Friday, February 16, 2001

"Do you trust me?"

Way, way back when our oldest daughter, Carissa, was a mere toddler, I used to play a game with her. On cold days following worship, I would sit her on the top of the hat rack in the lobby of the church I pastored in Beaver, PA to bundle her up. It was easier. Because she was up high, she wouldn't squirm as much while I wrestled her into hat, coat and mittens. (Now, to those of you who are thinking I was cruel father, putting my daughter in danger, let me assure you that she was safe. Sheila would have killed ME!) After she looked like Charlie Brown ready to play in the snow, I would step back. She would hold out her arms and stare at me. "Do you trust me?" I would ask. "Yes" she would reply in her little toddler voice. "Then jump! I promise I will catch you." Since I was a step away, she could not bring herself to do it. She said she trusted me… but there was a limit to that trust.

"C'mon," I would coax her. "I'm your dad. I would never let you fall. I'm strong and you can trust me. Now, jump!" From that distance, she would not do it. So I moved a little bit closer. As I did, she would lean toward me, expecting me to reach up and grab her. Realizing I was not coming quite close enough, she would pull back. Again, "Do you trust me? Then jump! I PROMISE I will catch you. You have nothing to be afraid of." She would try to reach me, to touch me, but could not quite make the stretch. And she'd pull back. She would not leave the safety of the hat rack.

Finally, I would move close enough that she could lean to within a few inches. "Do you trust me?" I would ask again. "Then jump into my arms!" And she would. She could trust her dad with those few inches. I would pull her tight, hug her and tell her, "You can trust me. I would never, ever, ever, ever let you fall." As time went on, she would jump from greater and greater distances. Sometimes trust takes time and experience to kick in.


One of my favorite scenes in moviedom is when Indiana Jones comes to a seemingly impassable chasm while attempting to retrieve the Holy Grail to save his father. He looks down in terror, knowing he has only a few minutes to reach the other side before his father dies. The only clue he has to work with is, "The man of God will walk by faith." He recognizes the implication: he must step out into thin air and trust something good will happen. Indiana closes his eyes, lifts one foot and steps into the cavern. Instead of tumbling to the bottom, his foot lands on solid ground. The bridge is disguised to look like the ravine. He throws dirt on to the bridge so he can see it and quickly crosses over. A moment of faith changed everything.


That was the question facing Jesus as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. He knew that only a few hours separated Him from a Roman cross. He had seen people crucified. He knew the agony of the physical pain because He had watched men hang exposed for days. He also knew the agony of shouldering the pain of all of mankind's sin awaiting Him -- being cut off from the Father. Crying out to His Dad, He begged for another plan. "Do you trust me?" were the words God seemed to be saying. "Do you trust me in My plan? Do you trust me in your pain? Do you trust me that it will be better on the other side? Do you trust me to raise you to life?" He did, and it changed EVERYTHING. For Him. For you. For me. For the world now and forever.


It's pretty easy to trust God when He is within inches of us as we sit on the hat racks of life. When leaping into His arms is a fairly guaranteed deal. When there's not much chance He can or will pull away. It's a much different proposition when He's across the room, we're stuck on the hat rack, no one else is around and there is not ladder in the building. And He says, "Jump!" from 20 feet away. In those times it seems that God is just not making sense. And there's no possible way He can catch us. And He's not answering our pleas for explanations. And we're in pain. And the janitors are turning out the lights. And no one else has to sit on the hat rack or jump. And we've got lots of reasons, facts and proven studies of why it is not healthy to jump. And God doesn't seem to want to hear any of it, He just wants us to jump.


It isn't trust if Carissa can grab me before she leaves the hat rack. It isn't trust if Indiana can see the bridge before he steps. It isn't trust for Jesus if there is no cross, no pain, no death, no separation from the Father and no resurrection. And it isn't trust for us if we don't obey even when it doesn't make sense. But in every case, it is better after the making the leap of trust than it was before. Carissa's safety and security in my arms, Indiana's healing of his father, Jesus' glory. And for you – intimacy with God and experiencing Him work in our lives in ways we cannot see.


Whatever you're facing, trust God. Listen carefully for His voice, (don't you dare jump until you hear His instructions. There's a difference between obedient trust and stupidity.) But once you hear His voice, jump! God WANTS to, LONGS to catch you. Refuse to give into the human desire to be in control, to trust yourself. Just jump. Close your eyes if you have to, but leap! It is always better on the other side. It may take a while to get there, but you'll be glad you did as you feel the strong, loving arms of your Heavenly Dad envelop you. Hold you. Protect you. Reassure you. Love you.

Otherwise you may be sitting on the hat rack for the rest of your life.

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)

"And we know that all that happens to us is working for our good if we love God and are fitting into his plans." Romans 8:28 (TLB)

"for I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power." Philippians 4:13 (TLB)

Friday, February 02, 2001

"OK, This is Going to be Good!!"

Have you ever run up against a mountainous difficulty and asked the question, "Why does life have to be so hard?" Just what I thought, it's unanimous. Life is full of hard times and ongoing struggles. That doesn’t make life bad, it makes life, well… life. I have an idea for responding to difficulties that I think can help us all. I ran across it while looking at the following story.

The guys had been with their teacher long enough to know he was something special. He didn’t act or react like others. He was, to put it in 70's terms, out of this world. So when the class was trying to get away for some R & R and were chased by folks clamoring for more from the teacher, it didn’t surprise the guys that their teacher postponed their break. He had compassion on the crowds and spoke to them. In fact He taught and he taught. All morning, through the afternoon and was heading into evening. Finally, one of the guys went to the teacher with a helpful hint, "You’d better send these folks away to get some food before it gets dark because there is NO PLACE around here to get food, the people have not eaten all day, and the sun is wearing them out." Satisfied that they had given the Teacher the proper advice, the guys waited for him to shoo the crowds home. Surprise.

The teacher’s words to the guys turned them pale. "You give them something to eat." Their thoughts are not recorded in the chronicles of history, but it doesn’t take much imagination to realize their thoughts went something like, "Whoa! There are some 5,000 men here and thousands more women and children. Is he crazy? Has he been in the sun too long? Maybe we’d better find some shade and let him come back to earth. He has no idea what he is saying." After the guys pulled themselves back together, out of their mouths came these words, "Eight months’ salary wouldn’t buy enough food for everyone to have a bite. Are we supposed to spend that kind of money to buy food." Wrong answer. Very wrong.

The guys had been with the teacher long enough to know better. They'd watched him heal every kind of physical ailment, teach with extraordinary power, answer questions that had stumped scholars for centuries, and even raised a girl from the dead. So what was it about his instructions to feed the crowd that sent them reeling? Had they not been paying attention? Did they think manufacturing food was harder than raising the dead? Did they just have short memories? No, I think they simply panicked and reverted to seeing the situation through their human lens instead of viewing it through the supernatural lens of their teacher.

Now, here’s where the new way of responding comes in. Instead of panic and citing all the reasons the situation was impossible, the guys should have said…


The teacher did not actually expect the guys to come up with food for over 10,000 mouths. He was testing them. What he really wanted them to do was realize they were facing the impossible, turn back to him and ask, "How?" Then he could show them the way to overcome the difficulty. He was offering the chance to participate in a miracle instead of standing on the sidelines as spectators. But, NOOO. Not only did they land as spectators, but red faced ones at that. The teacher took the few biscuits and small fish they did have, prayed over them, handed them to the guys to pass out to the crowds, everyone ate until they were stuffed, AND, they collected 12 baskets full of leftovers. There never was a need to panic. The teacher had something wonderful in mind.


When we face difficult situations, it is not because God turned His head and they slipped through. It is because He has something wonderful in mind. Every impossible situation is an opportunity to watch God work. That's why our response to tough times ought to be, "OK, THIS IS GOING TO BE GOOD!!" If God has allowed it, He is going to use it. There never is a need to panic, God has something wonderful in mind.

And here's the best part -- the more difficult the difficulty, the louder we ought to say it because the wonder will be even greater. If you're facing a hill you might whisper "OK, THIS IS GOING TO BE GOOD!!" because the miracle will be nice. But if you're looking at Mount Everest, you'll want to scream "OK, THIS IS GOING TO BE GOOD!!" because whatever God is up to is going to be huge.

If Jesus had produced a loaf of bread, it would have been a miracle and it would have been nice. But when He fed thousands with a handful of muffins and sardines, it was overwhelming. God offers us the opportunity to participate in the miracle if we turn to Him and ask, "How?" He does not expect us to handle it ourselves, but to listen to instructions and follow His lead. When we do so, we not only experience what God has in mind but it makes us stronger, wiser, more full of faith in preparation for the next difficulty.

The other option is to panic and see the situation through our purely human lens. That's how we end up spectators and wonder why God things happen to other people and not us. It's also why our bodies and relationships get damaged by the stress. Overall it really isn't much fun. Think of those pathetic disciples each carrying a basketful of leftovers as Jesus dismissed the crowds, every step reminding them of what could have been.

So remember – the next time you hit a rough patch of road, the right response is, (let's all say it together) …


And then watch and listen for the wonder of God being worked out.

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28 (NIV)

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." James 1:2-5 (NIV)