Rip Van Winkle

In 1819 Washington Irving published The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. While that title may not be familiar, two of the short stories in the collection are very familiar. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow introduces us to Ichabod Crane. The other familiar story is about a man who falls asleep for 20 years. Can you imagine awakening after a twenty year nap? How things must have changed in Rip Van Winkle’s world!

In re-reading the old tale, I learned some things about RVW. He was a lazy sort, ineffectively henpecked by a domineering wife. And it was one day when he had all that he could take that he took his gun, his dog, and headed up into the Catskill mountains for a time of hunting and solitude. On his way home in the evening he ran into an unusual fellow that took him to a small amphitheater filled with other oddly dressed and strange looking characters. A thirsty Rip Van Winkle sipped some of the liquor that they had available and soon drifted off into a deep sleep. After waking up and making his way back to town, you already know that he found everything different. The buildings, the people, and even his own home were all changed. After intense questioning by several people, it was determined that Rip Van Winkle had been on the mountain for twenty years.

It has been on my mind lately how I feel that I have been asleep in life in so many ways. As I look around our city and see the situation in which we find ourselves, I wonder if this is really new or if I am simply now seeing it for the first time. For the past year I have met an assortment of characters that I never knew before the storm. I am friends with people who have spent most of their days under the influence of alcohol and drugs. I have talked with people who are cowering in poorly appointed dwellings, counting the days until their rent is due. That’s the day they must move out. And to where? I have become acquainted with people with children who, in the blessing of childhood, make the best of the situation even while the parents wonder what they will feed them for supper. I have listened as new acquaintances share their stories of how others took advantage of them and kept them from progressing in life. A lady who is an addict shared with me her fear of being beaten by a drug dealer because she promised him sex for drugs, and then ran away without ‘payment’. I haven’t seen her for months. I recently visited with an elderly lady who I have befriended since the storm. Her rent house was flooded. When it was repaired, it was rented to someone else for more money than she could pay. She is now in a personal care home because her children will not care for her. She is worried about her little dog, which one of her children has told her will be given away. And yet she smiles when she talks.

That is just the tip of the iceberg. Why do I rehearse these stories for you to read? There will always be bad news in the world, let’s find some good news. So many people make so many bad decisions and we just can’t help them all. Some of them do not want to be helped. Those kind of people just need to get their act together. Why can’t their families take care of them? Why can’t the government take care of them? They should just put down their booze and their dope and get their life in order.

Yes, it is tempting to be Rip Van Winkle and just take a long walk and nap and not see all of the ugliness of life. But now we are awake, aren’t we?  I don’t know about the rest of you, but I only knew the plight of the impoverished intellectually. They were just faces without names. They were people who just wanted to receive, but never give back. They were lazy and smelly and just wouldn’t help themselves. But now I know their names. I know that they are grandmothers who live in houses without windows. I know that they are fathers who have failed over and over again and do not know if they can forgive themselves. They are people who have been stared at and taunted, who are uncertain if they would be welcome in a nice church building on a Sunday morning. They are people that know not grace, for they have seen it so seldom.

I do not want to be Rip Van Winkle…sleeping my way through life. There are great challenges to helping the helpless. I certainly do not know all the answers. I do know it is a lot easier to spend our lives asleep to the needs of the world around us while we piddle with useless and endless arguments about a wide selection of doctrinal nuances and conclusions. We can be deceived somehow into believing that we endear ourselves to God with our insightful understanding of the Bible, while we remain careless about our neighbors who go to bed hungry tonight. Oh the wasted years I spent excitedly pinpointing the errors of other believers, declaring that they could not be saved while hanging on to thier woefully inadequate end time agendas and such. That was a long time ago.

And to be clear, I am not all that accomplished at being so helpful nowadays. I want to do more. I do not want to forget the month in 2005 we all spent on the same social and economic level. We all wore dirty clothes, greedily tore into MREs and Salvation Army lunch boxes, and we all smelled bad. We all ran to the curb when the Red Cross and National Guard trucks honked their horns, bringing us ice and water. We all went to bed when it got dark because there was no electricity and we were exhausted. We spent our days tearing our homes to pieces. And I think it is a sad day if, while we sit in our new leather couches, we forget what those days were like. Because there are people tonight still living in those conditions.

Well, this is getting long and I feel like I’m harping on the same things over and over. But that is what’s on my mind tonight, and that’s what my blog is for. If you’re still reading, thanks! I do want us to be grateful for the blessings of life and enjoy the things God provides for us. I do not think we ought to go through life with a frown on our face because there is so much hurt in the lives of others (and sometimes ourselves). That won’t help bring the message of grace and peace to the world! We must be people who share the gospel of Christ – the only hope that any of us have.

And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42)

It’s really late … let me know what you think.


I encourage you to spend a few minutes hearing the testimony of Jacqui Strothoff as she describes how the Lord rescued her from drug addiction. If you are like me, you might not describe the Christian experience the way she does, but God works across our own boundaries to accomplish His great Will. It is a two-part presentation on Focus on the Family called Set Free. Set Free 1  Set Free 2

 Drug Proof Your Kids.

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