Shifting Blame – It’s a Natural Kid Thing

This is the 6th of a series of 15 devotionals from the late 80s when my oldest sons were just little boys …

Have you ever noticed how difficult it is for little children to admit that they have done something wrong?

At our house, it is always “my brother” who was wrong. It is always the other guy who “took that away from me” or “hit me first.”

Even at age two they are able to shift the blame for a fault. Aaron has the same habit as his older brothers of helping himself to the cookies and crackers in the pantry (the all-time most frequently-committed crime in our house).

One day after getting into the cheerios and wheat chex he got his animal friends out, lined them up, and then gave them a mommy-like lecture … “Why did you make this mess; I’m going to spank your bottom!”

Around that same time he took Diana’s face firmly in his hands and sternly said, “Look at me, were you a bad boy; did you get the crackers out?”

Surely though, none of you will be surprised to hear that Benjamin has been the worst for getting food out of the pantry, refrigerator, freezer, etc. He has been spanked innumerable times for these capers. What I can’t believe about him is that when he sees you coming at him, he will quickly stuff as much as he can in his mouth before the spanking hits.

One day I went to our chest freezer in the cellar and found a bag of thawed chicken parts on the lid. An investigation of three local suspects yielded nothing. I took them to the basement and to the scene of the crime, where Benjamin accidentally confessed by saying, “That felt like a bag of bones yesterday.”

At the supper table, Nathan is a typical little boy with the bad habit of wiping his hands on his pants. Diana was particularly concerned one night recently when we had beets with the meal. Sure enough, the dirty hands headed under the table and Diana said, “Nathan, did you just wipe your hands on your pants?” And he said, “No mommy, I really didn’t.” She said, “Yes you did, I saw you do it!”  Nathan said, “I really didn’t because I wiped them on the chair!”

Nathan can also at times make profound theological observations. Not long ago he had a mild head cold, which for Nathan is a major disease (he has been incredibly healthy and in fact has not missed a Wednesday night Awana meeting in three years). He was frustrated with constantly having to blow his nose and said, “I wish Adam and Eve had never sinned because then we wouldn’t get colds!”

Speaking of Adam and Eve, not only were they the first sinners, but they were also the first to shift the blame for what they had done. Adam blamed the “woman you gave me” and Eve blamed the serpent.

David went for months with unconfessed sin, knowing it was wrong, yet unwilling to face it. He couldn’t get away from it, saying, “My sin is ever before me.” But in time, David faced his sin, confessed it, and experienced God’s forgiveness.

Theologically, confession is agreeing with God as to the nature of sin – calling it what it is – seeing it as God sees it.

How very often though we are like little children – unwilling to face our wrong and call it what it is: sin.

Overvaluation of Self

Today I will share with you two short devotionals – one about having an accurate view of self, and the other about the daily presence of God …

You have all heard much about mealtime at our home, one of the favorite times of the day. How I am ever going to feed these guys when they grow bigger is beyond me. We just don’t know what it would be like to have a picky eater. Aaron is especially fond of meals, which is obvious to all, I suppose. He is all business at the table.

Diana and I wish that the boys’ manners matched their appetites. One particular night not long ago, the demolition was particularly out of control and Nathan and Benjamin were being severely reprimanded. Aaron was too busy eating to be in much trouble and escaped the verbal assault.

After the smoke had cleared, and as the older two wiped the tears away, Aaron grinned and quietly said, “Mommy and daddy, I’m always a good boy!”  I about died trying to hold in the laughter, and in the end it just all came flooding out from everyone.

Aaron’s self-evaluation was surely an exaggeration, but similar to one that many people make. The world is full of folks who know they are not perfect, yet feel they are basically good enough to declare themselves generally righteous.

The problem may be found within the church as well. Many Christians may continually disregard God’s instructions in areas of faithfulness, yet still feel that the situation is not really that bad – that they are basically good Christians. Often the problem is not what we do wrong, but rather what we do not do right.


God’s Presence   

My three guys are like most children their age in that they hate to go to bed. On top of this, they have apparently inherited their parents’ tendency toward being “night people.”

Very frankly, I hate kids’ bed-time. It is often as if the boys are trying to quickly release all of their leftover energy from the day, before they reluctantly have to go to sleep. Clothing is flying through the air; beds are being cleared of blocks, dinosaurs and books; child Olympians are training for the long jump on their beds; the heavily-congested traffic flow between the bathroom and bedroom leads to numerous head-on collisions; toothpaste is dripping from the vanity while torrents of water sweep across the floor; and blonde-haired little munchkins are stashing their pillows with after-dark delights like matchbox trucks, glowbugs, kazoos and chapstick.

It is immediately after this scene that the Buchman boys usually do their Awana work. Aaron has started Cubbies this year and has been learning the days of creation (can you recite what was made on each of the days?).

Diana went through the first six days with him in good shape, he got them all correct. Then Diana said, “And what did God do on the seventh day?”  Aaron exclaimed with a big grin, clearly emphasizing each word, “HE … WENT … TO … BED!!”

Oops. Right concept, wrong answer. God did rest from his work, but I can’t quite see him catching a few Zzz’s.

The Bible tells us in Psalm 121 that God never slumbers nor sleeps. Man, aren’t you glad about that? God’s conscious presence is with us at all times.

Psalm 139 declares this very idea. It tells us that there is no place we may go to escape his presence, not even at the bottom of the sea. Neither does the darkness of night stop God, for it says, “The darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee”

The knowledge of God’s constant presence is for us a comfort, in that He is ever available to help us in difficult times; but also it is a warning, in that He knows and sees our every step and move.

Differences within the Family

Today is a big day within the Buchman family, as our youngest son graduates from college. We have had at least one son in college for the past 17 consecutive years. I remember when the oldest was approaching this age that I did the math as to when and how old I’d be when the final one finished. And this is the day. Those costly years went by quickly.

Here in this series of 15 devotionals from three decades ago is this fourth one in that series, and it talks about learning styles ….

Experts in the field of education tell us that there are various categories of learners. Some people are visual learners (learning by what they see), while others are auditory learners (by what they hear). And then there are those who are called kinesthetic learners. These are people who accumulate information by what they do and physically experience.

It is interesting for Diana and me to look at our boys and see how they are different in learning tendencies. Nathan is an auditory learner for sure. He remembers anything he hears. So we try to provide a lot of tapes of Bible stories and music for him.

Aaron is either like Nathan, or he might be a more visual learner. He can sit for long periods of time and look at pictures in books.

But Benjamin, yes, Benjamin is the perfect example of a kinesthetic learner. Listening takes too much time and looking at pictures is boring. Instead of reading about war, he’d rather make it! He simply cannot prevent himself from touching and handling everything – for that is how he learns. When Diana is baking, Nathan is asking questions, Aaron is moving benches from one end of the kitchen to the other to be able to see, and Benjamin is getting his hands slapped for touching and tasting everything in sight.

We went for a hike in the woods recently, and their tendencies were immediately obvious. Even though we emphasized quiet, Nathan is talking, talking, talking. Aaron is walking along looking at everything but the rocks in the path. And Benjamin is lagging behind collecting samples of nuts, leaves, ferns, etc. When we got back to the car, his pockets were full of small objects, and had both hands full of large leaf and fern specimens to take home to rot on the garage floor.

We enjoy the diversity of our boys’ personalities, although Diana is not sure about how she is going to handle Benjamin in a classroom setting.

Diversity adds spice to life. And just as the differences in our boys enhance our family, so does diversity in people and personality enhance a church family. But for some reason, Christians are often less willing to tolerate different people in church than anywhere else. But God wants the church to be diverse. It is healthiest when it is. This the whole idea behind the illustration of the church as the “body.”

The need of the day is not to dislike another because he or she is different, but rather to appreciate them as God’s gift to you, to minister to you and make you better in areas of deficit.

“The Meal that Only a Mother could Eat”

This is the 3rd of a series of 15 devotionals written almost 30 years ago when my oldest three sons were very little …

I am sure you have heard of the expression “a face that only a mother could love.” Obviously my three sons are all so outstanding that none of them qualify for this expression. Rather, what I would like to tell you about is “the meal that only a mother could eat.”

Every so often our boys like to play “restaurant.” It really is cute to watch – that is unless you are playing the role of the customer. We’re not talking about pretend food with play money here. Nope! The real thing! Diana calls it a learning experience; my stomach calls it a churning experience.

Diana and I are escorted to our seats in the living room where our orders are received. The menu is generally rather limited to cold sandwiches, fruit, pickles and olives. Having taken our orders of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a banana, two pickles and three olives, the chefs then race out of the room and around the corner to be the first into the kitchen to “cook” our food.

This entire experience evokes not only physical discomforts (commencing with the initial sight of the platter) but mental anguish as well. For you see, at this particular restaurant, there are no doors between the dining area and the kitchen to muffle the sounds. One is not able to see, but one is most able to hear the preparation of his lunch.

One cook is given the responsibility by the senior chef to get the dishes out, which requires a sort of rock face climbing act on the kitchen cabinets. Cups, saucers and plates cascade noisily from the cabinets to the counters, and finally to the floor itself.

“Benjamin,” Nathan yells. “Those plates dropped right into the garbage can!”

“It’s OK,” Ben pleads. “They really didn’t get very dirty.”

Before I am able to shout my protest, the distinctly clear, bass drum sound of a crashing peanut butter jar precedes Aaron’s screams of “My toes! Oochy-ouchy my toes are boo-booed!”

“Diana!” I exclaim. “They’re going to die in the kitchen before we die in the living room!”

“Relax,” she says with what appears to me to be an uncharacteristically calm demeanor. “They’re fine – this kind of stuff goes on every day around here.”

I am not comforted.

The rancor in the restaurant kitchen has escalated and taken on a menacingly personal sound. “Benjamin, get your yucky hands out of the jar … you’re stepping on the knife … Oh Aaron, you’re messing up daddy’s sandwich … pick up that bread off the floor … No, you dropped the pickle, you wash it off!”

I again press my protest to the kitchen’s owner. “Diana, I’m not going to eat this; you’ve got to be kidding!”

“Oh Randy,” she says. “They really do a pretty good job for their age. You’ll live.”

Suddenly there is quiet on earth and in heaven. Three giant grins walk around the corner with this thing called lunch. “Oh my!” I exclaim, as I swallow hard. “Isn’t this nice! What a good job you’ve done!”  (Seeking divine forgiveness even as I speak)  The plate contains a slice of bread with a blob of peanut butter in the middle an inch thick, six pretzels, 10 olives, three pickles, a slice of fingerprinted cheese, and a candy cane for dessert.

“See,” Diana says. “It’s not that bad. Sometimes you’ve got to let them learn the hard way.”

However, just a bit later I make note that Diana’s attitude slips a couple clicks when she discovers the mess in the kitchen – peanut butter everywhere and more crumbs than there are rocks in the Holy Land.”

All in all, the story illustrates the way in which God frequently has to deal with us as his children. So often we insist on doing it ourselves, exerting our independence. Surely in the process we learn many lessons both good and bad. But in the end it takes God to step in and clean up the mess that we make … redeeming all things. After all, we are the sinners that only God could love!

The Meal Deal Ordeal

This is the 2nd of a series of 15 devotionals written almost 30 years ago when my oldest three sons were very little …

Many of you have asked about our recent vacation. We went to Williamsburg, Jamestown, Yorktown, a marine science museum in Virginia Beach, the Norfolk Navy Base, and the Air and Space Museum in Washington – all in one week with three little kids. But if you were to ask our boys what they liked the most, they would mention things like the replica guns they bought at Yorktown, the tape recorders in the car, the motel room and especially the restaurants where they ate.

Their favorite was a restaurant that offered a 99-cent “Kid’s Meal Deal,” which allowed the boys all they wanted from the soup and salad bar. On top of that, two of them could eat free because they were under five and with a paying adult. So, the three boys could eat all they wanted for a combined total of 99 cents.

Some of you have seen my guys eat or have heard me talk about it. We can’t relate to parents who have trouble getting their children to eat or who have problems keeping their children at the table for longer than five minutes. Our kids will keep eating as long as you keep bringing them food. We have to sometimes say, “That’s it, lunch is done, you’re finished, get down and wash up!”

There is now a restaurant in Williamsburg that will no longer be offering the “Kid’s Meal Deal.” My trio cleaned them out! Benjamin exhausted their supply of “the green stuff with the marshmallows” and Nathan ate all of their kiwi fruit. Together, the three of them emptied several bowls of cracker packages.

Of course, with every return to the salad bar, it was necessary to get a new, clean plate. Well, the plates started piling up in the middle of table and the busboy had to come periodically to take them away and keep the bar supplied. He just looked at the kids with a dumbfounded expression.

Other customers at nearby tables were watching and grinning at this unscheduled floor show. The waitresses were standing together whispering back and forth. The kids were pouring it down and heading back for more, weaving between people like O.J. through a defensive backfield. Benjamin hopped on one lady’s foot while he excitedly returned to the bar saying, “I just love, love, love this green stuff!”

Diana and I had long since finished our meal and she was organizing their efforts and trying to prevent them from talking too loudly in unbridled excitement. I was sitting there watching and taking notes for this article. After two hours we finally said, “This is your last trip … And Benjamin, no more green stuff!”  Nathan protested, “But where are the salad bars, I haven’t found them yet!”  I guess he expected something like a granola bar (maybe he could invent one… imagine it – low calorie salad bars; you could eat them for snacks!).

For us, the “Kid’s Meal Deal” was a kid’s meal ordeal more than a deal. We didn’t go on vacation for the purpose of eating in a restaurant. But I’m afraid we are a legend now at that place.

Why do we exist as a church? What is our purpose? I am afraid that many times we are like three hungry little boys in a restaurant, grabbing all of the goodies for ourselves and forgetting the larger context and purpose for being in the community. We are to be a light to the world; but too often we are consumed with pigging out on the feasts of teaching and fellowship within our own context of the church family. We are to surely minister to those within the body who are hurting, but too often the business of chowing down on varied blessings prevents our awareness of another’s hunger.

As a church we have attempted to be one that offers a lot of the variety at the ecclesiastical soup and salad bar. You can get a big bowl of fellowship and a plate full of discipleship, Bible study and edification, all topped with a dressing of prayer. But in our exuberance let us not forget the hungry who stand outside and all about us.

Once and For All

Today is the first of 15 devotionals over the next three weeks that look back almost three decades to when my oldest boys were roughly ages 8, 6, and 5 … or thereabouts. At that time, while pastoring in New Jersey, I wrote devotionals for a monthly newsletter. They were called “Life with My 3 Sons” … and later the title had to change to “… my 4 sons.”  My mother-in-law recently found these in her keepsakes and sent them to me. I had mostly forgotten about them. Reading them now is interesting, especially if you know these guys as young adults. If not, the stories recount common family life occurrences we all know, along with a biblical application. So have fun reading them. The first one begins …

Tell me you have never had the following type of experience with a child …

One of my boys comes to me with a drawing – excuse me – a masterpiece of what could be best described as abstract art.

“Oh Nathan,” I’ll exclaim. “That is the nicest car I’ve ever seen drawn by anyone!”

“Don’t be silly daddy,” he’ll respond. “That’s not a car; it’s two dinosaurs playing football.”

Oh.

I have learned my lesson. Never do I now respond with a speculation concerning what a particular piece of artwork is depicting. I make open-ended remarks like, “Wow, that is so cool. Tell me about this beautiful picture with all the colors!”

The pictures that children draw are a window to their minds and thoughts. And because of that, I was particularly pleased to hear Nathan’s explanation of the following sketch …

He drew this a few months back while sitting in church with Diana during an evening service, having had a Sunday School lesson that morning on the Tabernacle and Temple system of the Old Testament.

What? Oh? You need some explanation?

The upper left is the altar with the sacrifice on top. The top drawing is the tabernacle tent of meeting. The bottom-left is the Temple with the most holy place outlined. Of course, the bottom center is Jesus on the cross. And on the right is the explanation – “No more. But Jesus died. No more of that.”  Note that the arrows from the “no more” go to the sacrifice, the tabernacle, and the Temple. The “1 time” is listed over the cross.

Hey folks – there’s some very good theology in this drawing. And it is exciting as a parent to see your children learn the Word through their Sunday School teachers (in this case, Peggy McCormick). It illustrates the value of a good children’s education ministry.

Hebrews 7:27 – Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.

The Rewards are Out of this World (Matthew 6:19-21)

You have probably heard the phrase about the performance of Christian service that says, “the work may be of little earthly value, but the rewards are out of this world.” Indeed they are! The Great Story Book says in 1 Corinthians 2:9, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”  That is quite an assertion to say that no mind has ever conceived how awesome it is… I don’t know about you, but I think my mind could conceive of some pretty good stuff!

There has always been a hesitance in evangelical circles to talk much about heavenly rewards. The thought is that such a mindset is a sort of spiritual materialism. But the Scriptures do talk about it without shame. Jesus in fact told the disciples to work toward such, with such a perspective in mind…

MT 6:19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

What comes first, the heart or the treasure?  Jesus says your heart will follow that which you treasure. That is true. We find time and energy for the things most important to us. It seems to me he could have just as well said it the other way… your treasure will be where your heart resides. The heart is at the center of our values system. We might see it as like two sides of a coin.

Those who have a lot of things in this world need to focus a lot of concern on the things of this world, using a lot of energy to assure they are not stolen. When I was a seminary student in Dallas in 1982, I had a swimming pool cleaning business. Being a poor student, I was driving a rusted old car my dad had cast off… a 1967 Pontiac Bonneville.  So on one particular day, I drove my bucket of rusty bolts around to the back side of a client’s especially luxurious home and went to work on their pool. It was not long before a Dallas police car came roaring up the driveway. The officer got out, looked into the windows of my car, saw my golf bag with a Dallas Country Club logo (a Christmas present Diana got me from another seminarian’s wife who worked in the pro shop there) and said, “So, you’re a member of the Dallas Country Club, eh?”  I had to explain a lot to him about that, and finally convinced him that not many thieves were likely to clean their victim’s pool before leaving. He told me a neighbor saw my quality car and called the police. Do you worry about what cars go in and out of your neighbor’s house?

The things of this world truly do become hindrances as well as blessings.  I always admired a former associate who lived with the belief he was eventually going to serve in missions, and accumulating a lot of stuff would only make too much work disposing of it someday. So, when he moved to a new ministry, he was able to put his whole household into a single, small U-Haul. He had the flexibility to go and do whatever God directed at practically a moment’s notice.

There is a faithful God who is faithful to reward a faithful life. And so we labor on, encouraged by the fact that our Father does not forget our diligence in serving Him in this Christian life.

Heb. 6:10 God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. 11 We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. 12 We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

That is such an encouragement! Everyone else might forget (if they even notice in the first place) but God always remembers, and he is faithful and just. And the future is bright and full of encouraging thoughts.

1 Thes. 4:16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage each other with these words.

Every great story ends with some version of… “and they lived happily ever after.”  So does your story, the story God is writing that includes your life, your epic journey.

REV 21:22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

REV 22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

A Place Called Home (Hebrews 11)

There’s no place like home! It is great to go away, take a vacation, etc. But I always enjoy walking back in the door of the place called “home.”  There is nothing quite like it. We have had international students live with us for a summer; and we liked it and they liked it. But after a while, they were ready to go home.

The only thing I like about a blizzard is that I am stuck at the place I most like to be – I don’t have to go anywhere or do anything, because I can’t. I can just enjoy being home!

If you had to live for a while at the home of someone else, would you lay claim to all their things? Would you grasp their possessions like you could not dare to let them go?  Would you pretty much forget all about your real home? Of course not! But we are often like that in our Christian experience. The fact of the matter is that we are not home in this world, so we should not grasp the things of this world like they belong to us in some eternal way.

Abraham was content to wander all his years after leaving his former home to go to a place of God’s calling.

HEB 11:8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

HEB 11:13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country–a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Do you admit you are an alien and a stranger on earth? That is a very healthy perspective to gain, and it demonstrates maturity and godly attitude. In fact, aging and the multiplied sorrows of life may well be seen as a grace of God – to help us let go of this passing world and cause our glance to ever more be cast toward eternal shores.

The following story is one of the oldest illustrations floating around “Evangelical Preacher World,” but does so because it packs a very potent perspective. After the presidency of Teddy Roosevelt ended, he went on an extended safari to Africa and shot many wild animals to bring home for display in the Smithsonian Institution. It was a famous trip in the public eye; and when he returned, a huge group from the press corps greeted him at the dock along with marching bands. On that same ship was an elderly couple, also returning from Africa after a lifetime of service there as missionaries. Unlike TR, there was not a soul to greet them. And in the taxi, the husband spoke a bit sourly of the seeming injustice of the matter as viewed by eternal values. All his wife said was, “Honey, we need to remember that we are not really HOME yet.”

2 Peter 3:13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

This Christian Life is not in Vain (1 Corinthians 15)

Imagine giving years and years of your life to something, and then to have it come down to the final pivotal moment when all of your work culminates in its reward, only to have it all go awry! That is what a group of scientists must have felt like just a few years ago. Here is the news story…

DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, Utah (AP) – Scientists with tweezers picked through the twisted wreckage of a space capsule that crash-landed on Earth, hoping that microscopic clues to the evolution of the solar system weren’t completely lost in Utah’s salt flats.

NASA engineers were stunned Wednesday when neither parachute deployed aboard the Genesis capsule and the craft plummeted to the ground at 193 mph, breaking open like a clamshell and exposing its collection of solar atoms to contamination.

“There was a big pit in my stomach,” said physicist Roger Wiens of Los Alamos National Laboratory. “This just wasn’t supposed to happen. We’re going to have a lot of work picking up the pieces.”

The capsule held billions of charged atoms — a total haul no bigger than a few grains of salt — that were harvested from solar wind on five collecting disks during the 884-day, $260-million mission.

Helicopters flown by Hollywood stunt pilots were supposed to grab Genesis almost a mile above the Utah desert and lower it gently to the ground by snatching its main parachute with a hook. But before the capture team learned of the parachute failure, the speeding capsule had plummeted into the Utah desert.

Imagine the frustration… to design something like that, send it out to distant space and have it return, only to crash at the very end of the project! But that is a picture of what the lives of many people are like. They spend all of their lives pursuing dreams and endeavors, only to have it all crash at the end because they are not rightly related to Jesus Christ. It is “climbing the ladder of success and upon getting to the top, discovering that it was leaning against the wrong building.”

Man, if this faith thing, this Jesus stuff is not true, we have worked and believed and lived in vain. We crash at the end. We run out of ladder rungs against a cold, stone edifice.  Paul said it this way…

1CO 15:12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

But Paul goes on to say that Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, and His resurrection makes all the difference. The story God is writing holds promise for the future… the guarantee for a glorious hereafter. Such knowledge changes the way we live. It affects our priorities on a daily basis. The stuff of this world is only of value for this world, passing away relatively soon after it begins. But our labor for God is not in vain.

1CO 15:58 Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

This Christian Life is Doable (Hebrews 12:1-3)

As most of you know, I coached high school kids in cross country and track for 13 years. It is a really different type of sport compared to many others, as the athletes see their opponents very frequently and often spend hours upon hours at meets in the same stadium. Even among fierce competitors, there frequently develops a mutual encouragement society. Track teams are pretty large, and most of the athletes spend a bulk of their time in the stands watching others perform. Usually, there are more athletes in the stands than there are simple spectators. The athletes understand each other, because they know from their own experience the labor that has gone into the preparation by those currently competing on the track.

The writer to the Hebrews must have been familiar with such a spectacle. He speaks of those who have gone on to their reward as those who now sit in the stands encouraging the current participants to finish their race well.

HEB 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

I remember back when I was training to compete in my first marathon race, there were a lot of doubts in my mind as to if I could actually do such a thing as run for 26 miles. Over the months of training, I met a great number of people who had completed such an event.  Some of them were greatly gifted athletes, but some of them were also pretty regular types of people – like me! Their experiences were helpful, and the fact that they had done it encouraged me more than anything. If they did it, I could do it too!

Life is tough, and it can get pretty nasty sometimes as unexpected events roll over us like wave after wave at the beach. But others have gone before, endured such sufferings and beyond, and finished their race well.  I hope that is your goal… to finish well… it is a very doable thing. And throngs of people in the stands are telling you so!

So stay faithful in running this Christian life. And spend time together with the others doing the same, encouraging one another about how doable this thing is.