Monthly Archives: July 2011

Yellow Jackets, Monkey Grass, and the Devil

A couple of weeks ago Cathy was out cleaning one of the front flower beds when she inadvertently discovered an angry nest full of yellow jackets. Thankfully, only three of the little black and yellow striped monsters stung her. Yellow jackets build nests in the ground very similar to the nests wasps build under the eaves of barns and houses, with one exception; you can’t see the yellow jacket nest until its too late. Only after you’ve stumbled across the entrance tunnel and been stung repeatedly do you discover the hole that leads to their underground liar.

 That’s where I enter this story. I hate yellow jackets because I hate being stung. I would almost rather do anything else than take the chance of being stung. But my job was to locate the entry hole and fill it with gasoline. Gasoline is deadly to yellow jackets and has been the sole choice for their quick and efficient extermination for generations in my family. A Coke bottle full of gas stuck in the entrance to their nest is like a Tomahawk missile hitting a target—there is no resistance and there are certainly no survivors.

The only problem was the hole was situated at the base of a thirty-year old yaupon and there was a 99.9% chance that my weapon of choice would kill this beloved ornamental plant as well. Therefore, I had to go to plan B. I would have to use a pesticide. If a little dab will do you, then a gallon would do it even better. So, I prepared my weapon and waited for darkness to fall (all yellow jackets return to the nest before night fall).

Later than evening I slipped out the front door to retrieve my little jug of death, picking it up, and turning to find that dread little nest with my flashlight. That’s when things fell apart. I must admit I was a bit nervous because I hate being stung by venomous insects. My anxiety, my Crocs, my bad foot, the monkey grass, and the flashlight all combined, and I tripped, falling headlong across the sidewalk and into the very same bushes where hundreds of those little black and yellow kamikazes lay sleeping unaware of their impending fate.

My head and right knee hit first. My glasses fell off and my forehead smashed them as my body weight drove my face into the ground. The concrete effectively ground the first two layers of my knee’s precious epidermis right off. My flashlight burst into pieces. To say I was a bit disheveled and confused is an understatement as I lay headfirst in the bushes in pitch blackness. All of a sudden my lightning fast reflexes kicked in and I crawled back across the same monkey grass that had tripped me and sat in the yard to get my bearings. Just inches away from where my face had impacted the ground was the opening to the nest. Everything was still quiet—the bees were none the wiser.

I decided to go for broke—I had nothing to lose. Wounded and bleeding I limped in like a soldier with a death wish and stuck the gallon jug with the white concoction into the hole and watched as it drained every last drop. I felt good—mission accomplished. I felt bad—not without casualties.

I limped back inside with dirt on my forehead, blood dripping down my shin and out of scratches on the back of my arms, with my hands cradling the shattered remains of that big yellow flashlight. I returned victorious, but not with the cockiness or confidence I’d left with. To add insult to injury, Cathy found the story side-splitting and could not (or would not) stop laughing.

The point of this story—things don’t always go the way we planned. Life is a battlefield and you must be prepared for anything even when you think you’ve planned for everything. At the very moment when victory stands only inches away defeat is still a possibility if we don’t finish the job. Plans must change because the battlefield on which we fight changes moment by moment. Satan only has one purpose: to kill, steal, and destroy. Unlike the yellow jackets, he never sleeps. Therefore, we must never become cocky with the confidence that comes from our position in Christ. I am reminded of a passage found in 1 Corinthians—“Take heed when you stand lest you fall.” In other words, watch out for the monkey grass lurking in the darkness, the devil will use it to trip you up.

The Power for the Promise

Zerubbabel had a promise from God. As governor of the province of Judah, he had been sent back from exile in Babylon to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. He was settled in his heart with the task God had given him because of the promise he had read in Jeremiah 25:11-12—after seventy years in captivity the nation of Israel would be restored. Restoration included a return the land and a resumption of worship. To do that, the temple had to be rebuilt. Cyrus, the Persian King, had issued a decree and put up the funds to finance the work. Zerubbabel arrived with a promise from God, the provision of an empire, and the permission of the king and ran head long into the problems that come when any of us attempt to take hold of God’s promises and step into them.

The job was bigger than Zerubbabel expected. That’s usually how it is with one of God’s promises. We see less and God sees more. God won’t settle for the less we see so He stretches our ability to believe—our faith—until we can catch a glimpse of the more He sees. That stretching hurts a great deal and usually causes a great deal of stress. The stress and stretching either strengthens or destroys us. The strength comes once we figure out we’re not in control—the destruction comes if we don’t.

Zerubbabel also ran into a bit of opposition. You should know already that opposition is a given. You can bank on it. If you have no opposition you are probably not within a hundred miles of God’s plan much less one of His promises. The enemy hates it when we walk in the plans and purposes of God. He knows that’s when the promises come to fruition. Therefore he does everything he can to strategically place mountainous problems in our paths.

Zerubbabel must have gotten frustrated. That emotion comes somewhat standard with this current model of the human package. He became worn down, but he never gave up. He continued to pray and seek opportunities to see through to completion what God had entrusted to him.

God is a God of encouragement and He gave Zerubbabel a clear word to through the prophet Zechariah. We quote this one verse all the time from an otherwise obscure book filled with bizarre prophetic pictures and utterances. God’s word to His servant—“not by power, nor by might, but by My Spirit.”  In other words, Zerubbabel you will not accomplish what I have to given you to do through your strength or ability even if you had the most powerful human army every assembled at your disposal. Only I can accomplish this great task. You must surrender and allow my Spirit to be the power that fulfills the promise.

Imagine that…God gives us a task that is impossible to fulfill and then fulfills it by His Spirit through us. That’s what happens when you surrender instead of stressing and are strengthened by God instead of stalling out trying to please God.

            Philippians 4:13 really is true—I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” But—only when I take the emphasis off me and put it on Christ.

A Choice

As Christ followers, none of are what we will become, but neither are we what we once were. All of us are in a state of flux and yet, we are new creations—not reconditioned or remodeled—but brand spanking new (2 Cor. 5:17). In the mind of God we have already arrived, but in most our minds we feel lost somewhere along the way.

I know in my head what the Scripture teaches, and believe with all my heart it’s true. And yet I struggle with the uncertainties and stress of life. I know God is control but secretly inside I wish I were. I’m not, and if I ever had any illusions of grandeur, God is dashing them on the rocks of reality even as I write this.

I’m like you—we’re all made out of the same stuff. I want to be in control, but I’m not qualified—not strong enough—in a two words—not God. Therefore, moment by moment I (and you as well) must release my stranglehold on what I think is safe and secure to step into the destiny God has chosen for me. To step into I must step out of—to enter I must exit—to go forward I must leave behind. That’s just the way it is—no exceptions.

It’s Monday as I write this. In a matter of moments with the reception of two different phone calls I’ve gone from the heights of exhilaration to the pits of despair (not to mention bouncing off the jagged rocks of anger, rage, nausea, and abject terror in between). I have a choice to make—trust God or trust in my own power, plans, and personality. The solution is quite simple—I have no real power except over how I choose to respond, I don’t have a plan B, and let’s face it my personality won’t get me close to where I want or need to go.

Therefore, it’s let go and let God, or…well, there’s really not an “or” option. I can act like I’m in control, which is what most people do, and die prematurely of some unpronounceable stress related disorder, or pull my hair out and run screaming incoherently into the woods—or I can rest in the absolute peace that comes from knowing God is in control and fully able to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done.

Hmmm…I choose that option.

Misery Loves Company

Birds of a feather flock together or at least that’s what seems to happen. Have you ever noticed how one miserable person can draw a crowd? Misery loves company and is a magnet that draws others into its sticky web.

All of us know people who love to tell their “story” (how God and everyone else have abandoned them and that they are the way they are because they were made that way—and their story is all they have). I call these people “spiritual exhibitionists.” They love to flash their trash and see the shock it causes. This is their sole purpose in existing. They refuse to deal with their issues knowing that if they do, they will have nothing to talk about. So, at any and every opportunity, they pull back their emotional trench coats and entertain us with their hidden tales of misery.

Sadly, this kind of behavior draws a crowd. Television and magazines are filled with it. We can watch or read without being seen with that person, but their garbage is still ingested by us even if it is vicariously. There is a spiritual principle that applies here and is couched in language I once heard in the early days of computer programming: “Garbage in and garbage out.” Whatever you take in you will dispense if the right button gets mashed.

What kind of diet are you feeding on? Do you love the gossip of sensation or the endless tales of woe, or is your garbage spilling out all around you. If so, you are in danger of drawing a crowd. It really is true—misery loves company.

Be Still

Stress is a killer. Medical science has proven that stress breaks the body’s immune system down and greatly reduces our ability to fight off sickness and disease. In fact, stress is more dangerous than disease.

Stress arises when we are under pressure or strained beyond what we believe is our ability to respond. It could be family, business, or personal issues that seemingly have no positive outcome or at least not the outcome we desire. It creates tension, cultivates worry, and culminates in high levels of anxiety.

Stress has a way of focusing all our attention on one issue rather than allowing that issue to take its natural place among the myriad of things going on in our lives. That focus creates a force within that deforms who we were created to be and unleashes an invading army of self-destruction within the makeup of our spirit, soul, and body. Stress creates revolution in the molecular system God created to operate in unity. This inner revolution prematurely wears us out and breaks us down unless we deal with it properly.

Another word for stress is worry. It’s that inner turmoil that arises when you or I realize we are not in control and thus out of control. It’s that sensation of being tossed to and fro without a way to regain our footing. It’s that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach. It’s that sentiment of helplessness that all of us hate and none of us can really do anything about.

If you or I allow stress to rule—that is, our fears to reign—the result is death. It may be physical death, or emotional death, or the death of a dream, a friendship, or a business deal. Stress kills and it does so with a sinister glee and an assassin’s touch.

The solution to stress is surrender—not to the circumstance or situation you are drowning in, but waving the white flag of submission to the will and the ways of God. He is not threatened by anything, so the fears we possess have no affect on Him whatsoever. He has never once been stressed. God does not exist in this creation, but this creation exists in Him—He holds it all together. The solution is in His hand. God is in control and news flash—we are not.

I am learning that no matter how much I plan, practice, prepare, prognosticate, or worry things will not always go like I want, but things always work out according to God’s plan. The key is finding His plan and abandoning mine—surrendering control to the One who really is in control.

Psalm 46:10 gives a profoundly simple solution for stress. This beautiful song of praise says, “Be still and know that I am God. I will…” Therefore, I must still myself in the midst of every storm and experience (the meaning of the Hebrew word “know”) God. Every time I take the focus off the stress-filled situation or circumstance and refocus on the One who is capable—things change—and that change usually takes place in me. An answer comes, more strength is available, or the issue disappears.

God says, “I will!”—and He really means it.

A Sunrise of Dreams

Dreams fuel creativity and inspire people to go far beyond their abilities. I’m speaking specifically about imagination—that ability to dream up solutions and scenarios that, as yet, have not premiered on your life’s stage. Dreams are essential for building a satisfying life and sustaining a high level of hope (the biblical word for a confident expectation).

 Long held dreams of “what if” and “what might be” have driven me to make decisions many thought were silly, irrational, foolish, or totally insane. There have been moments—yes, even months (maybe even years) where their cries of practicality looked like Solomon’s wisdom. They suggested, ripped apart, belittled, and attempted to throttle this dream or that one in the name of what they deemed safe or acceptable. The only problem with that—God did not impart that specific dream within them or…they were too fearful to step out in faith and reach for those far away stars themselves. It amazes me how many people have settled for less because less is always safer or somehow fulfills what is expected by the faceless crowd called normal.  

 Every time I have listened to those erudite naysayers and purveyors of this world’s wisdom and knowledge, I have missed the boat God was in, and was forced to stand on the shore and gaze at what might have been. Let me tell you, regret is not a friend you want to travel long distances with. Failure is a far better companion than regret. At least when you fail, you can pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try again. With regret, all you get is instant replay over and over again.

It is my belief that God gives all of us dreams. He allows them to incubate in the cracks and the crevices of our spirit and soul and then moves them into our heart and eventually into our minds where they can sprout into existence. He puts them there with all the resources we need to bring what we imagine into reality with His help. He partners with us—that’s right the God who created everything partners with you and me.

If I had listened to sensible sages of common sense, horse sense, and ultimately no sense, I would never have married my wife, gone into the plumbing business, acquired an undergraduate degree (not to mention an advanced degree), become a pastor, had a book published (with a second coming out in May of 2012), planted a church, or jug-fished with the alligators in the lily pads on the Ross Barnett Reservoir. No, if I had listened to the wisdom of this world, I would have played it safe and been content to color inside the lines. I would have looked just like everybody else—except…God did not make me like everybody else. That cookie cutter approach to life where we’re all supposed to be average was forged in the dark fires of hell, not in the ingenious mind of our Creator. Look-a-likes and copy cats are supposedly the highest form of a compliment, but in reality they are nothing more than wanna-be’s who missed their opportunity to be cutting edge. They were unwilling to take a chance and lead, but were content to steal a good idea and follow.

Perhaps I am too hard—too sarcastic—too whatever, but I’ve seen far too many dreams squashed and too many people accept less than the best. Perhaps you’re standing on the shore, watching what you think is your opportunity disappear over the horizon as the sails of God’s boat dims in the distance. If so, take a few steps out on that murky water toward your dream’s sunset. I know—I know—people can’t walk on the water (that’s what they told Peter too). Yea, yea there are sharks in the water. Yes, the water is over your head and the tide could carry you out to sea and you might drown. All those things are a possibility, but…unless you take a step—you will never actively partner with God and contend for your dream, and that sunset you’re presently staring at will never become the sunrise of your dream.