THE ROLLER COASTER RIDE


Hebrews 13:5-6
Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake the. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.


Years ago, when I was growing up in Seattle Washington, there was an amusement park named Playland. It is no longer there. It was closed after a fire destroyed the roller coaster ride. But, before the fire, my older sister and I used to visit Playland and ride all of the attractions, including that roller coaster ride.

I can still remember the sensations of riding that roller coaster for the very first time: The attendant sat me down next to my sister in one of the many seating sections of the coaster. I think there was some kind of bar that was hinged to the floor and after we sat down that bar, which had been raised in front of us, was brought back into our laps. I don't recall if we were belted in or not back in those days.

After everyone else was seated, the cars jolted a bit and we began moving along the track. There was a “clickitie-click” sound coming from under the cars as we moved from a horizontal position to a steeply-inclined position and the roller coaster began ascending to the top of that first pinnacle.

As we climbed I watched as we gradually found ourselves able to see the grand panorama of the amusement park and all of its attractions. The higher the coaster climbed the farther we could see beyond the amusement park. In fact, as we climbed higher it became more difficult to look down on the park and easier to view distant objects. But soon we reached the crest of that old wooden structure and everything changed in an instant.

As we rolled over the top there was no more clicking sound. It was left behind and replaced by the sound of metal wheels rolling against a metal track. But that sound was quickly over-ridden by the sound of people screaming at the top of their lungs as the climbing sensation was replaced by an extremely strong feeling that we were falling straight down.

I was no longer looking out over the side of the car, enjoying the beautiful view below. I was now holding tightly to that bar in my lap and staring straight ahead at the two rails of track that were, hopefully, holding that roller coaster to the structure as it careened toward the ground at an ever-increasing speed.

This was not what I had expected. I don't know what I did expect, but it wasn't the feeling I was experiencing. I felt as if I were falling straight down. I felt nearly weightless and my small body had slid from its previous position against the back of the seat to its present position against that metal bar. I was actually falling faster than the car was rolling and I wasn't sure if I liked that feeling or not.

The next thing I knew, I was being thrust into the bottom of the seat as the G-forces increased at the bottom of the dip as the roller coaster swooped from falling to climbing in only a fraction of a second. Now we were speeding up another incline but I was no longer looking over the side. My eyes were fixed straight ahead and my fingers were tightly cinched about that metal bar in my lap. Although my sister was beside me and there were many other people on the ride with me, I was now only conscious of one person and that person was myself.

I could see that we were beginning to slow down again as the coaster climbed to the top of the second crest and I took a breath and began to regain my composure when suddenly we were, again, looking straight down and the car was again picking up speed. But this time, as we reached the bottom of the incline I was thrown across the seat, finding my shoulder against my sister's body as the coaster entered a sharp corner and began another ascent.

On and on it went - up, then down, then up, then down until, finally, the ride ended and we came coasting slowly to a stop at the same spot where we had started. Everybody on the roller coaster ride seemed to breath a sigh of relief as we raised the steel bar away from our laps and tried to stand up while recognizing that our knees were much weaker than normal.

I have ridden roller coasters many times since then and the sensation is always nearly the same. But nothing can surpass the surprise and excitement I felt on that first ride with my sister. If you have never ridden a roller coaster you should try it some time. They are much different now than they were when I was a kid. I know they are much safer. They are also much more aggressive in their efforts to provide a thrill to the riders.

So, what can a roller coaster ride teach us about life?

Well, if you have been around very long you probably know exactly why I'm relating this story. You can probably think of times in your own life when you were at the top of a crest and everything in your life was packed with excitement. Then, it seemed like, without any warning at all, the bottom seemed to drop out from under you and everything in your life suddenly changed. That's when you found yourself down about as far as you could go.

This illustration was recently brought to mind after my youngest son's vehicle was stolen. Let me describe what happened in enough detail for you to understand why this made such an impression on me.

Bruce has always been the kind of kid who was willing to take something which has been abandoned by someone else and do all he could to fix it up and make good use of it again. I began noticing this when he was just starting grade school and I would take him and his sister on our weekly trip to the Goodwill store.

We would stroll the aisles while he and his sister seemed to be participating in their own little treasure hunt. Most often we would find things in the toy aisle that they seemed to think was an item of value. They would ask, “Can I get this Dad?” I would look at the price (usually around 15-cents) and say, “I think that would be OK.”

They generally only came away with one item each, but, sometimes we would find something more that they really wanted, and I would give in and spoil them a little. We would leave the store and climb into the car. The most memorable part of that experience was listening and watching as they examined their new treasures while we drove home in the car. They seemed to be so pleased with so little.

But the thing I noticed about Bruce was his lack of concern over how used and abused the items seemed to be. If it was something he could repair upon arriving home he was always eager to get started on the project. That characteristic has never been abandoned to this day.

The vehicle that was stolen happened to be an old Toyota 4Runner. When I say “old,” I really mean old. He bought it from someone where he worked for very little money. The inside stunk. The outside had been sprayed with a product called Rhino lining. Rhino Lining is what is generally sprayed into the bed of a pickup truck to protect it from being damaged by the objects carried within. Very few accessories still worked and some things were not even repairable. But Bruce was happy to call it his own.

As the months went by, he managed to change it from a piece of junk that no one would want, into a vehicle that was so attention-grabbing that it was stolen. So, when it turned up missing he wasn't simply missing a material object: He was missing a project that had consumed many hours of hard work; many heartbeats of his own life; not to mention the dollar amount it had taken to bring it to its current condition.

In order to fully understand the roller-coaster effect, let me add a few more details to the story. Bruce has a wife and two loving children. He works hard to provide for them. He had been working at his job as a welder for a couple of years by this time and, although it was a good-paying job with decent benefits, etc., he couldn't really see a future that looked all that attractive. So, he had decided to sign up at the local community college to earn a degree in their Diesel Mechanic/Heavy Equipment program. He, and the rest of us were all pretty excited as he began his course on a Monday morning.

I should also explain that he had minor surgery on the Friday previous to the Monday morning when he started school. His physical strength was far below what it would normally have been. So when he asked me to go with him to shop for the necessary tools he would need before the end of the first week of class, I was glad to oblige.

He had made all of the necessary arrangements with his employer to work a different shift with fewer hours in order to accommodate the new schedule of attending school. He would attend school from 7:30 each week-day morning until mid-afternoon. Then, he would drive several miles to work and be there from 3:00 PM until 8:30 PM.

Well, between going to school in the morning and having to shop for tools in the afternoon he found himself unable to meet the obligation of getting to work by 3:00 PM during those first few days of the first week. I could see that he was feeling overwhelmed by the situation, but he has a very good relationship with his employer and it wasn't costing him his job to miss that much work.

As the first few days of that first week gradually passed, Bruce was beginning to get everything in order. He was getting all of the tools gathered up. He was beginning to get used to the idea that he needed to read about 80 pages of text each day, and, he was ready to get into the groove of his new schedule when it all seemed to come crashing down.

Thursday afternoon of that first week he walked out of his class to find that someone had stolen his 4Runner from where he had parked it that morning.

Of course we were all devastated. He had worked and worked on that vehicle, rebuilding the warn out power train, re-wiring the electrical system that someone had managed to practically destroy in their own attempt to fix it up. He also repaired the electronics behind the dash display, among many other things. As I later told his wife as were talking about all the work he had put into it, “Many of his own heart-beats had been spent reclaiming that old cast-away vehicle.” It actually represented a part of himself.

He spent that Thursday talking with security at the college as well as the local police department, giving them a description of the vehicle and all of the accessories that were inside when it was taken. I finally had the opportunity to visit with him the following day and the first thoughts he shared with me about it went something like this: “I'm trying to think of what I did wrong that would cause God to let this happen to me.”

That's when I realized I needed to help him understand how things happen in life. And so, I'll share all that with you now.

I asked him to consider everything in its context. First of all, he is saved. He is saved by the blood that Jesus shed on the cross for the forgiveness and remission of sins. He lives a life that, in my eyes, seems to please the Lord. He loves his family, attends church, shares his faith with others. He has led some of his work buddies to accept Jesus as their savior. This kind of life pleases our Heavenly Father. It doesn't give him reason to punish us.

If he had turned his back on the Lord and been living in sin I would have agreed with him that his loss would be a condition of God's punishment. But that just wasn't the case.

I tried to help him understand what was happening. He was doing everything right: He was a hard worker. He was raising his family in a Christian environment. He was respecting his parents. He was living a Christian example before the world. And, now, he was planning on doing even more by starting school and improving his well-being in order to better provide for himself and his family. And, it looked as if everything was going just great!

I reminded him of the story of Job. The same thing happened to Job, but to a much greater extend. Job not only lost his belongings, he also lost all of his ten children whom he loved so much that it helped him live a more holy life in order to keep from losing God's blessings upon them. I explained that, as long as we are trying to please the Lord, bad things don't happen as a punishment. They happen because the devil wants to defeat us in this life.

The more Satan notices our attempts to do right before God, the more he desires to interfere. And when he does interfere he begins subtly. He usually places temptation in our path, hoping he can distract us from our walk with God. If this works, and it often does, it makes his job much easier to accomplish. Even as a Christian, when we get distracted from our walk with God we begin working with the devil's team. We become one of his helpers. And, if we are not wise enough to catch ourselves and return to our walk with God, we often begin to distract others from their walk with Him. Before we even begin to recognize it, we have caused major damage in our lives and those of our Christian brothers and sisters.

This subtle attempt is usually the most successful method used by Satan. He has used it over and over throughout history and we have all seen it destroy the lives of those we know and love, as well as many individuals we read about in the Bible. But my son Bruce was not allowing these temptations to slow down his growing relationship with the Lord. He was in a stage of life where I could see spiritual growth taking place in himself and his wife. He had shared many of this thoughts with me over the previous months about how his walk with the Lord was getting better and better all the time.

So, because the devil's subtle method wasn't having much effect on Bruce's life, he switched to his plan “B.” His plan “B” is the same he used on Job. If your faith is so strong that it cannot be broken by temptation, Satan will open up his big guns on you. He will show you how powerful he really is on this earth. If you have any doubts about how powerful Satan is on this earth, read the book of Job. You will see how he created storms that killed Job's children and caused the enemies of Job to move in and steal his belongings and kill his servants.

If you still doubt the power of Satan, read about the things he promised Christ when he tempted him in the wilderness. Jesus, himself, understood the power that Satan has in this world. If you choose to serve the Lord, you will want to do it with all of your being. And you can expect a battle once you begin. When you first make the decision to walk close to the Lord expect to encounter some little subtle temptation to arise which will interfere and break off that closeness. If you can resist that temptation and continue to grow closer and closer to the Lord, be watching for the big guns to begin firing your direction.

I have certainly found through my experience in the Christian life that it is much like a roller coaster ride. My life has included as many mistakes as anyone else's when it comes to falling to the devil's temptations. He is so subtle and we are so ignorant of his devices that it comes as no surprise whenever I hear of some Christian, somewhere, taking that proverbial nose dive. I've done it and you may have also. But we serve a loving God who knows our weaknesses and is always more than willing to forgive.

I can think of times in my life which were exactly like that first roller coaster ride I took with my sister. I was growing in my faith and as I looked around, everything seemed beautiful. Everything seemed to be clicking, just like the clickitie-click sound the roller coaster makes as you climb to the top of that first crest. The stronger I became in my walk with the Lord, the broader my vision of life became. The better I could see the big picture.

Then Satan came out in full force against me and everything seemed to take a nose dive. I was no longer looking around at the scenery of life and able to see the big picture. I suddenly lost site of the big picture and became only concerned about the immediate problem as I entered the downward plummet.

As we enter this part of our Christian experience it is natural for us to concentrate so hard on the problem at hand that we are no longer conscious of much else taking place around us. Just as I was grasping the safety bar holding me into the seat of the roller coaster and staring straight ahead at the tracks below, we can easily become so concerned about our immediate situation that we loose sight of everything around us, including what we call the big picture.

During the nose dive we forget about that serene condition of knowing and trusting our Savior to meet all of our needs - living by faith. Our flesh nature is screaming out as loud as those voices scream out as the roller coaster rolls over the top of that first crest. It yells in our ears and in our soul, telling us to hang on to the physical things around us and trust in them for our survival. And that's what we often do instead of standing on the promises that God has given in His word.

Hebrews 13:5-6
Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake the. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.


If we can keep our hearts turned toward the Savior, even when we seem to be in one of life's nose dives, we can have confidence that everything that happens during these times is still part of that big picture. We can know that the Lord is waiting at the bottom with his arms wide open. He stands there with a loving smile ready to catch us and begin the process of rising back to the top. He even knows ahead of time when we will reach the next crest and when the next nose dive will take place.

With Jesus riding next to us in life's roller coaster ride, just as my sister was sitting next to me in my first ride, there is another positive provision to consider. Just like I was thrown against my sister, sitting next to me, when that roller coaster made a sharp turn at the bottom of a dip, Jesus is sitting there waiting for us when life takes its turns for the worse. And life will often throw you a curve, right when you're down at the bottom. But through faith we can find ourselves leaning with all of our weight against that loving, caring person of Jesus Christ.

There's one more thing you should keep in mind; and that is the difference between a physical roller coaster ride and the roller coaster we ride through our Christian lives. A physical roller coaster begins with the highest peak at the beginning of the ride. As the ride progresses, each peak gets lower and lower while the valleys, or dips, stay the same. This is an excellent picture of a life without Christ. A person without Christ will spend his or her life looking for any way possible to climb above the valleys. As they progress along the track of ups and downs, it seems they find fewer and fewer things that lift them up.

Those Christians who walk close to the Lord find just the opposite to be true. Each low point is often not as low as the previous low point. But, the best part is how each high point is always bigger and better than the previous high point. As we progress through life's roller coaster ride we climb higher and higher, making it possible to better visualize the big picture. Thus, making it easier to keep a strong faith in the fact that God really will take care of everything we need.

We will have our ups and downs. There's no way to escape it in this life. But I am so glad that I have something more than an iron bar to hang onto when it feels like the bottom has just dropped out from under me. You can have this assurance in your daily life also; just by walking a close walk with your Savior.

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