Where are you in the Strip?

March 3, 2013

How many of you grew up with “Peanuts”?  Not the ground nuts that people are allergic
to but Charlie Brown and his crew?  From
as far back as I can remember Charlie Brown has been a part of my life, when I
was a kid a part of our Christmas traditions was to watch A Charlie Brown
Christmas, as I got older the Peanuts strips in the paper, black and white
through the week and colour on the weekends was something that I read
religiously.  My best friend collected
the Peanuts collections and when we were at University he decided that he was
too mature for Peanuts and BC and gave me all his books.  Not sure what he was saying about my level of
maturity. In 1990 when we moved to Australia I gave them away but Charles
Schulz’s creation was an integral part of the first thirty years of my life.
And when we started promoting this series I would be willing
to wager that each of you had a favorite Peanuts memory that came to mind.  Perhaps Snoopy as the famous WW1 Ace chasing
the Red Baron, or Charlie Brown with his kite stuck in the tree, Linus with his
blanket or crabby Lucy and her fledgling Psychiatric practice. 
For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about,
it’s going to be a long four weeks. 
It was last March during our “Sermons from Seuss” series
that Colin approached me and asked if I had thought of using Peanuts for a
series and he reminded me the panel where Charlie Brown reveals his
idea of happiness.  “The secret of
happiness is to own a convertible and a lake. If the sun shines, you can ride
around in your convertible. If it rains, you can say, ‘At least the rain will
fill up my lake.’”
So here we go, the Peanuts gang were the creation of Charles
Shultz.  Schulz was born in and raised in
Minnesota, and very early in life was given the nickname Sparky by his
uncle.  He was brought up in the Church
of God where he eventually taught Sunday School and contributed single panel
comic to the denominational magazine between 1956 and 1965.   Later
in life he defined himself as a secular humanist but his Christian background
continued to be evidenced in the stip
Sparky always had an interest in drawing but that wasn’t recognized
by everyone, his high school year book rejected drawings that he submitted
during his senior year. 
After high school and a stint in the US Army during the
Second World War Schulz set out to make a living with his drawings, but it
wasn’t until 1950 that his strip, originally called L’il Folks was accepted by
United Feature Syndicates and became the most successful comic strip of all
times eventually earning Schulz 30 to 40 million dollars a year.  A little trivia, at its peak the strip was
featured in 2,600 papers in 75 countries and 21 languages.  Schulz refused to hire an inker or letterer,
saying that “it would be equivalent to a golfer hiring a man to make his putts
for him.”  And during the life of the
strip, Schulz took only one vacation, a five-week break in late 1997 to
celebrate his 75th birthday; reruns of the strip ran during his vacation, the
only time reruns occurred while Schulz was alive.
The original title for the strip was “L’il Folks” but the
publishers felt that it was too close to the name of a couple of other strips
and renamed it “Peanuts” a name that Schulz never liked. 
And most of us can find ourselves in the Peanuts gang.  It is like a little snapshot of society.  I don’t mean the physical resemblance but in
their attitudes and your attitudes.  And
just as you can find most of the Peanuts gang in any gathering of folks I think
we can find most of them in the twelve who Jesus called Apostles.  And apparently I’m not the first person to
stumble on to this. 
There are two things that I truly believe about
attitudes.   Number one is that our lives
will be shaped by our attitudes.  And
number two is that we each have control over the type of attitudes that will
shape our lives

Where
you go personally, emotionally, spiritually, academically, vocationally will be
determined in the most part by your attitudes. 
And once we realize that, once we realize that we are in control, and
that circumstances aren’t, then that gives us the power to determine our
destiny.
Now
there may be people here today who disagree with me.  That’s ok, I’ve been disagreed with before
and I will probably be disagreed with again. 
But that doesn’t change the fact that in life, less is dependent on what
happens to you and more is dependent on how you react to what happens to you.  I have seen people go through similar
traumatic situations, one person going through the ordeal, the other person
growing through the ordeal. One person becomes bitter one person becomes
better. 
So,
if it’s not the circumstances that dictate the outcome what is it?  It is the person’s attitude. How they
determine that they are going to handle that situation.
You
ever read this book?  It’s called
“Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”  Have you ever had a terrible, horrible, no
good very bad day?  Sure you have, we all
have them.  You can’t control the
circumstances that come your way, but you can control how you respond to them.
Leo Buscaglia writes “There are two big forces at work,
external and internal. We have very little control over external forces such as
tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, disasters, illness and pain. What really
matters is the internal force. How do I respond to those disasters? Over that I
have complete control.” 
So
the question is, what type of attitude do you have?  How are you going to face life and what it has
in store for you?
There are the
Downward Lookers.
You ever met someone who is always down?  It seems that they are perpetually seasick on
the journey of life.  It doesn’t matter
what happens they know things are going to get worse. 
Probably most of us would agree that Lucy fits this
description to a “T”.  Lucy’s main
mission in life is to be the voice of doom. 
Nobody can do anything right and she seems to thrive on raining on
everybody and anybody’s parade.  Lucy was
first introduced on March 3 1952 and was several years younger than Charlie
Brown and the rest of the cast when she first appeared.  However, through the marvels of comic strips
she quickly aged to catch up with the rest of the L’il folks.  Lucy is best known for distributing five cent
advice and pulling the football away as Charlie Brown goes to kick it.  If you had to describe Lucy with one word it
would be “crabby.” As a matter of fact her little brother Linus once said “Big
sisters are the crab grass in the lawn of life.”
While I was pondering who seemed to fit this spot in the
Apostles I first thought of John and James the Sons of Thunder, you might
recall it was the brothers who wanted to call down fire from heaven to destroy
a village that wouldn’t listen to them, but then I realized the boys might have
a problem with impulse control but they weren’t negative people.  On the other hand it seems like every time we
see Thomas he’s down and trying to
pull others down with him.
Other than being named the
first time we get a glimpse into Thomas’ character is when Jesus’ friend
Lazarus dies and Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to visit his dead
friend’s family.  Some of the disciples
try to dissuade Jesus from going because of the mounting opposition to his
teaching in Judah and Thomas pipes up and says John
11:16
Thomas, nicknamed the Twin, said to
his fellow disciples, “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.”  At the end of the Last Supper when Jesus tells
his disciples that his time has come and he reassures the Apostles that he is
preparing a place for them and he reassures them that they know where he is
going.  And Thomas says in  John 14:5 “No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea
where you are going, so how can we know the way?”   And of course where Thomas is best
known is after he misses Jesus’ first resurrection appearance and he has to
choose between believing that Jesus is dead or alive, and he says that without
absolute proof he is going to stick with his belief that Jesus was dead.  
When John Crosbie
was in federal politics he referred to Prime Minister Paul Martin as a “Nattering Nabob of Negativism.”  Originally it was Spiro Agnew who used
the term in reference to the press, but of course he didn’t actually pen it,
that was done by his speech writer William Safire. 
When my friend John
Symonds was pastoring the Yarmouth Wesleyan Church he must have had one
of those guys in his church because I heard him describing someone and he said “If the angel Gabriel
came down he’d put on dark glasses and shoot him for a crow.” 
Lucy and Thomas were nattering nabobs of
negativity they were down and wanted everybody else to be down with them.  But you don’t have to be. 
There are the Upward
Lookers
Although there are a few in the gang who seem to have a fairly
upbeat outlook on life, the one who first came to mind for me was Peppermint
Patty.  First introduced to the strip in
1966 Peppermint Patty is the resident Tom Boy. 
She never met a sport she couldn’t master and while academic’s seem to
be a bit of a challenge for her she never lets it get her down.  Accompanied by her side kick Marcie while
calling Charlie Brown Chuck and referring to Snoopy as the “Funny looking kid”.  Patty is always game for the next challenge.
If I had to claim a favorite Apostle it would be Peter.  He was impetuous and sometimes short tempered
but regardless of the circumstances he was either up or getting up.  He was the first to acknowledge Jesus as the
Messiah he was the one who jumped out of the boat and walked on the water, the
first to offer to die for Jesus and even after he had denied Christ he was the
first to the tomb after hearing about the resurrection.
In the book of Acts it is Peter who is standing up in front
of this crowd and that bursting to tell them the Good News about Jesus.  
It was almost as if both Peter and Patty
had heard and heeded the words of Sugar Ray Robinson who said  “I’ve always believed that you can think positive
just as well as you can think negative.”
You say “But Denn you don’t know what my
life is like, I have every reason to be negative.” 
He had it all, a successful career, a
wonderful life, adoring fans, everything a man could want. And then in one
minute it was all over, he was doing what he loved, jumping competitively   when his horse stumbled pitching him to the
ground and then it was all over. 
Christopher Reeves went from being a Superman to being a quadriplegic
who even needed a machine to breathe for him. 
I would think that Christopher Reeves probably has some pretty good
reasons to be negative to have a downward attitude but listen to what he said: “You play the hand you’re
dealt. I think the game’s
worthwhile.”
You get to choose how you are going to
look at life, will it be with an negative attitude, always able to find a
problem in every solution, always able to spot the dark cloud that comes with
every silver lining or will it be with a positive attitude?  Will you be a part of the problem or a part
of the solution.  Will you light the
candle to chase away the darkness or will you be the one who blows out the
candle to prove how dark the room is? 
Only you will decide that.
There
Are The Backward Lookers 
Some people just can’t
seem to leave the past.  They are always
focusing on what used to be and how wonderful yesterday was. 
In thinking about what character from Peanuts would fit that
description my mind immediately went to Schroeder.  He was first introduced May 30 1951 and
he was the first character whose infancy was recorded in the strip and
obviously the first to experience a time warp that brought him up to the same
age as the rest of the gang.  And
whenever we see Schroeder we see him with his toy piano, a piano that plays
amazing complex arrangements.  But for
Schroeder nothing will ever compare to Beethoven.  He is so caught up in the music of 1800 that
he can’t see what’s happening around him. 
While he was leaning over his piano an entire world passed him by.  Much to the chagrin of Lucy who is helplessly
in love with Schroeder. 
When the twelve are mentioned we hear the name Simon the Zealot.   Zealot wasn’t Simon’s last name, the Zealots
were a revolutionary group in Palestine who wanted to return Israel to the way
it was 400 years before.  Depending on who
you spoke with they were either nationalists or terrorists.  But the thing I discovered was they really
didn’t have a plan.  They thought if they
could force the Romans to leave then everything would be all right, that if the
oppressors would just move on then it would be like the old days and everything
would be perfect.
And
Simon and Schroeder are like some folks I know who seem unwilling to leave
yesterday, or probably closer to the truth to leave their memories of
yesterday.  Which of course should come
with a warning label that says “Any resemblance between these memories and the
actual events is purely coincidental.”
You
see most of our yesterdays are coloured by nostalgia and it was George W. Ball Secretary of
State under John F. Kennedy who said “Nostalgia is a seductive liar.”
We
can become so caught up in the past that not only can’t we see tomorrow we
can’t see today.  You can’t live in the
past, and you can’t change the past.  One
of the great things about starting Cornerstone from scratch was that we
couldn’t talk about how great things were back in 1953 or 1983.  We had no past, but we do now.  We been worshipping together for almost eighteen
years and it’s sometimes easy to say, “Why I remember when so and so was coming
here, and the difference it made” or “I remember when we were still meeting at
the Lion’s Den  and only paying $48.00 a
week rent”  Let’s not forget the past,
but let’s not dwell there.  Lee Iacocca said “Yesterday
ended last night!”
And the same holds true for your personal
lives.  As wonderful as yesterday may
have been, it is yesterday.  Yesterday
may be a nice place to visit, but you shouldn’t be living there.
Philippians
3:13-14
No, dear brothers and sisters, I
have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and
looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and
receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
There are the Forward
Lookers
If there is a dreamer in the Peanuts strips it would have to be
Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s dog.  We were
first introduced to Snoopy on October 4th 1950 just three days after
the introduction of the strip.
And you think of all the ways that Snoopy has appeared
through the years, in his mind he’s been Joe Cool, an attorney, tennis player
and great novelist, but the most memorable image that Schulz would give us
would have to be Snoopy sitting on top of his doghouse, pilot’s gear pulled
over his eyes, charging through the skies in search of the elusive Red Baron.   Snoopy was a dreamer who was always looking
at life the way it could be.  Why
couldn’t a dog win the Christmas house decorating contest?  Why couldn’t a dog save the world from the villainous
Red Baron?  Why couldn’t a dog have a
Zamboni on his water dish?
Snoopy clearly epitomized the words of George Bernard
Shaw who said “There are those that look at
things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and
ask why not?”  
If you are looking for the apostle who always seemed to be
looking ahead it would have to be Peter’s brother Andrew.  From the beginning
it was Andrew who saw a future with Jesus. 
When John the Baptist pointed at Jesus and said “Behold the lamb of God”
Andrew was the first to follow.  The
first five apostles all had connections to Andrew and it was Andrew who brought
his brother to Jesus saying “I’ve found the Messiah”.  In the account of the feeding of the five
thousand it was Andrew who brought the boy with the five loaves and two fish to
Jesus.  Not because he believed there was
enough there to do the job but he believed that with five loaves and two fish
Jesus could do the job.
What
are your dreams?  You do have dreams
don’t you? John Barrymore said “A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.” How
do you picture your tomorrows? 
Regardless of our past the future stretches out before us like a giant
sketchpad waiting for us to make our mark. 
What is the picture going to be? What are your dreams for your life,
your family, and your church?  Where do
you want to be six months down the road, a year, five years ten years?  If you can’t see it now you won’t be able to
have it.  Before your dreams can come
true, first you have to have dreams.
Look
ahead; for the first ten years of our existence we dreamed of having a building
of our own and here we are.  And then
after we built the church we dreamed of filling the church and we here we are.  And you understand that part of that dream
was to have multiple services are here we are. 
But that was only a part of the dream the dream wasn’t just to build a church;
it was to build a Church.  That is a
community of people who come together to worship Jesus, to support and love one
another and to reach out to our communities to introduce more people to
Jesus. 
And
Denn couldn’t build this building by himself, it took the partnership and
sacrifice from God’s people to make it a reality. And it will be the same way
if we are going to build “the church.” 
The relationships that will need to become a reality will need to be
built by you.  And that won’t just happen
on Sunday morning, during the grip and grin and it won’t happen in the lobby
after the service.  Where it will happen
will be Monday through Saturday in living rooms and kitchens.  At small groups and potlucks, at pool parties,
going to movies and dinner and eating burgers on your back deck.
From
day one the purpose of this church was very clear, we were put here to help
depopulate Hell.  That is our dream that
at the end of the day there are more people who know Jesus and are going to
heaven because this church was here.
But
that one can’t only be Denn’s dream it’s going to have to become the dream of
all of us.  And that’s only going to
happen as we seek God’s face and what he wants us to do to reach people, to
determine what we need to do to honour God and fulfil his will. 
Sometimes in life it’s hard to determine what your
attitude is because of outside circumstances. 
You say: “But Denn you don’t understand what I’m going through.”  Maybe not but Jesus does and as believers we
don’t have a something to keep our eyes on instead we have a someone Hebrews 12:2 We do this by
keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.
Circumstances
and people may disappoint us, and they may try to rob us of our faith but Jesus
is constant.  Keep your eyes centred on
him.  How?  By reading his word, by spending time in
prayer, by worshipping with his people.