My grandson Isaiah had dumped the pieces of his new Mickey Mouse puzzle on the floor and was calling for me to help him put it back together. As I sat across from him I realized that this was going to be a much more difficult task than I had anticipated. First, there were actually pieces of three puzzles mixed together. Secondly, I was looking at all the pieces upside down – without my glasses on. And probably most importantly, I had no idea what the completed puzzle was supposed to look like since the finished puzzle picture was nowhere in sight.
Problems one and two were easily remedied by slipping on my cheap pair of cheater glasses and sorting the puzzle pieces by their markings on the back. (At this time I’d like to extend my sincere thanks to the Disney puzzle makers for actually putting markings on the back.) Problem number three was also solved after an extensive, but successful search for the box lid picture.
In the process of all the sorting and searching it suddenly occurred to me that this predicament seemed vaguely familiar. And it really had nothing to do with Mickey Mouse.
Everybody knows that it is easier to work toward an end when you have a clear goal in mind. And yet, how often have I fumbled around in my life trying to find the corner pieces so I can fill in the rest without really knowing what the big picture is? And here’s an even bigger question – how can I know what the picture of my life is if I don’t actively seek out the One who knows the answers?
Over two thousand years ago a new star appeared in the eastern sky. It heralded the birth of a king. And those who had been earnestly watching and waiting for it followed after its bright light. Searching for answers, this learned and influential group of men traveled great distances to meet the One who had been promised by the ancient scriptures. They did not know the exact route on which the star would lead them, but they knew Who would be there at the end. According to Matthew 2:11 when they found Him, they bowed down and worshipped him.
When it comes to putting together the pieces of my own life I would do well to embrace the vision of the Magi. To wait and watch eagerly for the signs God has put before me to guide me into the plan He has established for my life. I don’t need to see the whole finished product, but must rest in the knowledge that God knows the good plans He has for my life. He alone has arranged the corner pieces. I need to stay close to His heart to fill in the rest.
For weeks my class had been working toward an ice cream sundae party. It was the reward for memorizing the addition facts to twenty. Every new fact family committed to memory garnered an ice cream scoop or topping. Everyone had earned at least a single scoop with some sort of topping. Everyone except one. And as much as I tried to help this particular student, it was clear that the effort was very one-sided. He just didn’t take it seriously. So while the rest of the class indulged in the delicious benefits of a job well done, he quietly made his way to the library to read a book.
It’s times like that I really hate being “bad cop”. Praise and encouragement are the teaching tools I reach for most often. But sometimes they’re just not enough to motivate every child, every time and it seriously bums me out. I know, I know – life isn’t all happy faces and rainbow stickers. You can learn a lot from failure and the pain it causes. That being said, no matter how justifiable, I still hate having to don the bad cop cap and badge to carry out a punishment.
In the real world there are always going to be rewards and punishments for our choices. And when we make the choice to put love into motion it changes the world for the better. And if we put forth unloving word and actions, well, the same principle applies. But when it comes to God’s kingdom the stakes are even higher. It’s not just about doing good or bad things, but believing in the One who is the only true source of goodness. Because God is love.
And one day we will all stand before the throne of love and give an account of our lives. I’m not suggesting that we will get into heaven by our works. That is solely a work of amazing grace, poured out on the cross by Jesus Christ. But we will be rewarded according to our works. And I can only imagine that it will be like the most fantastic and wonderful party we’ve ever attended. And here’s the thing. I don’t want anybody I love and care about not to be in attendance. We are all invited, but not everybody gets to come. It’s a sobering thought.
But where there is life, there is hope. As Christmas approaches I am keenly aware that even the season’s secular atmosphere seems to soften hearts and minds. And softened hearts and minds lend opportunities to tell the story. The story of a God whose love is so extravagant, that despite our unwillingness to come to Him, He sent His Son to come to us. Jesus came to proclaim His love and claim us for His own. He invites us to be a part of the family of God, to join the party and live with Him forever.
The invitation is there.
We just have to say yes.