The mouse-deer I want to be

The Malaysian mouse-deer.  Exquisite.  Frightened.  Almost unbelievably beautiful.

Mouse Deer Permission

From Simonandfinn.com

The mouse-deer reminds me of God’s goodness and who I am to be before God.

The delicacy of the bones, the fragility of the life, and humility in the expression of the creature draws my heart to remember God’s heart for me and who I can be in Him.

A metaphor for how I feel about the inner vulnerability of the heart.

The secret heart.  The part of my heart and your heart that, if it was exposed to anything but the tenderest touch, would gush raw blood.  The part that is not even possible or accessible to share with our closest family or friends, not even if we wanted.

Mouse Deer 2 Creative Commons

The mouse-deer in me.  The fragile dreams.  The realization that I am a short-living and easily humiliated creature.  The hidden, inner trembling because I know I am small and breakable.

The fearful hope the mouse-deer represents of exquisite, fragile beauty.

This is who I want to be before God.

I want God to see me as a little mouse-deer.  I want to show God every one of my straw-like bones, and I want to touch my tiny and fearful nose to His palm.  I want to take huge mouthfuls of the fruit He has laid out in baskets for me, very aware that, if this is a trick, I can never escape in time.  The faint, uncertain pitter-patter of my heart as I trust no trap awaits me and I taste the moments of my life He’s given me.

Mouse Deer 4 Creative Commons

Only God sees the mouse-deer within my heart.  Not even I can really view the vulnerability and beauty of myself before Him.  There is no mirror in the wilderness where He meets me.  But He sees me.  And that is enough.

I trust only Him to reveal the frailty and marvel of the new person that He has breathed to life within me.  I trust only Him to tenderly care for the secret me.

I trust only Him to see the mouse-deer within me.  I spend time either straining to see myself or fleeing from the vulnerability of myself during this delicate heart-working, this delicate heart-working of who I am in Him.

Mouse Deer 3 Creative Commons

As God knit me once in my mother’s womb, so He knits my dainty, exquisite, pride-less, beautiful inner being for His eternal Kingdom.

The clunkiness of sin, the weight of guilt, the carnivorous desires inside me all veil the deer-mouse I fear to become and yet desperately want to be.  But they none of them have power over God’s work within me.  No feature of who I used to be has the ability to mutate the new creation God is knitting every moment since my salvation.

Only God can see all the features within me that do not match what He wants my delicate heart to become and forgive me.  Anyone else would run in terror, jeer in amusement, or condemn in wrath.  Only God through His Son can lift the heaviness of the burden that I, in my sin nature, am the predator . . and only through His Son can He create in me the new birth of the exquisite.

Mouse Deer Creative Commons

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The little deer-mouse longs to tiptoe on tiny hooves up to the Presence of God.  The weak-hearted, tiny deer-mouse aches to trust Him enough to approach the baskets of fruit He has for her.  Not to scarf them down with eyes wandering violently from side to side in search of predators, but to delight in every mouthful of fruit He has for her, fruit of many colors that represent the many moments left of her dwindling and fragile life.

The little deer-mouse fears to think what might happen tomorrow, when the jowls of an alligator snap shut on her or a net buried in the leaves cinches up around her or her feeble heart simply stops.  There is humility in knowing she has brought this on herself by her own sin; there is a reason she comes tail tucked and head bowed.

The little deer-mouse is afraid to think about eternity, or of a time when she must yield her failing heart to God in trust that He will give her the next heartbeat as soon as she crosses into eternity.  The trust of really believing He has already knit for her an eternity with Him; the faith to believe that He will keep her everlasting heart beating even as the ugly body of her old self . . who she was . . rots away with all the other forgotten corpses in the wilderness.

To the outsiders, her corpse will be just another expected occurrence in the inferior and easily forgotten life of wilderness living.  She must trust her Creator to remember her.  She must trust her Creator was really sincere when He promised her He was knitting a new self for her inside her old one.  She must trust that her Savior really did pay for every regret in the dead body . . that she really can leave it behind and become who God is longing for her to be . . who God has surprised her with becoming on the inside.

She must believe the invisible will become visible, the hidden secret of the knitting will become the reality of who she now will be.

Afraid of the humongous, humongous fruit basket that eternity represents . . braving both overwhelmingly fearful and overwhelmingly delighted glimpses at it . . peeping at the basket with bashful blinking eyes.

But the little-deer mouse still trots on shy hooves up to the Presence of God.  A God who is gaspingly huge and unnervingly fearsome and unimaginably powerful.  A God who the deer-mouse would find impossible to visit, was it not that this very God became the most exposed, the most vulnerable of all in His substitutionary death for her.

The deer-mouse is frightened, but the deer-mouse cowers up to the Presence of God.  The all-mighty hand of God rests on the tiny creature, and the deer-mouse begins to understand . . this is not the least-preferable way to come to God.  This is the only way for her to come to God.

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If the Good News we preach is hidden behind a veil, it is hidden only from people who are perishing. Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.

You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves.We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. (2 Corinthians 4:3-7, NLT)

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Photograph of Mouse Deer 1 by SimonandFinn.com, website allows permission to share with credit

Photograph of Mouse Deer 2 by Just Chaos (Jean), profile on http://www.flickr.com/photos/7326810@N08/

Photograph of Mouse Deer 3 by Peter Gordon, profile on http://www.flickr.com/photos/superwebdeveloper/  See MartialArtsNomad.com

Photograph of Mouse Deer 4 by Eden Pictures, profile on http://www.flickr.com/photos/edenpictures/

Photograph of Mouse Deer 5 by Bjorn Christian Torrisen, http://bjornfree.com/galleries.html

Photographs 2-5 licensed under Creative Commons License.

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Housebuilders

In Jesus’ parable about two housebuilders, one man discovered that his life mattered . . and the other man discovered that his life didn’t.  One man found his faith solid in the worst time of trial he’d faced.  The other man found his faith eroded in the same trial.

One man had his faith in the real save.  The other man had his faith in the false save.

Here’s how it went down:

“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock. The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of Mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed. And its collapse was great! ”(Matthew 7:24-27, HCSB)

There is no man in this parable who didn’t hear the words of Jesus.

The two men in the parable heard the same message from Christ.

They had the same opportunity for salvation.

They both made decisions.

And then they both continued on with life.

But this is where their commonality ends.

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Since the one man—we’ll call him Bill–made a decision to follow Christ, his entire life’s work changed.  He moved land plots.  Rather than building a house in the ever-popular neighborhoods of Career Cul-de-Sac, Rebel Road, Acheivement Alley, Lust Lane, Popularity Park, Family Farm Road, Amusement Avenue, Indulgence Isle, Materialistic Mile, or any of the other popular real estate plots, he picked up and left all these places for the Rock of Christ.  It wasn’t a very popular place, and he wasn’t sure his family would join him, or that his friends would ever pay him another visit, but he moved there anyway.  He was sure about where he needed to build.  He’d listened to the words of Christ and he believed.

In the meantime, since the other man—we’ll call him Joe–made a decision to passively listen to the words of Christ, maybe even respect Christ and feel sentimental about the preaching he’d heard, but not really let the message penetrate him, he didn’t move from where he was already building.  After all, he had a lot of time and resources tied up in that house.  He didn’t understand why Bill had abandoned his prime real estate.  It looked like a lot of wasted effort and inefficient use of resources to Joe.  And besides, hadn’t the real estate agent promised that the property would triple, even quadruple in value in the next fifty years?

Joe did what everybody said was the smart thing.  He stayed steady and true to the home he was already building.  His children loved him, his wife adored him, and he had cookouts every weekend.

Bill did what everybody said was the stupid thing.  The halfway built house he’d started before his new life in Christ crumbled over time.  The foundation cracked, and spiders and snakes and foxes lived among the ruins.  Bill’s wife had left him to start a house on prime real estate property with somebody else.  He got to see his children every other weekend.  Most of his old friends never answered the phone when his name came up on the caller id, and nobody ever came to his house for a cookout.

Bill only had a few neighbors, and they were all broke like him, buying strange building supplies that nobody else used and following building plans that none of the engineers in town understood.  The Rock of Christ seemed like a lonely place, and the real estate agent had warned everyone who built there that it would never go up in value and was worthless.  Some did wonder if the agent said this just because there was no money to be made on the property–it was free to Bill and anyone else who built there.  Others never stopped to think about it, and made fun of Bill whenever they saw him out and about.

Then one day, fifty years to the date the two men had heard the teaching of Christ, something happened.  Something neither man was expecting.

They both died.

Bill was driving home from work when he got in a car accident.  Nobody was too clear on the details, just that a young driver had accidentally hit him head-on.  He died instantly, the paramedics said.

Joe, on the very same day, had a heart attack.  Nobody even knew he had heart trouble, although the doctor had warned him about high cholesterol.  Although he was rushed by ambulance to the hospital, the damage was just too massive.

Both men’s funerals were on the same day.

Bill’s friends from the district of the Rock of Christ came.  His children were there–one even decided to build his own home in the same neighborhood where his father had lived.  Even though it was well-attended, there was only a small service since Bill never had much money and his friends didn’t have much to donate.

Joe had a bunch of coworkers come to his funeral.  He’d been really successful at work, and he had a lot of acquaintances who showed up out of respect.  His family was there, and there was a beautiful ceremony.  Everyone said it was very professionally done.  There was even a few police officers to direct traffic when the service was over.

Twenty years went by, and not many friends were left who had known Bill or Joe.  Their children remembered them, of course, and their spouses (or in Bill’s case, ex-spouse).

Another fifty years went by, and a few of Bill’s descendents took an interest in ancestry.  They did some research on the internet and found out his name, but they didn’t really know anything about him.  One of Joe’s great-great-great-great grandchildren did a family tree project.  She found Joe’s name in an old photo album and included it on the tree.

Even though Bill and Joe had faded away from the history of the town, there was a memorial to each of them.  No, it wasn’t their gravestones.  Bill never afforded one and Joe’s gravestone, though it was a mighty monument, only got flowers on Memorial Day when the dutiful boy scouts came by.

Yet, there was something of theirs that had remained in town.  Something the townspeople passed by every day.  Though they didn’t know who the houses belonged to, there wasn’t a person in town who hadn’t walked or driven to at least one of their houses.

Bill’s house–well, it wasn’t known as Bill’s house anymore.  Currently, it was Jim and Kate’s house–they’d moved in with their four kids after elderly Mr. and Mrs. Rogue had died.  Before that there’d been newlyweds Paul and Christine, and, let’s see, before that there was Jamar and the backyard club he’d started.  It’s hard to really remember everybody who, when they decided to build on the Rock of Christ, build an addition onto Bill’s house.  Of course, they didn’t know whose house it was, but, over the years, the small house had become one of the marvels of the neighborhood.

I think it was Harriet, who’d first owned the house after Bill had died (she was Bill’s daughter, and she’d come to Christ at her father’s funeral) , who’d expanded the kitchen.  It was her husband, Peter, who re-shingled the roof.  Their children, Tom and Larry, mowed the grass every week until they went off to college.  When Harriet and Peter died, Tom moved in with his wife April, and they’re the ones who cultivated the garden out back.  They didn’t have any children, but a boy they’d mentored–that was Azad, I think, built the sun room on when he moved in.

Over the years, families kept building onto that house.  The kitchen was updated, the living room refurnished, the walls repainted, the fireplace converted from wood-burning to electric when that was the phase, and then back to wood-burning when it came back in–but the foundation was never touched.  Extra rooms were built on–including that extra big living room Jamar added for the college kids to have their Bible study.  Mr. and Mrs. Rogue took out the skee-ball machine and sold most of the board games at a garage sale, and they added carpet and paintings of flowers and turned the room into a Bible study for widowed women.

Yes, the house went through change after change as each new generation added something to Bill’s home, but there was one thing no one ever, never once, had to change.  That was the foundation.  Even hundreds of years later, the house stayed as strong as it had been the day it was built.  Whenever any of the kids or younger couples in the neighborhood worry about termites or earthquakes or wildfires or, worst of all, the bad flooding that came through the valley every now and again, the older residents will reassure them they have nothing to worry about.  It is, after all, the Rock of Christ.

People are influenced by Joe’s building, too, but not in the same way.  The year after Joe died, there was a terrible flood, and the house completely collapsed.  No one in the neighborhood said they’d ever seen anything like it.  The real estate agent apologized, but said the other houses were better built than Joe’s had been.

But Joe’s house–or, really, the lack thereof–is still effecting people.  People scavenged his demolished house for a while.  He’d been a rich man, and he had lots of nice nicknacks.  But since they’d gotten soaked in the flood, only vagrants ever took off with them.

Kids used to walk through the ruins as a shortcut on their way to school.  The ground eroded so many times, it became terribly unsafe.  Nobody seemed to notice until a first-grader fell into a surprise sinkhole.  If his brother hadn’t gotten ahold of his arm in time, it would have been too late.  Since then, there’s barbed wire around the old place.  That hasn’t stopped ne’er-do-wells from dumping their trash there, of course.  I’ve heard all manner of unsavory animals live their now.  The city council was trying to figure out what to do with the old lot until the wildfire came through and left a mass of charcoal and scrap metal in its path.  Now the council’s voting on what to do with the scrap metal.  And I think they’re planning to put a concrete wall up, to keep children out.

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“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock. The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of Mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed. And its collapse was great! ”(Matthew 7:24-27, HCSB)

Chutes & Ladders

Chutes & Ladders Creative CommonsI don’t know how many times I played Chutes & Ladders as a kid.  I do remember that you always want to rescue the cat.

You go up really high if you rescue the cat. (+56)

The worst was climbing up on the cabinet to eat the cookies.

You go down really low if you try to reach the cookies.  (-63)

Although I always wanted to know more about right and wrong than the game offered, Chutes & Ladders was intrinsically satisfying to me as a child.  For one thing, the consequences were always logical.  For another, they were always predictable.  If you made the same good choices every game, you’d win for sure: plant a garden, bake a cake, mow the lawn, eat your breakfast, care for your injured pet, sweep the floor, carry mom’s purse, win best-in-show at a pet contest, and, of course, climb up the tree to help the cat.

On the other hand, if you made the same lousy choices every game, you’d lose for sure: read comics at school, go ice skating in the no-zone, eat a whole box of chocolates, walk in a puddle without your galoshes, show off on a bike, bust a window, draw on a wall, pull a cats tail or (never should you!) climb up on the cabinet to eat cookies.

You would think I might have generalized from this game ways to make good and bad choices.  But I was more focused on the concrete choices in the game.  I didn’t want to make abstractions.  I didn’t want it to become more complicated.  I wanted to just do those 9 ladder choices and avoid the 9 slide choices, or have more ladders and slides, even, but no generalizations.  I could play the game perfectly if I could just memorize the ladders and slides.  And I wanted my life to be perfect, just like that.

But life isn’t so easy.  I didn’t even have a cat to carry down from a tree, or a tree in my yard that had low enough branches I could climb anyway.  And I never even get to mow the lawn with a push mower because my dad was afraid I’d run over my foot.

I can be very detail-focused, very check-listy, very Chutes & Ladders happy, and actually there is someone in the Bible who I think would have been right down my alley personality-wise.  He never got to play Chutes & Ladders as a kid, but I bet he would have loved it.

We don’t know a lot about him but we do know a few things:

  • He was humble.  (He knelt before Jesus.)
  • He was uncertain or afraid or both.  (He wanted to know what he needed to do to get eternal life.)
  • He was rich.
  • He was young.

The account is told in Matthew (19:16-26), Mark (10:17-27), and Luke (18:18-23).

Just then someone came up and asked Him, “Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?”

“Why do you ask Me about what is good?” He said to him. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

“Which ones?” he asked Him. Jesus answered:

Do not murder;
do not commit adultery;
do not steal;
do not bear false witness;
honor your father and your mother;
and love your neighbor as yourself.

“I have kept all these,” the young man told Him. “What do I still lack?”

“If you want to be perfect,” Jesus said to him, “go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.”

When the young man heard that command, he went away grieving, because he had many possessions. (Matthew 19:16-22, HCSB)

Though I think this young man would have liked the game of Chutes & Ladders as a kid, it wouldn’t have prepared him for what Jesus was going to teach him that day.

Just then someone came up and asked Him, “Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?”

The young man had an important question he wanted to ask Jesus.  He seems to respect Jesus and trust Him.  Unlike some questions Jesus was asked, this question does not seem meant to try to trick Him or cause Him trouble.  I think the young man really wanted to know the answer.

“Why do you ask Me about what is good?” He said to him. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

The young man was intent on finding out about eternal life.  He doesn’t stop to think, as Ravi Zacharias says, about the fact that if Jesus is good, He is the One who is good.

“Which ones?” he asked Him. Jesus answered:

Do not murder;
do not commit adultery;
do not steal;
do not bear false witness;
honor your father and your mother;
and love your neighbor as yourself.

“I have kept all these,” the young man told Him. “What do I still lack?”

The young man revealed he was not perfect with his question, “Which ones?”  He was afraid that Jesus might answer with a command that he hadn’t kept.  But this young man felt confidence about the commands Jesus did list.  The young man felt he was climbing the ladder.  His confidence boosted.

But . . he still felt he had not climbed the highest rung.

He did not say, “Oh, thank you, Jesus!” and go running off.  Maybe he sensed that there was still something he was missing.  Maybe he didn’t feel that he had reached eternal life.  Maybe he wanted to make sure he’d understood Jesus correctly that he would be ushered into Heaven when he died.

“If you want to be perfect,” Jesus said to him, “go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.”

When the young man heard that command, he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.

It was something that was never on his Chutes & Ladders board.

He’d felt he’d honored his father and mother and loved his neighbor . . but he’d never expected to hear his wealth was standing in the way of his eternal life.  He thought he knew all the ladders there were to climb, and all the slides to avoid.  He’d never realized hoarding his wealth was a sin, or that giving it away could be a command from God.

It was what he held dearest; it was what he did not see how he could let go.  His checklist crumpled, he slid all the way down the ladder to start and then he left.

But . . the account does not end there.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “I assure you: It will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven! Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

When the disciples heard this, they were utterly astonished and asked, “Then who can be saved?”

But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:23-26, HCSB)

Jesus ends on a note of hope.

Yes, the young man has slid back to start–but that is exactly where he needs to be to find God’s grace.  He needs to realize that it isn’t his striving to climb up Heaven’s ladder that will get him eternal life.  It’s Jesus.  Jesus is the Good One.  No one else is good but God.  This young man didn’t realize (but Jesus did) that Jesus would give His life so that the slide our sin always causes and the ladder of self-righteousness we can never climb would be eradicated.  Jesus instead gave us an elevator.  An elevator paid for by His good, the good we do not have within us.

We don’t know what happened to this young man.  I think he came back.  What I know is, God worked the impossible possible when He forgave us all our debt through Jesus on the cross.  Without Jesus, we would all be on a slide right into Hell.  But because of Jesus, we can be on the rise to Heaven–not by our own climbing, but by the gift of Jesus Christ.

If this young man did come back, what he discovered was that it wasn’t giving the wealth that made him right with God or not right with God.  It was a test of the heart.  And his heart couldn’t stand up to the test.  In fact, none of our hearts can.  That’s why we have to rely on the good heart of Jesus Christ–the One who is good.

If that young man did come back, and if he gave all his wealth away, do you know how he did it?  Not by his heart, but by the love of Jesus Christ, shared with all who will believe in Him.  Through Jesus, we can do what is impossible for us.  Through Jesus, our hearts can withstand the test.  We can be brave for Jesus, through Jesus.

So where are you in the game of Chutes & Ladders?  Are you like the young man, and hope you’re way up high because of good choices you feel like you’ve made in your life?  Or instead do you feel like you’ve been on a slide for most of your life?  Or are you hoping you’re a bit further along in the game than your friends and neighbors?  When we live our lives like we’re playing Chutes & Ladders, only a long, devastating slide awaits us, because none of us can actually do any good–only One can do that.

Jesus has given His life so that we don’t have to play Chutes & Ladders.  He knows we’ll always lose in the end.  He knows that only His goodness can make a ladder to Heaven.  And because we cannot be good like He is, He has built us an elevator by His love on the cross for us.

I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:14, WEB)

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Photograph by Ben Husmann, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/benhusmann/

Photographs under Creative Commons License.