Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Watching the Lines

Tonight, I enter into the potentially exciting, always challenging and "it will be a miracle if someone doesn't yell at me" world of officiating. To be specific, I'll be watching the lines for the varsity girls' volleyball team, the "extra eyes" of the net official who will be counting on me to see what he cannot clearly see. Sounded like fun when I volunteered (I was wanting to be around the teens more), but I have a feeling it may be more work than I imagined.

"Line watching" may not sound like a very glamorous position, but in reality, it's the kind of person each of us need in our lives. You know...someone who helps us to know when we're "in bounds" and "out of bounds"...or hopefully, giving us the "high sign" when we're getting close to the lines.

Funny how the "expert" line watchers in our lives often come from the most religious of circles: our churches, small groups & Bible studies. Some actually pride themselves on being professional "line watchers," and are quick to point out when we're either headed for trouble or already "out of bounds."

The problem with so many "line watchers" is that it's so very easy to be watching for the wrong things. I found myself at a "practice" line-watching session the other night, intensely focused on the "big things" and suddenly missing the more subtle things (I'm going to have to work on that). I easily spotted the ball way out of bounds, but almost missed entirely the nudge of a toe on the backline by the server as they served.

And I thought, this is so like life! We (or other "line watchers") emphasize the "big" violations, yet so often are almost (or completely) unaware of the "little" things...the unseen things.

You know, Jesus was a "line watcher," but not like you might think. While we can probably come up with a short-list pretty quickly of obvious "line violations," those tended not to be the ones Jesus focused on. No, He focused on the ones that everyone else misses. Not because He's picky, but because He knows which ones matter the most.

I find it interesting that Jesus was surrounded by "line watchers" and yet they absolutely couldn't stand that He was also one. Why? Because the "professionals" of Jesus' day were content to let the "little" ones go by and give all their energy to the "big" ones. Jesus, on the other hand, was very adept at picking out the ones considered "little" - matter of fact, He specialized in them, because He knew that what most of us write off as "little" were indeed the most important, and thus the most dangerous if left untouched.

The "professionals" focused on the "big" ones of actions; Jesus precisely nailed the ones thought "little," i.e. attitudes, motives, and rationales. And in doing so, He spoke to the very heart of not only those aware of their "line violations" but those who were certain that they hadn't any. Ouch!

If you ever dare look a little deeper, you'll find that Jesus had only one "line" to watch (as opposed to the "professionals" who were trying to keep track of hundreds). His one "line"? Love. In every situation with every person at every time, He watched to see if what was being done was motivated by Love. Being the very embodiment of Love (1 John 4:8), He could spot it a mile away. If it layed under any word, thought or action, your "ball" was "in" - if not, your "ball" was always "out" because it had "crossed the line." It was always His only reason for acting & speaking, and thus He was always "in bounds."

Whether I go down in volleyball history as a great "line watcher" or not remains to be seen. But much more importantly, I pray that I will always be a great "line watcher" of first my own heart, and then of those entrusted to me, according to the "line" of Jesus Christ. Sooner or later I'm sure I'll miss a call in volleyball, but may the grace & power of our Lord always keep me "in bounds" and a great "line watcher" on the most important things!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Steps & Stops

Infamous Pastor and prayer warrior, George Mueller, is quoted as saying, "God not only orders our steps, but also our stops." Referring to Psalm 37:23, I have to admit that I am a lot more secure in Him being in charge of my steps than my stops. That's probably because I am one who likes to keep moving. Just last week in an editorial to our local paper, I said something to the effect of, "I can't just sit here and do nothing!"

For some reason, it's a lot easier to live a life (in all it's varied forms) that's feels like it's going someplace than to live one that feels like it's in neutral. I'm sure it has something to do with things like self-worth, self-esteem and pride. And frankly, it's a lot easier in my preaching and personal theology to focus on a God who wants us to do something than on One who is begging for us to stop.

How often we've been caught up in the rat-race of our lives and looked at others (who seem to be relatively unconcerned about our latest passion) and thought, "For Pete's sake, don't just sit there...do something!" And granted, there are definitely times to get busy and do something. But I'm sure I'd be surprised at how many times God would like to yell (and at times, often through adversity, He does yell), "For Pete's sake, Kirk, don't do something...just sit there!"

If you read me often, you know that I have been wrestling with what to do...what is the next step God has for me? And I've concluded that for now, at least, He wants me to "just sit here." Now that doesn't necessarily mean that I'm to go inactive (I don't believe that at all), but it does mean to continue to bloom where I am planted. After all, He knows the desires of my heart, and I know that if and when they are best for all involved, He'll orchestrate a change.

In agreeing with Him to stay "stopped" for now, He is speaking fresh volumes to me through more time in His Word, the Bible; and challenging me to pray more directly about things that I know need His touch. You might remember the old adage, "A rolling stone gathers no moss"? Well, if I can stretch an analogy a bit with you, my life needs some "moss" - the kind of growth that comes from being in the "shady, cool, moisture-laden" places of life.

I need the "shadow of His hand" and the refreshment that comes only from His living water and Sabbath rests. And apparently, if I am intent on always stepping, those things have a tendency not to happen. So I need to welcome His stopping, make the most of this season, and prepare my spirit for whatever lies ahead (because when He says "move!" again, I want to be ready).

How about you? Is your life characterized mostly be stepping or stopping? Whichever it is, why not join me in embracing the stops, as something equally essential, and a critical part of God's perfect plan for our lives? Just maybe it's time to let some "moss" grow on your rock as well!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Bad News Or Good News?

"I hate to tell you this, but your plates are expired," said the officer. "Great," I thought, just what I need. First, I get stopped for doing 33 in a 25 and now my plates are expired!" Thus began my trip home one recent late afternoon as I left Williamsburg, Iowa. The day had already been long and I was anxious to get home, and frankly, I hadn't been paying much attention to the signs marking the new speed limit as I entered the school zone.

Suddenly it occured to me that my plates couldn't be expired...I had received no notice of it from the automated state system that always reminded me ahead of time. I had never had expired plates before. As the officer made out his paperwork, I pulled out my cell phone, rang my wife, and asked her if we had received any such notice. She assured me that we had not.

When the officer returned to my vehicle, my attitude had already modified from embarrassment to confusion. When I told him I couldn't understand how this happened (the expiration, not the speeding), he reminded me that I had just days before the expiration would cost me another fine.

Because I had a "clean" record, the officer graciously allowed me off with a warning, and I pledged to investigate the plate expiration immediately. Come to find out, when we had purchased the lease on our van, its "owner" had never been changed from the lease company to us. Hence, the reminder had gone into "limbo" - some never to be opened file in an unknown email or P.O. box.

Within an hour the next morning I had it all cleared up, but I couldn't help wondering what could have, would have happened had I not been stopped by this man faithfully doing his duty. I would have been fined for sure for expired plates is what! And once again I was reminded that God has an almost humorous way (at times) of taking care of us. I learned to slow down, was spared the ticket, and an even greater ticket because of this slightly embarrassing incident. All in all, a relatively cheap, but very powerful lesson...and reminder of God's faithfulness.

I can't tell you how many times in my life this type of thing has happened (not with tickets, but with God taking care of me). The next time you're absolutely sure that something bad has just occurred, remember that our God is a master of using and redeeming any and all circumstances as He seeks to take care of us. You may just find that the bad thing ends up having some very good results.

"We know that God causes all things to work together for good, for those that love Him and are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28). Don't ever let the idea that this verse has become almost cliche detract from the fact that it is true!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


"The remarkable thing about fearing God is that when you fear God, you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God, you fear everything else." Oswald Chambers

I came across this quote just a few days ago and have been pondering its validity - you know, not everything that sounds good is. For a whole ton of people, the idea of "fearing God" has fallen out of fashion in their personal theologies, being outvoted by perspectives of God that keep Him a lot more on the gracious, forgiving, compassionate side. Nonetheless, I agree with Mr. Chambers, and increasingly realize that if I don't have a healthy fear of God, I am destined to fear everything else.

I've been dealing with some fear recently (you might have picked up on it in my recent posts). And let me tell you, fear can be absolutely paralyzing. It can make you freeze when you need to move, hesitate when you need to decide, cower when you need to stand and run when you need to advance. Fear has caused inumerable panics, illnesses and broken relationships and keeps the vast majority of people from ever discovering what they truly could do if they tried.

But since God is a master of redeeming things, He has given us the opportunity to not be controlled by our fears, but to be in control of our fears, utilizing them to bring out the best in us. It is fear that causes a parent to run into a burning building to rescue a child. It is fear that causes a spouse to reach out for help when the marriage is getting rough. It is fear that compels the wise steward to keep some funds in reserve. It is fear that causes us to intervene in the life of a troubled person whom we love. And it is fear that motivates us to seek out & expand our wisdom with God's wisdom before we begin any new venture.

You see, fear is primarily caused by the things we don't know. Markets, weather, terrorists, bosses - they all can bring a measure of fear into our lives because they are unpredictable...we just don't know what they're going to be like in any given moment. Apart from God, those terribly unpredictable things are what we are left to base our decisions & choices on, rolling the dice with such frequency that uncertainty becomes the hallmark of our lives.

And that's why I choose to fear God instead. Not the kind of fear that thinks He's ready at any moment to strike me right between the eyes with a bolt of lightning and turn me into a grease spot on the floor with my eyes bugging out, but the the kind of fear that recognizes my violations of His guidelines & principles always bears a high cost...for me and others.

Contrary to much thought, there is no unpredictability with God. That's right, I don't worry about how He's going to respond or act. As I alluded to in an earlier blog, I may not know how He's going to act, but why He acts is absolutely consistent, rock-solid & unshakeable. He acts because He loves me. And love, pure love (beyond what we can know in any earthly relationship) will never act out of spite, jealousy, revenge or anger; it will always act for my ultimate good, because that's what love, by definition, does (see 1 Corinthians 13 for more on this).

Tomorrow continues to carry a mark of uncertainty, but only an uncertainty of what it will look like. And I am reminded every day that in choosing to fear God, I need not fear why it will occur...I need only be diligent in making sure that I don't approach those days apart from Him. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 1:7).