Sunday, February 16, 2014

Winning the Gold

John Eldredge and Brent Curtis weave a compelling story of a nineteenth century discuss thrower who developed his skills in his native Scottish highlands before professional trainers existed (The Sacred Romance/Thomas Nelson). 
The would-be competitor made his own discus from a description he read in a book. He failed to understand that the discus used in competition would be made of wood and only rimmed with iron. Thus, he made his discus of solid metal, three or four times the weight of a competition discus.
He measured his field and marked the distance of the current record holder, and began training. He practiced for nearly a year, using his self-imposed burden. When finally able to match the record, he traveled to England  and confidently prepared to compete; he was ready to win the gold.

When officials handed our hero an official discus made of wood, and only rimmed with iron, he promptly threw it like a tea saucer and set a new record. He threw it so far that no one could match him and for many years he remained the uncontested champion.

A tenting accident became that iron discus for Charles, a young minister. An accident stole Charles’s career and left him lying on a bed of pain for the next forty-one years. There, chained to his bed by self-pity and depression, Charles laid in a depressed state for eight long years before rediscovering the power of faith.

"Faith produces the building blocks wherewith we build up life,” wrote C. W. Naylor (The Secret of the Singing Heart/Warner Press/96). Stumbling along in his dark night of affliction, Charles re-discovered God in the darkness of his own soul. Determining that God had not deserted him, Naylor now turned from his self-imposed condemnation and accepted his limitation. Thus, he began writing a new chapter in his life.

God opened “doors of opportunity to me in a most unexpected way,” he confessed, (Singing Heart/ 69). Fresh discoveries of God’s abounding grace radiated from his humble Hoosier bungalow. Re-assured of God’s loving grace, Naylor faithfully pushed his pen across page after page of joyous faith.

His drooping spirit began to lift, like a sagging Spruce branch rising with the melting of its heavy snow-burden. Naylor’s singing heart overcame his pain and suffering. Moreover, his new audience delighted in his new inspirational writings and his audience became larger and more effective than ever..

After twenty-one years of constant suffering, Naylor concluded, “I am happy, I am happy everyday, I will not have it any other way.”  A singing heart did not eliminate those difficult days when the bed-ridden preacher had “to pull hard on the rope” to make the joy bells “to ring.”

However, Naylor wrote, “I have learned that troubles do not make unhappiness” and I “kept on pulling until they pealed out their joyous tones” (p. 50).

One of the numerous hymns that Naylor wrote was this one that comes from Romans 8:35-39.  Written prior to his accident, it establishes the benchmark of our faith. It also prepared Charles Wesley Naylor for the very dark tunnel ahead of him, and the singing heart he would discover  through the renewing of his faith:

            Whether I live or die,
                        Whether I wake or sleep,
            Whether upon the land
                        Or on the stormy deep;
            When ‘tis serene and calm
                        Or when the wild winds blow,
            I shall not be afraid--
                        I am the Lord’s I know.

            When with abundant store
                        Or in deep poverty,
            And when the world may smile
                        Or it may frown on me;
            When it shall help me on
                        Or shall obstruct my way,
            Still shall my heart rejoice--
                        I am the Lord’s today.
                                                            (Worship the Lord/1989/639).
            Later, C. W Naylor recalled the earlier events in his life that led to his writing of this popular hymn.  He was a young itinerant minister, but circumstance dictated that he put aside his traveling evangelistic ministry so that he might care for his injured grandfather. One gray day while sitting by the window, Charles watched the falling raindrops.

Overcome momentarily with a spirit of depression resulting from his inactivity and lack of local preaching opportunities, Charles meditated on his circumstances. After quieting his spirit before God, he concluded. “Well, if I can do nothing, I am the Lord’s anyway.”

With that thought percolating in his mind, the young preacher took pencil and paper in hand, and began to write. Recounting that event in an article he wrote later, he admitted that the words he wrote expressed “the feelings that were in my heart as nearly as I could in the words of song” (Warner Press/Vital Christianity/7-4-76).

            Adversities come and go, but faith fortifies us in the knowledge
            There’s no defeat in life
                        Save from within;
            Unless you’re beaten there
                        You’re bound to win.
                                                            (Singing Heart/11)

From Warner’s World, I am

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Embracing Life

Having business at the Post Office this morning, I pushed myself enough to dress warmly and drive to town in heavy snow. The morning was mild, the polar vortex having receded … It felt good!  While there, I inter-acted with a number of people, assisting a young woman into the building with her large package, observing a man who had to go back through the line for whatever reason, and in general watch the crowd.

Everybody seemed relaxed although the weather seemed rather insistent on making everyone change their pace. It felt good! I realized I had almost forgotten how much I enjoyed walking the streets of my Lake Michigan community in a hard snowstorm as a teen, deeply burrowed into a pair of high-top boots, heavy sheepskin jacket, cap and ear-muffs. That was more than sixty years years ago when I experienced the pleasure of walking the long mile home from school to my house on the far south outskirts. I found that experience exhilarating!

When I left home for college, I also left those lakeshore winters of West Michigan and for almost three decades I only dreamed of weather with four full seasons. Following my return to West Michigan, I learned all over again how to experience Michigan winters, except I discovered lake effect snows and how it is to experience winter as an adult. Many of those winters, I enjoyed clearing the snow from the driveway and keeping my sidewalks clean, even keeping our block cleared, and nearest neighbors shoveled out.

On returning home from the Post Office, I did a bit of clean-up. Rick keeps my drive plowed with his truck but I cleared the way for the Postman and checked the sidewalk for stray pedestrians. It felt good as I remembered how I once enjoyed such experiences that are now rejected simply because “I’m too old and don’t feel like it!” Standing there, shovel in hand, “it felt good, all over again”! 

Regardless of the pain in my back, resulting in double scoliosis from a painful 20-foot fall while working on our new church building in Three Rivers in 1985, I experienced that same exhilaration. Reminds me of the picture I posted on Facebook yesterday. I wrote noting the day as February 1; saying it will not be long now, and posted a Netherlands Nursery scene revealing acres of the red and white tulips I so dearly love, growing among flowering trees – truly a lovely Spring scene -- pictured above.

With that, Jim Fleming posted a response note from Ocala, Florida, jesting with me for being something of an optimist.Maybe so, Jim; or, maybe I wilfully (or naively) choose to embrace life. With the onslaught of years, many people forget the exhilaration of a strenuous walk in a snowstorm with temperatures in the teens. With the forming and solidifying of habits, how easy it is to unconsciously reject the exhilarating exercises of younger years, or to become so comfortable in our ways that we habitually resist change and other discomforts. 

Whatever, I jestingly fired back to the reverend Jim and reminded him of that Prince of Southern Baptist preacher’s, Dr. R. G. Lee and his famous sermon that said, “Sunday is coming!” Still later, I shared my musings with my wife, in Kentucky, 375 miles down the road and unable to come home because doctors say she cannot travel. This is the person to whom I have been married 67 years (come 2-9), who has never known what it was to back up from anything; --her own potential death via cancer to the potential loss of the “preemie” she birthed after losing five babies in the attempt. 

More recently, I read Marjorie Holmes novel The Messiah and was greatly inspired by the way Jesus embraced life—right up to being nailed down to a cross. He embraced his own cross rather than resisting it or fleeing from it. With that, I turned back to a thought I have had many times: the reason so many people resist Christianity is that they reject change, discomfort, and pain. They cannot, or will not, confess a failure, push aside the pieces, and accept the changes involved in facing forward into tomorrow—embrace the future.  

It is true, Jesus promised abundant life, but abundant life comes only as you embrace it, in spite of the snow storm, the threat of death, the potential loss of a child, or terminal illness like my friend Paul currently experiences. Instead of fleeing from it, Paul has embraced it and worked with his medical team. He laughed at his transition from black hair to baldness, while his church prayed. He has modeled a wonderful example, although in a very real sense he, like Jesus, was being nailed to a cross.

Next Thursday morning at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville, Paul will undergo the surgical knife. He expects to return home cancer free. His walk has been painful, but hopeful. His surgery will be fearful, but we all remain prayerfully hopeful. The prognosis is very good, but life has no guarantees. Like the rest of us in our uncertainties, Paul follows Jesus with that expectant air of embracing the future.

As the Church flounders today amid uncertainty, transition, and turmoil, my hope is that we can all accept the challenge before each of us to embrace the future, whatever change, uncertainty, discomfort, or pain it may hold. From Warner’s World, I am