Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Dad And His Son

There once was a young boy who loved his daddy very much.  His daddy traveled a lot for his work, and when he was away, the boy missed him greatly.  For as long as the boy could remember, his daddy would be away on these business trips for a few days or weeks at a time, but he would always return, and his daddy would bring him a gift from the place he had visited.  Sometimes he brought candy from faraway lands, sometimes small toys that were unique to different cultures, and sometimes he brought special clothing.  The boy liked the toys the best, but he always looked forward to his daddy returning and seeing what he would bring him.

One day his daddy brought him something new and different than he ever had before.  It was a toy, but a unique one: a puzzle box from China.  His daddy explained what a puzzle box was, and they went about solving it together.  The boy was fascinated by the puzzle box, and once he knew how to solve it, he played with the puzzle box over and over.  On his next trip, his daddy decided to look for another one, and he brought a different puzzle box from another place back with him.  Once again they worked on the puzzle together and solved it, and the boy asked his daddy to bring him more.  He no longer wanted candy, clothes, or even other toys; just the puzzle boxes from anyplace his daddy could find them.

His daddy was happy to do so, and for awhile the pattern was the same.  The boy would greet his daddy at the door when he arrived home from one of his trips, ask if he had brought him another puzzle box, and most of the time his daddy had found one.  Some of them were easier to solve than others, but they always did them together, and they were both very happy with their new father-son activity.

One day when his daddy brought him a new puzzle box, the boy asked if he could try to solve it all by himself.  His daddy allowed him to try, and he was able to figure out the solution on his own.  The boy felt very proud of himself, and he began to ask to solve them on his own every time his daddy brought a new one home with him.  Some were simple for him, but some were very challenging.  Sometimes his daddy had to help him, but he always liked it better when he could figure out the solution on his own, and in time, as he got older, there came a time when he refused to allow his daddy to help him.  Even if it took him days or weeks to solve, he wanted to do it all by himself without any help, and his daddy respected his wishes.

One day when his dad came home with a new puzzle box, the boy took it from him, went straight to his room, and he tried to solve the puzzle.  He worked on it all evening but couldn't figure it out.  He worked on it the next day and the next, but he had no success.  Weeks went by, and the puzzle remained unsolved.  He spent hours trying to figure out the right solution, becoming more and more frustrated with each passing day.  Soon his dad had to go on another trip, and when he returned he had another puzzle box to give him, but he hadn't solved the first one yet.  He tried the new one and had trouble with it as well, and both of them remained unsolved when his dad brought another, which the boy was able to solve quickly, but the other two continued to baffle him.  When his dad asked if he had solved them yet, and he had to tell him no, his dad asked if he wanted help, but he was determined to figure them out on his own.  His dad respected his wishes and asked if he wanted him to stop bringing him new ones until he had solved the others, but the boy told him to keep bringing them.

A few years went by, and his dad continued to bring the boy new puzzle boxes whenever he came across them.  Some the boy could solve easily, some were more challenging but eventually he figured them out, and others were too difficult and remained unsolved.  This frustrated the boy greatly, but he didn't want to ask his dad for help.  He doubted he could help anyway, and he didn't want his dad to be disappointed in him.  He began to lose interest in solving the new puzzle boxes when his dad brought them home, but he didn't want to say so.  He continued to solve the ones he could, but finding the solution became less and less thrilling, and his frustration over the ones he couldn't solve became greater and greater.  He began to dread his dad's return from his trips, and he often waited for his dad to come to his room with the latest puzzle box he had found rather than asking if he had brought a new one.  He always thanked him when he did and wished he was as excited about the new puzzle boxes as he used to be, but he wasn't, and one day his dad finally said something about his lack of enthusiasm.

"I won't bring you any more if you don't want me to," he said, glancing around his son's room and seeing the many puzzle boxes he had brought him over the years.  He supposed his son was getting tired of them--bored with the ones that were easy to solve, and too frustrated with the ones he couldn't.  He wished his son would let him help.  Maybe they could figure them out together, but his son didn't seem to have an interest in that.  When his son didn't respond, he said something else.  "I remember when you used to love getting them, but I suppose you've outgrown that.  Maybe next time I'll get you something else.  What would you like?"

The boy didn't know, and he didn't respond.  He felt confused about why he didn't enjoy getting them anymore.  He didn't think it was because some of them he couldn't solve, but he did feel ashamed of that reality.  He wanted to ask his dad for help, but he didn't want to admit his failure either.  Which was dumb because his dad already knew he had never solved some of them.  He couldn't lie to him and pretend he had, because his dad would want to see how he did it, and he wouldn't be able to show him.  He felt stuck between wanting something like he used to and not wanting them because of the feelings of frustration and failure he knew he might experience.

His dad brought him something different the next time he returned from a trip, and the boy appreciated the gift, but it held little joy for him.  His dad continued to bring him a variety of things from all over the world.  Some were very expensive, and he was happy to have them, but nothing really excited him as the puzzle boxes once had.  He began to wish his dad would stop bringing him anything.  The gifts only reminded him that he had lost interest in the puzzle boxes, of his failure in solving some of them, and of his fear that his dad was disappointed by his failure.

One day the mere sight of the puzzle boxes in his room was too much to bear, and he found a large box to put them in, took the box out to the garage and set it on top of some others that had miscellaneous junk.  If his dad noticed, he didn't say anything.  Some time later his dad came home from another trip, and he came up to his room to give him what he had brought.  Opening the gift, the boy saw what it was, and he didn't know what to say.  His dad spoke before he had a chance to come up with something.

"I got that from the same shop in China where I bought the first puzzle box I ever gave you."

"Thanks," he said for a lack of anything better to say.

"I talked to the shop owner and told him about being there years ago when my son was a little boy.  I said I had gotten you a puzzle box and many others from all over the world but that you had lost interest in them, so I was looking for something else.  He insisted I bring you this one anyway, free of charge, and he said we would both understand why if we did it together.  Would you like that, or would you rather not?"

"Sure," the boy said.  "We can do it."

They spent many hours trying to solve the puzzle box, and it was a challenging one the boy didn't think he could have figured out on his own, but together they found the solution, and when they did, the boy felt a rush of joy he hadn't felt in years.  Looking up at his dad, he knew he felt the same way.

"You never wanted to stop helping me, Dad, did you?"

"No," his dad admitted.  "I was fine with you wanting to try on your own, and I was proud of you for solving them, but when you couldn't and got so frustrated, I wished you would have just let me help.  Not to let me do it for you, but for us to try and figure it out together.  That's what it was always about for me."

The boy knew he felt the same way.  It was late, and he went to bed, but the following afternoon when he arrived home from school, he went straight to the garage and found the puzzle boxes he had put away.  Taking them inside, he unpacked them all, and after dinner when his dad was home, he asked him to come to his room to see what he had done.

"Is this your way of saying you want me to help you with the ones you couldn't solve on your own?"

"Yes, but I also want to do the ones I did solve, but with you this time instead of without you.  I may have solved them, but I missed out on the best thing of all.  Doing them with you.  Doing them together."

His dad smiled.  "Yes, I missed that too, son," he replied.  "I didn't want to say anything when you started doing them on your own, but it was never the same after that."

"For me too," the boy realized.  "I didn't see that at the time, but now I do."

"Well, which one should we try first?"

The boy looked around at his collection, and as soon as his eyes fell on one of them, he knew that was the best place to start.  Taking it from the shelf, he took the puzzle box to his dad and placed it in his hands.

"Is this the one from Thailand?  The first one you were never able to solve?"

"Yes," the boy said.  "Seems like the best place to start to me.  It will keep us busy for weeks, trust me."

His dad smiled and agreed.  "Sounds like fun."

"Yes, it does."

They both laughed, and the boy had never felt such joy.  He loved puzzle boxes.  He loved the time he spent trying to figure them out.  He loved solving them, and he loved the challenge of it.  But he loved his dad even more.

Jesus replied, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment."  Matthew 22: 37-38

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Rise and Live

"I Am the Resurrection and the Life.  Those who put their faith in Me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and has faith in Me will never die." John 11: 25-26

Over the last few days, I have been reading the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  It's a remarkable story, to say the least.  It's also an intriguing one.  There's more to it than Jesus simply raising a man from the dead.  More than Jesus giving Mary and Martha their brother back.  And more than giving us the promise of eternal life.

The story goes that Jesus is away from his friends when Lazarus becomes ill.  Word was sent to Jesus to come, but instead of going right away to heal Lazarus, He waits until his friend dies.  Then He goes to Bethany, telling His disciples beforehand that He is going to show them something glorious when they get there.

Upon their arrival they are greeted by Martha, who promptly tells Jesus, "If you had been here, my brother would not have died."  She also says something peculiar.  "But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask."  She doesn't actually voice what she would ask for, but Jesus knows and gives her a very assuring answer.

"Your brother will rise again."

Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."

In her heart she is hoping for something else, but she's afraid to ask for it directly, and she doesn't think Jesus could possibly mean what she is secretly wishing could happen, that her brother would be brought back to life here and now right before her eyes.  Only a crazy person would believe such a thing was actually possible.  Life after death someday...somehow that seems possible, but life today...not so much.

I think that by now people were becoming used to Jesus performing miracles of healing the sick.  And when word was sent to Jesus that a good friend of His was ill and dying, there was an expectation that Jesus would come and heal Him.  And yet He doesn't.  Not this time.  Instead He waits until death has come, and then He goes "to wake him up".

Jesus could bring healing, there was no doubt about that, but could He go one step further?  Could He not only prevent death but also overcome it?

Yes! And He did.  Death was not the end for Lazarus, and He tells Martha plainly that death is not the end for anyone who puts their faith in Him.  This is one of the fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith.  Life after death.  This world is not all there is.  Life was meant to be lived eternally.  That's the hope we have in Jesus.

But what about now?  What hope do we have for this life on earth as we know it?  When Jesus says, "I Am the Resurrection and the Life," what does that mean for us today?  I think there is a spiritual principle we can draw from His words beyond the truth that there is life after death and that "someday" we will experience such a phenomenon.  We can also find life after death now.  What do I mean by that?  I mean that there are things in this life that are similar to death.  The Bible tells us that "the wages of sin is death."  And this death can take many forms.  Mistakes, poor choices, and outright sins always have negative results at some point.  We have all experienced that reality.  Maybe you are there now.  Maybe as a result of one mistake, or maybe as a result of many.  But here's the hope: you don't have to stay there.  Putting your faith in Jesus not only means that you will overcome death to live eternally, but also that you can overcome sin and live today.

"I Am the Resurrection and the Life.  Those who put their faith in Me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and has faith in Me will never die."

Even though "death" comes, life is still waiting.  Jesus promises that.  And for those who choose to live in the reality of God's love, mercy, and truth: death can be avoided all together.  The pit of sin and shame and hopelessness need not ever be visited again.

Having faith in Him is about more than just forgiveness.  Mercy is the first gift, but there is so much more to this "life" Jesus gives than mere forgiveness.  There is power to overcome sin.  There is something waiting on the  other side of "death" that sins have caused.  No, you haven't done everything perfectly, but it's okay.  Yes, you really messed that up, but you can go on from here and choose a new path.  Wrongs can be righted.  Good things can still happen.  That sin you don't think you can shake, you can!  You can still have hope for the future no matter how bleak things are now.  You can rise from the ashes.  You can hear Jesus calling to you in the grave saying, "Come out.  I Am the Resurrection and the Life.  This is not the end for you."

Don't count yourself out of a blessed life.  It's never too late to rise again.  Have faith in Him.  Have faith in His love.  Have faith in His power.  Have faith in His ability to do the impossible for you.  Because He can, and He will.  Just believe.

"If calamity comes upon us...we will stand in your presence and cry out to you in our distress and you will hear and save us." 2 Chronicles 20:9