To Reach New Heights You Must Dive to New Lows

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I am completely fascinated by a video I viewed recently recorded by a team of biologists with  National Geographic. The Great Cormorant is a large majestic bird that lives high along the trees or cliffs near the ocean.  The cormorant lives off of eels and fish caught deep on the ocean floor.  Biologists attached a camera to the back of one of these big birds to study their eating habits and eventually posted it to YouTube.  The cormorant dove into the water and descended to a depth of over 150 feet, a level that would cause most humans to pass out without proper diving gear. The deeper the bird went the darker the waters became and it was hard at times to make out the video.  Upon reaching the ocean floor the cormorant actually walks the bottom looking for food, following his senses when it’s too dark to detect the surroundings, until it finds just what it wants to satisfy its craving.  When it catches its prey it swims back to the surface in record time and takes less than 10 seconds to decompress, at which time it enjoys the catch of the day.  The food source these birds rely on can only be found at the rocky bottom of the oceans where they live. Only by navigating deep ocean levels for its sustenance can it enjoy living high in the cliffs.

Earlier this year during my prayer time I asked God to take me to a new level of faith uncommon to the status quo of everyday Christendom. I asked this not to become better than others in the faith, but that I may have an uncommon revelation of who God is and who I could become through Him.  It sounded like a genuine request-I wasn’t asking for material blessings or a better life, just a deeper walk, expecting voices and visions and mountain top experiences.  The past year of my life has been the darkest, coldest, loneliest and most silent period of my Christian journey, one from which I have yet to completely emerge. If you have read my earlier posts like God in a Steel Cage or God’s Deafening Silence, you may have a clue to what this period has been like for me.  I have definitely sank to new spiritual lows in the process.

I discovered only what I think I already knew about God but I mistakenly gave Him permission to prove it to me.  So consider this fair warning if you are serious about your faith and tempted to ask God to do the same for you.  I had already learned about patience earlier.  Patience is NOT one of my spiritual gifts.  I don’t like lines, I don’t like being late, I will stand by the microwave counting the seconds for my instant oatmeal and all speed limits are merely suggestions.  I was only smart enough to know I needed more patience.  God didn’t grant me my request with a sprinkling of holy water or twenty Our Fathers. No, He put me in situations that demanded patience. I have to admit I firmly believe God finds humor at times in testing us-didn’t think it possible for God to be sadistic. He sent me fender benders on the only freeway out of my section of town that added thirty minutes of waiting.  He would send me to the shortest check out line at the store only to find it was either the line for training new cashiers who had no computer skills or the line with that person, you know the one, who finds every item in the store that has no price tag.  He would make me take the call from that customer you’ve taken care of successfully for years who goes ballistic when 50 of his 5000 brochures weren’t folded just right.  Ask and it shall be given thee-for reals!!!!

Given what I knew about the patience thing I should have expected as much from God when making my lofty request for a deeper experience.  But I wasn’t prepared for what happens when God gets serious.  I can only attempt to describe in words my spiritual journey this past year.  I liken it to the dark portion of a haunted house, minus the screams, you know that portion where there is total darkness and many built-in dead ends and sections where the floor underneath your feet gives way and you can’t find your way except by holding on to the shirt of the person in front of you, except I had no shirt to hold on to. Darkness, silence, no direction, no voices, no clues or hints of light to guide me, and decreasing confidence with every step, having nothing to lead me except for my knowledge of His Word, which I had to force myself to recall.  I had asked God to take me to new heights and He took me first to all time lows.

As Christians many of us have false conceptions of what our faith walk and life in Christ are to look like.  Through false teaching and itching ears we want to believe that our journey should be one of ease, one of peace and one of tangible Osteen type blessings where our healing is just around the corner and our favorite parking spot at the mall is just waiting for us to pull in and claim.  But without explanation or justification God allows the righteous to suffer illness and the nearest parking spot to be blocks away on a rainy day. Or perhaps we aren’t nearly that gullible and we realize that wanting to grow deeper in our faith requires that we be willing to endure situations too uncomfortable for us to eagerly choose on our own so that settling for mediocrity and the path of least resistance is preferred.  Given the options, I can certainly understand.  I felt and still feel at times like asking God what I did to cause these trials.  The irony is that God was in fact answering my request and honoring me by driving me to the ocean floor where I would find just what was needed to sustain me and allow me to live at a higher level.  It is the method God uses for all of us.  I can’t build muscle by looking at pictures of ripped men in magazines, but by going to the gym and tearing down the smaller muscles I have now through pain and exertion.

There is yet another bird that has recently been discovered that can fly at an altitude of over 21,000 feet over the Himalayas and at commercial airline heights.  I’m not sure if I want to soar that high, at least not yet.  For now I’ll settle for flying over the Smoky Mountains and a diet of food at my current altitude until I catch my breath.

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Fan Into Flame the Gifts Inside

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There is an episode in my childhood I will never forget. We were at a church function and the boys were picking teams for a basketball game. I was tall for my age, about twelve at the time, and being born in Indiana, the basketball capitol of the world, you might think I slept with a basketball, ala basketball Jones. Nothing could be further from reality. I couldn’t dribble except while eating and I threw the basketball like a baseball, and usually over the backboard.  I was picked dead last-I think I heard the comment “I guess we’ll take him”. Ouch. That hurt a lot. That night I made it my goal to never ever again be the last person picked by a team forced to take me. I bought a basketball and headed to Park Lafayette on the west side of Indianapolis every single day.  I spent four to five hours a day or more watching players, playing with those who were bigger and better than I was, practicing the fundamentals of dribbling, jump shots, bank shots, free throws, blocking out and rebounding (the NBA might find these fundamentals useful). In two short years I was a starter on the grade school basketball team and I continued working to become a starter in high school.  I had the size and the skills but I had done nothing to discover or develop then into ability.  I had to grow into my given skill set.

When I was younger my parents and friends noticed I was always tapping on things, tapping to music, tapping to anything that had a beat. So one Christmas they bought me a blue metallic Ludwig snare drum.  I played that thing in the basement every day until bedtime. In high school I decided to buy my first drum set, a used 5 piece Pearl set.

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Like with basketball I soon discovered that having the right equipment didn’t make me a drummer.  But the gift of rhythm was already inside me so all I needed to do was practice, study and observe others who were better than I was.  One year after purchasing the set I was in a Christian band and playing weekly around the mid-west.  In both instances, I did not create my own talent or gifts, but rather I developed that which was already inside me and did what I could to bring it out for my use and enjoyment.  I have seen seven foot men who couldn’t hit a layup and I’ve seen kids with 12 piece drum kits who couldn’t keep a straight 4/4 beat. We each have to discover our gifts and develop them through practice and patience.

The New Testament speaks about spiritual gifts we all receive when we come to accept and follow Christ. We are each given differing abilities so that we can serve each other in the body of Christ. 2 Timothy 1:6 says that we are to “fan into a flame the gifts that we have received”.  Accepting Christ and deciding to live your life for Him does not make you a minister, a Bible scholar or a small group leader anymore than buying a Bible makes you a believer.  Some in the body have not yet learned this. In working out our salvation with “fear and trembling” there is a learning process that must be accepted and endured. God does not give us developed spiritual gifts, but rather the seeds of these gifts that are ours to cultivate or fan into flame. 

There is something about fire that is captivating. I can sit around my fire pit at night and just get lost in the flames-something just draws me in and holds my attention. It is alive, ever glowing but changing color, always changing while remaining the same. The properties of these gifts God has placed within each of us should have that same affect when others see them at work in our lives. They should be compelling and inviting, showing the love and the way to Christ, opposed to the approach that much of today’s church has taken through Bible weaponry and hatred. But these gifts will remain untapped and dormant if we ignore them or rely on our favorite TV evangelist to somehow reach through the screen and zap us into super Christians through miracles prayers and a generous seed offering. 

Jesus’s parable of the talents comes to mind here. Three individuals were given talents based on their respective abilities.  Two of the three fanned into flame their gifts and doubled them while the one buried his deep with no thought or intent of growth. The two were deemed good and faithful-the one, not so much!  What are we doing to fan into flame that which God has planted in us upon our election?  Can we keep a beat or connect on a jumper, or would we be the last one picked because we have no apparent skills?  While age has decreased my ability to jump or ball the way I once did, spiritual gifts do not decay with age and remain eternal for the benefit and edification of the body of Christ.  God teach us to develop what you have richly given.