He and his sister were found left to die in a bucket of water. His sister was quickly adopted but he was much worse off and probably wouldn’t make it. The vet who found them, after a few days found a home for the male puppy. But it didn’t work out and he was brought back to the vet. He was heartbroken that this little life had been through so much in a mere eight weeks but Otis finally found another, forever home. Now years later Otis is happy, full of heart and grateful love for his owner. Otis seems to bear no grudge toward whoever left him in that bucket to die. He lives a life of gratitude. My wife tells me she has never known a rescued dog that didn’t feel that way.
Last Sunday I retold again the greatest rescue story of them all. Standing before the congregation I read Matthew 26:14-27:66 taking us in those 128 verses from Jesus’ betrayal to the sealing of His tomb. I can almost hear the hard “thud” of a heavy stone being rolled into place with the accompanying total darkness which would have filled that cold, stone crypt. At times I found it almost impossible to continue reading as Jesus’ situation became more desperate, more hopeless with each moment.
I am a rescued dog. I had no future. I had no hope. I was utterly lost and no one wanted me. When we are surrounded by family or friends it is hard to realize that. But the day came when, 1500 miles from anyone who knew me I awakened with that realization. It was then that for the first time in my life, I began to feel warm, gentle and totally undeserved acceptance. I found a willingness to adopt me by the One whose hands bore the wounds of that time I read about Sunday. Each time I remember at what terrible Cost I was adopted I must push the tears back that, welling up, render me unable to speak.
The Christian life is a life of gratitude. I am a rescued dog. One lifetime is not nearly enough to repay the debt of love I owe. Christianity is not about denominations, liturgy, meetings, dinners, building programs or programs of any kind. Christianity is about rescue, tears of gratitude and the desire to bring pleasure at any cost to the One who has given us our Forever Home.
“Anderson Cooper won’t get mom’s millions” the headline stated. And he’s happy about that. “I think it’s a curse. Who has inherited a lot of money that has gone on to do things in their own life?” This was his response to the decision of his 90-year-old mother, Gloria Vanderbilt. She told him there would be no trust fund for him.
Everyone has dreams of winning the lottery I suppose. In the 1989 film, Back to the Future II, the antagonist makes billions of dollars by using a future copy of Gray’s Sports Almanac which detailed sporting events from 1950-2000.
Perhaps we all wish for a life easier than the one we have. We wonder how life would be different if we won the lottery! However history paints a picture a life of wealth different than what we imagine. While money may promise a life of ease and unlimited opportunity it can‘t guarantee health, longevity or even sustained happiness. The tabloids are filed with the sordid lives of the rich and famous. But none of that has kept us from dreaming!
I wondered as I read Anderson Cooper’s story (Anderson Cooper is best known in his reporting for CNN) how my own life might be different if I had made different choices which might have secured a different financial future. There have been many times when I have remained in a difficult situation or when I might have been able to buy my way to more prosperity if I had more money. I have learned to be a plumber, electrician, carpenter, and mechanic because I couldn’t afford to pay someone to do those things. I have realized that much of who I am becoming is because of the difficulties in and out of the church I have had to face. If I could have, I would have paid someone or bought my way into a different place. At times I would have done almost anything to run away from my problems.
“By faith, Moses, when grown, refused the privileges of the Egyptian royal house. He chose a hard life with God’s people rather than an opportunistic soft life of sin with the oppressors. He valued suffering in the Messiah’s camp far greater than Egyptian wealth because he was looking ahead, anticipating the payoff.” (Hebrews 11:24-26) Almost all the greatest men and women in history attended the “school of hard knocks”. The only one ever born who could have chosen a life of comfort, privilege and wealth, chose to be born among the working poor with little opportunity for advanced education or social standing (Jesus Christ!). So while dreams may continue to abound of winning the lottery, just because “lady luck” doesn’t seem to smile on us it doesn’t mean we have a bad lot. In fact, “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
“I don’t do color,” I have heard myself say. It’s not that I don’t like color. I love color! I just don’t have any sense of what looks good. When I am out and about I sometimes see that I am not alone. Now this morning I briefly toyed with the idea of wearing a purple tie. I left it in my closet, not because it would not be right for today, but because I have no sense of style.
Today is the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday. Yesterday was Shrove Tuesday, the final day of Mardi Gras and the day when tradition dictates all fat should be consumed in the house in preparation for the season of Lent. While I am a Methodist I have not always been one and so I realize that for many the word ‘Lent’ is simply a misspelling of that stuff that gets on your sweater. However, in many churches Lent is the solemn season for fasting and introspection lasting about six weeks on the liturgical calendar. I am comfortable with observing this season and also with not observing it. The ‘liturgical color’ of the season is purple (hence the idea for my tie).
We live in a day when communication seems to have broken down all over the world. From Kiev to Moscow, from the board room to the ball room, from the state capital to the nation’s capital we are divided. Much of this division has to do not with what we want but with HOW we want it. Democrats and Republicans, Pentecostals, Catholics, Baptists and Methodists, Russians and Ukrainians, all want the same things. We want to live in peace in this world and in the next. What we differ on is HOW to get there.
So while I will be observing an Ash Wednesday service this evening as the traditional beginning of the season of Lent I recognize that what matters is not so much HOW or even WHEN we in humility ask God to search our hearts but that we do. The Scripture says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts: And see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” (Psalm 139:23-4). If you have not asked this of God, no matter what your tradition, this might be a good time to begin.
The thought was overwhelming. Although I was driving I took my phone out of my pocket to call my wife who was several counties away for an appointment. At that very moment I saw she was calling me. Now I had forgotten to take my phone out of its silent mode and I had not been aware of the incoming call.
Although the call was not an emergency, it was a reminder in a wonderful way of God’s very presence inside me. “Into my heart, into my heart. Come into my heart Lord Jesus. Come in today. Come in to stay. Come into my heart Lord Jesus!” I still remember learning that song as a child. I remember believing it as I asked the Lord Jesus to come in.
It has taken a lifetime from that moment so long ago to appreciate how powerful a change this has made on my life. God is truly our Great Friend, unlike any other. He consoles, guides, promises, protects, chides, disciplines, encourages. He loves!
In my life as this wonderful Friendship has grown I have long lost count of the many ways He has done these things. I cannot imagine a life without Him! My greatest concern is displeasing Him. I know that I am far from perfect and that I do displease Him at times. It is at those times, when I realize I have gone astray in some way that my heart breaks and I run as fast as I can back to Him. How thankful I am for His many wonderful promises! “I will never (ever) leave you!” “Your sins and transgressions I will remember no more” “I will come and I will receive you to myself” “I am with you always, even to the end of this age.” And they go on.
As I said, I cannot imagine life without Him. Into my heart He came. In my heart He stays. Have you asked? Do you believe it? If you don’t I would love to talk with you and tell you so many, many stories of how good, how faithful, how wonderful is this, the greatest of all Friendships. It is an offer to everyone no matter who you are or what you have done.