Since her daughter and son-in-law are members of the church I was pastoring, I called on this lady in the hospital. Later, I told the son-in-law about the visit.
“She didn’t look at all like your wife, and she must have been really sick. She hardly said a word during my visit.”
A couple of days later, he said to me, “My mother-in-law says she didn’t meet you in the hospital. She had gone home the day before your visit.That must have been someone else you saw.”
I said, “Are you sure?” He said, “Very sure. The tip-off came when you said she didn’t have anything to say. That was NOT my wife’s mother!”
He laughed and added, “You know, there’s a very confused lady up there in the hospital right now. The preacher came to see her and prayed for her by the wrong name.”
Which raises an interesting point about that prayer: Does God hear such a prayer, even when we get names wrong and the facts are skewed?
Of course He does. Jesus said, “Your Father knows, even before you ask.” (See Matthew 6:32)
Here’s something from an old notebook of mine on how backward things are in this world….
A Burma Shave sign on the roadside a half century ago read:
IN THIS VALE
OF WOE AND SIN
YOUR HEAD GROWS BALD
BUT NOT YOUR CHIN.
The backwardness of this reminds me of a line from Sinclair Lewis’ book Elmer Gantry in which some critic of the Christian faith made this observation: “If there really were a good God, He would have made good health contagious instead of the other way around.”
There are indeed a lot of things backward about this world we’re living in. For good reasons, Scripture describes this as a fallen world and mankind as fallen creatures, living far beneath the original plan.
Hey, I was thinking about the Magi–the wise men–who visited Jesus in Bethlehem. One reason we like them is that they came, saw, worshiped, gave their presents, and left.
They did not hang around.
I’ll go take groceries to the needy, visit the prisoners in jail, call on the elderly in nursing homes, and work with the trailer park kids….just as long as I don’t have to stay. Just as long as I can still come home.
That’s why the incarnation of Jesus was so special. He came to stay. The Word became flesh and dwelt (“pitched his tent and lived”) among us. (John 1:14) Furthermore, He promises, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5-6).
A fellow walks into the house from church and exclaims, “Wow. Wasn’t that a blessing? What’s on television?”
Yep. That’s how we are.
Brennan Manning, widely acclaimed writer and former Catholic priest, says there are 3 different levels of faith/commitments among even genuine hearers of God’s word:
a) The 30 percenters. They’re nice people, pillars of the church. But they pull back from the radical demands of the gospel. They have no fire.
b) The 60 percenters. They do good work and stay close enough to the fire to stay warm. But they never plunge in. They lack a passionate love for Jesus.
c) The 100 percenters. These few are on fire for the Lord. “For me to live is Christ.” They have “left everything and followed Jesus.”
My notes say this story from Haddon Robinson (widely-read and greatly loved writer and professor of preachers) is dated April 30, 2004, when some friends and I attended a banquet in the Washington D.C. area where he was guest speaker. His text was Luke 16:9, where Jesus tells people to “use money to make friends for yourself on earth, so they will welcome you into heaven.”
A man was shipwrecked and washed up on a remote island. There, the natives found him and treated him like a king. He loved the adoration, and learned the language.
In time, the man found out something disturbing. These natives had an unusual custom: They would treat someone as king for one year, after which they would take him to the next island and abandon him to starve.
So, the man did something shrewd. During the year of his reign, he sent natives over to that island to live and build houses and plant farms. Then, when his year was up and he was banished to that island, he continued to live in luxury and plenty.
Dr. Robinson said, “Jesus would have liked that story.” Indeed.
When Walt Disney was 9 years old, he would crawl out of bed at 3:30 am to deliver papers. His family was poor, and his father did not believe in buying toys for children. Walt used to tell how “On nice summer mornings I used to come to houses with those big old porches and the kids would have left some of their toys out. I would find them and play with them on the porch until it was just barely getting light. Then, I’d get back to my paper route!”
I love that story for many reasons, chief among them being that he did not let his father’s narrowmindedness and wrongheadedness bottle up his fertile imagination. People sometimes complain to me that their fathers were failures in one way or the other and that explains why they are dysfunctional. Walt Disney reminds us that we can rise above our parents’ limitations.
Were I a psychiatrist or psychologist, I might be able to trace how the repression of Mr. Disney actually feuled Walt’s imagination and his love for toys, which ended up giving us Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and a host of their friends.
Do not let the “No” of someone overrule your “yes.”
This strange little story has two parts.
Some years back a county welfare worker in Mississippi was recounting some of the strange names of people she had met in her work over the years. One was “Ninthamay Terry.” She asked the woman, “Why did they name you that?” The lady said, “I was born on the 9th of May.”
Not long ago, I told that story to two teenagers in Alabama. When I finished, the boy, a 17-year-old high school athlete–said, “That’s my birthday. May 9!” And then he added, “And my name is Terry, too!”
So in a sense, we now have two Ninthamay Terrys.
What are the chances?
Alfred Adler, one of the fathers of modern psychiatry, says the desire for recognition, the wish to be significant, is the dominant impulse in human nature.
Carl Sandburg expressed it as, “We all want to play Hamlet.”
When William Howard Taft was president, he was being pestered by the wife of a housepainter (someway or other, he knew the woman) to appoint her husband as Secretary of Commerce, of all things.
President Taft told her, “It takes a big man for that, one prepared by years of training.”
The woman replied, “If you would appoint him to the position, he would be a big man!”
Everyone is looking for shortcuts to greatness. Jesus said it’s all about servanthood.
Ninth and last
When our oldest grandson was a second-grader (he’s now a high school junior), the full family attended his school program. Before the program started, my son was making idle conversation and said, “Uh, Dad, I don’t want to make you feel bad, but….”
I thought, “Oh no. What’s coming now?”
“When I was in the first grade, we were doing this class program and all the other parents were there. I kept looking for you and mom. And right at the last, when we were leaving the stage, I looked up and you both were coming in the front door.”
I had no memory of that at all. Doubtless, we attended a ton of those programs, but after all these years, they are only a blur now. Interesting how what stayed with him was the one time we were late.
That’s why what happened at the grandson’s program was significant. There were 600 of us sitting through an endless parade of little kids dancing and miming, tumbling and strutting in the school gymnasium, when my son leaned over and said, “I have to leave in a few minutes to get to my ball game.”
Then, remembering the conversation we had just had, he said to me, “I’ve been with Grant to all the rehearsals, so he won’t be hurt by my leaving.”
A moment later, the principal called a 10 minute break and turned the lights on. Grant stepped out of the cast and walked over. “Where’s Dad?” His mom Julie told him the truth. He seemed unmoved by the news, surrounded as he was by his mother, two little sisters, two grandfathers, and one grandmother. That’s a lot of support.
I said to Julie, “Tell Neil that his missing Grant’s program tonight erases my tardiness when he was in the first grade.”
Interesting thing, this business of attending children’s programs. No child ever remembers that his folks attended, only when they do not. That makes it a type of emotional blackmail. If we miss his show, he will be scarred for light and we are to blame that he becomes a serial killer or a lawyer. Furthermore, I’m honestly not sure what the point was for that program. The chldren came out in groups, dressed in various costumes, doing their little routines, and were on stage for maybe 3 minutes. For that, the 600 of us paid $4 admission and sat on those bleachers for two hours. (Ah, there’s the point: money. Schools need money.)
The child, of course, is worth the trouble, make no mistake about that. I would drive any distance and pay big money to add esteem to his psyche and joy to his heart.
That’s a big reason we in the church knock ourselves out to give the children the best facilities, resources, and workers. Not because they will use it against us if we don’t, but because they are precious to us and training them up well is one of our highest priorities.