A few weeks ago, Frederic Gray, a good friend and gospel preacher, stayed in my home while preaching for the special youth seminar the church here in Grinnell hosted. The whole week was filled with all wonderful lessons and I got extra spoiled as I got special one on one time with him to talk more about the lessons each night. In one of his lessons he talked about the key to lifelong happiness. In that lesson he talked about our expectations verse our reality. When our expectations fail to meet our reality we end up feeling discouraged. When it happens over and over it can destroy any hope of happiness. The problem is not that they don’t match. It happens to us all. When it becomes a real problem is when we try to fix that inequality. More often than not we try to change the reality. And more often than not, reality isn’t changing. Thus, we end up in a seemingly endless cycle of sadness and discouragement. As we discussed this lesson, I began to wonder how much I hurt my children’ hope of happiness by pushing them into this endless cycle.
My eldest daughter loves to run. Her love for running is what got me into running. It was something that we could do together. She has run several 5ks. She competed in cross country this year and currently is participating in track and field. My daughter is not the fastest kid. She is not winning ribbons. While she is on the cusp of being able to place (just a few seconds here and there), she hasn’t gotten there yet. Last night, while watching her compete I caught myself doing something very dangerous. I caught myself setting her up for failure. I was expecting her to do better than she can do right now and showing started seeing in her eyes disappointment. Her reality was not measuring up to my expectations and she was getting discouraged. While I would always encourage my children to do their best, I need to be certain that they understand that I am always proud when they do their best. I need to be certain that they understand that I am always proud when they try hard. There is always going to be someone faster, stronger, smarter, etc. I don’t want to be that Dad that yells at the coach for not permitting my son or daughter to be the starter. I don’t want to be that Dad who ends up trying to either relive his glory days or have a glory that he never had through his children. I don’t want my children growing up believing that despite their best efforts that they disappointed me.
Over the past month I have been suffering from the sensation of vertigo. In case you don’t know, vertigo is the sensation of feeling dizzy. It is much worse than merely being lightheaded (a sensation that I have felt on a number of occasions as well). It literally feels like the world is spinning around you or that you body is being pulled to one side or in my case a combination of the two. Most of the time when I have these “attacks they are rather short lived, but this last month they have been intensifying and lasting longer with each attack. This past Saturday night the attack started around 9:30 at night. I took some Dramamine in hopes of aiding in the intense nausea I was feeling (as well as putting me to sleep). The spinning sensation lasted until about 7:15 the next morning. I woke up several times in the middle of the night feeling like I was being tossed from the bed. The rest of Sunday morning was seemingly going just fine. That is, until our song services began. I couldn’t shake that spinning sensation. They continued to intensify to the point that I couldn’t stand in the pulpit when it became time to preach that morning’s sermon. It was a humiliating experience. I wanted to be there. I was wanting to serve God. My body was keeping me from it. As I was helped to a pew I was hit with yet another sensation. Fear. The fear that this wouldn’t go away. Panic set in and I had to get outside. I wanted to cry. It wasn’t fair. I have been working so hard to fix my health problems (obesity caused health problems) and how I have a new health condition that every doctor told me I can’t do anything about it but wait until by brain recalibrates.
I no longer just had the sensation of spinning out of control. I now felt like my world is spinning out of control and there was no way to stop it. Feeling like you have no control of your life is a very scary thing indeed. Millions of people with anxiety disorders suffer from that very condition. It suffocates them, it overwhelms them and leaves them feeling helpless.
Believe it or not this is where God comes in. To feel overwhelmed and to feel like your world is spinning out of control is not a new sensation. Many “God fearing people” have had that feeling. Elijah was so overcome by worry and trials and tribulations that he felt it was better to die than to continue feeling that way in I Kings 19. David once wrote, “Have mercy upon me, O LORD; for I am weak: O LORD, heal me; for my bones are vexed (Psa. 6:2).” According to Strong’s Dictionary of Bible Words, vexed means “to be alarmed or agitated.” Inward parts feel just that way when I am under a vertigo attack or feeling panic stricken. David, while feeling that way, cried out asking for mercy. Asking God to heal him. My doctors don’t have a solution, but my God does. He promised Paul that in our weaknesses is where he is made strong (II Cor. 12:9). I will trust that God will be strong in me. And if I must suffer many more days with this feeling of spinning out of control I will trust in God to give me whatever I need to get through these difficult days. He will have mercy on me and all that call and trust upon him!
This week I have had the opportunity to have a good friend in my home. I first met him while attending Florida College. He was easily the most recognizable person in a room. Not because he was the tallest. Not because of some physical quality, although his laugh is wonderfully one of a kind. He was the most recognizable person because of his love for God and his love for others. He was someone that you wanted to be friends with because you knew he was going to help you be a better person. He was going to help you through the hard times and he was going to be someone that would help you not take yourself so seriously. (And while it took me a while to learn that lesson, I did eventually learn it).
So, right now he is in my home. He has dined at my table and we have had numerous talks about God, faith, family, and the Lord’s church. While I have seen much growth in him in the 20 years that we have known each other (and yes that is making me feel old writing that) I also see that young man that helped me all those years ago.
Solomon once wrote, “A friend loves at all time (Prov. 17:17).” What a powerfully true statement. A friend is going to be there for you at all times. When times are tough. When you are feeling beaten down. When you cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel, the friend is there for you (not like Job’s who seemed to throw fuel on the fire, but one like Jesus who is there to help carry the load.) Last night he shared a story with me about what part of the body of Christ he would be. He said without missing a beat… the colon. He helps people get rid of the waste. While that might sound grotesque. While you might have chuckled as you read this, the only reason I cracked a smile is because I knew how right he was. He is not just an easy person to talk to, he is wise and helpful. He was then, he is now. A friend is also going to be there when you have reason to rejoice. Whether it be a wedding, a birth, a new birth in Christ, or some other reason. A friend is going to be there for that too. One of the things I have loved about this friend of mine is that he was just that. He was always happy to praise God with you as something good has come your way. He loved seeing others prosper, grow, and receive the blessings of God. A good friend is not going to be jealous that you have done well. A good friend is not going to be envious of your new job. A good friend is going to be happy that God is sending blessings your way. A good friend is also going to be a friend even after years have separated you. As I had mentioned, it had been awhile since our college days. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of times we have seen each other since I moved out of his house (we roomed together for about a month after college). And yet, when I asked him to come to Iowa to preach a special series of lessons to the young people in our community he was happy to do so. These last couple of days have felt like old times, maybe even better. Why? Because a friend loves at all times!
My wife and I homeschool our children. However, our eldest participates in extra-curricular activities at the local middle school. This year she has participated in Cross-County, Track and Field, and Chorus. So, each day I have to make certain that she gets to the school on time (like most of you do). After dropping my daughter off, I usually drive through the teacher’s parking lot on my way out. I like to use it because it exits on the same street I live in. This essentially requires two less turns that usual. But, more importantly to my little post here, it is a one-way parking lot. It is clearly marked as such. Two “Do Not Enter” signs are clearly posted on either side of the parking lot exit. It would be impossible to miss them. This past week, as I dropped my daughter off at school for chorus practice I noticed a car parked the wrong way directly in front of the “Do Not Enter” sign.
This really began to worry me. As I drove home I kept thinking, how could someone end up parking the wrong way? Three thoughts eventually came to mind. The person didn’t know what the sign meant. That is, either they were incapable of reading words, or comprehending what the expression “Do Not Enter” means. This bothered me a lot. This bothered me because this is supposed to be a teacher. Certainly we don’t have certified teachers with a college education teaching our children the three R’s (reading, writing and arithmetic) who are incapable of reading and understanding a simple sign that says, “Do not enter.” The second thought that came to mind was that the person didn’t care. They knew what the sign said. They knew that violation of traffic signs can and should result in fines (and tickets). They just didn’t care. They felt that their personal authority overruled the authority implied in that traffic sign. This means that we have a teacher that doesn’t get how authority works. I certainly am thankful that this was a middle school teacher and not a teacher at Harvard Law School. But, then again, these impressionable children are seeing their teacher show little care for authority. What if they chose to show her little care for the authority she has as a public school teacher. What if they act like their personal form of authority overrides any the teacher may have? (The scary thing is that this is already happening). The third thought that popped into my mind was that the teacher knew exactly what he/she was doing. He/she was protesting for his/her right to park any way he/she wants. The teacher knew the consequences, but he/she was going to permit him/herself to be a “martyr” just to prove that no one has a right to tell him/her how and where to park.
As I continued my short drive home, as a preacher immediately started thinking about how these three mentalities are already found in God’s people. What is even scarier is that I think that these three mentalities are often found in people who proclaim that they are teachers or preachers of God’s word. There are people out there with doctorates of theology attached to their names, graduates of seminaries, etc that do not really comprehend what God’s word is saying. Now, before you get upset with such a comment, they existed in Jesus’ day too. The chief priests, scribes, Pharisees, and the Sadducees were all highly educated spiritual teachers that Jesus often showed were lacking in real, genuine knowledge of God’s word. We have many “educated” teachers leading God’s people astray because they comprehend what God is really trying to reveal unto us. Like those of Jesus’ day, the ones that are failing today often permit their “education” to get in the way. That is, they believe that because they are educated at a seminary they must be right. There are also teachers out there that knowing violate the perfect law of liberty because they think that their way is better. I won’t mention any names, but I once read an interview of a rather famous preacher that refused to teach what he believed to be the truth found in God’s word. When pressed as to why he wouldn’t he said, “You cannot reach people with that message.” He acknowledged God’s word clearly taught something concerning salvation and that he was teaching something else because it was easier to reach people with his message. Authority meant nothing to him. He failed to remember to understand what God meant when he said that his ways are higher than our ways. And finally, there are some teachers who knowingly teach the wrong thing or practice the sinful activities because they want to be trail blazers. They want to stick it to God. They want to prove that authority is a bad thing. It might seem weird to say that a spiritual leader would tear down authority like that, but the reality is the “coexist” and “tolerance” movement are doing that very thing. They proclaim that God is NOT the only way. That Jesus is not the ONLY way. This is not just a blatant disregard for God, it is idolatry, spiritual adultery and God will judge those that lead in this way.