A Lesson from an Old Rope

blocksSometimes I think rope has a mind of its own. I was sitting on the cabin top of my sailboat sorting out a particularly nasty tangle in one of the lines. Then, with envy, I thought about Alexander the Great’s solution to untying the Gordian Knot. Do you remember the story? The city fathers presented Alexander with an incredibly complicated knot. They told him anyone who could untie the knot would be made king of the city. Alexander studied it for a moment, drew his razor sharp sword and cleanly sliced the knot in two. I touched the hilt of my sheath knife while looking at the mess before me but then continued to slowly untangle it.

There is a wonderful word in our Greek New Testament, katartizo (καταρτίζω) that means: “to put in order, restore.” (Remember our English Bibles are translations of ancient Greek originals.) When Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two fishermen, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, “mending their nets” (Matthew 4:21; Mark 1:19). They were repairing them and carefully folding the nets in preparation for the next night’s fishing. It’s important to put things back in their place and make sure they are ready to use again. “Preventive maintenance” is easily neglected but the long-term consequences can be dire. How often do you see people checking the oil in their cars when they fill-up their tanks with gas? Some day that lack of attention will become an expensive repair!

As Christians, how often do we fail to put our spiritual life back in order? How much time do we devote to spiritual preventive maintenance? It’s all too easy to neglect prayer, Bible study and meditation. “Some day I’ll have time,” we announce but when? The Apostle Paul closes his second letter to the Corinthians with this prayer using our word in a most interesting way: “Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you,” (2 Corinthians 13:11, ESV). The old King James and many others read, “Be perfect,” but what Paul is really emphasizing is the sense, “put your life back in order so you’ll be ready for what is ahead.”

Sometimes we need some help putting things right so notice Galatians 6:1 where Paul uses the same word: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness,” (ESV).

There! I didn’t have to use my knife. The line has been restored and it is ready to be used the moment it is needed. I just pray my life is in order too! Maybe it’s time for some spiritual preventive maintenance.


Sailing Lessons: Rope

What is the greatest invention of all time? The most common answer is “The wheel,” but as important as wheels are, the great South American empires didn’t have them. No, I think the greatest invention was rope. I am fascinated by the stuff.

Did you know the great Viking long boats weren’t held together with nails? They lashed planks of their ships with rope. From suspension bridges to flag poles, rope is found everywhere and holds so many things together. It’s amazing!

I love rope and while Jan sat swinging in a rope hammock suspended from the mizzen boom of our boat reading a good book, she swayed in warm, tropical breezes. I was unraveling the end of a length of line and splicing it into an eye for a new dock line.

Have you ever really looked at a piece of rope? It is made up of long strands wrapped around each other and twisted into bundles. The bundles are in turn twisted around other bundles until they form the right dimension for the project you are working on. A splice simply twists fibers together into a new form that carefully maintains the strength of the line.

I stared at my fuzzy handiwork for a bit and thought about how a rope could represent the church. The strength of a congregation comes from the strength of her individual members, their lives entwined. Alone, a single strand or a single member is pretty weak. There is no way you could securely fasten a boat to a dock or raise a sail or anchor a ship with a single strand but with enough filaments, carefully wrapped around each other, no load is too heavy and no job is too great.

“Honey, I’m stuck in this hammock. Would you go below and pour me another drink?” she asked.

“Knot now,” I objected. “I’m all tied up.”

“Very puny. Now take off that Viking helmet and please get me something cold to drink!”

Whether you’re talking about the filaments of a rope or the members of a congregation, we really do need each other!