pecaspers: a Blog in transition

February 28, 2016

Making the Race Harder

We went to Burger King for dinner tonight because our kids needed some time running around on a playground and… No, no “and,” the playground was the deciding factor.

After most of the food was consumed and the simple enjoyment of climb, slide, run, repeat wore off, my very competitive son challenged my wife to a race. Up the playset, down the twisty slides, the first one back wins. So that was fun for a few rounds with Mommy and/or Sister. Then Daddy got in on the action. Then we took a break, ate a couple more fries, split a cookie four ways, etc. 

Racing resumed with an added trip up the playset and down the double slide. Mommy sat out a couple rounds watching the baby while I let my boy win and my girl came in a distant third. When Mommy entered into the final race (leaving me to sit out), the course changed again. This time it was Mommy who made the race harder. Too hard for herself, in fact. The race became this: up the playset, down the twisty slides, back up the playset, down the double slide, through the tunnel under the playset, and back to start. 

That tunnel is easy for a 5 year-old to run through. Not so for his 20-something mommy; she had to crawl. It was hard to watch. Do I laugh, do I encourage, do I feel sorry for my sweet wife struggling to finish a meaningless race against our son?

Here’s where I landed.

I laughed at and with my wife, I cheered for her as she crawled to an embarrassing defeat of her own design, and I felt sorry for all of us humans for all the times we’ve made the race harder for ourselves. 

In the Bible, the author of the letter to the Hebrews writes at one point, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” (‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭12:1,‬ ‭ESV‬‬).

Adding needless complexity can make things better when you’re talking playground fun. That’s not the case with life in general nor with the Christian life in particular. God has good things for you to experience for your enjoyment, hardships he intends you to endure for the sake of developing your character, and comfort to give you so that you can comfort others (note: only hurting people need comforting). So the life your Father in Heaven wants for you will be a hard enough race to run, hard in an ultimately good way mind you.

The trouble is that we make the hard-in-a-good-way race harder in a bad way when we deviate from the course set before us. We add trips into dark valleys only to have to climb steep cliffs to get back out. We stop to attend to some distraction and let the race get away from us such that we must run all the harder to catch up. We pick up extra weights which we’re told add to the fun but merely add to the difficulty of running the race. 

My father-in-law runs marathons. I can’t imagine him getting halfway through the Boston Marathon in April and deciding to run an extra mile off the course to pick up a Big Mac, a pack of cigarettes, and pair of 20-pound dumbbells, you know, just to make the race more interesting. That’s insane. No one does that. I also can’t imagine him cutting down a sidestreet to shorten the race. That’s cheating, and it disqualifies one from finishing and receiving any award.

So why do we do that kind of thing so often? Usually, it’s because we aren’t thinking about the consequences of our actions, like my wife who didn’t think about how she would get through a tunnel designed for children. You get to make many real choices in life, but you never get to choose the consequences of your choices. 

Think about it.

Are you making the race harder for yourself? How is that working for you? What do you need to do to get back on course? (Hint: Give Hebrews 11 & 12 a read for starters.)

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January 6, 2016

Jesus Selfies

Filed under: There's a Sermon Illustration in There Somewhere — pecaspers @ 10:01 AM

  

My two year old daughter has a tiny plastic camera. When you look through the view finder, you see pictures with basic Bible truths. One of them has a cartoon Jesus in it. She likes to “take pictures” of everything and everyone, including herself. The funny thing is that no matter what she she points the came at the pictures always show biblical truth and Jesus.

What about you? If someone takes a snapshot of your life, is the truth of God displayed there? Do you see Jesus in your selfies?

October 12, 2013

Competing Desires

Earlier today my three year old son Peter threw an epic fit that made me a little later to a meeting to which I was headed. Even after I left, in part because I left, the tantrum train kept rolling right along for a while longer.

Why was Peter having a grade-A melt down? It was because he doesn’t have a steam roller, obviously.

That’s not quite right. It was because he has a monster truck instead of a steam roller.

I can see this isn’t making sense to you. Some background is in order.

Peter is a big Bob the Builder fan. Bob has a team of anthropomorphic construction equipment; one of whom is a steam roller named Rolly. Peter has a wide assortment of construction equipment toys. It doesn’t matter to him that only a couple of them are actually Bob the Builder toys, any kind of machine featured on the show is called by that character’s name. Peter doesn’t have a Rolly, nor does he have a suitable stand-in.

For his recent birthday, Peter got some “monies.” Yesterday, Peter and Mommy pulled a dollar and change (got to learn about taxes early) out of Peter’s froggy bank with the expressed purpose of buying a steam roller from Dollar Tree. However, Peter decided in Dollar Tree that he wanted a monster truck instead.

Peter wanted a Rolly, but he bought a monster truck instead by his own free choice.

Back to today’s fit. “I want a Rolly!”
“Peter, you don’t have a Rolly. You bought the monster truck, remember?”
“I don’t want that monster truck! I want a Rolly!”
And so on.

There’s a sermon illustration in there somewhere.

He had a desire for a good thing. He had the resources to achieve his desire. Yet because he wasn’t focused, he ended up with something other than his primary desire, and he regretted that decision when the weight of that first desire settled back in.

There’s all sorts of things this little tale might illustrate.

In this moment, the best tie in that comes to mind is to Colossians 3. Paul tells us to set our minds on Christ and his Kingdom rather than on this world, our flesh, and our struggles with each.

He leads off with a conditional statement: “If … you have been raised with Christ.” Have you? If you have, then we are to put to death what is dead and live the life which Christ raised us into. Go read Colossians 3 (especially 1-17), it’s right there in the Scriptures. You were dead, you died to death in Christ, you are now alive to live in Christ…if you have, in fact, been raised with Him.

Peter should have looked at that monster truck and declared it dead, not worth his time, attention, or resources. He should have focused on what would bring him more “joy” (to misuse the term for effect) later. He should have stood firm on his desire to bring his collection of construction equipment to completion. He chose what looked shiny and fun in the moment instead, and he suffered great emotional turmoil for it later, and he still had no Rolly in spite of all his screaming and crying.

Where are you caving in to earthly desires rather than staying focused on Christ and those things that will lead you to greater spiritual maturity, to fuller obedience to His will, and to greater experience of His blessings–whatever form they may take?

To be honest, a number of things come to my mind in my life. Will you be honest, too?

[Truth in all things: The end of this post was written weeks after the beginning of it. Peter does have a steam roller now. He also chose not to get a certain toy from another show the other day so that he could look for one that was the same character but had more moving parts. Growth is possible.]

September 19, 2013

Can You Fix My Heart? – TMA Article Draft

Peter: “Can you fix my heart?”
Me: “Yeah buddy, I can fix it.”
Peter: “Can you really?”
Me: “Yes, I really can.”
Moments later…
Peter: “We did it!”
Me: “Who did it?”
Peter: “You did it!”

That’s a close approximation of an exchange between my son and me from the other day. His side is exact because it was so awesome that I typed into a post draft because I knew I had to write this out to share. As soon as my beloved son said “Can you fix my heart,” I knew there was a sermon illustration in there. However, it just got better and better.

This wasn’t some deep, philosophical request from my almost-three-year-old. My mom had given him a set of tangram magnets. (You know, they’re those sets of simple shapes you use to create larger shapes; you probably played with them in a math class at some point.) He was asking me to put the heart-shaped set back together. When I claimed my ability to fix his heart, he double-checked me. “Can you really?” he asked. He was forgetting two facts: (1)I’m a stinking wiz at tangrams, and (2)I’m the one who put it together the first time.

He stood close to the action as I maneuvered the pieces into position. He “helped” in the sense that as I put the pieces into place he would touch some of them, often sliding them slightly out of position so I had to nudge them back. He tried to claim that “we” did it, but he was honest enough to admit that it was really me who had put the heart back together.

If you don’t see where I’m going with this, then pay attention and get ready to be introduced to the one true and living God, the one who made you.

He throws a party in heaven every time one of us comes to him and says, “Can you fix my heart?” (See Luke 15). But we also often ask, “Can you really?” He is the one who made us in the first place. He is a master at both creation and restoration. It is His joy to take the broken heart we have and give us a new and better one (see Ezekiel 36:26, Jeremiah 17:9, Mark 7:21-23, John 7:38, Hebrews 8:10, etc.). He is also good and tender so that he endures us when we claim, “We did it!” “We” didn’t do it. He did it in us — or can do it in you. You and I cry out for the mending of our messed up hearts, but He does all the fixing. (I’ll leave it to you to discuss and discover how dead people are even able to cry out for new hearts, but that’s beyond the scope of my story.)

The point of it all is that God the Father sent God the Son to live, die, and rise from death so that all who will believe in Him can receive God the Holy Spirit, fixing our hearts and bringing glory to God. You see, God is the ultimate puzzle solver, and He is the one who put you together in the first place. Can you look at your remade heart and shout “You did it!” triumphantly to Him? It all begins with a simple, humble, child-like request to a good Father.

[This is the original draft of my article published in the 9/17/2013 edition of the Tallassee Tribune as the contributed article on behalf of the Tallassee Ministerial Alliance.]

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August 21, 2013

Old Habits Die Hard

I just got back to my house after being away for a couple of nights. I checked the mail, turned the air conditioner back down, and eyeballed my garden. You know, the usual things.

Then something strange happened. This sense that I needed to check the answering machine hit me. (Pause for effect.) We don’t have an answering machine. We don’t even have a landline telephone. We haven’t had one for years. I might be wrong about this, but I’m pretty sure we’ve never had one in this house. Nevertheless from somewhere in my past, there is still some connection in my brain that says I’m supposed to check the answering machine when I get home after being away.

There’s a sermon illustration in there somewhere.

Without trying to exhaustively cite passages of Scripture, this is the kind of thing Paul and other New Testament writers are talking about when they instruct us to live according to who we are now in Christ and not live according to our old life of slavery to sin. In Colossians 3, Paul talks about putting off the old man and putting on Christ. John talks in his fisrt and second letters about walking in light and not in darkness. James has a few things to say about our works displaying our living faith. I’m sure there are many other examples.

Now, it’s not sin for me to feel like I need to check an answering machine I don’t have. Come on, this is an illustration. I had a pattern in my life. There was a time when checking the answering machine is something I did daily, even multiple times daily. And then my life changed; we got rid of the landline and the answering machine obviously went away as well. It would be very strange to keep an answering machine without a phone line and stranger still to check it. Checking the answering machine is just not part of my new life. The very thing that makes an answering machine useful, a phone line, is no longer a functioning reality in my home.

That’s how it ought to be for Christians and their sin. God in His goodness came to live and die and rise again so that we could be counted dead to sin and alive to God in Christ. Because we have been cut off from sin and sin from us, then we ought to no longer live as though our slavery to sin were still a functioning reality. We should live freely out of the new creation Christ has brought about in us.

Old habits die hard. We spent years living according to our slave-master Sin’s wishes. We did what sin told us to do, and we enjoyed it a large amount of the time. Yes, we have been changed. Yes, our nature is new and our standing before God is established as righteous. However, we still carry the memories, personality, preferences, etc. that we’ve been developing in our life of sin.

The landline is cut off, but we’re still all toting around answering machines. Through community with fellow believers, accountably, spiritual disciplines, and other means, the Holy Spirit aides and allows us to put the old life behind us and to live increasingly in light of the present reality of His presence in us and our new identity in Christ. We must always be careful though. We still live in these same fleshy bodies. You never know when you might find yourself in a situation that feels like one you have been in before, and it’s possible to respond based on an old habit instead of the present reality.

You will be happy to know that I didn’t go looking for my old answering machine to check it… That’s because I got rid of it years ago. Is there any paraphernalia (physical or metaphorical) of your old life that you need to get rid of so that you are less likely to fall back into an old habit?

April 18, 2013

Putting Her Shoes On

A friend of mine recently posted on her Facebook wall about her daughter being so convinced that she was about to go to the store to get a pink scooter that she was putting her shoes on. The mom was not planning on going anywhere. It was raining outside. A new pink scooter was not in the family budget. Nevertheless, girl thought she needed her shoes because, I imagine, she just “knew” she was about to go get a scooter.

I think that’s part of what Jesus means when he tells us we must have faith like a child if we are to enter his Kingdom (Matt. 18:1-4, Mark 10:13-16, and elsewhere). We are to trust in Him and act on that trust no matter what.

It’s also a beautiful picture of this little girls hope in the goodness of her parents. Mommy is good, and pink scooters are good, therefor Mommy will take me to the store to get a pink scooter. It’s time to put my shoes on.

In this respect, I’m reminded of Luke 11:9-13:

And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (ESV, emphasis mine)

Christians are to pray expecting our good Father to give us the good gifts for which we ask. And as Luke here points out, the best of what God has to give is Himself. He gives His Holy Spirit, not begrudgingly, freely to His Children. He has already given His Son to take away our sin and give us new life. He has also given the Holy Spirit as His seal, His stamp of approval, His mark of authenticity for those He has redeemed. It is our part to have a firm, confident, faithful hope in the presence of the Holy Spirit at work in us. We are to be being filled by the Spirit (Eph. 5:18).

With our faith and hope resting solidly on the goodness of God, we are to trust that the gift is given and walk in light of it. Put on the Spirit of Christ, walk in faithful obedience no matter what feelings or circumstances may try to keep you from it.

It’s raining, mom’s not getting ready, we can’t afford it… Would you put your shoes on?

Truth is, she’s getting a scooter, mom found a deal, it’s on its way, but it isn’t pink. Hey, every illustration breaks down somewhere.

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