Lifeguard on Duty

imagesI’ll never forget the one and only time I rescued someone from drowning.  While attending the YMCA National Swimming Championships in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, our swim club spent some time at the beach body surfing in some unusually large waves.  A series of thunderstorms had rolled through the area making the waves and undertow treacherous even for experienced competitive swimmers.  Out about one hundred yards, I spotted an elderly woman in distress going under the surf repeatedly. I simply grabbed her, reassured her, and told her I would take her in.  Despite the fact we were both pushed under the waves several times on the way back to shore, the woman simply trusted that I would bring her in safely.  Back on the beach, the head lifeguard thanked me and offered me, as a fourteen-year old, a job on the spot.  I said I’m not certified.  He said, “I’ll certify you.”  I told him I didn’t think my parents in Illinois would go for me moving to Ft. Lauderdale and we left it at that.

The Red Cross is responsible for Lifeguard and Water Safety Instructor (WSI) training throughout the United States.  The students are instructed in water safety, stroke mechanics, and survival and rescue techniques.  During my mom’s WSI training physical exam, she was expected to perform a mock rescue of a swimmer in distress.  A fellow WSI trainee named Curt was her pretend victim.  The victim is told to act frightened and initially uncooperative as the trainee seeks to calm the victim and then bring him safely to the pool’s edge.  Minutes into the “rescue,” Curt continued to be uncooperative and combative.  Mom gently exhorted Curt to relax and trust her.  He decided to make things difficult for her by continuing to thrash about in the water making a rescue nearly impossible and her failure inevitable.  WSI students are taught to release and even submerge the victim to prevent two tragedies from occurring in the water.  Mom, having run out of patience with Curt, simply took her hand, reached under his arm pit, and pulled as much armpit hair as she could grasp.  Instantly Curt was calm and compliant for the rest of the rescue.  I remember other students actually cheering for her.

I often see the same tendencies in people when it comes to God’s desire to rescue them from sin and destruction.  There’s just something about us that wants to make things difficult for Him or to try to help Him out (save ourselves).  But we are incapable of saving ourselves, and whenever we try, we end up making things even worse.  No, the Lord will not pull your armpit hair out to get you to cooperate, but He will not make you accept his help, deliverance, and restoration if you do not want it.  Let me encourage you today to listen to the calming voice of the Holy Spirit, relax, and let the Lord bring you back to safety.  He is truly our lifeguard.  Trust Him.  He’s on duty, and He will not fail to rescue you when you call out to Him.

Still Another Lesson From a Seven Pound Toy Poodle

IMG_3575One of the most challenging and hard to understand attributes of human beings is the inconsistent manner in which they relate to others. With some people, you just have no idea how they’re going to treat you from day to day. Catch them on a good day and they’re all smiles and genuinely glad to see you. See that same person a few days later or in a different context and you’re left wondering what you did (or if you smell). One day they go out of the way to talk to you, and another day they are ducking down the frozen food aisle at Wal-Mart hoping you didn’t see them. It’s hard to relate to people and build relationships with individuals who change like the shifting sands from moment to moment. It’s difficult to get along with people when you never know which version of the person you’re going to run into today.

In contrast, I’ve noticed the routines, patterns, and consistency of a certain fluffy poodle named Princess. Her day begins early in the morning by crawling slowly to the head of our bed to give me her morning greeting (for the record she’s also cleaner than a lot if people I know). She lays there, front paws and head on my chest and hind quarters standing on the bed, refusing to move until she’s satisfied I properly acknowledged her existence. She ends every evening with that same habitual puppy hug. PeePoo also warmly greets you every time you reenter her presence regardless of whether you’ve been gone five minites or five hours. This canine time amnesia makes it impossible for her to harbor a grudge or nurse bitterness. She literally treats her family the same, hour by hour and day by day.

How much better all our relationships would be if we could develop a little time and hurt amnesia like Princess. How different our lives would be if we could understand (as PeePoo seems to) that people are people and they’re going to do what they’re going to do. We can’t control how people treat us, but we have total power over our response. How much more joy and peace we would have if we just decided to treat one another consistently and systematically the same way in any context at any time. Unfortunately, most people are clock watchers and wound protectors, and these tendencies are at the root of our interpersonal confusion and inconsistency. Our relational dysfunction is clearly evidenced by our inconsistent treatment of others.

The Lord who changes not is our standard and example. God is love and He treats us the same day after day no matter what we do or how we treat Him or others. I want to encourage you to focus every day on treating people consistently the same Christ-like loving way. Nothing indicates growth and maturity in our lives like consistently and habitually displaying God’s love and mercy, even when others do not treat us this way.

Lost in the Fog

Foggy Path 1More and more believers, it seems to me, appear to be lost in life. By “lost” I don’t mean that they are unsaved or backslidden. I mean they seem to have lost their sense of direction caught off guard by some storm or fog that quickly rolled into their lives and disoriented them. By lost I mean they feel they have lost their way or their purpose. They are perplexed and bewildered feeling like they are in a maze, uncertain how to get out and back on the right path. Believers lost in a fog without vision are in danger of compromising their destination, bankrupting their faith, and leading other Christians astray.

I remember going to the dime store with my mom as a five year-old kid back in Illinois. It’s amazing how big everything looked through the eyes of a child. The store, though small, was large enough for me to quickly lose track of my mom as she turned the corner with shopping cart in front of her to check out some special in the store. I remember momentarily being gripped in a fog of fear as I lost site of her only to glance above the shelf line to see her blond hair bobbing down the aisle. That 1960’s hairdo became a beacon of hope to help a little boy to get back where he belonged.

There are many reasons why believers get lost in the fog of life. Some believers run with the wrong crowd and follow that crowd off the path. Some believers allow a root of bitterness to spring up in their hearts and that root will defile many, according to Scripture, but it starts by deceiving and sidetracking the ones who harbor it in their hearts. Some believers simply take a wrong turn in life. They are not bad people but it only takes one bad turn in life to get off track. Some believers succumb to the intensified level of spiritual warfare in the world today and the central mission of that war is to distract and cut off believers from their destiny. Some believers get isolated from God and stop seeking Him and in doing so also lose the direction that His presence automatically provides. Still other believers falter because of burn out or because of major setbacks, failures, or disappointments. Regardless of the reason, the Lord wants you to know that no matter how thick the fog, no matter how far you have strayed, He is ready to turn the light on and help you find your way back.

Proverbs 4:18-19 tells us that the path of the righteous, unlike the path of the wicked, gets brighter and brighter. This means that God’s best and the norm for the believer is to walk a path that is clear and obvious. When we are in a fog, that path gets dimmer and dimmer. The good news is there are some practical things you can do to navigate through the fog and get back on God’s best path for your life. First, turn on the light. In other words open that Bible up again and begin to draw from the wisdom and apply its light to your path (Psalm 119:105). Second, back track to what you were doing when you got lost in the fog. There is usually a critical signal you missed or some juncture where you stepped off the path and into the fog. No matter how painful, have the courage to admit that you missed it because God gives grace to the humble (2 Peter 5:5). There’s nothing sadder than to see a fog bound believer more interested in protecting their image of infallibility than getting their life back on track. Third, reach out for a “seeing eye” Christian. It does you no good to seek counsel from another Christian that is also lost in the fog. Seek advice from a believer that is walking in the light and can tell you what you need to do to get out of the fog. Fourth, Pull away with God by yourself for a time of serious reflection, prayer, and study. Remember the Lord loves to answer prayers for wisdom and guidance (James 1). Fifth, listen for the voice of the true shepherd and tune out other competing voices. The Bible (John 10:27) declares that God’s sheep know his voice. Psalm 119:176 says, “I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant.” Like the Psalmist, invite the shepherd to venture into the fog of your life and rescue you. Finally, to keep from making the fog worse, postpone decisions that affect other people until you know you are back on the right path. Too often, believers in desperation make matters worse by trying in the flesh to make something happen. Too often, those believers end up pulling family and friends into the fog with them rather than walking out into the sunshine of God’s grace together.

Supernatural Arrest

One of our members at Hope Harbor Church told me about an incident that occurred at the retail store where she works. It seems that a couple, who had recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, came to the store to spend the cash and gift cards presented to them in honor of their committed marriage. Apparently, having set her purse down briefly with all the cash and cards in it, someone decided to ruin their special time together by running off with her bag. What was meant to be a chance for this loving husband to bless his wife with some nice things turned into a shocking and heartbreaking nightmare.

The couple was obviously distraught. The elderly bride was sure her husband would have a heart attack over the stress and disappointment of the situation. The police were called, and true to protocol, advised that the credit card companies be contacted immediately to protect the couple from further losses. Leading the charge to not give up but trust God to restore the purse, the fast thinking and quick to believe employee challenged everyone to search for the bag and pray for the bag to be found, contents and all.

After searching for some time without finding the stolen purse, and to the astonishment of everyone, the police officer returned to his vehicle to find that the purse had been placed on top of his cruiser! It seems that the Holy Spirit, in response to the prayer and believing of God’s people, dealt severely with the perpetrator and “arrested” the thief Himself before he or she could take a dime or even get out of the parking lot.

The story reminds me of Saul’s encounter with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus where he was headed to persecute, harass, and arrest Christians. But it was Saul, who would become the Apostle Paul, that was arrested that day by the power and grace of God. Thank God for His mercy that confronts, convicts, challenges, and changes the human heart. As Saul was transformed so many years ago, so our thief was supernaturally visited and arrested and just had to return the handbag to its rightful owner (or at least give it to the cops).

I want to encourage you if you have had something taken in your life to not give up but go to the Lord and believe God for full and complete restoration. Few people, even believers, would stop to ask the Lord to intervene and truly expect Him to do so in a similar situation. The Bible teaches that we have not because we ask not (James 4:2). Why not go to Him today and ask the Lord to work to restore what is broken or destroyed and return what has been taken? Don’t let your failure to ask be the reason you never see restoration in your life. He is no respecter of persons – but He does respect faith!


We Fall Down

Matt Holliday's Error
Matt Holliday's Error

If you are a St. Louis Cardinals fan you are sensing a little deja vu all over again given the quality of play overall by the Cards so far in Division Championship play. Chris Carpenter struggled on the mound during game one but Wainwright was nearly flawless through seven innings and pitched himself out of a jam in the eighth inning of game two. The bats and the defense, however, remind me of the painful performance against the Red Sox when they swept the Cards in the World Series.

Matt Holliday, who led his Colorado squad to championship play a few years back and is a big reason why the Cards won their division, drove an early home run over the fence to put the Cards on the board in game two. Later, to the shock and horror of Card fans all over the country, Holliday, no Jim Edmonds, ran up on a fly ball to left field, lost the ball in the lights, at the last minute inverted his glove, missed the ball, and then stumbled to the ground like a little leaguer. What should have been a game ending catch ended up prompting a Dodger rally that completely neutralized the stellar performance of the Cards ace pitcher. The result is the Cards are now down two games to none as they head back to St. Louis for Saturday’s game three of the series. They have to win three games in a row or face elimination from post season play.

The problem with Holliday’s error is not the fact that he made the error and possibly cost the Cards the World Series (a little too dramatic right?), it’s the fact that the media and sports channels keep replaying the outfielder’s baseball folly over, and over, and over again. I mean, how many of us would like to have our mistakes viewed by millions of people to begin with and then replayed until we are made into a Chevy Chase caricature of ourselves?

Like Holliday, we all make mistakes. The Devil loves to throw it back in our faces over and over again to keep us defeated and to stop our potential and success in the future. The key for Holliday (and for us), is to shake off the mistake, put the uniform back on, get back out there, knock some more balls out of the park, catch the ball next time, and bring home the championship. I’ll be watching and rooting for him just like I know Jesus is rooting for me and you.

No Sin Too Big

Join us at HHC this Sunday morning as we are reminded that God is bigger than any sin we have every committed or will ever commit. Discover several powerful principles for overcoming that big or stubborn sin area in your life – this week at the Harbor! This would be a great time for you to invite someone that is struggling with a major sin issue or life controlling problem. I encourage you to check out our brand new 9:00 am “HHC Classic” service (Murray only) featuring an intimate and powerful time of worship. Our 10:30 am “HHC Rock” service is more powerful than ever and features the cutting edge worship experience you’ve come to love. Either service, we look forward to seeing you this Sunday at the Harbor!