Wednesday, February 2, 2011

I would give my right arm for...

Nine out of ten. That’s how many of the 2010 Oscar best picture nominees that I have seen so far. This tells you what I do with some of my free time. I call it “sermon research.” Just saw “127 Hours” a couple of days ago, and like some of the other nominees it is not a movie for everyone. I first heard the story of Aron Ralston (on whom the film is based) about three years ago, and I have shared it as a sermon example in our church as well as a lesson for churches I have coached. In my preaching, I almost always prefer true stories (no matter how many loose ends) to “minister stories” or fables such as the person throwing starfish back into the sea or the “I am a battleship/ I am a lighthouse” tale. Don’t even bring up Footprints. I figure that if I can’t find a true story to illustrate a passage of scripture, then I need to preach on a different text.

As you likely know, Ralston became famous for his courage in overcoming an incredible challenge. While hiking alone in Utah’s Blue John Cavern in 2003, Ralston became trapped when a boulder came loose and pinned his right arm to the cavern wall. During his 127 hours of captivity, Ralston explored a number of options before ultimately deciding to cut off his arm so that he could escape.

Ralston did not want to cut his own arm off but any less drastic measure would have meant his death. Before managing to free himself, he had even scrawled his name on the wall along with the date and RIP. He knew the consequences of staying trapped.

When I have talked about Aron Ralston, I have invited people to think about whatever it is that might be trapping them and holding them down. With some local churches, the large cost of maintaining an aging building is the boulder that is killing them and preventing them from realizing new life. Individuals (and organizations) are often held back by unhealthy relationships, patterns of behavior, addictions, or debts.

In many cases, the boulder (like Ralston’s right arm) was once healthy and life-giving. Those churches needed those big buildings back in their boom times. Those old patterns of behavior were once new and fresh and effective. But over time, healthy can become deadly. The rock on which people once built their lives now crushes them; the building which enabled ministry now prevents it. I have suggested to churches that in order to have a fresh start that they might have to cut off their right arm – that building which they love so much – because to stay in it will lead to the grave. The same is true for individuals. There is no question about whether it will hurt. It will hurt a lot. The only question is whether the person or group is willing to endure the pain so that they can be free.

There is an old expression that goes like this, “I would give my right arm for…” This saying expresses the passion that someone possesses for a certain goal and their willingness to sacrifice a great deal to get it. It is not meant to be taken literally. But Aron Ralston came to understand during his 127 hours of captivity that he would have to give his right arm if he wanted to live. It was not just a metaphor for him.

What would you give your right arm for? What are you personally prepared to sacrifice so that you might have new life? Or bring new life to others? Some individuals and organizations have already carved their names and dates and RIP’s on a wall in a cavern that will be their graves. They have chosen a path of pain avoidance. Their 127 hours are counting down. It is only a matter of time. But their choice to die does not have to be your choice to die.

I believe that God offers each of us choices that can lead to life. We always have a choice, but those decisions are often very, very tough. That’s why we try to evade them if we can. Ralston’s autobiography is called "Between a Rock and a Hard Place." Is that where you feel you are today? No matter what you decide to do, even if you choose to do nothing, there will be consequences, won’t there?

“I have set before you life and death, blesses and curses. Choose life that you and your descendents may life.” Deuteronomy 30:19

While he was trapped in Blue John Cavern, Aron Ralston had a vision of a young boy – a child he understood to be his son. In 2009, Ralston married Jessica Trusty, and in 2010 their son Leo was born.