Do everything without grumbling and arguing,so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world. (Phil 2:14-15)
Men consider whining to be strictly a female foible. Gentlemen: grumbling is just whining an octave lower.
Do everything without grumbling and arguing,so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world. (Phil 2:14-15)
Today's post is by guest writer Lucas Ward.
The title of this essay comes from the KJV of Titus 2:14. Peculiar, as used here, doesn’t mean weird or unusual, but special. Most modern translations render this “a people for His own possession” or something similar. Of course, if Christians are to be a people especially His, this would mean that we are different from most everyone else.
We often talk about what it means to be holy. We are commanded by God through Peter to be holy. (1 Pet. 1:15-16) Being holy means being set apart. Holy things are used only for the purposes for which they have been set apart. They aren’t used for everyday, common purposes. Holy people, likewise, don’t just do whatever pops into their heads. We are set apart for God’s purposes. I’m reminded of Romans 6. In the first eleven verses we are reminded no less than six times that we have crucified the old man, buried him in baptism and we are now dead to sin. Instead we are living new lives to God (mentioned four times). Then verses 12-13 hammer the point home:
“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.”
We are no longer to obey sin or to present ourselves to it as its instruments. Instead, we now are God’s and present ourselves to Him to do His will. This will, naturally, make us different from most and they won’t always like that:
1 Pet. 4:3-4 “For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you”
Peter says that the past is where our sinning belongs. And we all have a past, don’t we? But when we decide to follow Christ and live as one of His people, our old friends will be surprised when we no longer join them in revelries. Not only surprised, but upset. “Malign you” is translated in other versions as “speak evil of you”. We will be accused of being holier-than-thou, of judging them because we don’t participate, of being hypocrites, and possibly worse. A word of encouragement for those times, straight from the Lord:
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt. 5:11-12)
The ancients didn’t have much good to say about Elijah or Jeremiah or Ezekiel, did they? That’s some pretty good company to be in.
Of course, before our former running mates can berate us for being different, they have to notice that we are different. Remember verse 3 of 1 Pet. 4: “For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.” These are the things that are supposed to be left in the past. Are they?
SENSUALITY & PASSIONS. I like the word sensuality better than the old word lasciviousness. Sensuality is easier to understand. Anything in which the senses are overindulged. People given to sensuality are chasing whatever feels good and is pleasurable. Not all these things are wrong in and of themselves, but these people put pleasure first in their lives and all else later. You might recall Philippians 3:19 in which Paul refers to some whose “god is their belly”. They’ve given themselves over to their appetites. While slavery to all passions is in view, illicit sexuality is what is commonly thought of regarding “sensuality and passions”. As a Christian, I’d never go out to the dance clubs and dance the grinding, sexual dances of today with whatever barely dressed women are also attending, but boy is it fun to watch Dancing With the Stars! With barely any exaggeration I can say there is only one reason any heterosexual man watches that show: the professional dancing women in their peekaboo gowns. That is why I watched it religiously for years; seeing those women and wishing I was the “star” who got to handle them during the dance. That is why all my male friends at work watched it. I’m not going to tell you that you shouldn’t watch that show. That’s not my point. I am saying we are to be a special people, a people for God’s own possession and, as such, we need to consider what we are watching and why we are watching it.
DRUNKENNESS. Surely this isn’t a problem in the Church, is it? Three things about that: First, there are quite a few recovering addicts in the Church and we, as loving brothers willing to bear one another’s burdens, need to be aware, ready and willing to help them out in any way they need. Second, it is probably a bigger problem in the Church than many are aware of or willing to admit. So, yes, it needs to be explicitly stated that one of God’s own people should not be getting drunk. And third, there are many Christians who believe that there is nothing wrong with having a glass of wine, or a beer, with a meal. My point is not to argue that right now, but rather to ask a question. Do your worldly friends know that you are the kind who only ever has one glass of wine with a meal or do they know that you are the kind who SAYS you only have one, but half the time you take a second glass followed by a third and sometimes even crack the second bottle? Or finish off the six-pack? Can your friends tell that you are different from them in your alcohol consumption?
ORGIES & DRINKING PARTIES. Now this is one we can cross off without any worry, right? None of us would ever participate in orgies or drinking parties, right? No, but they sure are fun to watch on Game of Thrones aren’t they? And that Spartacus remake is a lot of fun, too. I’d never have an orgy, but I've got to make sure I re-up my subscriptions to HBO and Showtime!
LAWLESS IDOLATRIES. Now, we don’t have anyone bowing down to Baal, but idolatry is more than worshipping idols. It is putting anything ahead of God or my service to Him. I was thinking about the rich young ruler to whom Jesus said that he only lacked one thing: to sell his possessions and follow Jesus. He went away sorrowful. I started wondering about my reaction if Jesus ever came to me and said I had to give up college football permanently. For you, maybe the challenge would come if He demanded you give up your fishing boat, or your golf clubs. Whatever our sticking point might be, we can’t allow anything to get between us and God. Otherwise, we are guilty of lawless idolatries.
Peter doesn’t mention all the ways we should be different from the world, of course. Paul, in Eph. 4:29, tells us to “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths”. Corrupt, or corrupting, talk comes in many varieties. There is cursing and vulgarity, of course. One thought on that: there are no such things as words that are bad in and of themselves. The typical four letter words are generally considered bad because they are usually used for cursing and/or vulgar purposes, but I can express the exact same evil sentiments using other, more acceptable words. Are my evil sentiments less sinful because I changed my vocabulary? Can people tell we are different by the ideas we express in our speech?
Then there is taking the Lord’s Name in vain. Surely that is corrupt speech, and it is common in the world. Our Lord’s Name is now mostly used as a curse or expletive. “God” is mostly used now in sentences like “Oh my God, that restaurant was really good!” Can anyone tell that we never besmirch His Name and that we often wince when others do? Or do we talk like the world?
The final thing I’m going to bring up in reference to us being a people for God’s own possession is our life’s priorities. Have I ever denied myself something that was good and right to do because there were more urgent duties that God demanded? When I make career choices, do I consider what God would want me to do? Am I willing to part ways with worldly friends who are not good for my spiritual walk with God? Am I truly one of His people, or am I living in the world?
When thinking about these things, try to be as honest as possible with yourself. One of the hardest things to do is to objectively evaluate yourself. I once heard a preacher say that man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalizing animal. Part of being a Christian is testing ourselves, to see if we are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5). Try to view yourself as an outsider looking at a stranger. And then work to make the needed improvements.
We are to be God’s own people.
Can anyone tell?
It’s a classic kids’ comment, one Keith and I make to one another for laughs, but we never really had to deal with it when the boys were little. Frankly, parents are their own worst enemies about things like this—your children know exactly what they can and cannot get away with long before they can even tell you in words. If you don’t want to hear that particular whine, then do something about it.
Yet still I thought of that question when I was working on Psalm 13. “How long?” David asks, not once, but four times in the first two verses. It was just as common then as it is now. Habakkuk’s psalm begins, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help and you will not hear?” Hab 1:2. The martyrs pictured around the throne of God cry out, “O Sovereign Lord...how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Rev. 6:9,10. “How long” is indeed a common complaint in the scriptures—I found it listed 52 times!
And the point is this, these people are undergoing not just trials, but long, drawn out trials. “Time flies when you’re having fun,” we often say, and that means it crawls when you aren’t.
“It is not under the sharpest, but the longest trials that we are most in danger of fainting,” Andrew Fuller, in Spurgeon’s Treasury of David. It is so true. Just last week I nearly lost it over something small and inconsequential.
Being married to a deaf man can be extremely frustrating. Three times in one hour Keith and I had a misunderstanding based totally on the fact that he could not hear what I was saying. If he could have heard just three words, none of it would have even mattered, but because he couldn’t, it made the situation more and more complex, and more and more exasperating as it went on. And the reason I couldn’t handle it that morning? Not because it was three times in one hour, but because we have been dealing with it for forty years now.
But who am I to complain? The woman in Luke 8 had her issue of blood for 12 years. The woman who had the spirit of infirmity in Luke 13 had been suffering for 18 years. The man who lay at the pool of Bethesda (John 5) had done so for 38 years. The blind beggar in John 9 had been that way from birth. Sarah had waited for a child for decades. The people of God waited for a Messiah for several thousand years! These people had far more reason than I to ask God, “How long?”
All of us are prone to ask, “Are we there yet?” and sometimes the answer does not come in this lifetime. That may be the most difficult thing to deal with. Some are born into suffering and never get out of it. Some, due to random accident or maybe even their own bad choices, suffer for the remaining years of their lives and never see a reason. God has His plans and we are not always privy to them.
But one day we will receive the answer we want to hear: “How long? Now! We are there!” The waiting will be over, no more suffering of any sort, even the petty little annoyances that no one else can understand, that drive you up a wall on a bad day, that fill you with guilt when your mind clears and you finally recognize just how blessed you truly are.
Some day we will arrive, and we won’t be going on any more long difficult journeys ever again.
It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed. Deuteronomy 31:8.
Do you remember that movie quote? If you are even five years younger than I, you might not. I first heard it as a young teenager sometime in April 1968, when a friend and I went to see Stanley Kubrick's new movie "2001: A Space Odyssey."
If you are not familiar with the movie or the short story by Arthur C. Clarke, it is the tale of two astronauts and a sentient computer, HAL 9000, who controls life support and computer systems on their space craft. This simple explanation does not begin to cover the many elements of the plot, but suffice it to say, Hal begins to malfunction, deliberately causing the deaths of one of the astronauts as well as three others who are in a kind of hibernation. It becomes a fight for survival between the last astronaut, Dr. Dave Bowman, and Hal.
Some of Hal's most remembered lines from the movie are:
"Just what do you think you're doing, Dave?"
"I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."
"This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it."
The voice of Hal was masterfully portrayed by Douglas Rain, an acclaimed Shakespearean actor. He performed the part with a bland, flat, non-accent in a quiet voice that, by the end of the movie sent chills up your spine. You could easily imagine that this machine could coldly but calmly execute you if it saw a logical need for it.
Rain was born on March 13, 1928, and even though Shakespeare seemed his main interest, he is still best known as the voice of Hal, and even now I can still hear him voicing those lines.
But what I want us to think about today is this: What lines will we be remembered for?
If you have listened to the same preacher for several years, you have probably picked up on a few mannerisms he may not even know he has. When I was growing up, we had a preacher who ended sentences with the word "that." Or he would start them with, "This is that…" If things like this happen more than once or twice a sermon, it becomes distracting. You find yourself counting the repetitive phrase instead of listening to the point, a very good reason to tape yourself and listen once in a while. But not even That (pardon me) is what I am talking about.
How do you greet people? Pleasantly, with a smile and a welcome in your voice, or something that, though you may not actually say it, still sounds like, "What do YOU want?"
How do you answer questions? With irritation? With snide sarcasm? With boredom in your voice?
When you teach, do your students have a habit of writing down some of your statements because they want to remember them, or, given the choice, do they simply never show up again?
Do you say more helpful things or more hurtful things?
Do you talk about people with disrespectful name-calling? Or do you remember that they are made in the image of God?
In all of these things, "Just what do you think you're doing?"
It's been 51 years since I first heard Hal's eerie voice say that and I still remember some of the other things he said, too. What words of yours will people remember?
For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. (Jas 3:7-12)
Girls raised in the South, or GRITS as one of my coffee mugs calls them, are some of the strongest people on this earth. These women were nurtured on grits, greens, cornbread and chores from the time they could chew. They work hard and long without complaint. They know that getting dirty is healthy and sweat is not a terminal disease so they don’t avoid either one. They can hoe row after row in the hot sun, shell beans till midnight, can, blanch, and preserve in a steamy kitchen for hours, cook for an army every night, and then clean it all up and start over the next morning.
They show up like magic when others are hurting and do whatever needs doing. They find their way in any kitchen, heating up casseroles seasoned with love and tears, stirring pots of vegetables flavored with fatback, slicing tall layer cakes and mile high meringue pies, sinking their arms in a sink full of suds, and grabbing up a basket of laundry on their way out the door to be returned clean, mended, ironed, and folded before the house of mourning even realizes the clothes are missing.
They will take anyone’s children in their laps and dry up tears, listen to sad stories, and tell a few funny ones to bring back the smiles. They bandage skinned knees and aren’t too prissy to change a needful baby’s diapers, no matter who it belongs to. They will even offer a little discipline on little bottoms that think since Mama’s not around no one else cares—they care. They can play tag, hide and seek, and red rover, make mudpies and sand castles, and then go home and finish whatever needs doing, no matter how late it gets. They will stay up all night with anyone who needs it, then get up and go again as if nothing has happened.
How do they do it? The women I grew up watching had one magic ingredient—love—love that involved selflessness, strength, and purpose, and was borne from the heat of life. Maybe living in the South made that come more naturally, just as the southern heat and humidity makes the sweat pour more profusely. But then I am sure that some of my Northern friends could tell stories about their mamas, too. Maybe it's not the south that makes these women like this—maybe it's the fact that they are real women, not divas or prima donnas.
God applies the heat to us as well. In Isa 48:10, God told His people, Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. Affliction hurts. It burns in a flash and roasts in constant pain and fear. But eventually, the heat refines our souls and makes them pure and strong.
What, you think it unfair that God would do this? Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If He would do it to His own Son, who are we to get some sort of special dispensation? In fact, the special dispensation is in the trials. If God never put us through these things, we would be weaklings, always babes, never maturing to spirituality. Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
There is another result from all this fiery testing, perhaps the best result of all. God speaks of a group of His people in Zech 13:9, saying, And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, 'They are my people'; and they will say, 'The LORD is my God.'" I will go through whatever it takes to have Him declare me His child and answer my call, won’t you?
Even now, as the long hot summer approaches, I am ready for it. It reminds me that just as the southern heat strengthens my body, the spiritual heat can work wonders on my soul. I know from watching both of my grandmothers, and my mother and aunts. I know from working side by side with other women as we toil for our families and neighbors, and for the Lord, too, as we serve our brethren.
You need to become comfortable with the fire. If you can’t stand the heat, the kitchen is the least of your worries.
Each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 1 Corinthians 3:13
It happened most when we went to visit my Great Aunt, the one I only saw every couple of years. The visit was always an adventure. She lived in downtown Atlanta in an old stone apartment building on the corner of one of those ubiquitous Peachtree Streets. We usually drove up and down and around for at least a half hour, my parents asking one another, "Was it Peachtree St or Peachtree Rd or Peachtree Ave or Peachtree Blvd? Was it West or North or Northwest?" Somehow we always found it, and had to parallel park on the busy street, remembering to crawl across the red and white houndstooth seats of our big old white Mercury hardtop to the sidewalk side.
Her apartment was the first one on the first floor, first door on the right. But when you stepped out of the hall into it, you thought you had stepped through a magic door into another world. How could this much space be behind that door in that narrow hall?
It was dark—dark paneling, dark hardwood floors, and only dim lamplight in each room. Only the tiny dining room enjoyed sunlight from a thinly curtained window, while the living room window was hung with heavy, dark, velvet draperies.
I had never seen such furniture—old, Victorian, satin and flocked velvet brocade, and yes, more dark wood, carefully carved, and sinuously curved across the back and arms. The lamps boasted intricately detailed brass posts with frosted glass shades surrounded by hanging cut glass pendants.
We ate Sunday dinner with her once, on a beautiful ivory linen tablecloth, the hem embroidered with ecru, and used the first cloth napkins I had ever seen. I don't remember if I embarrassed my mother by asking what they were or not.
The meal was different too. First, it was, in a word, late, especially for children. Even though she did not go to church like we did, she still did not have the meal prepared when we arrived at 1:00. About 3:00 we finally sat down to something pale and sauced that I scarcely remember, except for the greenest peas I had ever seen in my life. I probably asked my mother who had dyed them like Easter eggs.
I may have forgotten most of the food, but I remember the dishes. The china was small, translucent white, and decorated with real gold paint, and the table was covered with serving pieces that I had never seen before and still do not know the use for. Each adult place setting included a small matching ash tray because in those days everyone, except my parents it seemed, smoked. I must have made over those dishes quite a bit because she left them to me—including the ash trays.
She always greeted me with, "My how you've grown!" I suppose I had if it had been two years, and it usually was. I think it is a perfectly normal thing to say to a child now that I am an adult, but as a child I felt like rolling my eyes—though I knew better than to be so disrespectful if I hoped to be able sit down in the car when we left.
We say that to children because children grow so quickly. Paul calls us babes when we first become Christians. Shouldn't we be growing fast enough spiritually to warrant that comment from others? In fact, shouldn't we always, not just as beginners, be growing? Shouldn't I be able to say to you, "My how you've grown in the Word!" And shouldn't you be able to say to me, "My how your attitude, your outlook, or your perspective has grown?"
Or are we still ignorant of the Bible, and shackled with the same old baggage and weaknesses? We may have a besetting sin that always gives us trouble, but shouldn't we be overcoming more now? If not, then maybe it's because we are satisfied with where we are since, "That's just how I am." The problem is, you cannot stay where you are. If you are not growing, you are dying.
Wouldn't you just love to hear the Lord say to you, "My how you've grown"? Let's encourage one another this week to keep on growing. Let's compliment the changes and let those who hear those compliments take them as they should—a sign of their own growth and evidence of a family member who loves them, even an old maiden aunt who only sees you every other year.
…speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, (Eph 4:15)
Crepe myrtles are the super-plant of Florida summers. Despite the heat, they bloom and seem to thrive, while everything else wilts and often dies. The garden is over by the first of July, and the flower bed is far past its prime, but those crepe myrtles just keep on going, looking better than ever. And it's all because of Andre Michaux.
Michaux was not an aristocrat. Born on March 8, 1746, he was the son of a French farmer who lived in the shadow of Versailles. He was educated, as most Frenchmen were at the time, in the classics. At 14, his father took him and his brother out of school to learn agriculture, a respected career at the time, and he soon showed a great affinity for making practically anything grow.
When his wife of eleven months, Cecile Claye, died a few days after childbirth in 1770, he was devastated. As we say these days, she was his soulmate, and he never married again. In fact, the area surrounding him became unbearable with sad memories. He soon came to the attention of Louis XVI's physician, who persuaded him to study botany. Before long he became the Royal botanist and was sent on missions to find new trees and plants, specifically to revitalize stripped French forests, and leaving his new son with his grandparents, was happy to get away. After that his life reads like an adventure novel, with treks to all parts of Asia, Africa, and the wilderness of North America, riding for miles on horseback, canoeing down uncharted rivers, and once being kidnapped by hostile tribes.
And here is where we find Andre and the crepe myrtle. Originally from China it was first taken to England. No one was impressed. England was too cold a climate, even in the summer, for it to bloom. So in 1786, Michaux brought it to the American South instead. "Voila!" Michaux might have said in his native French. This plant loved the heat, the humidity, and any type of soil you stuck it in. He is also credited with introducing the mimosa and the camellia here in the South.
So thanks to Andre Michaux, we had been looking for crepe myrtles for a while, the bush variety, not the trees. Nathan and Brooke gave us some shoots that had come up around theirs and we gratefully planted them, and kept on looking for those bushes. I am still not sure there is actually a difference in the plant, as one article I read said, or if it is all about how it is pruned, but after five or six years we still hadn’t found what we wanted, and that fall noticed the seed pods on our transplants. We looked at each other and said, “Well, I’ve never heard of doing it before, but why not plant those seeds in some nursery pots?”
We did, and guess what? In spite of the fact that we had never heard of doing it before, they grew! This past spring we transplanted 8 one foot high crepe myrtles from that nursery pot experiment, all of which are blooming just fine in the Florida summer.
Haven’t you heard it? Someone comes up with an idea for spreading the gospel—one that is not beyond the bounds of God’s authority—but someone else pipes up, “I never heard of doing that before,” and expects that to be the end of the discussion. In fact it often is, especially when prefaced by “Why, I’ve been a Christian for forty years...” I wonder how many things would never have been done if everyone had that notion?
And the king made from the algum wood supports for the house of the LORD and for the king's house, lyres also and harps for the singers. There never was seen the like of them before in the land of Judah, 2 Chronicles 9:11
The throne had six steps, and at the back of the throne was a calf's head, and on each side of the seat were armrests and two lions standing beside the armrests, while twelve lions stood there, one on each end of a step on the six steps. The like of it was never made in any kingdom, 1Kgs 10:20.
And because of all your abominations I will do with you what I have never yet done, and the like of which I will never do again. Ezekiel 5:9.
He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers who ruled us, by bringing upon us a great calamity. For under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what has been done against Jerusalem, Daniel 9:12.
God didn’t seem to have any trouble accepting Solomon’s unique adornments for his throne and for the Temple. He wasn’t above using punishments the like of which no one had ever seen before. He certainly didn’t mind confounding the world by sacrificing His Son for our sins. Aren’t you glad?
We might be in bad company if “I’ve never heard of doing that before” becomes the source of authority for our actions.
As they were going away, behold, a demon-oppressed man who was mute was brought to him. And when the demon had been cast out, the mute man spoke. And the crowds marveled, saying, "Never was anything like this seen in Israel." But the Pharisees said, "He casts out demons by the prince of demons," Matthew 9:32-34.
Jesus didn’t fit their preconceived notions so they accused Him of consorting with the Devil. I’ve heard Christians come close when someone suggested something new to reach the lost, especially if it cost any money.
God tells us every word and action should be by His authority, not by whether we’ve heard of it or not. I wouldn’t have any crepe myrtles if we had followed that dictum—and none of us would have a hope of salvation.
For from of old men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen a God besides thee, who works for him that waits for him, Isaiah 64:4.
It happens every time Keith and I walk the property. Suddenly I find myself pushed into the rough while he walks the path. I learned a long time ago to just push back and he immediately realizes what he is doing.
Keith was raised in the Ozarks, born in a farmhouse in the back country, down a rocky lane and across from a cow field lined with wild blackberries, a steep hill rising straight from the back porch. As a boy he walked the woods, his feet naturally finding the easy way among all the stones, limbs, and golf ball sized black walnut hulls and acorns as he gazed upward into the trees. If he doesn’t actively think about what he is doing, his feet still do that from long ingrained habit. He’s always embarrassed and aggravated with himself when he realizes what he’s done to me, and he appreciates the nudges when I find myself knee high in briars.
Life is a little like that. Most of us live everyday muddling through as best we can, oblivious to anything but our own cares, our own needs, trying to make things run as smoothly as possible. What makes “a bad day” for us? When things don’t go smoothly—a malfunctioning coffee pot, a stubborn zipper, a flat tire on the way to work, a traffic jam that makes us late when we had left in plenty of time, a spouse or toddler who had the ill grace to wake up in as foul a temper as we did.
It takes active thought to control your selfish impulses and consider others. It takes effort to accomplish the difficult—self-control, self-improvement, compassion for people who, like us, don’t deserve it. But that’s exactly what our Lord expects of us. This is exactly the example he left us.
Even under a weight of responsibility none of us can imagine, he gave his disciples his careful attention and encouragement. Even in tension-filled situations he showed compassion to both the sick and the sinner. Even in tremendous pain and weakness, he remembered his mother and forgave the pawns of a murderous mob.
If Jesus had looked for the smooth way, none of us would ever have hope of one. But if all we look for now is the smooth way, we may as well enjoy it while we can. It’s the only smooth way we will ever have.
Enter in by the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and many are they that enter in thereby. For narrow is the gate, and straitened the way, that leads unto life, and few are they that find it. Matt 7:13,14.
Several years ago, a prominent female politician angered many American women when she answered a reporter about her choice of career over homemaking by saying, “Well I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies.” Most of us read a sneer in her tone and, as I remember it, her office was inundated with homemade cookies baked and sent by outraged homemakers.
One of the things I decided to do as a homemaker was to keep a cookie jar filled with homemade cookies, and for the most part I have. Chewy oatmeal raisin, spicy gingersnaps, crumbly peanut butter, sparkly snickerdoodles, decadent triple chocolate, wonderful almond crunch cookies that always surprise people and steal the show, and all those variations of the All-American chocolate chip: Toll House, Neimann Marcus, peanut butter chocolate chip, double chocolate chip, oatmeal chocolate chip, and death by chocolate chocolate chip. My boys would come home from their friends’ houses talking about how deprived they were—all they had were Oreos.
My younger son Nathan was especially fond of cookies. As a toddler, he would pull up a chair to stand in so he could “help” me make cookies—help that usually involved tasting the dough to make sure it was good, and then “cleaning” the beaters. When he was in high school, I bought him a shirt that said, Life’s Greatest Questions: Who Am I? Where Did I Come From? Why Am I Here? WHERE ARE THE COOKIES?
Eventually that chubby, tow-headed, blue-eyed cherub became a long, lean man who went off to college. The first time he came home he brought a friend with him. He immediately led the buddy to the counter where the cookie jar always sat. “See? I told you there would be cookies.” Until he married I would bake cookies and save a dozen each week in a freezer bag until I had 4 or 5 kinds, then mail them to him and start all over. This was one serious cookie connoisseur. I am not sure what else made an impression on him, but I know he will remember that I loved him enough to make cookies for him.
I am reminded of David after his small army defeated the Amalekites. Not all of his men were as righteous as he. Several “wicked men and base fellows” did not want to share the spoils with the men who had stayed at camp, guarding their belongings. David said, You shall not do so, my brothers, with that which Jehovah has given us…the share of him who goes down to the battle shall be the same as he who tarried by the baggage; they shall share alike, and it was from that day forward a statute and ordinance in Israel. 1 Sam 30:23-25. David understood the value of those who did the behind-the-scenes work, the jobs others considered less important, and which seldom received glory or recognition.
Think about Dorcas. Stephen, the deacon and great preacher, had been killed not long before. James the apostle, a cousin of Jesus himself, would be next. But who did Peter raise from the dead? Not the powerful speakers who performed miracles, but a widow who made clothes for the poor, Acts 9:36-42. Surely God was saying that what we consider small and unimportant tasks are actually some of the greatest of all.
Never underestimate the importance of “baking cookies.”
For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink because you are Christ’s, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward, Mark 9:41.
I still have fond memories of Silas’s first solo visit with us out here in the country. He was not quite four and stayed three nights alone, no mom and dad to get in the way and spoil the fun! The first morning we had to assure him that walking outside barefoot was not a capital crime, but once his toes hit the cool green grass, he giggled delightedly. “I like bare feet!” he instantly proclaimed, and took off running.
He was used to being inside all day, playing with his Matchbox cars, putting together puzzles, reading books, and watching his “shows,” educational though they might be. Yet he found out there were a lot of fun things to do outside, especially when you have five acres to romp around in instead of a postage stamp-sized yard. That’s all they give you in the city these days.
He and Granddad whacked the enemy weeds with green limb “swords.” They pulled the garden cart up the rise to the carport and rode it down. They dug roads in the sandy driveway and flew paper airplanes in the yard. They played in the hose and threw mud balls at one another. Every night this little guy went to bed far earlier than he usually did at home—it was that or pass out on the couch from exhaustion as we read Bible stories.
My favorite memory is watching him as we walked Chloe every morning. He begged for one of my walking sticks and I adjusted it to his height. Then he ran on ahead, hopping and skipping along, holding granddad’s too-big red baseball cap on his head with one hand so it wouldn’t fall off, the walking stick dangling from the other upraised arm, singing and laughing as he went. That picture of sheer joy will forever be etched in my memory. He may have been too little to remember it himself, but someday I will tell him about it, someday when he needs a reminder of joy at a not so joyous time.
I remember that time nearly every morning when I walk Chloe, especially when we reach the back fence where Silas’s little feet suddenly took off on the straightaway and his laughter reached its peak. And I wonder if God has anything etched in His memory, anything from that time in Eden when everything was perfect and his two children felt joy every day in their surroundings, in each other, and in Him. Surely, the God who knows all has special memories of how it used to be. Can you read the end of Revelation and not think so?
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever, Revelation 22:1-5.
Maybe God has recorded that so we, too, can be reminded not of what we have lost, but of what we have waiting for us. Maybe He put it there for the times when life here is not so joyous, a picture of hope to carry us through. It may not be etched in our memories—not yet—but the fact that He still remembers it and wants it, means someday we won’t have to count on etchings any longer. Some day it will all be real once again.
Dene Ward has taught the Bible for more than forty years, spoken at women’s retreats and lectureships, and has written both devotional books and class materials. She lives in Lake Butler, Florida, with her husband Keith.