Friday, June 27, 2008

Out on a Limb

I have been known to take lots of risks in my life. One particularly memorable one was the day I went out on a limb.

Our sons made a swing from the huge oak tree in our back yard. It was rigged from high branches by cables and ropes. The person who wanted to swing would harness themselves into a rock-climbing type harness made of webbing, climb a fairly significant distance up the trunk of the tree and be carefully attached to the ropes and cables by a carabiner(s) linked to the harness. The next step in the process was to hold onto the robe attached to higher branches and inch (in my case) out to almost the end of the branch. The most risk then was to have the guts to step off the branch into nothing but air trusting the harness and rope to keep you safe. The fun was the swing! It was awesome!

One summer Sunday evening after youth group, we all gathered in our back yard to swing and watch others swing. All the girls were sitting on the grass a significant distance away watching. Almost all the guys were having a blast taking turns swinging. I wanted the girls to join in the fun. I went over to them and asked, "If I swing, will you?" They looked at me first in stunned silence and then all said, "Yes."

So I confidently went over and announced that I wanted to swing. It really didn't look so hard from the ground. I'm sure my sons must have been amazed, but they helped me into the harness. I climbed the tree which was a feat in itself, stood up and looked at that long limb. I didn't speak and I don't know what shade of white my face was but I know what I thought, "Self, this has GOT to be one of the stupidest things you've EVER done!"

I was trapped. Either I finished the process I had begun or I would "lose face" with the entire youth group AND the girls wouldn't try to swing. My pride wouldn't let me back down so I very tentatively inched in baby steps out the branch. When I finally got to the end of how far the rope would let me go, it was time to step off. Once again I had the same mental conversation with myself. Once again my pride made me gulp, take a deep breath (which I thought might be my last) and step off into mid-air.

It was awesome! I loved the swing! I loved it so much that I actually did it twice! What I would have missed had I not taken the risk! I may die ten years sooner because of the time scared off my life by the experience but I'm so glad I took the risk!

Just this morning I was reading a devotional by Max Lucado - "Your God is a Good God." It talks about taking risks for Jesus. It says "... take great risks for God! The only mistake is not to risk taking one."

Then Max Lucado, in his uniquely creative way, applies this principle to the story Jesus told about the three servants and what they each did with the money their master gave them. (Matthew 25:14-30) Servants #1 and #2 both took the money they were given and invested it and increased it. They took risk. Servant #3 took his money and buried it in a hole in the ground. In his fear of risk and failure, he lost everything. He was unwilling to go out on a limb.

Max Lucado suggests a really thought-provoking contrast between the servants:

Servants #1 & #2 Servant #3

vs. 16 - "went and put his money to work" vs. 18 - "dug and hid ... his ... money"

invested buried

Max Lucado's conclusion is: The first two went out on a limb. The third hugged the trunk.The master wouldn't stand for it. Brace yourself for the force of his response. "You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest" (vv. 26--27).Whoa. What just happened? Why the blowtorch? Find the answer in the missing phrase. The master repeated the assessment of the servant, word for word, with one exclusion. Did you note it? "I knew you to be a hard man" (v. 24). The master didn't repeat the description he wouldn't accept.The servant levied a cruel judgment by calling the master a hard man. The servant used the exact word for "hard" that Christ used to describe stiff-necked and stubborn Pharisees (see Matt. 19:8; Acts 7:51). The writer of Hebrews employed the term to beg readers not to harden their hearts (3:8). The one-talent servant called his master stiff-necked, stubborn, and hard. His sin was not mismanagement, but misunderstanding. Was his master hard? He gave multimillion-dollar gifts to undeserving servants; he honored the two-talent worker as much as the five; he stood face to face with both at homecoming and announced before the audiences of heaven and hell, "Well done, good and faithful servant."Was this a hard master? Infinitely good, graciously abundant, yes. But hard? No.The one-talent servant never knew his master. He should have. He lived under his roof and shared his address. He knew his face, his name, but he never knew his master's heart. And, as a result, he broke it. (Your God is A Good God, Max Lucado)

Getting to know the Master's (that would be Jesus) heart? That's what Servant #3 failed to do. He had no clue that the Master was gracious and good. He was stuck in his fear "hugging the trunk."

That is just where I was up that tree. I had the choice: hug the trunk or go out on the limb. What sent me out on the limb wasn't high principles so much as pride but my pride forced me to step off in faith. I took the risk and experienced the thrill! If my fear had won, if I had never taken the risk of inching out on that limb, I would have missed a great adventure.

When we know God's heart, then taking risk isn't so scary. We know God is good all the time no matter how things look or what happens. It's worth the risk for the thrill of building God's kingdom, for the great adventure of loving God and loving others. Beginning A Restoration Church is taking a risk, for sure, but with God in the equation (and we see His fingerprints over and over again), we believe taking the risk (going out on a limb) is going to be an adventure with God that builds His kingdom in amazing ways!

We believe God is good all the time. We believe this is His adventure. We believe His heart is guiding us. We walk in faith - out on the limb and even stepping off into mid-air - because we know He is giving us His heart for the South Hills of Pittsburgh and especially for those who know they are physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually broken. We boldly risk holding out our hands of help along with God's love, acceptance, forgiveness and hope!

That's the path to radical heart restoration for us all! It is a risk with a guarantee: God's promise - "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified ... for the Lord your God goes with you, He will never leave you nor forsake you to never leave us." (Deuteronomy 31:5)!

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