Do you have a friend who’s a bit of a screw-up?
No? You’ve got to get one!
Friends who make a shambles of things are amazing, because they make you feel so competent by comparison.
Your friend Sue might misplace one of her children, regularly set off the smoke detector when cooking, or accidentally rear-end a police car.
You roll your eyes smugly and think, “At least I’m not as bad as she is!”
In the same way, we like to justify ourselves before God by comparing our sins to those of others.
We think, “At least I’m not a bank robber or a serial killer. I’m not as bad as others. On the whole, I figure I’m a pretty decent person. I don’t think I really qualify as a ‘sinner.’ ”
The problem with this is that we’re using the wrong yardstick.
Instead of measuring ourselves against other people, we should be seeing whether we pass muster according to God’s standards.
What is the ultimate flying machine?
The Concorde? A high-tech fighter jet?
I’d suggest to you that the holder of this title belongs to the common swift.
The swift holds the record for the fastest confirmed level flight of any bird: 111.5 km/h (69.3 mph). (Birds like falcons can fly faster, but only when diving down through the air to catch prey.)
Swifts also spend most of their lives on the wing, landing only to nest. Some individuals can spend up to ten months in continuous flight. In a single year a common swift can cover at least 200,000 km. No other bird spends as much of its life in the sky.
They are truly astonishing creatures.
A funny thing about swifts, though: they don’t do very well on the ground.
Their small, weak legs, which are placed far back on their bodies, are really only good for clinging to vertical surfaces like cliffs. They never voluntarily settle on the ground, where they’d be vulnerable to predation. Although swifts are capable of taking flight from level ground, they prefer to “fall” into the air from a high point.
Simply put, swifts were meant to soar.
And so were you.
But oftentimes there are things inhibiting our flight…
Have you ever had a time in your life when God did a work for you that came straight out of left field?
The blessing, provision or miracle he bestowed on you caught you off guard and astonished you. It was completely unexpected and surprising.
You never saw it coming.
God seems to like to work that way, doesn’t he?
Think of Moses in the Old Testament, when he was leading the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt.
They found themselves in a jam: cornered at the Red Sea with the Egyptian army snapping at their heels.
Moses had faith that God would save them, but I wonder if he was racking his brains trying to figure out just how it would happen.
Maybe God would send a flotilla of boats from the other side to rescue them, Dunkirk-style? But no one knew they were coming, and at any rate, the only people on the other side were either enemies or strangers.
Maybe God would send an affable and reasonable Egyptian captain to negotiate with Moses? Not likely, since all of Egypt’s firstborn had just been killed. The Egyptians were in no mood to parley with their escaped slaves.
No matter what Moses came up with as a potential solution, he never could have expected the curveball that God threw:
God miraculously parted the waters of the Red Sea and allowed the Israelites to cross over on dry ground, then closed up the waters to drown their enemies. Moses surely didn’t see that one coming!
And that’s not the only curveball that God threw…
In a match between a ground squirrel and a deadly rattlesnake, whom would you bet on?
Remember, this is a ground squirrel: it can’t run up a tree to escape.
And if the squirrel needs to defend its burrow with its babies inside, it doesn’t have much choice: it has to stand its ground.
What chance does it have against a venomous rattlesnake?
More than you’d expect.
California ground squirrels have an ace up their sleeve.
When confronted by a rattlesnake, this squirrel is able to engorge its tail with extra blood. It then waves its tail back and forth vigorously, super-heating the blood.
The snake, while lethal, has relatively poor vision, so it can’t clearly see what it’s facing. It instead uses its built-in infrared sensor to detect heat.
The squirrel’s hot, blood-filled tail swishing to and fro mimics the heat signature of a much larger animal. The snake thinks twice about taking on such a formidable creature, and more often than not it slinks away, defeated.
The squirrel has been saved from its enemy by the blood.
And so are we.
On our own, we are no match for that serpent of old, Satan.
Do you suffer from FOMO?
No, it isn’t some dreaded disease.
Rather, FOMO stands for “Fear Of Missing Out.”
It’s a natural human tendency to worry that we might be losing out on something that others are enjoying or acquiring.
This trepidation can sometimes filter into our spiritual lives, as well.
We might be afraid that if we do things God’s way, we’ll somehow miss out on something.
Perhaps we won’t get to do the things we really want in life, or we’ll have to give up some things we’re already doing. We fear we’ll miss out on all the fun.
We fear God might withhold something crucial from our lives, and our “cake” won’t rise without it: our life will feel diminished.
But we needn’t worry. God only withholds things for our good, and He won’t deprive us of things we truly need.
Our cake will still rise as believers, but on God’s terms.
If you live in a cold climate, as I do, you’ll have noticed that winter has a way levelling us out.
It shows us we’re all in the same boat.
Let me explain:
No matter how rich or poor you are, you’re going to have to deal with snow one way or another. If you live in a cold climate, there’s no escaping this fact.
Whether you drive a snazzy, expensive car or a modest runabout, winter has a way of making all vehicles look rather crappy. No matter how much you paid for your car, road salt and slush will cover it with an ugly grey-brown film.
And despite searching high and low for the most fashionable winter parka, you’ll still end up looking like an Arctic explorer, indistinguishable from everyone else.
Winter has a way of humbling us.
I think sin has the same sort of levelling effect.
Whatever walk of life we come from, we’re all going to have to deal with our sins somehow. There’s no escaping it.
No matter how wealthy or poor we are, when sin sticks to us, it makes all of us look rather stained. Whether a pauper or a prince, the muck of sin covers us all.
And even if we try to gussy up our image and paper over our sins, it simply doesn’t work. We’re fooling ourselves if we think we’re any better or different than anyone else.
When it comes to sin, we’re all in the same boat.
Are you on Santa’s “Naughty” list or his “Nice” list?
Sometimes it’s hard to know, isn’t it?
You shovelled the snow off your elderly neighbour’s walkway, so that counts as nice.
But on the other hand, you greedily ate half a pan of freshly baked brownies before sharing them with your family. Not so nice.
You made up for that by running errands for a sick friend, and volunteering to work late at the office to help finish a project. Definitely heading well into “nice” territory!
But then you lost your temper at your spouse, fibbed to get out of visiting your mother-in-law, and illegally parked your car in a disabled space while you dashed into the store to buy milk. Uh-oh! Looks like you’re squarely back on the naughty list.
With Santa, it’s hard to know where you stand on the naughty/nice spectrum.
That’s why it’s good to know that, if you’re a believer in Jesus, there’s only one list:
If you feel like you could use a clean slate, you’re not the only one.
Birch trees feel the need to start afresh with a new page occasionally, too.
Except they do it literally, by allowing their outer bark to peel off to reveal a fresh layer underneath.
Why do birches do this?
After all, most trees don’t shed their bark. As trees grow from the inside out, their rigid outer bark, which can’t stretch, splits and cracks instead. This gives tree bark the rough texture and fissure-like patterns that we’re all familiar with.
The drawback of these crevices and grooves is that pests and parasites like to burrow into them, which can affect the health of the tree.
Birches have solved this problem by growing smooth bark. This type of bark doesn’t split, which means it’s more impervious to insects, bacteria and fungi. As the birch grows, it exfoliates some of its outer bark, like a snake shedding its skin.
Along with the shed bark the tree is able to cast off insects, moss and lichen at the same time. Birch trees are continually refreshing themselves.
Smart, isn’t it?
Could you use a fresh start, too? Would you like to get rid of some things that are dragging you down?
Jesus gives us an opportunity to do just that.
Sometimes Mother Nature can reach out and bite you.
If you’ve ever suffered the ill effects of a run-in with stinging nettles or poison ivy, you’ll know what I mean.
Both of these plants produce an unpleasant, itchy rash if your exposed skin comes in contact with them. If this happens when you’re out in the woods and nowhere near a pharmacy to buy rash cream, where do you find some relief?
From Mother Nature herself!
The wilderness might have stung you, but it also provides an effective solution.
Plants such as dock and jewelweed (also called touch-me-not) help relieve the sting from nettles and the itch from poison ivy. The sap of these “rescue” plants, when rubbed on the skin, provides a cooling, soothing effect. Native Americans have known this trick for millennia.
Conveniently, dock and jewelweed can usually be found growing in the same area as poison ivy and stinging nettles.
Coincidence? I’m not so sure.
I think God placed the “cures” near the harmful plants on purpose.
For one thing, He knew we’d need a ready remedy for skin woes when out in the bush.
Also, it illustrates a truth contained in the Bible:
When we are faced with temptation, God always provides a way of escape along with it.
If you were paying attention during physics class in high school, you’ll know that there are certain laws that the natural world abides by.
The Law of Gravity, for instance. Legend has it that this principle was discovered by a young Isaac Newton when he was hit on the head by an apple which fell from the tree he was sitting under.
Or the Law of Inertia, which states that an object at rest or in motion will continue in that state unless acted upon by an external force. So when I’m sitting in my easy chair and don’t want to get up to do any housework, I’m not being lazy. I’m simply obeying the law of inertia.
I recently heard a wag rephrase Newton’s Third Law of Motion (“For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”). He dubbed it the Law of Emotion: for every male action there is a female overreaction!
Then there’s the Law of Conservation of Energy, which says that energy can’t be created or destroyed, but can be altered from one form to another. For instance, our bodies transform the chemical energy in food into kinetic energy to help us move around.
I think sin has a principle attached to it which is similar to the Law of Conservation of Energy.
Sin can’t just disappear. It has to be dealt with in some way.
But it can be transformed.
As author Dorothy Sayers said, “There is only one real law—the law of the universe. It may be fulfilled either by way of judgement or by the way of grace, but it must be fulfilled one way or the other.”