Thursday, November 21, 2013

Oil, Oil, Everywhere

PRINCIPLE: “Before the motor's running, check the cap.”

I was all set for another round of mowing. Though we have ¾ of an acre I actually enjoy it – riding the tractor mower is a break from the normal routine and gives me an hour of relaxation and 'think time.' And it gets me outdoors into God's masterpiece we call creation.

But I have come to realize that even this 'out of the normal routine' activity has its routines. Check the gas, check the oil, put in ear plugs, put on a hat... Therefore the preparation for mowing becomes an almost mindless effort. That can be good  since it doesn't drain much energy; but it can also be bad since it's easy to slip up and not pay attention. So it was that I learned a lesson.

I had been mowing for 10-15 minutes when I looked down at my foot resting comfortably on the footrest. My white sock was wet and turning a brownish color. I suddenly realized that oil was spewing out and spraying over not just my sock but everything. Things were getting sticky and messy in a hurry. I turned the ignition off, opened the hood and immediately discovered that after I had checked the oil, I had not secured the dip stick – therefore, as the motor ran oil was shooting up and out the spout. Lesson learned: “Before the motor's running, check the cap.”

James said the same thing: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:19-20)  “Before the motor's running, check the cap.” If we don't, words and venom will spew out and spray over everyone. And, as I discovered, once oil is on the sock, there is not only a sticky mess but also the stain is set, causing an irreparable mess. The sock will never be pure white again. Similarly words and spurts of anger cause sticky, often irreparable messes that discolor and injure others.“Before the motor's running, check the cap.”

It's  no wonder Scripture is filled with warnings and admonitions about anger. “A hot tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.” (Pr. 15:8) “Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city.” (Pr. 16:32) “Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.” (Eccl. 7:9) “Before the motor's running, check the cap.”

Paul tells us what it means to check the cap. “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Eph. 4:31-32)  Before engaging the mouth, think of how Jesus would respond to you. Take time to listen, to think, to plan how we will react and what we will say. Instead of responding in anger, consider what responding with compassion would sound like, what offering forgiveness would look like, what Jesus responding would look like. “Before the motor's running, check the cap.”

It's amazing how careful I now am each time I prepare to mow – the oil cap never goes unchecked! In fact, sometimes I wear the oil-stained sock to remind me to check the cap. And every time I see the sock in my pile of socks, I am reminded “Before the motor's running, check the cap.” James was spot on. As Eugene Peterson put it in The Message (James 1:19-21): “Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God's righteousness doesn't grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.” May your garden be bountiful!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Reading DIrections

Principle: “When you need full directions, read the full directions.”

We were anxious to get to the 'Scenic View of the falls.' Since it was up in the mountains we knew it would be a glorious sight. The tourist information said that we would only be able to drive so far, that we'd have to walk some distance to get the view. That was okay – we were up for it.

We were all set to hop in the van and start the climb when Barb, looking at the tourist map, discovered the words 'Open May – October.' It was February. Cancel the plan! We were disappointed. But in the midst of our disappointment we were also grateful – grateful that we had read the directions in full before driving and walking further up the mountain. Another of life's lessons was re-enforced: “When you need full directions, read the full directions.”

Reading the directions after setting out, or reading only part of the directions, not only wastes time but also leads to unnecessary frustration and, sometimes, even to lostness or disaster. It's simply better to read the directions ahead of time. “When you need full directions, read the full directions.”

The Psalmist had learned the same principle. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” (119:105) When we're headed into new and unfamiliar territory, following a reliable map is wise. When we're moving towards darkness and uncertainty, having a reliable light is wise. When we don't know the way, reading the directions is wise. “When you need full directions, read the full directions.”

Eugene Peterson, in his Message, wisely translated the verse, “By your words I can see where I’m going; they throw a beam of light on my dark path.” The Psalmist's experience in life had taught him that the only way to travel through the unknown paths of life ahead of him was to listen to the only One who knows what's ahead. In fact, the Psalmist said (119:97) that he loved God's law, that he meditated on it (read the full directions) all day long. Why? “Your commands make me wiser than my enemies...I have more insight than all my teachers...I have more understanding than the elders...I gain understanding from your precepts...” “When you need full directions, read the full directions.”

It makes sense, doesn't it? As the only One who knows what's ahead God is the only One who knows the way. And He has given us more than His law and His words – He has given us Jesus who is 'the way' (Jn. 14:6) and the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (Jn. 8:12)

Do you know what lies ahead? Or is your future cloudy or dark? Do you know where you're headed - and how to get there? Have you been that way before? Or do you need some direction, some clarity, some guidance, some assurance? “When you need full directions, read the full directions.” God has given you His Word. God has given you Jesus, His living Word. It is possible to know the way. It is possible to arrive at the top of the mountain. Just read the directions ahead of time. “When you need full directions, read the full directions.”