Thursday, July 25, 2013

Slow Down

Every now and then life smacks me with a dose of reality as a reminder to slow down.  Sometimes it’s an actual physical smack in the form of a cold or flu.  Other times it’s a metaphorical smack.  This week it was metaphorical.

As many of you know I set a couple of running goals this year.  The first was to run 5 km by the end of May…check, mission accomplished!  The second is to run 10 km by the end of the year.

I’m starting to feel the pressure of time constraints in meeting the second goal.  The end of the year in Stony Plain, Alberta, is cold, dark, and snowy.   Not exactly a climate conducive to running outside.  Determined to meet my goal, I’ve attempted to speed up my program so I can run 10 km by the end of October.

Since I hit 5 km I’ve struggled to increase my time.  In fact even running 30 minutes – a goal I achieved last year – challenges my endurance, making my year end goal seem like an unrealistic pipe dream.

Frustrated with the results I’m getting I looked for the cause of my apparent lack of endurance.  I started to blame outside influences.  You know the drill…

  • the scented candles at work that make me cough, decreasing short term lung function,
  • the new shoes that change the position of my feet and use different muscle groups,
  • the chiropractic adjustment that changed my body’s alignment, making it more difficult to run.
Instead of examining the situation to figure out what’s really going on we make excuses by blaming outside influences.

 After a particularly frustrating 47 minute run this past weekend, I spent some time in introspection, mulling over the problem.

I have an app on my phone that monitors how far I run, how long I run, and how fast I run.  Reviewing the history stored in the app I realized I’ve been running too fast.

Can I get an app like that for my life?  When I’m cramming too much in a day it would vibrate and beep at me with the message, “Slow down you idiot”.  I don’t think Apple’s figured it out yet, but maybe one day!

I’ve blogged about running too fast before.  (See "Not The Gold Medal Sprint" and "Persistence - Perseverance - Endurance"I do recognize the problem and try to keep it in check, but subconsciously, in an effort to accomplish my goal sooner, I increase my speed at the same time I lengthen my time.

When I run too fast I push my body to its limits.  When I get to a hill there’s no reserve.  By the time I get to the top my legs are screaming in agony and I’m gasping for air.  It’s a little difficult to keep running for another 20 minutes in that condition!

How is that for a life metaphor?  Do you run too fast in your everyday life?  We push ourselves to our limits, trying to do more and more. 

We work nine or ten hour days, cook meals, take the kids to evening activities, try to squeeze out quality time with our spouse, do the laundry, clean the house, cut the grass, shovel the snow, see our friends, participate in community and church events, try to eke out a few minutes for prayer and bible study, exercise, eat right…and wonder why we’re exhausted at the end of each day.

The unfortunate thing is my alarm clock doesn’t discriminate.  It doesn’t care that I stayed up till midnight working on sales projections, writing a blog, or reading a book.  Regardless of when I called it a night the alarm still goes off at 5:40 a.m.!

When you constantly push yourself there’s no strength to draw from when you come to a hill (or a rough spot in life).

Endurance is key in running.  I’m not trying to break anyone’s speed record.  I just want to run 10 km.  In order to do that I need to slow down and build endurance to go the distance.

Endurance in life is key, too.  How do you build endurance?  Slow down the pace.  Give yourself a rest.  You’re not a super hero and you don’t have to act like one.  Cut yourself some slack.  Life’s a marathon, not a 100 metre dash! 


What do you find yourself rushing to do?  Do you need to slow down?  Share your thoughts by clicking on “comments” below. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Where's God - Part 2

Last week in Part 1 of this post I started by asking the question, “Where’s God when life is tough?”  We looked at Jeremiah 24:1-10. 

In these verses God preserves the lives of the people of Judah by sending them into exile in Babylon.  I’m sure this isn’t exactly the vacation God’s people dreamt about.

In an instant their lives completely change.  Their homes are gone, they’ve lost loved ones, and now they’re marched off into exile to a strange foreign land.  The obvious question echoes…”Where’s God?”

There’s good news in response to Judah’s desperate query.

God doesn’t abandon the exiles.  He’s preps Jeremiah, working with him behind the scenes by telling him the plans he has for his people.  And Jeremiah, ever faithful to God’s call, waits for God’s perfect timing and writes a letter of reassurance (essentially a letter from God Himself) to the exiles.

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem.  ‘Build homes, and plan to stay.  Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce.  Marry and have children.  Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren.  Multiply!  Do not dwindle away!  And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile.  Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.’”  Jeremiah 29:4-7 (NLT)
“This is what the Lord says, ‘You will be in Babylon for seventy years.  But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again.  For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord.  ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’  Jeremiah 29:10-11 (NLT)

I imagine a unanimous sigh of relief echoes around Babylon upon receipt of this letter.  The exiles finally know God is still watching over them, even in this unknown, strange land.  Imagine the burden that’s lifted, simply because they know God is in control and looking out for them. 

You can breathe sigh of relief in the midst of your suffering, too.  You probably don’t see it at this moment, but God is in control.  He’s looking out for you and watching over you. 

Whatever God has planned it’s always better than anything we can imagine.  At the right time God will send a “Jeremiah” into your life to give you the “inside scoop”, and to reassure you.  Until that happens, hang onto God’s promise,

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord.  ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”  Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT)

Things To Think About
What are you struggling with today?  Where might God be working “behind the scenes” this very moment, even though you can’t see it?

Share your thoughts by clicking on “comments” below.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Where's God - Part 1

Where’s God when your marriage falls apart?
Where’s God in the cancer riddled body lying in the Palliative Care Unit? 
Where’s God in the crumpled metal frame lying by the side of the road while the wail of an ambulance fades into the distance?
Where’s God when life is tough?

You may have asked these, or similar questions.  Right now you might be shaking your fist and screaming at God, demanding an answer to a tough question.

We all face circumstances in life that don’t make sense.  And we wonder, “Where’s God?”

Sometimes we don’t get answers, but sometimes God leaves us clues.

Today and next week I want to share insights from the book of Jeremiah.  I hope by the end of these two posts we’ll have a little more clarity to the anguished question, “Where’s God?”

Jeremiah is a prophet, called by God to preach a message of repentance to the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.  Jeremiah’s message isn’t popular, but he remains faithful to God, persisting in warning the rebellious nations, Israel and Judah, of the dire consequences they’ll face if they don’t stop worshiping other Gods.

Like most of us, Israel and Judah are stubborn.  They fail to heed Jeremiah’s warning.  Jerusalem is overthrown.  Eventually the people of both nations are taken into exile.  Things look pretty bleak to the prisoners of war, as their victors herd them towards a life of exile in Babylon.

But God sends this message to Jeremiah…

“After King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon exiled Jehoiachin son of Johoiakim, king of Judah to Babylon along with the officials of Judah and all the craftsmen and artisans, the Lord gave me this vision.  I saw two baskets of figs placed in front of the Lord’s Temple in Jerusalem.  One basket was filled with fresh, ripe figs, while the other was filled with bad figs that were too rotten to eat. 

Then the Lord said to me, ‘What do you see, Jeremiah?’

I replied, ‘Figs, some very good and some very bad, too rotten to eat.’

Then the Lord gave me this message: ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says:  The good figs represent the exiles I sent from Judah to the land of the Babylonians.  I will watch over and care for them, and I will bring them back here again.  I will give them hearts that recognize me as the Lord.  They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me wholeheartedly.’

‘But the bad figs,’ the Lord said, ‘represent King Zedekiah of Judah, his officials, all the people left in Jerusalem, and those who live in Egypt.  I will treat them like bad figs, too rotten to eat.  I will make them an object of horror and a symbol of evil to every nation on earth.  They will be disgraced and mocked, taunted and cursed, wherever I scatter them.  And I will send war, famine, and disease until they have vanished from the land of Israel, which I gave to them and their ancestors.’  Jeremiah 24:1-10 (NLT)

Jeremiah receives the “inside scoop” from God about the exiles.  Here’s what I believe God is telling Jeremiah…

There are good people living in Judah.  People who have potential to become a great and godly nation once more.  But they’re mixed up with evil and corrupt people.

By sending them into exile God separates these good people from the evil, corrupt ones.  He saves His people from the war and famine that He knows will devastate the land. 

By sending them into exile God preserves their lives. 

Here’s the problem for the exiles…

In the midst of the chaos; homes lost and lives changed overnight, the exiles can’t see or understand God’s greater purpose.  Like us in the midst of turmoil, I imagine they wonder…”Where’s God?  Why has He deserted us?”

Even though they don’t know it and can’t see or understand it at the time, God is still with the exiles.  He continues to protect and watch over them.

Quite often our troubles overwhelm us.  We give in to fear. 

The thing is when we’re in the midst of our troubles, paralyzed by fear and uncertainty, we don’t know the whole picture.  We don’t know what God’s doing behind the scenes.  We don’t have Jeremiah’s “inside scoop”.  

This segment of Jeremiah brings hope for the exiles and it brings hope for us, too.  Even when we don’t see it, God is at work and has a plan for us.

There’s more good news for both the exiles and us a few chapters later in Jeremiah.  Next week we’ll look at some other promises God makes about taking care of his people. 

To read ahead, take a look at Jeremiah chapter 29.  That’s where we’ll be next week.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Failure To Act = Faith Failure

Every now and then God “calls me out” on an area in my life that needs attention.  This past Sunday was one of those times.

My husband has arthritis in his sacroiliac joint.  Periodically it flares up, causing him a lot of pain.  It’s been bothering him lately and Sunday morning it was especially cranky.
At the beginning of the church service the pastor said they were going to pray for anyone who needed healing.  The prayer started and I found myself praying silently for relief for my husband.

I felt God telling me to reach out and place my right hand on his lower back while I prayed.  Immediately my brain went into, “What will people think” mode.  What would people think if they saw me putting my hand on his lower back?  For that matter what would he think? 
It’s not like I could do it subtly.  We were sitting down and he was to my left.  It would require shifting and re-arranging.  Certainly the people around us would notice the shuffling, even if they were being good little Christians  and sitting with eyes closed and heads bent in prayer instead of playing on phones and Ipods.

I argued with God, making up silent excuses not to reach out my hand.  Finally I made a feeble attempt; awkwardly reaching out my left hand and pretending to scratch his hip. 
Like THAT wasn’t weirder that simply asking him to lean forward and laying my hand on the small of his back!?!

I immediately knew it was an epic fail on my part. 

Could God relieve my husband’s pain without my hand on his back, of course He could.  That’s not the point!
Sometimes answer to prayer requires a simple act of obedient faith; a show of our trust in God.

I think of the story of Naaman in 2 Kings, chapter 5...

Naaman travels a great distance to see Elisha because he’s heard Elisha has the power of God and can heal his skin disease.  After a long, arduous journey Naaman arrives on Elisha’s doorstep, only to be told to go and wash in the muddy Jordan River seven times.

Naaman is disgusted!  He stomps off in fury.  He expected a great spectacle from the famous prophet. 

Fortunately Naaman’s servants are more astute than Naaman.  They confront Naaman, saying, “…if the prophet had asked you to do something hard and heroic, wouldn’t you have done it?  So why not this simple ‘wash and be clean?”

Naaman wisely follows the counsel of his servants, and in a spirit of humility goes and washes in the Jordan.  He is healed.

Naaman had a choice.  
  • He could risk public ridicule and faithfully follow Elisha’s instructions to receive healing, or
  • he could cling to his pride and lose out on the healing opportunity.
Here are the questions I’ve been pondering…
  • Did my failure to act cheat God out of an opportunity to show His glory?
  • Did my desire to appear “normal” and please people hinder God’s healing?
  • Did I cheat my husband out of a pain free afternoon because I didn't want to look awkward?
I’ve written a few posts about thoughts, believes, and stigmas that get in the way of living out my faith in the public eye.  See Firm In Faith and Self-Proclaimed "Jesus Freak" .
 I thought I was getting better and overcoming some of the social anxieties associated with what people think about the way I act, or speak.  Apparently I was wrong! 

God and I still have work to do in the arena of sharing and living out my faith through acts of obedience.

What about you?  What’s God “calling you out” on right now?  Is there an area in your life you need to confront?  Spend some quiet time with God and pray David’s prayer from Psalm 139…
“Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
And lead me along the path of everlasting life.” 
Psalm 139:23-24