Monday, July 27, 2009

Legalistic Leeches

Have you ever seen the film, The African Queen? Starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, it’s a film classic, one I’ve seen lots of times if you count seeing it in bits and pieces.

A part I’ll never forget (probably because it’s so gross) is when Charlie (Bogart) pulls the boat through acrid swamp water, clogged with muck and reeds and algae and bugs and crocodiles. The worst part of it? Leeches. I hate ‘em. But because Charlie and Rose (Hepburn) have their minds riveted upon their destination, the slimy, blood sucking critters latch on to him without his knowing. When Charlie climbs back into the boat for a break, there they are, in all their awful sycophant glory.

Horrors. I hate leeches.

Ever ready, Rose applies salt to the bloodsuckers, which don’t take kindly to it at all, and regretfully drop off. (Side note: the film could have been better if, like snails, the leeches had gone all bubbly from the salt. Opportunity missed? I think so.) Rose and Charlie knew that if they were to proceed toward their goal of freedom, they had to momentarily break their focus and deal with the life-sapping leeches.

Yesterday I noticed there were some leeches hanging on me.

Simply, what was leading me through my day was not Jesus, but a crude, almost unrecognizable form of legalism. This time of year produces a bumper crop of standards and behaviors by which to measure oneself—and I was. I wasn’t entirely into summer fun and all that, so my family couldn’t be, either. I wasn’t properly shepherding my girls, reading to them and praying with them enough. I wasn’t encouraging my wife enough—and she’s got a fractured shoulder, for goodness sake. I hadn’t written or called or emailed people enough, and God knows how wrong that is. My goodness.

Do you see it? In each case there was a perfect thing in my mind that I should have done, an “A” grade I could have gotten on the report card of my day, but I fell short. And I felt lousy about it. Like a big fat failure.

Foolishly, I didn’t bother to check with God to see if He agreed with my assessment. Why bother? After all, wasn’t it obvious?! I mean, look at the evidence! So why check with Him? The thing to do was to keep going, keep pushing toward the goal of doing better and getting it right. Don’t stop now—keep moving forward.

But the legalistic leeches—I had ‘em all over me. After ignoring them for a long enough time, they had drawn-off enough blood that I was feeling the weakness.

So last night, almost in a ritualistic way, I climbed out of the routine boat of my day, and said a few fairly meaningless words to God. “Hey, Lord. How’s your day? Enjoying summer time?” or something like that. I didn’t talk to Him about my deserved condemnation, but simply offered my weary carcass . . . and He began to lift and free me of worldly estimations. For the 7,431 time I remembered—God is my life and peace and freedom and rest and joy and love. I do not live well by estimating only what I do and how I perform (which is not to say it’s unimportant); I live by who I know. He makes all the difference with me.

I was missing Him. In my weakness I was trying to pull through my days without the life to do it.

Damn the leeches.

You and I have been made free in Christ—stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. . .you, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh;. . .(Gal 5:1, 13) The “yoke of slavery” or the indulgence of the flesh threatening the Galatians wasn’t drunkenness or cheating or lust, it was life by faulty and insufficient measurements, life by standards on the way to getting the “A” on life’s report card. The amazing thing was, they already had it! In Christ, they had already made the grade.

But Satan had induced them to believe that life by checklist was better than life by knowing and trusting Christ—God for us and God with us and God in us. As long as they believed they weren’t yet free, weren’t yet good enough, hadn’t yet done enough, or hadn’t received absolutely everything from God for entirely nothing, living was a pull through mucky, leech filled swamps. After all, you have to arrive if you haven’t yet. No choice but to keep pushing through.

If that’s where you are, get some salt—you’ve got leeches.

To get rid of them, do almost anything toward God, do almost anything with Him in mind. Cook a meal and talk to him while working over the stove, sing a song, read a verse, tie your laces and ask if He likes your shoes, pull some weeds and complain to Him about them, and see what He does for you—the inside you. He is “the way, the truth, and the life,” and He loves being that for you, since He made you a perfect place for Himself. Because of Him, you have already arrived—seated in heavenly places, holy and blameless—and that’s the truth that influences of your life.

Take a moment and stop pulling so hard. You are His boat—He’ll do the pulling.

And He’ll mix salt with your leeches.

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  1. Saw your post on FB... Very appropriate. Your statement re: stop pulling so hard reminds me that we need to SIT before we embark upon walking or standing.

  2. Anonymous6:07 PM

    well put! damn the leeches!


  3. Anonymous6:07 PM

    Thanks, Ralph....I really like the way you put all this...and I needed reminded...I think I like you after all.

  4. Anonymous6:08 PM

    I need to start shaking on the salt. :) Thanks. Good stuff.

  5. Anonymous6:09 PM

    Are you clairvoyant? Or did God put you on Facebook just when I needed you the most? Ralph, your reminders of God's truth are so liberating. My spirit recognizes the truth. You are right that the enemy is a slimy, blood-sucking, disgusting leech. He is also rendered powerless when brought into the light of the truth. Thank you.

  6. Anonymous12:52 AM

    Not bad, friend. Rather soul searching actually. So you are still writing. Maybe you should put these in a book--hmmm?!
    Kathy B

  7. Anonymous9:27 AM

    Amen to your conclusion, how easily we slip into Pharisaism but thanks be to God, He cares and shepherds us in the right direction! PS love the analogy of African Queen, helps bring the message home.

  8. I'm very happy the Holy Spirit got me here July 29, 2017, a whole 8 years after the post. Great message that I needed today, thanks Ralph.