John Killinger relates the story of the novel The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin by Russian writer P. D. Ouspensky, published in 1937. It was the story of a man who wished to amend his mistakes by living his life over again. "If only I could get back all the chances which life offered me and which I threw away," he cried. "If only I could do things differently."
Ivan goes to a magician who reluctantly complies with his wishes, but warns that nothing will be different. And as Ivan Osokin watches, as in a screenplay, the repetition of his strange life -- helplessly reliving the bitter failure of his school days, the sweetness of early love, the reckless experiments of his particular temperament -- he observed "those chain of events when everything happened as if by clockwork, as in a machine the movement of one wheel makes another wheel move." He did the same absurd things, down to the smallest details.
In desperation, Ivan pleads, "What am I to do then?" The magician responds: "Remember one thing. If you go back as blind as you are now, you will do the same things over again, and a repetition of all that happened before is inevitable." Then the magician adds this insight: "In order to change anything, you must first change yourself."
Given a second chance, our reactions will be the same as before unless there is a change in ourselves -- a change of heart. And there cannot be a change of heart until we admit our need and struggle for change -- as a drowning man fights for his life. (John Killinger is Professor of Theology and Culture at Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama)
COMMITMENT -- What God wants from us
In L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz, the Tin Woodman tells why he wanted a heart. A munchkin girl promised to marry him as soon as he earned enough money, chopping wood, to buy a house. The girl's mother hired the Witch to stop the wedding. By enchanting the ax, the witch caused the woodman to slip and cut off his leg; the tinsmith made him a new one. Later the ax cut off the other leg, then both arms, and even his head. Each was replaced by tin, and his heart remained in love.
In frustration, the witch caused the ax to split him in half, breaking his heart. Only then did the Woodman conclude, "I had now no heart, so that I lost all my love for the Munchkin girl and did not care ..."
That is what God wants from us: our hearts. We can do wonderful things for Him with our hands, our feets, our heads -- but it is your heart that He wants above all else. (Paul Bailey is Pastor of Sand Lake Baptist Church, Averill Park, NY)
"A committee is an assembly
Each member does nothing as one
But in concert agree
That nothing can really be done."
Nietzsche, the nineteenth-century German philosopher who helped lay the intellectual cornerstone for Naziism, asserted that he once considered becoming a Christian. As he considered his decision, he decided to go and live among Christians who were thought to be quite devout. Apparently the effort failed, because years later he reported, "These Christians will have to look a lot more redeemed before I can believe in it."
INTERCESSION -- Christ for us
"The poet Aeschylus had incurred the displeasure of the Athenians. He was on trial before the great popular tribunal, consisting of many hundreds of citizens, and was about to be condemned. But Aeschylus had a brother, who had lost an arm in battle -- in the great battle of Salamis, where the Greeks fought for their existence against the Persian aggressors.
"This brother came into court, and did not speak words of entreaty, but letting fall his mantle, he showed the stump of his arm, lost in his country's defense, and there stood until the Athenians relented, and Aeschylus was suffered to go free. So, my brethren, imperfect and unworthy as is the illustration, so we may conceive that when we are about to be condemned, and justly condemned for our sins, our glorious Brother stands up in our behalf, and does not need to speak a word, but only to show where He was wounded on the cross ..." (John A. Broadus, "He Ever Liveth to Intercede," Favorite Sermons of John A. Broadus)
JOY -- Some don't experience
W. E. Sangster told of an English miner who had been taken into court for failure to send support payments to his former wife. The miner told the judge: "I do not drink, and it is very rarely that I smoke, so I might as well be in prison as anywhere else because I get no pleasure out of life."
MARRIAGE -- Fidelity
After Edward VII had been buried, Queen Alexandra said to Lord Esher, "Now at least I know where he is."
What an epitaph! (David Richardson is Pastor of First United Methodist Church, Dexter, Missouri)
PAIN -- Source of
Larry Michael tells of taking his five-year-old daughter to see the movie "E.T." During the scene where E.T. appears to die, Larry heard his daughter sniffling -- like many in the theatre -- and he leaned over and said, "Are you sad because E.T. died?" She replied, "No, my foot's caught in the seat."
As Larry recalls, "The tears were just as genuine but the cause was totally different. Many times the pain that is visible in people's lives is not always caused by that which we imagine. It behooves us to discover the real reason and minister in the name of Christ." (Larry J. Michael is Pastor of Switzerland Baptist Church, Vevay, Indiana)
In the event of a fire in your home, the last thing you want to do is run around in the burning house as is often seen on television. The temperature at head level may well reach 600 degrees, and one blast of the heat could destroy your lungs.
The only way to survive is on your hands and knees. At floor level, the temperature may only be 150 degrees, and crawling quickly to an exit is the one way to withstand such conditions.
Sometimes conditions in our lives may also be devastating, and at such times we can best survive by getting to our knees -- in an attitude of prayer, humility, and helplessness before the Lord. It may be the only way to survive the heat. (Richard T. Roney is Chief of Chaplain Services at Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Marion, Illinois)
Altus Newell tells of a man who was very forgetful. One day his family was moving to a new house during the day while he was at work. At the end of the day, as he was ready to go home, he couldn't remember the location of his new house. So he went to the old house, thinking that perhaps from there he could remember how to get to the new home.
As he arrived at the old house, he saw a little girl skipping rope out front, and he said, "Little girl, do you remember the family that lived in this house? Do you know where they've moved?"
The little girl took him by the hand and said, "Come on, daddy. Momma said you'd forget." (J. Altus Newell is Pastor of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama)
SERMONS -- Value of
Several years ago a man wrote to the editor of the British Weekly, reporting that he couldn't remember any sermons he'd ever heard preached in church, and questioning whether they were really necessary. "I have been attending church services for the past thirty years and have heard probably 3,000 sermons," he wrote. "To my consternation I discovered that I cannot remember a single sermon!"
There were many letters to the editor in response, but this one settled the issue: "I have been married for thirty years. During that time I have eaten 32,850 meals -- mostly of my wife's cooking. Suddenly, I have discovered that I cannot remember the menu of a single meal. And yet, I have received nourishment from every single one of them. I have the distinct impression that without them, I would have starved to death long ago." (Donald B. Strobe is Pastor of First United Methodist Church, Ann Arbor, Michigan)
SERVICE -- Is ultimately rewarded
C. Thomas Hilton tells the story of the old missionary couple returning to America after years of ministry in Africa. They were arriving in New York to retire with no pension, their health broken, discouraged and afraid.
The couple discovered they were on the same ship with President Teddy Roosevelt, who was returning from one of his big-game hunting expeditions. All through the journey they observed passengers trying to catch a glimpse of the President, while no one even knew they existed. When the ship docked in New York, the mayor and other dignitaries were there to greet the President as a brass band played in his honor. No one noticed the missionary couple as they slipped quietly off the ship, found a cheap flat on the east side, and hoped to find some way to make a living.
That night the man's spirit broke. "This is all wrong!" he cried out. "We have given our lives in service in Africa and no one even cares, but this man comes back from a hunting trip and everybody makes over him. It isn't right! God isn't treating us fairly!"
Patiently, his wife responded, "Why don't you go into the bedroom and tell that to the Lord?" A few minutes later he emerged from his prayer room, now with a completely different expression. "What happened?" his wife asked.
"The Lord settled it with me," he said. "I told Him how bitter I was that the President should receive this tremendous homecoming, when no one even met us as we returned home. And when I finished, it seemed as though the Lord put His hand on my shoulder and simply said, 'But you're not home yet'!" (C. Thomas Hilton is Senior Minister of First Presbyterian Church, Pompano Beach, Florida)
STRENGTH -- Comes through Christ
In 1935, the Hoover Dam was built on the Colorado River in the Black Canyon, between Arizona and Nevada. It still is recognized as one of the nation's civil engineering wonders. Hoover is an arch-gravity dam; that is, it is an arch laid over on its side. It is designed so that the more pressure is applied against the dam; the more it is wedged into the solid rock, the stronger it becomes.
That same principle finds its parallel in our walk with Christ. Our lives are built upon the Solid Rock, and the more pressure is exerted against us, the more our lives will be wedged firmly into Jesus, and the stronger we become. (Gary C. Redding is Pastor of North Augusta Baptist Church, North Augusta, South Carolina)
YOUTH -- Ask questions
"Will Rogers once said that he believed in college because it took kids away from home just at the point when they started asking questions. There might be something to that; but if the home or the church can't be open enough to any question that anyone asks, then we have a serious problem." (Steve Brown, Key Life, May/June 1989)