When I was a teenager, I painted a picture of a snowy scene with trees in the foreground and a farmhouse in the background. It was not a masterpiece, but even today when I look at it, I'm surprised at how good it was for a teenaged dabbler!
It was painted on canvas board, and on the back of it I wrote my name. I gave it to my grandparents as a Christmas gift one year. Fast forward about 20 years to when my grandfather had passed away, and my grandmother needed to downsize - that painting came back to me.
Around that time, I had some students who were trying to raise money for a missions trip. They were doing a yard sale, and were looking for donations of items to sell. I had just received this painting back, and thought, "Well, they might be able to get some money for it." So I gave them the painting. They sold it, and that was the end of the story...or so I thought.
A few years later I got a phone call from an elderly lady, and the call went something like this:
Her: "Is this Douglas?"
Her: "Are you an artist?"
Me: "Well, I wouldn't call myself an artist, but I do dabble in drawing and painting. Why?"
Her: "I think I have a painting of yours here." (She then went on to describe the painting, which I recognized as the winter scene)
Me: "Yes, that sounds like one of mine."
The conversation got a little odd at that point; the woman suggested that I might like to buy the painting from her. It took me awhile to figure out what was going on, but eventually she admitted that she goes around to yard sales looking for local artwork, figuring that the artist might be interested in buying their artwork back from her. Apparently she made some decent money doing this. I assured her that I had already given the painting away twice, so I wasn't exactly attached to it, and I was perfectly happy to have her keep it.
At that point, she decided that since she wasn't going to make any money off the painting, and she hadn't purchased it to display in her home, she might as well just give it back to me. So we arranged for me to pick it up the next day when I was passing by her home.
So now that picture, like a boomerang, has returned to me twice. It is now displayed in my office where I see it on a regular basis. Not because it's a masterpiece, but because it serves me as an object lesson of a verse in Ecclesiastes 11:
This is generally regarded as a symbolic picture of sowing seed; the word "bread" used here is a word which is also used for seed, and seed was often broadcast into the soil during the flooding season in low-lying areas. Thus, the meaning becomes, "Liberally toss seed, and you will be rewarded with a harvest."
I wonder if Jesus was thinking of this verse in Ecclesiastes when he said:
I'm not going to pretend that it always works like I described above; we can't expect that if we give object X away, we will get that exact thing returned to us, but it serves as a reminder to me that God treasures our generosity, and rewards it.
A couple verses later in Ecclesiastes 11, Solomon writes:
Understanding this to be a follow-up to verse one, we recognize that, if we watch too closely our own life circumstances, those circumstances may prevent us from the kind of generosity God desires. The picture is of generosity that is reckless and confident. Reckless because it takes no thought of our own circumstances, and confident because of our faith that God our provider is taking thought for our circumstances.
Fear Factor is a television show I've only watched a couple times. The last time I watched it, they had the contestants doing a stunt that made me rather sick to my stomach. ::) So I shut it off, and haven't turned it on since.
The premise of the show is this: you get a bunch of people to do absurdly stupid/disgusting/dangerous stunts, to see who chickens out first, and who sticks it out to the end, and does the stunts better than anyone else.
The winner, of course, receives a monetary prize. I went on the Fear Factor website and read some of the interviews they did with past winners. One of the questions they often asked was "Why did you want to be on the show?" The answers varied (everything from "my friends dared me to" to "I wanted to impress a girl"), but one recurring answer was: "because of the money."
The fact is, no one would do stupid stunts like sticking their head in a box filled with angry hornets, or climb into a body bag filled with fire ants, or the other absurdities, unless there was the hope of some sort of reward.
But the contestants tell themselves: "I can suffer through five minutes of being bitten by fire ants, because when it is all over, I could come out of it with a reward that will last not for minutes, but for years. It's all a matter of getting the proper perspective on things.
The essential question of the show is this: How much fear/pain will you undergo without quitting, for the sake of a reward? Because one thing is certain: no quitter ever wins the cash prize.
I was thinking about this recently, in connection with the book of 1 Peter, where Peter writes:
Life is like Fear Factor. We are faced, throughout life, with various testings and fires. Our own personal fire ants, so to speak. And we need to take the same perspective on those trials as the contestants of Fear Factor take toward their trials. Taking this perspective requires us to understand the eternal nature of our existence. Our trials may not last for just a few minutes; some face difficulties that will last their entire lives, but in the perspective of eternity, even an entire life span is just a drop in the bucket. And the rewards that are received on the other end of this earthly existence are "imperishable" (as Peter writes, they don't fade away).
But the real question is: who is a quitter? And who will persevere? Because the rewards never go to the quitters.
The quitters are the ones who roll over and play dead whenever life gets tough. And it might make life easy now, but really, what is that worth?
The quitters are the ones who, having been betrayed by those they trust, say, "I will never trust again." The ones who, having been hurt by those they love, say, "I will never love again." The ones who, having been trampled because they stood for truth, say, "I will never stand for truth again."
The quitters are the ones who, when placed in a difficult, painful situation, spend all their time trying to figure out how to get out of the painful situation, instead of trying to figure out what God can do with their lives while they are in that situation.
As Beth wrote recently in her blog: When faced with failure and loss and disappointment, we find it less painful to to deny reality and live with the numbness. But if you close yourself off to Him by avoiding those uncomfortable feelings, you miss all the great stuff.
That's the quitter attitude...the "roll over and play dead" attitude. We are willing to "live with the numbness" because it makes life "easier." But life isn't about "easy."
I think it's interesting that, throughout the Bible, gold is presented as the greatest of all the precious things. But Peter emphasises that even gold is perishable, in comparison with the greatness of our rewards at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
If you go on the show Fear Factor, your reward for not quitting will last you a few years -- if you spend it wisely. But for those in Christ who do not quit, we are in for a treat that will last forever.