Early in our ministry things were tight for our family. My wife and I had both been working hard and rarely seeing one another. So one night we sent our children to their grandparents, and made reservations to celebrate our anniversary at a nice restaurant. It was something that we both looked forward to doing. Just before we left, a teenager from church walked up our driveway with tears in his eyes. His grandfather had died, and he simply wanted to be in our company. My wife and I spent the next several hours of our anniversary gladly playing monopoly with a grieving teenager.
It was a night of compassion and ministry. Occasionally I would remember it, and wonder how that young man’s life had turned out and if we had been of any influence. Last week, I received an email from that same young man after he had tracked us down. It seems that he had experienced some difficulties in life. He said that at one point when he was near the bottom, he remembered the last time he felt so low. It was the night when he wound up playing monopoly with a preacher and his wife who were all dressed up. He went on to describe an awaking of grace in his life as he remembered that he was loved. Eventually he found his way back to church. His note was not necessarily to reminisce, but to invite us to his ordination. He wanted to spend the rest of his life in ministry making others feel as loved as he felt that night so long ago.
Sometimes you never really know how much of a difference you are making in someone’s life. It can be discouraging to invest your time giving and doing and not see any dividends. In Matthew 13, Jesus tells the parable of the Sower. In it he describes a farmer scattering seeds on different types of ground, and how the condition of the soil either helps the seed grow or prevents its. In this parable Jesus reminds us that God’s grace is lavishly scattered, but the conditions of a person’s life and heart can become obstacles to that grace. Our role in life is to remove as many obstacles as we can from the lives around us with our love and service. God does the rest. Every act of service and love, no matter how small, becomes an investment in God’s kingdom…whether we see it or not.
Although it has been many years ago, I can still remember as if it were yesterday sitting down at the table to begin what was at the time a monthly ritual of paying our children‘s medical bills. Paying the bills never makes me happy. It‘s trying and depressing because it seems that the more checks I write, the more bills I get. My then two-year- old daughter was in my lap, playing doctor… of all things! I continued writing checks and complaining while she tended my imaginary wounds. Suddenly she stopped playing and asked, “daddy, how da get dis boo-boo on your face?”
Her question brought back long forgotten memories. As a child I had received many “corrections” at the wrong end of a switch for playing in Granny‘s flowers. I learned that lesson so well that on one particular occasion I personally attempted to provide the same correction to a stray dog I found in Granny‘s flowers. Needless to say he did not appreciate the quality of the education I was providing and he bit me. I was carried into the house screaming, “I‘m blind, I‘m blind, I‘m blind, I can‘t see!” I‘ll never forget my father‘s words…”Well open your eyes then.”
As those memories flooded my mind, I looked into my daughter‘s eyes, and smiled. One of god‘s greatest blessings had been in my lap all along. I had not noticed because I was blinded by my own complaints. All of a sudden as I opened my eyes paying those bills did not seem so bad. It is amazing how much easier life‘s burdens are when you open your eyes to God‘s blessings. In the fourth chapter of Philippians, Paul encourages us to think about the blessings from God and not our short comings. When you think about God‘s blessings in your life, God will open your eyes just as he did for the blind man. Life is too short to miss God‘s blessing simply because we fail to see what is right in front of us.
As I turned my attention back toward the mountain of medical bills and looked at my daughter playing doctor. With a huge smile I thought, “two more payments and she‘s all mine!” How many blessings can you see?
Many years ago, I was watching our children while my wife went grocery shopping. Our young daughter was running from one room to another, and our infant son was finally asleep. I was just about to settle into the recliner to watch television when I noticed something scary. It was much too quite in the house. There is just a certain amount of noise and activity that you can expect from a three-year-old, and when it’s not there…watch out!
I went room to room, searching for my daughter. I found her sitting on a stool in front of the bathroom mirror. Her mouth, chin and nose were covered with red lip stick. Powdered make-up covered not only her face and hair, but also the floor and sink. I could see streaks of black eye liner running across her fore head. Looking up at me smiling, she said, “Do I look pretty like mommy, daddy?” I rubbed my head, and shifted into a ̳Daddy‘ tone of voice. “Why did you do this? Who told you that it was okay to put make-up on your face? Your mother will get you and me both!” She looked up at me with a curious smirk, and said “It’s okay daddy, I just wanted to look like mommy, she does this all the time.” What could I say? She was as beautiful as her mother.
Cleaning my daughter‘s mess, I realized that most everyone has an idol in another person. It appears to be a part of human nature. Preachers look at other ministers and say, “Oh, if only I could preach like that.” School teachers look down their halls and say, “Oh, if I only could maintain discipline like she does.” Business people look at others and say, “Now that’s the kind of person I wish I could be.” It stands to reason then that while you and I have secret idols, someone else maybe watching us. It might be that young man in the office or in the cafeteria. It could even be one of your children.
We have a responsibility which we can‘t afford to forget. For that reason we need to hold our heads high in dignity doing community service. We need to be above reproach in our personal and business dealings. The young around us deserve to see truth and love demonstrated by actions and words. While the world changes, we owe it to that unknown person watching us to remain steadfast to the idea which first caught their attention…as we walk worthy of our Christian calling (Ephesians 4:1) making Christ known through our actions. You never know who’s watching.
Last week I listened to one of the church youth invite other students to join him for a time of silent reflection and Bible reading during their lunches. It was not his willingness to put himself “out there” that amazed me, it was his understanding that even if no one else joined him he was still making a statement about who he was and more importantly whose he was.
He reminded me of something that happened about five years ago when our then thirteen year old son and I were having lunch at a buffet style restaurant. He was moving faster than I was and had returned to the table ahead of me. I turned toward the table in time to see him bow his head and pray silently. Our table was surrounded by many loud conversations. From a distance, I began to notice those conversations dropping off and slowly the heads of others began to bow in prayer. By the time I reached the table, everyone around us had stopped eating and was apparently giving thanks. I don‘t believe my son even noticed the effect he had on those around him.
I‘m not sure that it is possible not to feel overwhelmed with all the things that need to be done, all the problems that need to be address and all the needs that must be met. Often times the magnitude of the needs in our lives and the lives of those around us can leave us feel helpless to make a difference. We want to do something, we want to make a difference and we want to help. But…we‘re just one small, simple person, wondering what difference we could possible make.
Jesus said, “if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed…Nothing would be impossible. (Matthew 17:20).” The beautiful thing about a planted seed is that the only purpose it pursues is to grow. Jesus reminds us that we should focus on being faithful in the small ways. A cup of water never exists without each drop, and the world will only be transformed when each of us finds a way to do our small part.
Our son was not trying to transform a restaurant. He was simply trying to be faithful in the small ways. And the youth who agreed to covenant in prayer was simply trying to be true to what they felt Christ was calling them to be. For our son, it was his attention to the spiritual details of his life that allowed God to do bigger things. For our youth it will be the same as the greatest gifts and advances throughout history have always had their start in small ways. Most times, little things are of greater value than big things.