Tip #6 – Grow your faith

Is your house like most?  Is there a wall or a doorjamb with little pencil marks on it, signifying that growth has taken place.  We had that wall in the house where I grew up.  What we didn’t have was a variety of little marks – because I never grew.  In fact, when I started the ninth grade I was only 4’9″ tall.  (In case you’re wondering, car booster seat laws are now in effect for kids up to 4’9″ inches tall.  Thank goodness this is a new thing.  How embarrassing would it have been as a freshman in high school to have grabbed my booster seat any time I road home with someone else’s mom!)

Fortunately I started to grow that year – and in the next 18 months added 11 inches.  Since that only got me to 5’8″, I hesitate to say that I am much of an expert on growth, but I can offer a few thoughts.

  • Growth takes time.  It takes a summer to grow a vegetable.  It takes up to 18 months to grow a puppy.  And it took 16 years to grow me to my full height.  When God wants to grow us, He knows it’s going to take some time.  When God asks us to wait, He may be providing that time.  And by slowing down the rest of your life He may actually be speeding up your growth rate.
  • Growth requires food.  We really can’t grow ourselves – otherwise I wouldn’t have stopped growing when I did.  And the same is true spiritually.  I really can’t grow myself.  But I can feed myself.  And the waiting time is a great time to slow down and eat.   It’s often a great time to spend extra time in the Word or in prayer.  And as we do that, our faith starts to grow.

We know that at least seven of David’s psalms were written during the time that he was waiting to be king.  He took advantage of that time to grow his relationship with God.  And by doing so, he managed to get somewhere while he was going nowhere.

When all the dust of life settles, the real issue is going to be our relationship with God.  That’s going to matter more than anything else, more than all that stuff that we’re waiting for and frustrated about.  The real issue won’t be whether or not we sold our house or found a spouse or got a new job.  The real issue will be how close we grew to God.

Are you tire of going nowhere?  You can get somewhere.  Just do what David did.

1.  Keep your sheep.
2.  Play your harp.
3.  Slay your giant.
4.  Build your army.
5.  Wait your turn.
6.  Grow your faith.

If I heard him say it once…

… I heard him say it a thousand times.  These are some of the things that I heard my dad say over and over again while I was growing up.  They are now as much a part of my DNA as the genes he passed on to me.

  • “It’s never right to do wrong to get a chance to do right.”
  • “There’s a solution to every problem.”
  • “You can never outgive God.”
  • “People are more important than things.”
  • “You can always afford to be gracious.”

That gets me thinking about the things that I hope my son will repeat some day.  These are a few that come to mind.

  • “You can’t make bad choices and end up in good places.”
  • “You are the person you are right now because that is who you have chosen to be.”
  • “Treat others on the basis of who you are, not who they are.”
  • “The most important thing in life is to love God with all of your heart.”
  • “Don’t be afraid of hard things.”

What should I add to my list?  What are the things your parents always said?  What are the sayings of yours that you hope your kids will repeat someday?

I’d love to hear what you’ve got.

Random thoughts on my current highway

  • I finally broke down and bought my Michigan license plates this week.  They say “Michigan” on them.  Not very clever.  I’m going to miss my Indiana plates that said “In God we Trust.”
  • Luke bought a new Sony PSP game station that he has been saving his money for.  Pretty cool – it even connects online.  So I think he should be playing Madden ’10 on it, while his mom has him checking to see if he can read his online homework site.  But I still love her.
  • I drive 50 miles each way to work and hit three stop signs and one traffic light.  That’s just one traffic light more than I had to deal with on my 1 mile commute of the past six years.
  • The bad news is that the city of Detroit is approaching an unemployment rate of 30%.  The good news is that rush hour traffic isn’t as bad as it used to be.  On the serious side, I have heard two more stories this week of people out of work here in Detroit.  So many people are having an incredibly difficult time.  Reminds me to be grateful for all the little ways that God has blessed me.
  • Saw a patient and her husband as part of my chaplain job yesterday.  She’s fighting cancer – but so positive.  And then her husband spoke up, “I try not to ask the Lord for too much because He’s already given me so much already.”  He’s the  same guy who said this about his wife of 51 years.  “I know you’ll send out aides to help me take care of her, but I don’t really need them because if I’m the one to take care of her I’ll get to be with her the whole time.”  And to think that I was supposed to be the one encouraging them.
  • I was driving home from work last night and my dashboard lit up with the word “deck.”  I had no idea what that meant as I didn’t even know my car had a deck.  I had to get out the manual and check it out.  Seems I bumped the trunk release with my knee so I was driving with it  unlatched.  If I had been the engineer who designed the car I would have had the light read “trunk.”  Just saying.
  • Today there was conversation going on in the cubicle next to me with two other believers who work where I do.  The first mentioned that she went to Highland Park Baptist Church.  She was talking to a guy who goes to Oakpointe Church – a church that Highland Park planted twelve years ago.  I go to Mosaic Church – a church that Oakpointe planted this  fall.  Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work?!

Prison life

Growing up I used to hear my dad say, “Right is its own reward.”  I don’t think it was original with him, but he used to say it to make a point.  Do what’s right without needing to get some big reward for doing so.

As I got older I realized that the truth goes deeper than that.  Do what’s right and don’t worry about the consequences.  That’s part of the deal, too.  Right is right because it’s right.

But recently I’ve uncovered another layer of this truth.  It works like this.  Do what’s right and don’t be surprised if everything doesn’t turn out ok.  Sometimes in life we face no-win situations – times when we know that doing the right thing is going to cause hardship.  In those situations, you might want to get ready for what I call “prison life.”

  • That’s what happened to Joseph.  He said “No” to Potiphar’s wife – and he ended up in prison.
  • That’s what happened to Hanani (2 Chron. 16:10) and Micaiah (2 Chron. 18:26).  They stood before kings and told them what God had to say – and ended up in prison.
  • That’s what happened to John the Baptist.  He spoke out against Herod’s sin – and ended up in prison.
  • That’s what happened to Paul.  He cast a demon out of a young, exploited girl – and ended up in prison.

Thankfully, most of us have yet to take our first trips to prison for doing what is right.  But we have likely faced some prison issues for doing the right thing.

1.  A violation of justice.  What happened to these guys wasn’t right, but that didn’t keep it from happening.  And while God is the ultimate  just  Judge, not everything on this earth works out as we think it should.  Sometimes the bad guy seems to win.  Potiphar’s wife?  Did her life suddenly go bad?  Not that we know of.

2.  Feelings of abandonment.  I have to think that these guys wondered where God was – and if they really made the right decision.  That’s what John the Baptist’s question was for Jesus when he was in prison, “Hey, did I get this right?”

3.  A sense of stuckness.  I know stuckness isn’t a word, but it describes the “dead-end” experience that often comes from doing what is right.  You make the right decision and it costs you an opportunity.  Instead you “languish in your cell,” trapped by your  circumstances.

Maybe you’re experiencing prison life right now.  I wish I had a great answer for you.  I don’t.  But I can at least pass along this word of encouragement.

Hebrews 11:36,38

Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison…the world was not worthy of them.

God never loses track of a prisoner.  And He will ultimately make sure that the right is rewarded.  In the meantime, you can hope for deliverance.  Joseph?  He eventually made it to a palace.  Paul?  An earthquake set him free.  Even John the Baptist traded a dank prison for the wonders of heaven.

The goal is not to avoid prison life.  The goal is to do the right thing – and then to leave it all up to God.

Tip #5 Wait your turn

Has anyone else noticed the recent phenomenon of 4-way stop sign drafting?  Here’s how it works.  You creep your car up real close to the one in front of you at a 4-way, and then when that car gets its turn and goes – you go with it.  Bumper to bumper.  Very economical I’m sure – it saves both on gas and on time.

David was a guy who got stuck at one of the intersections in life, but instead of pushing his way through, he chose to wait his turn – even though it added years to the delay.  And even though he twice had the opportunity to do something about ending his wait. On two different occasions David came across a sleeping Saul and had an easy opportunity to accelerate the process of becoming king.  One thrust of a spear and Saul’s throne would have been empty.  Plus, he could always claim self-defense.  But David said no.

He waited.  He didn’t force things.  He didn’t make a decision that he would later regret.  He didn’t take matters into his own hands.  Instead he waited.  He waited for God.

This is one of the most important and yet most difficult steps to take when you are stuck in life and seemingly getting nowhere.  Every thing in you wants to move forward, but that might be the worst thing to do at the moment.  There might be a very good reason that God has you waiting, and if you choose to run the stop sign, you’re going to put the entire process in danger.

Sometimes faith asks you to step out, to take action, to do something daring.  And sometimes faith asks you to be still, to do nothing, and to wait for God to show up.  The latter is often the hardest.

Charles Spurgeon spoke to this issue when he said that the word wait describes almost the whole of the Christian life,

“…for rightly understood, waiting is active as well as passive, energetic as well as patient, and to wait upon the Lord necessitates as much holy courage as warring and fighting with his enemies.”

I love that.  Waiting takes more courage than going to war.  It’s hard stuff.

Moses couldn’t wait and ended up with a murder on his record.  Saul couldn’t wait and lost a kingdom.  Abraham couldn’t wait and we’re still dealing with that mess today.

I know that it doesn’t make sense to say that the best way to get somewhere while you are going nowhere is to wait patiently.  That seems like a big nowhere, doesn’t it?  But remember, the place that you’re trying to get to may not be the place where God is trying to take you – and if you are going to get to the place that He wants you to go, you may have to wait patiently.

David did.  He could have taken matters into his own hands – but he refused.  And guess what, he still got to be the king – when God thought he was ready.

The missing generation

10179062_4de2382c6eI was riding through some Detroit neighborhoods the other day with a person who grew up in the area.  Every block had abandoned homes – some of them boarded up, some of them burned out, some of them with broken windows where looters had broken in to try to find anything of value.  No one is buying houses in these areas.  Some people are hanging on because they can’t afford to go elsewhere.  Others have just abandoned homes and hope and moved out.

Her opinion on the situation interested me since she had observed a lot of the decline first hand:  “We lost a generation,”  she said.  She mentioned how back thirty years ago drugs started taking over the neighborhoods, and in the process a generation of youth was lost.  And the neighborhoods never recovered.  Worse, every generation since has only added to the demise since that is the only culture they know.

While you could probably debate and uncover many other factors that were involved, her perspective is interesting.  And transferable.

Christianity is supposed to be next generational.  That’s the thought when Paul tells Timothy

“And the things that you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who  will also be qualified to teach others.”  (2 Timothy 2:2)

It’s always about the next generation.  The next generation of believers.  The next generation of the church.  It’s about passing the faith along – and making sure that the community of believers stays strong.

Church should never be about you – what you like, what you want, what you prefer, what you think, what makes you feel comfortable.  When we focus in that direction we sacrifice the future of those who come after us.  We lose track of the fact that Christianity is supposed to be something that we pass on and on and on.

We see many declining churches today with aging congregations (I’m not simply talking about elderly people; I’m talking about congregations who are not seeing any new life).  It’s like the Detroit version of church.  There’s a generation that’s missing.

I don’t know how much hope there is for the city; Detroit is in big trouble.   But I do believe that there is hope for the church.  And humanly speaking, it lies in the next generation.

Celebrating 50

Nope, it’s not my 50th anniversary – though I hope to celebrate that some day.  Nor is it my 50th birthday – that’s still a ways off.    What we’re celebrating today is my 50th blog post.  So feel free to put on your party hat and eat a cupcake!

Back in May a friend of mine suggested that I take up blogging.  Overall, I have enjoyed it.  It’s been a great place for me to just think out loud.  Sometimes my thinking is serious; sometimes I just like to have some fun.  But here are my biggest thoughts on my blog.

  • Overall, more than 5,000 visits have been made.  While I appreciate all of my relatives who have driven that number up, I also find it amazing how easy it is to communicate in today’s electronic society.
  • My second most popular blog has been The Absolutely Correct Way to Squeeze the Toothpaste. Does that surprise anyone else?  The reason for this is that when people “google” squeezing toothpaste my blog post evidently comes up.  I guess a lot of people have some questions about squeezing toothpaste.
  • My wife serves as my editor.  I never post a blog without her reading it first.  That’s why this is the 50th post, and not the 51st (just between you and me, I kind of liked my blog post on roundabouts – sorry you didn’t get to read it).
  • Sometimes it’s a little hard to know exactly what to blog.  I always try to share something that either makes you think or makes you smile.  I hope that’s been true for you.
  • I try not to be controversial.  I think I could probably generate more reader comments if I were, but I’m not sure if I really want to read some of those comments.
  • Speaking of comments, my editor has “suggested” several times that I reply back.  She’s probably right.  So to every one of you who has ever left a comment, I’d like to say, “That’s a really good point.  Thanks for sharing.”
  • If you have never visited my family blogs you should.  Allie is my daughter and really quite gifted at writing; I wish she would blog more.  And Mindi is my niece.  Hers is my favorite blog to read because she always makes me laugh.
  • I seem to have trouble keeping my blogs short.  That’s going to be one of my goals for the my next 50 blogs – trying to be more succinct.

To any and all of you who have joined me on my blogging journey, I’d like to say thanks.  It’s been great to have you along for the ride.  I feel like I’m just getting started, and that there’s a lot of road in front of me – and I’d like to invite you to ride along.

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