I would venture to guess that everyone here has lost something during their lifetime. Some have lost jobs, perhaps a treasured item, some have lost loved ones
to death, some have lost pets, a friend, some have lost their way, and some have lost hope.
As many of you know I'm a huge football fan, so this week as I prepared for the beginning of another NFL season I read an article about Tony Dungy, the head
coach of the Indianapolis Colts. The article speaks of Tony's faith and how he lives out his faith daily whether at home or on the football field. During Tony's football coaching
career he "lost big" on several occasions, he was fired from several coaching positions and people said he would never make it as a head coach because he didn't yell and scream at
his players. Then he experienced the biggest loss of all, the sudden death of his 19 year old son.
But through it all Tony hung onto hope, and the promises of God, as his faith in God never wavered. He said, "That [his life] experiences, like sports, only
reinforces his belief that life has its peaks and valleys. But God is there - always." He went on to say that "God really does have plans; even in the midst of great pain…I can tell
[people] in no uncertain terms that despite these ups and downs, God is with us. God is for us. He won't ever abandon us." Tony is a man of faith and his faith drives and informs his
life, his life doesn't drive and inform his faith.
In three days it will be one year since I experienced my stroke, and not a day has gone by that I haven't been reminded of that experience. One year ago this
week I lost big when I lost, control of my balance, as I woke up in the middle of the night very dizzy and unable to walk without falling down. I remember that night vividly, I
crawled downstairs so I wouldn't wake up Susan and tried for three hours to figure out what was going on, hoping what ever was happening would simply pass, until I finally called out
to Susan to come downstairs to help me. She immediately called 911 and I went on my first ambulance ride. Since that day I can say my life has never been the same.
Many of you have noticed I now wear a medical alert bracelet. The bracelet indicates I'm a stroke patient. You see as my neurologist reminded me again this
week, I will always be a stroke patient, marked and labeled for life you might say.
But this bracelet serves as another reminder for me. Practically speaking it reminds me that I can no longer do some things I used to enjoy doing like full
contact martial arts, playing tackle football on Thanksgiving, and riding roller coasters. And it reminds me to not take life for granted.
The bracelet also reminds me that by the grace of God, I have fully recovered from my stroke; and that during the ordeal God never left my side. This bracelet
serves as God's witness to me of his unfailing love. To me this bracelet is the same as wearing a cross, as it reminds me of God's grace, so I wear this bracelet proudly, and when
people ask about it, I use it as an opportunity to witness to Jesus and all he went through on our behalf.
As I look back on the first couple of days following my stroke I remember thinking my future, as I had it planned out, was now uncertain. And I emphasize "as
I had it planned." But through the Holy Spirit I was quickly reminded that God loved me and had a purpose and plan for my life, but to fully experience and appreciate that plan I had
to surrender my life to him. You see surrender is not a one time event; surrender is something we need to do daily. You see it's so easy to place our trust somewhere else if we don't
intentionally surrender our lives daily to God.
The first day following my stroke the doctors didn't know what was wrong because I didn't have the normal symptoms we associate with a stroke, weakness and
slurred speech. So not knowing what was wrong was somewhat un-nerving for awhile. Perhaps some of you can relate to this uneasiness. But with all the tests the doctors said they had
scheduled for me I was confident they'd get it all figured out.
Of course I wanted to know what was going on immediately and what could be done to correct the situation, and I wanted to know when I could return to my work.
And trying to get answers to these questions was difficult, not because the medical staff was ignoring me, but because they just didn't have any answers to give me yet. But I have to
say even for me, who tends to be a person who likes to be on top of things, I never really felt anxious or overly concerned during this time. I was blessed because I sensed the
presence of God through this time of uncertainty, and felt that some how all was going to be alright, I really was at peace.
I knew many people were praying for me, as I was visited by colleagues who offered prayers and indicated their congregations were praying for me. And I know
this congregation was praying for me. My whole experience was being lifted up in ceaseless prayer.
The finally after an MRI on day two they did discover that a shower of clots had damaged the part of my brain that controls my balance. But again I was
blessed because that part of my brain also controls speech and fine motor skills, which remained unaffected. So finally we had an answer and now they needed to determine where the
shower of clots had come from.
During my time in the hospital I wasn't asking God, why me, but I did find myself praying, "God you called me into the ordained ministry, what am I going to
do if I can't control my balance, how can I be an effective in ministry if my head is always spinning?"
Then on the third day of my stay in the hospital, in between various tests, I was resting and it occurred to me that perhaps God was humbling me, making me
depend on him and not on myself or the medical staff, so that God alone would get the glory with the outcome, no matter what the outcome was going to be. The Lord tells us "to be
anxious for nothing" (Phil 4:6), but this has always been a hard lesson for me to learn.
You see the dangers of depending on my own strength and abilities were very real, and they still are, so I continue to be reminded of God's Word in Isaiah the
48th chapter: "For my own sake, I do it, for why should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another." (48:11)
Now I don't believe for a minute God caused my stroke, but I do believe God used my stroke to teach me to be humble and more dependent on him, he used this
stroke to remind me who's really in control, and who has the plan for my life. I now know in a profound way that I'm only an instrument of God, my stroke and the couple of weeks of
unbalance reminded me of this truth.
Well the medical staff never did figure out what caused the stroke or where the shower of clots came from because all my other tests indicated I was healthy.
So as I left the hospital and began my recovery I knew I was going to be alright because I placed my complete trust in God and as a result I really experienced a sense of peace. A
peace I still enjoy today. And to this day my medical alert bracelet reminds me not to dwell on myself or my situation, but rather dwell on whom I know the Lord to be, the Almighty
God. In my weakness, in my unbalance, I was made strong by God's grace. Now I was living large!
When we're going through a time of loss, one of the things many of us will loose is our spiritual bearings. We may cry out why me, or what now God! And we may
turn away from God completely.
This is what Israel did. But Isaiah reminds Israel in our scripture reading that despite their spiritual failings, God will show them mercy, and bring them
back into relationship with him if they will humble themselves and place their whole trust in God. God redeemed Israel and summoned them by name to be the people they were called to
God protected Israel during their difficult times and God promises the same for us. During our times of loss, during our times of difficulty God is with us,
he never abandons us. So depending on God, and not on ourselves, allows us to keep moving while at the same time keeping us from dwelling on our problems, challenges, and failures.
The truth is if we will just let go, God will take over. We will experience God's mercy and peace when we humble ourselves before God and place our whole trust in him.
God tells us to walk by faith not by feeling. And I suggest when things are so bad we don't feel anything, and we wonder where God's hand is in all of this,
God may be closer to us than we think.
Some say adversity helps us grow in our relationship with God. Now I don't deny the truth that through challenging times we can grow in our faith and in our
relationship with God, because we do, I've experienced this myself. But it's my belief that how we handle adversity or loss, really reveals what type of relationship we actually have
Through the darkness and through the fog that life sometimes brings, we must reach out for God. If we try to go it on our own strength, we'll get frustrated
and we'll ultimately fail. Isaiah reminds us of the Lords Words to Israel, "when you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not
sweep over you. When you walk through the fire you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior."
When we're losing big it can be hard to remember God's promise "that in all things God works for the good of those who love him." (Romans 8:28)
Yet we can live large by holding onto the promise that even when we're hard pressed on every side, we're not crushed, perplexed, or destroyed, because God
will never abandon us. (2 Corinthians 4:8-9) What we often see as losing big is frequently the beginning of living large. You see when we have Christ, we have all we need. Christ is
the bridge between losing big and living large.
We can learn a lesson from one of my favorite birds, the eagle. Did you know that an eagle knows when a storm is coming and goes to some high spot to wait for
it? It sets its wings so the wind will pick it up and lift it above the storm higher and higher.
Well, when the storms of life come upon us we can rise above them by turning our hearts and minds to God. We can let God lift us above the storms of loss. You
see it's not the burdens of life that weigh us down, its how we handle them. If we hold onto our troubles and burdens they can become an anchor that weighs us down to the point we
can't move. Or we can give them over to God, so we're free to fly like eagles.
When we find we're losing big and in deep despair we can't allow ourselves to wallow in self-pity or get bogged down in emotions. If we do we will experience
defeat. Instead we must heed Christ's call to a higher ground, by placing our trust in God. And when we do, our losses will turn into victories and then we will be living large in
the embrace of God almighty!