When the Ship Hits the Sand What Do You Do?

Human nature embraces love and intimacy, but also accepts and even promotes inevitable differences of opinion. Sweet and bitter water flow from the same spring, namely us (James 3:10-11), and it is sad. Putin spars with President Obama; Democrats with Republicans; Clemson fans with South Carolina; husbands with wives; and the list goes on. We foment division more than we seek peace.

We wipe our enemies’ and occasionally our friends’ faces in the poo of life and think we’ve done something necessary, even noble. Who made us judge and jury? When did we become the Holy Spirit and get the task of convicting others of their sins? How do we avoid the alluring temptation of revenge, smack talk, or the insidious passive-aggressive entrapment of people? What are we to do when the well-intentioned and ill-intentioned dragons attack us?

We really need to be careful here because countries do go to war, couples split up, and friends never speak to one another again. Pardon the crassness but when the ship hits the sand, it is never evenly or fairly distributed!

Pardon my further indelicacy, but maybe you’ve heard the story of Great Bear and Furry Rabbit’s journey. They were out walking together one day when both literally experienced nature’s call. Great Bear asked Furry Rabbit in a loud voice, “I’m wondering, Furry Rabbit, you’re so sleek and so soft. I’m wondering if I might ask you a rather delicate and personal question.” Furry Rabbit in a meek and nervous voice, “Great Bear, we’re good friends, please ask your question.”

Great Bear lowered his loud voice and said, “I’m wondering if you ever have… the problem,” he hesitated. Furry Rabbit said, “Go on Great Friend. Ask your question.” “Well,” the Bear began again, “Do you ever have the problem… of poo… sticking… to your sleek fur?” Furry Rabbit giggled, “Why no.” He chuckled. “Of course not,” He said and giggled again.

Great Bear looked down for a moment, pensive, and looked back at Furry Rabbit. Then his great voice boomed, “Good!” Great Bear then picked up Furry Rabbit, wiped his great behind and set Furry Rabbit back on the ground.

We have all unwittingly or intentionally used our friends to alleviate our messy situations. Maybe you have not only heard the story of Great Bear and Furry Rabbit but have been in the story, on one end or the other. So, God, what are we to do with these situations? May I suggest, in an alliterative manner, that we have three options when tensions arise: Laugh it off, Let it go, or Love it away.

Laughing it off was an effective way for Abraham Lincoln to dispel anxiety and tension. There was one situation when one of his Cabinet members was totally out of line and a bunch of legislators wanted the whole Cabinet swept clean. Lincoln told the story of a farmer who had a problem with a family of seven skunks. They would raid his barns on a nightly basis and cause all kinds of havoc. One night the farmer got out of bed and told his wife that he was going to get his gun and take care of the whole lot. His wife heard a single blast and the farmer returned. She asked him what happened. He said that he shot one of the skunks. Then she asked why he didn’t get rid of the rest. He said very wryly, “The one I got rid of raised such a fearful stink I decided to let the other six go.” The legislators got the point and slinked out of Lincoln’s office. Presidents, court jesters, and you and I need to learn how to dispel tension with the friendly ease of a well-turned phrase. May I dare say that Jesus’ use of parables is an example?

Other times we need to let offenses go. My Daddy called it, “Giving people a horse to ride home on.” In other words, give people an out so if they explode they do it somewhere else and hopefully in the confines of a safe place. Jesus practiced letting offenses go. He practiced unilateral forgiveness, one-sided forgiveness. For instance, not one time in the Gospels does anyone ever ask Jesus to forgive them, yet he forgave! The woman with the alabaster bottle of expensive ointment never asked to be forgiven, but Jesus told her that her sins were forgiven (Luke 7:48). The guy whose four buddies lowered him down through the roof didn’t ask to be forgiven, but Jesus told him, “Your sins are forgiven. (Luke 5:20)” Of course most memorable in evidence of unilateral forgiveness was when Jesus was hanging on the cross. There’s no evidence that anyone in that crowd asked to be forgiven yet Jesus looked upon them and said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34)” What a powerful thing to forgive especially when no one asks for it!

Lastly, love it away! Love is defined as not seeking its own way in I Corinthians 13. So should it be with us as we put others first. Get this – as much as some like to sing the hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” Jesus very seldom ever called anyone “friend.” As a matter of fact he does it only directly when talking about three people: Lazarus, Judas, and the unnamed paralytic lowered through the roof. With the paralytic we can only imagine. Lazarus we can understand since Jesus wept at his death, but Judas is a whole different story. In Matthew 26:50 Jesus is about to be arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas comes up to him ready to give the prearranged signal of a kiss so the soldiers would know who to arrest. What does Jesus say? He says, “Friend, do what you came for.” Jesus called Judas “friend” even when he was his most unfriendly. That’s love!

So when things get tense try these three things: Laugh it off, Let it go, and Love it away! It’s a worthy challenge every day and in every situation. When the ship hits the sand, what do you do?

Sunrise or Sunset?!

I’m glad the presidential election is over and the campaign signs can come down. I’m proud of our country’s voter turn-out. This election galvanized many people and has produced a history-changing result. I pray that President-elect Obama will choose advisors wisely and that God will use him to help the US and the world to be a better place. This election for some seems like the demise or sunset of their views and values. For others, the sun has finally come up and it is the dawn of new day.

Regardless of how you voted, it is now time for us to come together and tackle the unfinished business of helping God fulfill the prayer that we pray so often, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Each of us has a part to play. If we do enter a severe recession or another Great Depression, it is time for us to become the next “Builder” generation or what Tom Brokaw called, “The Greatest Generation.” Sociologists and historians will tell you that the melieu of those tough years in the 1930’s and 40’s generated an unprecedented sense of dedication. The results can be measured in church attendance, civil rights legislation, scientific discoveries, and much more.
I hope we can rise to the occasion. I think the UMC has the best framework of grace imaginable, so, rather than seeming like a mainline dinosaur, we can be poised to help people through these trying times. We must make the Gospel relevant and provide a haven, a sanctuary, and a outlet for people’s anxiety and altruism. Our best years are ahead of us not behind us, if we do our part.
A Scripture passage sums up what I’m trying to say: Ephesians 4:15-16. It has been on my mind as I have been conducting charge conferences and seeing our connectionalism at work, “Speaking the truth in love we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is Christ. From him, the whole body joined and held together by every supporting ligament grows and builds itself up in love as each part does its work.”
In and through the love of Christ we can offer support to a hurting world as each of us does our part. Our distinctive connectionalism can be summed up with a T-shirt slogan, “Together We Can Do More!” It’s sunrise not sunset for the US or the UMC!