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Have You Ever Seen a Hearse Pulling a Trailer?
By JAMES W. MOORE
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2009 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
You Can't Take It with You, So Live Confidently Now
"Have You Ever Seen a Hearse Pulling a Trailer?"
SCRIPTURE: 2 TIMOTHY 1:3-7
Our grandson Paul is twelve years old now. For the first years of his life, he was pretty content to let his older sister, Sarah, do the talking, and that worked very well because she talked enough for both of them—and then some. But then when Paul was three and a half, Sarah went to first grade and was away from home much more because of her school schedule. Paul exploded verbally, and soon he was talking our ears off too.
He called to tell us about his first full day at school. He said the teachers had given each one of the three-year-olds a basket (at an earlier session) and had asked them to fill the basket up with some of their favorite things and then bring the basket back to school to "show and tell" why they loved these favorite things so much. We asked Paul what he had put in his basket. He answered in intricate detail: his stuffed bear; his toy train engine; one of his fish pillows; a plastic dinosaur; a football; and, most important of all, a piece of his "blankie."
We then asked Paul about what was his favorite thing at school and he said, "At recess, I kissed a girl." "You kissed a girl at recess?" we asked.
"You kissed a girl at recess?" we asked.
"Well, did she like that?"
Paul said, and I quote him precisely, "Oh, yeah!"
Now, that is the picture of confidence, and it is pretty cute in a little three-and-a-half-year-old boy, especially if that little three-and-a half-year-old happens to be your grandson. But it raises an interesting and crucial question that I want to place before us now, namely this: Where do you put your confidence? In whom or in what do you put your confidence? What is it that makes you feel good and confident about life? What makes you feel safe and secure? What gives you hope for tomorrow? What enables you to sleep well at night? The world is pretty tricky and sometimes downright
The world is pretty tricky and sometimes downright deceptive about this. The world tells us to put our confidence in money, in possessions, in belongings, in success, in pills, in liquor, in clout, in securities. (Look at that—we even call them "securities.") In a nutshell, the world tells us dramatically and repeatedly in the most creative and persuasive Madison Avenue ways to put our confidence in material things. But then, I saw that bumper sticker the other day that had these words: "Have you ever seen a hearse pulling a trailer?"
Now, what was that all about? Well, that bumper sticker was simply saying in a modern-day way what the old-timers have been saying for years: "You can't take it with you when you go!" You can't take the earthly things you've accumulated with you when you die, so you had better not put your trust and confidence in material things. There are some things in life money can't buy. In fact, the best things in life money can't buy.
This truth was brought home powerfully to me some years ago. The son of a very wealthy man smashed his sports car into a tree. I went to the emergency room to try to help the family. The boy's father was a nice guy but his major motive in life had been making money. He was running up and down the halls of the hospital waving hundred-dollar bills in his hand, trying to give them to the doctors and nurses, and saying, "Here, take this. You've got to get in there and save my boy's life. Here's a hundred-dollar bill. Save my boy. Take this, I'm counting on you."
The doctors and nurses would not take the money. They would only say, "We are doing everything we can." But it was too late; the boy didn't make it. His father ran and fell into my arms like a little lost child and cried his eyes out, sobbing so hard his shoulders were shaking. Finally, he pulled back. He took all that money—all those hundred-dollar bills—and threw them on the floor, and through his sobs he said, "Jim, all these years I have put my trust and confidence in all the wrong things. I have money to burn and now, in this moment, it is not worth anything. Where do I find the resources to stand this?"
Let me ask you something. Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever had an experience like that? So agonizing, so heartbreaking, so gut-wrenching that you cried out, "Where do I find the resources to stand this?" Now, the answer to that painful question is found in our key scripture for this chapter. This is precisely what the Apostle Paul is talking about here. The words of 2 Timothy encourage us to be strong in the Lord, to stand firm in the faith, and to put our confidence in God. The early church was facing many difficulties, formidable threats, cruel persecutions, confusing heresies, and hurtful losses. It would have been so easy for those early Christians to get discouraged, perplexed, scared, and disillusioned.
The task before them was so huge. The enemies were so real. So, in 2 Timothy, we find these helpful words of encouragement, powerful words of scripture, which over the years many Christians have committed to memory to help them stand tall when the going is rough. Words such as these:
I know whom I have believed, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. (2 Timothy 1:12 RSV)
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness. (2 Timothy 4:7-8 RSV)
And then, here, too, we of course find our text for this chapter:
Rekindle the gift of God that is within you ...; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love. (2 Timothy 1:6-7)
Those are strong words of encouragement reminding us that because of the power of God, the grace of God, and the watchcare of God, we can be confident!
Now, to bring this closer to home, let me give you three thoughts to try on for size, thoughts that emerge out of Paul's words in 2 Timothy.
First of All, We Can Put Our Confidence in the Promise of God
Some years ago, a brilliant and yet eccentric mathematics professor assigned to his students an incredibly difficult math problem for homework. The next day he asked some of the students to go to the board and write out their solutions to the intricate problem. One student after another went to the blackboard, and when they finished their computations the professor simply stated, "No, I'm sorry. That's wrong. Please be seated."
Finally, one student was left. He had worked all night on this math problem. He walked up and wrote his answer on the board. The professor once again said, "That's wrong! Someone else put that answer up there earlier. Didn't you hear me say before that it was wrong?"
"Yes, sir, I did," replied the student, "but it's not wrong. This is the correct answer."
But the professor fired back at him, "That is not the correct answer. I'm sorry. You are wrong. Take your seat."
And the student said, "Sir, I'll be happy to be seated. But with all due respect, I must tell you that you are wrong. This is the correct answer."
The professor looked at him intently and asked, "Are you sure?"
"Yes, sir," answered the student. "I am absolutely sure."
Then the professor smiled and said, "Well, you are right. It is the correct answer!" Then the professor turned to the others in the class and said, "People are looking for solutions today. And they want to be sure that those who provide the solutions have total confidence in them. This young man demonstrated today not only that he knows, but also that he knows that he knows!"
That's the kind of confidence we need as Christians these days, isn't it? And we can have it because of God's greatest promise. That great promise is underscored over and over in the Bible—the promise that God will never desert us. He will always be there for us. So, we can do our best and trust God for the rest.
The great Old Testament scholar Martin Buber said something toward the end of his life that touched me greatly. He was commenting on that wonderful scene in the book of Exodus when Moses asked God, "What is your name?" And God answered, "I AM WHO I AM." After studying the Hebrew text for many years, Martin Buber said he came to the conclusion that we have mistranslated that verse. Instead of being translated "I AM WHO I AM," Buber said he believed it should read "I SHALL BE THERE." Isn't that beautiful? The name of God is "I SHALL BE THERE"!
When we face the pharaohs of life, the name of God is "I SHALL BE THERE." When we are frightened or lonely or depressed or heartsick, the name of God is "I SHALL BE THERE." When we face sickness or sadness or even death, the name of God is "I SHALL BE THERE." And that is where we put our confidence first of all, in this great promise of God to always be there for us.
Second, We Can Put Our Confidence in the Truth of Christ
Some years ago, there was a great professor at Centenary College named Dean R. E. Smith. Dean Smith was a saintly man, a brilliant scholar, an outstanding communicator, and a real friend to the students. He was a legend in his own time. In one of his most famous lectures, Smith would talk to the students about how we discover truth, how we determine what is genuine and what is false. After some discussion, he would suddenly ask the students this question: "How wide is my desk?" The students would look at the desk and then make their best guesses. A variety of answers would ring out.
"I think it's about seventy-two inches wide."
"No, I believe it's more like sixty-eight inches wide."
"Looks like seventy-five to me."
"I'm going to guess seventy-four."
Then some wise guy from the back of the room would say, "Seventy-one and ive-sixteenths," and everybody would laugh.
Then Smith would say, "Those are all pretty good guesses, but one of them is more nearly true than the others. Now, how do we determine which one is more accurate? How do we decide which answer is most nearly right and true?" There would be silence in the classroom for a moment and then tentatively someone would suggest, "Get a measuring stick?" "That's right," Smith would say, "To determine which answer is closest to the truth, we have to get a measuring stick and measure." Then Smith would go to the blackboard. He would take a piece of chalk and in silence he would draw the outline of a cross. With that piece of chalk, he would trace over and over the sign of the cross, letting it dramatically sink into the hearts and minds of those students. Then he would stand back and point to that cross and say, "There's your measuring stick! There's your measuring stick for truth!"
Now, look with me at that cross. There's our compass. There's our guiding light. There's our measuring stick for truth. We can put our confidence in that. If the world tries to tell you that it's OK to take advantage of others for your own personal gain; if the world tries to tell you that it's not so bad to lie, cheat, hurt, hold a grudge, or hate; you remember the cross. Remember the truth of Christ.
In recent years, everywhere we would go we'd see young people wearing necklaces with the letters WWJD. Those letters stand for "What Would Jesus Do?" People wearing these letters are trying to remember to measure their actions and their decisions by the truth of Christ. What would Jesus do?
The measuring stick of Christ tells us to be committed to God and compassionate toward others; to be loving and caring and kind; to be just and honest and truthful; to be loyal and merciful and gracious. Anything that doesn't measure up to that is wrong and sinful! So, we can put our confidence in the promise of God to always be with us and in the truth of Christ to always guide us.
Third and Finally, We Can Put Our Confidence in the Strength of the Holy Spirit
Do you remember that scene from The Sound of Music where Maria is being sent out from the abbey to be the governess for Captain von Trapp's seven children? She's a little nervous as she walks down the road, but to rally her courage she begins to sing "I Have Confidence": "I have confidence they'll put me to the test. / But I'll make them see I have confidence in me."
When she arrives, however, and sees the huge, elegant, vast von Trapp estate, Maria becomes intimidated for a moment. She stops singing, looks up toward heaven, and says prayerfully to God: "Oh, help."
We can all relate to that, can't we? Sometimes life's problems overwhelm us and all we can do is say prayerfully, "O God, help me!" The good news is that we can always count on the Holy Spirit to be there for us and to give us the strength we need.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it like this: "God will give us all the strength we need to help us ... in all time of distress. But [God] never gives it to us in advance, lest we should rely on ourselves and not on [God] alone" (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997], 11).
The Apostle Paul said it a long time ago, but it is still so true today: Where do we put our confidence? We put our confidence in the promise of God to always be there for us, in the truth of Christ to always guide us, and in the strength of the Holy Spirit to always uphold us.CHAPTER 2
You Can't Take It with You, So Live Faithfully Now
A Faith for Ordinary Times
SCRIPTURE: HEBREWS 10:32-39
Some years ago, when Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick was pastor of Riverside Church in New York City, he wrote a book entitled Faith for Tough Times. It is a classic because it addresses important concerns that rise up within us all: How do we keep our faith when problems come or when tragedy strikes? How do we keep our faith in a hotbed of opposition or when the price is so painful? How do we keep our faith when times are truly tough? These concerns are very important, but there is another
These concerns are very important, but there is another side of the coin that also deserves our attention, namely, how do we keep our faith when times aren't so tough? What happens to commitment in the give-and-take of everyday living? How do we hold on to faith in the "daily-ness" of life when times are just ordinary? The author of the book of Hebrews again and again turns our attention to this theme: How do we sustain a vibrant faith when the times are casual or just ordinary?
Over the years in working with people, I have noticed something fascinating, namely, how well people handle the major emergencies of life; how well people rise to the occasion and stand tall against adversity; how well people respond with courage and strength when dramatic or tragic or traumatic things happen to them. You see, it is not the big problems of life that undo us. It's the little things, the daily things, the tiny annoyances, the routine irritations that eat us up and tear us down. We handle the big battles pretty well, only to be ripped apart by little day-to-day frustrations.
We are all familiar with the old and much-used slogan "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." But the corollary to that, which we are so prone to overlook, would be, "When the going is easy, even the tough slack off!" When things are only ordinary, we tend to relax; when the demands are not dramatically challenging, the response is to let down, to overlook, to neglect, to coast, and to fail in ways we often would not do when the pressure is on.
We see this in the world of sports. Sometimes a team will point toward a certain big game and get "up" for that game and play at peak performance against an outstanding opponent and win, only to have a letdown the next week and lose to a mediocre team. When the pressure is on, when the challenge is great, we stand firm only to fall flat when things get back to normal.
Here is the warning the writer of Hebrews lays before us: beware when things are just ordinary; beware when no one wants to crucify you; beware when no hard problem confronts you; beware when no fearsome threat hangs over your head; beware when you drift unchallenged into the ruts of the routine. Your faith may be in no greater danger than in times like these. These are the times, says the writer of Hebrews, when we have to pay attention lest we drift away. It is not when the battle lines are drawn or when the trumpets blare or when the drums roll that most of us either find or lose our faith. Rather, it is when the bills are being paid, when we are caught in traffic, when the shopping is being done, or when the church pledge card is being signed. It is in how we speak to our neighbor, how we relate to our children, how we treat the food server, and how we respond to our coworkers. It is in daily living, routine living, ordinary living that our faith is really affirmed and expressed or else it slips away so silently, so quietly, so gradually that it is gone before we even realize it. Then one day we are jolted to see that our values have become those of the crowd and not of the Christ; our choices have become those of chance and not of commitment; our faith has become convenience instead of obedience; our morality has become custom instead of character.
Excerpted from Have You Ever Seen a Hearse Pulling a Trailer? by JAMES W. MOORE. Copyright © 2009 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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