504 Java Profile

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

On Usefulness in the Hands of God

This past summer, my daughter took me to see “Toy Story 3" --in 3D. She worked at the Prytania Theater which was awesome because it is a great place to watch a movie. The movie is about Andy, a boy who is now seventeen years old, but was younger in the first two movies. Yes, I quickly grasp the obvious. Now Andy has outgrown his old toys. Some of them have been sold, given away, or thrown away. The others have been stored in his toy box. Andy is getting ready to go to college and we get to eavesdrop on the conversation between the toys. Stay with me here–I know that toys really cannot talk to one another.

Anyway, the green army guys see the handwriting on the wall and Sarge and the rest them escape out the window to avoid getting thrown away. Andy decides to take Woody with him and packs the other toys in a garbage bag, intending to store them in the attic, but Andy's mom mistakenly puts the bag out on the roadside as garbage. Believing that Andy no longer wants them, the toys sneak into a box to be donated to Sunnyside Daycare. Woody, who saw what really happened, tries to clear up the misunderstanding, but the others refuse to listen. The rest of the movie is about toys trying to be with someone who wants them.

The reason I remember this movie as I ponder how we can trust that we are useful to God, is because the whole Toy Story series is basically about our fundamental need to be needed. The toys cannot come to grips with the possibility that their days of being valuable and useful have gone. They cling to a desperate hope that someday the boy who needed them will need them again.

We humans are like that. We worship God and are amazed that He would send His Son so that “we would not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). We who follow Christ have accepted His gift of grace and are humbled by the great sacrifice that made us whole. But wouldn’t it be nice if He needed us for something? Wouldn’t it be great to be useful?

I can only imagine the stories that the owners of a donkey told after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Before Jesus entered into Jerusalem for the final time as a man, He sent disciples ahead to procure a donkey colt to ride on in order to fulfill a prophecy (Mark 11:1-6). Jesus told the disciples that if anyone asked, they were to say, “The Lord has need of it.” What a powerful statement. Not to compare us to a donkey (too easy, I’m not going there), but for it to be said of Allen, “The Lord has need of Him” would move me into a whole different confidence as I journey through this world as a follower and proclaimer of Christ.

Psalm 139 is our text this week. The Psalmist has a thought that perhaps he is useful, that he was created for a purpose. Even then, He glorifies God as he declares,

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

We are useful. We are tools in the Hands of the Master who will use us to make Him known and to visit the lonely and to soften the suffering in our world. I am thankful and humbled that He would use me.

Monday, September 13, 2010

On Trust and the Prodigal's Mom

My bride of 27-plus years and I had a conversation on the phone today that got me thinking. She wondered out loud what the mother of the Prodigal Son must have felt like. We really don’t get her story in Luke 15. “You know the father looked for his son every day, but he still had to make a living.” True, beautiful bride of mine. We may get the idea that the older son was doing all the chores and that is why he got so self-righteous at the return of the prodigal, but I don’t believe it. This father was a hard worker and while he never gave up, he had to get his work done.

What do you think the Mom was doing all that time? Was she thinking that the dad must be insane to keep the light on for a son who had hurt him so badly? Was she staying awake at night, wondering if her son was okay, heartbroken that she couldn’t be there to nurture him? Had she mentally written him off because of the pain he had caused the family? Was she conflicted because, though she worried about his safety, the house was a more peaceful place with the self-centered one off in some far country–out of sight, out of mind? Was she wondering when she would get her husband back as he seemed to be far away as well with his daily treks up the driveway hoping to see his boy coming home?

I included the word “trust” in this article because I think it was the key for both parents. The father had to trust his Heavenly Father for the protection of the wayward son. The husband and wife had to trust each other. Even though they were on the emotional roller coaster of parenthood, I hope that somehow they knew that when they had exchanged “better or worse” vows, it meant their love and commitment could--and would--survive the drama of a son who had disregarded, disrespected, and disappeared. The mother had to trust that, in her absence, the One who can comfort and awaken the spiritual man within would do so.

This Sunday, I will begin a sermon series on Trust. The conversation that Judi and I had reminded me of how complex trust can be, and how difficult it is to restore once it has been broken. Robert Schuller told a simple but poignant story:

One problem I remember was a time when our son Bob broke our trust and lied to his mother and me. He was still young, dating Linda, his wife-to-be, and was only allowed to see her on certain nights. Well, one night he wanted to see her without permission and told us he was at his friend's house. When we found out the truth, there was a real scene between us. He had violated our trust; it was like a crack in a fine cup that marred its appearance.

In the confrontation, I smashed a fine English tea cup on the floor and told Bob that to restore our trust would be like gluing that cup back together again. He said, "I don't know if I can do that." And I said, "Well, that's how hard it is to build confidence and trust again." The outcome was that Bob spent literally weeks carefully gluing the pieces together until he finished. He learned a very important lesson.

Dr. Robert H. Schuller, Homemade, Jan 1985

I am sure the “lesson learned” was not as simple as the story sounds. It never is. We all hope for the happy ending of a son learning his lesson by gluing glass together, but it is not that easy. Unkind things have been said, promises have been broken, lies have been told, words have been distorted. Trust has been lost . Only grace and humility will restore it.

The restoration of trust is three-dimensional. We have to trust God. He is the Creator of the Universe, of our hearts and minds, and of our relationships. We have to trust that God is at work in us, that we are good because He pronounced us good and, as He sustains, we can believe in ourselves. Finally, we have to trust each other. We must, at the very least, be willing to dialog about differences. If both parties enter with a heart of humility, healing can take place. The prodigal son “came to his senses” and came home in tearful repentance. The father surrendered his right to be right and threw a party for his son’s return.

In the coming weeks, we will examine “Personal Trust” which involves the first two of the three dimensions. Then we will look at “Corporate Trust” which is more difficult, because as the Word of God opens us up for spiritual surgery, it may hurt a little. I pray for me and you that it is a “good hurt” and results in persons of faith, living as brothers and sisters in a community of faith. Not perfect, but forgiven.