On Focus, and Ignorance, During Hard Times

I decided to take a break from the Traits of a Godly Person series for this week. There are so many things going on in our world, and I often wonder should I talk about some of the more difficult issues. I like my blog to be a place of encouragement, whether it is to dress better or to grow in your walk with Christ. However, there are people out there, some of whom might be following my blog, that need a different kind of encouragement.

Life really can be stinking hard! Relationships are complex and often the source of our deepest and darkest pain. More often than not, people who are going through great difficulty do not feel at liberty to talk about the situations they are facing, which means, they are not getting any support or encouragement. People who are going through great loss, also, don’t always feel free to talk about their grief and pain. I’m not really sure, how we got to this point. Why is it that we are afraid to let people know that we are not okay? Why do we hide our pain behind a smile and tell everyone who asks that we are doing fine? Maybe it has to do with not being able to express the deep pain and sadness we feel. Perhaps we are afraid that others will think less of us, if we show them our reality. Maybe we are just too dang tired from trying to cope, that we’d rather not put in the effort to explain all that is going on.

Image by  lisa runnels  from  Pixabay

Image by lisa runnels from Pixabay

I think there is something much deeper and darker going on when we are struggling. Obviously, I believe in a real God and a real devil. I believe that Satan is our enemy and he is out to kill and destroy.

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
— 1 Peter 5:8 (NASB)
Image by  steffenwienberg  from  Pixabay

Image by steffenwienberg from Pixabay

Our enemy is compared to a roaring lion. Why do you suppose Peter used the idea of a roaring lion, rather than that of a snake or some other creature? Obviously, lions are creatures to be respected. A lion can easily kill a man along with a host of wild creatures. Peter didn’t just make the comparison of the devil to a lion, but to a roaring lion. There is significance in the roar. Roaring commonly means, “This is my territory. Don’t get anywhere near.” Isn’t that interesting? Our enemy isn’t just trying to trip us up, he is trying to make us his own. He wants to claim us as his territory.

There are two problems that come up when we are going through difficulty that really affect our next step and our way of thinking. The first is our own focus. It is incredibly easy to focus on our pain. It is, our pain. The struggle is our struggle. Why wouldn’t we focus on it? This is made even harder when there is pain, illness, anxiety and broken relationships. Job loss is hard, but add to that a divorce and a persistent gall bladder problem and you are probably going to be feeling pretty overwhelmed.

Let your eyes look directly ahead
And let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you.
— Proverbs 4:25 (NASB)

Why is our focus so important? When you are walking you need to watch where you are going. This is especially important if you are walking on a narrow road, a path along a steep gorge or across a Lego filled living room. in those situations, it might be important to not be looking at your cell phone, reading a book or closing your eyes. This is also true when we are driving. The need for this straight forward, pay attention routine is even more important when things are getting chaotic, such as heavy traffic or passing pedestrians or bikers.

Image by  Free-Photos  from  Pixabay

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

When we are going through the hard bits of life, or even through the longer pits of life, we need to keep our eyes on our Savior. In fact it is even more important to focus on Him when we are faced with difficulty. I have been reading, Abide in Christ, by Andrew Murray. I started this book a while back, got about half way through and got busy, so put it aside. When I picked it up a week ago, I decided to start again at the beginning. There is so much good stuff in this book. Read these two quotes:

It is not the yoke, but the resistance to the yoke, that makes the difficulty; the whole hearted surrender to Jesus, as at once our Master and Keeper, finds and secures the rest.
— Abide in Christ - Andrew Murray - Chapter 2

Remember how Christ tells us if we are weary and heavy laden we should come to Him.

28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
— Matthew 11:28-29 (NASB)

Murray was referring to these verses when he was talking about the rest that is secured in Christ. Now look at this next piece from the same chapter in Murray’s book.

With this grace secured, we have strength for every duty, courage for every struggle, a blessing in every cross and the joy of life eternal in death itself.
— Abide in Christ - Andrew Murray - Chapter 2

Christ is to be our focus. Come hell or high water, this Warrior Prince named Jesus, has our back for every duty, every struggle and every cross we have to bear in this life. All you have to do is come to Him and believe He will do it.

The other problem that arises when people are going through hard times is the ignorance of those around them. How many of you have been struggling with a situation, only to have a friend give you advice on how to solve your problem? How did that make you feel? If you are like me, when I was going through a very difficult time in my life, the last thing I wanted was advice. What I really wanted was an arm around my shoulders, a friend who would pray with me, not tell me they would pray for me, a sincere hug and two listening ears.

Image by  Anemone123  from  Pixabay

Image by Anemone123 from Pixabay

My dear friends, I can not emphasize enough how important it is to keep your mouth shut and refrain from giving advice when someone close to you is going through a hard time. Give hugs, give time, bring food, pray with them, listen to them. If they ask you for advice, then and only then, open your mouth and be sure you are speaking from the Lord, not from your own large vat of worldly knowledge. In addition to that, sincerely, truly and intensely pray for that person. You will not know all the details and that is okay. God’s bigger than you and will work it out. Just pray.

He who despises his neighbor lacks sense, But a man of understanding keeps silent.
— Proverbs 11:12 (NASB)
Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent.
— Proverbs 17:28 (NASB)
Pixabay - hope

Life is difficult. Some of you are going through things that you never thought you would have to go through. Don’t give up. Keep you eyes fixed on the author and perfecter or our faith. And for those of you who are watching a friend or loved one suffer, don’t give up on them either. Pray, for and with. Love, help and even just sit in silence with them. For all of us, let’s remember this:

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him For the help of His presence.
— Psalm 42:5 (NASB)



Lessons Learned from Ernest Saves Christmas

I don't know how many of you are familiar with Jim Varney, As a young person he became interested in the theater. By age 17 he was performing professionally in night clubs and coffee houses. He played Jed Clampett in the 1993 movie version of the Beverly Hillbillies and is also known as the voice of Slinky Dog in Toy Story 1 and Toy Story 2. However, the persona that ushered Jim into fame was Ernest P. Worrell, a bumbling, annoying, but lovable character that began to show up in adds for everything from grocery and appliance stores to Disney itself. The first appearance of the character of Ernest on the big screen was in 1987 with Ernest Goes to Camp.

In Ernest Saves Christmas, we find Ernest working as a Christmas loving taxi driver. Little does he know, one of his passengers turns out to be Santa himself. Santa, played by British classical actor, Douglas Seale, is searching for a replacement. He has done the job, one he loved, for too long, and knows it is time to pass on the magic. His choice, Joe Caruthers,  a mild mannered actor who does a children's television show, The show being canceled, leads Santa to believe that this is the perfect time for Joe to take over. However, passing the torch is not going to be easy for Santa to do.

There are many funny scenes in this movie and it is hard to really find a scene that speaks specifically to the lessons I want to talk about, therefore I will give you the lessons I learned in a list, then leave you with a few of my best loved scenes. 

Lesson 1 - Stay True to Your Gifts

Joe Caruthers loves children. He likes to teach them and you can tell he is more comfortable around kids than most of the adults in the movie. When his children's show gets canceled, he knows he has to find work elsewhere. His agent, Marty, finds a producer who is willing to give Joe a tryout for a movie. Unbeknownst to Joe, the movie turns out to be a horror flick. When he is told to swear in front of two children to show his emotion, Joe says he can't do it. 

Eventually, after turning down Santa's proposal, Joe realizes that this elderly gentleman is Santa and that the job proposal was real. Joe is overjoyed, for he knows he has found his true calling. 

What are you passionate about? What do you like to do? God has given each of us abilities and yes, spiritual gifts that when used for His purposes will uplift and encourage ourselves and the body. I love to write. Other than being a grandma or a shopper, I would rather spend my days reading a good book or trying to write one. 

I will confess, I have been struggling with the idea of becoming a writer, wondering if that is a realistic goal. After all there are so many good writers already out there, telling captivating and inspiring stories. How could I possibly make a difference? But after watching this movie last night and today thinking about the lessons I can pull from it, I have realized I must stay true to the gifting that God has given me. I don't know if I will ever publish a novel, but I will keep trying to tell stories. 

Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men,
— Colossians 3:23 (NASB)

Lesson 2 - Don't Give Up Hope

After Joe refuses Santa, saying he is going to do the movie, and a teenage runaway, steals Santa's magic sack, the elderly gentlemen is ready to give up hope. It is easy to feel hopeless when things are not going well. Life can get overwhelming, especially when there is illness, job loss or difficulties in family relations. As I've mentioned before on the blog, hope can be rather elusive. (You can see that post here.) But in the end, isn't God the Father, our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit the ones from which true, solid hope flows?

Santa felt that all hope was lost, but in the end, Joe accepts the job and becomes Santa, the runaway returns the magic sack and decides to go home and Ernest delivers the sleigh so the new Santa can get the toys delivered to children all over the world. Hope wins. 

Never give up hope. 

Be strong and let your heart take courage, All you who hope in the Lord.
— Psalm 31:24 (NASB)

Lesson 3 - Be Genuine

This is a bit similar to the first idea of staying true to your gifts, but this is more about how you present yourself to the rest of the world. The teenage runaway in this movie left home after her parents went through some rough times in their marriage. She felt abandoned by them at a critical time in her own development. Pamela or Harmony Star, as she wants to be called, puts on a facade of confidence and bravado, even though inside she is struggling to grow up and deal with her parents' situation. 

Harmony hooks up with Ernest and Santa when she jumps into the taxi Ernest is driving to get away from the restaurant owner she hasn't paid. She hangs out with the for a while, not believing Santa is real, until she finds out about the magic sack. After that she looks for the best opportunity to steal the bag and get away. 

We all have times in our lives where we put on a face. I don't mean putting on make up, I'm talking about that happy face we wear, when inside we feel like dying or feel like we are invisible. Christian recording artist Mandisa has a great song that addresses this very issue. 

God doesn't want us to live fake lives. The best way to help each other is to be real. Obviously, it is good to do that with an attitude of love and tact, but if we all tried to convey the truth about who we are and who God made us, I think, like Harmony, we would realize we could give the "sack" of all our troubles and issues, back to God. 

Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.
— Galatians 6:2 (NASB)

I hope you learned something along with me from Ernest Saves Christmas. If you have the time, this is a great movie to watch with the family and will provide clean, kid-friendly fun. Enjoy a few of my favorite scenes in fond memory of Jim Varney, who passed away at age 50.

This next few show a number of Ernest's many personalities!

Merry Christmas everyone!