A scene in a movie done a few decades ago included a line that I find intriguing. The setting was one of those “wild west” towns that Hollywood is famous for creating, but while the original setting may belong in a dusty archive, elements of the scene continue to be played out in 2018 America.
Most Definitely “not” a Cinema Aficionado ~
But before continuing, let me throw out a disclaimer or two. First, you will not find “avid moviegoer” on any of my bio sketches or social media profiles. Movie theaters are challenging places for me. If the worn-out plots, sexual exhibitions, and ridiculous themes coupled with Hollywood’s characteristic spiritual and moral vacuum wouldn’t be enough to keep the ticket money in my wallet, not being able to have the popcorn would do the trick. Movie popcorn, along with things like pizza, assorted fried animal parts, and funnel cakes have been moved to the “no longer allowed” list. It isn’t just a nutritional issue. My wife, who takes care of our bookkeeping, says that in addition to the fact that movie popcorn is grossly overpriced, I apparently don’t have nearly enough life insurance to make eating that stuff worth the risk. That makes going to the movies for me about as exciting as paying to stand around PaPa John’s and smell pizza for two hours. So, to say the least, I’m not a walking cinematic Wikipedia and am not equipped to meander around parties quoting lines from famous movies hoping somebody gets impressed enough to feel miserable because they can’t do it.
In any case, I think this particular scene took place in a movie called Support Your Local Gunfighter. The hero was shown sitting in a chair in front of the Sheriff’s office whittling on a piece of wood. People would come by who were apparently perturbed because of what the bad guys were doing in their town. Upon seeing him just sitting there whittling, they’d ask what he was doing about all the problems. Without looking up, the would-be hero would answer in a detached, nonchalant way . . . “I’m workin’ on it.”
Understandable Exasperation ~
The exasperation on the faces of the inquisitors was obvious. Their look said, “Waddaya mean, you’re workin’ on it? You’re just sittin’ around whittlin’. What impact is your whittlin’ gonna have on the problems plaguing our town?” Their concern was well founded and their questions were appropriate. They couldn’t technically accuse the lawman of doing nothing, because he was, after all, doing his whittling sitting in front of the Sheriff’s office. It’s just that what he was doing had no apparent connection with the job he was hired to do.
The connecting element that makes this scene relevant to me, especially on the threshold of another Labor Day, is the frustration demonstrated by those who came to ask what was being done. They directed their concerns directly to the one whose job it was to protect them. The laissez-faire attitude he projected and the trivial, disconnected, and ineffective activity he was engaged in was more than disappointing. It was virtually insulting.
A Relevant Question ~
We don’t need another set of statistics or a fresh wave of videos cataloging the rampant spread of corruption and violence in our land to know that our freedoms, values, and way of life are under relentless attack. Suppose we transposed our little movie scene to 2018 America and set it against a backdrop of bad guys riding into town and invading the schools, the government, communication networks, and places of entertainment. For our little scene, we’ll pin the Sheriff’s badge on the Church of Jesus Christ (collective Christianity, not a denomination). And what if concerned citizens arrived asking the very relevant question, “What are you doing about it?” and the Sheriff paused long enough to hand them an invitation to the “Whittling Ministry Workshop,” saying, “We’re working on it.”
Our annual Labor Day holiday is a good reminder that our “work” is a matter of great interest to God. He created us with both the capacity to work and the mandate to do it, but the focus of His interest in it and His evaluation of it are on the “outcome” of our efforts, not just our involvement in activities. God created us in His “image.” Thus, the essence of who and what we are is spiritual, not just physical. Because we are inherently like Him, everything we do has spiritual implications. Jesus made it clear that the nature and impact of what we do is ultimately determined not just by the activities we engage in, but the values and motivations that undergird them. What we believe is foundational to what we do and how we do it.
Then they said to Him,
“What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” John 6:28-29 (NKJV)
Not Just Creeds and Praise Songs ~
The strategy for overcoming the evil that threatens us all is not just a matter of reciting religious creeds and singing praise songs in isolated enclaves. It’s a matter of translating what we believe into actions that have impact on the world around us. The “work” of the ministry is not a choreographed set of rituals led by religious professionals. It’s all of us applying the teachings of Jesus in our everyday living. The Apostle Paul admonished us this way:
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21 (NKJV)
The “judgment seat of Christ” that Paul wrote about is not a procedure to decide who gets into heaven. It’s a rewards ceremony where God examines our “work” to determine whether it was really worth anything. He said,
… each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. 1 Corinthians 3:13 (NKJV)
Working ~ Or Just “Whittling”
With the enemy running rampant through our land and threatening every value we have, maybe we should take the question from our little movie scene personally. If we were asked, “What are you doing about it?”, could we honestly say, “I’m working on it?” Or are we really just whittling while the bad guys take over?
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to Tweet & Share from the pull quotes below. Each quote links readers directly back to this article through Twitter.
- “The focus of #God’s interest in our work — and His evaluation of it — are on the “outcome” of our efforts, not just our involvement in activities.” @GallaghersPen quote. (Click here to Tweet)
- “What we #Believe is foundational to what we do and how we do it.” @GallaghersPen quote. (Click here to Tweet)
- “The strategy for overcoming the #Evil that threatens us all is not just a matter of reciting #ReligiousCreeds and singing #PraiseSongs. It’s a matter of translating what we believe into actions that have #ImpactOnTheWorld around us.” @GallaghersPen quote (Click here to Tweet)
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Ron, a convicting post. In actuality, I think many of us are “working” more than we realize. But could it be we are working for an unseen force that seeks to covertly lull us into complacency? Oh, Lord Jesus, awaken your church! Give us eyes to see and the courage to stand up for what ‘is good and what the Lord requires.’
Love your insightful response, Beckie, and the passion in your heart for God’s truth in this oppositional culture. I’m sorry (again) for being so slow getting back to you but my tardiness has no connection to my gratitude for your comment–just another indicator that my schedule and I get along like progressives and conservatives–lots of noisy declarations and accusations, but precious little progress.
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Wonderful thoughts to ponder here, Ron. We all want to be able to hear one day, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” So yes, are we working or whittling?
Happy Labor Day, Martha, and thanks again for your uplifting comments. It’s tough sometimes to pull ourselves out of our familiar routines and ask why we’re really doing what we’re doing. I prefer to avoid the challenge, but avoiding the tough question and hard issues is how we allowed the enemy to turn so much of America into a moral quagmire. The challenges are overwhelming, but God’s got a pretty impressive history of not being intimidated by odds like that. I hope your holiday’s peaceful, pleasant, and full of moments that become happy memories.