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A Devotional

by Ted Schroder

James Barrie first produced his wildly successful play, Peter Pan, in 1904. The recent movie, Finding Neverland, starring Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Dustin Hoffman and Julie Christie, explores the inspiration of the play in Barrie’s relationship to the Llewelyn-Davies family with their four boys. The parents, Arthur and Sylvia Llewelyn-Davies die, in close succession, of cancer, and Barrie adopts the orphaned boys. Neverland, is portrayed in the movie as death and the life beyond, into which the parents have gone. Barrie was traumatized by the death of his older brother at age 13, and was particularly sensitive to the fragility of family life.

The play, Peter Pan, has as one of its themes the desire to avoid growing old, and dying. It is the story of a boy who flees the prospect of adulthood and goes to a place where he can remain a child forever, ruling a gang of ‘lost boys’ who have been abandoned by their mothers.

Peter Pan’s enemy is Captain Hook, a pirate whom death pursues in the shape of a crocodile who has swallowed a (biological) clock. Death has already taken Hook’s right arm (cut off and fed to it by Peter Pan) and is ‘licking his lips for the rest of me’. The tick-tock of the clock warns Hook of the crocodile’s approach, but, as his bosun, Smee, tactlessly observes, ‘Some day the clock will run down, and then he’ll get you’.

Barrie possessed a genius for identifying the feelings of his contemporaries. The characters Peter Pan and Captain Hook dramatize the fears of growing older and the hopes of eternal life: fears and hopes which each generation must face.

At the beginning of another new year we are aware of the fleeting nature of time. We look back over the past year and see all that has happened, and we do not know what to anticipate in the future year to come. We cannot freeze time. We cannot avoid growing older. The next year is a story which has still to be written. How it will affect us, we don’t know, but we hope it will be for the good.

I receive an email letter from Jon Gordon: The Energy Addict. This week he describes looking out at the Atlantic Ocean on New Year’s Day. He was getting ready to jump into the icy cold water – to take a symbolic plunge that this year he would have no fear. It is his ritual to remind himself to follow his passion, to live life to the fullest, and to stay one step ahead of the fear that hovers about him. It is a jump that doesn’t necessarily require water but rather a leap of faith, and a shift of your mindset.

Are you ready to jump into the New Year with faith, not fear? It is a leap of faith, not a leap of fear. We do not want to be like Captain Hook, going through the next year with a fear of hearing the tick-tock of the clock in the crocodile. How do we become people of faith and not fear?

“One thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:13,14)

There are things we need to forget. In order to go forward with faith, we must forget what is behind, that which would prevent us from fulfilling our goal. What is behind is preoccupation with the prizes of this world, that feed our self-righteousness, and our arrogant self-sufficiency. Much motivation in our business careers is driven by fear not faith. We fear losing our job, we fear not beating last year’s bottom line, we fear being taken over by a competitor, we fear looking bad, we fear losing our place in society, we fear not having enough income to meet our needs. It is called the rat race.

Life that is driven by fear is a life that will drag us down. The fear of never having enough, fosters covetousness, and it can destroy our peace of mind. That is why we have to forget our obsession with what the world can reward us. We have to disabuse ourselves of the belief that we can control our circumstances, and that we are the authors of our own prosperity.

There are things that we need to remember. Moses reminds us that we must not forget where all that we have comes from. “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God… You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” (Deuteronomy 8:10-18)

We need to forget our self-righteousness, but we need to remember from whom all good things come. “Every good and perfect gift is from above.” (James 1:17) “For from him and through him and to him are all things.” (Romans 11:36) “He himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.” (Acts 17:25)

There are things that we need to look forward to. To become a people of faith and not fear we must strain toward what is ahead, press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus. This requires effort.

It is important to understand what Paul is not saying here. He is not urging us to constantly strive to do better and better in our own strength. The ‘self-help’ section of our local bookstore shows us how popular books of advice are on how to improve ourselves in all different areas of our lives. Paul is not urging us just to become better people.

Instead he is urging us to “press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” (Philippians 2:12) The good news is that Christ has taken hold of us. He will never let us go. Jesus came, not to give us moral advice, but to rescue us, and give us his new life, his new power, new hope in him. We can trust that in him, and in his strength, we can face anything in the year ahead. We can embrace “knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil. 3:10,11) As we have decided to follow Christ and trust in him, so we will make every effort in the strength that Christ supplies, to walk in his way, to the end of our days here on earth.

That means using the time that has been given us to learn how better to know and follow Christ. We leap into the New Year with faith when we determine to walk each day in the company of Christ, seeking his guidance, enjoying his comfort, and receiving his strengthening spirit. In that way we will be sure to be looking forward in the right direction, and making progress toward the finishing line, where we will receive the winning prize that will endure. We need not fear growing older, or whatever the future year holds, because we are being called heavenward to win the prize in Christ Jesus.

“Almighty God, our heavenly Father, you have called us to know you and trust in you: As we grow older may our faith increase; and the longer we live the better may be our service, the more passionate our discipleship, the more consistent our daily living, the more complete our devotion to become like Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.”

The Rev. Schroder is pastor of the chapel on Amelia Island, Florida

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