Whenever I go to camps, Sunday Schools, or Vacation Bible Schools, I always bring my puppet Jeffrey with me. Jeffrey is a timberwolf, and although he claims to be "fierce and ferocious," he's really "cute and cuddly." And children love to pet him. He's the only one of my puppets that I will let anyone touch.
And the children absolutely love being able to pet him!
Two weeks ago I was teaching a Vacation Bible School, and I had a group of young children (mostly under the age of six years old). As I got to know this group of children, I realized that for several of the children, if I brought Jeffrey out, it would be simply an opportunity to pull his tail, squish his head, and other things that I didn't want happening to Jeffrey. And that if I told them not to, this particular group of children might see it as an invitation to do so!
So Jeffrey, although he made several visits to the VBS, never came out where the children could touch and pet him.
They missed out on a very simple pleasure that would have made their evening very special, and they never even realized what they were missing out on.
I was thinking about this in relation to the Israelites going to the promised land -- God told them to go in and take it, and they said "No!" And because they would not listen to God (as Psalms 95:8 says, they "hardened their hearts") they never got to even see the land God had promised them.
And I wonder how often I'm like that group of children, that missed out on a simple pleasure and never knew what they missed. I wonder how often I'm like the Israelites, who missed out on an extraordinary blessing, and never knew what they missed.
I wonder how many times I've said "No" to God, said "No" to what is right, and I never even realized what blessing I was saying "No" to.
How much better for us, when God speaks, to say "Yes" to Him. To not risk missing out on the things God has in store for us.
My parents have a very foolish dog. He's a boxer named Duke. They got him when he was more than a year old, which is unusual for them -- they like to train a dog from when he's just a puppy.
This dog has been a source of frustration for my parents. He's got a tongue about the size of the state of Rhode Island, and with one lick he can cover you with drool from your big toenail to your forehead.
He also enjoys chewing on things. Shoes. Jackets. Furniture. Electrical cords. Yeah, electrical cords.
He's even been known to chase after my father when he's trimming the lawn with a weedwacker. That's right, he chases the weedwacker. Remember how I said he has a tongue the size of Rhode Island? Now he has a tongue the size of Rhode Island with a notch in the side of it.
And still he chases the weedwacker. Not the brightest dog I've ever seen.
He does one thing which I find very interesting. When he's in trouble, he knows he's in trouble, because my mother puts on her "scolding voice" and says: "DUUUUKE!" It's a tone of voice that inspires consternation in the bravest of both dogs and boys.
But Duke has figured out an interesting way of dealing with this particular tone of voice -- the moment my mother starts to say "DUUUUKE!" before the word is even completely out of her mouth, Duke has turned his head to look the other way. He seems to think that if he's not looking at her, if he doesn't make eye contact with her, he can pretend he didn't hear her.
Of course, it doesn't fool anyone, particularly not my mother.
I remembered that in Psalms 95:7-8 we are told "Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts."
And isn't that what we so often do to God? When we hear His voice, when we know what He expects of us, we act like Duke, pretending we don't hear. We harden our hearts toward God, and turn our faces away from Him.
But we don't fool Him, any more than Duke fools my mother. How much better to just simply listen, and not end up being the fool.