspective, what if you had the answer to cure every disability seen in that room tonight? What if you could share the one thing that could make them whole?
The truth is, you can. Take a room full of well bodied adults today and most of them will have a disease of sin that will create a barrier between them and God. A disability they cannot overcome.
You have a message of good news that could make their spiritual world "barrier free". Are you telling your story with the same passion? Are you celebrating with excitement so that others might finish the race of life well?
You decide.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The Scarlet Letter

I remember reading the book in high school. I can't say that it made a big impact on me at the time. However, I often consider the underlying theme of this book as I reflect on the church of Jesus Christ today.
As one examines the health of the church, the statistics are not all that encouraging. The rate of divorce, suicide, addictive behaviors...most often the numbers are not all that different than outside the church. Although there are many reasons why this is so, let me suggest just one which I feel is most significant.
If someone comes to faith in Christ and perhaps they have a past of embarrassing sin. Maybe it was pornography or adultery, perhaps they struggled with addictions or depression (which often go together by the way). Now that this person comes to faith, the Spirit of God works in that persons life to reveal truth and shine light on error:

"But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you." (John 14:26, NASB95)

This is a good thing and its purpose is pure. Because of the compassion and mercy of God, He will gently lead a person to a ever deepening place of relationship with Himself as God and Father. And keep in mind...this is new to the person new in Christ. For before the Spirit of God was in them, they were lost in their sin, under the control of Satan and deceived beyond recognition. They did not accept this same work of the Spirit:

"But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised." (1 Corinthians 2:14, NASB95)

So consider what has just happened. A person, new in Christ, having lived in sin apart from God, now sees the corruption of sin in a whole new light - the light of the Holy Spirit. All the emotions that one might expect are evident at this point including guilt, shame, insecurity, doubt. We may be new in Christ, but we are still human, and so these emotions must be experienced. This is where the church often fails!
God created those within the church to be His tools for restoration. He uses His people to guide their brothers and sisters in Christ through difficulties and struggles, to be a protection through trials and temptations. He tells us:

"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near." (Hebrews 10:23-25, NASB95)

Why "all the more as the day draws near"? Is going to get easier? Absolutely not. The more difficult the circumstances, the more (by God's design) we need each other within the community of faith. Yet all too often I see the opposite. The more ugly the sin, the more of an outcast a person becomes. We are often unwilling to help people walk through the difficulties and temptations they face as believers. Instead, we give them the Scarlet Letter. This is often the "gift" of the church to those who are dealing with difficult situations.
Why are the statistics of dysfunction so prevalent in the church? I suggest it is often because we do not demonstrate an environment of grace, a place for healing, and a willingness to let people "come clean" without fear of judgment. The Spirit will do its work to convict and expose, but will we do our part to be a tool for healing and restoration?
So when that man in the church confesses his struggle with pornography, a sin that has plagued his life for years. Or that woman expresses her guilt and shame from having had an affair and still struggling with the shame but yet the need to be loved. How will we respond? Will we treat them like the lepors of the Bible, cast outside the city until they are healed? Must they live in a community of "sinners" in order to fix their problems before they will be welcomed into the community of "saints"?
Perhaps we should not be so quick to judge. Perhaps we should promote transparency and authenticity with a willingness to allow people to deal with the deep issues in their life, however ugly they may be. Let's not expect people to deal with these issues internally, keeping it to themselves. This may be the very thing that cause so many Christians to implode.
By all means, lets strive for godliness. We shouldn't accept continued sin in this environment of grace (Rom 6:1). But we should destroy or Scarlet Letters and replace them with the robe of Christ's forgiveness, spurring eachother on to love and good deeds, even more as the day draws near.