Month: March 2016

The greatest victory over the worst trouble

There is a deep hole in the pavement over some kind of manhole cover or access point in a certain right-turn lane on one of my frequent routes home. There, I once pulled around to pass, on the right, a car that was waiting to turn left. I was not exhibiting the biblical virtue of patience!

In driving around that car, I didn’t notice the hole until it was too late. My right wheel(s) struck the cavernous indention with great force. The bump felt and sounded horrible; I cringe even now when think about it and, when I drive past that spot on Rocky Ridge Road, I try to avert my eyes just enough to avoid seeing the spot that reminds me how careless I was – the “scene of the crime.” The place brings back an unhappy memory. I don’t like to be reminded of my impatience, nor of the harmful impact I caused to my tires on that day of poor decision.

Literally or figuratively, we don’t want to go down the streets where we once ventured unwisely – whether by accident or on purpose. Walking or driving past food or drink for sale, past movie displays, past someone’s house; seeing a certain make of automobile, a name, a word, a color – many objects and thoughts can trigger memories of things we said or did that we wish we hadn’t.

As we celebrate Easter, remember that our holy God does not want to look on reminders of sin, either. I have a feeling that’s not only because he will not tolerate sin. I have a feeling it’s because when God looks at sin He sees His only Son in agony, nailed to a cross. That’s what we need to see, too, when we think about our sins and about the sins of the human race as a whole. The image of Jesus suffering is needed for us to grasp what sin really is, what it did, what it does, and why we need to treat it as a serious spiritual illness – for which we know and have access to the cure.

Easter is a two-fold event. A happy occasion precipitated by a sad fact. The greatest victory over the worst trouble. When reminded of the painful past, let’s be sure we don’t let mourning and sorrow win. Instead, we turn thoughts of regret into praise and thanksgiving that we have been forgiven and delivered! What Satan wishes to use for accusation and taunting, we make into a reason for honoring and glorifying our risen, victorious Savior, Jesus Christ. We take harmful thoughts “captive” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)  That’s the kind of Savior I have, the kind of Master I serve, the kind of Lord I own. This risen, forgiving King will reign over me forever.

A strange definition of “perfect”

The young boy was a runaway with nothing but the dirty overalls he wore. No shoes. No food. No money. No destination except freedom from his pursuers.

The only good thing about his circumstances was that he had a friend traveling with him. This friend was not a same-age buddy also on the run, also suffering from a lack of resources. No; he was a guide and an advocate who not only offered hope, but also had the means of helping the boy find a practical solution to his problem.

Rested after a night’s sleep in the arms of his friend, and grinning from ear to ear over a breakfast of apples from a tree, the boy told his able friend, “Now we’re together, and life is perfect.”

That statement, “life is perfect,” certainly is intriguing when you consider the boy’s present plight and poverty. But, it makes a little more sense when you know that the situation he had run from was much worse. To him, the freedom he now had, as uncertain as it was, was “perfect” in comparison to where he had been.

Our true and pressing needs are not to be diminished, though many of us sometimes complain about minor things in addition to worrying about major things. Might it be helpful to check our general attitude against the story of a runaway child who, after escaping the worst oppression he had ever known, was immensely grateful for what would look at first glance like terrible poverty?

The family that worked young Pete like a slave bought him for $50 from an orphanage. Pete’s friend and helper was a real dragon that everyone but Pete thought was imaginary. The movie is Pete’s Dragon (1977). Worth mention are enjoyable performances by Mickey Rooney, Helen Reddy, Red Buttons, Shelley Winters – and Jim Dale (who narrated those cute Angel Soft commercials and performed all of the Harry Potter audiobooks).

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Elliott, Pete’s animated dragon friend in the movie, has magical abilities. He can fly, turn himself invisible, and communicate verbally with human beings (even though his own speech is a bit muffled and mumbled).

Once Elliott the dragon has connected Pete with an adoptive family, he leaves Pete in order to go help another child who needs an advocate. “I won’t ever see you again, will I?” Pete asks with tears in his eyes. It is a bittersweet parting.

The worst oppression we experience, whether it feels that way or not, is being a slave to sin. Jesus Christ, our Friend and Advocate, not only offers hope, but also has the goal and the power to help us find the remedy for sin and to meet our material needs (see Matthew 6:25-33).  And He doesn’t have to leave us in order to go help someone else.

Pete says to Elliott in one of the songs, “I’m glad I don’t have to be alone.” In Christ we don’t have to be alone, or poor, or lost, or aimless. Consider your own emotions at a low or self-pitying point, or the feelings of someone you know:

Feeling alone? Matthew 28:20, Hebrews 13:5
Feeling poor? Ephesians 1:3, Colossians 2:10, Ephesians 3:8
Feeling lost? John 10:27-29, Isaiah 40:11
Feeling aimless? Matthew 28:19-20, 2 Corinthians 5:20

 

Rest for 24 measures

I watched the series finale of Downton Abbey on Sunday, March 6. In my wakeful moments that night, and first thing the next morning, that show’s theme song kept running through my head. After some time being aware of this, I asked myself, “Exercising energy hearing or thinking the theme song to a popular PBS drama isn’t going to advance the cause of Christ in any way, is it? Shouldn’t you be praying instead?”

Take a look at how seriously the writer of Psalm 119:1-7 took the matter of knowing and obeying God:

  • Be blameless
  • Keep God’s statutes
  • Seek God with the whole heart
  • Follow God’s ways
  • Obey God’s precepts (fully)
  • Have steadfast ways
  • Consider God’s commands
  • Learn God’s laws

Does that list shout “pressure to perform” to you? Feeling a considerable amount of that type of pressure (or desire) to do well – not to please people, but as a servant of God, I want to be sure my blogging time is spent creating posts that provide solutions that may make a reader’s life better instead of lofty-sounding challenges that make life seem more of a struggle. “Pressure” might not be the best word. Perhaps: longing, intention, or goal. It’s a very real effect caused by having a serious attitude about what one “ought” to be doing. So….maybe pressure is the right word, after all.

Picture a strong current that moves a person wherever it wants to, unless that person is swimming fiercely, every moment, to go in a particular direction. That mental image is of something that’s very tiring, isn’t it? Certainly, biblical teaching on spiritual warfare and on persistent service seems to support this notion of constantly battling and never letting up for a second:

· be aware of the devil’s schemes all the time [1 Peter 5:8]
· mature as a Christian [Hebrews 5:13]
· pray without ceasing [1 Thessalonians 5:17]
· and, when it’s much easier just to go home from work and “veg” in all of one’s free time, serve one’s neighbor more readily than serving oneself [Mark 9:35]

Tired. Straining for progress upstream, with aching arms. Believing myself to be failing when my mind dwells on a particular song that I tell myself is “inconsequential” because, although it may be clever and pretty, it doesn’t appear to expressly exalt Jesus. Pressure. Is the water current I mentioned earlier really “the world” dragging me in the wrong direction, or is the current I’m swimming against the pressure I put on myself every day?

Now I picture the Holy Spirit towing me against the current. He’s doing all the work, and I’m being moved in the right direction. No, we can’t be lazy. Lazy people waste potential and opportunity; “sloth” is one of the seven deadly sins. We must put our hands to the plow and not look backward if we would follow Christ and inherit our spiritual reward. But, where does laziness end and reasonable, restful abiding begin?

Jesus said: I am the vine, you are the branches. Abide in me. My yoke is easy and my burden is light.

On March 6 I told my husband that our Sunday School literature, LifeWay’s MasterWork series, is almost too good. There is so much that I underline and dog-ear and scribble about in the margins, wanting to apply the well-stated concepts, to learn from them, to internalize them, and to live with more effectiveness as a Christian because of them. I have kept every quarterly issue for the past four years or so. It would take a monastery resident’s schedule, where hours every day are allotted to prayer and study, for me to make the best use of this material that others have prayerfully created and that my church has generously provided. But I don’t live in a monastery. I work full-time and commute more than an hour, round trip, five days a week. I come home to be stared in the face by dirty floors and junk mail and a weedy yard and a messy closet. (And dishes! Click here to enjoy this new TV commercial on that subject. Having an attitude of humor about what bugs us really does help!)

In the discretionary time I do have, I want God to use my thoughts and my activities for others’ benefit and for my own health. In light of that, lately I’ve been looking for heaven’s Registrar office so I can officially drop out of what feels like “advanced studies” and sign up for kindergarten again, where objects are large and bright and hands-on, where I can learn amazing things like colors and numbers for the first time again. Jesus did say the kingdom of heaven belongs to “such as these” (children).

One week after I observed that our Bible study literature is too good for my own good, God gave me a helpful insight during worship. My attention happened to be drawn to one of the percussionists during a beautiful song by choir and orchestra. Holding a pair of cymbals, he played sizzling accents, well-placed here and there, and he played commanding crashes for dramatic emphasis as the music score dictated. A sizzle or a crash in every measure would have rendered that instrument’s sound much less noticeable, much less interesting. Anyone who talks incessantly begins to be tuned out by bored hearers. I found myself wondering how many measures of rest the percussionist had, on average, between “notes.”  The title of this article tells you my guess. (It may be way off.)  I have to make this a life lesson: Take the measures of rest that the Composer wrote into your part, then play audible notes (or a visible role) when the time is right.

(Gear) shifting metaphors now… We don’t have to be pushing the gas pedal of our lives every second. Sometimes we coast. Sometimes we have the brake on, waiting our turn to act or to speak, while it’s another’s turn to be moving. And sometimes the car is sitting with the motor off and the keys out of the ignition. Now, that is real rest.