It looked like nothing more than a box of junk, the kind of thing a kid might keep under the bed, filled with odds and ends, bits of paper and plastic, string and beads.
Instead, the owner transformed this simple junk into magical objects filled with wisdom and fun. The owner was a young church leader in charge of the jovenes (teenagers and unmarrieds) and his particular skill set was using everyday objects, a little sleight of hand, and a dash of science to teach simple object lessons about faith in Jesus. I sat spell bound, even though I’d seen better “magic” acts. What made this spectacular was the enthusiasm and the wisdom with which this young man performed the simple tricks and the humble way he used them to draw interest into his message – faith in Christ.
Watching him demonstrate his routine for the youth group, I realized how often I dismiss people or ideas as “valueless” or “timewasters” or “unimportant” just because they don’t fit my preconceived ideas. I wonder how many of my students I have overlooked because they didn’t fit in, didn’t “sit up straight and pay attention,” insisted on doing it their own way, or just because they “looked” like they couldn’t do the assignment? How many adults have I ignored simply because I didn’t have time for their “nonsense”, “whining”, or “babbling?” How many times have I felt the sting when someone felt the same about me, dismissing my ideas, my interests, my skills as “pointless”?
There is a lesson in this humble box of junk for all of us. Life means variety. Life thrives on difference and individuality. Trying to force everyone into a single mode, a single mindset is anti-life. “Isn’t that exactly what religion does? Force everyone into a single mindset?” some will argue. And they are right. Religion, philosophy, government – all these do try to force people into a single mindset because people are easier to control that way. However, faith in Christ is not religion. People have taken various aspects of it and turned it into a religion, not faith in Christ. “Oh, you’re just splitting hairs,” some will accuse.
No, I’m not. Religion follows a set of specific rules which burden its followers. But faith in Christ follows two principles: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul. And love your enemies/neighbors as Christ has loved you.
And that, my friends, leaves us wide open to all the billions of ways to express that kind of love because we are all individuals. Love isn’t a burden. True love sets us free to be enthusiastic, creative, joyful, different.
Over the years I’ve heard lots of reasons given why people reject Christianity; some have basis in legitimate issues, but most are flimsy, tissue paper excuses that come apart under close scrutiny.
It’s always amazed me that the very people who poke fun at Christianity have a tendency to believe equally incredible philosophies; perhaps because it is easier than admitting the real reason people wrestle with Christianity.
Surrender. At the heart of the gospel is man’s need to surrender everything he is to accept the gift of salvation. People struggle with the concept of surrender; we see it as weak, as conceding defeat, giving in or giving up. Surrender reveals the fallacy of our belief that we are the captains of our souls, the masters of our fate. (Invictus, by William Ernest Henley).
Yet there is nothing weak in admitting we need help in the midst of impossible circumstances. No matter how accomplished a swimmer, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, one is still powerless to save oneself. Nothing we have is worthy of bringing us to God’s notice, and that is an uncomfortable truth to admit in a culture that prides itself on self-determination, independence, and the ability to overcome.
Surrender is also the great leveler. Our innate desire is to be better than others, to separate people into groups or categories of differing levels of ability or worth. Surrender makes kings equal with beggars and that chafes our souls as nothing else can. We cannot tolerate the idea that everything we have accomplished is worth no more or less than the filthy rags of a Skid Row bum.
Too long conditioned by our culture to see surrender as a negative quality, we miss the blessings of surrender. A couple of years ago, my husband and I were struggling with health issues, which took a financial toll on our family. We were getting by, but there was nothing left over to celebrate our 30th anniversary. Some dear friends decided to gift us an anniversary trip to Alaska, complete with cruise, plane tickets, and hotel accommodations. It was an overwhelming gift. The only thing we were required to do: surrender in the face of such love and friendship.