Some time ago, on an episode of the History Channel’s reality show about a Las Vegas pawn shop, a man brought in a violin and asked for an appraisal. The man claimed that he had recently purchased a piece of property that included a house and a barn, and shortly after his purchase, he came across an old chest, which when he opened, revealed the violin safely tucked inside. As the man dusted off the near-perfect instrument, he found the name “Stradivarius” inscribed on the violin. As most of you know, a Stradivarius violin in any condition is worth a great deal of money. So, the man had his fingers crossed that this violin would be his lottery ticket to Easy Street.
I don’t know of another passage of Scripture that is more well-known or more beloved than this passage I just read for you. It’s one of the first verses of Scripture that most folk learn “by heart” because it conveys the core message of the Gospel and the means by which we secure eternal life.
Most of the stories Jesus told lend themselves to easy application, do they not? Consider, for example, the story of the Prodigal Son or the story of the Good Samaritan. Everybody resonates with those two stories because everybody understands them and can relate to them. After all, who among us hasn’t felt the tug toward the far country and felt the need to come home once we had come to our senses? Or, who among us hasn’t wrestled with the responsibility of going out of our way to help another in need, especially when we at one point were on the receiving end of such aid? In almost every story Jesus tells, there is at least one character we can see ourselves in, or one character we can imagine ourselves working to become.
Many of you will remember back in the 80’s a most successful advertising campaign by the National Enquirer magazine, which had as its tagline, “Enquiring Minds Want to Know.” What made that campaign so successful was the way it allowed that gossip rag of a publication to attain at least a modest level of respectability in popular American culture by granting people permission to read it because of how doing so would only be engaging in something that on the surface could never be considered entirely bad. After all, who among us doesn’t harbor some measure of curiosity about what’s going on around us in life? Who among us doesn’t want to be “in the know” about important happenings? Who among us doesn’t want to be perceived as possessing an “enquiring mind?”
If there’s anything that comes naturally to us as human beings it is the fine art of manufacturing a good excuse. The truth of the matter is that coming up with a good excuse is as natural as breathing air. That’s because each of us has a will, and when circumstances converge that frustrate our hearts’ desire, we immediately churn out a good excuse not to do whatever it is that we really aren’t passionate about doing.
I know that we all were brought up to understand the importance of sharing, but how many times have you found yourself in situations where you struggle to be satisfied with a portion of something, especially when you know that if you could enjoy that something in its entirety, the experience would be so much better? Maybe it’s a bite or two of that dessert that you limit yourself to in an effort to shed a few pounds. Maybe it’s the snippet of the song you were listening to, which you caught toward the end instead of the beginning. My favorite is what some online bookstores do. They give you the first page or two of the first chapter, which is only a tease to make you purchase the rest of the book.
The other day I was driving home from church, listening to a sports talk show that was winding down its broadcast for the day. As the last caller was voicing his opinion (rather adamantly I should say), the bumper music started playing in the background, which was a signal to everyone, especially the caller, that time was running out, and whatever he wanted to get off his chest, he’d best get to it. Then, as the show was signing off, the music became louder and more pronounced.
Some years ago, executives at one of the nation’s largest Mainstream Protestant denominations (not Baptist) put together a committee to purge their liturgy and hymnal of all militaristic language and imagery. Quite a few of the old hymns and readings got cut out, such as “Onward Christian Soldiers.” As you can imagine, the committee caught a lot of flak for their decisions. Some of it was deserved, but some of it was not deserved. After all, none of us is above engaging in the same kind of theological “downsizing” from time to time. There are terms and concepts and images that we do away with when they no longer suit our fancy or serve our purposes. I’m thinking in particular of the word “duty” and all of the images and the concepts that are associated with it.
Jim Rohn was one of the pioneers of motivational speaking in the last century, the precursor to such household names today as Tony Robbins or Zig Ziglar or Wayne Dyer. Like most motivational speakers, Rohn had his share of famous quotes, but the one that will always stand out to me is his quote that goes: “If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way; if you don’t, then you’ll find an excuse.”
If there’s one incontrovertible fact to life here on Planet Earth, it’s that nothing about our existence is anything near a piece of cake. Most of us know all too well how each day’s events have a way of weighing us down with all manner of burdens and responsibilities, many of which are simply much more than we can handle.