We all have aspirations. For some of us still, that includes baptism. However, as you come up out of the water, while God may see you spiritually as a new creature, you are still very physically you. Your neural pathways are still the same as they were when you went under the water. It is up to you to become that new creature physically as well, to rebuild those neurons toward a Christly creature. Baptism is only a starting point, and we have to develop ourselves to walk toward becoming like Christ.
I’ll tell you a story. One day in the sixth grade, I was doing my schoolwork when I heard my name whispered. I look up and see the classmate who’d been trying to gain my attention. Out of the blue, he asks, “Would you ever go out with [Debra]?” At least we’ll call her Debra to protect the innocent. I scrunch my face in confusion, reply a rather dismissive “No,” and return to my grammar work like a good student. See, I had considered his hypothetical differently than it had been asked.
Debra was one of the cool kids, and she was pretty, too. And while I never saw myself as an uncouth ogre, I considered my own studious, introverted habits as plain. Thusly, I felt we were in different circles and reasoned the entire affair would be unlikely. I had answered the question, “Do you find it likely that you and Debra would end up a couple?”
This scene stuck in my head through the years. Perhaps it was because of the unorthodox way he interrupted my work from across the room to ask a question of what I saw as a rather improbable situation. Maybe it’s only so I could tell you this story today. Whatever the reason, I every so often remembered the event, filed it away again, and moved on. Until one day when I noticed a piece of the memory I had excluded in my hurry to return to my grammar work. Debra sat right behind this guy.
Suddenly, I realized a greater scope of the situation. These two had been discussing the matter before the guy had been bold enough to involve me in the conversation. Now shame on them for ignoring their work but, more importantly, it leads to another revelation: I had unwittingly rejected her before she and I had even had a chance to discuss it ourselves. This isn’t a story of regret; I’m happily married and, to the best of my knowledge, so is Debra.
This is a story that illustrates scope, consequences, and perception. Had my rejection impacted her confidence or outlook? Could my dismissal have been interpreted as disgust? I discovered in high school that I had a bit of a reputation as aloof or haughty. Had this event contributed or even initiated this perception my peers had held? I don’t have those answers, but what I gained was scope. I became able to see more in the situation that I hadn’t been able to grasp before.
Such is the case for most of us. We, as children, tend to only focus on how we see things. We have a narrow scope. We can’t often predict the consequences of our actions. That’s why so many coming-of-age stories are about growth and development of the character, less about the action taking place. This isn’t always connected to age; for our purposes, we are talking about age—or more accurately, experience—and spirituality because we are not often as spiritually mature as our age suggests. Experience comes as we go, but spiritual growth and aging take effort on our part.
As we grow, we can we can see more and understand more but it is important to keep that scope at all times. Binoculars are only useful while you’re looking through them. How often have we crossed paths with rude or angry or outright hostile personalities? Often times it will affect our day. Maybe we get angry and lash back at them, or some of us find it upsetting and retract. When we tell the tale, our friends will undoubtedly support us with some rationale that helps us feel better about it, although sometimes I’ve noticed that these will sometimes even develop into bold narratives that accuse the offender of being some kind of fiend whose intent was to ruin your day.
However, how often are we the unpleasant moment in someone else’s story? We rationalize and justify it. Maybe sometimes we feel remorse for having acted out but often we can’t extend an apology to someone with whom we only crossed paths. It all happens because we haven’t maintained scope.
Everyone has rationale and justifications—whether they’re fair or flimsy—for why they’re in a foul mood. Maintaining scope of a situation is what will help us have mercy for others when they’re in those lows because we don’t know why they’re upset. It could be that they just received bad news and can’t cope yet. Maybe it’s just their disposition but that could have developed from a lifetime of disappointment and tragedy. Scope will remind us to bridle our emotions and attitude when we’d rather lash out because we don’t—or shouldn’t—want to contribute negatively to someone else’s life. If the only interaction you have with someone is terse words and veiled insults at the register, how well have you represented Christ in that moment? What if the guy who ruined your day was another Christian who forgot Who he was supposed to mimic?
The broader your scope, the more you will see others not as a set of circumstances but a person, a fellow pilgrim, in those circumstances. Scope helps you see that people are a result of years of circumstances and decisions. It keeps us from judging too harshly for what they may or not have been able to control in their life.
At its broadest our scope can reach, we can see that there are no bad guys, not really. No one is the enemy: not the Muslims or the Catholics, not the Democrats or the Republicans, not the gangs or the billionaires. All of these are only the battle lines drawn over generations of lies and betrayals set up by the only one true Villain. Only one entity truly is to be held accountable for all the dissension in the world and that’s the Accuser himself, Satan, who would see us all torn apart and alone in this world.
Now that’s not to discount the accountability of the individual, but remember that their actions are based on those established lies and corrupt attitudes that currently govern this world. We are where we are because of our minds and our circumstances—nature and nurture. Our brains, as part of our bodies, operate within their parameters because of latent, tenebrous genetic codes, threads woven at Creation by God. Our outlooks and attitudes are a product of how we react to our circumstances. At the end of the day, we can’t say what decisions we’d make in someone else’s circumstances. We can’t control all of the elements at play in our lives, and scope helps us understand that. However, there are elements we can control, even eliminate.
I recently found an old CD book with a lot of my wife’s and my old CDs. We were excited; it was a lot of music we loved and hadn’t heard in a while. I decided to bring a bunch with me on my forty-minute commutes to work; I could knock out two CDs a day! I was looking forward to listening again to all my old favorites like Garth Brooks, Linkin Park, and Twisted Sister. However, it seemed to be a fool’s errand. See, I didn’t remember how often Garth sang about fornication and adultery. And rock & roll’s fight-the-power banner seemed trite, especially when bands like Linkin Park and Disturbed dated their songs by targeting them directly at George W. Bush.
I had simply outgrown the music. The subject matter just didn’t interest me anymore. It seems the only stuff I can listen to with a great deal of consistency anymore is all Christian contemporary like Rich Mullins or John Mark McMillan, to drop only a couple names. I couldn’t listen to music that was “just so cool” to listen to anymore. Like in 1 Corinthians 13:11, I had left behind childish things because I was now a full-grown man with more important matters on my plate. These kinds of songs would no longer fit on to that plate.
My kids love getting into stuff. The younger, Jane, is up for anything. If I’m typing, she’s at the desk with me; if I’m cooking, she’s nearby; she loves to get involved in what’s going on. When Jeremiah was her age, he had a litany of jobs he was going to pursue: archaeologist, spy, zoo-keeper, photographer, and then on to more I can’t recall. I asked him how he was going to hold down all of those jobs and he matter-of-factly replied, “No, Dad. I’m going to do them one at a time.”
But these days, seven years later, he’s narrowed his ambitions. He tends to go back and forth between owning a zoo or aquarium and leading safaris. He’s kept that love for animals and science and turned his focus to that (and playing Minecraft). He is still looking for a few things to add to his life, like a sport to try or new games to play.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. In Ecclesiastes 3:12-13, after Solomon has decried all the labors of the world as ultimately fruitless, he concedes that God put these fruitless labors here so that we may enjoy ourselves and gain fulfillment from them while we have them, while we’re still here and mortal.
However, we don’t have time for everything. As we grow older we have to realize what is and what is not important to us. In my early twenties with a fresh new child and wife, I had to narrow down what was going on in my life. I was a full-time student working full-time as a photographer, and I didn’t want to neglect my new family. I had to cut down on my gaming and weightlifting to ensure I got everything handled.
My father was a detective: murders, drug rings, and worse. He took his time and got confessions out of his suspects. He was good at his work, and he got a lot of fulfillment out of it. The downside is that it cost him a lot of hours and he didn’t get to see his family a lot. He transferred out of that department to make sure he was a part of his family, an active participant, not just the bread-winner.
Solomon instructs in Ecclesiastes 9:10 for us to pursue with all our might that which our hand finds to do. Just like Jeremiah, we all search for something to bring us meaning, slowly coming around to that. And just like my father and I did, you will find something that you want to pursue so fervently that you are willing to give up all of your other labors to pursue it. This is the narrowing of focus.
A narrowing of focus allows us the time we need for what’s important. We as Christians can’t afford to spend time pursuing endeavors that distract us from a Godly life. Remember from Luke 9:62 that anyone who puts his hand to the work we’re called to and looks back to the world is called unfit for the Kingdom. So to what work are we called? We can look back in Ecclesiastes for that, in chapter 12, verse 13: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”
The purpose of the human race is revealed in a single, straightforward verse. (So much for seminary school.) So really anything in this world that distracts us from accomplishing that duty doesn’t need to be in our line of sight because it’s blocking our view of God. Now I’m not trying to overbear and say that we should all have our nose in a Bible twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. (Although I’m sure Paul would assert that would not be a life poorly spent.) Again, part of Solomon’s point in Ecclesiastes is that we should enjoy the fruits of all our labors. However, we need to rethink our priorities if anything’s getting more attention than God. We are what we eat, after all. If necessary, we may have to exclude things from our field of vision so we can better focus on God. You may have heard the joke that says the reason the elderly read the Bible so much is that they’re cramming for finals. In reality, it is more likely that they’ve been around long enough to understand that there’s not much need for anything else.
The Allegory of the Wagon
I want to adapt an allegory I heard from Steve Harvey in his book Act Like A Success, Think Like A Success. In his book, he is talking about our goals and aspirations, but I want to apply it to something more important: our salvation.
Let’s picture our salvation as a wagon, but not a shiny, red Radio Flyer. That would be too easy. It’s one of those big wooden wagons you’d see in the old Westerns. And there’s no ox or horse for you. You have to pull the wagon and you alone. Your path is uphill. You might be asking now, “Uphill? Covered wagons? What happened to my easy yoke and light burdens?” The weight here is spiritual, in the sense that this is important. And uphill represents the idea that if you let go or stop pulling, you’ll backslide.
The wagon is full of the things we partake of in this life. So, naturally, as we head uphill, we are going to have an easier time if there is less weight in the cart. We have to understand what is truly near and dear to us, what is truly important enough to drag uphill. We have to realize to get where we’re going will require that we leave a few things behind. We have to ask ourselves things like, “Am I really getting that much fulfillment from this old hobby?” or, “Do I need a CD I can’t listen to with the kids in the car?”
As an aside, we’ve broached the subject of kids again. Why do you suppose it was so important that my father and I were involved in our kids’ lives? It’s because our kids are pulling little Radio Flyers. Whatever they can find to put in the wagon is still small and light. That’s why they can put so much in there. As they grow some of that stuff will become bigger and some others are bound to fall out along the way without the kids even noticing. We are setting an example for our kids with how we handle our wagon. One day those kids will take the plunge, get baptized, and turn around to see their shiny red wagon will have become a covered wagon like you’ve been hauling. They’ll need your example of how to handle theirs because that’s the moment it becomes real; you’ve thrown in with the Lord, and as far as Satan is concerned that puts the target on your back.
As we climb higher we pull from the wagon the things we don’t need. We can also look out and, from the higher vantage point, we can see more. We can see the other wagoners and see their paths, where their lives have taken them. We can see and relate to everyone else because, at the end of the day, we’re all trying to get to the top of the mountain. Only one of us has ever made it there. And He has a perfect scope from the top of the mountain. He doesn’t have a wagon anymore because He has already run the course and earned the reward because He had perfect focus even unto death. You see, baptism isn’t the end goal; it’s only the beginning of the true goal. So, hold your nose and dig in your heels: this is for the long haul.