The Strength of Slowing Down

Reduce Speed. Speed Zone Ahead. Speed Limit 20 m.p.h. We’ve all seen these signs that warn us that our speed must change soon. You’re flying along, making great time, but suddenly the pace slows to what feels like a crawl. The signs seem to come at the most inopportune time, invariably showing up when you’re late or in a hurry. Here in Indiana, drive on a state highway or county road and eventually you are going to drive into a one stop light or no stop light town. You’ve been cruising along at 65 or 70 and suddenly you’re running 20. Often it feels pointless. Most of the small towns have little or no traffic, not much commerce, and rarely do you even see a person stirring. More than once I’ve seen Barney Fife, the one local police officer, setting with his radar gun pinging drivers or have an out of towner pulled over. I often tried to understand why the need for such a slow pace. Maybe it’s a way to bring some income to the town. Maybe town residents complained about the excessive speed, maybe a local business or restaurant hopes it gets notice by the slower speed, or maybe I am driving through their town in the slowest part of the day. We’ve all driven on an interstate and ran into the Construction Zone Ahead Signs warning of hundreds, and sometimes thousands of dollars in fines for speeding. How many of those areas have you driven through not to see a piece of equipment moving or any human movement? Still, you drive with the fear that you will be the one that gets the fine, and your next vacation or big screen tv is gone to pay for a ticket. There is a point for these signs though. They are there for someone’s safety. There may be elderly people who do business or small kids that play in the small towns, so to protect them, everyone slows down. Obviously, construction zones can be dangerous areas. Workers risk their lives to make ours more convenient, so by slowing down they are safer and eventually our lives are better. Winter is the slow down sign for those who live where the weather turns cold and snowy. It almost feels like it’s God’s sign for humanity to slow down. It gets dark early, the cold nearly eliminates outdoor activities, and if we get enough, snow can make life come to a halt. It seems it’s then and only then, that we throw on some flannels, put a fire in the fireplace, grab a blanket, and grab a good book or watch a movie. Our lives run too hot. Text messages are expected to be responded to within minutes, emails answered the same day, and there seems to always be a pressing meeting that can’t be missed. What is missed when we fail to slow down? A spouse that needs you to put down your phone and give them some attention like you gave them when you were dating. A child who wants you to hear about their struggle with someone in their class or for you to be totally engaged as they show you their school project. A person hurting or discouraged that just needs a listening ear, not for you to solve their issue your way and zoom out of their life. Should I go on? There are so many reasons to slow down, but we don’t, we run through the signs and on to the next “important” event. May I encourage you to look and listen for life signs that are saying, slow down. They may help someone else, but you might find that if you heed the warning sign that your life becomes more peaceful. Isaiah said in Isaiah 40:31, “those who wait (slow down) for the Lord Will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary. Embrace the strength in slowing down.

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There’s More to It

Fasting. It’s become trendy. Social influencers and entertainers are embracing intermittent fasting as the latest weight loss craze. Twenty-one-day fasting is the rage in churches across America as a new year starts. While I appreciate the return to the focus on fasting, for many it has become more about being trendy than humbling ourselves or being changed. Community fast are biblical, the nation of Israel went on fast several times a year. These fast were solemn moments when individuals and nations pulled away from everyday life, humbled themselves, and surrendered their hearts before the Lord. Beyond community fast, the bible gives many accounts of people who fasted. Most of these fast were done in private and were the way people acknowledged their need for God and sought Godly direction. They didn’t have a plan for God but a humble awareness that said they desperately needed God to direct their situation. Jesus said, that when we fast, not if, that it should be done for Him, not to impress people or to appear religious.  I’m afraid that much of the fasting done today has lost its focus. Too often fasting is done frivolously, the checking off a yearly box, and then moving on, life as usual. Biblically, the focus of a fast wasn’t supposed to be on food, or even the sacrifice. A fast was humbly acknowledging our need for God and asking Him to direct our paths. At some point, I began to understand that instead of focusing on one big fast at the beginning of my year, I needed to fast repeatedly. If you aren’t aware, we are constantly battling our flesh, and it must be humbled and submitted to God and His Word regularly. I came to understand that life has seasons, that we have moments when carnality creeps into the best of us, and for that reason, I needed to fast more frequently. For 25 years I began my year with a seven day fast of water only. I pulled away from pleasure, tuned into my bible with extra diligence, and spent extra time in prayer. It was always amazing how I came out of the fast; I felt clean, pure, and could see with different vision. Early on, I began to realize that I felt wonderful for a while, but it seemed that within a few months I was back to old thoughts and habits. It was then that I began to understand I needed more than a single seven day fast in my year. I decided to fast more frequently. I began to take a day in my week to fast and humble my flesh. A couple more times a year I would go on another three or seven day fast. It was a game changer. My spiritual life began to have consistency, the Word become more dynamic, and my times in prayer became more vibrant. For those who are fasting, congratulations! I encourage you to make it more than the trendy moment that happens every January, make it a regular discipline in your life. Pull away frequently from food or a vice, spend additional time in your Bible, and pray with the intention of knowing God. Your life will be forever changed. You will see and hear God in ways beyond your wildest imagination and experience His power in miraculous ways.

Embrace Your Moment

Not every season unfolds the way we might want it to. If we could choreograph our life there would be little pain, struggle, or difficulties. If we plotted our own lives, we would make sure that it was void of loneliness, fear, and failure. After 35 years in ministry, 15 in higher education and 20 as a pastor, I’m in transition, a new chapter of life. Gone are the deadlines, daily duties, and weekly messages. The new season is requiring that I learn how to rest and relax, take care of a grandson, and spend time exploring what my future might look like. To be honest, I’m not enjoying it. The rest and relaxation feels lazy and exploring the future is like looking for a needle in a haystack. As of now, I’ve decided to embrace my time with my grandson, Carter. I don’t know what the future holds, but I do realize that he has a lot more time in the future than I do. So, while it may not seem like the greatest challenge, I’m embracing my time with him with passion. While I might prefer to be writing sermons, it could be more important that I’m reading stories with inflection, sound effects, and silliness to a little boy. Truthfully, I’d rather be preparing for a new study series, but instead I find myself setting at a keyboard teaching Carter to play Mary had a Little Lamb and let him bang keys at every octave. I could go on, but you get the point. Why am I embracing the season with vigor? Two reasons. First, it’s what God has put in front of me, and I’ve always lived with the principle that whatever God gives me to do, I’ll do it with passion and excellence. Second, I embrace the moment because God knows better than I. Investing in Carter may be more important than I realize, I may be developing the next great author, speaker, or musician. Too many miss great opportunities because they view them as too small, but God said, “he who is faithful with the small things will be faithful with much.” It is important we realize that our lives are filled with ebb and flow, not every moment will be in the spotlight, nor will every moment be in the dark, it takes both to have a full life. Moses’ experienced three seasons in his life. The first was exciting and full of possibility, the last was filled with incredible successes. Moses’ most important moment was the middle season, the one that felt like failure, futility, and was filled with loneliness. It was there, in the desert, where Moses learned how to navigate the land, survive the wilderness, and manage people. Though he likely detested the season, he embraced it, and experienced a burning bush and received his ultimate calling. Difficult seasons often feel pointless and wasteful, and walking through them, we don’t view them as critically important to our lives. What are you walking through? While it may be overwhelming, painful, or confusing, it may be the very season that jettisons you into an inconceivable opportunity. Embrace the moment!

My Friend Rob Cutter

Green Valley. It’s a neighborhood in Noblesville where I grew up. You might describe our little community as the “Mayberry” of neighborhoods. Everyone knew one another, kids could stay out all day without parents worrying about their safety, and summers were filled with lots of free time. When I was around eight, a new family moved in across the street, and I quickly built a friendship with Rob. We both love ball, it didn’t matter if it was a football, basketball, or baseball. If it was football, most often I was the receiver, and he was the quarterback. The Green Bay Packers were the team, I was Carrol Dale, he was Bart Starr, and whether it was two on two or three on three, we were unstoppable. Our real love though was basketball. God only knows how many hours we spent playing one on one, horse, limme, or around the world on the asphalt drive at his house. The competition was fierce, almost as if we were competing for championships, and I must admit, though he was a year younger, he won more games than he lost, regardless of what we were playing. If we played against others there was always one rule, “Hudson and Cutter couldn’t be on the same team.” Together we were unstoppable. Breaks from the court would mean Mrs. Cutters chocolate chips cookies, milk, and maybe an episode of Gilligan’s Island, but those breaks would be short and soon we would be back on the court. Though we were neighbors, occasionally we would have sleepovers. It was on one of those occasions that Rob showed me his dad’s office. It was filled with basketball plaques and trophies, and he would tell me that back in the day his dad was a really good basketball player. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I fully understood who Rollin Cutter was. The trophies and plaques were from his high school championship at Milan Hight School. To be specific, the 1954 Milan basketball team that inspired the movie “Hoosiers.” I now realize I wasn’t just playing against Rob, but the genes of his dad. As we grew older Rob became more dominant and slowly our time on the court began to disappear. By 1982, when I graduated and he was a sophomore, most of his evenings were spent at practice, whether it was football or basketball. His dominance wasn’t something I alone experienced, but now, others were as well. He became the starting quarterback for the Noblesville High School football team and starting center for the basketball team. He was so dominant that he was being recruited by colleges for both sports. He eventually chose football, going to Butler University, where he was their starting quarterback. Reflecting on my childhood days, I remember how frustrated I would be that my best friend, who was younger than I was, was always beating me. I often felt as though I was a failure, that I wasn’t gifted, and as much as I practiced, I just couldn’t beat him. As I have grown older, I’ve come to appreciate my losses on the court to Rob. Why? Because while I was losing, I was winning. As he has for so many, Rob made me better than I could have ever been on my own. His challenging play caused me to find myself on the winning side instead of losing when playing other competition. Beyond his talent is his impeccable character. He is one of the most unassuming individuals I have ever met, one of the kindest persons you will ever meet, and his successes in life far surpass what he ever did on a football field or basketball court. Rob, thanks for your friendship and congratulations on being inducted into Noblesville High School’s Hall of Fame. Your life has been a demonstration of how to live a life of integrity and you are worthy of the honor.

2023. Go Exploring!

Day one of 2023. A new beginning of sorts. A clean slate. A fresh piece of paper. The start of a new chapter. For some reason as this year opened, I reflected on one of the books by my favorite author, Bill Watterson. The books title is It’s a Magical World and it is a collection of my favorite Calvin and Hobbes comics. On the cover there is a fresh blanket of snow and Calvin and Hobbes have a large toboggan and big smiles on their faces. They are out to seize the day, enjoy the snow, and make new memories. Their expressions show no worry about issues of the day, only the pure excitement about what they are about to experience. For whatever reason my spirit resonated with the cover and how to approach 2023. While we could focus on the ills of society, dwell on the ugly in our world, or the problems in our marriage or family, today is an opportunity to change our focus. I think why I enjoy Calvin and Hobbes comic strips so much is because they make each day a new adventure. Rarely is he overwhelmed by the events of the day, instead he charges into each new day with childlike excitement. His imagination is filled with possibilities and his plans for the day are not dictated by the circumstances of his world. He is going to explore, create, and enjoy the day. Calvin is not the first to have this idea, in the Bible David said, this is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24). David suggests that it’s important how we frame each day. We can meander into a day with fear and anxiety, or march into it with zeal and excitement. Calvin and David both suggest the latter and so do I. 2023 is our next chapter to write. Depending on your age, you may have many chapters still to write, or for some, there may just be a few remaining. Regardless, it is a new chapter. The good news we get to choose what goes on the page and how we approach each day will determine the chapters content. Live today filled with expectation, faith, and zeal. Look for possibility. Create energy, laughter, and fun. Daily use the 126 variations of Crayola colors, not a pencil. Tough days will come but let them be a page in the chapter, not the storyline. The first page of It’s a Magical World has Calvin and Hobbes sitting on the toboggan at the top of a hill, Calvin looks at Hobbes and says, “it’s a magical world, Hobbes, ol’ buddy. . . let’s go exploring! May 2023 be filled with faith, possibility, laughter, and all the excitement that God has planned for you. Go exploring!