What to Do When in a Funk – Roundabout Thoughts on Philippians 4:1-9

It is interesting to live on the edge of South Carolina’s border with the state of Georgia. I have been amused with the Augusta, Ga. television stations’ ads for that state’s political candidates. However amused I am with the not-so-subtle mudslinging, their ads are very well done and better than any I’ve ever seen in South Carolina. As a matter of fact, they’re so good, as an objective newcomer who knows nothing of the Peach State’s politics, I can’t easily discern who I would vote for if I was registered there. When every candidate says the same thing it all starts running together, and the truth is either lost or at least blurred. Jesus said something about knowing people by their fruit, and when it comes to Georgia, I’m clueless.

What I do know is that every ad purports that their person has a solution to either real or perceived problems. I wish that was so! Wouldn’t it be great if there was a pill or a politician that would really cure all that ails us? Some might say that our national malaise is the product of a poor economy, the war on terror, election year mudslinging, the disintegration of the family, and sorry football teams. It’s tough when sports, one of our sources of distraction from life’s difficulties, only adds to the problem. So much for being a South Carolina Gamecock fan!

So what are we supposed to do? What I’ve found when life is on a slippery slope is to do something worthwhile. It doesn’t matter so much what the task, just so it takes commitment. Psychologists, for years, have said that one of the best ways to get out of the doldrums is to make yourself do something for somebody else. They’re right! If we give in to the pits we’re never going to get out of them. Commitment is the ability to push through the pain, the angst, the pessimistic cynical mindset in which we find ourselves and keep at the projects that we’re supposed to complete.

George Miller gave an interesting analogy, “The trouble with eating Italian food is that five or six days later you’re hungry again.” What he’s saying about Italian food is true for me, and reminds me that what we stick to doing keeps on nourishing us long after we’re done. So when we’re down, we shouldn’t give in to it. We should stick to doing the things that we know that we’re supposed to do. Sure, I know very well that I don’t feel like going to the “Y,” but I also know that the endorphins that are released when I exercise will make me feel better. Unfortunately, many of us easily avoid the things we should do. Jerome K. Jerome, who lived from 1859-1927, said it for all sad-sacks and procrastinators, “I like work; it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.”

We shouldn’t vegetate and let our burdens build up. Doing something good and worthwhile is a better answer. It’s all about commitment. Lewis Smedes puts the matter quite plainly, “I want to say to you that if you have a ship you will not desert, if you have people you will not forsake, if you have causes you will not abandon, then you are like God… When a person makes a promise, he reaches out into an unpredictable future and makes one thing predictable: he will be there even when being there costs him more than he wants to pay. When a person makes a promise, he stretches himself out into circumstances that no one can control and controls at least one thing: he will be there no matter what the circumstances turn out to be. With one simple word of promise, a person creates an island of certainty in a sea of uncertainty.” Amen!

Think what would happen if we followed Smedes’ advice. What a better world we would have if we kept our end of the bargain as employees even when under-appreciated, as spouses to our spouses even when things are rocky, or as parents to our children even when feeling disrespected and worn out. When we’re in a funk do something positive. Don’t lash out. Do the unexpected – your duty!

Doesn’t this apply to our faith communities, too? Wouldn’t our churches be better off if members actually kept their promises and vows? Someone said that there are three different kinds of believers: “if,” “because,” and “regardless.” An “if” believer follows God IF he or she receives blessings and rewards in return. This person waits to see what God will do first, then decides whether or not to respond in obedience. A “because” believer follows God BECAUSE God blesses the person. This person has seen the connection between personal obedience and God’s blessing and wants to keep it going. A “regardless” believer follows God REGARDLESS of the person’s circumstances, cynicism, and hardships. A “regardless” believer honors commitment and knows that God is faithful to the faithful. Which are we? How you act today casts your vote, so choose wisely! Do something worthwhile, follow God, and do the right things REGARDLESS.

Donkey and Elephant

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?