“We are all in the gutter. But some of us are looking at the stars.” Lord Darlington from Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde.
I found few lines that matched Wilde’s original play in the 2004 remake, A Good Woman. The movie was set in 1930 Italy with cinematography that delights the senses. The Mediterranean blue waves kiss the white beaches and caress the stone embankments along the Almafi coast. The slender seductive roads clinging to the mountain ridges and skirting the water’s edge twist and interlock like the scandalous affluent men and women shirking the disastrous consequences from their elegant gutters.
The characters in this movie are as ornate and colorful as the stone and stucco dwellings that cling to the steep cliffs. The wanton Mrs. Erlynne, the scheming playboy Lord Darlington, and the selfish gossips threaten the starry love of newlyweds Meg and Robert Windermere. No one believed in love and marriage but the Windermeres. Contessa Lucchino expressed her sentiment with, “Undying love is like the ghost in your villa. Everybody talks about it, but try and find one person who has seen it.”
The humorous elderly Dumby and Cecil poke fun at marriage. They try to stop Tubby from proposing to Mrs. Erlynne, “Do you think she’d look at you if you were poor?” Tubby replies, “Do you think I’d look at her if she were ugly? Fair’s fair, exchange rates and so forth.” So they try again, “You know why they call it the altar? It’s where they make human sacrifices.”
When Mrs. Erlynne described why she ran away from her marriage and daughter twenty years prior, her poetic words sucked me into her pain, “Marriage. When I think of it, I think of a room where you can’t open the window. Everyday, you wake up, and the room is smaller. You don’t notice, not at first. It happens slowly. In inches. Then one morning, you open your eyes and the room’s so small you can’t move. You can’t take a breath. You have to get out. You can’t think of anything else, or anyone else.” Tubby tried to console her, “You married the wrong man.” Mrs. Erlynne conceded, “He married the wrong woman.”
My first trip to Italy was for our 25th wedding anniversary. We toured Rome, Pisa, Florence, and Assisi. Most of the ten days were spent leisurely driving through the Tuscan countryside stopping in to savor the magic of each small village. Our children used their savings to buy us the trip. They gave all they had so we could experience our dream vacation. Their sacrificial love made Italy a special place for us. Someday I hope to return, with all my family, and give them a vacation to match the stars.
Just maybe as we stand on the beach, I can share with my loved ones the advice Mrs. Erlynne gave Meg, “A marriage takes your whole heart. Selfish people can’t pull it off, but you’re not that… Never step over your love to pick up pride and guilt.”
Before you congratulate me or question why, let me add, “That’s my besetting sin.”
Yeah, I thought you’d hold off on the congrats but I do hope you are forming some questions.
James MacDonald defines prestige as a subcategory under pride. The following quote is taken from page 81 of Downpour.
Prestige. “More ‘atta-boys’ for me, please.” “Tell me again how much you appreciate me and what I’ve done for you.” “I want prizes and bonuses and thank-you notes and public acknowledgments.” Prestige is a consuming need for recognition. It’s the feeling that others are always watching and the insatiable thirst for others to pat you on the back. It’s the insistence that nothing you do be overlooked or unrewarded by those in a position to do so. It’s dropping names of prestigious associations; it’s letting others know of your accomplishments; it’s the constant concern that everyone know who you are.
The saddest part of my sin is that its root comes from an incredibly addictive insecurity problem. I’m often this little four-year-old girl begging for her father’s affirmations that never came. I want people to tell me I did a good job. I want people to think I’m special. I need to know someone knows I’m here and I did something good.
How horrible that insecurity and pride are such close sin cousins.
If you can relate, you’ll want to read on. God’s grace covers this sin. His grace offers power to overcome it. God’s grace heals and matures the broken little girl’s spirit. I’ve spent years fighting those inner thoughts and trying to control my tongue. I’ve had moments of victory. I remember more agonies of defeat.
Today, God spoke a prayer into my heart. I know that if He spoke it, then this alone will be my weapon and salvation. Here’s the plan:
Stop each thought instantly with this prayer, “Father, glorify your name through others, not me.” The others being anyone in my presence when I’m seeking prestige. I’m excited. Actually, I can’t wait for the test run. Just think I’ll get to see God glorify another in my presence just because I asked in obedience to His plan. Wow!
It reminds me of the time in 1996 when the Spirit taught me how to overcome jealousy. I was to pray the words of John the Baptist in John 3:30, “He (Jesus) must become greater; I must become less.” My translation became, “Here is what I want you to do for me BUT do it for others first.” The others were always the people that stirred my jealous heart. My journal records some ‘awe’ moments throughout the years.
Now, here I go again. When I’m tempted to name-drop, list my accomplishments, or draw attention to myself, I have the power of His spoken Word to lead me to victory.
I’ll try to remember to post a praise or two in coming weeks.
There comes a time in everyone’s life when they have to face a superior. Most people study and strive to never reach this place. It’s humbling and vulnerable and we will avoid it at all cost. So we educate and promote ourselves to higher degrees of efficiency until we are assured that in our sphere of influence we are the most influential.
“In my world, I am in control. I reign supreme.”
This of course is the mindset of every lost person from the publically esteemed to the scum of society. They have one thing in common; they bend their knee to no one.
Nicodemus was a highly educated aristocrat of his society. He comes to Jesus with one purpose. He seeks to gain the knowledge necessary in order to quench the nagging uncertainties threatening his superior status. The kingdom he had built wass in jeopardy if Jesus is who He claims to be.
Nicodemus moves first, “I will call you Rabbi even though you are young and uneducated. I will credit your miracles to God for my studies assure me that only God can do what has been credited to you. Now, I need you to give me a reasonable explanation for why I am doing this.”
Jesus counters with, “Your mouth spouts flattery and your mind seeks answers but your soul is lost. I will address the soul for that is why I am here.”
Checkmate. The teacher becomes the student under the Master Teacher. It doesn’t matter what Nicodemus and his friends know (verse 2) Jesus is about to tell them the Truth. (verses 3,5)
Set back and listen Nic, cause from this point on you will only be able to utter, “How can this be?”
Only God can cause a person to make the journey from darkness to seek the truth in the Light. Therefore Jesus doesn’t bend His knee to the agenda of Nicodemus, He obeys what He sees His Father is doing. The kingdom of God is at hand.
To be able to see the Kingdom, you must be born from above. In order to enter the Kingdom, you must be born of water and the Spirit.
The world is forever indebted to Nicodemus for asking, “How?”
1. Jesus makes certain His true identity is understood.
You call Me a Rabbi, your equal. I tell you I am the One-of-a-kind Son sent from Yahweh to be lifted up as the salvation for the world. You know the Son of Man Daniel saw? I AM. You know Moses’ snake of salvation in the desert? I AM
2. Jesus clarifies that the Spirit does the work of salvation.
The power to be reborn comes from God alone. You have as little control over His work as you could control the wind that blows.
3. You must believe Me.
Just as the snake venom poisoned the Israelites, sin has poisoned and condemned you to death. The simple act of lifting their eyes to gaze upon the snake proved their faith in the One who heals. Your believing in Me proves your faith in the One who Redeems.
Lift up your eyes and look into the face of your Savior.
Did one of the wisest of the wise men of his time become a believer? He was drawn out of the darkness by the wind of the Spirit, he had a face-to-face encounter with the Savior, he had only to believe in the death, burial and resurrection he soon witnessed. I hope his bold and tender act of preparing Jesus’ body for burial showed his heart had indeed been torn from top to bottom.
The actual words ‘born again’ describe a garment torn from top to bottom. I have no doubt that when the Nicodemus saw the curtain to the Holy of Holies ripped from top to bottom, that he remembered His conversation on that dark night. A vivid memory relived before his stunned eyes. But was his heart torn?
Has your heart been torn from above and made new?