Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What's inside?

I was out on some errands today and happened to drive by the new hospital that is being built in town. It's not huge but for our small community, it is pretty impressive to see a two story plus structure going up. I love watching buildings being built. We had a house built once and I could hardly stay away. I think I drove the contractor crazy. And when we built a new addition to our church in New Mexico, I got very little office work or pastoral calling done - I was too busy "supervising."

Our new local hospital has been a long time in the planning and once they broke ground, it was several months before there was any real, visible progress because lots of foundation work had to be meticulously laid.

Then they started laying some steel this past spring and things really began staking shape. It looks like a building. When I came back from vacation having been away for a few weeks however, I was surprised to see that little had changed. To the untrained eye looking at surface level, it appeared that nothing had been done for the last few months. So today I stopped and took a closer look (Don't worry, I didn't go inside the construction gates and bother any workers). Deep on the inside of the building are several massive, slanted, steel bracings. They are made of large circular pipe and they are welded to floor and ceiling in several straategic spots on each floor. Ah, earthquake reinforcements! That's it. Now I get it. The real strength of a building is not what we see on the outside. That is all architectural and cosmetic. The real strength is deep inside, shoring up walls and floors where, once the building is done, very few people will ever see or care about.

While Judy and I were on vacation on our boat, we raided our vault of favorite DVD movies. One night we decided on a movie neither of us had seen for a long time but one we both truly enjoyed. "Chariots of Fire" tells the story of Eric Liddell. Liddell was known as the flying Scotsman. Ultimately he was martyred by the communists in China where he was continuing the mission work his parents had begun.
Before that, he was known as the fastest man in Great Britain. During the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris he made headlines around the world by refusing to run in a qualifying heat for the 100 meters event because it was held on a Sunday; a day he considered to be the Sabbath. Imagine, giving up a chance for glory that few of us can even dream about.

Instead, that very same Sunday he preached a sermon in a Paris church. Based on Isaiah 40:28 - 31 he asked people to consider where the true strength in life is truly found. Isaiah's words echo still for me: Even youths grow tired and weary and young men stumble and all but those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. They will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not be faint."

I talk with more and more people all the time who are just simply weary. Their strength is gone. Working 70 hours a week, out every night with commitments and family responsibilities, worried about the financial pressures of paying for all the stuff they have, exhausted from strained marriages, broken freindships and worried about the condition of the world, many people - myself included at times - seem to be stumbling along; barely able to walk through life let alone sense any grand fulfillment or joy.

We put so much emphasis on appearing strong; shaping, tanning, dressing and toning the outer self we sometimes forget the need for the inner, strengthening braces of God's power in our lives. We expend so much energy trying to keep up the facade that we are strong and able to cope with life's trials, that we are worn out before one of them comes.

Where does the strength come from? For Eric Liddell - and for Isaiah - the strength comes from God who never grows tired or weary. That God gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak - inwardly. What a great promise.

It has been my observation throughout 37 years of ministry that this increasing of power and strength in life is a joint process where our spirit and will is active and alert to work with God's Holy Spirit to accomplish His purposes and help us redirect our priorities and efforts towards things that are truly important.

I see some of those inner bracing pieces in my life as my relationship with God first - if that is not right, nothing else will fit or make sense. I also see having healthy family relationships, one or two strong friendships, and the fellowship of God's people surrounding me as key ingredients. They may not be part of my outward persona or architectural appearance. But the Lord welds those other, more important, even if less obvious aspects of my life into place and uses them to provide strength in the midst of trial.

Sure I get tired to. Yes, my resolve and my courage wane. After a 60+ hour week of dealing with people and their unique needs and problems, I feel like "crashing" at times. It is then I recall, "Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength..."

"Teach me Lord to wait on you; to put my whole trust and life in your care; to let go of the worry and stress that each day presents and find me hope in you."

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