I did not arrive on the doorstep of my seventh decade in the best of shape.
Somewhere on this sabbatical I strained a ligament in my elbow. Hulk-like requirements were not met with Hulk-like strength; something had to give. That something was my ligament! So I am playing the one-arm-man for the obligatory six-week healing process.
A few days back I set out to cut the grass in our heavily wooded two acres. Poison Ivy and Poison Oak abound. Since I am very allergic to the urushiol (u-ROO-she-ol) in the plants, I generally cover up head-to-toe. What possessed me to cut and weed-eat the entire property in shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt, I do not know, but all hopes I might one day build up an immunity to this stuff have vanished. Arms, legs, stomach (how did that happen?) are begging me to scratch them. I should buy stock in calamine lotion.
Then there was my toe. We have a lot of concrete in our circular driveway and and a lot of Arkansas stone decorating various parts of the drive. it was high-time to dislodge all the mold, mildew, and moss. Not a problem. We have a pressure cleaner. I was into my third day of this assault when I inadvertently passed the wand of our 3100 PSI machine over my left big toe. Thank you God for pain or I might have severed that toe. (Yes, I was barefooted, but no more).
The toe incident started me hobbling, but it was the kickball game with the grands that put me out of commission. Three generations of our family were playing kickball at the local park on the Fourth of July when Brent, our son-in-law and former collegiate soccer player, came to the plate. I backed up, but not enough. So when the ball started to sail over my head I played Willie Mays and went back for the kickball catch of the decade . . . until my calf muscle rebelled. It popped! I stopped! Brent scored (he would have scored anyway!), and I was commissioned to the couch and further hobbling.
Oh, and did I mention the stye in my eye? I’ve been battling that irritant for the last week and a half. I see better with my contacts. I read better with my contacts. I like my contacts! They are much better for boating and tubing and generally far more convenient, but the stye meant contacts off, glasses on!
These were my unwelcome companions as I entered my seventh decade. I know, I know. It’s not that bad. Shannan and I have friend (I have known her since we were little kids), whose husband of thirty-two years recently lost a battle to cancer.
My issues are temporary and inconvenient. Her issue is permanent and anguishing.
Still, when problems pop up I sometimes cry with the psalmist:
The psalmist, like all of us caught in harder times, wondered if God’s grace and compassion were past-tense properties; good for “those people,” back then but not for him in his moment of need.
Sunday morning I was reading more from the Psalms and also Paul’s words to Timothy. As God so often does when I open his Word, he placed me at the intersection of those two passages to remind me Who he was is who he is — always and forever.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. . . . The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” Psalm 46:1, 11
As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people (present tense), from this time forth and forevermore. Psalm 125:2
But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me. . . . The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.” 2 Timothy 4:17-18
I needed to see that “is.”
When I live by my circumstances I have a tendency to think “was.” God was once gracious. God was once kind. But certainly if God loved me I would not have to endure the current inconvenience, the pain, the anguish, the setback, the loss, the grief.
Paul, the man who would lose his head for Christ (literally), knew the presence of problems did not mean the absence of the Person. The Lord was too good to leave him in his darkest hour. Paul writes,
When I face tough times I must think “IS” and not “WAS.” God IS our refuge and strength. That’s why Paul could say — and I can too:
The Lord stands by me in this tough time.
The Lord strengthens me in this tough time.
The Lord will rescue me from this tough time.
“Wait a minute!” we object! “The Lord may have stood by him, but the Lord didn’t deliver him! Paul died.”
Oh, but the Lord did deliver him! Note Paul’s words, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.”
I err when I think deliverance will always occur this side of pain and this side of the grave. Sometimes it does, but sometimes it does not. My ultimate safety is “in Christ” and “in his heavenly kingdom.” This is not cloud and harp theology, but the stark reality that this life is brief and our ultimate destination in the heavenly kingdom.
In your pain and loss . . . God IS. God is standing by you. God is strengthening you. God is rescuing you from this tough time. Because God IS our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble.
So I didn’t arrive on the doorstep of my seventh decade in the best of shape . . . and I’m glad. I learned the difference between “was” and “IS.”