“Skunks in the Basement” :: by John A. Toms

A story has been told of a man who could not give a convincing explanation of why his arm was broken. He kept muttering some story about accidently sticking his arm through a car window he thought was down. But that was the public reason. In private he confessed that it happened this way:

It began when his wife brought some potted plants inside that had been out on the patio all day. A garter snake had hidden in one of the plants and later slithered out across the floor where the wife had spotted it.

“I was in the bathroom taking a shower when I heard her scream,” he related, “I thought my wife was being murdered, so I jumped out to go help her. I didn’t even grab a towel. When I got to the living room she yelled that a snake was under the couch. I got down on my hands and knees to look for it, and my dog came up behind me and cold-nosed me. I guess I thought it was the snake and I fainted. My wife thought I had a heart-attack and called the ambulance. I was still groggy when the ambulance arrived so the medics lifted me onto the stretcher. When they were carrying me out, the snake came out from under the couch and frightened one of the medics. He dropped his end of the stretcher, and that’s when I broke my arm.”

Some people claim to have no problems, troubles, or misfortune. The nightly news seems to have those five minute stories of people who triumph over adversity, disease, or some limitation. There’s usually some piece of advice or some way to conquer your troubles. Let’s hear Jesus’ advice on troubles (John 14:1-14 NRSV):

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’

Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’

Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, Show us the Father? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?’

The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.

Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”

In a Peanuts Comic Strip, Charlie Brown says, “There’s no problem so big I can’t run away from it.”

Problems, troubles, we all have them, don’t we?

The Greek word translated as troubled in verse 1, “tarassô,” (ta-ras-so) means “disturbed, terrified, thrown into confusion, frightened, startled, stirred up, and thrown into turmoil.”

If you think of how sincere Christians are responding to the increasingly hostile culture we’re living in, you’re probably not too far off with these verbs.

We live in a world where the family is under attack, marriage is being redefined, and the whole concept of individual responsibility is being reshaped to present political and social correctness as everything. We are “troubled.” We are tarasso’ed!

The troubles come from the pressure of living in times and cultures that are changing. We are forced to assimilate and accommodate ideas and situations that violate our ethics, morals, and faith.

Combined with the usual problems of life such as money, parenting stress, job performance, interpersonal relationships, and striving to be faithful our plates seem full to the breaking point. Scientists are claiming that world information is doubling every 2.5 years! No one can keep up with it. We are tarasso’ed!

This world is increasingly distancing itself from God. It seems as if the things God has ordained as good for His creation is labeled wrong, discriminatory, and hateful in a world of self-interested “bread and circus” minions whose spirituality is based on wars between werewolves and vampires, space aliens and witches.

The church is being isolated due to the speed and veracity of the cultural manifesto of turmoil. Faith and trust in God do not change, and old-fashioned beliefs become suspect in a dynamic culture.

Do you know what the perfect “#pastoral tweet” would be? “Have a blessed day of living in the grace of Christ!” And most Millennial Christians would consider that deeply spiritual and not have to go to church for a month.

Our cry becomes, “When will it stop?” (Knowing only Christ’s return will stop it.)

We are like the woman who once called 911 to report she had a skunk in her basement. She was told to make a trial of breadcrumbs from the basement to the yard, and then wait for the skunk to follow it out of the basement.

A while later the woman called again and reported that she had done what she was told, and that now she had two skunks in her basement.

That’s my prediction by the way, for the world of the future. No matter how hard humanity will try to set the world right without God, we’ll just be attracting more skunks to the basement.

“Okay Pastor – you’ve painted a negative picture and condemned the world, but isn’t it your job to give us hope?” (BTW, that’s #hope!)

Friends, if there wasn’t a reason for hope I couldn’t do this anymore. Let’s re-read verse 1 again:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”

No matter how bad the worldly troubles get, and how much people believe in the oxy-moronic motto of the 21st century called: “Lie honestly because the truth will only deceive you,” Jesus Christ still rules and God is in control of the universe.

As Christians our faith should be sufficient to give us the assurance to abide in God’s love and the grace of Jesus Christ, to live every day to the best of our ability and avoid any contamination from our intrusive and invasive culture. Christians need to be encouraged not to give up just because we can become weary of the fight for faith.

Too many so-called Christians live like a man from the Carolina mountains who came to New Orleans one day:

He was all dressed up and carrying his Bible. A friend saw him and asked, “Elias, what’s happening? Where are you going all dressed up like that?”

Elias said, “I’ve been hearing about New Orleans all my life. I hear that there’s a lot of free runnin’ liquor, and a lot of gamblin’ and a lot of real good naughty shows.”

The friend looked him over and said, “But Elias, why are you carrying a Bible under your arm?” Elias answered, “Well, if it’s as good as they say it is, I might stay over until Sunday.”

We must consistently learn to abide in God’s grace as we wait for the return of Jesus, no matter how many skunks hang out in our basement. We must realize those skunks are not of our choosing and are due to the world’s unacknowledged sin, and we need to avoid feeding them.

We need to reach out to as many people as will listen to share the message of the gospel. We are to share the message and God will supply the Holy Spirit to do the work. I’m reminded of the story of the middle-age woman who called her daughter in a huff. “Dear,” she said, “Have you called your grandmother recently? I’ve tried to call her every evening this week, and there’s been no answer. She really should be at home. I’m beginning to worry.”

The daughter thought a moment and said, “Oh. They’re having a revival at the retirement village this week. I’ll bet that’s where Grandma has been when you called.”

“Revival,” the woman repeated. “What on earth do they need with a revival? What kind of sins could they possibly have at a retirement village, for crying out loud?”

The daughter wisely shot back, “Old ones, Mother, old ones.”

Friends, God is in control and on His Throne. We are not to be troubled nor despair even though we face ancient evil. Jesus has it covered. He’s got a big can of Holy Fabreeze to calm down the skunk smell. We are to watch, pray, share the grace of Jesus with all who will listen, and not worry. Amen.