When mercy paid the price my future came alive
your love and grace define every moment of my life
you took my darkest hour and filled it with your light
now my soul will rise shining my salvation
All glory to your name Jesus
Your power ends our shame Jesus
We lift our endless praise to the highest name
You’re my one desire
my heart needs nothing more
broken to beautiful
healed by relentless love
Refrain (2 x)
From the grave you have risen
on the cross death was finished
we’re alive in your endless freedom
Message Ropes: Use Them or Remove Them
Pastor John Ortberg’s friend invited him to fly on his small plane. While he sat within it with the engines running, His friend circled the plane, systematically checking off each item on his “preflight check list”. Ortberg noticed the wings were anchored by powerful ropes tied to strong bars in the pavement. He assumed there was a special slip knot, or automatic releasing mechanism. His friend hopped into the plane and got clearance from the tower. Then he glanced out the side window, and paled: "Look at that! I can't believe we were getting ready to take off without untying the ropes, that's a good one!” But once the ropes were off they soared through the skies -- what sights they saw, what happiness they felt. 1
For today, ropes can represent anything in our lives that seem to hinder them. They can be difficult circumstances, troubling relationships, ill health, economic hardship, or even how we see ourselves. But they aren’t always only negative. There are at least 3 types of “ropes” today.
Ropes can ground us in reality
(1) Some ropes ground us in reality. Like the plane kept in place while parked at the airport, certain ropes serve an important purpose to our life. They keep us from being blown about by the winds -- winds which Paul connects with good sounding but deceiving teachers, and which James connects with a wavering faith in God’s wisdom. (See Ephesians 4:14 and James 1:6)
NASCAR drivers use pit stop crews to gain ground on other slower crews, but also to get their cars and themselves refreshed for the next laps of their race. Life also requires appropriate pacing, refreshing and refueling.
But we aren’t meant to live in the pit stop. We can’t win parked and sleeping with the engine off while everyone else is flying around the track. God blesses us with life. Live so that we can look back and say: “I made the most of it.” To help us make the most of it,
Ropes can train and prepare
(2) Some ropes can be used for training and preparation. A young boy wanted to run in a big race. He bundled up in heavy shoes and shirts and heavy coats and pants and with sun beating down on him he lumbered down the street as best he could. Other runners raced by him each day, laughing at his outfit and slowness. When race day came, this encumbered boy showed up in a normal running outfit feeling free as a bird and light as a feather -- and he flew around the track faster than almost everyone else.
When I was young, I used to play a lot of pick-up games with neighborhood kids. Most of them were 3-5 years older, so were bigger, stronger, faster, and more experienced. We even had our version of Bill Cosby’s Fat Albert, a huge high schooler who would drag 4-5 of us, sometimes the entire length of the field. Don’t get down by his ankles though because he’ll kick your teeth out. Because of whom I played with, I got clobbered -- a lot. But I wanted to play so much that I didn’t quit. Surviving and striving and growing my skill set against superiors, I didn’t realize what a difference it was making in me until I finally got an opportunity to play against church and gym class peers and discovered I was actually a decent athlete at the level of sports that I was playing.
Sometimes we encounter things in life that may feel like they are just heaviness weighing us down, or feel like we are being outdone by everyone else, but if we don’t give up and we keep straining against the ropes, we may discover that they prepare us to excel in ways even we don’t realize. Paul lists one of my favorite descriptions of this growth in Romans 5:2 ff where he says that by faith in God -- (by determined trust to push forward because of that) -- we stand in God’s grace. We are proud of and hope in God’s glorious presence. And because that is where we stand, we can withstand, (even rejoice) in suffering, (in troubling ropes), because they lead to perseverance -- (a persistent patience in actively moving toward overcoming (reaching our goals)), which leads to character (the maturity to do what is right no matter what) which leads to a [determined] hope that will never disappoint us, because God has poured out his Spirit into our hearts, filling us with his love.
Some, in the name of freedom, want to throw off all ropes -- including the ropes that ground us, that train us, that grow us to maturity. But if a person wants to fly freely, they can’t throw the rules of flight out the window, or the rules of gravity will make them fall into a heap on the ground. Likewise, a person running a cross country race could, in the name of freedom, wander anywhere and everywhere in those back hills and paths, (but being lost on the paths does not feel free at all). If he wants to be free to run the race and finish well, he needs to memorize or watch for and follow the direction signs - the rule of the race’s route. Some ropes clearly have benefits, even if they may not feel like it at the time.
Ropes can restrain us
(3) But then there are also ropes that attempt to restrain us from being all we can be in God. If we allow them, we will never get off the ground.
In a television show, Grace acted on a bad decision. She made it worse by covering over it by lying about it. Then she recognized the mess she created and confesses to her mother, Cassie. Her mother replies that she knew all along. “Then why didn’t you bust me?” Grace asks. Cassie replies, “Some stories we can tell, some others need to be told.”
In other words, Cassie was trying to give Grace the time to awaken her own internal conscience, to feel the inner pain of her errant choice’s consequences and to realize for herself that what she thought was good in the moment and covered over later was actually a binding rope that needed to be broken. Rather than being caught and confronted with conclusions drawn for her, by coming to her own conclusion being allowed to confess (to tell the story), she learned more, internalized more, could best seek and find forgiveness, as well as learn and grow from her negative experience and would be much less likely to repeat the error.
The daughter goes on to detail the rest of that errant night, and then asks her mom, “Disappointed?” And Cassie replies, “It was not your best day.” Grace says, "I really am so sorry." Her mom then says, "A mistake is like a bump in the road. One mistake is not so bad. But if we keep making mistakes, eventually we change the shape of the road forever.” 2
That is the real challenge. Peer pressure, comfortable familiarity, entrenched habits, addictions, other feelings or forces deceive us into thinking incorrectly that these negative ropes-- these ropes that have such a powerfully strong hindering grip on us -- they try to convince us that they are ropes that are good for us and that we should continue to enjoy them.
In The Shawshank Redemption, Ellis “Red” Redding is a long term convict who speaks about [the ropes] of his jail cell. He says, “These walls are funny. First you hate 'em, then you get used to 'em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them...” After being imprisoned in a structured system for 40 years, Red leaves prison afraid to be free.
Some take comfort in being grounded on a path that may be wrong, but is familiar to our well-traveled shaping of that path, sometimes not even aware our road has changed, that we need to be wake up, confess, and adjust our route. It is only when strip off these ropes that we will be able to rise above the turmoil of our own consequences and fly around the right track.
The Bible says, (in paraphrased into modern language)
Since we are surrounded by so many wonderful examples, let’s do what they did and strip off every weight that slows us down, every sin that hinders our progress, every distraction that gets us off course; and run with endurance the marathon race of life that God has set before us. We do this by keeping focused on Jesus. Our faith depends on him from start to finish. His Spirit compels us to move forward even though we may not know what will happen. Don’t let the hurdles of setbacks and hardships slow you down. They amount to nothing if we finish the race and complete the task our Lord has given us. Fight well, finish the race, keep the faith. Then we will receive the crown the Lord awards to ... all who long to run their life in a way to be ready for Christ’s return. (Adapted for Hebrews 11:39-12:2 (NLT), Acts 20:22-24 (NIV), 2 Timothy 4:6-8 (NIV))
What will we do with our ropes?
Many ropes in life are not of our own making. But we can control how we respond to them. Our current stay at home orders could be seen as ropes tying us down from normal living.
On the one hand, people have chosen to use these ropes positively. I have heard anecdotally that increased home time has allowed some families to reconnect in ways they hadn’t connected in a long time, or maybe even ever. Others have had time to re-evaluate priorities and recognized -- what is really important to them.
On the other hand, studies show that while stay at home orders have significantly reduced crime, even violent crime, outside the home; they also show that there has been a significant increase in domestic violence. Apparently, frustration, fear and anger has been destructively bottled up in the homes of some people who have not learned healthy outlets for such emotions; and they are releasing it on their own family members in terrible ways. They are not learning to take advantage of the ropes and using them to ground themselves and grow in goodness.
Today’s question then, is “What am I going to do to identify the kind of ropes that are on me and how am I going to deal with them?”
Many people play card games. I’ve heard that players who consistently win don’t do so by the luck of the draw, but because they have learned what to keep, what to play, and especially they’ve learned what to discard.
We must learn to keep those grounding principles that guide us to the right goals. We must play out those activities that patiently push us toward our priorities, and we must discard those actions and attitudes and habits that hinder us from living life to its fullest and best potential.
As Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 that like good athletes in the Corinthian games (Corinthian Games were second only to the Olympic Games is those days) They strictly discipline themselves for a perishable prize, but we who are shooting for an eternal prize with God must train vigorously, purposefully, not aimlessly, wisely moving straight ahead, not wandering all around the track, landing each intent solidly, not waving wildly in the air at nothing. Make it your goal to be true to your deepest allegiances, and make sure your deepest allegiances are values worth being true to.
1. Abridged and paraphrased from: John Ortberg, When the Game is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan) 2007 c 5.
2. The Good Witch Season 1 Episode 6: The Truth About Lies.
Prayer Lord, at times, life can seem like endless challenges, one rope after another, making us feel discouraged. Empower us and lift us up so that the unknowns, the setbacks, the struggles, won’t get to us. Help us to keep moving forward, from hopelessness to “ropelessness”; letting everything fall away but our vision of you alone -- so we can be free to finish the race victoriously in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Parts of) There is No Other
Like a flood heaven come down over us
wash us clean by the blood
that Jesus poured out all for us
he set us free
Let our heart’s desire be more of you
til our only cry is to be made new
With all our praise we’re yours forever
our God and King There is no other
. . .
Let all before us fall away until there is only you
and all the earth will call your name
there is no other
Let all before us fall away until there is only you
and all the earth will call your name
there is no other
there is no other (2x)
Prayer Renewing God, our God and King -- for all that is broken in our minds and bodies, we ask your healing. For all that is amiss in our choices and our relationships, we ask your forgiveness, for all the ropes that work against life and blessing in our hearts, and in the world, we open ourselves to your transforming grace. Heal us, forgive us, make us new, and meet each of our needs, and not only ours, but those we have named to each other or in our hearts. We pray this in the name of your Son’s infinite grace, whose work has made us your people, and it is in his name that we pray. Amen.
Blessing Now go in the name of the God who does not withhold his love, but faithfully listens to the prayers of those who reverently worship him, seeking and offering his reconciling peace. Amen.