In a previous entry, I wrote about chess, and compared the universe to an enormous chess game. An excellent chess player makes moves that are incomprehensible to me because I don't understand all the complexities of the game. The universe is infinitely more complex than a chess game, but fortunately, God is infinitely wiser than the best chess player, and we should not be at all surprised when we don't understand the "moves" He's making.
As I think about chess, and how a novice plays it (and when I speak of novices, I'm thinking primarily of myself!), a novice player will often treat his pawns as though they are unimportant. He will throw them in the path of other pieces in order to tempt his opponent into weaker positions, or he will trade them indiscriminately in trying to improve his own position.
No wonder we speak disparagingly of pawns, saying someone was "just a pawn."
But if we think of God as the greatest of all chess players, we must remember this: in God's view of the universe, there is no such thing as "just a pawn." The Bible teaches us that God loves each one of us, and each of us is valuable to him. Need proof of that? Remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:26. In essence, Jesus says, "Look at the birds! See how God takes care of them! And aren't you even more important to God than the birds?"
In other words, if God doesn't think of even a bird as "just a pawn," you can rest assured that he values you very highly indeed!
If you've ever been to Camp Fairhaven, you've probably met Dunkin. Dunkin is not a person, he's a dog. He belongs to Dave, who is currently one of the directors at the camp.
I've never seen a dog quite like Dunkin. I've never seen a dog so devoted to his master. If Dave is in the camp office, Dunkin will stand just outside the office door and stare at him. Doesn't matter if Dave is in there for three hours; Dunkin is content to stare for three hours.
Dunkin follows Dave everywhere. Once, when Dave ended up on the opposite side of the lake from Dunkin, Dunkin didn't wait for Dave to come get him -- he swam all the way accross the lake to get back to Dave.
If I opened the door of my car and Dave opened the door of his truck, I have no doubt which vehicle Dunkin would get in. If I stood there and called him by name, I still have no doubt which vehicle he would get in. And, if I stood there and called him by name while holding a doggie treat for him, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that he would still get in Dave's truck instead of my car.
This is devotion, pure and simple. And in Deuteronomy 6:5, we are told that we should be wholeheartedly devoted to God. We should have the same love and devotion that Dunkin has toward Dave. For us, there should be no one else who steals our attention and devotion from God.
But how often does Satan hold out a "doggie treat" (temptation) to me and say, "Here, Doug!" and I have no qualms about getting on board with him?
I want to be so devoted to God that when Satan tries to get my attention, I don't even stop to consider the possibility of betraying God.
Last week I spent a night in the emergency room at Franklin Memorial Hospital (Farmington, ME). Turns out I have gallstones. The doctor discussed my options with me, considering that I wanted to finish out my summer of camp ministry before having surgery. My main issue is, I need to spend the summer on a very low-fat diet.
In other words, no camp food.
I find, though, that people tend to misunderstand what I mean when I tell them I'm on a low-fat diet. When people think "low-fat diet," they think of someone trying to lose weight or lower cholesterol. And when that's the purpose of your diet, it's okay if you splurge once in awhile. If you eat healthy all week, you could have pizza for one meal, and then go back to eating healthy.
That is not the case with me. I could eat fifty healthy meals in a row, then have one fatty meal, and regardless of how healthy I ate at the other fifty meals, that one fatty meal would put me back in the hospital.
It's a very all-or-nothing approach to dieting.
I was thinking about that in relation to Matthew 22:37, where Jesus says that the most important commandment is to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind."
This, like my diet, is a very all-or-nothing sort of thing. It's not something we play around with. We don't say "I'm going to give God my all 90% of the time, and then I'll 'splurge,' and live for me for the other 10%."
It doesn't work that way; playing that kind of game with God is very dangerous; it results in a very unhealthy spiritual life. Jesus told us that we can't serve two masters, because we will either love one and hate the other, or vice-versa.
God doesn't want us to play games with Him, and really, when you think about it, He deserves our whole-hearted devotion, because of His great goodness, His great love for us, and His sacrifice at Calvary. He doesn't deserve the kind of games we often try to play when we serve and love Him half-heartedly.
If God has loved us so much, how could we love Him less?
Next week our youth group is going to be doing some yard work and spring cleaning for several people in the church who, because of health reasons, need help getting their spring work done.
Wednesday night at our youth group meeting I told the teens about the four families we would be doing work for. First there's Trudy, who most of the teens don't know. Then there's Irene, and Al and Hattie, who a few more (but still not many) know. The fourth family is Bill and Judy. Most of the teens know Bill and Judy. In fact, Bill and Judy have had the entire youth group in their home, and are going to host a cookout for us this summer.
So when I mentioned that we would be doing some work for Bill and Judy, the teens were quite happy about that. In fact, one girl said, "They fed us! I'll definitely help them!"
We got a big chuckle out of that, but it also played right into what I wanted to teach them that night. 1 Peter 2:12 tells us to "keep our behavior honorable." Not "good"..."honorable."
What is the difference between "good" and "honorable"? What I told the teens is this: Good is going to help Bill and Judy, knowing that in some ways, helping them out is nothing more than saying "thanks" for the things they are doing for us. And there is nothing wrong with that. It is good!
But "honorable" is going to help Trudy, who most of them don't know from Adam, and who will probably never invite the youth group into her home, and who we certainly don't expect to receive anything from.
In Luke 14, Jesus is at a feast, and he says to the hosts:
Now that is honorable!
This past summer we took the teens in the youth group to Popham Beach for a day. This is one of our "yearly" outings; we've done it every summer for quite a few years now. We spend the day playing in the water and playing on the beach (ultimate frisbee, beach volleyball, etc.).
My nephew Daniel went with us this past summer, and at one point he wanted to go down near the water and build a sand castle (I guess he wasn't interested in playing volleyball). So he brought his buckets and his shovels, and I went with him down to an empty spot where we could build.
Our castle was a very nice one. It had four towers, and a wall connecting all the towers. There was a moat all the way around the castle...and it was a very big, very deep moat. No one was going to breach the walls of our castle!
But, by the end of the day, when we went down to the water for one last dip before heading home, our castle was already starting to deteriorate...I think someone had stepped on our wall in one spot, and the moat (which we had built to protect the castle) was eating away at the foundation of our walls...
When we go back next summer, I have no expectation that our sand castle will still be there. In fact, I will be downright shocked if we get there and discover that the castle still stands strong and defiant against all destructive forces.
There's an interesting verse in the book of Psalms, which has long been one of my favorites, and it makes me think of our sand castle...
God has compassion on us, because He is the one who formed us, and he knows exactly how we were made (he knows our frame -- or, as the NIV says, "He knows how we are formed"). The book of Genesis reports the rather unusual manner in which God created man:
So there you have it...we're just castles in the sand. That's all we are. Extraordinary, when you think about it, that God should love us. I have to confess, I didn't have a huge amount of love for the sand castle I built. I'm not shedding any tears over the realization that the castle is probably long gone. Yet God loves us.
Far too often we have this picture in our minds of God sitting up there in heaven scowling down at us, eager to zap us with His righteous indignation every time we drop the ball, every time we fall flat on our faces. God is laughing to Himself, saying "Ha! I've got you now, you miserable piece of trash!"
But God is not like that. When we drop the ball, when we fall flat on our faces, God says, "Well, I did make him out of sand, after all."
The really extraordinary thing (in my mind, anyway) is that God intends to take these castles of living sand and make something that will last forever out of them.
That is truly amazing.
When I was a high school math teacher, I remember vividly one algebra one test I gave. As I was correcting the students' papers, I noticed that one student had put virtually no "work" on her paper; only answers. Then, as I corrected her paper, I began to realize that some of her incorrect answers looked very familiar.
Flipping back through the papers I had already corrected, I found a paper with identical answers. In some cases, the first paper had a wrong answer because the student had made a foolish addition mistake (7+8=16, for example). Yet even in these cases, the second student had an identical answer.
Accordingly, since it was exceedingly evident that one student had directly copied answers from the other, I gave that student a zero on the test. Since I had no way of knowing whether the other student was innocent of wrongdoing, I acted in accordance with my "optimism principle," which states, "When in doubt, assume the best." I gave the first student the score earned based on the answers and work given.
Interestingly, the second student's mother had her own "optimism principle" as well. Faced with the possibility that her daughter might have cheated, she chose to assume the best. Especially since she did not know me, or have any reason to believe me over her daughter.
It was not until I showed her the photocopies of the tests that she acknowledged that her daughter was in the wrong.
Why do I tell this story? Because it illustrates an aspect of love which we must emulate. According to 1 Corinthians 13:7, love believes and hopes all things. It is my "optimism principle" in action. When in doubt, assume the best.
Unfortunately, human nature is bent toward assuming the worst. For us it is safer; we are less likely to be hurt or betrayed if we assume the worst. Yet I believe it is better to assume the best and be disappointed or betrayed than to destroy our relationships from the very beginning by assuming the worst.
And if we are hurt in the process, let us remember the love of Christ, which took Him through deeper pain than we could ever dream.
Ever stop to think about gifts you've been given, and why they are important to you? There are many reasons why a gift might be important to you...let's look at a few.
#1: A gift might be from someone who is very special to you. With Valentine's Day right around the corner, this is a reason lots of people are thinking about. When you think about the gifts people receive for Valentines Day...roses, chocolates, jewelry, etc., they are rarely practical, and often not even all that expensive. And yet, when a girl gets her very first rose from a guy, she's likely to keep it on display until it's mostly wilted...then she'll press it and keep it forever (or at least until she breaks up with the guy!). It's not because the rose itself is so valuable...it's because it comes from someone who is very valuable to her.
#2: A gift might be life-changing. This was the case with the very first ventriloquist puppet I ever received. It was a Christmas gift from my parents when I was in sixth grade. None of us guessed at the time that this gift would result in me traveling not just around the state, but throughout New England and across the world. That gift really did change my life.
#3: A gift might be expensive. Obviously, if we receive a gift which costs a lot of money, we treat it very carefully, because we know that it is irreplaceable. I recently received a large gift which allowed me to refit my recording studio. I purchased a somewhat expensive studio microphone. Then last week I needed a sound system to take to our youth group's winter retreat. Do you think I took my new microphone? Oh, no! That one stayed safely at home. Why? Because it was costly, I was protecting it.
I think it's interesting that our salvation fits all three of these categories. It is a gift from someone who should be very precious to us: our Lord Jesus Christ. Why is he precious to us? Because of His great love for us. 1 John 4:19 gives us the reason for our love: because He loved us first.
Our salvation is also precious to us because it is life-changing. This is certainly true, although we don't always see the changes immediately. Jesus Christ promised us in John 10:10 that He had come not just to give us life (and that's pretty signifinant in itself!) but also to give us an abundant life. How precious should that gift be to us?
And, of course, the gift is a costly one. In 1 Peter 1:18 we are told that our salvation (redemption) was not purchased with something perishable (silver or gold) but with the precious blood of Jesus Christ. What a costly gift our salvation was! Jesus didn't reach into His pocket and pull out thirty pieces of silver to purchase my salvation...it was far more costly than that! He gave up everything to give me the most precious gift I will ever receive.
So the final question is...how do we treat this gift? 1 Peter 1:17 tells us that, because our redemption was such a costly gift, we are to conduct ourselves "with fear." Just as I would never risk damaging my expensive studio microphone by treating it carelessly, I should never treat my relationship with Jesus Christ in a careless manner!
It is the most precious thing I have in this life.