I have a little desk calendar with day-by-day thoughts. I get behind in tearing off the sticky note pages, but I did so this week and found this one from Friday, April 23:
Be the person your dog
thinks you are.
Here is my dog, Atlanta, relaxing on the family room floor. For the most part, I think she thinks I am the greatest guy in the world. She also probably thinks she is more important than I am, given the fact that she has trained me to take her on morning walks and to pick up her....well, you know.
No matter when it is that I come home, lunchtime, dinnertime, or after a late night meeting at the church, Atlanta always greets me like I have been gone forever. She is so glad to see me. Her tail thumps against the wall, her eyes expressively open wide, and her enthusiasm for a pat on the head is matched only by her expectation of a treat from the jar. My dog thinks I am a generous, loving, consistent, dependable, trustworthy, responsive person. I sometimes wonder if she thinks I am her pet!
But Atlanta, like everybody else, sees what I want her to see and knows what I want her to know. There is a shadow side to the person I want to be. You've got a shadow side, too. It's the you that rarely sees the light of day, and when it does, you and everyone else recognize that you really aren'tâ€”I'm really notâ€”the person my dog thinks I am.
What pulls us away from being the persons our dogs think we are and the persons God has created us to be is temptation. Coincidentally another one of those calendar tear- off messages said this:
Sin sees the bait but
is blind to the hook.
Those of you who have read the chapters in the Ortberg book for this week might remember the story with which he opens the 12th chapter, which has the title: "Temptation: How not to Get Hooked." He says that a fish is basically nothing more than a stomach, a mouth, and a pair of eyes, and even though they travel in "schools" they haven't seemed to learn very much about how not to get hooked! They see a lure, are blind to the hook, and before they know it, their enemy reels them in. He says you would think they would get a clue when their buddies take the bait and fly up out of the water never to return. You'd think we would get a clue when we see some of the famous and not so famous persons in the public eye get hooked. For some the bait is sex. For some the bait is money. For others the bait is alcohol or drugs. Power is an attractive lure, as is the bait of something better than what you have. Every day there is another news story about someone known by millions who has been caught by one well-placed lure.
Every single one of us here knows what bait attracts us. Most of the time, we find the bait in the shadowy places where no one else seems to be swimming. And one of the most insightful things that John Ortberg says about temptation is that the pattern of our sin is related to the pattern of our gifts. We rarely sin by going 180 degrees off course; it is usually just a few degrees one way or the other, and that "subtle deviation" is enough to disrupt the flow of the Spirit in our lives.
He gives a lot of suggestions for keeping in the flow, but the one that speaks the loudest for me is asking myself, "Where will this lead?" I am not going to give you an example from one of my darkest shadow failures, but from a recent sort of silly, but positive use of a personal "time out" to consider where something might lead.
Although I am not a gadget junkie like a lot of people are, I enjoy new technology, computers, and electronic gizmos. So when the new Apple iPad went on pre-sale at just the same time my desktop home computer had a hard drive failure-(It's funny what can happen to those drives when you hit them with a hammer and drop them in a sink!)-I ordered one. Do you recall the day last month when the iPads hit the store and the pre-ordered ones were delivered? Saturday, April 3. The day before Easter.
Holy Week was filled with activity around here and I was finally finishing the writing of my Easter sermon on Saturday morning. Around 11:30 the doorbell rang and there was the UPS driver with a box I knew had to be the iPad. I signed for it and brought it into the kitchen and was about to open it up when I saw the "hook." If I opened that box, I was going to get myself so caught up in iPad-ing that I would never get back to my sermon. So in a rare attempt to consider where opening that box would lead me, I left it unopened on the kitchen counter and forced myself to finish my sermon and actually learn it before I allowed myself to even look inside the shipping box. I'll tell you I never finished a sermon so fast in my life! And after I did, the rest of the day and evening was spent downloading apps and playing with the Pad. You see, I knew myself well enoughâ€”we all know our shadows, don't weâ€”that I was able to resist what might have started out as just a little deviation from the direction I wanted to go that day, getting ready for Easter worship, but would have ended up with me being miles off course.
This is a simple example, but it speaks to larger issue of temptation, vulnerability, and sin. Now wouldn't it be great if you and I could make those kinds of course corrections all the time! But we can't. And God knows that about us. God expects us to seek to stay in the flow of the Holy Spirit to resist temptation and seek to be the best version of ourselves that God has in mind, but ultimately we all end up opening the box, taking the bait, and getting hooked. And that is why we need and are given grace. We are forgiven, and beckoned back into the light. As the prophet Isaiah said, "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light."
Now the thing about us Methodists is that we claim the power of the Holy Spirit working with us, within us, and sometimes in spite of us to help us become fully the persons God has created us to be. John Wesley called it "going on to perfection." I call it hope.