November 6, 2016

Ezekiel 37:1-10

When Phil Hansen was in art school he developed a shake in his hand so that he could no longer draw a straight line.  He saw this as the destruction of his dream of becoming an artist.

As it turned out, Phil had developed nerve damage in his hand from years of doing one thing, making tiny, tiny perfectly round dots, which from a distance got lost in the art itself.  (Ibid)

The damage he’d caused to his hand was painful.  He had trouble holding anything.  He eventually left art school and then art completely. (Ibid)

After a few years he decided to go to a neurologist about the shake and he discovered that the nerve damage was permanent.  However, the trip wasn’t a waste of time.  The doctor looked at the little squiggly line he drew while trying to make a dot and he said, “Well, why don’t you just embrace the shake?”

For the first time in years, Phil Hansen’s creativity was unleashed.  Instead of worrying about his limitation, he embraced it.  Once he did that he realized he could still make art.  He just had to find a different way of doing it.

He immediately went home and he made his first piece of art in years.  Instead of his dots comprising the whole of his drawing, he used crooked lines in the same way.  From a distance you’d never know that the entire drawing was entirely of crooked lines.

This eventually led him to thinking about being more creative with even more limitations.   His creative work has been done on a canvas of Starbucks Coffee Cups.  He once made a Jimi Hendrix image out of 7,000 matches and then lit it on fire.  He’s painted the Mona Lisa with grease from cooked hamburgers. MQ9HpIwD

Even though Phil Hansen came out of the physician’s office with the same neurological condition he had when he went in, he was healed that day because he learned that he could be creative within the confines of his limitations.  That gave him hope to transform himself and the world around him.

A similar thing happened to Judge Joe Booth when he was in law school.

Joe wasn’t even planning on going to law school, but his life changed after he borrowed a friend’s motorcycle at a fraternity party at North Georgia College in Dahlonega when he was 20 years old.  He had a wreck on his motorcycle that left him with a permanent spinal cord injury.

The days, weeks, and months that followed were hopeful days because he believed he would walk again.  But then it began to become evident that he was never going to regain the use of his legs.  He’d never know the joy of taking a jog, walking a dog, or just having your feet touch the floor and take you to the kitchen for a morning cup of coffee.  He thought he’d never get married or have a child.

The emotional pain was especially shared by his parents.  Joe suffered as he watched them suffer.  He felt responsible for the pain they felt on his behalf.

He said he went to law school almost by default, as he contemplated what kind of career he might be able to do from a wheelchair.  It was during his time in law school that he discovered wheelchair basketball.

As a wheelchair bound person, he had never even considered himself to be an athlete.  Suddenly, he was pitted against many individuals like himself, all with limitations, all with a story.  Some had been to war and come back missing their legs.  Some were paralyzed from a gunshot wound or a diving accident.  Some, like him, had their legs damaged in an accident.

He saw people who had limitations but had learned to embrace them and get on with their lives.  This helped Joe set new goals, find new hobbies, and not worry so much about what he couldn’t do but focus more on the things that he could do.

When we think about Jesus, we usually think more about all that Jesus could do.  We do not usually think about Jesus’ limitations or how he managed them.

It is safe to say that Jesus did not take full advantage of his divine status.  He came from heaven and was born of a virgin.  God came to this world as a vulnerable baby and took on the limitations of fleshly man.

Paul said this about Jesus to the church at Philippi: “Who, being in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”  (Philippians 2:6-7)

We can say that Jesus even embraced his limitations.  That’s not an easy thing to do, is it?

This is not to say there is not value in overcoming limitations. We all aspire to overcome limitations and God gives us great inspiration and often empowers us to do just that.

However, when it is apparent that our limitations are a part of the fabric of life, in order for us to find wholeness we have to do the next best thing, which is embrace them.   If we do it will keep us from living in denial.

Phil Hansen understood that his nerve damage was permanent.  Judge Joe Booth understood that he would never walk again.  If either man had remained in denial, neither would have found his creative soul.  Both were able to embrace their limitations and live again.  Both were then able to soar to new heights.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was not in denial that death was near.  Therefore, he focused on whether he would be able to endure the suffering that was before him.  While the Romans were coming for Jesus, he still had a choice to make.  Because he was fully divine, he could have chosen at that moment to forego suffering and death, but he chose to remain with his limitations.

God convinced him that despite these limitations, victory was coming for the world through the cross, so Jesus embraced it.  The cross is a symbol of limitations but an example of what God can do with limitations.

Secondly, when we embrace our limitations we live in the present and not in the past.

How many of you are or have ever been plagued by something in your life that you didn’t do well or you wish you had done differently?

Because we are finite people, we are not going to accomplish everything that we hoped to accomplish.  We are not going to meet all the goals we set out to meet.  We are not going to please all the people we hoped to please.  It is not going to happen.   Finite means limitations.

Satan wants us to constantly hear these words, “You are not worthy.”  It’s a great day for the evil one when other people actually say those words to us.  He loves for others to confirm what he tries to tell us all the time.  Every time we fail; every time we recall our shortcomings; every time we come up short, he whispers these words, “You are not worthy.”

Just because you have limitations, that doesn’t mean they have to be a liability, because we worship a God who is always using people with limitations to do his ministry.

Whether it be a Moses with a speech impediment, or David who was just a teenager with a sling when he faced Goliath, or the woman Jesus met by the well who had had five husbands, we learn to live in the present because we worship a God that can overcome our limitations and use us in a powerful way.

Thirdly, we embrace our limitations when we acknowledge that we are mortal.  We are here for just a little while.

We live in a culture that teaches us to hide every physical flaw possible.  All of us want to look as good as we can for as long as we can.  However, sometimes people can be a bit vain about this as we age.  The Fountain of Youth isn’t real.

Our days are numbered.  Age is one of the surest signs that we have limitations.

However, just the fact that the body may find its share of challenges doesn’t mean we have to lose our loving and caring spirits, our sense of humor, or our creativity.

What a great example Delores Garrison was in this regard.  Once I was visiting with her in the rehab center and she saw a woman pushing herself down the hall in her wheelchair.  Delores had several of her paintings against the wall she had made while she was there and she told me which one the woman wanted and told me to get it and take it to her.

On another occasion while she was there she made an angel out of a chicken bone.  A chicken bone.  Now I have always been told that the chicken is the gospel bird but that was the first time I have ever seen someone give it heavenly wings.

We all need to be chicken bone angels.  If you quote me on that, make sure you can explain it.   It means that when your day or your situation looks like a pile of bones, remember there is hope because of the Spirit of God lives within us.

Ezekiel had a vision where he was led by God into a valley of dry bones and God asked him if those bones could live and Ezekiel said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

God told Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones so they would live.  Ezekiel spoke the word of the Lord to the bones.

Tendons attached to the bones and flesh came upon them.  They were covered with skin, and breath entered them and they came to life and stood on their feet.

This vision was important to Ezekiel because the people had been limited by their own sin.  They had failed to keep God’s laws and decrees and it made them weak before their enemies, the Assyrians and the Babylonians, who carried both Judah and Israel into exile.

The prophets had warned Israel that their days were numbered as a nation if they did not repent, but they failed to listen.  Once it happened, Ezekiel eventually came with Good News to Israel and Judah.

Despite their limitations, despite their disobedience that led to their valley of dry bones, Ezekiel said that the Lord had not forgotten them.  He breathed his Spirit into the people again in spite of their limitations.

God said through Ezekiel, “My dwelling-place will be among them; I will be their God, and they will be my people.  Then the nations will know that I the Lord will make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.”  Ezekiel 37:28

In spite of their sin which led to their exile, God extended his grace to them.

This is the message of Jesus’ death on the cross.  In spite of the limitations that we create for ourselves through sin, which is what first brought death into the world, God has reached out to enfold us in his grace to breathe new life into our hopeless situations.

That is the reason we hold firm to the resurrection of Jesus and proclaim it until he returns.  That is the reason we can dare embrace our limitations, not because we want them, like them, or want to keep them, but because God has the power to transcend them, transform them, and show that He is triumphant over all that is mortal or imperfect.

Do you believe it?  Do you profess it?

Even though none of us like having limitations, when they cannot be overcome, we can embrace them.  When we do that with faith, we will see that God can make something beautiful out of the crooked mess we find ourselves in and sometimes makes for ourselves.