During the Struggle

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“That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” This is a line from Walt Whitman’s poem Oh Me! Oh Life! quoted by Mr. Keating, a character played by Robin Williams in what is one of my favorite movies. It is a powerful poem. It is a powerful movie. I think the poem itself exposes why I like the Dead Poets Society to begin with. It’s the struggle. The movie reveals a struggle with which I identify. I suspect we all do. William’s character struggles with an old system that he believes desperately needs reform. Within that system, young men at the all-boys prep school tussle with life in general, work to find their own way and struggle against the same system as Mr. Keating finding themselves thrust into it without choice. One of the students doesn’t survive it. Neither does Mr. Keating’s job. The movie captures Whitman’s foundational question well, “What good amid these, Oh me, Oh life?”

I’ve often wondered why I like this movie because it actually ends somewhat unresolved. But I think it’s because I identify with the struggle, the wrestling against brokenness and broken systems. I also watch the movie with a hope at which the movie never really arrives. The culmination of the story is when the young men who were touched by Keating’s life pledge defiant allegiance to him by standing on their desks proclaiming, “Oh Captain, My Captain!” Although I can identify in some ways both with Mr. Keating and students at that moment, what resonates more is the conclusion of Whitman’s poem, “That you are here—that life exists and identity…” Whitman points to more, to existence, to purpose, which leads to his conclusion of life as a powerful play and the opportunity to contribute. In the plot, this was Keating’s hope for his students, that they would find purpose. The fear? That they would be crushed under the weight of the struggle and miss the opportunity.

I think Keating’s point, and ultimately Whitman’s, is amidst the struggle there’s hope to make a difference—to contribute a verse. For me, the thought of contributing a verse is moving, exciting, stirring, and compelling. I even secretly and internally ask myself sometimes, can I make a difference? Can I contribute a verse? The questions arise all the more during seasons of struggle.

Here’s the truth:

It’s not the absence of struggle that allows an opportunity to contribute a verse, it’s actually the presence of it.

I wasn’t around in the 19th century when Walt Whitman penned his famous poem, so I have no idea what his thoughts are behind it. But I know how it speaks to me both in the struggle and the hope. It propels my mind to some promises given for this life. Here are two:

1. This life comes complete with tribulation (struggle)—John 16:33.

There is struggle in life and, at times, this struggle will feel unfair and unjust. But there is no reason for fatalism like Whitman’s question, “What good amid these, O me, O life?” Don’t give up because tribulation isn’t the only promise in this life.

2. There is always an opportunity to make a difference.

How? By learning to live out the supreme ethic of love. (Matthew 22:37-39). If you feel that your current struggles have you sidelined, just begin to make a difference in simple ways right where you are. How?

  • Smile at someone—you might make their day.
  • Be kind to someone—you never know how much of an encouragement you can be to a waitress, or waiter, or barista, or cashier, or coworker just by being kind in our world that is gripped with consumerism and self-centeredness.
  • Serve someone—whether it’s putting away your neighbor’s trashcan, serving at your local soup kitchen, visiting someone in the hospital, whatever it is, just serve someone.
  • Give an unexpected gift.
  • Ask someone how they’re doing…and mean it.
  • In short, find a way to love your neighbor. By the way, it doesn’t cost money to make a difference!

If you feel lost in the struggle of life, if you find yourself sidelined by circumstances beyond your control, start, or restart right where you are because Walt Whitman was right:

“The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.”

 

Photo by Jean-Pierre Brungs on Unsplash

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/51568/o-me-o-life

Armor Up

Samarai armor

This past Sunday I preached the second message out of the Armor of God in Ephesians 6. The critical truth of this armor is two-fold. First, this is God’s armor, God’s strength and God’s protection for us. Secondly, knowing that it’s imperative that we have it to protect us from the Devil’s schemes, we must put it on. That’s our part. So the question arises; how do you put on the armor? Here’s a brief explanation of all six pieces of armor Paul describes in Ephesians 6:

  1. Truth
    • There’s no value in unapplied truth. Jesus said, “and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) Seek the truth but put on the armor of truth by applying it.
  2. Righteousness
    • Putting on this piece of armor is as much about what you don’t do. Remember, that our righteousness does not come by way of anything we can do. Only true righteousness is imputed (put on us) by God through Jesus. Paul wrote, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) How do you put on the armor of righteousness? Stop trying to be righteous on your own. (We mostly do this through religious yet un-scriptural works.) God is not impressed by us, He’s impressed when He sees the Son’s righteousness on us by faith.
  3. Gospel (Good News) of peace
    • Even in the midst of the spiritual battle that Paul warns us about, and the one that we know’s going on deep down, we can  have peace. How? Jesus said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Jesus promised that we can have peace, deep, soul-quenching peace even in the midst of the battle; in Him.
  4. Faith
    • This piece of armor deflects the “fiery darts” of the devil. How do we have it? By continually and deliberately placing the full weight of our faith in Jesus’ ability and not our own. That’s what faith is. So, continue in the process to which Jesus has called you and learn to take faith from your own ability and place it in Christ.
  5. Salvation
    1. I know what you’re thinking; how do you put on salvation? Salvation is of the Lord! That is correct, it is. You put it on, not in any way trying to save yourself, but living as though it matters. You put on salvation by remembering that there’s more to life than just this life. The Apostle John said, “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.” (1 John 2:16) If you’re only tied to the stuff of this world, Satan will use that against you. Make sure you’re tied to the next life, store up your treasure there as you live fully here.
  6. The Word
    • This is how God instructs in truth. Just like the armor of truth, it must be applied. But, you will never apply it if you don’t read it. Whatever you do, don’t let everything you know, or even most of what you know about the Bible be second hand. Read it for yourself.

Make sure you put on the whole armor today and live in the protection and security of the Lord!

Below is a link the the full sermon from Sunday:

http://www.viennabaptistchurch.org/sermon_audio/Full-%20Part%2019.mp3