Sometimes life's best lessons come at us unplanned and from unexpected places. Like the past. We are having company for dinner tomorrow, so Linda was busy today cooking and cleaning. The cooking I can appreciate; the cleaning not so much. Don't get me wrong; I appreciate a clean house. I've often told Linda how much I appreciate how she is always working to keep our house such a pleasant place to come home to. She is always sweeping, mopping floors, cleaning sinks and toilets, doing laundry. Dirt and clutter don't stand a chance around here. I believe one of the reasons God put women in men's lives is to keep us from utter barbarity. Left to myself, I'm sure I would soon be living in the equivalent of a barn.
In all this, the one task laid at my feet was to clean up my clutter pile by my chair in the back room. To be honest, I don't think it was that bad, but in our house, I'm not allowed to vote on such things. So I gritted my teeth and set myself to the task. First problem was what to do with the stuff. Just last week, I organized the pile into file folders; one for my writer's group, another for the Cuba ministry, still another for Koinonia, and lastly, one for the hospital chaplaincy program. Four groups to which I belong, each with its necessary paperwork. Now however, I needed to take this pile of folders and do something with them. That necessitated a trip to the garage where I had a portable file that would be just the ticket for what I needed. Problem is, it was full of stuff, which meant I had to go through it all to see what could be discarded. I'm pretty proud of myself; I threw out a lot of stuff. But tucked in the middle of it all was a Park church newsletter from October 2002. As I read it, I have to admit, I was impressed with the lead article, even if I did write it myself. It spoke to me, so I decided to share it with you. And so far, it has taken only two paragraphs to introduce it. Go figure! Anyway, here it is.
A few weeks ago, Linda and I joined Nate and Deb as they took Alexa and Abi out to dinner at the Olive Garden. Of course you understand that a two-year-old's idea of fine dining is a Happy Meal at McDonalds, so this promised to be quite an entertaining evening.
The girls foiled all our hopes by being perfect angels throughout the entire meal. They waited patiently for it to be served, used good manners, spilled nothing. Chalk one up for the parents. They are doing their job.
As we followed the headwaiter to our table, I snatched up from a rack on the wall a couple of child placemats and the accompanying crayons for the girls. How was I to know the waiter had already done so? The girls would have plenty of coloring to keep them busy, and lots of crayons to do it with.
While we waited for our meals, Linda and I interspersed conversation with Nate and Deb with helping the girls with their placemats. They didn't need help coloring, but at the bottom of each was a word search and a matching game, twenty or thirty little olives in different hairdos and faces to be paired up. (It's the Olive Garden...get it?)
Alex was able to find the matches most of the time, but Abi needed help narrowing down the search. We would point out four or five possibilities for her to choose from, and if she still didn't get the right match, would point out the details that made for the right connection. Not once did we scold or criticize when a mistake was made. Instead, we praise the effort and guider her search till she got it right. We did the same for Alex on the more difficult word searches.
On the drive home, the Lord spoke to me. You see, I tend to browbeat myself over mistakes made and sins committed. Many of you have heard me tell how for years even after I became a Christian I couldn't get away from the feeling that God was usually mad at me. I felt what I thought was his scowl of disapproval more than his smile of encouragement.
here's what the Lord said: "Jim, how did you treat Abi when she couldn't find the right match? Did you scold her, tell her she was stupid and wasn't trying?"
"No, Lord, I didn't. I love her too much to do such a thing."
"Do you suppose I love you less than you love her?"
"No, Lord; I know your love for me is greater than all the love I have even for my grandchildren."
"Jim, when you sin; when you can't find the right matches, remember how you were with Abi and Alex. I am no more inclined to scold and berate you than you are with them. If you are feeling that way, it is not from Me."
As you read this, you may be one who lives much of your life filled with guilt over mistakes made, sins committed all too willingly. You feel what seems to be the ever-present scowl of a disapproving God. Let me be the one who tells you from my own experience that our God is a God who loves you unconditionally, and who instead of scolding and browbeating, comes alongside to guide your hand, narrow the bewildering array of choices, and who cheers you on in all your imperfection. He won't overlook your sins and shortcoming, but has taken them all into account and dealt decisively with them when Jesus died in your place, taking the penalty and the sting out of the sin when he arose from the dead. Because God himself dealt so decisively with our sin, we know he is on our side, sitting beside us as we struggle to get it right.
So get out the crayons! Draw boldly, and know that your Heavenly Father smiles encouragement on you from a heart bursting with love.