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Bible Devotional: BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU ASK FOR (Darrin Stephens)

Not comic-related, but pop culture-y.  I have long been enchanted with Bewitched.  I can't tell you how many times as a child I tried twitching my nose--hoping beyond hope that magic would happen.  My blond cousin, Marcy, and I would make believe we were Samantha and Serena.  I excitedly anticipate cosplaying as Endora when I get a bit older.   The following devotional incorporates situations from the classic sitcom.  May God bless you through it.

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One of many memorable episodes of the classic sitcom Bewitched shows the Stephens on the road in a storm.  Outside, the sky is spouting rain at the car.  Inside, Darrin is spouting a scolding at Samantha.  Before the opening credits, Samantha used her powers to speedily get dress for a business dinner.  On the way, Darrin is lecturing her on how she should never, ever use witchcraft under any circumstance. 

As they continue their drive, lo and behold, the car gets a flat tire.  Darrin suddenly not-so-subtly mentions how dreadful the weather is and how this is an extraordinary circumstance; however, he doesn't directly ask Samantha for magical help, and Sam doesn't dare volunteer it.  They end up getting to the dinner late--with Darrin drenched, and they make a horrible impression on the prospective client. 

All the way home, who gets the blame?  Predictably, Samantha.  Samantha initially was just trying to help Darrin, but pounds it in her not to help him, and then, when Sam honors his request, he gets mad at her.

That situation (not so much comedic, in my opinion) is oh-so typical of the relationship between we humans and God.  Like rebellious children, we often ignore His advice and boldly etch our own paths--for better or worse.  When "better" prevails, we take credit; when "worse" happens, we blame God.

Many (not all, but many) problems in life are caused by human error: accidental mistakes, poor decisions that create harm over time, selfishness, and conscious sin.  When someone is injured by equipment at work because of inattentiveness, when "spreading the fun" leads to a spreading infection, when a tipsy driver kills someone else, even when pollution creates a hole in the ozone layer—problems such as these can all be attributed to human error.

Yet when such things go wrong in the world and in our lives, we often feel doubly hurt.  We are hurt by the situation AND we can be hurt that God would "let" such a thing to happen. 

...Does He really just apathetically let it happen?  Let's see:

-God tells us to treat our bodies like temples (1 Corinthians 6:19-20); we overeat and overwork and under-exercise.  Then we complain about the obesity "epidemic."

-God tells us to take care of our animals (Proverbs 12:10); we let our pets outside unattended or breed puppies for money.  Then we ask how God could let thousands of shelter animals suffer.

-God warns us to be good stewards of our money (Proverbs 21:5); we rack up cell phone, internet, cable, Netflix, and Starbucks bills.  Then we criticize churches for not doing more to help the poor.

-God tells us to seek wisdom (the whole book of Proverbs and beyond); we belittle scripture and clutter our minds with internet memes, beauty routines, celebrity gossip, neighborhood gossip, number crunching, and porn.  Then we wonder why God doesn't do something instead of letting the world get so bad.

God is doing something.  He is honoring our request.  Noted evangelist Billy Graham's daughter, Anne Graham Lotz, sums it up keenly:

For years we've been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives.  And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out.  How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?

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When Darrin and Samantha finally get home from the business party, Sam finally has enough.  After Darrin ignores and even scorns her help time after time, Sam has no other choice than to give him what he asked for: she leaves him alone (and visits Endora on Cloud 8). 

Like Darrin, we insist on doing things our own way.  We fight for independence from "harmful religious brainwashing," and then depend on our own wisdom.  Like Sam, God gives us what we ask for: free will.  Then, WE:

-Tax sugar and make healthy foods unaffordable. 

-Work hard to get our kids the latest video gaming console, but don't have time to memorize their teachers' names (much less ask what they teach).

-Make political stands--knocking down any evil idiot who disagrees with us.

-Mock people who passively say they'll pray for others while we actively sit by our computers and mock people.

-Love those sexy (and now cute) beer commercials, put phones in cares, vote to legalize drugs, and argue that there can be no God because we have loved ones who have died from car crashes, liver disease, and lung cancer.

In short, we get what we ask for--not necessarily in the form of some mysterious, supernatural karma-like punishment, but in the form of the consequences of our own actions.

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On the Bewitched episode, Sam does not really leave Darrin totally alone.  From up on her cloud, she continues to love him and watch over him, ready to jump back in at any time--even before Darrin comes to his senses and apologizes. 

Fortunately for us, God does not abandon us or simply sit and watch from a cloud, either.  There might be times when we don't readily see His work or don't understand what He is doing (because we are blinded by that damage that WE have done), but He is always ready to extend o us His forgiveness and grace.  Sometimes He simply allows us time to realize that we need Him and to choose to come to Him:

"The Lord isn't slow to do what he promised, as some people think. Rather, he is patient for your sake. He doesn't want to destroy anyone but wants all people to have an opportunity to turn to him and change the way they think and act"  2 Peter 3:9 (God's Word Translation).

The whole world may sometimes feel out of control, but God gives each of us awareness, minds, resources, and many things that ARE within our power to control.  The consequences of how we choose to use or abuse or refuse such power are on us. 

Life isn't always a comedy, but do what you can to avoid tragedies caused by human error.  You may not be an actor, but do take God's direction seriously and try your best to follow His cues.   And God isn't a fictional warlock, but He is powerful and He is vital; so be careful what you ask for.

Bible Devotional #15: SHORT CIRCUITS AND CLEAN SLATES (Iron Man 3)

Tony Stark:

  • Billionaire.
  • Playboy.
  • Philanthropist.
  • Super, heroic savior of the world.

Yet Tony can’t sleep at night.  Why?  Let’s take a closer look at his life.

  • Billionaire.  Stark Industries is a majorly successful major corporation.  However, in its line of work, if Stark backs the wrong people, not only will the company go bankrupt and employees be out of work, but the fate of the entire world could be put at risk.
  • Playboy.  Tony’s attempts at escapism—dodging his responsibilities, running away, partying, sex, substance abuse, moving his girlfriend in with him, even hiding behind his Iron Man suit and keeping busy making a bazillion models of it—none of this could quell his inner turmoil for long.  Tony’s nerves still frayed.  His troubles did not cease.  And being a playboy has left him with many enemies and few friends.
  • Philanthropist.  Hard to go wrong helping people—theoretically.  But why is it that Tony can save the world and have millions of fans adore him, yet still not be able to make the one person closest to him happy?
  • Superhero.  Tony almost lost his life the last time the universe was attacked.  What happens when an even bigger threat inevitably comes along?  Plus, there is nothing Iron Man can do to save the life of his best friend who is hospitalized and near death.

What does all this add up to?  Pressure.  Feeling “the weight of the world on your shoulders” is a lot of pressure.  And we’ve all felt that way.  Marriage.  Singlehood.  Family.  Lack of family.  Health.  Insurance.  Debt.  Schoolwork, housework, work work.  PRESSURE!

The Bible recounts the story of another man responsible for the whole world—literally.  A man, not with an arc (reactor), but an ark:  Noah.  We often hear about how Noah, a hero in his own right, built a giant ark, persevered through an earth-wiping flood, and was blessed by God (Genesis 6-9).  But there is more to the story after the rainbow.

One day, Noah made himself drunk with wine and lay down naked in front of God and everybody (Genesis 9:21).  Just like that, Noah went from being the one person on the entire planet whom God deemed righteous enough to salvage to lying in his own drool in a naked heap in disgrace.  What happened?  What got the best of Noah?  Perhaps the same thing that got to Tony: pressure.

Let’s retrace Noah’s journey.

  • First, Noah was given the incomprehensible assignment of building the ark (Genesis 6:14-16).  Along with this probably came the further headaches of having to convince his family of the whole ark/flood thing, getting ridiculed by his neighbors, and managing the gathering of all the animals (v. 19-21).
  • Next, Noah had to actually live on the ark, cramped up with his family and the animals for over a year (Genesis 7-8).
  • Even after disembarking from the ark, Noah surely felt guilt and grief at the loss of all the rest of the living creatures on the earth—including majestic lions, baby squirrels, and, of course, PEOPLE, some of whom were probably enemies whom Noah may have casually wished dead a time or two, and others for whom Noah probably cared a great deal.
  • Alas, there was the daunting charge of commencing to repopulate the world—starting with just Noah’s own little family—and trying to keep that new world right with God this time.

What does all this add up to?  Pressure.  With a capital P.  And that rhymes with T.  And that stands for Trouble.  (Or something like that.)

Noah’s trouble in this instance was substance abuse.  Tony’s trouble was insomnia and panic attacks.  Our trouble can lead to those same results and a multitude of others (headaches, depression, divorce, overspending, suicide, etc.).

So how can we cope with the pressures we face?  Believe it or not, we can take a few cues from what Tony Stark eventually did.

  • Prioritize.  (Luke 12:34.)  What is important to you?  What should be important?  You may need to do some reevaluating.  If what should be your biggest priority is getting the least of your time and energy, you may need to make some changes.

Tony decided that Pepper was what was most important to him, yet she was often being pushed to a back burner in his life.So, he had to:

  • Simplify.  (Psalm 119:37.)  This doesn’t mean becoming a hermit and living in a cave.  It just means getting rid of unnecessary clutter and baggage.  Maybe you don’t need an Xbox and a Wii and a PlayStation.  Maybe you don’t need to be involved in eight different clubs.

After Tony prioritized his life, he realized he didn’t need dozens of Iron Man suits.  So, he gave himself a clean slate.

Some pressures you can’t get rid of: illnesses, difficult family members, taxes…But, if you can trim the clutter, you can better accomplish the next step:

  • Focus.  (Luke 10: 38-42.)  So much anymore, we value quantity over quality.  Why do one thing when we can do 12, right?  But multitasking hurts our focus, and too much of our focus goes towards the wrong things.  You can go to a restaurant any night and see a family of four sitting at a table where the dad is listening to a ballgame on his iPod, the mother is browsing through recipes on Pinterest, the daughter is texting, and the son is playing Angry Birds.  Not one of those things is truly important in this life and especially not for eternity.

When we focus, we can actually accomplish more (quality-wise)—better and safer.

Once Tony was able to simplify his life, he freed up a lot of time and energy that he was then able to focus toward his biggest priority, Pepper.  He was even able to focus more on himself (this time in a non-narcissistic way) and realized that his suit and arc reactor were not what made him a hero, and that being a hero did not automatically make him a good man.

  • Relax.  (Mark 6:31.)  Last, but not least believe it or not, we need to make time to relax.  That’s much easier said than done, but it’s a must.  You cannot go nonstop 18 hours a day, seven days a week.  Make rest a priority.  You can’t help others or accomplish anything for yourself if you’re running on fumes.  Even Tony needs to recharge his suit sometimes.

Life can be a handful at times.  Being a Christian does not eliminate pressures, but making God an active part of your life can give you hope and help.  If you feel like you’re about to short circuit, take time to make for yourself a clean slate.  Make time for God and ask Him to help you prioritize, simplify, reorganize, delegate, focus, and relax.  Then, hopefully, you can rest a bit easier and live better.

Bible Devotional #14: Mum's the Word (Batman)

Part of what makes Batman the enigmatic, super-slick champion we extol is the way he can masterfully uncover any clue, capture the most treacherous criminals, and escape any peril.  Whether zombies are pulverizing Gotham or a shark is pulling his leg, Batman can surmount anything—AND he can do it all by himself.

Ironically, the world’s bravest loner has comics’ largest extended network.  From Nightwing to El Gaucho, Batman would never have to go it alone.  So why does he so often?

For the same reason we sometimes do—because it’s impossible to be invulnerable and vulnerable at the same time.  Especially today—when you can do everything from ordering groceries to carrying out a romantic relationship entirely online without leaving your room—it can be hard to open up to people.  I don’t mean tweeting or texting them; I mean genuinely letting down your walls and being honest about whatever is on your mind with those (who should be) closest to you. 

Have you ever neglected friends from high school because you don’t have any big news to “impress” them with?  Have you gone through grueling times without shedding any light about them to some friends because you didn’t want to be embarrassed or burden them with your problems?  Have you had significant information that would be difficult for people you care about to deal with, so you kept it from them thinking you were protecting them?  I have.  Batman has.

The recent “Death of the Family” story arc reveals that Batman has been harboring a huge secret: Joker has been to the Batcave (and, thus, may know the identities of the whole Bat clan).                                            

Batman keeping this troubling information from his friends ended up causing a lot of tribulation.  Several of Batman’s comrades were kidnapped and almost killed.  “Death of the Family” ended up referring to the “death” of the trust everyone had always put in Bruce.

If you hold things in, it probably won’t lead to your loved ones being kidnapped by a maniacal clown.  However, it can take its toll on you and them.  If you have a problem or secret you should share but don’t, a lot anxiety can build up within you.  Stealing something from a classmate, telling a lie about a coworker, being diagnosed with a serious condition—such things are a lot to deal with alone.  Not opening up can cause you to lose sleep and miss out on comfort from friends. 

It could also make a bad situation worse, while reaching out can nip it in the bud.  For example, if you’re struggling in a class and discuss it with your parents, they can help you get help.  But if you wait until you flunk, it will be too late and will be harder to overcome.  Or if you go through a heartbreak alone, you isolate yourself and perhaps alienate people who care about you.  But, if you talk to a friend, they can give you a shoulder to lean on and offer insights from their own experiences. 

Being open and honest with others can also make them feel more comfortable about coming to you if they have a problem in the future (Luke 6:31).

Jesus was a very straightforward person, but I’m sure it wasn’t always easy for Him, either.  Telling His friends about hardships they would endure in the future, telling His family He was going to die—the news He had to deliver wasn’t always “good” in an immediate sense.  But it was better in the long run.  They were able to better prepare for what they needed to do in the near future and for eternity.  And Jesus’s friends, in turn, gave Him comfort and aid while He was on earth.  

God gives us loved ones to comfort us when we are down (Proverbs 17:17), to enhance our good offerings (Proverbs 27:17), to aid us (Proverbs 11:14), to just be there for us so we never have to feel alone.  After all, two (or more) are often better than one.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work; If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (NIV).

Don’t feel like you have to hold everything in.  Even Batman needs a Robin.  Utilize God’s gift of the ability to build friendships and to share things with those friends in bad times and good.

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