January 31, 2011

The Boxer

It was early in the fight. This pugilistic affair was billed as the fight of the century. It pitted one of the greatest Hispanic fighters of all times, Roberto Duran, against one of the greatest American boxers of my lifetime, Sugar Ray Leonard.

The bell had rung. Vicious blows had been exchanged. The fighters had returned to their comers. And during this brief break in the battle, one of the fighters began giving in to the enemy.

When the bell rang for the next round to begin, Roberto Duran began a boxer's waltz around the ring with Leonard. Then, for no apparent reason, Duran dropped his gloves, started walking toward his corner, and said, "no mas, no mas!" (Spanish for: "no more, no more!")

The referee was stunned. Leonard looked bewildered for what seemed an almost painfully long time, and then jubilant after realizing that the victory would be awarded to him. The fight was over because Duran's enemy had gotten the best of him.

You may think that Leonard was the enemy who conquered Duran. He was not. You see, Leonard was only the opponent. The enemy lurked in the shadows of Duran's heart. . . a little voice that barraged him with the words "give up, quit, it's not worth it, you can't win, you aren't good enough!" Doubt turned into defeat...as it always does!

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel wrote a song called "The Boxer." One line in the song is still with me today. . . "in the clearing stands a boxer, a fighter by his trade, and he carries the reminder of every glove that laid him out, or cut him 'til he cried out, in his anger and his shame, 'I am leaving, I am leaving,' but the fighter still remained."

When I think about perseverance, I think of this song. How the enemy is never in the opposing comer, but in the darkest crevasses of our hearts. . . a nagging, raspy voice that begs us to give up, give in, quit.

As Christians we are commissioned by God to do battle with the forces of Satan. Yet, Paul reminds us that the enemy is not flesh and blood, but the ruler of darkness.

Too often, we examine others to find this dark prince, and forget to examine ourselves. We would like to think our opponent is a nameless, faceless specter that we call "the world." Yet, sometimes the opponent has a friendlier face.

But I warn you to keep an eye out for the deadliest opponent. He is the dark voice lurking in our hearts that says, "stop doing good...don't worry about righteousness...give up...quit...it's not worth it...you can't win...you aren't good enough."

Don't allow doubt to fester into defeat.

Please remember that just as Paul shared that we are to battle Satan's forces, he also encourages us by sharing that we are not alone in the skirmish. We have God on our side. Jesus paid it all. And because of this, even Average Joes can be winners!

January 25, 2011


Every now and then I get the opportunity to meet a remarkable person. The fun part of this is that you never know where you will find them.

This past weekend, I was visiting my mother who is temporarily in a physical rehab facility following a stroke. I was sitting with Mom during an occupational therapy session, just minding our own business. And out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone speeding toward us in one of those electric wheelchairs called a “Hoveround.”

Mom looked up and said, “Hi Rachel!” At exactly this moment, Rachel realized that she could not get the hoveround stopped and ended up running into Mom’s table and turning it on top of her. Since nobody was hurt, this was pretty funny and we all sat and laughed together. In a place where most of the people there are struggling with their health, and some fighting for their very existence, laughter is a rare commodity.

After gathering her wits, Rachel said to Mom, “look through this mail and see if any of it is yours.” You see, Rachel can no longer read. She is 53 years old and is a victim of Cerebral Palsy. Her entire life has been a battle to walk, think clearly, and attempt to function just like everyone else. However, the disease is now rapidly taking over her body.

Almost two years ago, she fell attempting to take a shower and broke both of her legs. Because of her disability, she has never recovered. She is at the point where physical therapy is no longer an option. Since she has no family to care for her, she is now a resident of this nursing facility for the remainder of her days. (She prefers to call it “long term care” because someday, she is going to “blow this popsicle stand.”)

So what did she do with this news? She decided to find a way to be productive.

Every morning, Rachel reports to the front desk. Any mail that is addressed to the facility’s patients is given to her and she spends the next several hours delivering the mail. As she delivers the mail, she chats with the patients about anything they are able and willing to discuss. She is so pleasant and so quick to encourage. Her visits brighten the day of so many who have nobody to care.

I was blessed to speak with her for nearly a half-hour. Whether she realized it or not, I was inspired!

What would happen if we all had Rachel’s heart? If we would stop worrying about what we can’t do and figure out a way to do what we can. For Rachel, it would be easy to lie in her bed and be bitter about the cards she’s been dealt, or waste the remainder of her life wondering “what if?” But for Rachel, being productive is simply delivering mail and just talking to folks. So, what’s your thing? Well, that’s for you to find out.

Paul challenged the church at Thessalonica to “to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you…” (1 Thessalonians 4:11)

It’s still good advice…in fact it is inspired.

I suppose this post is a Christian Nike commercial: “Just Do It!” What many people may not know is that Nike is the Greek goddess of victory. I guess the people at Nike have a point, because I’ve never met a victorious person who dwelled on what they could not do, but rather used and cultivated their gifts beyond anyone else’s imagination.

So, I encourage you to find a way to use your gifts and blessings, and on behalf of my new friend Rachel, who I consider a living, breathing goddess of victory…Just Do It!

January 20, 2011

Comfortable Pain

The base of her back is uncharacteristically fixed at a right angle. Like a rusted hinge, her back muscles are knotted to help bear the weight of her severely curved spine. Her nerves are twisted from the horribly misaligned vertebrae.

For almost two decades she has been chained to this deformed state, held tightly in the grip of what the Bible leads us to believe is a spirit from Satan. This spirit has done a disfiguring dance on her back, leaving behind its heel marks in what was once a healthy, tall, and statuesque young woman.

Under the stress of her deformity, she winces in pain as she trudges along toward the synagogue. She can't see the beautiful sky and the wonderful clouds overhead. She is bound in a posture that fixes her gaze on dirt and yesterday's rubbish in the streets.

As she takes her seat in the synagogue, Jesus' attention is diverted from the scriptures to fall on the yellowing dog eared pages of this woman's life. With divine knowledge, He skims the story of the last eighteen years, reading every sentence and pondering every question mark that punctuates her pain. Yet, her suffering and pain are merely minor characters in the story of her life. The featured character is her faith.

She is a true daughter of Abraham. She has come to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as she does every Sabbath. In spite of the pain, in spite of the pitied looks from adults, and in spite of the quiet giggling of children in the streets, she comes to sit before her God and praise Him in a commotion that would tempt others to curse.

Jesus closes his scroll and bids her to come to the front of the synagogue. It is an embarrassing moment for this woman because the journey to Jesus displays evermore clearly the awkwardness of her deformity.

She stops before him, twisting her torso in a strained attempt to see his face. And their eyes meet. "Woman you are freed from your sickness." Then she stands before her Master. . .

. . . I often wonder what went through her mind that day. Scripture doesn’t really spend much time on her response to this enormous gift.

Like this woman, we have experienced being crippled. But our crippling is caused by sin. Instead of curving our backs, Satan twists our hearts. He creates a deformity that prevents us from seeing beauty in God’s providence. He contorts our perceptions to make blessings appear as a curse. He distorts our view of the Father by diverting our thoughts to focus on the filth that is beneath us.

I wonder what would have happened if she refused to stand up? What if her response had been, “Jesus, no thank you. I like pain. The humiliation has become like an old friend. I have become accustomed to this disease and have altered my entire life to accommodate it. If I stand up, I might have to change parts of my life that I have worked hard for and are designed to fit my old impairment. The cost of accepting your gift is just too high.” Imagine that response!

Then realize that this is exactly what many of us have done. We have been freed from the bondage of Satan. Forgiveness is on the tips of our tongues. Jesus really has paid it all. But when the Savior asks us to walk and live upright, we choose to hang on to our sin because it is familiar and comfortable.

Jesus really does read the pages of our life. I pray that He will see faith as our major character. If you are bowed by selfishness and twisted by sin, you can count on the fact that being able to “stand” in His presence is better than anything else you might be grasping in desperation.

January 3, 2011


Perfection? Is there really such a thing?

A couple of weeks ago, my family and some friends went to a very nice restaurant to celebrate the holidays, as well as my 27th wedding anniversary. When I say it was a nice restaurant, I mean it was one of those places where the waiters are dressed in formal attire (nobody in hairnets here), speak in complete sentences (rather than "what'll ya' have?"), and synchronized the delivery of the food to the table (looking like the Whos in Whoville delivering the roast beast to Cindy Lou Who). Quite frankly, I felt as out of place as a Keebler Elf in the NBA. It certainly was not a place for an Average Joe.

As the evening progressed, I kept noticing that the young lady waiting our table kept asking the strangest question. After each time she brought something new to the table, she would ask, "Is everything perfect?" I couldn't help but wonder, "is there such a thing?"

On first brush, my immediate answer to her would have to be NO. Proverbs 37:25 says that the righteous will never have to beg for bread, and we've had to beg this waiter for it all night...therefore, either we're not righteous or she hasn't read Proverbs.

And in a more serious viewpoint and a larger scope, there are young men in harm's way defending our freedom in the middle east tonight...that's not perfect. There are children in our city who will go to bed hungry tonight...that's not perfect. There are elderly people who suffer from abject loneliness tonight...that's not perfect. There are people who live in fear for their lives due to living conditions we would find unacceptable...that's not perfect.

So, is everything perfect? No.

But the good news is that God allows us glimpses of His perfection. A healthy newborn, a wondrously colored sunset, an unexpected kindness...all of these give us a glimpse of a God who is kind, benevolent, gracious, and merciful.

My latest glimpse, however, came on Christmas Day. My family retired the night before hearing rumors that it could possibly be a white Christmas. Now, mind you, in our hometown there had not been a white Christmas in forty-one years. So, until we actually saw some white stuff, the rumor of snow was merely that...a rumor.

However, we awakened the next morning to a scene that no artist could duplicate. The view off our porch was a Norman Rockwell painting of snowy landscapes and children playing. It wasn't just Christmas...it was a White Christmas. As we opened gifts, we watched the snow fall. Our family ventured out in the snow to play and build a snowman. We ate breakfast together, and then dinner together as well. A family of four who are all as different as the snowflakes piled on our porch, played, shared, laughed, ate, and rejoiced together.

To me, there is no greater glimpse of heaven than this...beautiful scenery, joyous celebration, gratitude, and a family that is truly together.

As we sat down for our evening meal, my son was asked to lead us in prayer. For those of you who know him, you know that he is not a shy boy of few words. He talks constantly. However, when he talks to God, his economy of speech is a stark contrast to his normal conversation. He usually says things like, "Thank you God for everything and bless the whole world, Amen."

But on this day, he gave us a new wrinkle..."Thank you God for everything and bless the whole world...and thank you for a perfect day. Amen."

Perfect? Yes, this time the word applied. From the unexpected to the joyous, God had given us a glimpse of Himself throughout our day. And yes, it was perfect!