Bronze Wisdom

First Breath (2)While visiting friends and family in San Diego, my wife and I decided to spend an afternoon at Seaport Village, one of our favorite places. After lunch, we stepped into the Wyland Gallery and saw the sculpture of a humpback whale nudging her newborn to the surface for its first breath, and we couldn’t help but stop, stand, and stare. It’s a breathtaking work of art, designed to show the beauty, compassion, and wisdom of a mother as she instinctively helps her baby take that first breath of life-giving fresh air.

We’ve seen humpback whales bubble-net feeding, emerging from under water, up, into the air, to catch herring in their mouths. After that experience, we read about these school-bus-size behemoths, amazed at the wonderful work of the Lord in His creation. But to see the tenderness of this act of the loving mother caring for her young was overwhelming. And Wyland’s artisanship is impressive.

The bronze sculpture of the whale and her infant reminds me of a story in First Kings chapter seven, where Solomon brought in a skilled craftsman to create bronze decorations for the temple. The scripture describes the items Huram fashioned. There were two massive pillars, interwoven chains, pomegranates, and lilies. He made an ocean, encircled by gourdes and resting on twelve bulls. Next, he crafted ten movable stands that were adorned with lions, bulls, and cherubim. He finished his work with basins, pots, shovels, and sprinkling bowls, all out of cast metal.

But what really caught my attention was the word “wisdom” in 1 Kings 7:14. The artist was skilled, knowledgeable, and had great insight. But wisdom? That’s not what I expected to see in the description of the craftsman at work.

When I asked my wife about it, she mentioned that a good artist needs wisdom, not only to know how to work with the materials at hand, but to convey meaning to others. It’s this type of wisdom that God had given to Huram as he built the bronze artifacts for the temple of the Lord. His artistic ability was a gift from God, further developed and refined by study, practice, and hard work, and offered back to the Lord as an act of worship.

First Corinthians 12:8 says wisdom is one of the Gifts of the Spirit. We need this gift, not only in the Church, but in our homes, our families, and our careers. Wisdom can help us handle tough situations. It will provide guidance when we’re facing temptation, and insight for those difficult decisions that seem to come up too often. We need wisdom for knowing how to share Christ with our friends, how to pray for someone in need, and how best to answer questions from our children. Sometimes, a word of wisdom spoken at just the right time, can provide guidance for our church leaders or even the entire congregation.

If the Lord gives wisdom to a mother whale so she can safely guide her calf, and if He imparts wisdom to an artist or a craftsman in bronze, then we can be confident He will provide the wisdom and guidance we need for the circumstances, challenges, and opportunities in our lives.

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Speed Bumps

Speed Bump SignThere were four or five speed bumps on the road ahead, but what caught my attention was the car in front of me. As it approached each bump in the road, it veered way over to the right to go around it. Didn’t slow down. Just avoided the speed bumps.

I don’t mind speed bumps. They don’t bother me or my car in the least. Unless they are particularly obnoxious, or unless my wife is in the car with me, I go right over them without worrying. Without slowing very much, either, I must confess.

When the car ahead got to the last speed bump, there was a parked car on the side of the road, so the driver had no choice but to go over the bump. To accomplish this feat, he came to a complete stop. Then he crawled over the speed bump as if his car might be damaged if it went more than 2 MPH over that obstacle. It was a fairly new car, and it didn’t seem fragile. Yet he crept over that speed bump as if his very life depended on not going any faster than the snail on the sidewalk next to him. The earthworm on the other side sped past him. Just zipped on by!

I watched the scene play out, trying to remain patient. I had a meeting to attend, but I could wait a little longer to see what the fellow would do. See if his jalopy would survive the ordeal of climbing over that mountain. It got all the way to the top of the speed bump and eased down the other side. Then the driver looked around, breathed a heavy sigh of relief, and accelerated. He was a success. A survivor. He was having a good day!

After the meeting, I thought about the speed bump episode. We all face bumps in the road in everyday life. Sometimes we call them hiccups or obstacles. Some people refuse to use the word “problem,” preferring, instead, to call them “challenges.” But they’re real.

Jesus said plainly in John 16:33 that there’ll be trouble, sorrow, pain, and difficulty in this world. Different translations of the Bible use words like tribulation, trials, distress, and afflictions. The Greek word is thlipsis, which refers to a variety of tough circumstances.

The fact is, life is tough. And just when you think it’s going to ease up a bit, it gets harder. It tests your faith. It raises hard questions. It makes you want to run away. “But be of good cheer,” the Lord goes on to say. “Take heart, be brave, don’t let it defeat you.”

Jesus knew about hardship. He knew what it meant to suffer, to hurt, to wish things could turn out differently. So did James, who wrote that we can be joyful even when going through tough stuff, knowing that the Lord is at work in our lives. So did Paul, who said God was working for our good in every situation. Even when hitting those speed bumps.

Years ago, in a pick-up game of basketball, the other team got a rebound and was running a 4-on-1 fast break. Trying to defend them, I turned to reach for the ball. In doing so, I twisted my knee, snapped my ACL, and landed on the ground in pain. Surgery was followed by months of physical therapy.

To this day, I have an awareness and a compassion for people who have a leg, knee, or foot injury. Whenever I see someone in a wheelchair, on crutches, or wearing a knee brace, I remember what it was like falling to the ground in agony, then being helped off the court by friends. For a moment, I relive the exercises designed to restore strength and range of motion.  My painful experience helped me become more aware of other people and what they’re going through.

We can’t avoid speed bumps, can’t always drive around them like the guy in front me was trying to do. There will always be problems, challenges, and obstacles. Some will be overwhelming, others mere hiccups. What we can do is face them with courage, patience, and confidence, staying open to the idea that they just might lead to personal growth and maturity, and just maybe help us develop a sense of compassion and an ability to relate to other people.

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