I Was Once A Hero

[From the archives.]

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The Cliffhanger

When I was eleven or twelve, a friend and I were climbing a cliff at the beach in the town where I grew up. I reached the top first and looked down to see his progress. He was frozen in place, a little more than halfway up. He couldn’t move up or down, and despite me telling him where a good handhold was, he couldn’t let go of the grip he had on the rocks right in front of his face.

Pacifica Cliffs

Pacifica Cliffs – USGS photo

I lowered myself back over the cliff’s edge and made my way to his side. Once there I was able to show him right where he should put his hand next. I’d put my hand on a rock and then remove it, and he’d then put his hand there as I placed my arm around his waist to steady him against the rock wall. We repeated the process and soon he was at the top.

I have no idea why that happened to him. It wasn’t the first time we’d climbed the cliffs together, and he was usually a fairly brave kid. Braver then me, anyway.

I’ve gone back to those cliffs now that I’ve grown up. They’re not that big.

Doing Big Things

Everything we do for God in his kingdom is big, because everything we do in it is eternal. How can it be so big when we’re so small? As Paul said about his ministry:

Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done – by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. (Romans 15:17-19.)

And it’s not just in signs and wonders and leading people “to obey God” that we serve God. It can also be in simple acts, like providing hospitality.

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2.)

Christ living through us applies to all aspects of our lives, at home, at work, in society.

For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:15-17.)

Why are all these day-to-day things, the mundane stuff of life, so big? Because the Spirit of Christ – God himself – lives in us, and there’s nothing small about God.

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. (Romans 8:9-11.)

I’ll say it again. The Spirit of Christ lives in you. How can you not do great things, when he is the one producing fruit in God’s kingdom through you? (John 15:1-8.)

Does it have to look like a big deal? Do you have to be seen as a big deal? No, because in God’s kingdom sometimes things look really small and sometimes people look just like lowly servants. (Mark 9:35.)

But it’s always all about Jesus, and that’s a big deal.

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Less Me, More Me, All Jesus

My wife and daughter signed me up to run a half marathon with them.

They knew full well that I’d never run 13.1 miles in my life, yet they did it anyway. But this is one of the Disney half marathons and that has to make running for over two hours straight much more fun, right?

Now I’ve added a weekend run for longer distance, trying to work up from my usual six to seven miles to something approximating the half marathon distance. Last Sunday I ran 13.1 on the nose.

I survived.

Now I just have to convince my body to go and do it again.

Making a Better Me

Running is supposed to help me be a better me – more strength, more stamina, more fit. The Bible even talks of the spiritual aspects of running races.

But my friend Kenny was able to improve me greatly merely by cartoonifying me:

Cartoon Portrait

The cartoonified me, courtesy of Kenny Ray Pierce

The cartoon version of me is one handsome guy. Thanks, Kenny!

That cartoon was taken from an older picture of me. If done with a current photo, I’d be cartoonified with wrinkles and grayer hair.

No, I will not be supplying an updated photo for Kenny to work with for a new cartoon.

Old Less Me, New More Me

God is working on the current version of me, however, and I’m told Jesus has brought me into the new creation right now:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17.)

My present body is subject to decay, though. One day I will die.

You too.

That will be glorious.

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:42-44.)

Death is not the end.

A new body of glory and power, a spiritual and imperishable body, is yours forever. And this new body will actually be more the real you than your old body could ever be, because this is what God intends for you and we know his ways are always the true reality.

So trust Jesus, the one who makes you new, who makes you able to run with him.

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2.)

He is the one who delivers perfection. And that’s better than a good-looking cartoon version of me.

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The Unwanted Woman at the Party

I almost stumbled over her as I brought in another platter of food for the table. She must have slipped in when no one was looking. She knelt to the floor behind the Rabbi as he reclined at the table and started kissing his feet.

His feet!

And crying all over his feet too, her tears falling fast as she quietly wiped them off with her hair. It was hard to tell whether she was crying in grief or joy, she was so quiet. But there were many tears and the Rabbi’s feet were much cleaner by the time she was done.

She hadn’t stopped kissing his feet either.

Then she pulled out that jar of perfume. She broke it open, poured it all over the Rabbi’s feet and then went back to kissing. I’ll never forget the scent that filled the room. And that’s when my master, Simon, noticed her. He stood from where he’d been reclining at the other end of the table and looked across at the woman, a scowl on his face.

I knew what he must be thinking: that this woman’s reputation was all over town and if the Rabbi were really a prophet of God he’d know that.

The Rabbi spoke.

“Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly.”

Simon soaked up the praise like a sponge dipped into a warm bath. He remained standing, a proud smile growing wide on his face as he looked around the circle of guests, his head nodding as he accepted the Rabbi’s approval.

But the Rabbi wasn’t finished with Simon the Pharisee. He looked at the woman behind him and asked:

“Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

Simon was clearly stricken. It was true, he’d failed in the most basic hospitality for his most honored guest. Then a sneer twisted his lips as he heard the other guests start to mumble.

“Who is this who even forgives sins?”

Again he nodded at the guests, this time joining them in questioning the Rabbi’s arrogance. He must have felt that his “honored” guest was now humiliated and would stop speaking such nonsense.

The Rabbi surprised us all when he turned again to the woman:

“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

The woman rose tall, towering over the guests, us servants, Simon even as he sank to the floor. She walked with a nobility in her step, peace on her face, a smile that brought joy to every heart she passed by on her way out of the house.

It made me cry.

It made me want to kiss the Rabbi’s feet.

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How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
    who bring good tidings,
    who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
    “Your God reigns!”
for the Lord has comforted his people,
and all the ends of the earth will see
    the salvation of our God. (Isaiah 52:7-10.)

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All You Really Need To Know About Robert Frost’s “The Road Less Traveled”

[From the archives.]

The Road Less Traveled Wasn’t

Everyone has heard a motivational speaker, a high school valedictorian, a preacher somewhere, who has used Robert Frost’s poem’s last lines as encouragement to be bold enough to take the road less traveled and – they solemnly assure you – that will make all the difference in the world in your life.

That’s not what the poem says, though.

Frost was much more cynical than that. Read The Road Not Taken and see for yourself:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Every time Frost says one path looked different from the other he then says they were actually “just as fair”, “about the same”, or they “equally lay”. What’s all this nonsense then about taking “the one less travelled by” if each path looked as traveled as the other?

It’s about ego and a not wanting to be bothered to retrace his steps. He knows that “ages hence” he’ll look back on his moment of decision and, as happens with the passing of time, convince himself with a sigh that he took the better path even though there was not one whit of difference between the two. But he’ll tell himself that he chose the one “less travelled” and that his life has been the better for it. His poem suggests he might even believe it himself.

Frost has done us all a favor.

 The Good Old Days

Nostalgia is an interesting lens. We may have fond memories of years gone by for good reason. Other times, our memories are faulty and we fill in gaps to cover over what actually were some not so good times.

Either way, we need to be careful of assigning over-importance to those memories.

Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions. (Ecclesiastes 7:10.)

It’s not that we are never to think of what has come before, of course. The Bible often talks of remembering. God remembers his people (for example, Exodus 2:24), and calls us to remember him (as in Exodus 7:18).

And yet God says there is a time not to remember.

Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more. (Hebrews 10:17.)

God promises in that verse that nothing we have done will be held against those who belong to him. How can this be? Because our sins and lawless acts  – acts which certainly deserve remembering, deserve punishment – have been taken care of by Jesus.

As John tells us, Jesus “loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.” (Revelation 1:5.) Did you notice that John used the past tense? That’s why God does not remember our sins, because they are no longer part of our lives.

So when you look back on your own life, whether you actually did take a road less travelled or not, remember that God looks on your life as free from sin and so should you.

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[This originally appeared as a guest post at Becky Wilson’s blog B.A. Wilson Writes.]

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Tough Guys Know Precious People When They See Them

Precious

How precious?

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
(Galatians 3:28.)

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
(1 Peter 2:9.)

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A Senior Devil, Mere Faith, and the Beginnings of My Life in Jesus

[This is a guest post for Jennifer Neyhart’s blog series “The Books that Read Us”.]

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Is it cliché to say that C.S. Lewis had a formative influence on my understanding of what it means to belong to Jesus? Not that it matters if it is cliché. It’s true.

An Atheist Reads a Devil’s Letters

The Screwtape Letters came to me as a gift, both literally and figuratively. I was an atheist traveling around England on Christmas break in 1983 and a couple of young Christian women I met thought I might like Lewis’ epistolary novel of temptation and faith.

I did.

Screwtape advised his nephew Wormwood how to capitalize on his target’s petty jealousies of others.

I recognized petty jealousies in my own life.

Screwtape spoke of leveraging the target’s smug self-satisfaction.

I recognized smug self-satisfaction in …
[click through to Jennifer’s blog to read the rest.]

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Your Limits Don’t Limit God

God's Limitlessness

More of the Holy Spirit in someone else does not reduce the Spirit’s presence in you.
The outpouring of the Spirit reveals the limitlessness of God.

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Wearing Good News Like A Skirt Around Your Waist

Our daughter Jenna just returned from ten months in South Asia. She’d been working with an NGO, reaching out to disadvantaged women. And in the countries of South Asia (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) all women are disadvantaged. Whether poor, wealthy, educated or illiterate, women are at a huge disadvantage compared to men.

"Official United Nations cartographic map of South Asia." (Wikipedia) The countries of South Asia are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

“Official United Nations cartographic map of South Asia.” (Wikipedia)
The countries of South Asia are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

Jenna reached out to her neighbors, went on university campuses, and visited clinics and hospices to spend time with women and share with them the love Jenna has received from Jesus. Most of them had never heard of a God who loves them. When they worship their gods it’s often to placate them, begging the gods not to hurt them. Jenna said there is much spiritual darkness found in every sidewalk shrine and neighborhood temple.

Not all is darkness there, though, as the Body of Christ can be found among the people who live there too. Jenna enjoyed times of fellowship with them, joining with local believers for church services and small retreats.

One of those events led to the newspaper skirt.

Some local women had invited Jenna to their retreat, and like many retreats they  played games. In one they handed out stacks of old newspapers to see who can create the best outfit from them. Jenna’s table had a bunch of old pros at this game, so they told her to stand as their model while they handled design and construction. Look closely at her hands and you can see they even made newspaper jewelry for her wrists.

Jenna Newspaper SariWearing the news as a skirt around her waist reminded me of the gospel.

Designer Footwear

The gospel – the Good News about Jesus – can be worn on your feet like a sturdy pair of shoes that carry you through life.

How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
    who bring good tidings,
    who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
    “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7.)

Stand firm then … with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. (Ephesians 6:14-15.)

Beautiful feet wearing the gospel of peace, proclaiming peace and salvation, announcing that God reigns. This is God’s design for you, for your footsteps, that wherever you go people will know you walk the path of peace and good tidings.

What gospel steps are you walking in today?

  • When someone at work or school snubs you, what will you say?
  • When the cashier at the grocery store hands you too much money back in change, what will you do?
  • When your spouse or best friend or child or parent says something that hurts you, what will you say back?

There is not a single person you will meet today who is not in need of a smile, a kind word, a reassurance that they are precious to God. What good news will you bring them through your words and actions

And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:15.)

God has sent you into people’s lives. How will you walk in the gospel today?

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Girl Power to the Rescue!

Funny Encouragement Ecard: I'm not looking for a hero. I am one!

I’ve never been a Donkey Kong fan, opting instead for those green plastic guys known as Army Men. But I am a fan of one dad who customized Donkey Kong for his toddler:

Mike Mika’s 3 1/2 -year-old daughter Ellis loves playing “Donkey Kong.” She’s been playing it with her dad since she was 2 years old. But last week she decided she wanted to play the game a little bit differently. She wanted to play as Pauline … and she wanted Pauline to rescue Mario.

Mike designs games for a living, so he decided to redesign Donkey Kong. Instead of Mario saving Pauline, Pauline now saves Mario. Ellis gets to role play, and she gets to do it in the role of a girl saving the day.

Saving the Day

It’s a game kids play all the time. I know I did. I wanted to be a hero. Sometimes I’d get caught up in the fantasy of being stronger, faster, and just plain better at things than anyone else. Other times I’d think that if there were only a way for me to rescue someone, then I’d be famous, popular even.

At what age did I outgrow this? Still waiting.

We do have an hero, though, one who literally has come to save the world. (John 3:17.) He did it when we were helpless to save ourselves. (Romans 5:8.) And he did it by giving everything he had for us. (Mark 10:45.) In the battle for creation, salvation and all that is holy, Jesus won. (Revelation 19.)

So on second thought, I think I’d rather be the one rescued.

Jesus has already saved the day.

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Questions to ponder: Do you try to be the rescuer? When is that most likely to happen?

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How To Comfort Those Who Are Hurting

hurtsWhat doesn’t kill a person might make them stronger, but sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it just hurts, discourages, weighs them down.

God wants you to do something about it. He wants you to do for hurting people the same as he’s done for you:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4.)

When you do this, the picture up there might change to look more like this:

comfort

This is the way of God:

Comfort, comfort my people,
    says your God. (Isaiah 40:1.)

If you are hurting and discouraged, I pray God will comfort you and bring people alongside you to be with you and encourage you. If you see someone who is hurting and discouraged, I pray God will guide you in being with that person to comfort and encourage them.

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When have you had the opportunity to comfort and encourage someone?

How have you been comforted and encouraged by a person God put in your life?

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