Monkey Bars

The Lord has been known to use some unusual word pictures to speak to me. One that has stayed with me for several years involves monkey bars. You know the kind – a horizontal, metal, ladder-like structure.

Most of us have experienced swinging on monkey bars. By grasping and letting go of the rungs you swing from one end to the other. If you fail to let go with one hand you can become stuck in the middle with no momentum to continue moving. What keeps you moving forward is letting go. Letting go is what the Lord has been teaching me.

In 2005 my husband and I believed the Lord directed us to move to Iowa. We’d both lived for more than 40 years in the same county in central Ohio. All of our friends and family were in Ohio. When moving day came, by a total act of faith, we watched the moving van leave our driveway and head for Iowa. We had no address on the other end. The driver would take three days to make the trip and we trusted that we would have an address by the time the truck arrived in Des Moines.

Our family left the next morning to make the eleven hour drive. We believed God had shown us the home He had for us but the details were not coming together. My husband was on the phone most of the day with the owner, realtors, and attorneys as we drove across Indiana and Illinois. Just as we were crossing the Mississippi River into Iowa the deal began to come together. We would have an address to direct the moving van and more important, we would have a place to sleep that night. We arrived late in the evening and the eight of us slept together on the floor in the living room of what was to become our new home.

Now, what does all of this have to do with monkey bars? What the Lord has shown me through this adventure is that life keeps moving and you must be willing to let go in order to move on. We all have different things that require letting go but what I learned was that most things fall into four categories.

Relationships – We need to be willing to let go of our relationships as we know them. Not cutting ties with the people we love, but allowing God to mold our relationships into something different.  When we left Ohio we left a son and daughter-in-law who’d just announced that our first grandchild was on the way. We had to let go of what could have been and let God do what He knew was best.

Expectations – This is a real challenge for me. I always seem to set myself up and then I get disappointed. The Father’s plan is always the best one.

Successes – Sometimes we get stuck in an area because we’ve had success there and are comfortable. I know I had church and 4-H, among other things, that I didn’t want to let go. But God promises to do something new if we will let Him.

Failures – Sometimes we get trapped by our failures or what we perceive as failures. For example, I don’t feel like I make friends easily. I struggle with a fear of rejection and sometimes feel like I am on the “outside” of things. This is an area where I believe God asked me to let go and allow Him to give me a fresh start. He has been faithful and I have experienced blessings in this area beyond anything I could have imagined.

So, how am I allowing God to continue to use this word picture in my life?  I am hanging on the rungs with both hands while learning to let go and move on. God is good. He won’t let me fall. He’ll give me the strength to hang on…and keep going.

Philippians 3:13-14: “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

What are you becoming?

A while back I wrote in my journal this phrase that I believe the Lord spoke to my heart.

“Stop being what you were and look forward…to what you are becoming.”

Our faith walk in a process. When we come to Christ we are a new creation (according to 2 Corinthians 5:17).

But 2 Corinthians 3:18 tells us that we are being transformed into Christ’s image. I believe that Romans 2:12 ties this all together: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

The good and perfect will of God is that we become like Jesus.  If we keep seeing ourselves as we were before our rebirth then we can get discouraged. The renewing of our mind involves shifting our focus from what we were to what we are becoming.

I started a list in my journal that I simply titled “My Becomings.”  I’ve added to this list as the Lord has brought concepts to mind. I look at this list often and my prayer is this:

“Thank You Lord that, by Your strength, I am becoming wise, kind, patient, loving, hopeful, courageous, teachable, discerning, steadfast, thankful, prayerful, joyful, disciplined…” The list goes on.  I’m sure my list will continue to grow as God reveals the character of Jesus to me day by day.

So, what are you becoming?  Maybe it’s time to start your list.

The Plate Spinner

Do you sometimes feel like life is out of control?  So many things to do that you can barely focus on anything?  Sometimes it reminds me of a common circus act from years ago.

Remember the plate spinner? He took large plates and set them spinning, precariously perched on the top of rather flimsy poles. He set plate after plate and had to constantly return to the first ones to add energy to the spin so the plates wouldn’t come crashing to the floor. By the end of his performance he was running frantically back and forth between the poles attempting to keep everything going at the same time.

Does that sound like how our culture has conditioned us to see our lives? We try desperately to keep everything going in our own strength. We become a one-man-show so to speak.

But I believe God has a different idea about how it’s supposed to go.  Consider for a moment, the Master of the Universe. Would He need to run back and forth in a panic, trying to manage everything at once?  Of course not. God could simple lean against the nearest wall, casually cross his arms and look toward the collection of spinning plates.  With a nod of His head and one word He could control the entire activity. A simple command of “spin!” and… all would have to obey Him.

Jeremiah 10:23 says,  ”I know, O LORD, that a man’s way is not in himself, Nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps.”

It’s not that God doesn’t want us to be responsible to do the things He has designed us to do. It’s when we take it upon ourselves to do it on our own that we get into trouble.  We become that plate spinner, focusing on the task of keeping it all going and perhaps missing the joy along the way.  No, God probably won’t take over and leave you nothing to do but watch. But you can be sure that if you look to Him for direction and focus on that task…the plate that is His priority at the moment, He won’t let even one of the other plates fall.

The Orchestra Pit

An orchestra must work together to produce beautiful music. Each member must be willing to lay aside his own agenda, his personal distractions and preferences and give his full attention to the conductor. When the conductor steps up to the podium all eyes are on him. As he steps up, each member comes to attention. As he raises his baton the musicians lift their instrument into place. They are literally on the edge of their seats in anticipation of the conductor’s next move.

It isn’t difficult to see the parallels between this picture and our walk with the Lord. We are to be as tuned into God’s next move as the musicians.

To carry this word picture a bit further…

It isn’t enough to just have the music in front of you. You could know each note, each rest and each musical instruction on the page and still not be able to properly play the selection. What if you had your music on your music stand but turned your chair and no longer faced the conductor? While you might play every note correctly, you would still lack something very important. The conductor sets the tempo; He is in control of the timing. Just playing the notes doesn’t make you a part of what’s going on around you.

Now suppose you have the music memorized. You take your seat, prepare your instrument and sit quietly while the house lights go out. The conductor steps up to the podium but you don’t know it because the room is in complete darkness. The musicians begin to turn on the lights on their music stands and finally the conductor does the same. Now in the dim light you can see him. As your eyes adjust you can easily see his baton lift and you are ready when he signals the beginning of the piece. If suddenly your light didn’t work, you might still be able to perfectly execute the piece because it is in your memory. The music is in your heart.  All you need is the confident leading of the Master Musician and the rest is…beautiful music.

The Masks We Wear

The Masks We Wear

If we’re honest, we have to acknowledge that we all wear masks at times. Even our closest friends only see what we want them to see. We hide our true selves for many reasons, but the root is usually fear of what others might think if they knew who we really were.  The risk of rejection is just too great so…we hide.

I wish that was as far as it went but I don’t think it is. At times, I find myself even trying to hide from God behind one mask or another.  I’m not alone in this….Eve actually did it first…hiding from God in the garden. Of course, she hadn’t read Psalm 139 so maybe she didn’t know that God was intimately acquainted with all her ways, or knew her words before she said them.

Once, many years ago, I was required to participate in a children’s costume party. My costume included a mask and when I was dressed in the complete outfit no one could possibly guess it was me inside. I found a certain freedom to act in any way I wanted since no one knew it was me and wouldn’t judge me for anything I did.  But it was an artificial freedom. Because I wasn’t perceived by the children as “real” they interacted with me from a distance, unwilling to get too close . They instinctively knew that what they were seeing wasn’t the whole picture. I felt freedom to act as I chose but I also experienced a sense of isolation. Several of the other adults knew who I was inside my costume and were the ones who would draw closer and interact on a more intimate basis.

Isn’t that how it is in life? Don’t we avoid people who seem “phony”, keeping our distance? Don’t we feel more comfortable with people who have earned our trust by being real?  How effective can we be in ministry if we can’t be real?  Who will allow themselves to risk a relationship with us if they sense we aren’t what we seem?

One final thought…who knows what’s inside the masks we wear in our daily lives better than the Lord? Who is more willing than anyone to draw close to us? Who has seen everything there is to see in us and still loves us? Jeremiah 23:24 says, “Can a man hide himself in hiding places so I do not see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill the heavens and the earth? declares the Lord.

We don’t need to pretend to be something we’re not. We can be real with God. He knows all about us and loves us anyway.