Tuesday, November 16, 2004

What do you believe?

I remember times when I was younger, that my mum would take me with her on some tiresome chore or other. Usually this would be after the hard-labour of school when I'd used up all of my patience and selflessness and I was anxious to get home where my eyes could greet a blazing TV screen or computer monitor. Sometimes though it would be a Saturday morning, the crown-jewel of my week, with more shiny TV shows, perhaps a bike ride with the boys, or handball on a sunny morning. Oh the sacrifices I was called to make! Oh how I made sure my mother knew about it!

Of course, had the required trials been something along the lines of helping my mother to go buy more stuff for me, or just something new and shiny for the house - computers, stereo systems, TV"s, VCR's, even new big furniture like a big bed or something - I have been happy to help. These trips though weren't like that, and let me get it straight, I'm not just talking food shopping. Oh no! Those little annoyances, though frustrating at the time, at least meant good stuff to eat later on. I also knew that the trip could only last about half an hour at the most. No. What I'm talking about here, are things like being dragged out to go and visit one of the neighbours in hospital, or helping out some old lady from church who needs something moving, or some cleaning doing. Visiting people was particularly bad because you never knew just how long you were going to be there. You might end up stuck talking with some boring individual for the best parts of the day.

Then there was gardening. Gardening! Getting muddy, dirty, cold and tired is fine if it's for a good cause - like playing commandos in the park or even a good old fashioned game of rugby or football - but pulling weeds or gardening? What's the point? The plants die and the weeds grow back! Why doesn't anyone try growing weeds and pulling flowers? Much easier. No, no. My mother would always call on me and my brother to spend time helping out on some boring task just because someone needed help, and because we were young and fit. We'd visit, we'd move, we'd collect money, we'd garden - and apart from being bored we'd also end up tired.

Well it turns out that I am now becoming that which I did not understand and in fact, disliked. Recently, the signs of an approaching Christmas have started to show themselves and I've started to get excited as I do every year! I know there are those who get tired of Christmas coming around earlier each year, but the fact is, I happen to love Christmas. It used to be about the 'pressies', but over the years I developed a love for the music, the feel of the season, and just getting together with friends and family, celebrating. Just a couple of weeks ago though, I came across a news story. It was about the Salvation Army and how that this year they are expecting a very big drop in seasonal collection due to Target stores disallowing the presence of the SA 'Bell-ringers'. It's expected the SA will lose about 25% on it's Christmas fundraising, in Tucson, that's about $74,000.

Now, had this been several years ago when I was as described above, my comment might well have been, "That's a shame! What do Target think they're playing at? Something should be done. Someone should write a letter. What's this world coming to?" This year though, I started thinking about all that I was looking forward to this Christmas season. I recalled the few conversations I've had with people who claim that Christmas has been corrupted, and is all but another commercialised holiday. "It's only corrupted," I told them, "if you let it be so for yourself." I continued, telling them of the great significance Christmas held for me. Of family, friends, and faith. Then it occurred to me, that whilst Jesus could have stayed in His heavenly home and enjoyed the fellowship of His 'family', He instead decided to go out and show His love.

Ask anyone about the Salvation Army's work, and they'll tell you how much good they do, and how needed it is- ask me! Send out a chain email about how some poor or homeless person was greatly touched by someone who went out of their way, even though they didn't feel like it, and people might feel touched by the story, acknowledging the truth and storing it away for some future opportune moment. Ask someone though to give up 2 hours one evening to ring a bell for the Salvation Army, or help out at the Christmas Day dinner and...Wait, you're already thinking it!

It all just makes me wonder about what we really believe, and what we do with truth. Do you remember those sticker books popular in the 80's and 90's? I'm not sure if they still make them, but it's almost as though when you become a Christian you get given one of those sticker books. You then go around collecting truth stickers and Bible stickers, trading them with your friends as you seek to have a complete set. After having all the same ones day after day, pack after pack, oh the joy of finding a rare one and then showing it to all your friends!

The thing is, truth isn't something to be stored up. It's supposed to be something that re-directs, brings change, and motivates to action. What's more, those who have the most truth should also be the ones most active. We should take care that the amassed truths which may now be our pride and glory do not at some point become our judgement and condemnation. For, just as the cries of an aborted baby haunt a should-be mother and father, so too truth, undelivered of action, may well haunt those who knew it but did not let it move them. I am reminded of Spielberg's Schindler's List, where, at the end of the movie, the heroic Liam Neeson despairs at the good he could have done but, for short-sightedness, did not.

I don't know if it's whether most people these days can't listen, don't think, or just don't understand, but I know that in my earlier days I suffered from a complicated and lofty disposition known as - being self-centered and lazy. I thank God that my mother didn't suffer from the same, and that nor did Christ. What they believed mattered, and truth was realised.

Of what truth do I speak? Choose for yourself! The love and sacrifice of God for every single human individual. One's debt owed to Christ for His gift of salvation. That we should treat others as we would wish ourselves treated - and not just to not treat others as we would not wish ourselves treated. The command of Christ to love one another. The example of the Good Samaritan. How many of these have we stored away as nice truth stickers in our little book?

For James Hudson Taylor it was the truth of Christ's imminent return.

"For a while I gave much time to studying the Scriptures about it, with the result that I was led to see that this same Jesus who left our earth in His resurrection body was so to come again, that His feet were to stand on the Mount of Olives, and that He was to take possession of the temporal throne of His father David which was promised before His birth. I saw, further, that all through the New Testament the coming of the Lord was the great hope of His people, and was always appealed to as the strongest motive for consecration and service, and as the greatest comfort in trial and affliction. I learned, too, that the period of His return for His people was not revealed, and that it was their privilege, from day to day and from hour to hour, to live as men who wait for the Lord; that thus living it was immaterial, so to speak, whether He should or should not come at any particular hour, the important thing being to be so ready for Him as to be able, whenever He might appear, to give an account of one's stewardship with joy, and not with grief.

The effect of this blessed hope was a thoroughly practical one. It led me to look carefully through my little library to see if there were any books there that were not needed or likely to be of further service, and to examine my small wardrobe, to be quite sure that it contained nothing that I should be sorry to give an account of should the Master come at once. The result was that the library was considerably diminished, to the benefit of some poor neighbors, and to the far greater benefit of my own soul, and that I found I had articles of clothing also which might be put to better advantage in other directions.

It has been very helpful to me from time to time through life, as occasion has served, to act again in a similar way; and I have never gone through my house, from basement to attic, with this object in view, without receiving a great accession of spiritual joy and blessing. I believe we are all in danger of accumulating — it may be from thoughtlessness, or from pressure of occupation — things which would be useful to others, while not needed by ourselves, and the retention of which entails loss of blessing. If the whole resources of the Church of God were well utilized, how much more might be accomplished! How many poor might be fed and naked clothed, and to how many of those as yet unreached the Gospel might be carried! Let me advise this line of things as a constant habit of mind, and a profitable course to be practically adopted whenever circumstances permit."

From, 'A Retrospect' by James Hudson Taylor

Books, clothes, or otherwise. I find myself challenged: Firstly to study and know the truth, and secondly, to act upon it. Back in my earlier years I suffered from a terrible, disabilitating illness which prevented my action. It's called being self-centered and lazy. Oh the the strength and availability of youth wasted by lack of thought, discipline, and experience! Still, youth or not, strength is strength, and ability is ability. The challenge still stands, and will, I think, until death.

Suffice to say there'll be a bell in my hand this month or next, and most likely a tray and a large spoon on Christmas Day. How about yours?