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It’s All In Your Hands

Lake Winona was the location of the YMCA campsite in Ormond Beach, Florida – the hometown of my childhood.  For two weeks each summer the First Baptist Church would rent the Lake Winona campsite to provide for it Youth and Children’s Ministry.  I began attending Junior Camp when I was nine years old.  Later, when I was a teenager, I attended Senior Camp.  After I left for college, I was invited back to become the camp pastor and preacher.

 The Lake Winona campsite holds a special place in my heart.  It was the first place I shot a rifle.  It was the first place that I pulled back a bow and sent an arrow towards a target.  It was the first place I ever kissed a girl.  It was the first place I heard the gospel.  It was where I asked Jesus to become a part of my life.  It was the place where I first sensed God calling me into the ministry.  In addition to all these significant events, Camp Winona also became the place where I almost died. 

 It happened like this.  Each year on the last day of camp, all the campers engage in sort of an Olympic competition that pitted cabin against cabin.  There were individual swimming races and team swimming relays.  There were canoe swamps – an event in which cabin mates sat in a canoe and splash water into the canoes of their opponents.  When a canoe sank, it was removed from competition.  This continued until only one canoe was left afloat.  Another big event greased watermelon competition.  What a site it was.  A grease covered watermelon was placed in the lake and the campers were turned loose (first the guys and then the girls).  The challenge was to work as a cabin to bring the watermelon to shore.  It was only by the grace of God that nobody was ever seriously hurt.

Now I was not then nor am I now a fan of deep water.  I survived these events by steering clear of the competition.  The problem was that each camper had to compete in at least one competition.  Therefore, what they did was take all of us wimps and put us together in the cabin canoe race.  It worked like this.  Six of us were packed into a canoe and told to paddle out into the late (by hand) passed a small floating dock, and then to return to shore.  Mr. Park’s (our cabin’s chaperon) had a bright idea.  Instead of trying to turn the canoe by paddling on just one side, once we were passed the dock we would all standup, turn around, sit down, and paddle back to shore. 

 I do not have to spell it out for you – you are smart people.  You know what happened.  The canoe tipped over and sank.  Everyone else in the canoe knew how to swim.  I did not!  In desperation, I reached out and grabbed the canoe that was paddle next to us.  I tipped it over – and all of its members also knew how to swim and they headed for shore.  At this point, I had no place else to go but down.  I just began to sink.  I splash and screamed for help, but with eleven other children splashing about, nobody seemed to notice my plight.  I felt certain that I was about to die.  I desperately reached out for something that I could grab hold of to save my life.  Finally, my hands grasped hold of something.  Somebody on the floating dock threw me a line.  I grabbed of the very end of that rope and I held on for dear life while I was pulled to safety.   

 Have you ever been there?  Have you ever felt like you were just holding on at the end of your rope?  Maybe it was when you lost your job and did not have the resources to make ends meet.  Maybe it was that day when your spouse left you saying your marriage was over.  Maybe it was when your health began to dimension and healing did not look likely.  Maybe it was that day when you stood near the casket of parent, or child, or spouse. 

 Have you ever felt like you were holding on to the end of your rope?  

 In one of Lily Tomlin’s movies, she becomes The Incredible Shrinking Woman.  Somehow, Tomlin finds herself in the kitchen sink and she is so small and thin that she is in danger of being washed down the trash compactor.  We see her swirling around and around in the sink desperately grabbing for something to save her from certain destruction.  Finally, her hand grasps a string of pasta.  She clings to that piece of pasta with all her might praying and hoping that somebody will see her plight and save her from certain destruction. 

 Maybe it is more like that.  Maybe its not that we feel at the end of our rope – but at the end of a piece of overcooked pasta.  We are holding on for dear life fearful that it is all going to fall apart.  In the book of Isaiah, we read a rather pushy prayer prayed by the Prophet on behalf of his people.  He and they felt as if they were at the end of a string of overcooked pasta.  They are feeling a sense of hopelessness and despair.  The Prophet forgoes any sort of restraint in his prayer.  He does not have the luxury of a deistic “Unmoved Mover.”  He does not have the time or heart for formalities.  He prays to a God who can act and prays that this God will act.  When you are without hope at the end of your rope, no less of a God will do. 

 “Oh God that you would tear open (literally rip apart) the heavens and come down.” (Read Isaiah-64:1-9)

 Consider the situation when the Prophet penned these words.  The exile of Israel has ended, but the challenges facing the Israelites were just beginning.  After captivity in Babylon, the people were returning to the Promised Land.  Their homes have been devastated.  Their field have been laid waste.  Jerusalem had been destroyed.  The temple of God reduced to rubble.  The people were at the end of their rope and nearly devoid of any hope.  It was as if Israel no longer belonged to God — as if they were now like all the other nations and people of the world who were “not called by God’s name.”   

 Nevertheless, the Prophet’s pushy prayer moves beyond a tearful lament and boldly remind God about God’s own divine deeds of deliverance in the past.  Maybe there still a little bit of faith remaining in the hearts of the Prophet and people.  “God, remember how you acted in the past!  Remember how you led us out of Egypt?  Remember how you cared for us while we were in the wilderness?  Remember how you stood by us and delivered us despite our sinful rebellion?  Oh, God, if you remember how you cared for us in the past, then our prayer is simply this — Do it again!  Do it again!  Do it again!”  

 Dare we exhibit that kind of faith?  Dare we trust in God’s providence even when our life seems wrought with hopeless despair?  Dare we believe that God is still at work in this world despite all its brokenness and iniquity?  Dare we believe that God can still work in the world through the church despite all the change and cultural upheaval we see taking place in our society?  It is easy to trust God when all seems to be going well.  Real faith happens when we trust God despite the fact that everything lays in ruins and the world is going to hell in a hand basket.

 George Buttrick has said, “Our lives are as brief as the hyphen between the dates on the gravestone.”  When I first read that statement the question that came to my mind was this: “Am I living the hyphen fully?”  That is probably a good question for Main Street Baptist Church to ask during a season of revival.  Main Street Baptist Church is living between the two dates on a gravestone.  You exist right now between the date of this church’s birth and the day on which this congregation will no longer exist.  Here is the question:  “Are you living the hyphen fully?”  That is a tough place and time in which to live.  At one moment, the world seems pregnant with possibilities.  In the next moment, we are splashing about in the water looking for something on which to grab hold.  Are you living with abundant joy and courageous faith?  Are you doing all you can do to make an impact on your corner of our world?  Are you living with the bold vision of what God wants to do in you and through you? 

 In the Gospel of Mark (Mark 13:32-37) Jesus tells a parable about a wealthy landowner who goes away on a trip.  Now here is what gets me.  While he is away, the landowner leaves the entire responsibility of running the business in the hands of his servants.  The meaning is clear.  Jesus Christ is the absentee but returning master.  We, as the church, live in the hyphen between the First and Second Coming of Christ.  Until Jesus returns, the work of the Kingdom has been entrusted into our hands.  “Stay on your toes!  Keep awake!  Be on your guard.  The Master may return at any time during the day or night!  Don’t let him sneak up on you and find you asleep!”  Servants who have absentee Master must really stay on there toes.  Mark says, “Keep awake, the Master might return at any moment!”

 Maybe we feel like we are at the end of our rope, but the reality is that for many in our world, they have not even found that rope.  They are truly without hope – and unless we are faithful, they may never experience God’s salvation.  The Master has entrusted the work into our hands.

 I want you to do something.  It is going to sound a little strange, but humor me.  I want you to hold up your hands.  Look at your hands and realize that the work of the Kingdom has been entrusted into your hands.  Yours are the hands through which God ministers to victims of hurricane, earthquake, tornado and tsunami.  Yours are the hands through which God build homes for the homeless.  Yours are the hands that minister the compassion of Christ to the aliens and foreigners in your midst.  Yours are the hands through which God shares water with the thirsty and food with the hungry.  Yours are the hands that grasp our Muslim neighbors with a friendly embrace, building relationships that allow us to hear their story, share our story, and in the process, share the story of God’s grace.  Yours are the hands through which God works to bring peace into a world of conflict and war.  Yours are the hands through which God embraces and binds up the broken hearted.  Yours are the hands that point the way to Jesus. 

 Several years ago, a hydroelectric dam was to be built across a valley in New England.  The people in a small town in the valley were to be relocated because the town itself would be submerged when the dam was finished.  During the time between the decision to build the dam and its completion, the buildings in the town, which previously were kept up nicely, fell into disrepair.  Instead of being a quaint little village, it had become nothing more than an eyesore.

 A resident summed up how the townspeople felt.  “Where there is no hope for the future, there is no work in the present!”

 Sometimes we may feel that we are just holding on at the end of our rope.  God understands that.  Isaiah told God all about it on our behalf.  God understands. 

 Nevertheless, we do have the rope.  No, strike that.  We do not have the rope – it has us.  It is stronger than we think.  It will never fail us.  This is why we have hope Jesus Christ.  God has us in the palm of His hand, which is why we can trust Him to use our hands to Advance the Redeemer’s Kingdom.  Isn’t that amazing?  God has entrusted the work of the Kingdom into our hands.  “Wake up!”  “Pay attention!”  “Stay alert!”  Allow God to use you as His hands in this world.

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