Monday, July 17, 2017

Traveling the same difficult road.

On my Hiking Bucket List is one of the most challenging (and frankly insane) hikes in the world. I don't know that I will ever be able to get to it but if I can it would be awesome! The trail is on Mount Huashan in China. The picture to the right is a picture of this famous trail with the planks attached to the side of the mountain that make up the trail. I've read about the hike and looked at pictures of others on the trail. Thousands of people travel this trail each year, with an estimated 100 falling to their deaths. With this many people traveling this trail I think I could travel the same difficult road to the top of the mountain.

This past week I had the opportunity to speak to a lady who is starting down a very difficult road. This woman recently received a difficult cancer diagnosis. The road she is beginning to travel is the same one I walked down 16 years ago. This sweet woman found out she has melanoma skin cancer and will have to have a procedure in the near future to remove it. When I was informed of her diagnosis, since I had walked that worrisome path myself, I went to minister to her. In our conversation I tried to encourage her and give her hope. Even though everyone's body is different and every one reacts differently to treatments, I wanted her to know there is hope in what the doctors could do and there is hope in her relationship with God. While we talked I mentioned to her how people don't understand, unless they've been in that situation before, how you stop listening when the doctor says you have cancer. I could see a light come on in her eyes when I made that comment. She knew she was talking to someone who knew what she was experiencing. Part of the reason she was able to be encouraged by our visit was because the more we talked, the more she realized that she was hearing from someone who truly knew how she felt. She knew that she was dealing with someone who had traveled the same difficult road she was beginning to travel.

Sometimes we look at the hardships in our life as difficult circumstances that we would rather avoid. No one enjoys physical, emotional, spiritual or any other kind of pain. We can be left battered, bruised, and scarred by the difficult roads we travel in life. Often times we look at those experiences and think "God, what good can come from this?" We see it as nothing but pain and think its only purpose was like the old adage "What doesn't kill us only makes us stronger." We can turn our experiences on those difficult roads into opportunities to care and minister to others. God uses those difficult circumstances to bring about not only our good (Romans 8:28), but also His good in other people's lives. We should look at our experiences as an opportunity to be a guide for others who start down the same road we've traveled. There is comfort in knowing that there is someone out there who has faced the same exact struggle you are facing. It is encouraging to hear them describe how they faced the same challenges you are facing.

In my years of ministry I've had the opportunity to minister to several people facing the same kind of cancer I faced. I've had other difficulties in my life that have allowed me to more effectively minister to those facing those same difficulties. But we don't have to be called by God to pastoral ministry to be used by Him to minister to those around us. The man facing the role of caregiver to his wife struggling with dementia can minister to others as no one else can. The woman abused as a child can minister to others in a way only she can. The parent who has lost a child can minister because they know the pain a parent faces in that situation. Those made a widow or widower after decades of marriage can only be consoled by those who have experienced the same life-shattering loss in their own life. Don't view the difficult roads you've traveled as something meant to destroy you. View them as something used by God in your life to bring hope, peace, and comfort to the lives of those traveling the same difficult road.

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Monday, July 10, 2017

When things get crazy.

Saturday was an interesting day on our farm. I worked with my dad to sort out some calves to be sold at a livestock market. The way things went wasn't exactly like I had planned. First the calves wouldn't voluntarily go into a holding pen to eat feed while I shut the stall door behind them. This generally works and is much easier and safer for all involved. Instead they stayed out in the large open area of our barn meaning my dad and I had to sort out a few to keep at the farm while trying to keep the ones to be sold in the barn. We got down to one last 500 pound bull calf we needed to put back in the field and we were close to getting him out of the barn. Then out of nowhere a 400 pound heifer started freaking out. If you've never been in an enclosed space with animals that size, then you don't know what exciting (or terrifying) is. When the heifer lost her mind she came charging at me with no plans of slowing down. Now I'm a big guy at 6'5" and 195 pounds, but I was not about to get ran over by a 400 pound freight train. As she made a lap inside the barn and headed at me, my only option to avoid the ER was to climb the wall of the barn and hold on to the top of the wall for dear life. If you've ever watched a rodeo where people climbed the wall to get out of the way of a bull, then you get the gist of what I looked like trying to get out of the way of this crazed heifer. Fortunately for me she ran under me and missed me when she kicked at me. After 2 more laps inside the barn and two more wall climbing adventures that would've make Spider-man proud, we finally were able to get the bull calf out of the barn. After a few minutes the heifer calmed down and followed other calves as they went in the stall.

So where is the spiritual lesson in locking yourself in an enclosed place with quarter ton animals that can run you over and send you to the hospital. Well, I'm glad you asked. The lesson is all about training yourself spiritually and developing a stronger faith. Last year when we sorted calves in the summer time to send to the market. I was 50 pounds heavier than I am now. Also I didn't exercise in anyway and wasn't taking care of my body. Since October of last year I've changed my eating habits and started exercising 5-6 days a week. Saturday it paid off because I was leaner and stronger than I was a year ago and it kept me from some serious injuries. Had a calf went crazy like that last year, it would have definitely ended differently for me.

When we become spiritual couch potatoes we aren't prepared for those difficult times that arise in our life. We are out of shape spiritually, we are weak in our faith, and we aren't living on a healthy diet of prayer and bible study. The result is we don't have the energy or strength to spiritually keep ourselves from harm. Instead if we put in the dedication, day in and day out, to care for our spiritual bodies, then we will see a different result when those difficulties in life appear. If we're spending time in prayer and bible study, then God will use those spiritual disciplines to strengthen us from the inside out. If we exercise our faith daily by strengthening our spiritual lives through other opportunities such as service, worship, fellowship, and giving, then we are regularly preparing ourselves for those days when things don't go exactly as planned. Does this mean things will be perfect for us? No it doesn't. What it does mean is that when things go from perfect to terrifying, you are better equipped to handle the situation because God has already prepared you for it.

If you've not been actively strengthening your spiritual life, then make a commitment and start today. Do what is necessary and make the needed changes so you will have a stronger faith tomorrow. Allow God to start working in your spiritual life in such a way that you will be better prepared for those difficult moments in life.

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