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Bored To Tears Or Bold For Years?

Acts 4:5-12

Just recently, a friend who teaches kindergarten told me about how she was teaching her children the “Popcorn Song”. It’s an action song which required the children to assume a squatting position and then at the appropriate moment in the song, to “pop-up” like popcorn. She said that it didn’t take long for the children to get into the song, and they were popping up all around the room—that is, except for one little boy who remained in the crouching position. “What’s the matter?”, the teacher asked. “Why aren’t you popping up like the other children?” The little boy replied: “Because I’m burning on the bottom of the pan!”

Now I must tell you that that is a pretty good description of what I so often see in life. Some folks are popping up all over the place and others are just burning on the bottom of the pan. Some people are moving through life with energy, enthusiasm, zest and vitality, while others slog through every day bored to tears.

Item. There has been a lot of research done lately on the subject of burnout. Contrary to conventional wisdom, we are learning that burnout is not caused by being overworked. Are you ready for this? We are discovering that, ironically, burnout is caused by boredom! That’s right. Our task, our job, our life-course becomes so “everlastingly daily”, so routine, so monotonous, so uninspiring and unchallenging that we become bored and begin to burn out by losing our zest and interest. We wind up just sitting there burning on the bottom of the pan.

Item. Many a marriage founders on the shoals of boredom, the consequence of a relationship gone stale and monotonous. Dr. Cecil Myers was counseling a man whose marriage was on the rocks, and Dr. Myers encouraged the man to work at being as creative and thoughtful and enthusiastic in his devotion to his wife as when they were first dating. The man said: “What’s the use of chasing the bus after you’ve already caught it?” And the man wondered why his marriage was in trouble! It was breaking up under the pressure of boredom.

Item. So many young people get into trouble today because they are bored and are looking for excitement. It’s not so much that they are bad as that they are bored! Several years ago, a group of young men broke into the art studio of Andrew Wyeth, one of our most prominent painters. They proceeded to break lamps and pieces of sculpture; they smeared the walls with paint, they slashed some of Wyeth’s priceless works of art; they left the place in shambles. The young men were caught, but Wyeth chose not to prosecute them. Instead, he asked them to come visit him. They did. They asked for forgiveness, and promised to work to repay some of the damages. Wyeth later said of his visit with them: “I was left feeling very sad. The young men said they did what they did because they were bored and had nothing else to do. They used a phrase that made me cringe within. They said they were just ‘killing time’. What could be more wasteful?”

Item. Do you know that one of the rising new social concerns today is the phenomenon of “the runaway mom?” Let that roll around in your mind for a moment. Nancy Woodward writes: “Mom? Yes, Mom! Reversing an age-old pattern of Dad leaving home, the American wife is the latest runaway phenomenon. Last year, for example, Tracers Company of America was retained to find 1136 runaway mothers. Running away is an immediate release from the limbo condition in which she finds herself. Most of those moms have been married since they were 18, had their first child within that year, their second within the next eighteen months. By the time they reach age 34, the usual age of the mom runaway, she feels that life is passing her by. She withdraws half the bank account, leaves a note vowing love, but saying that she can’t take it anymore, and she disappears while the children are at school.” And it’s all because of boredom.

I bring all this up today because I am absolutely convinced that God never meant for life to be boring. Christ came to bring us, among other things, the abundant life. He came to show us how life can be joyous, creative, zestful, meaningful, exciting, and challenging. We don’t have to give in to boredom. We don’t have to throw in the towel and quit on life. We don’t have to hunker down and burn on the bottom of the pan. Instead of being bored to tears, we can be bold for years!

This story from the Book of Acts shows us how Peter and John were arrested for healing a lame man and they were asked by what authority did they heal him. Now Peter and John could have been like that little boy in kindergarten just burning on the bottom of the pan. Instead, they chose to “pop-up” with a kind of holy boldness no one would ever have expected from these rather ordinary fellows. In one of his finest moments, Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, responded to the charges by saying: “Let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead.”

Clearly, the only explanation for the boldness was their belief in the presence of the risen Christ within them. That same awareness can help us to move from boredom to boldness in our own spiritual lives. Look closely at what this boldness did for Peter and John and then look at what it can do for us…

In the first place, it gave them courage.

The word “boldness” in the Bible means delivering a lucid and daring statement. In the Greek, it carries the idea of “telling it like it is.” No apology, no faltering, no hemming and hawing. No watering down. No hesitation. No reservation. That is courageous boldness.

Ralph Ward was a Methodist bishop who spent most of his years as a missionary to China. He was there when China was invaded by Japan and he was placed in a prison camp. The privations of that camp shortened his days and he died before his time. But what incredible courage he demonstrated there. He was locked away in a totally dark cell. He could not tell the difference between daylight and dark. He lost all sense of time. He never saw or heard another human being, save someone who silently pushed his meager tray of food under the door every now and then. One day, he was startled when the cell door opened, and several soldiers dragged him out. He was thrown to the ground. As the other prisoners in that camp watched in horror, a heavily-armed captain came over, jerked him up to his feet and commanded: “Confess that you are a spy!” Bishop Ward replied: “I am not a spy. I am a missionary and I have been in China helping children learn how to read and write and helping people learn skills so that they may care for their families.” The captain exploded in anger, grabbed Ward by the collar of his tattered shirt, shook him violently, pulled out his pistol, drew back the hammer, placed it against Bishop Ward’s head and said: “Confess that you are a spy or I will shoot you on the spot.” The bishop pulled himself up with all of the courage of a soul anchored to the Rock of Ages and said: “Sir, I am not a spy. Even though you call me a liar, I am an honest minister of Jesus Christ. And, sir, I think there is something you need to know. I follow a man who died on a cross for me, and I would consider it a privilege to die for Him!”

That my friends, is holy boldness. It gives us the courage not only to proclaim Christ as Savior, but to live out our faith no matter the cost.

In the second place, it gave them compassion.

For years, the religious leaders had passed this lame man on their way to the temple. Never did they stop. Never did they pay any attention to the man or his need. But then, suddenly, because of the action of Peter and John, everything changed. The disabled man was now able to walk, to run, to leap in the air. Don’t miss the fact that here a person who was a forgotten part of the landscape was suddenly at the center of God’s compassionate concern. The power that Peter and John had to heal someone was worthless without the boldness of their compassion for someone who was hurting.

There are many people like the man in the story, living on the edges and the margins of life; homeless men, women and children, prisoners, strangers, foreigners, refugees, exiles, prodigals, and sinners—all of them can easily fall into the deepest seas of our forgetfulness. Mind you, it is not my intent to make us feel guilty about these people.

God knows we have enough guilt to last a lifetime. Rather, it is my intent to help us realize that the people who have the toughest time in this life, are loved most tenderly by Jesus. That was the message Peter and John were trying to give to the religious leaders in Jerusalem.

That’s good news for us—to know that there is a Lord who cares for us, who understands where we hurt, and shows us compassion in the midst of that hurt. Mary Keithan, a Congregational minister in South Dakota, tells of when her husband died at age 52, family and friends rallied around. However, there was no one among them who had lost a spouse, no one who had experienced the kind of pain she was feeling. Then a stranger appeared and said: “You don’t know me, but I was one of the nurses who took care of your husband in the hospital. I lost my husband at an even younger age. I just came to tell you that I know how you feel, and you can survive.” Mary Keithan wrote: “She was there only a moment, but I will never forget the gift of understanding and encouragement she brought to me.”

An old Jewish legend tells of two villagers talking. One asks: “Friend, do you love me?” The other replies: “I love you deeply.” The first one then asks: “Do you know what gives me pain?” The other answers: “How can I know what gives you pain?” The first then says: “If you do not know what gives me pain, how can you say that you truly love me?”

True love involves compassion; literally the ability to feel with others the pain and the sorrow, the confusion and the doubt, the discouragement and depression they are experiencing. To act with compassion, like Peter and John, will move you from boredom to boldness in life.

Then Peter and John displayed conviction.

They were convinced that Jesus not only was a great teacher, not only was the best person they had ever known, but that He was the only hope for salvation. Peter said: “There is salvation in no one else. For there is no other name under heaven…by which we must be saved.” That conviction gave them boldness.

One of the most fascinating facts about Mahatma Gandhi was his great admiration for the teachings of Jesus. In fact, Gandhi once said: “The man to whom I owe the most is a man who never set foot in India—and the man is Jesus.” Gandhi’s great admiration of Jesus as a teacher has had a tremendous impact on the history of India and on the history of the world. Yet, for reasons known only to Gandhi, he never became a Christian. Perhaps he knew that to be a true follower of Christ required more than just devotion to His teachings. When one’s life is touched by the living presence of the Risen Christ, one’s life is forever changed.

Most of us know the name of Madelyn Murray O’Hare, the outspoken atheist. What you may not know is that her son, William Murray has written a book entitled: My Life with God. He tells of what it was like growing up with Madelyn Murray O’Hare as his mother. His home was devoid of affection, and he came to hate his mother long before he ever knew why. In his early 30’s he descended into alcoholism. It was the work of Alcoholics Anonymous which introduced him to a God who cared for him. There followed a long and difficult struggle in his life. He tells of getting up in the middle of the night and finding an all-night store where he purchased his first Bible. Listen to his words: “I drove to my apartment and read the book of the Bible written by the great physician, Luke. There I found my answer—not the book itself, but Jesus Christ.”

“Within days my life and attitudes began to change…My hatred began to vanish as the love of Christ took over my being. I now no longer intensely hated my mother. Now I really wanted to be able to love her, whereas before I had only wanted revenge. I began to see my mother for what she truly was—a sinner, just like me.”

William Murray learned a lesson from which we can all benefit. It is not a set of teachings that will do it for us. It is not even the Bible. Rather, it is the conviction, the deep unswerving conviction that Jesus Christ can redeem life and give life meaning. “There is salvation in no one else.” I didn’t say that. The Bible says it. “There is salvation in no one else.”

Isn’t it about time we took those words to heart?

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