The Invisible Fence

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So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground – Matthew 25:25a (NIV)

The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Do you know what an invisible fence is?  If you live in a suburban or rural area in United States, you likely do.   An invisible “fence” consists of a wire buried around the perimeter of a yard.  The wire transmits a mild static electric shock to a receiver located in a dog collar.  Any time a dog wearing a receiver-equipped collar approaches the fence, the dog receives an uncomfortable, but nonlethal,  shock.  After a short time, with the assistance of a trainer, the dog learns where the boundaries of the fence are located and stays confined therein.

Over the last several days, I’ve been reflecting on 2012.  By some measures, it was a pretty pedestrian year, a cocktail of successes, failures, victories, defeats, breakthroughs and setbacks.  My career went a little sideways, but it was that movement that really caused me to embrace my true passion (see my previous blog entry, Are You Making Tent or Pursuing Your Calling?).  After a previously aborted attempt, I got serious about blogging consistently, writing 26 posts.  I got to travel more for pleasure than I have in recent memory, including a family vacation with my brother and in his family to the St. John in the US Virgin Islands.  (That is certainly not our “typical” family vacation.)

I looked back at the things I failed to accomplish last year for clues as to their root causes.  Was I constrained by other people, finances or health?  No.  In the vast majority of cases the answer was one four letter word beginning with an “f”- “fear.”  I had erected my own invisible fence of fear.   I allowed feelings of anxiety and in some cases dread to keep my within a confined space.  I allowed fear to “train” me like a dog wearing a receiver-embedded collar.  There are several similarities to fear and the invisible fence:

  1. While both are extremely uncomfortable, but neither is truly life threatening.
  2. Both are confining
  3. Beyond both lay freedom.

In 2013 I am committed to push against the limits of my invisible fence.  I am committed to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and run with perseverance the race marked out for me” (Heb. 12:1).   Will I always be successful? No, but that’s where the perseverance part come in. If I set out to do this in my own strength, I will fail miserably, but I serve a God who has promised to displace my fear with his power, love and self-discipline (2 Tim 1:7).

The scripture snippet in the introduction of this post is from a parable that Jesus tells of three servants entrusted with talents (Matt 25:14-30).  Two of the three servants invested their talents wisely and earned a return for their master.  The third servant, motivated by fear, hid his talent, earning nothing.  I don’t know about you, but I want to live in a way that yields a return.

I leave you with this quote that I came across credited to Mark Twain, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”

The Shots We Never Take

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Video of Jack Taylor’s record breaking performance of scoring 138 points in a single basketball game

For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity. – Proverbs 24:16 (NIV)

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. – Wayne Gretzky, retired hockey great

A few weeks ago, Jack Taylor, a 5-10 sophomore guard from Division III Grinnell College shattered the collegiate basketball scoring record by scoring an incredible 138 points in a single game.   Taylor hoisted up 108 shots converting on 52 of them including 27 three point attempts.  For you statisticians, that means Taylor average one shot every 22 seconds!  In looking at Taylor’s amazing feat, it’s interesting what we do not focus on.  We do not focus on the 52% of the shots that Taylor missed.  Taylor missed 61% of his three point short attempts, but it was by taking these riskier shots that he accumulated so many points.   What inspired Taylor’s record setting feat?  – a shooting slump.  He shot poorly in his most recent games prior to his record setting night and even started off slowly on this occasion. His coaches figured the best way to get him out of scoring slump was for him to shoot his way out of it.

Accomplishment is sports in not measured by perfection.  A major league baseball player can have a hall of fame career by maintaining a .300 batting average, meaning he is only successful 30% of the time.  Taylor’s 39% success rate on three point attempts is considered pretty good even by NBA standards.  I was recently reminded that the sports accomplishment standard applies to areas other areas of life.

I was reading the story of Abraham in the book Genesis.  Abraham is known as “the father of the faith” and inductee into the faith “hall of fame” found In Hebrews, 11th chapter.  Perhaps I was feeling overly critical during my read, but instead of focusing in Abraham’s accomplishments, I found myself focusing in his failings which include:

  • Covering up his marital relationship (twice) with Sarah when confronted by powerful men.
  • Not waiting on God’s timing to allow for Sarah’s promised pregnancy but rather taking matters into his own hands and impregnating Sarah’s maid servant, Hagar. This single act of disobedience set the stage for the unrest between Jews and Arabs that has occurred throughout history and continues until this day.

I came to realize that I was reading Abraham’s account as some audience member watching a sporting event or theatre production.  I needed to get out my seat and get into the game or onto the stage to walk in Abraham’s sandals.  Taking this approach, I gained a greater appreciation for the man, his successes  and his failures.  Hebrews 11:8-9 tells us about old patriarch, “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.”

Think about what this passage in saying.  Abraham had to display initial great faith by venturing out to an unseen country based on God’s promise to him. Abraham did have the benefit of the scriptures to comfort, inspire and encourage him for the Bible had not yet been written.  Scripture mentions that God told Abraham to go to the strange land, but makes no mention of God revealing this to the rest of his household.  Can you imagine how hair-brained this revelation seemed to Sarah?  Can’t you hear her saying, “God told  you to go where?”

We look at Abraham’s lack of faith as he hid Sarah’s identity as his wife from Pharaoh (Gen 12:13) and   Abimelech (Gen 20:2).  Let’s remember that in both instances Abraham was a foreigner without legal standing and feared for his life.  When Sarah did not initially become pregnant, it was a culturally acceptable practice to have children through a servant to extend the family line.   I am not being an apologist for Abraham’s misdeeds.  Rather it his misdeeds that link him to us as being not some superhuman demigod, but rather just simply mortal.   However instead of allowing his misdeeds and failures to define him, Abraham persevered in faith.  In the end, Abraham displayed such a great act of faith – the willingness to sacrifice his own son, that it was only outdone by God himself when he gave his son, Jesus Christ, to die on our behalf.  It is this perseverance that defined Abraham and for which he is remembered.

I started out talking about Jack Taylor’s basketball feats and if a broadcaster were to do an abbreviated play-by-play of Abrahams’s life it might go something like this:

  • Leaves Ur of the Chaldeans – Count it! – he scores!
  • Tells Pharaoh that Sarah is his sister – Abraham clanged that one off of the front rim and misses!
  • Abraham gets Hagar pregnant – He throws up an air ball and misses everything.  Man, is he in a shooting slump!
  • Abraham obeys God’s instruction to sacrifice his son Isaac, but the angel of God stops him from carrying it out – Abraham hits on the three pointer at the buzzer to win the game!

“Every time you don’t make an attempt, you fail automatically” – Marc and Angel tweet.