Tough Scriptures #3: True Victory

Matthew 5:38-40

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.”

Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus takes the familiar and turns it on its head. The foundation in each case is the Law of Moses, the spiritual and civil law for Israel over many centuries. The intent of this particular dictum would appear to be “justice,” but “justice” is easily perverted into vengeance and retaliation.

It seems right natural to want to get back at someone who hurts us, offends us, takes from us, causes harm, insults us, etc., doesn’t it? Just watch little children playing or otherwise interacting. One of them takes a toy, the other comes after it, takes something away from them. Even hitting one another seems like a pretty natural event.

We see example after example in the daily news and hear about them in daily gossip. (Those two aren’t always easy to separate, either.) Road rage, gang shootings, vandalism… Seems like it nearly always escalates.

In one of our current viewing addictions, Randa and I have watched a few dozen episodes of “Fear Thy Neighbor.” It’s not a show you ever want to be on; someone has to get killed or at least critically injured. In virtually every case, the feud starts out with something minor. Then payback. More payback. And still more payback until it takes ultimate form.

There is a deep deception in these cycles of vengeance. We convince ourselves that we’re going to gain the upper hand with our retaliation. In reality, Jesus showed us that it is the opposite response that actually demonstrates both control and liberation.

Whenever we respond with actions of retaliation, we continue to be controlled by the other person. Evil given in response to evil. Who wins? I guess it seems like it would be the person who is the most evil, right? “I’m going to treat people the way they treat me!” Really, you want to make someone like that the model for your behavior?!

But when we respond as Jesus teaches—and also demonstrated—we show that we are fully in control. Think you’ve got me? Not even close. I’m a Christian; I can take it. The response of humble endurance breaks the cycle of vengeance, stops the escalation, and keeps us in charge of our own actions. And… it shows our dedication to the Savior who while he was dying a tortuous death prayed, “Father, forgive them; they don’t realize what they are doing.”

H. Arnett

7/14/2021

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Tough Scriptures #2: A Life of Forgiveness

Matthew 18:21-22

21Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

22Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. 

Four-hundred-and-ninety times? Seriously?!

It’s got to be a joke, right? Surely Jesus cannot possibly mean this literally? Maybe, as some translations and/or alternate readings say, it really is only seventy…

Uhmm… not sure that really helps that much. Seventy times is an awful lot of forgiveness, isn’t it? I mean, for me to forgive one person seventy times?! Multiply that by all the people in my life on a regular and/or permanent basis and that seems like an impossible teaching.

At least a couple of things come to mind, though, and I think they matter. One is that the grace of forgiving is something that the Holy Spirit empowers us to do; we do not have to rely on human strength alone. Yes, we have to make a choice, but God supplies grace for those tough choices.

Another thing is that the more we practice it, the easier it gets. The more we refuse to do it, the tougher it gets.

In addition, forgiveness can actually be one of the most selfish things we do; it actually benefits us by giving us true freedom. No one who is angry with someone else or carries a grudge against them experiences a truly liberated life. They are chained to that person with bonds that cripple and torture.

Finally, and I realize that I have doubled that “couple of things,” is that either we believe in and practice forgiveness or we don’t. A forgiving heart doesn’t bother keeping count; it just forgives. Such a heart readily adopts, emulates, and models itself after God’s own heart.

After all, do we really want God keeping count on our sins? And if we want God’s forgiveness to continually wash over us like a healing stream, it seems that we should offer more than a trickling faucet to other humans.

H. Arnett

7/8/2021

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Tough Scriptures-#1 Tough Times

James 1:2-4

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Okay, right off the bat let’s just say that I’m still working on this one, all right? I’m a long way from the “pure joy” phase in my reactions to most trials. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that I’m trying to move forward out of the kicking, screaming, fussing, cussing, self-pitying, woe is me phase. Why is that, you reckon? Immaturity? Failure to believe? Failure to perceive?

I’d guess most folks would probably accept a “because I’m human?” response on this one. I’d also guess for most and know for me that we’d sort of like to just be “mature and complete” without having to go through the process. But it just doesn’t work that way.

Most runners, hoopsters, gridiron grungers, leaping lungers, and an assortment of other athletes will readily acknowledge that there is no shortcut to developing stamina. Or perseverance, if you please. Hours and miles of training, of pushing ourselves beyond our current comfort level and even limits are necessary to develop the ability to go the distance. Late in the game, it shows.

Back in my prime when I was just sixty, I pushed myself in physical training in order to compete in mud runs like Warrior Dash, Rugged Maniacs, and Tough Mudder. After months of daily training—pain and strain—I was able to complete a four-mile course without having to take “walking breaks.” No, I didn’t run fast the whole time, but I did run.

Isn’t being mature and complete in Christ much more important than a mud run or some other recreational sport or physical goal?

The. Only. Way… is through trials and testings. If we look beyond the present circumstance and see the ultimate outcome, we can grow to the point of embracing those events because we know they lead us to the goal.

H. Arnett

7/7/2021

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Time Travel

This gallery contains 1 photo.

An old photograph, old memories, old emotions… can be the launch for fresh expressions of appreciation. Continue reading

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Helping with the Hurry

Headed over to the Doniphan County transfer station with a load of garage sale leftovers and some additional trash, I was driving a bit slower than usual. About twenty miles an hour slower as a matter of fact. Since I had most of the load covered with a tarp, I probably could have driven faster without losing much of the load.

But, I was sure I could not lose any of the load if I drove at forty-five. And… since the transfer station is less than three miles away, what’s the point of being in much of a hurry, right?

That sense of deliberate pace was apparently not contagious. Headed up a half-mile straightaway (the last passing opportunity for another three miles if you’re going east—and I was) I saw an older, larger pickup coming up behind me at a rate possibly exceeding the speed limit and definitely exceeding my leisurely rate.

I maintained my speed but pulled over and drove along the edge of the pavement, giving the other driver an easy open view of the road ahead and a fair amount of extra maneuvering room. As he closed the gap, I saw a west-bound tractor trailer rig rounding the curve ahead of us, maybe a quarter mile away.

Apparently, the driver of the pickup truck has a keen knack for tracking speed and distance on the go. Using part of our lane and part of the oncoming semi’s lane, he ripped on around me and swung back fully into our lane with about a half-second to spare.

As soon as he was back in our designated channel, he flashed his lights twice. I first thought he was thanking me for making space for him but then it occurred to me he might be thanking the big rig driver for a similar favor from the opposite direction.

Whatever the case was, I appreciated the gesture on his part. Nice to have at least a bit of acknowledgement when we have deliberately shown some small courtesy. It wasn’t anything big on my part, fer shure. I didn’t even have to slow down and it gave him a chance to pass in relative safety.

I think it’s probably a fairly frequent thing in this life that we can show consideration to others without any real inconvenience to ourselves. And that helps the rest of the world keep motoring along at their preferred rate of speed. Unless, of course, a U-joint breaks and their driveshaft drops out less than a mile up the road.

H. Arnett

5/18/2021

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The God Who Lives in the Praises of His People

walks in the midst of our worship,

draws near to us when we draw near to him,

expresses his presence in our expressions of adoration,

makes himself know to those who search for him,

longs for the fellowship of humble spirits,

draws in the fresh fragrance of our prayers,

delights in the heartfelt words of singing,

senses the meekness of his truest seekers,

breathes his Spirit into those whose nearness

is found in the sincereness of brokenness.

He empowers the soul

that knows its own weakness,

has fallen face down in the shame of its own guilt,

has knelt in anguish and yet worshipped in the deepest grief,

that even from the depths of despair has honored

the God Who Is Always There,

The God Who Inhabits the Praises of His People.

H. Arnett

5/15/2021

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Worthy

Worthy is the Lord of Heaven:

worthy of admiration,

worthy of belief,

worthy of consecration,

worthy of devotion,

worthy of exaltation,

worthy of fear,

worthy of glory,

worthy of honor,

worthy of integrity,

worthy of joy,

worthy of kingship,

worthy of love,

worthy of majesty,

worthy of nobility,

worthy of obedience,

worthy of praise,

worthy of quietness,

worthy of righteousness,

worthy of sacrifice,

worthy of trust,

worthy of understanding,

worthy of veneration,

worthy of worship,

worthy of yearning,

worthy of zeal.

Worthy is the Lord of Heaven!

H. Arnett

5/13/21

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Be Still and Know

There’s something about the way

early morning sun

shines on green grass,

glistening the drops of dew

like millions of tiny mirrors

sparkling in the stillness

before the day’s duties of life

take over my thinking and doing.

I think I’ll stand right here

for just a moment,

looking at how a peaceful sun

slants through some of the spring leaves

of Crimson King and sugar maple

hanging down toward the lawn.

Ah, what a gentle, fine beginning

to the day the Lord has made.

I believe I’ll spend just a bit more time

studying the lines and shadows of the old spruce

stretching across the gravel drive

and leave the doing for later.

H. Arnett

5/5/2021

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Love Like Gentle Rain

Three days of soft showers

soaked the surface of the earth,

stoking April’s glad green

into a lush sheen that promised pastures

knee high to Black Angus,

Polled Shorthorns, Charolais,

and whatever else grazes its way

across the rolling plains of the Flint Hills.

I love it when it comes this way,

the gentle days of slow-paced rain,

easing the soreness in seams of dirt,

soothing the aching hurt of surface soil,

rather than the outbursts of surging storm

that form the maddening torrents

that go rumbling and rushing,

swirling and scouring their way across the slopes,

turning slight draws into ditches,

ditches into gullies,

gullies into ravines,

clawing through the lean, fertile soil,

even digging through thin sod at times.

Thick, brown boils of water

etch the stone of upland streams,

tumbling toward their dark union

and mad dreams with mud bottom rivers

in the black nights that follow the storm.

I will take whatever rain we can get,

the needed sustenance of garden and grain,

and bless the Lord Who Gives and Who Takes Away.

But I love these days of gentle rain

and soft showers that fall for hours,

nourishing the promise of harvest and flowers.

H. Arnett

5/4/2021

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A Good Hike, Unruined

Randa and I hiked in Bluff Woods (northeast Missouri) yesterday. There are some pretty steep slopes in them thar hills and we spent a while scouring them for morel mushrooms. Although the temperatures have been ideal, we have had less than half the usual rainfall for the month of April. Thunderstorms brought highly localized heavy rains but the terrain we traipsed over appeared to have missed out on those. Even when I scratched down through loosely packed leaves, the ground was dry. Not great conditions for an abundance of late season morels.

I remembered Mark Twain’s claim that “Golf is a good walk, ruined,” and wondered if he might feel the same about hunting morel mushrooms. However, in a similar way that one good shot turns a bad day of golf into a good day, finding a single six-inch tall morel takes away most of the sting of disappointment.

On the other hand, walking amidst the native hardwoods, seeing the white blossoms of Mayapples and the blue clusters of Sweet Williams, following the flitting of a white-and-blue swallowtail butterfly, hearing the twittering of unseen birds, and spotting the occasional snail easing its way across the ground cover is reason enough to hike the woods. Add in the beauty of an upland stream gently working its way across worn stones, and the feel of fresh air, and you’ve got plenty of reason to spend an hour or two reminding those leg muscles what they’re capable of.

There have been too many times when I’ve allowed my walks in this world to be ruined by my own imposed goals and contrived expectations. Some of the most interesting and stimulating conversations I’ve ever had were job interviews where the committees ended up selecting other candidates. We always have the option of valuing the experiences above our disappointment with the outcome.

And, by the way, coming out alive and in good shape, with good memories to boot, is a pretty good outcome.

H. Arnett

5/3/2021

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