Saturday, October 27, 2018

That Time I Helped the Squirrels Starve to Death

"From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, 'Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.' But he turned and said to Peter, 'Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.' - Matthew 16:21-23 (ESV)

I seem to remember it being the fall of 1995. I was 11 years old and lived at an apartment complex in the shadow of several tremendous oak trees. As you walked down the sidewalk corridors under the canopy of these noble giants, you would hear the steady crunch of acorns underfoot reminding you of the living creatures to which you owed great gratitude for the shade they provided. These acorns were, in many ways, a great nuisance, but, for those animals which relied upon them for survival, they were as manna from heaven.

The trees were always abounding with activity. Birds nesting and singing. Squirrels jostling and playing. With each gentle breeze the leaves rattled and shook as if to remind anyone within earshot that, though tethered to the earth and immobile at the root, the great trees were very much alive. These towering oaks had been on the property for many decades before the apartment complex was developed and, if they had anything to say about it, would remain for generations after the inhabitants had gone the way of all flesh.

As I said before, I was 11 and quite the humanitarian - or, should I say, squirrel-itarian. You see, I knew winter was coming on soon, and I was afraid for the poor squirrels. After all, what would they eat in wintertime once the mighty providing oaks had ceased to produce acorns? How would they survive the harsh, barren wasteland of the brutal Texas winter? In my youth I was given to hyperbole as you can easily tell.

And so, with best intentions, I made my plan of action to save the hapless and helpless squirrels from the inevitability of gruesome and agonizing death by starvation. With every box and bucket I could find and a small garden shovel, I began walking the property scooping up every acorn I could find. From tree to tree, up and down every sidewalk and between every set of apartments, I foraged like a man driven to insanity by the pangs of hunger. A gallon, then two, then ten. The back patio of our apartment was soon a veritable Lost Dutchman's Mine of acorns.

Having spent a couple of weeks toiling diligently at my task, at long last I could stand in awestruck wonder at the wealth of my empire. I was rich in acorns and had secured my place as the savior of squirrels. Soon, my furry subjects would bow in gracious admiration before my imposing form as they lavished praise upon the head of their deliverer. Furthermore, I was confident that, once winter was over, I would likely be presented with an crown of oak leafs festooned with acorn clusters befitting my noble rank as King of the Squirrels.

In short, I was a nut.

As winter came my disappointment grew fiercely. Where were the squirrels? Every morning I would throw out a hand-full of acorns and, when I checked that afternoon, would find them all where they had been placed. Days went by and the squirrels didn't come. Then weeks. Then a month. Not a single squirrel came to my small patch of yard behind the apartment. What could have possibly gone wrong?

With the best of intentions, I had gone from benevolent king to sadistic dictator. I had never given though to the fact of squirrels needing the acorns exactly where they were so they could go about the work of foraging, providing for their own and making all necessary arrangements for the winter months. My intention was to help. Instead, I had committed genocide. I helped the squirrels starve to death. Those that didn't starve moved on to the next property and thrived under the loose oversight of a property owner with more sense than me. But, around our place, the trees were silent. Winter grasped our area with its chilly hand and all I had to show for my effort was a porch full of acorns and trees absent of the playful beauty of the squirrels.

I was guilty of having a very narrow view. I had missed the overall picture. All I could see was how I could fix a problem that, frankly, existed only in my own mind. I had a lack of information which produced a wave of good intention that sank the ship of those for whom I meant only the best. But because I couldn't see the big picture, I acted unwisely and caused more harm than good.

In thinking on this event, I was reminded of Peter being so misguided as to rebuke Christ and declare, in effect, "I don't care what you say, I'm not letting you die." Peter didn't see the big picture and spoke ignorantly even if with good intention. Jesus rebuked Peter and, more importantly, sited the one working through Peter's ignorance: "Get behind me, Satan." Truly, Peter was guilty of being used of Satan when, in his heart, he likely thought he was being a good servant of Christ. But his inability to trust the words of Christ as being the best possibly course led to a misguided attempt to derail the redemptive plan.

I'm thinking of the times over the years when I've been Peter. How often have I acted in my carnality when I was so fixated on one piece that I missed the rest of the picture? How often have I witnessed the same event? I've watched many month's of a person's spiritual progressed dashed to pieces by a Christian with good intentions who, ignorant of the whole picture, spoke words to the one piece that they just couldn't see around. The result was one Christian feeling really good about themselves for picking up the acorns while another Christian fell back into hunger toward death.

Let's be wise in our approach to problems. We might find that we're better off keeping our hands and tongues off of what we don't completely understand and allowing God, by His Spirit, to work in others by the divine nature that which we simply cannot do. It is a lust of the flesh to intervene when we're not needed. Let us walk in the Spirit that we may not fulfill the lust of the flesh.

Monday, February 5, 2018

How a Cube of Ice Melted My Heart

"For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward." - Mark 9:41 (KJV)

I was in a Mayan Indian village in the western area of the Toledo District of Belize at a fairly new preaching point that had been established by the native Pastor from Indianville near the coast.  About a dozen of us had jammed into my little Suzuki SUV to conduct a worship service in the thatched roof hut used normally as a home but, on special occasions, became a place of worship.  

The home was a traditional Mayan dwelling with thatched leaves for a roof, pimento sticks bound together for walls, low interior beams supporting the structure, dirt floors and no electricity.  The house was illuminated by glass bottles filled with kerosene suspended from the beams by rope with a small cloth wick alive with a dim, but dancing, flame.  

When we arrived, the family was busily putting rough wood benches in place and transforming their home into a House of God.  What is more, they had prepared a meal that we would enjoy afterward.  I learned very early on that worshiping with the Mayan people was never just worship.  Being Apostolic in every way, there would be the breaking of bread and fellowship as often as they were able.  But first things first; intense prayer followed by sincere worship and attentive focus on the preached Word of God ending with a response to what was taught from Scripture.  

I played the guitar while the native Pastor led the congregation in singing unto the Lord in Q'eqchi', the predominant language of the Mayans of Belize.  Along with the shouting of the congregation came a gasp of shock from none other than the big, brave Missionary as I opened my eyes after having closed them in worship to the hungry glare of eight eyes surrounded by eight grasping legs.  A sizeable spider had descended from the thatched roof and taken up an observation point from a strand of web only a few inches from the tip of my nose.  I excommunicated the intruder as quickly as possible.

Service having ended, the rough wooden benches were rearranged to form a very low table surrounded by benches of equal height.  The table was furnished with stewed chicken with rice and fried plantain along with plenty of fresh, hot tortilla.  As I looked at the humble but adequate fare for which I was most appreciative, I noticed the contents of my drinking glass.  Inside were a couple of fairly pathetic looking ice cubes floating in a small puddle of water.  When the communal bottle of Coca-Cola was passed around I noticed that I was the only person with ice in my glass.

The village where the service was held is one of several in the nation of Belize that has still yet to receive the blessing of electricity.  What I was unaware of was the absence during service of a small boy and his sudden presence during the meal.  The boy was given a Belizean Dollar (50 cents in the American currency) and sent to the next nearest village with electricity and a freezer to buy whatever ice he could for that price so that I could have it with my drink at the meal.  Knowing that Americans enjoyed ice in their drinks, the church family felt it was the least they could do to provide me some comfort being that I was so far away from "home" and my own American culture.  

There wasn't much ice there once the service had ended but that which remained holds a precious place in my memory.  Love isn't always best expressed by the size of the gift but by the spirit of the giver.  Our offering to one another in Christian charity might seem small.  That's immaterial.  The sacrifice we give to the Lord appears so trivial at times.  That simply doesn't matter.  The judgment of God upon two small coins given by an impoverished widow in Luke 21 was that she had given more than all because of the depth to which her hand was willing to reach into her shallow and poorly furnished pocket.

My heart is constantly challenged by the vision that young Mayan boy who walked a jungle road in absolute darkness to buy the preacher a cup of ice just to make him feel welcomed and at home.  If that isn't a pure example of Christian charity to be emulated by us all, what is?