Saturday, June 27, 2009

Compelling Love

Whenever we visit Connecticut, my sister Margie and I always manage to squeeze in time for our favorite activity: shopping. One of our favorite haunts is a group of stores located on what was an old Connecticut farmstead. The buildings have each been converted into a variety of country shops, offering curtains, furniture, and a wide assortment of accessories for sale. They retain some of their original walls and are divided into rooms. It is a quaint and fun place to spend the afternoon browsing.

As Margie, my mom and I were shopping there one day, I noticed a little boy alone. He was looking at some figurines with great interest. His parents had moved on to another room without him being aware of their departure. Suddenly he looked up and realized he was alone. With panic in his eyes, and he began to whimper softly, "Mommy? Where are you?"

My heart went out to him. I stooped down and gently said, "Honey, did you lose your mom and dad?"

But before I could offer to help, he looked at me in horror and screamed at the top of his lungs: "NO! GET AWAY FROM ME! YOU... ARE... A... STRANGER!!"

Embarrassed, I backed away, trying to assure what seemed to be dozens of people staring me down with accusing looks that I was only trying to help. Of course, my sister and mom were of no assistance: they were hidden behind the candles bent over double laughing. Fortunately, the mother came quickly at the sound of her son's scream, and the little guy was rescued.

That little boy was convinced that all strangers were evil. He was so persuaded, when I approached him, what he believed took precedence over getting help to find his mother. His actions surely demonstrated how strong that conviction was!

What we know to be true compels our response. "For Christ's love compels us," Paul wrote the Corinthians, "Because we are convinced that one died for all...those who live should no longer live for themselves..."

The original word, translated here in the NIV as compels, is translated as controls in the NASB. The Greek lexicon defines this word in several ways: to urge on, impel, or provide impulse for some activity. Other uses of the word include being occupied or absorbed, or involved in intensive engagement. You get the picture. What we have experienced of the love of Christ is life-altering knowledge.

The book of Acts gives us a startling before and after picture of men who, upon understanding the truth, responded in life-altering fashion. The night Jesus was arrested and brought to trial, the disciples who had faithfully followed Him for three years vanished into the night. There were no testimonials on Jesus' behalf at His trial; His closest friends had gone into hiding, afraid for their lives. Yet forty days later, we see these same men on the streets of Jerusalem in Acts 2, boldly preaching a resurrected Christ. When brought before the Sanhedrin in Acts 4, Peter and John were commanded to refrain from preaching about Jesus any more. This was the same ruling counsel from which the disciples had hidden on the night of Jesus' arrest. But this time their response to this intimidating group was very different. They answered, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard."

What changed these men from frightened and cowering to bold and convicted preachers? They had witnessed the resurrected Christ. They now understood why He had come and what He had accomplished. There was no doubt in their minds as to what was true. And that truth compelled them to spread the word, even at the risk of losing their very lives.

"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear," Ambrose Redmoon once observed. The disciples stood ready to risk everything because they knew something more important than their lives was at stake.

Our knowledge compels a response. Like that little boy at the country store whose conviction impelled him to reject the advances of a stranger, our conviction moves us to respond just as strongly to what we know to be true. We owe Him everything. The great love that He has lavished upon us demands a response. It only makes sense that we would choose to live for Him.

"For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore, all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf."
2 Corinthians 5:14-15

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Coleman Engagement!!

Last week, while on a romantic beach, my youngest son Joe proposed to the woman he loves. She said yes. We are thrilled to welcome Elizabeth Leidig to the Coleman family! Liz is a physical therapist and a long-time resident of Annapolis. Her dad is a Navy man, so she has lived all over the world. She is a sweet, fun-loving, generous-hearted girl. We love her very much.

The wedding will probably be sometime in November. I'll post more details as they develop!

Eye on the Finish Line

Harold Abrahams, the "other runner" whose story was portrayed alongside Eric Liddell's in Chariots of Fire, was no slouch athlete either. His unofficial time broke a world record in the hundred meter dash, and he won both gold and silver medals in the 1924 Olympics.

Abrahams was able to shave off time in his runs by disciplining himself to keep his eyes focused on the goal. Earlier on, he had made the mistake of glancing back at the other runners, costing him precious tenths of a second. On the day of his gold medal run, he kept a short reminder in his pocket written to him by his coach. "Only think of two things," it said, "the report of the pistol and the tape. When you hear the one, just run like hell until you break the other."

There are plenty of things to look at when you are headed down the track. A runner's focus makes all the difference. Abrahams looked back at the other runners. Other racers might be tempted to focus on the track itself, noting its imperfections and difficulties. Still others might look back at the distance already covered. But in order to run most efficiently, the runner must focus on one thing: the tape at the finish line.

We, too, are in a race of sorts. As we run, we too will benefit from where we train our gaze. My tendency is to look at my fellow runners. From the outside looking in, they always seem to have it together, at least more than I do. They are wiser and so much more spiritual than I can ever hope to be. They They even control their tongues so much better than me. Comparing myself to them is downright discouraging.

Others might be looking at the track ahead. The surface is not even and contains hazards and even pitfalls. The runner worries about injury or even becomes discouraged about persisting on such a rough road until the finish line. His focus becomes all about the logistics of the race instead of about the reason he is running.

A third place to focus is on where we have already been. The runner who continually looks back on the distance he has covered is looking in the wrong direction. He congratulates himself on his accomplishment thus far. And in doing so, he may lose his sense of purpose for the rest of the race still ahead, preferring to rest on his laurels rather than continue on.

Peter experienced the damage a lack of focus can have. When Jesus called him out of the safety of the boat to walk across the water to him, he quickly obeyed. Things went swimmingly well at first (forgive the pun) as Peter set out toward the Lord. However, when he began to notice the wind blowing and the waves mounting around him, his steps began to falter. Peter began to sink until the Lord reached out and saved him. Had he kept his focus on the One who had already calmed a storm in Peter's presence, who created the water and waves to begin with, his journey would have ended much differently.

Hebrews 12 tells us: "Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith..." Jesus stands at our metaphorical finish line, having already run and completed a perfect race before us. He faced the same rough track, never losing sight of his end goal: the joy of the finish line. He alone provides adequate inspiration as we run.

Learning to keep our gaze where it belongs is a discipline to be learned and practiced. Harold Abrahams sliced off tenths of a second in mastering that skill, and it won him a gold in the 100 meter race. Our reward for doing the same is this: "Consider Him... so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."

"Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." Hebrews 12:1-3

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Growing Roots in a Drought

On Friday afternoon, our Annapolis neighborhood experienced a microburst during a heavy thunderstorm. The intense wind toppled a very large tree which previously stood about fifteen feet from the back of the house. When it went down, it took a large evergreen with it and missed our back porch roof by inches. This was no small tree. I couldn't even get my arms around half of its girth. My husband paced off its length and guesses it was about one hundred feet tall. When the tree toppled, the roots were torn right out of the ground.

It surprised us to see the relatively sparse root system that held this very large tree in place all those years. We were amazed the tree hadn't blown over long ago in view of its tenuous support system. Most trees have roots that go deep into the soil. They do this as a result of a tropism, which is a plant's ability to grow in response to its environment. You have probably observed plants leaning over toward the sunlight, which is phototropism. Hydrotropism is a tree's ability to grow its roots toward a source of water. When water is plentiful at the surface, as in during a rainy growing season, the roots will grow near the surface of the ground. However, during a drought, a tree's roots are forced to go deep in search of an alternate source of water. They will grow down toward the ground water flowing deep beneath the surface. So in an ironic way, a drought actually extends the life of a tree. The deep growth of roots will allow the tree to withstand the winds of many a storm.

The Bible is filled with stories of God allowing His people to go through extended periods of spiritual drought. Joseph spent thirteen years waiting for God to rescue him after being sold into slavery by his brothers. Job was allowed to suffer in grief and agonizing pain while his "friends" harassed him in his misery. Jacob had to live away from his family and inheritance for many years until the Lord finally called him back to Canaan. David spent years in the desert hiding from Saul and his army while waiting to be crowned king. There must have been days for each of these men when God seemed silent and aloof.

Why did God allow an extended period of drought in each of these men's lives? The drought was a tool, designed and used for their good. In order to fulfill God's purpose for their lives, these men needed a relationship with Him that could withstand the challenges they would someday encounter. God, in His wisdom, provided an opportunity to grow that kind of faith. Waiting on God, learning to trust Him on the basis of what we know to be true rather than how we might feel, drives our faith roots deep. We learn to listen harder for His voice, to trust more deeply in His goodness, and to have greater faith in His wisdom. Our forced dependence on Him reminds us once again of our inadequacy without Him. And in our weakened state, we are now in prime condition to be used by a God who prefers the weak to the strong.

A drought serves a purpose. We do not ache without result. Once the rains return, ending the dryness and barrenness, we emerge more ready to face what lies ahead. We have learned to focus our attention on Christ who is now more than ever the source of our strength. When the storms of life have at us, we will be able to stand firm. All thanks to the periods of drought.

"Those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary." Isaiah 40:31

There are pictures of the tree that was on the previous post on this site. This post is the latest entry on my email newsletter, The Dogwood Digest. If you enjoyed this article, please use the link at the right of this page to sign up for my weekly devotional!

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Death of an Old Friend

This is the tree that fell in our backyard on May 29 during a microburst. It missed our house by inches, grazing only the edge of the porch roof. I was amazed to see even our potted plants survived the tumble!

We were amazed to see how shallow the roots were. It made us wonder how the tree withstood previous windstorms over the years.

The tree was very tall-- Steve estimates about 100-120 feet. It went well into our neighbor's yard. It took down a huge evergreen at the opposite end of our backyard on its way down.