SEEING THE BOARD
When our oldest daughter was eight or nine, her teacher suggested that we have her eyes checked. When the ophthalmologist checked her, he came out and said that she was quite near-sighted, but he was confused because she said she could see the board at school. Following his instructions, I went in and pursued the question. Our daughter looked at me rather strangely and said, "Mom, the board at school stretches from one side of the room to the other. I can see the board just fine, but I can't read anything that is written on it."
We have all laughed and used that story many times as an illustration of the importance of asking the right question. However, I think there is another lesson to be learned. Many times in our Christian experience we see the greater issue (the board) without being able to identify the individual or particular situation that needs a response from us. We may pray for and give to missions, but neglect to give a word of testimony ourselves. We may stress the importance of ministry and yet miss the individual who needs our personal touch. We may believe in the doctrine that all of us are sinners at the foot of the cross but snobbishly limit those to whom we extend the hand of hospitality in our homes or churches. The big picture is important, but so is the writing on the board.
"Your flip and callous arrogance in these things bothers me. You pass it off as a small thing, but it's anything but that. Yeast, too, is a ‘small thing,' but it works its way through a whole batch of bread dough pretty fast." I Corinthians 5:6 (The Message)
At six years old, our younger granddaughter was thrilled to be at Disney World. She chatted enthusiastically to one of her aunts who had called to see how things were going. Normally this granddaughter will talk non-stop on the phone, especially to this aunt, her conversation punctuated with ‘and you know what?' But on this day, after only a few moments, her aunt heard her say that she had to go because she saw Cinderella coming. The lure of a fantasy figure far outpaced any interest in talking to someone, who though loved, didn't have the same pizzazz.
We are called to love our God with all our hearts, minds and strengths; there is nothing casual about that call, no room for hedging or flights of fancy. Our precious granddaughter responded appropriately for her age and situation that afternoon, but we often are distracted from what our love for God would call us to do by that which is shiny, fleeting and popular. Our heads are turned from a relationship with the eternal God to indulge a whimsical fabrication. When our priorities are straight, we can enjoy that which is true and solid and honor God in our leisure, our work and our worship and witness.
"Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met." Matthew 6:33 (The Message)
A SPRING IN HER STEPS
Our younger granddaughter, now 5, has had a spring in her steps almost from the time she could walk. When she comes flying down the hall to greet us and be picked up for a hug, she almost leaps into our arms. Lifting her is amazingly easy, because she seems to do most of the work! Although she will soon be beyond our ability to lift her, the assist that she gives and the hugs that come with it, bring much joy to our hearts.
When I think of that precious little girl and how much we love her and her sister, I am reminded of how much easier it is for us to love the lovable, to help those who make helping rewarding, to minister to the ones who are receptive to ministry. However, the example given to us by Jesus leads us to go beyond the easy path of ministry. We are also called to touch the untouchables, to mingle with the miserable, to comfort the cantankerous—we are asked to lift and love those whose steps have long lost their springiness. We are to reach beyond our prejudices and preferences to love as we have been loved.
"If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?" (Mt. 5: 46, 47 [NIV])
Jesus said, "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you." John 15:12 (NIV)
When our second child was on her way, I was concerned about how I would love her. I had been overwhelmed by the depth of love I felt for our first child, and I could not understand how I could possibly love another child as completely and wonderfully as I loved the first. But my worries were needless; I had fretted in vain. When that second little girl (and subsequently, a third) was brought to me and laid in my arms, the love was there to greet her—just as deep and vibrant as the love for our first-born, without diminishing that love. Instead of being divided, my love had multiplied…and then when our grandchildren arrived—well, that's a whole other story—talk about exponential expansion!
Somehow I think that our finite capacity for love is a picture of the love that God has for us—God's earthly, fallible, erring children. God's love for us is so deep and wide, so encompassing of the diversity made by the Creator's hand, that our love pales in comparison. But we are commanded to love one another with the same kind of love Jesus displayed toward us—the greater love that lays down its life for another…not just for our cherished children and grandchildren, but for all: the lovable, the unlovable; the friend, the enemy; the clean, the unclean. Only a God-given love can fill our hearts with that kind of compassion.
FOR OUR GOOD
As we strolled along the beach, a cantankerous toddler shrieked with displeasure. Her mother, jacket in hand, was telling her that if she wanted to stay down on the beach, she had to put a jacket on. The little one, apparently with no history of the pain and discomfort associated with being sun-burned, was resisting with all of her strength—not to mention her voice. We walked on before finding out whether the mother persisted in her good judgment of what was for her daughter's good or gave in to the vociferous objections of her daughter (we hoped for the former).
How often as we walk the shores of our lives, are we caught up short by the convicting presence of God's Holy Spirit, by the constructive criticism of a loving family member or helpful friend, by the Word of the Lord heard through a sermon or other spokesperson the Lord may use, or even by some event that makes us reflect on what we are doing or saying. Often we howl with pain (to our egos or our plans) to have our agendas disrupted or our plans in disarray, only to arrive on the other side with the realization that we have been kept from greater agony, embarrassment or disaster because we heeded that warning voice, that nudging of conscience or subtle suggestion. If we were more like the humble servants we are called to be than the caterwauling two-year-olds we often resemble, our progress through our days would be much smoother…and much more God-pleasing.
"But don't, dear friend, resent God's discipline, don't sulk under [God's] loving correction. It's the child [God] loves that God corrects." Proverbs 3: 11-12a (The Message)
"The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes." Psalm 19:8 (NIV)
Two of our daughters are near-sighted, making it difficult for them to see things at a distance clearly, without glasses or contact lenses. We discovered the problem when they were children, and after being tested, and fitted with glasses, they were astounded to realize that the green blobs they had been seeing on trees as we passed by in the car, were really individual leaves. One of them was able to read the scoreboard on the other side of the arena at basketball games for the first time. As my husband and I have gotten older, we have had to don spectacles to make all of those fuzzy up-close things come into focus.
How often we miss opportunities of service and ministry because we do not or will not wear God's glasses of love. Needs, both far away and right under our noses, go unmet because they're just a big blob out there somewhere on the other side of the world, or we're focused on something other than what God would have us do. Sometimes we just may not see clearly how one person can make a difference. But when we allow the lenses of God's love to correct our vision, we can be used to touch others with That Love.
TAKING IT FOR 'GRANITE'
"Every good gift and every perfect gift comes from above" James 1:17a (NKJ)
"Oh, Lord our God, please help us, as we thank You every day,"
The father said in closing, as the fam'ly joined in prayer,
"To never take for granted all the blessings that You give."
His little son then nodded, too, as if the prayer to share
And then he looked around the room, a question in his eyes,
"Where are the rocks you prayed for?" he asked his daddy then.
"The rocks," Dad said, "what do you mean, I didn't pray for rocks."
"Oh, yes, you did, I heard you," he insisted with a grin,
"You prayed about the granite rocks we studied in our class."
How often, as we go about our lives from day to day,
We act as if the loveliness, the friendships that we share,
The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the freedom in our land,
The faith, the love, salvation's gift, the grace from God to bear
The sorrows and the tears that sometimes come across our path
Are things that we deserve. Somehow we rarely stop to think
How, as that child expressed, we look at gifts from God's own hand
As if we've earned them, too, instead of as a boon, a link
Of love that lifts our hearts. We bow our heads, that Name to bless.
A BUMP ON THE HEAD
Our youngest granddaughter, at nine months, had just gotten crawling down pat, so, for the first time, she was mobile on her own. She was thrilled to death with her accomplishment and with all the wonderful things there were to explore: threads and crumbs on the floor, her sister's favorite toys, items on low tables, books on low shelves, anybody's shoes or shoelaces. All of this exploration meant there were now some things that were off limits, so 'No, Little Bit,' had been added to the words she heard with frequency, and a bumped head, followed by tears, was often the result of trying to pull up on the nearest object.
Most of us are a lot like Little Bit—bumping our heads and exploring our limits. Also, like her, most of us have to learn our lessons the hard way -- we blunder into unexpected pitfalls, we reach out to things that we can harm or that can harm us, we have to be pulled back from the brink of disaster time and time again. As our granddaughter grows, she will be trained to know what and where she can do and go, and as we mature in the Spirit, we should learn what the Lord is trying to teach us, what we are to do and where we are to go. Just as a well-trained child is a joy to be around, we, as God's children, will honor the Lord by obedience and sensitivity to God's will '...and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." (Ephesians 4:13b[NIV])
" Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us...." I John 3:1(KJ)
Our precious grandchildren are much loved, not only by us, of course, but by many people who surround them with love. We love them when they are happy and smiling, we love them when they are cranky and tired (though they are certainly more fun when the former is true rather than the latter), we love them when they are clean and we love them when they are dirty and smelly—we love them unconditionally! Their love for us is much more conditional—and they will only learn about the other kind of love as they see it modeled by their parents and others—and maybe not until they are parents themselves.
God's love for us is of the unconditional variety—it reaches out to us when we are dirty with sin and smelly with pride; it beckons to us when we are burdened and discouraged, when we are sorrowful and self-centered—God's love is always available for us. Even if we turn our back on the Lord in a fit of pique or anger (as our granddaughters have been known to do to us), that Love continues to call to us. Our love for God tends to vary depending on the extent of our blessings, or the state of our emotions, but as we mature in our Christian growth, as we learn more of that Love, so, too, will our love grow to resemble the Lord's unconditional love.
As a little girl I wanted to have a hairstyle with straight hair that came down over my forehead. My mother would carefully explain that I had a cowlick that would interfere with that hairstyle. Most of the other little girls with whom I played wore their hair that way, so I, of course, wanted to as well. Occasionally I would be so obstinate about wanting a haircut like that my mother would relent. You can imagine how I looked: a straight fringe and then this hair sticking straight up in the middle. Eventually I learned that getting a haircut that incorporated my cowlick into its style yielded a much more satisfactory result than trying to fix my fair in spite of that cowlick.
It has taken me much longer to learn that the cowlicks that are part of my life need to be treated in much the same way. I can try my obstinate best to be like my idea of what is the better way for me; likewise, I can waste my time wishing that the Lord had made me as He made someone else. The other, much better, way is to be grateful to God for making me the way I am, then to see how those things about me that are unique can be used to honor my Creator. I believe that God had a plan when each one of us was made and that we are made that way for a reason: to accomplish the task planned for us to do. We can either be determined to wear our hair the way we want or we can use that cowlick as an asset in God's service.
"I thank you, High God—you're breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made!" Psalm 139:14(The Message)
DO YOU HAVE AN M&M FOR ME?
"Every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards." Isaiah 1:23b(KJ)
In an attempt to toilet train our then two-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter, her parents had been rewarding her successful efforts with M&Ms. On one occasion she was away from home with one of her aunts, and said she wanted to use the potty. As they proceeded up the steps to the bathroom, the little one turned to her aunt and asked, "Do you have an M&M for me?"
When her aunt replied in the negative, our granddaughter said, "Well, never mind then."
We have all had a good chuckle out of how well that two-year-old had trained all of us, but I think we, as Christians, are very much like her—reward us and we will do what is right. Not many of us are very eager to give if we can't get a tax deduction or to serve if the task is thankless. If we can somehow turn the cart back around and get the horse of love in front, our service, springing from our love of the Lord, and not our love of praise or even a sense of duty, will come joyfully and easily.
"I know how great this makes you feel, even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime." I Peter 1:6(The Message)
Our fifteen-month-old granddaughter had pink eye. The drops to cure it were a great aggravation to her—she squirmed and wiggled and did her very best to get away from having those drops put in her eyes. At her age it did no good to try to explain that the only way for her eyes to get better was to go through the process of medicating them. We knew that to do what was good for her, we had to put her through the disagreeable episodes. We also loved her enough to force the medicine on her, though we tried to do it in the least bothersome manner. When her eyes were healed, she was grateful not to awaken with matted eyelids and itchy eyes—though she was not yet sophisticated enough to make the connection between the medication and relief.
Peter reminds us that in order for us to be purified vessels suitable for the Master's use, our faith has to be refined, tested, refined and tested again. Someday we will be able to look back on the 'aggravation' and understand that it was used in our lives for a purpose. Although extremely unpleasant at the time, the process needs to be undergone for our faith to be strengthened and for us to become all that we need to be.
Our oldest granddaughter, when she was three and a half, told us excitedly about her new kitten. In response to our question as to whether the cat was going to stay inside or outside the house, she said he was going to be an inside cat and he would never have to go outside because he had a glitter box to use.
As we struggled, rather unsuccessfully, to restrain our chuckles, I was reminded of how often we try to 'glitter' up the litter in our lives: we call an untruth a little white lie, we justify cheating on our tax returns as just getting back a little of what Uncle Sam owes us, we have alternate names for adultery, fornication, murder and so on down the line. Somehow it salves our conscience if we call our sins something other than what they are. A litter box by any other name is still a litter box, and sin by any other name is just as destructive of our relationship with the Lord.
"So watch your step, friends. Make sure there's no evil unbelief lying around that will trip you up and throw you off course, diverting you from the living God. For as long as it's still God's Today, keep each other on your toes so sin doesn't slow down your reflexes." Hebrews 3:12 ,13(The Message)
When our first granddaughter was born, we had the delightful chore of learning to be grandparents. Our precious grandchild was, and is, a joy to all of us. As the first grandbaby, she was also the first niece for our other daughters and everyone was eager to hold her, feed her, and play with her. Everyone wanted to be a part of her life until…there was a stinky diaper. Then all of a sudden, that precious little girl was not so popular. Changing the dirty diapers became what we called a grandmother's job. This grandmother rejoiced even at the opportunity to change a dirty diaper which, even though it was hers, didn't really smell any better because I was her grandmother. But the smell didn't matter to me because of who she was.
It is easy for most of us to love the lovely, to be friendly to the friendly, to give to the grateful, to reach out to those who are responsive. But if the opportunity comes to do the unpleasant tasks, to minister to the unlovely, then suddenly we seem to find other things to do. When the Master washed the filthy feet of His disciples, He said He was setting them (and us) an example. Then He said, "If you understand what I'm telling you, act like it—and live a blessed life." (John 13:17 [The Message]) When we change the dirty diapers of life, we do it because of the One we love and God's love enables all of us to do even the grandmother's job.
"And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." II Corinthians 3:18(KJ)
Our much-cherished 14-month-old granddaughter enjoyed being carried down the hallway where she passed an antique convex mirror that belonged to my mother. 'Little Bit', as we often call her, always said, "Hi!" to the baby in the mirror. Before too long she realized that the baby in the mirror was just an image of herself and nothing more and that her big sister, her mother, and her aunts had all liked looking in that funny, old mirror. But at that time she was delighted that there was a cute little baby who always waved at her when she went down the hall and always smiled back when she did.
As we walk down the hallways of life, we often pass the mirror where the image of God's love is reflected down to us just as Little Bit's image waved back to her. Those of us who are or were blessed with a loving mother often think fondly and gratefully of her love, but a mother's love is only a reflection of the unconditional love that comes from the Lord above. My mother's convex mirror distorts the image of each person, and even a mother's love can be distorted and thrown out of perspective by the sin that mars each of our lives. But as we grow more mature in the love of God, we will be gradually transformed into the likeness of the Lord so that, whether we are mothers or not, we will be able to reflect that Love which touches all who receive it with glory.
My six-year-old granddaughter and I were out for a walk. It was a clear, crisp winter day and as she scampered beside me, our walk turned into a game—she tried to step on my shadow as I sought to evade her; then we switched roles—each of us twisting and turning as we tried to keep our shadows away from the other's feet. We laughed and played, cherishing one another's company and the delightfulness of the day.
As I recall the pleasure of that afternoon stroll with my granddaughter, I am reminded of the verses that say, "Don't be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." (James 1:16-18[NIV]) Our God never plays games with us—there is no attempt on the Lord's part to bob and weave away from us. The Eternal One is always faithful in standing beside us—steadfast and sure—walking with us through joyful times and sad.
SUFFER THE CHILDREN
"Suffer the children to come unto me…" Matthew 19:14(KJ); "Let the children alone, don't prevent them from coming to me…" Matthew 19:14(The Message)
A friend of ours, new to a walk of faith and from a different cultural and religious background, asked us one day, based on a reading of the above verse from the King James version of the Bible, why Jesus required the children to suffer before they could come to Him. We explained that the word, suffer, used in the above context had no connotations of pain or distress; in fact, it meant just the opposite, that the children should be allowed to approach Jesus freely. (Our friend's misunderstanding is one of the best examples I've heard for the use of modern language translations of the Scripture.)
But as I read the newspapers and watch the newscasts in our world today, I wonder if the suffering of so many children, in a very real sense of the word, is not something that will be laid at our feet when we are called to account for how we have lived the Christian life. Instead of leading the children of today to God, we may be preventing them from seeing the face of the Lord because we do nothing to alleviate their situations. Our silence in the face of a child's hopelessness, hunger, exploitation, loss of innocence, or corruption of love should shame us. We need to ask the Lord for ways we can be the hands and voice of God's love to the children of this world.