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ASPECTS

a monthly devotional journal
by David Lampel
Issue No. 63
February 1996

FALLING DOWN:
LIVING WITHOUT TRAINING WHEELS


I never had a bicycle with training wheels. My parents could never afford to buy me a bike that would be quickly outgrown, so I never had my own bike until it could be one large enough that it would have looked pretty silly with training wheels attached.

As if it happened just last night, I recall getting that bike. It was on the occasion of my 12th birthday. The bicycle was a 26 inch model painted a bright, fire engine red. I remember going to bed that night with that brand new red bike parked smack at the foot of my bed, where I could lie there and keep an eye on it, and make sure nothing happened to it before morning. I can still taste the anticipation.

While I never had one of my own, I had plenty of opportunities to observe bikes with training wheels. Simple inventions, these wheels were attached to the frame, one on either side of the rear wheel, and positioned just a few inches above the ground, so that if the rider tipped just a little in either direction, the training wheel on that side would make contact with the pavement.

Bikes with training wheels never fall over; there's always a wheel there to keep the bike and rider upright. The many bumps and scrapes, cuts and bruises of my childhood attest to the fact that bikes without training wheels certainly do fall over from time to time.

 

Remaining Upright

At the point of our salvation--at the moment in which our eternity with Christ is sealed--we are issued the Holy Spirit as a permanent resident. What we are not issued is a set of training wheels.

Some people believe that it is possible to live the Christian life without ever falling down. To those people--people who never fall down--I say: may your tribe increase. It has been my experience, however, that in the Christian life, we fall down from time to time.

How do we 'fall down' in our walk with Christ? What is the Spiritual equivalent of tipping over when riding our bike?

We fall down whenever we behave in a manner unlike Christ: the harsh word said in haste, petty jealousies that come between friends; failing to forgive another, pride that becomes a barrier to righteousness; silent envy that causes us to take what is not ours, a cold heart regarding the plight of another, laziness that permits the ways of the world to win out over the ways of God. And beneath it all, the lingering residue of unholy passions weaned and nurtured before we came to know Christ.


When we pray, our prayer does more for us than God. And when we fall, we are the ones who come up bruised and bloody from the experience, not the One who set us atop the bike.

But why do we fall down? We certainly haven't planned to; it's not what we want to have happen. But just when we've resolved to never fall down again--there go our wheels out from under us.

Is falling down supposed to be a part of the Christian life--or does it, instead, represent a measure of defeat in a life that has failed to attain some mystical level of purity? Interestingly, in his most thorough and profound treatise on Christian doctrine, the apostle Paul includes the following personal note.

Those of us who fall down from time to time can take some comfort and reassurance in the stories in Scripture of those who fell down from time to time.

 

YOUNG AND FOOLISH


Before I was old enough to have my own bicycle, I took advantage of opportunities to ride those belonging to others. One fringe benefit of our family visiting another was that I would be able--depending on the benevolence of the resident kids--to ride their bikes.

Jerry, the son of our friends in Shell Rock, Iowa, had a bike that was a favorite of mine to ride. It was great fun to wheel it around the wide, tree-lined streets of the small town, around and around the block by the adjacent cemetery. There was only one problem: if I sat on the seat, my feet wouldn't reach the pedals. So the only way for me to ride the bike was to do so standing on the pedals, leaning from side to side to avoid the center bar. In fact, the only way I was even able to get on the bike was to launch myself from the edge of their rather large front porch.

The problem with riding a bike in such a fashion is that you have very little control over the vehicle. If you hit a curb wrong, skid on a patch of mud, or otherwise get into trouble, about all you can do is let yourself tip over sideways. Sometimes you land on your feet; most times you land with your shoulder hitting the sidewalk.

 

Veering Off Course

John Mark had a solid, Christian upbringing. His mother, Mary, was an important figure in the early church and, in fact, a group worshipped in her home in Jerusalem. It was to this home that Peter went after the angel of the Lord rescued him from prison.[3]

Mark's family was influential, as well as wealthy. Barnabas, the land-owner who became for awhile the apostle Paul's ministry partner, was related. Mark had good pedigree, and I can imagine his youthful enthusiasm when it was proposed that he accompany Paul and his cousin Barnabas on their first missionary journey.

They traveled first to Seleucia, then sailed to the isle of Cyprus.

How different this must have been for the young man--how exciting to sail the Mediterranean, landing at the exotic island of Cyprus. Surely his youthful vigor and enthusiasm helped sustain him through the tougher moments of the journey.

But something happened between Paphos, on Cyprus, and Perga, which was on the mainland in Pamphylia. Suddenly, John Mark left the mission and returned to his home in Jerusalem.

How do we know that Mark did not leave the mission on agreeable terms?

Whatever John Mark's reason for leaving, Paul was of the opinion that he had let them down, that he had abandoned the work he had set out to perform.


Why do we fall down?

In a perfect world we would be born with every bit of wisdom and knowledge we would need for any circumstance. But, as we all know, this world is not perfect.

We gain experience and wisdom over time, as we mature. The person who has been riding a bike every day for forty years will stay upright more consistently than the one who is just beginning. The venerable Christian, who has been walking consistently with the Lord for decades, will fall down less often that the one who just met Him yesterday.

Then again, we gain experience by falling down, don't we. The scars of failure can often be the best teachers. If you're paying attention when you blow it, chances are good that you may not blow it again.

It's a risky business, however, learning only from the mistakes we make. The better plan is to learn, from the beginning, from the One who has all the right answers.


Selah

Do you recall the last time you 'fell down'?

Define this concept for yourself. What does it mean to you to fall down in your walk with the Lord. Work out for yourself what constitutes falling down--and what doesn't.


Nothing between my soul and the Saviour,
Naught of this world's delusive dream;
I have renounced all sinful pleasure,
Jesus is mine; there's nothing between.


Refrain:                          
Nothing between my soul and the Saviour,
So that His blessed face may be seen;
Nothing preventing the least of His favor,
Keep the way clear! Let nothing between.

Nothing between, like worldly pleasure,
Habits of life though harmless they seem,
Must not my heart from Him e'er sever,
He is my all; there's nothing between.

Nothing between, like pride or station,
Self or friends shall not intervene,
Tho' it may cost me much tribulation,
I am resolved; there's nothing between.

Nothing between, e'en many hard trials,
Tho' the whole world against me convene;
Watching with prayer and much self-denial,
I'll triumph at last, with nothing between.

             Charles A. Tindley



 

RISE AGAIN

A bicycle looks nothing like a horse, but there is one thing this two-wheeled mode of conveyance has in common with the trusty steed: When one falls off either one, the best thing for the rider to do is get right back in the saddle.

 

A Slippery Seat







 

An Informed Devotion

It seems that in all of Scripture, no one fell down more often than the apostle Peter. But to his credit, he kept getting back up and trying again. Even in the face of withering retorts from Jesus (and certain humiliation before the other disciples because of them) Peter never gave up. He hung in there to the end.

But of course, we need not single out poor Peter. Even the most cursory study of the disciples of Jesus reveals a veritable catalog of the frailties of the flesh. Peter seems to stand out, however, in his sheer ability to say or do the wrong thing at precisely the wrong time.

The question then presents itself: Why did he keep trying? Why didn't Peter just give up and return to his nets? The answer, I suppose, has something to do with his love for Jesus, and for his desire to please Him--to do better the next time.

This is no small thing, for it reaches to the heart of what motivates any of us to get back up when we have fallen down. There is, indeed, something in each of us that connects us to Christ: the Holy Spirit. Beyond that, however, there is a love for our Savior that develops over time, much like the earthly love we might have for another human being.


Selah

How would you compare the love you have for Christ to the love you have for another person? How is it different? How is it the same?


Just as we come as babes to Christ, and only gradually mature in Spiritual wisdom and knowledge as we walk with Him, our devotion to Jesus gradually matures and deepens the more we come to know Him. Our initial love for Christ is a young and fragile thing, based primarily on an appreciation for what He did for us at the cross.

But as we travel through life with Him, coming to recognize and appreciate His tender touch through the rough times; His comforting, forgiving arm about our shoulders when we have failed; sharing His joy over our triumphs--the longer we live with Jesus, the deeper and more profound becomes our love for Him.

This relationship is the basis for our desire to get back up and try again when we have fallen flat on our face.

It is our confidence in Jesus that encourages us when down; it is our love for Him that becomes our motivation to try again, and do better the next time.


Selah

What is Jesus' reaction to your falling down? Find the answer in Scripture.


Arise, my soul, arise! shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding Sacrifice in my behalf appears.
Before the throne my surety stands;
My name is written on His hands,
My name is written on His hands.

He ever lives above, for me to intercede;
His all-redeeming love, His precious blood to plead;
His blood atoned for all our race,
And sprinkles now the throne of grace,
And sprinkles now the throne of grace.

Five bleeding wounds He bears, received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers, they strongly plead for me;
Forgive him, O forgive," they cry,
Nor let that ransomed sinner die!
Nor let that ransomed sinner die!"

The Father hears Him pray, His dear anointed One;
He cannot turn away the presence of His Son:
His Spirit answers to the blood,
And tells me that I am born of God,
And tells me that I am born of God.

My God is reconciled, His pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child, I can no longer fear:
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And "Father, Abba, Father!" cry,
And "Father, Abba, Father" cry.

              Charles Wesley

 

THRILLS AND SPILLS

Because I was a fairly typical, red-blooded American boy, the brand new bike I received on my 12th birthday did not long remain in its pristine state.

Young boys where I come from like to customize things, so it wasn't long before my shiny bicycle had been modified beyond all recognition.

The angles of the seat and handlebars were changed for a more racy profile, and many-colored plastic streamers were attached to the holes in the grips. An odd collection of things was added to the wheel spokes for noise and flash. Lights and buzzers, whistles and horns were added and subtracted on a regular basis for both safety and social status. The red factory finish was eventually improved upon with random blotches of spray paint: metallic green, silver and gold.

Then the fenders were modified--even removed. Factory handlebars were exchanged for those of a slightly more radical design. The shape of the seat became more of an artistic statement, rather than simply a perch for my bottom.

Also typical, with modifications to the appearance of my bike came modifications to my riding habits. On the first day with my new bike, I remained conservative, riding in genteel circuits round about the block. But soon I was jumping the curb, launching myself off graded slopes and banks, careening dangerously close to vehicles both stationary and moving. In no time, instead of obeying my father to use the kickstand when dismounting, I had adopted the habit of leaping from my trusty steed while still moving, thereby letting it slam and scrape into the ground with a most satisfying crash.

Curiously, as my reckless riding habits increased, so did the cuts and scrapes and bruises upon my person. When I rode sensibly, I remained astride the seat in an upright position; when I rode with reckless abandon, I paid a price for my antics--usually with physical pain.


The curse of free will is that we are free to do really stupid things. Sometimes we fall down purely by accident; it was never our intention. But very often we fall down because we have purposely put ourselves into a position where falling down is likely.

Our selfish desires can blind us to the fact that we have even fallen down in the first place--especially when we have grown accustomed to the spills.

Living under grace--under the blood of Christ--means that we will not die because of our foolish decisions to sin, but living under God's justice means that we will forever bear the scars of our sin. God's forgiving grace does not nullify the lingering effects of our wrong decisions.


Selah



 

LIVING WITH GOD

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above;
Praise His name--I'm fixed upon it--
Name of God's redeeming love.

Hitherto Thy love has blest me;
Thou hast bro't me to this place;
And I know Thy hand will bring me
Safely home by Thy good grace.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Bought me with His precious blood.
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee:
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here's my heart, O take and seal it;
Seal it for Thy courts above. Amen.

              Robert Robinson[4]


During the latter half of my 4-year sojourn in the U.S. Navy, while stationed in San Diego, California, it became the fashion in our small group to acquire and ride a bike to and from work every day. I suppose the motives behind this inconvenient fad were both economy and general health but, all in all, I found the practice to be something akin to daily root canal.

I took no pleasure in arriving at work and arriving back home drenched in sweat and gasping for breath. "It'll get easier the more you ride," my slender companions informed me. Well, it didn't. It never got easier.

When my wife and I moved from National City, a suburb on roughly the same plane as the Navy base, to an apartment in San Diego proper, in a neighborhood so far uphill from the base that its ascent would cause a Sherpa's nose to bleed, I called it quits. From that point on my mode of transport was restricted to self-propelled vehicles one could ride without losing five pounds in perspiration.

As a result, curiously enough, while my waistline continued its outward expansion, my slender companions just got more slender.

My co-workers not only ended up in superior physical shape, they became expert bike riders. Their pedals had stirrups and straps that held their feet for greater power; they carried all the accoutrements, such things as water bottles, air pumps, lights; they could repair and change a tire on the fly; they could travel long distances without stopping; and they could ride for weeks and months, every day, and never fall down.


Whether we believe that it is possible for a child of God to live his life without ever falling down, or that some falling down will be inevitable, our goal should always be to remain upright. And the amount of time we stay upright is directly dependent on how much time is spent walking with the Lord.

 

Whatever Works

I'm reminded of the day a psychologist tried to relieve me of a migraine headache by using a form of image therapy (my phrase)--a method falling somewhere between hypnosis and bio-feedback.

While I reclined on his couch, relaxed with my eyes closed, he began drawing word pictures intended to have some positive effect on the pain raging between my ears.

He began with images of heat, at one point telling me to imagine a white hot beam of light piercing through the top of my head. That didn't work at all, so finally he switched to images of cold. The word picture that finally brought some relief was one in which I was walking through a snow-draped forest in the cold dead of winter.

Because I prefer being cool--even cold--to being hot, the cooler images were the ones that I better identified with. They were the ones that brought relief from the migraine.

The mental pictures you employ to describe the relationship God has with your life are not nearly so important as the fact that you have that relationship.

You may imagine God the Father as a white-bearded grandfather, floating off the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel; you may imagine Him as blinding light, radiant energy; or you may not be able to describe Him at all, only as unspeakable holiness.

You may imagine Jesus walking alongside you, holding your hand; you may think of him leading or pulling you in a certain direction; or you may see Him in the distance, beckoning you toward Him. Maybe He even sits across a table from you, holding a conversation.

The important thing is that you have the relationship. If you never want to fall down, the only way to do it is to walk constantly with the One who will hold you up.

The Christian has a privilege too often neglected--that of living, actually living, day in and day out, with the all-powerful God of the universe. We too often place God onto a mystical what-not shelf, arrange Him prettily with our other collectibles, and only dust Him off once a week when we feel compelled to pray to Him.

But the God of the Bible is more organic than that. He concerns Himself with the day-to-day minutia of the lives of those who call upon His name. His children matter to Him, and if He weren't interested in having a relationship with them, He wouldn't have bothered sending His Son.


It may grieve the Lord when we fall down, but I imagine it grieves Him more when we try to stay up on our own. While we must never forget the majesty of God, nor should we forget that He is the one in charge, we do Him a disservice when we leave Him sitting, untouched, atop the shelf.


Selah

Locate more Scripture references that describe how personal our Lord is with His people.


Loved with everlasting love,
Led by grace that love to know;
Spirit, breathing from above,
Thou hast taught me it is so!
Oh, this full and perfect peace!
Oh, this transport all divine!
In a love which cannot cease,
I am His, and He is mine.

Heav'n above is softer blue,
Earth around is sweeter green!
Something lives in every hue
Christless eyes have never seen:
Birds with gladder songs o'er-flow,
Flow'rs with deeper beauties shine,
Since I know, as now I know,
I am His, and He is mine.

Things that once were wild alarms
Cannot now disturb my rest;
Closed in everlasting arms,
Pillowed on the loving breast.
Oh, to lie forever here,
Doubt, and care, and self resign,
While He whispers in my ear,
I am His, and He is mine.

His forever, only His;
Who the Lord and me shall part?
Ah, with what a rest of bliss
Christ can fill the loving heart!
Heav'n and earth may fade and flee,
First-born light in gloom decline;
But while God and I shall be,
I am His, and He is mine.

              George Wade Robinson


NOTES, COPYRIGHT & SUBSCRIPTION INFORMATION

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Issue No. 67
June 1996

NOTES

[1.] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, from his All of Grace: An Earnest Word with Those Who Are Seeking Salvation by the Lord Jesus Christ. (return to footnote 1)

[2.] Oswald Chambers, from My Utmost for His Highest, (Discovery House,1992) updated edition. (return to footnote 2)

[3.] Acts 12:11-12 (return to footnote 3)

[4.] Adapted by Margaret Clarkson (Hymn#2 in The Hymnal for Worship & Celebration (WORD, 1986). I can only assume that Ms Clarkson is responsible for rewriting the first four lines of the second verse, which originally read

    Here I raise mine Ebenezer/Hither by Thy help I'm come/ And I hope, by Thy good pleasure/Safely to arrive at home

We can not only thank her for removing the confounding "Ebenezer", but also for exchanging the tentative "hope" for the more resounding "know". (return to footnote 4)

[5.] A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Christian Publications, 1982), p.117ff. (return to footnote 5)

[6.] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, bk 3, ch. 5. (return to footnote 6)

COPYRIGHT INFORMATION

All original material in Aspects is Copyright © 1996 David S. Lampel. This data file is the sole property of David S. Lampel. It may not be altered or edited in any way. It may be reproduced only in its entirety for circulation as "freeware," without charge. All reproductions of this data file must contain the copyright notice (i.e., "Copyright (C) 1996 David S. Lampel."). This data file may not be used without the permission of David S. Lampel for resale or the enhancement of any other product sold. This includes all of its content. Brief quotations not to exceed more than 500 words may be used, with the appropriate copyright notice, to enhance or supplement personal or church devotions, newsletters, journals, or spoken messages.

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture is from the New International Version. NIV quotations are from the Holy Bible: New International Version, Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission. NASB quotations are from the New American Standard Bible © 1960, 1962,1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by The Lockman Foundation.

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