Palm Trees, Toy Soldiers, and Alcoholics*

palm-trees-bendingChristians, as I see it, are some of the worst at making adjustments. Life isn’t nearly as predictable as we would wish, so detours are a more regular occurrence than we planned when we embarked on the trip. So we have to learn to expect the unexpected, bring our fears about them to God and adapt to what happens.

Pharisees, the ones with the most hard-shelled spirituality are not very willing to modify their ideas on the fly. They tend to be more brittle than flexible in their faith. This inflexibility has a name. It’s uh, umm… oh yeah; it’s called “Religion!” And since the Pharisees are the same “yesterday, today, and forever,” we should all be on the lookout for this tendency to dig our heels in and refuse to bend.

They had their orders – as they understood them – and that was it! They even had most of them memorized, categorized, simonized. They knew what they knew and weren’t planning on learning anything new about what they knew. They were adamant about what God required, what the Messiah was going to look like, and where they would rate with him when he arrived. Jesus blew the doors off their preconceived notions when he didn’t think, speak, or act like a good little Messiah was supposed to. Most of them just couldn’t adjust, and of this they were particularly proud.

“Blessed are the flexible for they shall not be broken!” says my old missionary friend. Flexibility, even in my limited and temporary overseas missionary experiences, has made the difference between a great experience and an awful one. No matter how much you pray, plan, and do reconnaissance, you’re always going to be surprised by what you encounter in a culture that’s not your own. The things you intended to do are all up for grabs, and you’ll have to be on your toes to adapt to whatever comes your way on any given day. If you’re brittle you’ll break. I think we should all be living our lives as though we’re on a life-long missions trip, “prepared in season and out of season” to make adjustments for any eventuality.

And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, “The old is better.” Luke 5:38-39

The reason we need “new wineskins” is because they’re flexible. They’re capable of stretching to accommodate the new wine that’s expanding inside them. The old skins are brittle and won’t expand along with the new wine. Someone said, “The only way to get new wine skins is to kill an old goat!”

Jesus said that some “say the old is better.” It’s not that it is better; they just think it is. The older you get, the more you like old things, like what we call “the good old days.” That’s exactly what they are, they might have been good, but they’re also old. Because they’ve happened already, they’re not new, but old. Someone said that by definition “a conservative is someone who thinks that nothing should ever be done the first time.”

“Old” wine tastes better because our palate is used to it. They like different food in India or Kenya than we do here in the U.S., not because they’re born with a different kind of taste buds or because there’s a right kind of food and a wrong kind. Your palate adjusts to the food and drink you give it. If God gives you something you don’t like at first, you’ll either learn to like it or learn to live with it, because if you don’t, you’ll die without it.

Typically, Pharisees, the ones with the most hard-shelled spirituality are not very willing to modify their ideas on the fly. They tend to be more brittle than flexible in their faith. This inflexibility has a name. It’s uh, umm… oh yeah; it’s called “Religion!” And since the Pharisees are the same “yesterday, today, and forever,” we should all be on the lookout for this tendency to dig our heels in and refuse to bend.

They had their orders – as they understood them – and that was it! They even had most of them memorized, categorized, simonized. They knew what they knew and weren’t planning on learning anything new about what they knew. They were adamant about what God required, what the Messiah was going to look like, and where they would rate with him when he arrived. Jesus blew the doors off their preconceived notions when he didn’t think, speak, or act like a good little Messiah was supposed to. Most of them just couldn’t adjust, and what’s more they were proud of it.

A palm tree, on the other hand, is able to flex with vehement tropical winds. I’ve seen them bend almost all the way to the ground so as not to snap off at the trunk. It’s their survival tactic and trademark among trees.

Did you ever have one of those toy soldiers who, when wound up and set on the floor, march until they run into something, at which point they shift course and go another direction? They don’t seem to have a problem adjusting to whatever surprises crop up. Sometimes they run into an obstacle perpendicularly and get stuck marching against the wall until they run out of energy. Sadly, they don’t make the adjustment, instead they insist on stubbornly beating their head against the wall until they die that way.

In recovery groups all over the world alcoholics and all manner of addicts desperately recite the “Serenity Prayer” by Reinhold Niebuhr. The first part of the prayer is the most familiar: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” Of all people, the addict needs to adjust to what is, and not insist on it changing before he’ll stop medicating himself. We all have to accept the things we can’t change. But did you know there’s more to the prayer?

It goes on to say, “Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it: Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen”

If we could all learn to take the world as it is and not as we would have it, we’d be better off. Yes?

* Adapted from Making Adjustments 

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