Raspberry bush behind title "Distracted for the Better?"

 

I recently spent a week volunteering at a summer camp. It was a blast as always! This summer we played a game we call “Leader Hide and Seek.”

The game is simple. Eight or so leaders hide throughout the campsite. The campers travel as teams trying to find the leaders. When found, the leader signs the campers’ signature card. The campers then continue hunting for the other leaders. The team of campers with the most signatures at the end wins.

They gave us leaders a head start while they explained the game to the campers. As I trotted away from the group, I pondered where to hide. The trees near the cabins worked well last time I played, but I saw two or three others heading that way. Perhaps I could duck behind the fire pit walls? No, the campers were sure to find me there.

Instead, I headed toward the teepee. However, again, several leaders were heading the same direction. Perhaps the long grass in the poplar tree stand would give me enough cover. When I got there, the grass simply didn’t seem thick enough. Perhaps that was due to the hot, dry summer we’d had.

I frowned. There had to be a good hiding place around. I eyed the nearby clusters of bushes. They had sparse wild raspberries growing around the outside, but in the middle, thick stalks of a bush with large leaves would serve me well.

As I burrowed my way into the largest bush, I was glad I’d worn long pants and a long sleeve sweater with a hood since some of the plants were prickly. I found a clear enough space inside the bush where I could crouch down, hiding even my face from sight.

By now, I could hear campers on the move. I stayed motionless as some drew near on their way to the teepee.

When their voices drifted away, I allowed myself to sit up in an attempt to relieve the numbness from my crouched legs.

Again voices drew near. I lowered myself and crouched motionless. It seemed one of the teams was arguing amongst themselves.

“Come on.”

“But I want to pick some raspberries.”

I froze. If they paused to pick raspberries, they’d likely spot me. Maybe I’d chosen a bad hiding place!

Another teammate spoke up. “We need to check by the teepee.”

“But I want raspberries.”

“Don’t get distracted. We need to stay focused and find more leaders.”

“Oh, fine. One more raspberry, then I’m coming.”

I didn’t dare release my breath until all their voices had faded considerably. That had been close. Their teammate’s distraction had almost led them to their goal – finding a leader.

I laughed at the irony of it. We typically consider distractions to be bad. They are what keep us from reaching our goals. This time, however, the distraction of raspberry picking nearly led them right to their goal.

As I sat quietly in my hiding spot waiting for someone to find me, I pondered the irony of it. The distraction, quite the opposite of being a hindrance, had so nearly enabled them to achieve their goal.

I wondered if there might be an allegory for me to learn from. Are there things in my life which I class as distractions that are actually the key to succeeding if only I’d give them space?

Now, please don’t misunderstand. There are many bad and destructive distractions that exist to sidetrack a person and reek havoc in their life. Therefore, careful discernment and weighing of good and evil in light of what the Bible teaches us is necessary.

Having said that, I do believe there are times when what I classify as a distraction from reaching my goal, is actually the very best thing I could be doing to help accomplish God’s goal for my life.

In Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV we read,

“‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.'”

Sometimes, perhaps far more often than I realize, my primary goal or plan is not what God has in mind. His plans are better.

Perhaps the clearest example of this we find in the Bible is the story of Mary and Martha. I’ll summarize it here, but to read the whole story go to Luke 10:38-42.

Martha welcomed Jesus and His disciples into her home. She hustled about busily serving her guests. Her sister Mary, however, did not help her. Instead, she sat near Jesus listening to His words.

When Martha asked Jesus to tell her sister, Mary, to help her, Jesus replied,

“‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; but only one thing is necessary; for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41b-42 NASB)

Martha’s goal was to serve and host Jesus and His disciples. From her perspective, Mary was distracted. Rather than helping Martha accomplish her goal, Mary sat idly listening.

Jesus’ perspective was different. He knew that, while there are times to serve, there are also times when the very best thing we can do is pause to listen to His Word.

So what do I classify as a distraction?

At camp there were times when I had somewhere to be and a job to get done, but a couple of the campers wanted to chat. Did I brush them off as a distraction? Or did I pause in my busyness to take a few minutes to connect with them?

What about in my daily life? Do I take time to read the Bible? Do I allow myself needed rest? Do I pause to connect with those around me even when the dishes are begging to be washed?

I suspect that in every season of my life there will be something I am tempted to classify as a distraction, when really it is the very thing God would have me make time for.

What about in your life? What have you deemed a distraction which may actually be the very thing God wants you to be doing?

Painting of tree by S. J. Little in background of title

Have you done much art? I enjoy art, but with everything on my schedule, I rarely make it a priority. Recently, however, when Covid-19 restrictions were lifted enough that I could visit some relatives, we enjoyed having a paint night together.

I decided to do a landscape, since painting people is far more difficult.

We used acrylic paint. When using acrylic, the typical strategy is to start with the furthest back part of the picture. From there, each new layer can be added on top.

In my case, the furthest back thing was the sky.

I knew I planned to put a tree in the foreground. I hoped my tree would resemble an Elm. I knew the sky would be visible through the leaves and between the branches of the tree. Therefore, I wanted more than just a flat blue sky.

I took my time, trying several times until I was satisfied with the gradient from deep blue at the top of the sky, to light blue at the horizon. Then it was time for clouds. I added wispy white clouds.

That done, I moved on to the next layer – mountains. At first I made them flat, but that was too boring, so I added shadows and highlights. Much better.

Time for the grass. I spread plain green across the space. I added a little more variety to the green, then left it at that for the time being. Later I would add more details.

Stepping back, I examined my painting. The bright colours and my hard work had paid off. I was pleased with my background.

The next question: where to put the tree? I frowned. Did I even want to add the tree? The background had turned out so beautifully. Would adding a tree in the foreground harm the beauty of it? What if I did a poor job of the tree?

Despite my fears, I knew the picture would look empty and incomplete without something in the foreground.

I squeezed some brown paint onto my palate. Taking a deep breath, I added a tree trunk. Then I added branches and leaves. Finally I added texture to the grass.

Eyeing my painting, I considered adding something else to the foreground on the other side. Perhaps a road or a creek? Yet those same fears crept up again. What if I did a poor job adding it. All my work on the background would be negated.

This time I decided that my painting was complete.

As I considered the process of creating this painting, I marveled at the importance of background. Much of my time and effort had gone into forming the background with great detail. Had I neglected the background, it would have been an entirely different painting.

Indeed when watching a pro artist, it can be astounding how much detail they put into the background.

Is there a life lesson I can learn from this?

Yes, I believe there is.

Sometimes it seems as though so much of life is background stuff. Washing dishes, doing laundry, writing emails, buying groceries… the list could go on.

At times, I feel anxious to get on with the “big stuff.” I want to do things that feel important and belong in the foreground.

At moments like that, I have to stop and remind myself of the importance of the background stuff.

In Luke 16:10 (ESV) we read, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.”

I find it helpful to switch the words “faithful” and “dishonest” with other words to help drive home the point. Am I being diligent in the very little things? Am I being intentional and wise in how I handle those little things? Am I a good steward of what I’ve been given, no matter how small or background it feels?

In the Bible, I see lots of the “big” moments – David defeating Goliath, Moses leading Israel out of Egypt, Jesus’s time of ministry. If I pay close attention, though, I can also see snippets of the background stuff that enabled these “big” moments to be handled well.

David faithfully tended his father’s sheep, including fighting off bears and lions (1 Samuel 17:34-37).  Moses was “instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds” (Acts 7:22 ESV). “Jesus, when He began His ministry, was about thirty years of age” (Luke 3:23 ESV).

Each of these had years of little stuff that served as a background to the big moments of their lives which the Bible tells about.

Sometimes, I find the stuff that might seem big, is indeed a compilation of many small things that add up to a big thing. To be a pastor or Christian camp director, for example, is largely made up of doing lots and lots of little things well.Tree painting by S. J. Little

What about my life? Is all the daily background stuff going to one day culminate in an unmistakably big moment? I don’t know.

What I do know, is that God has called me to be faithful with what He has given me to do here and now, no matter how menial.

As I am faithful with the little things, He will unfold His plans for my life. Perhaps there will be a “big” moment in my life, but perhaps not. Regardless, may I seek to be faithful that one day I may say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7 ESV)

Sunrise illuminating cloud behind title: Staying in Right Relation to God

 

One morning a while back, I sat for a few minutes to watch the sunrise. It was an especially brilliant one.

After a few minutes, the pinks and oranges and yellows faded away as they always do.

That particular morning, something caught my eye. Two or three clouds still glowed brightly. While all the clouds above, below, and beside these two or three clouds had lost their glorious hues, those two or three had not.

The sight left me wondering. Why didn’t they fade as well?

It took a few moments of pondering to conclude that those two or three clouds were likely closer to the earth than the ones that, from my perspective, surrounded them. The sunrise rays of the sun no longer reached the further clouds, but still lit up the lower ones.

Then I wondered if there’s a lesson to be learned from these clouds. It didn’t take long to realize that there is.

Whether or not the cloud still shone was to do with the cloud’s relation to the sun. There was no way that cloud could shine on its own. It had no light in itself. Only when it was in right relationship with the sun, could it shine.

In Matthew 5:16, I am told to shine so that people would glorify God.

How can I shine? Is it of my own accord? Do I muster up the light myself?

No. It is the light that Jesus gives. I must be in right relation to Jesus so that His light may shine through me.

Interestingly, shortly after the sun had risen, I opened my Bible for my morning devotional time. I’d been reading through Numbers recently. That morning I was at Numbers 25.

As I began reading, the theme of right relation to God, or being tuned into Him, continued.

In case you haven’t read Number 25 recently, let me re-cap the story for you.

Israel was approaching the Promised Land. God had warned them not to get too friendly with the enemy nations in the area. He knew these nations would draw the Israelites’ hearts away from Himself.

Nonetheless, in chapter 25 we find the Israelites prostituting themselves with the women of those nations and going after their idols.

God was furious! Yet again, His chosen nation had sharply turned their back on Him. The people had been so out of touch with God, that they did the very thing that most inspired His righteous jealousy!

But wait. It gets worse.

As many of the Israelites gathered to grieve what their nation had done, an Israelite man, Zimri, passed by with a woman from an enemy nation. He publicly and unashamedly took her into his tent.

Zimri’s timing was terrible. He was completely out of touch with what was going on. Why were all those people gathered at the Tabernacle? To grieve over and take action against the very sin he was publicly committing.

Zimri’s actions earned him capital punishment. 

Now, that story is an extreme example. Thankfully we are no longer under the Law but are under grace.

Regardless, as I read that story, I couldn’t help but blatantly see how very critical it is for me to be in right relation with God.

When I am walking rightly with God, not only will I be a light for Him, but I will know what pleases or angers Him. Only then can I live a life fully pleasing to God.

No, it is not that I must earn my salvation, but out of thankfulness for God’s great mercy on me, I desire to please Him. As a Christian, God has instructed me how I ought to live – in right relationship with Him. He knows that such a life is the very best possible thing for me.

So, like those two or three clouds, may I make it my goal to live in right relation to God.

“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.” Colossians 3:1-2 NASB

 

A Moose standing on a road

 

Encounter With The Moose Who Wouldn’t Leave 

About a year ago, as I was driving back from a visit to the country, I enjoyed the warmth in the air and the fresh greenness of the trees.

I was on a winding country road just wide enough for two vehicles.

As I wound my way past open fields and wooded patches, I came to the top of a hill.

Suddenly, I hit the brakes hard. My wheels skidded on the loose gravel.

There, in front of me, standing in the dead centre of the road was a moose.

The moose stared at me. I was grateful to have stopped so far back. It had no antlers, but, boy, was it big!

I assumed the moose would soon move on, but it didn’t.

At length, the moose turned, though it didn’t leave the road. It looked at the fence to the right of the road.

It took me a moment to notice movement on the other side of the barbed wire fence.

First I thought “coyote”, but that wasn’t right. Soon I realized it was a baby moose.

Gradually the mother moose wandered down the road ahead of me, keeping one eye on the young moose on the other side of the fence, and one eye on me.

I trailed her down the hill at a distance. She was still mostly on the road, and, being in a small car, I didn’t try to pass her. We always talk about the dangers of a mother bear with her cubs nearby. Would a mother moose be dangerously protective of her little one? I didn’t want to find out.

Once or twice, the young moose tried sticking his head through the barbed wire, but pulled back. It seemed he was stuck. I wished I could do something to help, but was pretty sure the mother wouldn’t be pleased.

At the bottom of the hill, the fence continued straight while the road curved away. The mother took a few steps off the road following the fence.

Was this my chance to pass?

I relaxed the brake enough to roll forward slowly, very slowly.

The mother moved back into the middle of the road. I was still stuck.

Then suddenly, movement caught my eye. The little moose climbed through the fence and hurried to join his mother on the road.

Quickly, I switched into reverse to give them some extra space.

When I stopped again, I watched intently. The young moose was so little beside his enormous mother!

They crossed the road happily.Moose - Mother followed by baby

At the other side of the road, there was another barbed wire fence.

The mother stepped over the fence without the slightest hesitation.

The little one wasn’t so sure.

As the mother walked back up the hill on the far side of the fence, the little one followed along my side of the fence.

With my window still open from earlier, I could hear the little one’s bleating as he passed me. I could nearly have mistaken the sound for a low bird’s chirp. He was so small, very much a baby. He wanted to be with his mother on the other side of the fence, but it was challenging to get through the fence.

As I drove away, I wasn’t worried about the little one. He had gotten through the first fence. Once he got up enough determination, he would get through the second one too.

That mother of his, she wasn’t going to leave him. She would continue to wait patiently for him to finally decide to climb through the fence just as she’d done with the first fence.

God Won’t Leave His Own

What a privilege it was for me to witness that scene. Yet it wasn’t an accident. Indeed, there is a lesson there for me to learn. As I drove home, the image burned in my mind.

I am like that little moose. God is like the mother moose.

Sometimes God leads me through obstacles, such as fences. Those fences can be taller than me and have sharp barbs on them. There may be no way around them, and they may seem impassable.

God, however, has a goal in mind. He steps across the barrier and says, “Come.”

Like the little moose, I might try to stick my head through a few times, but pull back. I might try to follow the fence to the left or right, but I won’t get anywhere.

Thankfully God waits patiently, like the mother moose, with a fierce protective love. A love that, though it could let me stay where I am, wants to lead me further to something more wonderful.

Surely that little moose felt intimidated by the fence. Surely his pleading with his mother included “Come back,” and “I can’t do this.”

At last, the little one wanted to get through desperately enough that he did it.

Thankfully God can do more than the mother. While the mother moose could do nothing more than wait and watch for her little one to cross the fence, God can, and will help us cross it.

Still, we have to want it enough.

Once the little one had made it past the first fence, the mother led him to another fence to cross. Yet throughout the process, she never left him.

God will never leave us, no matter what seemingly impassable obstacle He asks us to climb through. Beyond that, He will give us the courage we need to follow Him through it.

We see an example of this when God sent Joshua and the Israelites up to conquer the new land. They had to move forward against very intimidating enemies, but God was with them and helped. As He said to Joshua,

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9 ESV)

Today, may I take courage and trust God as I follow where He leads me.  

A freshly cut onion with the title: Onion Layers

 

Examining Onion Layers

I glance at the clock. Time to start making supper. As I close my computer and head toward the kitchen, I decide that stroganoff would make a tasty meal tonight.

At the pantry, I reach for onions. Since this batch of onions was starting to go bad, I’m glad the bag is nearly finished. I make a mental note to put them on the shopping list.Red onions

Pulling out two onions, I glance at them. One is large and decently healthy looking. The other is small and covered in rot.

I place the cutting board on the counter and begin peeling the larger onion. That done, I locate my favourite knife and slice the onion in half.

I frown at what I see inside.

Although the large onion appeared healthy, the center has a rotting section. With a sigh I dissect it, discarding what’s bad.

I eye the smaller onion. If the onion that had appeared considerably healthier on the outside was rotten at the core, what chance did this miserable looking onion have of containing anything good at all?

Maybe I should just throw it out.

I glance at the pile on my cutting board of chopped good onion. It’s not as big as I want it to be for the meal. I could grab another onion from the bag and out-right discard the bad one. However, I wasn’t planning to shop for groceries for a few more days. With the onion bag so low, perhaps it was worth checking to see if the smaller onion had anything worth keeping.

Resigning myself to the unpleasant task, I gingerly reach for the smaller onion. I’ll give it a try.

I slice the onion open.

To my astonishment, the rot on this onion only went two or three layers deep. Once I peeled away the outside, I had a crisp juicy looking onion. Incredibly, the good parts of this onion looked far healthier than the good parts of the larger onion.

Chopped onion in bowlThe good part of the large healthy onion appeared fine and passable, but the good part of the small rotten onion appeared fresh and delicious.

I shake my head in wonderment. I’ve long known that onions go bad more or less in layers. Peel away the bad layers and you’ll likely find good usable onion within. This particular bag of onions, however, had thus far contained several onions that appeared mostly healthy on the outside, but had a bad section at their core. How amazing to find that the one onion that looked the worst was actually the best inside.

As I toss the chopped onions into the frying pan and turn on the heat, I find myself thinking about how people can have layers as well.

The Sunday School Lesson

Perhaps the most well-known verse to go with this thought is 1 Samuel 16:7b – a verse I memorized as a child.

“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7b NIV2011)

When did God say these words? God spoke them through His prophet Samuel when choosing a new king for the nation of Israel. God didn’t choose the strongest or the best looking. He chose David, a young shepherd boy at the time.

Here’s another translation of the verse: “Humans do not see what the Lord sees, for humans see what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7b CSB)

Just like with the onions, I cannot see what is inside those around me, but God can.

If you grew up attending Sunday school, you’ve probably heard this principle many times. I know I have. It’s an important reminder from time to time, yet as I pondered the onion allegory, I wondered if there was something more for me to learn here.

A Further Onion Allegory

Then I recalled another passage of Scripture – a rather convicting one.

In Matthew 23, Jesus was pointing out the errors of the religious leaders of the day. He said:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. … You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23:25-28 NIV2011)

For now, the lesson for me to consider has to do with my own core. What are my thoughts like and how do I behave when no one is there to see me? Am I rotten in these private unseen parts of my life?

It is so easy to do as the Pharisees did and focus on making the outside of my life look good.

Earlier in the same chapter, Jesus had said: “Everything they do is done for people to see.” (Matthew 23:5a NIV2011)

So how am I doing? Am I seeking God with all my heart or is it all for show? Am I giving Him room to work in the hidden areas of my life to be transforming me into His image? Or do I need to repent of selfishness and greed and hypocrisy and wickedness?

Will I be like the religious leaders who prompted Jesus’ cry at the end of Matthew 23?

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Matthew 23:37 NIV2011)

Or do I pray as David did?

“Search me, O God, and know my heart!

Try me and know my thoughts!

And see if there be any grievous way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting!”

(Psalm 139:23-24 ESV)