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How To Look Smart When You Do Dumb Things!

John 8:31-36

I would like to think with you today about the dumb things we have done in life.

When I use the term “dumb things,” I mean those things which are not deliberately and maliciously sinful. Of course, there is a sense in which every blunder which we make in life is the fruit of sin. We are not perfect. The Bible makes it quite plain that all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Consequently, there are many errors, mistakes, uglinesses, blunders, which are a part of our experience. But today I do not want to talk so much about the deliberate sins we commit but about the dumb little things we do but never really meant to do.

I don’t know about you, but I have done a lot of dumb things in my life. For example, there was the time in my first summer job at a concrete block plant when I convinced the foreman that I knew how to handle a forklift. So I hopped into the seat, shoved it in gear and proceeded to take out 15 huge pallets of freshly manufactured concrete blocks before I could get the confounded thing stopped! I should tell you the whole story another time. And then there was the time when, during my freshman year in college, in the midst of a huge water balloon fight, I inadvertently soaked the college’s head basketball coach! I’ll have to tell you about that another time. Or there was the time when I fell out of the pulpit in a church where I was a guest speaker. That’s also a story worth telling some other time. Then there was the time that by mistake I happened into the ladies’ dressing rooms in one of our department stores and I was trapped in there until…well, that’s a story I’ll not ever tell you…anytime!

Now I am joking about it, and most of the time the dumb things we do are good for a laugh. However, there are times when those dumb things can be very costly. For example, some years ago there was a college student in Chicago who was having a Christmas party for some of her friends. She allowed her 12-year old brother, whose nickname was Addie, to stay for the party. Now Addie was very bored by the whole thing. At one point one of the boys home from college said that he had learned the Manual of Arms during his ROTC training. So Addie immediately went to the cupboard and took out the family .22 rifle. He handed it to the young man and said, “Show me how you do that.” And the young man did. It is not exactly clear what happened after that. Some say it was when Addie was trying to do the Manual of Arms himself; others say it was while he was trying to put the rifle away; still others say he aimed the rifle directly at Ruth Merwin. But whatever the precise details may have been, the rifle went off and Ruth Merwin fell to the ground dead! And Addie, whose full name was Adlai E. Stevenson, went on to become twice nominated for President of the United States, an Ambassador to the United Nations, and a man of eloquence and a lover of peace. But never in all of his long life could he forget what happened that night. Dumb things can be very painful and very costly.

But whether the dumb things we do are comic or tragic, whether they are laughable or lamentable, the Bible offers us three suggestions for dealing with them. Here they are:

First, be smart enough to put the dumb things behind you and keep them there.

It’s always been comforting to me to know that even the great Apostle Paul once in a while did some dumb things. He tried to stop the unstoppable, the kingdom of God. He sank to a level of bigotry and intolerance. He was part of a group that murdered Stephen. There are times in his writings when he crosses the line from modesty to immodesty. But what does Paul say about these things? He says, “Forgetting what lies behind me I press on toward what is ahead.” In other words, he put the dumb things behind him and he kept them there.

Grove Patterson was for many years the editor of the newspaper in Toledo, Ohio. He wrote an editorial once called “Water Under The Bridge.” In it he talked about a boy who was standing on a bridge, leaning over the edge and watching the current carrying logs and branches and chips of wood. He realized that the water had been flowing like that and carrying those things for perhaps millions of years. And as the boy watched that and thought about it he made a discovery. It occurred to him that ultimately everything passes under the bridge and that is true in all of life. And from that point on throughout the course of his life, whenever he faced his most difficult moments, whenever he lost things or people he loved, or when he was facing anxiety, he remembered that all of life and everything in life, like that water, passes under the bridge. And so there is no reason to fear any given moment. It is wise counsel to remember that.

As a minister I spend a lot of time in counseling. I have listened to and talked to a lot of people. In time you begin to learn certain codes people use. Their body language, for example. Or how they hold their arms when they talk. Whether or not they look at you when they speak. You also learn certain code words that people use. One of the code words that always alarms me is when I hear people say, “If only.” “If only.” “If only I had done this, if only I had not done that.” “If only I had tried a little harder.” The words “if only” are a clue to defeatism. My goal is to try to get “if only” people to become “next time” people. “Next time” is a positive affirmation. “If only” is pessimistic. It looks back at defeat. “Next time” is optimistic. It looks forward to the opportunity. Paul was a next-time person. He said, “Forgetting what lies behind, I press on toward what lies ahead.”

I like to visit other churches, but it discourages me many times when I am in those churches to find that what is done there is lifeless and dull. My friend, Frank Harrington, was telling me the other day about going to preach once in such a church. He said, “Not only did I not strike a spark there, but the place nearly put my own fire out.” I know churches like that—where worship services focus more upon sin than they do upon salvation. More upon the demands of the law than upon the gospel of grace. More upon what has been than what can be. I don’t ever want that to be true of our worship here. I want people to go out of this church on Sundays with their sails filled with the winds of the spirit of God and saying, “Now I’m better prepared for next time.” Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” Well, here is the gospel truth: everything goes under the bridge. It is not necessary for us to focus on the things that trouble us from the past. The water of God’s grace has washed it all away. And Jesus Christ is now ready to take us into “next time.” To take us into what he has prepared for us ahead. So be smart enough in Jesus Christ to put those dumb things behind you.

Secondly, be smart enough to learn what you can from the dumb things you do.

No Christian ought to ever be totally defeated by anything. Oh, there will be defeating moments along life’s way. But we don’t have to be defeated by them. We serve a Lord who said, “In the world you have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” We serve a Lord who said, “I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.” We serve a Lord who said, “You shall know the truth and the truth will make you free.” What we need to remember is that in any situation, no matter how discouraging or defeating, there is some valuable lesson we can draw from it. So, as you put that dumb thing behind you, learn from it.

Clement Stone, a prominent insurance executive and a Presbyterian elder, once said: “Every disadvantage has with it some corresponding advantage.” I would express it this way. Powerful blessings often come in pressing problems. Just look at the cross. The cross was the electric chair of its day. An instrument of torture and death. Yet because Jesus Christ took that defeating instrument of death and twisted it to glory, it has now become a symbol of hope, joy, victory and eternal life. We can do the same thing with the defeating moments that come our way. It’s like the two old boys who were out playing golf together. One said to the other, “My eyesight is not much good any more so would you watch and see where my ball goes.” The other fellow said, “Sure.” So he hit his drive and he said to his buddy, “Did you see where it went?” And the answer came, “Yep, I saw it.” They headed off down the fairway and walked around a bit but couldn’t find this fellow’s ball. He turned to his buddy and said, “I thought you saw where it went.” The other fellow replied, “Oh, I saw where it went, alright. My eyesight is good, but my memory is not so good. I can’t remember what I saw.”

Well, if you don’t remember the things you’ve done and learn from them, there is the possibility that you will repeat them. Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth will make you free.” Part of the implication of that is that you can eliminate the mistake patterns in your life. Learning from your mistakes means finding the truth that frees you from making the same mistakes again. 

That’s what Adlai Stevenson did. Remember? I was talking about him a few minutes ago. Adlai Stevenson took on tough causes all of his life. He was a model of a genuine humanitarian. He abhorred violence. He was a lover of peace. Those things were true of him because he brought beauty out of ugliness. He learned from his mistakes. And you can do that, too.

A little boy and his father came to church together and when they entered the building they passed a bronze plaque with lots of names on it. The little boy said, “Daddy, what are all those names here for?” And the father said, “Well, those are the people in this church who fought for their country during the war.” And the little boy said, “Well, what are the gold stars by some of the names?” And the father said, “Those are the ones who died in the service.” And the little boy said, “Did they die in the 8:30 service or 11:00 o’clock service?”

Well, I don’t want anybody to die in our services. I want our services instead to lift you, inspire you, encourage you, strengthen you for living the good life even in bad times. That’s why I want you to understand today that as you put those dumb things behind you, you can learn something from them which you can use as you move ahead in life.

Then this: be smart enough to realize that you and God together are bigger than any dumb thing you may have done.

When we do dumb things in life, and all of us do them, we need to face those things head on. We need to acknowledge them. Why? Because we do not face them alone. If you belong to God in Jesus Christ, then you are going against the problem in God’s strength. Remember that, my friends. Remember that you are made by God to be in His image. Remember that you are saved by His Son. Remember that you are empowered by His Holy Spirit. And, therefore, no matter what happens in life, you can fight the good fight, you can finish the race, you can keep the faith, you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. You and God together can triumph over any dumb thing you have ever done. All you have to do is commit yourself to Jesus Christ and to the utilization of His power in your life. The Bible says that we are to be more than conquerors in Jesus Christ—that means not only victors in the future but victors now.

When I think of that, I think of Eddie Rickenbacker. He was a famous racing car driver; he was a flying ace in World War I; he was an important leader during World War II. He was a great and very successful business man. He was a remarkable man. In the course of his life there were 134 different occasions when he nearly died. One of those occasions happened in an airplane crash outside of Atlanta, Georgia. In that crash he suffered a broken pelvis, a crushed hip, a shattered right arm and his right eyeball was pulled out of its socket. When they managed to get him to the hospital, he heard one of the interns say to the nurses, “Don’t spend time with him, he’s too far gone. Help those we might be able to save.” But he didn’t die. Eventually they got him up to one of the rooms. He was lying there in a groggy state and the radio was playing across the room. He heard Walter Winchell, the famous newscaster of that day, say over the radio, “Captain Eddie Rickenbacker is dying in Atlanta, Georgia. He will not live through the night.” With that, Eddie Rickenbacker reached out his one good arm, picked up a water pitcher from the bedside table, and hurled it at the radio, smashing both the radio and the pitcher into a thousand pieces. Four months later Eddie Rickenbacker was up and at ’em again. Asked where he got the grit, the power, the determination to rise above this thing that had happened to him, he quoted the Psalm, “If I take the wings of the morning and if I dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there God’s hand leads me and His right hand still holds me.”

My beloved, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are held in the right hand of God. Nothing can ever pluck us from His loving embrace. And when you understand and exercise that truth in Jesus Christ, then you are free—free from any dumb thing you might ever do. In Jesus Christ, you are free indeed!

That’s the way to live the good life in bad times!

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