I found myself getting increasing frustrated the longer I sat next to them in the parking lot. When I pulled in and turned off my car, I found myself waiting for what seemed like an eternity while a mother got out and struggled with her child in the back seat, oblivious to the fact that she was blocking my door, and that I was waiting for her to move. The grandmother was sitting in the front seat, and clearly saw my impatience, but said nothing and did nothing to hurry the process. I wasn’t in any great hurry, but I don’t like my time to be wasted. I opened my door a little to let the mother know that I was waiting, but still nothing hurried her along. After forever and a day, she moved, and I was able to get out of my car. I swiftly walked past them in an effort to parade my level of intolerance to their situation. When I went back to my car, I noticed that they had left their car unlocked and unattended. A million schemes flooded my brain as I thought about exacting some sort of small revenge. Nothing big, but enough to gain the upper hand. However, I then decided I’d be the bigger person and just walk away. I proudly drove down the hill, thinking I’d been such a good person and Christian because I could have done something but decided to do nothing to someone who I felt had wronged me. Most Christians would look at that situation and my resulting decision and congratulate me on walking away and doing nothing. Many would see how I looked my enemy almost directly in the face, and instead of attacking I choose to forgive them. Yet, these people would be sorely mistaken about my cleanliness, as much as I was, in that moment. Many of us seem to think that there is great merit and holiness in holding our tongue or resisting the urge to strike out at others when we are justified in doing so, but holding back in times of conflict is nothing more than a whitewashing of tombs, a cleaning of the outside. 1Samuel 16.7 reveals the varying views that man and God have of ourselves: “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Although man sees me turning the other cheek and choosing not to act, the Lord sees the heart and mind where my planned but un-carried out schemes lie, an individual no better than a typical Pharisee, one who strictly observes the law but inwardly feels superior because he or she has observed it despite what was felt. In our relationships, we pat ourselves on the back when others do or say something that vexes us, but in our heart, we push down what we really want to say. When we do this act, only two things result: a feeling of superiority to, and a resentment of, the other person. It’s great that we don’t act, but that we have the desire to act is where the sin truly lies. So, what do we do when another wrongs us and we can feel the hatred start to boil? First, realize that we are a sinful, broken people, and that it is our nature to respond sinfully. After establishing a level of humility and admitting helplessness, ask for God to intervene and cover those feelings with His love. When you ask for His intervention and help, the opportunity for feeling superior doesn’t come into play, and instead of lifting up ourselves to the world, we are lifted away from the situation and to Him. It’s then that God’s love breaks through and shines brighter instead of our own “good” deeds. Amen.
Years ago, I attended the New York City 26-mile marathon (as a spectator, mind you), to cheer on my good friend who was running in the race. I planted myself around the 22-mile marker, as I assumed those last few but still far miles were what needed the most encouragement. I watched runner after runner go by, surrounded by people shouting out inspiring words to the other struggling athletes. Before our friend reached us, I noticed that there were several people shouting out words of encouragement to multiple people. After weighing, and ultimately discarding, the idea that maybe these people just knew a lot of the runners, I came to the conclusion that what these onlookers were doing was reading the t-shirts of the runners for numbers and names and then shouting them out, boosting the spirits of these supposed strangers. I smiled and thought the practice adorable, that the result was a small lift in the runners’ long struggle. However, I severely underestimated the result, as I recently discovered for myself. I was running a short but quick 3-miler around a nearby lake and was just entering the last mile. I had been pushing myself, but found that I was hitting a proverbial wall. I mindlessly glanced over to some people hanging out on an adjacent lawn, when one of them stood up, gave me a big toothy smile, and put both thumbs in the air. I’m not really sure what happened after that, but I remember smiling back after getting a quick boost of adrenaline, and when I finished that mile, I was a good 30 seconds faster than the previous two, a huge difference in the world of running. His well-timed, well-placed, good-natured gesture made an enormous impact in my struggle, and we’ve never even met. It’s no secret that the Bible is filled with commands to lift up and encourage each other. 1 Thessalonians 5.11 tells us: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” Yet what many of us don’t consider is that we should encourage and lift up all people that God puts in our life, including people that we don’t even know. This outside-of-the-box approach to Christian living is a chance for believers to take a step out in faith and give a much-needed lift to the many that struggle around us daily. It’s a chance for Christians to affect a strong positive change in the world, developing it towards one that values kindness over opportunity. And these interactions don’t even need to be aimed at those who, like the runners in the marathon, are clearly struggling towards their goal. I remember a stranger who gave me a compliment on my tie in a gas station from fifteen years ago, and I still smile every time I see that tie. His comment brought a little more lasting light into my life, and I wasn’t even in need of any at the time he delivered it. As a result, I now tend to go out of my way now and compliment people who have clearly and purposely altered their appearance (new haircut, tattoo, piercing, hair color, whatever), even if it’s not my particular taste, because I know that every time they look in a mirror, a compliment can help them smile and accept themselves a little more than they do at that time. If God is truly purposeful in all His decisions, then everyone you run into in your life is there for a reason. The challenge to us is to step out of our comfort zone and try it with someone we don’t even know. With a few words of encouragement, you can be the difference that we Christians so desire in this world, and that difference may just ripple out well beyond the two of you and that moment. Amen.
Type “ways to prolong life” into Google, and you will get about two and a half million results. Most of the sites include ways to maintain a balanced diet, develop a healthy exercise regiment, and a long list of things to enjoy in moderation in life coupled with a list of things to avoid altogether. In the past hundred years, science and medicine has successfully figured out ways to extend the average lifespan from 49 to 78 years, and the expectation is that we will figure out ways to extend well beyond that number in the next fifty or so years. The emphasis in our society for life extension has been a major focus our entire lives, and all of us are looking to add some years onto our time on this earth. The most valuable of all resources on the planet seems to be time. Yet, this week the world learned of Mbah Gotho from Indonesia who professes to be 145 years old, according to his government’s verification of his stories and documents. If the idea is that more time equals more happiness, than Mbah must be pretty thrilled to have lived so long, right? When asked what he now desires most in life, he said, “What I want is to die,” and apparently this desire has not been a recent one. He purchased his gravesite in 1992, when he was 122 years old and visits it every day, but for the past 24 years, he has continued to live on despite the expectation that his death was supposed to be a long time ago. According to reports, he has outlived all ten of his siblings, four of his wives, and all of his children, as well as experienced all of the horrors of the world from the past century and a half. Although unable to see well, he can still hear and function reasonably well for a 145-year-old man, but he feels as if he “has been through it all” and wants to pass on. So, given this extreme example of us who want to live longer, and Mr. Gotho who has lived too long, is there a happy medium that exists that reveals how long we should live in order to be happy? Perhaps it’s not the length of life that we should be concerned with but instead the quality. We seem to think that more time is the necessary variable to additional happiness, however, the key seems to be not how much time we have but how we spend our time. Psalm 90.12 asks for God to “teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom,” for when we number our days, we then realize that time is precious, and that we should not spend time wasting time but instead living as if every day is our last: fulfilled days over longer ones. Perhaps our reason for wanting to live as long as possible stems from a fear of death and a panic of the unknown. The good news is that as Christians, there is nothing for us to fear as there is an assurance of heaven, but combined with the thought that maybe we’ve wasted a good portion of our lives, we tend to look for life prolongation as the answer. Instead, let’s look to life enhancement and fulfillment through not only a daily renewal in Him, but also a purposeful life, one that seeks to make daily changes in the world and in people’s lives for the better. When we embrace the idea of a finite existence on this earth, we acknowledge that someday we will die, thus freeing us of the burden of anxiety of our own demise. Then, instead of spending our lives fearfully avoiding death, we spend it without fear and truly living. Amen.
I recently heard a pastor jokingly refer to his driving record, saying that if everyone would only drive as fast and good as he did, we would all get to our destinations quicker and more efficiently. As a somewhat overconfident and delusional driver, I also tend to feel that I am similarly competent and accident-proof. When my spouse is in the car, and she rolls her eyes at some sort of road miscommunication between myself and another driver, I am quick to point out that I’m an excellent driver and couldn’t possibly cause an accident. Taking my claim with a grain of salt, she reminds me that I need to not only think about my own driving but also the driving of others. Even though I may be doing (close to) the right thing, other people could pose a threat. Sometime we tend to get wrapped up in our own world and need to pay attention to what is going on around us, because sometimes, despite how good we may think we are, things get in our way that we should have seen coming. My most recent manifestation of this principle stems from a recent jog. I had been running six miles (three miles out, three miles back), and I was at the halfway point of the run, the furthest point from the beginning. I had found a good pace, smooth movement, and a great rhythm. As the sidewalk ended, it lowered itself gradually down to the street, but the curb had a good two-inch lip to it. My left foot caught that lip hard, and I went right down. I scraped up my two palms, left elbow, right knee, and had enormous bloody scrapes on my stomach from the road. After muttering a most unprintable word, I analyzed the damage and decided to tough it out and run back. I spent that return time trying to figure out what went wrong. I was doing everything right, but when an obstacle was placed in front of me, none of that righteousness mattered. I was so busy making sure that I was correct in all that I did that I didn’t think to look around me and make sure that other factors wouldn’t cause me to stumble. The Bible calls us to be aware of our surroundings, attentive to what occurs so that we may not stumble as a result of our environment. 1Peter 5.8 commands us to “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” As a driver, I need to look several steps ahead of myself and consider all possible scenarios. As a runner, I need to pay attention to the next several feet in front of me, as problems along the route may await me. As a Christian, we need to look past ourselves and think about the people around us, the places we inhabit, and the things we own, making sure that these people, places, and items won’t cause us to stumble. We need to look ahead and avoid situations that won’t work in our favor. Recovering alcoholics know enough not to enter a bar, no matter how strong they think they are: they can see far enough down the road to know that the possibility of destruction lies there, so they will take actions to avoid that outcome. And we need to act with that same mentality. This week, look at the people, places, and things that, if given the right circumstance, will cause you to stumble, and then look to cutting those factors out of your life. A strong and healthy awareness of the dangers that surround you will be all the prevention needed to avoid a mighty fall. Amen.