“In 40 years of teaching art, you are my only failure!” My own mother said this to me. “You can draw your breath and flies, and that is all you can draw!” This might seem pretty harsh but she meant it. It was true– sad, but true.
Hanging on the wall in my office at church in a most prominent place is my only effort at painting. It is a picture of “The Spirit of St. Lewis”, flying low over an ocean buoy during Charles Lindbergh’s historic flight across the Atlantic Ocean.
I was about 10 or 12 years old and I was in tears, looking at the mess I had made of that painting.
“Joe, what’s wrong?”
“Ohhh Mom! I can’t do anything right!”
“It’s not so bad. Let me have your brush.”
In her aged, skilled hands my splotchy attempt at sunrise BECAME sunrise! The blob of orange paint I had carelessly dropped became a buoy bobbing in the endless expanse.” I looked in disbelief at what had just happened and exclaimed, “Mom, I guess I AM an artist!”
Now, years later, when I realize I have messed up or when someone comes into my office fretting over an error in judgement, I look at that painting and think of the greatest Master.
God is a wonderful and talented Artist. He is so great that nothing I do can ruin the painting that is my life. But I must do these things:
1. I must be serious about the painting that is my life.
2. I must be honest and admit that I have messed it up.
3. I must hand my brush to the Grand Master.
4. I must be patient and trusting as before my eyes He transforms my mess into a true work of art.
When I did that long ago, my painting ceased to be mine alone. It became Mom’s and mine.
Today when I do this with my life, it ceases to be mine alone. My life becomes a portrait of God in me.
“I learned two things in the Navy. I learned how to tie a knot and how to sharpen a knife.”
As a boy of about ten, I watched wide-eyed as my brother used his pocket knife to shave the hair off his arm in demonstration.
When I tie a knot it doesn’t stay tied and its never tight. My brother could take a knife that wouldn’t cut butter and in no time at all, shave with it. I could take his knife and in no time at all, it wouldn’t cut butter! My pocket knife won’t shave. In fact my pocket knife barely cuts a string … and I like it that way.
A long time ago I carried a brother-sharpened pocket knife. I was amazed at how easily it cut the hay bales I fed to the horses. I could slice through anything with it!
I still bear the scar on my index finger. While cutting an apple for my horse, I continued my slice as it went deeply into my finger! So now I carry a dull pocket knife. It was easier to just let it be dull than it was to learn to sharpen it and learn to be careful enough with it. It stays dull now and its better that way.
Knives are like people. They come in different sizes, some with assorted “blades” that can do almost anything, others with deft skill that can accomplish great things. Then there are others, who often feel like they are just never quite sharp enough for the job at hand.
The thought of hurting another person is repulsive to me. I would rather be careful with my words and with my actions so that after I have said or done what was needed I don’t find my words “slicing” into another’s heart. My finger hurt for a long time. It was bandaged for a long time. As I said, I still bear the scar today.
In our world of production, profit, and gain too often our goal is to have the “sharpest knife” possible so that in our chosen job or perhaps even in our home we might operate with precision and efficiency. But how many deep wounds are we leaving behind with our words or actions that take a long time to heal and leave a life-long scar?
“The Lord has told you, human, what is good; he has told you what he wants from you: to do what is right to other people, love being kind to others,
and live humbly, obeying your God.” -Micah 6:8
“You should have preached about Noah yesterday!”
“No, God said He wouldn’t do that again and I take Him at His word!”
I had this exchange today with a member of the church following last week’s deluge. Later this morning while peering underneath this very old church building in a dirt crawl space I discovered some very old records. There were records of meetings dating back to the late 1920’s rotting away in the moisture with only fragments left.
This week I am attending the annual business meeting of about 800 churches which we call “Annual Conference”. I can’t help but think of that in light of those fragments of paper I discovered. Over 80 or 90 years they changed in importance. They were recorded with care to penmanship, accuracy and were stored in carefully crafted binders. No doubt they were placed on a shelf along with others and copies of them were mailed to higher authorities. Now they are just tattered scraps lying in the red clay dirt.
No doubt the meetings of this week will be conducted and the actions taken will be recorded with equal, if not greater care. The hundreds who attend will have set aside family, money, time, liesure and a host of other Priorities in order to be present and active. Eighty or ninety years from now where will the records of this week be? More importantly, where will those who attend this weeks meetings be?
As I write this it is my birthday and I am remembering acquiring trophies and ribbons for riding, grade cards with letters and comments, degrees which still hang on the walls of my office. In a hundred years where will they be?
Finding those old discarded records reminds me of what is truly important and it is not meetings, diplomas, grades, trophies and accomplishments. Those things may be important as a step along the way but not an end in and of themselves. What is important is what lasts beyond our lifetime. The only One who is capable of transporting both us, and the actions of our life, beyond our lifetime is God.
“Whatever we build on that foundation will be tested by fire on the day of judgment. Then everyone will find out if we have used gold, silver, and precious stones, or wood, hay, and straw. We will be rewarded if our building is left standing. But if it is destroyed by the fire, we will lose everything. Yet we ourselves will be saved, like someone escaping from flames.” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15)
It’s a nice idea. Going out to the garden and just pulling off the vine or out of the ground fresh, healthy, wholesome food.
I wish it were that easy! Bugs know how to hide. Those clever little squash bugs, flea beetles and grass hoppers know how to hide and avoid you like the plague. How can it be that a creature smaller than a bread crumb can confound our best efforts to feast on the summer’s produce?
And then there are weeds! Even as my first grape vine emerged from near extinction, only a foot or so away another vine emerged looking exactly like my grape. Which one was my grape and which was an impostor? Was it an impostor at all? I honestly could not tell the difference. Sometimes I think bugs and weeds are smarter than we are!
Losing weight, finishing school, getting that degree, finding a job, finding reconciliation in a failing marriage, reaching a rebellious son or daughter. It seems life is filled with bugs and weeds that threaten to steal from us our dream of a summer harvest. We can be tempted to just give up and let the bugs and weeds win.
In our ‘war’ on weeds and bugs here is what we have learned:
1. There will always be problems, bugs and weeds.
2. Reality is not as easy as it seemed when you were dreaming about it.
3. If you want to eat, prepare for the work to be harder and longer than you thought.
4. A garden requires constant vigilance. You can’t rest until the harvest is in.
5. It’s easier to go to the grocery store but not nearly as satisfying.
6. If gardening were easy, everyone would do it.
7. If you quit, ‘fess up that you never wanted it bad enough to begin with. Admit you didn’t have what it takes and don’t blame the bugs and weeds in your life. Recalculate your goals, aim elsewhere or look within and find something more.
Nothing worth having is easy. Choose what you are going to give your life to carefully and then be prepared to spend more than you dreamed and work longer than you thought to reach it. If it is worthy of your best effort and good for you, then God will help you, in the end, to eat the good fruit of a life well lived.