PLAYING TO THE CROWD
We once knew a young man who was on the high school football team. Although he was a member of the team, he only played occasionally, and that was usually because his coach was one who believed in trying to get everyone on the team into the game for at least one or two plays. On Sunday mornings after the rare occasions when this particular young man played, he was easy to spot as he came limping into the church. In response to a concerned query, he would shrug and say, "Football injury." If you were able to distract him, the ‘limp' would mysteriously disappear.
Matthew 6:1 reminds us that we are often prone to the same kind of activity in our Christian lives:
Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don't make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won't be applauding. (The Message)
Instead we are to do our good works unobtrusively, out of love for our God and concern for those we are helping, without playing to the crowd for its approval or limping to call attention to our ‘sacrifice.' Further along in the 6th chapter, Matthew quotes Jesus saying, "God doesn't require attention-getting devices. He won't overlook what you are doing; He'll reward you well." (v. 18)
UP THE HILL
Two young boys on bicycles huffed and puffed their way up the hill in front of our house. One of them made it more easily than the other and he circled and waited for his companion to make his way, slowly, up the incline. Some time later they came back my way—this time sailing down the hill with the wind blowing their hair, smiles on their faces.
As I thought about those youngsters I realized that most of us, in our spiritual lives, think all of our days should be spent in that exhilarating coast down the hill. Instead we need to realize that if we don't put in the labor (studying God's Word, spending time on our knees—whether literally or figuratively—in prayer, answering the call to meet the needs in the lives of others, using the gifts we have been given in the service of the Lord) to climb up the hill, there will be no way to sail down it.
"Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God." Philippians 2:12 (The Message)
A friend wrote me about being on the lake as part of a huge flotilla of boats gathered for a 4th of July celebration. As he sat at dusk surrounded by more than 200 boats, he realized that all that he had in common with most of his boating neighbors was their mode of transportation and the fact that they had come to see fireworks. My friend saw large, extravagant boats whose well-dressed passengers enjoyed hors d'oeuvres and expensive looking drinks on deck; other boats were occupied by folks who appeared to be of more modest means. Some of the boats were snazzy racing-type boats with loud engines and bright stripes that said, "Look at me!" Many boats were pontoons full of families; often three generations were represented.
As my friend observed all these different vessels, he realized that at that moment they were united in a kindred spirit. He said, "Despite our obvious differences, we accepted each other as brothers and sisters on the lake. And together we looked expectantly toward the heavens. I wished at that moment that we Christians could be as accepting of each other, and as unified in spirit, and as focused on the heavens, as we boaters were out there on the lake. And we have so much more to look forward to than 15 minutes of pyrotechnics."
My friend said he thought I might find a meditation in his thoughts. I told him that he already had. Thanks, friend.
EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW
As I watched the Wimbledon tennis matches before 2003 (the policy was changed in 2003 ) I always noticed that every player bowed to acknowledge the royalty who were present. It made no difference whether or not the players were British subjects; each one bowed her or his knee in deference to the British royal tradition.
One day, when the Kingdom of God has come to pass, when wars have ceased, and the lions lie down with the lambs, we are told that then everyone "will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father." (Philippians 2:10 ,11[The Message]) I believe this scripture means that one day even those who do not now acknowledge the lordship of the Savior will bow their knees to the King of Kings.
LOST ON THE LAKE
The call went out for help; our Belarussian houseguest had not returned from her jet ski jaunt on the lake. She had been gone long enough to be low on gas; her English, though good, was heavily accented; and we had neglected to give her information on the buoy system that would enable her to get back to us. Our houseguest knew we lived near the marina, so when she got turned around, she was able to ask for directions. What she didn't realize was that the marina would be closed by the time she arrived, and that the people who knew us would be gone. With a ranger's fine assistance, our guest was found, and though shaken, was no worse for the experience. We learned a valuable lesson, however, on sending someone off on a journey without vital information.
Many people today are lost on the lake of life and trying to find a safe haven. Are we looking for them? Do we see or heed their signals that they are in need of assistance? Do we know how to give them directions even when their knowledge of the language of faith is limited? Are we willing to stay beyond closing time or leave our comfortable homes to help? Are we guilty of neglecting to instruct those under our care on how to navigate safely? Our Lord "came to find and restore the lost." (Luke 19:10 ,[The Message]) So should we.
PLAYING THE GAME
"I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me." Philippians 3:14a(NIV)
Some years ago a friend of ours likened the Christian church to a football team and the analogy has stuck in my mind. The team gathers in a huddle to call the signals for the next play, then moves to the ball to execute the play. Occasionally we see a team playing without a huddle, but at some point the team members have to get together to coordinate their game plan.
We, as Christians, gather to worship, study and fellowship—in huddles, if you will. Unfortunately, some of us think that the huddle is an end unto itself and we never get out of the huddle to play the game. Just as the football team will never win the game unless they run the plays they've called, so we need to put hands, feet and voice to the message of love we have to share.
REFEREE OF PEACE
College basketball is one of my favorite sports, especially at tournament times, but it has recently become a much more physical sport. Battles for rebounds, setting picks, taking a charge—all of these things seem to lead to bloody noses, elbows and knees flying, bodies scattered on the floor, and sometimes scuffles. Suddenly through the melee comes the ear-splitting referee's whistle and the call is made to the best of the ref's ability.
Our everyday world has become much more rough and tumble, too, often with violent results: road rage, physical and emotional abuse, shouted taunts, even general impatience and short-tempered-ness all seem to abound. But our Lord calls us to let the peace of Christ be the referee in our lives. Instead of deciding things with angry words or actions, we are told to let that peace "rule in [our] hearts, since as members of one body [we] were called to peace." Colossians 3:15 (NIV)