Pushing Past the Limitations of Your Faith

dive2Genesis 17

It was Vietnam, 1968 and for the past two weeks, the Ghostrider division had been shuttling troops and supplies for a big push in the central highlands at Plie Merong.  On September 21, 1968, Dr. Kenneth Swan was surgeon of the day at the Army’s 71st Evacuation Hospital.  This 33 year old doctor had only been in Vietnam for a month.  One of the soldier with the Ghostriders came in that morning, Private Ken McGarity.

X-rays revealed what the surgeon already knew: The soldier’s legs would have to come of.  As Swan worked on the amputations—both legs above the knee—he coordinated the activities of the team of doctors he had called in.  The orthopedist treated the shrapnel wounds in McGarity’s arms.  The ophthalmologist removed the man’s left eye and cleaned the wounds to his right eye, hoping to save it.

When the orthopedist had done all he could on McGarity’s arms, Swan amputated the ragged stump of the soldier’s right pinkie finger.  Then, in a final delicate and involved surgery, the neurologist performed a craniotomy, cutting though the top of the soldier’s forehead and lifting away the skull so that he could extract the shrapnel from the brain’s frontal lobes—damage that might have a lobotomizing effect.  Or worse.

For eight hours, the surgeons stood in their muddy boots on the concrete floor and did the best the could to repair Ken McGarity.  The next morning, Dr. Swan was not prepared for the grilling he would receive from his commanding officer.  “Why did you decide to treat the recent casualty so aggressively?”

His commanding officer continued:  “The next time you make a call, ask yourself what kind of life you’re condemning someone to.”

20 years later in 1989, Peter McPherson, a young freelance journalist, called Dr. Kenneth Swan, then a professor of surgery at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.  During his interview with Swan, he asked: “What was the toughest case of your career?”

After telling McPherson about McGarity, he said, “He made it back to the States, that’s all I know.”  He still felt the words of his commanding officer and felt guilt for what he had probably put this young man through.

After the article by the reporter appeared, readers wanted to know what happened to the soldier.  So McPherson and Swan set out to find out.  Two years later, in July of 1991, Dr. Swan finally learned about his former patient, Kenneth McGarity. He now lived in Columbus, Georgia.  He had a wife and two daughters, had completed his high school education, attended Auburn University and had learned to scuba dive.

I’m left with a question:  How did Kenneth McGarity manage to put a life together against such great odds?  How was he able to push past obvious barriers in order to do so?  These people inspire us when we feel limited by our own set of circumstances.

I think of a friend in Ohio who has a vibrant faith but also has an alcoholic son that is killing himself.  During one of our visits to her home we saw his her son’s car parked outside their home and could see where he had driven it through a mailbox coming home drunk the night before. She still maintained her joy in Christ.

I think of an older gentleman in a former church who never let age or anything keep him from the Food Pantry when it was our month to serve.  He mowed his elderly neighbor’s yards each week and kept most of the our church steeped in tomatoes and green beans during the summer.

I think of a young lady Janine and I met when we were on vacation at a friend’s church.  She had Lou Gering’s disease.  For the father’s day service that Sunday, she stood and sang “You Raised Me Up!”  There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

How did these individuals push past their barriers and on toward faith?  In Genesis 17, Abraham faces 3 common barriers to faith and overcomes with God’s help.

Barrier #1 – Age

The text begins:  When Abraham was ninety-nine.  Abram’s Golden Years were changed to his Prime of Life  at the call of an all powerful God.   When God says, ”I will establish My covenant with you.”  Our excuses sound thin.  It isn’t about your age. It is about El Shaddai – “I am God Almighty.”  This is the first appearance in the Bible of this name for God.

Barrier #2 – Full Commitment

“Walk before me and be blameless…” God instructs Abram.   Many of us struggle with how much of our hearts to give the Lord. Does it mean going to church every Sunday?  Does it mean giving every thing I own to feed the poor?  We fear surrender because we don’t know what it will cost us.  But God’s command here is more than just more religious duty tacked on to your already busy life.

True commitment to God permeates one’s existence.   “Do I have to go every Sunday?”  That question doesn’t enter the mind of one wholly committed to God.  It’s like putting the garbage out the night before trash day.  You don’t have to, but things are bound to start smelling.   “Do I have to give everything I have to feed the poor?”  That question causes us to give nothing.  True committment asks:  “How much can I give?”   That’s a question that comes from a heart permeated with God’s love and message.

Barrier #3 – The Impossible

The impossible is a stumbling block for most of us.  Charles F. Kettering was said: “When I was research head of General Motors and wanted a problem solved, I’d place a table outside the meeting room with a sign: Leave slide rules here. If I didn’t do that, I’d find someone reaching for his slide rule. Then he’d be on his feet saying, “Boss, you can’t do it.”

But some of us dare to tell God what he can and cannot do.  We give up on an unbelieving relative.  We set limits on our abilities.  We accept unjust laws because, “you can’t fight city hall” or “that’s just the way things are.”

Abraham does the same:

Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”  And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before You!”  But God said, “No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. (Genesis 17:17-21)

To push past this barrier we need to say:  However God says it will be, I will believe!  It was at this point that Abraham balked.   He said:  Though it is my heart’s desire to have a son by Sarah… I make it easy for you, God, to fulfill this.  Just use my son, Ishmael.  God tells him, NO!  You stand back and see what I can do.  And Abraham’s cynical chuckling was turned to joyful laughter when the promises of a faithful God were fulfilled just one year later.

There is a new song by Casting Crowns that has been running through my head lately.  Perhaps you could use its encouragement. The song is called Dream For You and the bridge and chorus say:

I’m stronger than you think I am
I’ll take you farther than you think you can
You sing and call me Great I Am
So take your stand
My child, if you only knew
All the plans that I have for you
Just trust me, I will follow through
You can follow Me.

So come on, let Me dream, let Me dream for you
I am strong when you’re weak and I’ll carry you
So let go of your plan, be caught by My hand
I’ll show you what I can do
When I dream for you
I have a dream for you.

See what God has dreamed for you.  Push past the limits of YOUR faith.

Blessings!

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A Recipe for Sour Circumstances

lemon recipeGenesis 16

Back in 2004 Southern Living Magazine included a very deadly recipe for country biscuits.  They had to pull the issue off the shelf after reports of people following this recipe and having their mixture explode.  The first step of the recipe said to get a pot of water boiling and then to add a cup of shortening.  The shortening then melted and floated to the top of the water This doesn’t allow any of the steam to escape.  The water becomes even hotter than boiling temperature.  The pressure builds up and then the shortening finally lets out the steam as it explodes!  Now the shortening is flammable and 5 people reported injury when their biscuit recipe became a fireball in their kitchen.

Well what are the ingredients that cause the recipe for the good life to explode?   In our story from Genesis 16 we find that every one had something to contribute.

First of all – ►Sarai Stirred in Impatience.

As much as Abram longed for an heir, we can imagine that his wife desired it all the more.  To be barren in ancient times was a disgrace.  Good news came in the form of a promise to her husband, Abram.  God told him that he would have a child.  But we learn from the text that ten years had past and still the nursery was empty.  The waiting must have been excruciating.

A 4-year-old boy was traveling with his mother & constantly asking the same question over & over again? “When are we going to get there? When are we going to get there?” Finally, the mother got so irritated that she said, “We still have 90 more miles to go. So don’t ask me again when we’re going to get there.” Well, the boy was silent for a long time. Then he timidly asked, “Mom, will I still be four when we get there?”

Well Sarai is like that little boy, feeling herself age as God tarried with His promise.  Then she gets a brilliant idea… Why not use a surrogate mother?  It was a perfectly acceptable practice from her within her culture at the time.  (Not everything acceptable in culture is acceptable to God.)

Next:  ►Abram mixed in Appeasement

Abram’s motto was: “Do whatever it takes to keeps the peace.”  The Prime Minister to England before the Second World War was a man by the name of Chamberlain.  His strategy for dealing with the aggressive tactics of Dictator Adolf Hitler was appeasement.  He declared that the peace agreement he made with this mad man was: “Peace in Our Time.”  But it was far from peace.  Indifference to decision making, can be as deadly as making rash decisions.  Abram thought just doing what Sarai wanted would get her off his back. But doing wrong to appease another often just agitates the problem.

Finally:  ►Hagar Sprinkles in an Opportunistic Spice.

Hagar is one of those opportunistic people.  Their motto is:  It doesn’t matter what you do… just make sure you get ahead!  Do whatever it takes!  She might even have thought:  “Here’s my chance to upgrade my status.  If I have the Master’s child, maybe I can shake off these chains.”  But striking while the iron’s hot, can still leave burn marks.

Initially the dish these three are preparing seems to be coming together.  Quite often ill-conceived plans work, initially.  Abram is going to be a first time father.  Everyone is all smiles.  Plans are being made.  I picture each of them with one of those large tubes of icing putting the finishing touches on the cake they have baked together.

And then, BOOM! The whole concoction blows up in their faces.

Have you ever been there…. Maybe you’re like Sarai… you like to jump the gun or maybe you are like Abram… you like to go with the flow, or perhaps you have a Hagar streak in you… you like to place your bets on the spinning roulette wheel.  Then BOOM! Your circumstances blow up in your face.

Know this:  Your failures aren’t fatal.  Even when your circumstances sour… there is a way out of the mess.  Learn the lesson of Hagar.  Verse 6-15 tell how she takes the brunt of the fiasco and flees from a raging Sarai while carrying Abram’s child.  God meets her at a spring by the side of the road.  And there that God speaks to her.  She answers the Lord calling him “the God who sees.”  And then she adds:  “I have now seen the One who sees me!”  That knowledge is enough for Hagar to return to Abram and Sarai and have her child.  God tells her to return and she obeys Him.

When one finds oneself broken down on the side of the road… or driven into exile due to bad circumstances… one might imagine themselves hidden from the God who cares.  But God sees us.  He sees us in our messes… even the ones we have created… and offers to clean us up… to redeem us.   He alone can save us from our own baking!  Praise to His name!

Blessings!

 

Faith at Low Tide

low tideGenesis 15

Low tide, caused by the pull of the moon’s gravity upon the earth, is as predictable as the sunrise.  It isn’t as pretty a sight as high tide is.  A lot of blight that had been hidden beneath ocean waves is now exposed.  The poles holding the dock can now be seen.  They aren’t as varnished and clean below as they are above.  Sea weed is every where.  Old bottles (no messages) and drift wood are stranded on the beach.

Predators have been waiting for low tide.  Hungry birds are scarfing up the sea life that didn’t quite make it out with the tide.  Crabs that burrow in the sand now find their ocean roof removed… they are vulnerable to curious children and tourist looking for an interesting pet.

Another thing that happens is that the waters that were once so easy to pass become treacherous.  A former co-worker in Maryland once went out on a boat off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland.  As the tide became low they hit a sand bar and became stuck.  After frantically trying to loosen themselves, they eventually had to spend the night in the boat and wait for the ocean tide to come back and release them.  It can be embarrassing at low tide.

Well there are low tides in life as well as on the coast.  Moments where you kind of loose your footing… as hopes, dreams and resources seems to rush away from you as the waves from the beach.  A lot of blight becomes exposed in your life.  Predators wait to tempt you at this hour of vulnerability.  Areas of your life that were once clear sailing, you now find impossible to pass. You are at ebb tide.  You’re left like Otis Redding: “…sittin’ on the dock of the bay, watching the tide roll away.” And with it goes your vitality, your joy, and your peace of mind.  Faith could sure comes in handy at Low Tide.

God comes to Abram at the beginning of Genesis 15 and addresses him with: “Do Not Fear, Abram.”   What could Abram be fearing?  Reprisals from the enemy he has just defeated?  Maybe some of the other tribes in the area might be taking notice of him?  Perhaps he’s feeling a little weak now…  A little more vulnerable?

Sometimes after a victory we are the most vulnerable.  Evil in this world will not sit still after you have won a victory.  Sometimes events can happen shortly after that make you question your small victory all together.

Genesis 27 continues with Abram complaining to God: “You said that I would become a great nation.  But Eliezer of Damascus is going to get everything I have when I die.  Was that the plan?  I come out here in the middle of nowhere only to die childless, and my wealth goes to someone that doesn’t even know you?

Now remember Abram has, not once, not twice… but three times received a solid promise from the Lord.  But those precious promises that once brought him joy seem to mean precious little at low tide.  His heart is tired of waiting for the promise.   Joy has rushed from him like the waves from the shoreline.

“What are you up to God?”

Do you ever get discouraged?

You’re trying to train up your child and they seem to be choosing the path of the prodigal.

You’re trying to remain honest in your business, but the cut throat competition is eating you alive.

You’re trying to faithfully give to the church, but the car has broken down, the kids needs braces and there is this scary rumor of layoffs at work.

“What are you up to God?”

See what God does for Abram:

1.  God speaks to Abram’s fear. 

God says: Do Not Be Afraid… I will be your protection and provision.  This is the first instance of “Do Not Be Afraid” in the Bible.

2.  God speaks to Abram’s discouragement.

God says:  You WILL have a son.  You WILL have numerous descendants.  God then takes Abram to do a little star gazing.  Here the Sovereign Lord, who created each celestial body, tells Abram that if He can do that, one child is a piece of cake for Him!

Jeremiah 32:17 reminds us:  “Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.”

I love the word of the Rich Mullins song “Sometimes by Step”:  “Sometimes I think of Abraham, how one star he saw had been lit for me. He was a stranger in this land. And I no less than he. And on this road to righteousness, Sometimes the climb can be so steep, I may falter when I step, but never beyond your reach.”

How did Abram respond to the pep talk from the Lord?  Verse 6 says it all:  “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”

Nothing changed around him… same barren countryside… same barren Sarai.  But Abram’s heart changed right there at ebb tide… and God looked at his faith and called it righteousness.

So… in the midst of your low tide.  Do not give up.  Do not give in to fear.  Instead… go look at the stars.  (God lit one of them up in the night sky for Abram that had YOUR name on it.)  Display a little righteousness by… against all odds… simply believing!

Blessings!

Securing Life’s Victories

Securing VictoryGenesis 14:17-24

The banner was meant to celebrate a victory.  It became the symbol of an unpopular war.  “Mission Accomplished” it read above the head of George W. Bush as he delivered a prepared speech to rally and thank the troops.  Sectarian animosity and the difficulty of rebuilding a splintered nation were underestimated that day.  History can be hard on the overconfident.

This is not a blog about the war.  Whether you think it was justified or not is not my concern here.  I want to talk about securing your victories in life.  Whether your war was on poverty, depression, unemployment or illness… if you conquer on those battle fields you do want to celebrate.  If that celebration is filled with thanksgiving to God… that is fitting and proper.

But you do want to stay vigilant as well.  There may be more battles to come.  Peter warns:  “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert.  Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”  The Mission is never accomplished in this lifetime… and overconfidence can bring defeat greater than our once perceived victory.  So how do you secure the victory?

Take a lesson from Abraham.  In Genesis 14 he finds himself in a conflict to save the life of his nephew Lot.  Verse 14 says:  “When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he led out his trained men, born in his house, three thousand and eighteen, and went in pursuit as far as Dan.”  Verse 15 declares a victory:  “He brought back all the goods, and also brought back his relative Lot with his possessions, and also the women, and the people.”

What I want to look at is how Abram secured his victory.  He accomplished this in two ways:

1)  He Gave Back Some of His Gain.

Verses 17-20 tell the strange tale of Melchizedek.  He is the king of Salem and a priest of the Most High God.  This man is mentioned by the New Testament author of Hebrews:  This Melchizedek was king of the city of Salem and also a priest of God Most High. When Abraham was returning home after winning a great battle against the kings, Melchizedek met him and blessed him. Then Abraham took a tenth of all he had captured in battle and gave it to Melchizedek. The name Melchizedek means “king of justice,” and king of Salem means “king of peace.” There is no record of his father or mother or any of his ancestors—no beginning or end to his life. He remains a priest forever, resembling the Son of God.” (Hebrews 7:1-3)

According to these New Testament verses… Abraham was giving a tenth of his spoils back to God by giving them to this “priest forever.”

Have you been delivered from unemployment and poverty by obtaining a new job?  Praise God!  And then give back to him by giving to the work of God… and to others suffering from the same enemies.  Recovering from illness?  Seek to relieve the suffering of others.  Secure your victory by helping others in their battle.

I have a challenge for you today. Work out a plan, based on a percentage of your income to advance God’s Kingdom. Give some to church, to charities, to Random Acts of Kindness. Have some kind of plan. And then pray that God will help you implement it.   Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once wrote:  “No man is so poor as to have nothing worth giving: as well might the mountain streamlets say that they have nothing to give the sea because they are not rivers. Give what you have. To someone it may be better than you dare to think.”

2)  He Rejected the Rewards of the World.

Another king greets him, the king of Sodom. He wants to strike a deal with Abram.  “Give the people to me and take the goods for yourself.” (v.21)  Abram refuses to receive anything from him.  He didn’t want to be indebted to this wicked king in any way.  “…I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, for fear that you would say, ‘I have made Abram rich.” (v.23)

In the same way, we need to steer clear of dishonest gain.   Abram had a choice here.   Are you more like him or do you have the mentality of the King of Sodom?:  “Everything comes at a price.” “Strike a deal.” “Get in good with others for future reward.”  Abram trusted in the Lord, not in his connections to aid him in future battles.

I have watched many overcome difficulties and then disappear from church… enticed by the opportunities their new found freedom offered them.  If you were faithful in battle, remain true after the victory.

I meant no disrespect to former president Bush… I believe him to be a good man.  But we all succumb to a little overconfidence once in awhile.  Often times afterward a civil war erupts within us.  Don’t underestimate that roaring lion.  Secure your victories through generosity toward others and greater faith in the Lord.

Blessings!