Since God has put his work into your weak hands, look not for long ease here: You must feel the full weight of your calling: a weak man with a strong God.
– Lady Culross to John Livingston
It was a typical, hot, muggy day when my third-grade class held its annual “Olympics.” For an entire week, during the P.E. period, we competed with one another in various events and, for some reason still unclear to me, I signed up for the high jump.
“You know…that vibration isn’t good. When are you going to do something about it?”
I heard that phrase once from someone riding with me in my vehicle. At highway speeds there was a vibration from the right front of my vehicle that annoyed me (and, yes, anyone riding with me), plus the tires were wearing unevenly. I knew that I needed to have the alignment checked and get new tires.
A friend once told me of an incident near the end of a road trip when returning from Wyoming. He was the only one awake in the car, and he was driving. Somewhere out in the middle of America, in the dead of night, he had an encounter. He told me that as he topped a hill and began the descent, his headlights fell upon (in his words) “a 30-foot tall Grimace.” The resulting conversation went like this:
The first time I laid eyes on one was at a fall carnival when I was six. It was a little, multicolored woven tube in a gift bag I received after a carnival game. My mom showed me how to place my index fingers into the ends of the tube and pull slightly, thus locking them in place. Any effort to extricate my digits by the most-logical means, like pulling them apart, only drew the strips more tightly around my fingers; this is the way the dreaded bamboo finger trap works. I remember trying in vain to free myself as my mother watched bemusedly. No matter how hard I pulled, I couldn’t get loose.
I saw one for the first time when I was in 4th grade. It was a hardball. I know that we usually use the term “hardball” to differentiate a baseball from a softball, but this was no baseball; it was a true hardball. A kid named Chris brought it to school; he was a guy with crew-cut hair and hands permanently stained from playing in red-clay dirt. A group of us were playing tag when Chris showed up with this thing in his hand. “Who wants to play?” he asked. If I remember correctly, we tried to run away; after all, it was a hardball.
We jockey for position. We desire to be first in line, take first place and sit in the first chair. We do whatever it takes to get ahead of the next person and make ourselves the priority. But then we read Jesus’ words: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). All things necessary for life and every provision will come from him, but to see those needs met by him, we must put him first.
Once, during an early autumn, I was in North Carolina at a wedding rehearsal in little country church somewhat off the beaten path. When everyone arrived, they moved to the sanctuary to begin the walk-though and to finalize the last-minute details for the ceremony the next day.
A few years ago, during Wednesday night Children’s Ministry activities at a church where I served, I found one of the children sitting in the back of the room away from all the others. Her knees were drawn up tightly to her chest, and tears streaked her face. I walked over to her, got down on my knees and asked her what was wrong. She gave no response except to cry even harder, sobbing with shoulders heaving. I asked her to take a little walk with me. We left the room, went to the water fountain, and in a bit, she calmed enough to speak.
Australia’s “Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultramarathon” was a grueling 544-mile test of endurance. In 1983, as the participants gathered and awaited the starting gun, one runner seemed conspicuously out of place. At 61 years old and dressed in overalls and Wellington rubber boots, the potato farmer named Cliff Young bore little resemblance to his highly athletic, properly dressed and corporately sponsored competitors. Other than rounding up sheep on foot, he had no training in long-distance running. Spectators, officials and other participants laughed at the very idea that this man would even consider facing off against an elite group nearing the boundary of superhuman abilities.
During my years of teaching, I gave numerous tests. Some of these tests checked basic understanding: listing verb tenses for a particular word, matching definitions to literary terms and labeling cellular structures on a diagram. But most of the tests pushed the students deeper. During any given unit, I would hammer the application of the knowledge in an effort to show the students how to use the information. Knowing the facts is necessary, but applying those ideas is the source of great power. “We teach you to think better,” I would say. It’s a noble idea, but one met often with yawns and rolled eyes.
Some of the airstrips we fly into are short, sloped, slippery, wet, grass runways at altitude carved out of the side of mountains towering well above 5000 feet above sea level. Many of them are one-way airstrips; which means that there is an abort point beyond which the only way to avoid becoming a statistic is to somehow get the aircraft onto the prepared surface. Many that are not built on slopes are surrounded by tall trees of the dense jungle and are soft, wet and muddy due to frequent heavy rains.
-Randy Smyth (bush pilot in Papua New Guinea)
Bush pilots who fly into remote locations to deliver supplies and transport missionaries to the field risk life and limb on a daily basis. The pilots relate that the landing is the hardest part. Not only must the pilot set the plane down upon the rough, sometimes rocky terrain of a primitive airstrip, but there are other factors involved. Most-commonly, the problem is an obstacle on the landing strip. In parts of remote Africa, these obstacles tend to be livestock.
If you have ever repotted a plant, sometimes you will find that when you pull it from the pot, the entire plant will slip out easily. The roots may be tangled and matted together into a dense, tightly-woven mass. In many cases, the plant will be rootbound. How can you tell if a plant is suffering from this condition? One indication is stunted growth. A secondary indication is if the plant’s container will not give when pressed because the roots have filled up the container completely. A rootbound plant has roots that do not spread out for nutrients but circle the interior of the container until they conform to the shape of the pot.
Have you ever stopped to count how many remote controls you have in your home? We may not think about them until we can’t find one, and then our reactions my border on panic. We want the remotes out of the way until we need them, but when we want them, we want them immediately. There is something about that semblance of power in wielding a device that allows one to manipulate another device from a distance without wires. We long for control. It doesn’t stop with electronics though. We can sometimes believe that if we can control something or someone, then any potential threat to us will be lessened. All we need is the right “remote” for the person or situation; the power will be harnessed, and all will be well.
I read an account recently about a number of killer whales that mysteriously beached themselves and died. When the marine biologists investigated, they found that the whales were not seeking the larger fish found in the deeper waters but were chasing smaller fish in the shallows. Specifically, they were chasing minnows. They gave their lives running after something small.
World War II ended many years of geographic isolation for some of the inhabitants of certain South Pacific islands. The Allied forces used some of these islands as supply depots; planes would drop cargo from the air via parachute or unload the supplies after landing on temporary airstrips. Natives living on the islands beheld such wonders as Zippo lighters that produced flames from one’s hand, Jeeps roving over the landscape, power tools and machinery leveling trees and moving earth and preserved foods eaten from cans.
The leaping ability of the African impala is impressive. It can jump to a height of over 10 feet and cover distances of greater than 30 feet. Despite these impressive statistics, an impala can be kept easily in any zoo. It doesn’t take a high fence or a wide moat to hold them captive. They can be kept from jumping with a 3-foot wall. This is due to a particular quirk of this animal: an impala will not jump if it cannot see where its feet will fall.
“There are some spiritual conditions that cannot be accomplished in a moment.The breaking up of the fallow ground takes time.The frosts of winter are necessary as the rains of spring to prepare the soil for fertility.God has to break our hearts to pieces by the slow process of his discipline, and grind every particle to powder, and then to mellow us and saturate us with his blessed Spirituntil we are open for the blessing he has to give us.”
– A. B. Simpson
When I was a teacher, one of our students was required to complete a community service project. He chose to repair a broken section of a sidewalk on campus. To pour the fresh cement would require breaking up the old, uneven section. When I showed up to help the team, they handed me a sledgehammer to begin breaking the concrete.
“The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.” – Ferdinand Foch
I first learned how to build a real campfire long ago from a famous book: Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Wilderness Survival. In the chapter on campfires, he details wood selection, safety and the best way to build specific fires for specific needs.
One of the things that I heard often when growing up was the phrase: “That’s going to leave a mark.” I tripped and scraped my knee; “That’s going to leave a mark.” I ran into the barbed-wire fence; “That’s going to leave a mark.” I fell from the top of a tree I had climbed; “That’s going to leave a mark.” And those situations did, in fact, leave their marks. We all have scars from accidents and incidents. We all have marks. But it’s easier to focus on the marks made upon us than it is to focus on the marks we make.