Need a hand?

Before we left London to drive the four hours north to Sheffield, I just needed to walk up to the shops to grab some cash from the cash machine.  5 minutes – no big deal and then Jos and I could get on with our day.

As I walked back, I noticed one of our neighbors starting to sit down on the outdoor seats at the Keats cafe.  Mr Thomas is an elderly Jamaican man whom I see regularly as he slowly walks from his home to the shops in order to purchase items for his bedridden wife.

I think he was chatting with someone else and didn’t see me as I slid by.  I have a trip to make – no time to chat today.

But as I walked on, I just couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t keep walking.  I knew I need to return to Mr. Thomas and just ask him one question.

Do you need a hand?

Mr. Thomas walks with a cane.  Very slowly.  And carrying bags of food doesn’t make it any easier.

“Yes” he replied  “Could you put these bags by my door – you know, the green one.”  “No problem” I said, “Have a good day.”  And as I walked back to our street, Mr. Thomas called out, “God bless you.”

I think the entire interaction took a total of 2 minutes – including walking to his door to drop off the bags.  A very simple task but one that I almost missed.  An opportunity to serve a neighbor who needed a hand.

So often we are so focused on our agenda that we miss the small opportunities before us to help those around us.  Open your eyes to your neighbors.

Sometimes it doesn’t take much to love your neighbor as yourself.  But then again, getting our minds off ourselves to see our neighbors in need may take a work of the Spirit.  Just like it did in my case.

And if we get our eyes are off ourselves, then maybe, just maybe, we could lend a hand.

Are you a dog person or a chimp person?

Most mornings, I walk our dog, Theo around the park near our house and throw him a tennis ball with one of those ball thrower thing-a-ma-jigs.

Theo and his balls

In the evening, I’ve been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, What the Dog Saw, which is a series of essays he wrote for The New Yorker over the past 10 years.  In light of my dog walking habit, I was interested to read this on page 134:

The anthropologist Brian Hare has done experiments with dogs, for example, where he puts a piece of food under one of two cups, placed several feet apart. The dog knows that there is food to be had, but has no idea which of the cups holds the prize. Then Hare points at the right cup, taps on it, looks directly at it. What happens? The dog goes to the right cup virtually every time. Yet when Hare did the same experiment with chimpanzees—an animal that shares 98.6 per cent of our genes—the chimps couldn’t get it right. A dog will look at you for help, and a chimp won’t.

Even though a chimp is much smarter than a dog, on this task, the dog wins every time because the dog is willing to look for help. Dogs will look to humans for directions.

So true! On the rare occasions when Theo loses track of the ball, I can point to the location of the ball and he will follow my instructions to find the ball – even if the ball is 40 yards away.

We humans can also function in these two ways when faced with a problem.  Those who look for instructions from others and those who fumble along by themselves.

Dog people
1. Recognize they need help
2. Use the wisdom of others
3. Follow directions

Chimp people
1. Don’t or won’t see their need
2. Rely upon their own limited smarts to get along
3. Don’t follow directions because they never get any from others

Dog people and chimp people. What kind of person are you?  What kind of person do you what to be?

Ready to walk

For me – I’ll think I’ll be following Theo this time.

The man of mystery

I preached yesterday at NLMG from Isaiah – here is a portion of the message:

This passage of scripture describes a mysterious person is both exalted and humbled. Look here at verse 13 of chapter 52:

Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.

But then this servant turns really ugly in verse 14:

his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind

Then in verse 2 and 3 of chapter 53:

he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

This reminds me of someone whose face is so disfigured that you don’t want to look at them and you definitely don’t want your children staring at.  I have been volunteering with the homeless in Shepherds Bush over the past year and there is one man in particular whose fits this description.  Many of the people who come for a meal and a movie have had difficult lives but this man just looks worse than the rest. He stands out in a negative way – you know this man has seen very hard times.

This is the image Isaiah is giving us. This person is not glorious, he’s not Prince Charming in Shrek whose got the flowing blond hair, huge muscular arms and perfect chin. Those are the kind of guys in Bollywood films and glossy magazines but the picture we have here is the opposite – “no form or majesty that we should look at him.”
But Isaiah does make one other point about this servant – he is innocent. Look in Isaiah 53:7:

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

Silent before those who are abusing him.

And then in verse 11 it says “the righteous one, my servant.” So this servant is beaten down, oppressed, ugly, nothing to look at and yet at the same time he is righteous.

Interesting.  Kind of reminds me of someone.

That’s a rubbish comparison

Each Tuesday morning everyone on our street puts out their rubbish and recycling.  Kaleb and I clean the bins around the house and bring everything – 3 different recycling bins and a few black bags – out to the front.

As I walk our dog to the park, I always find it interesting to notice what people put outside.  “Lots of beer bottles this week.  They don’t recycle much – everything is in black bags.  Dominoes Pizza twice this week.”

What I noticed about my thinking yesterday, is that it is so full of pride.  “Those people drink to much. They shouldn’t be feeding their kids so much junk food.  Why don’t they recycle!”

Comparing rubbish!!  What is wrong with me?

What’s wrong is that I’m a man of full of pride who, like all of us, constantly compares himself to others.  I may be a better recycler and eat healthier then my neighbors, but does it really matter in the eyes of God?  How easily I slip into the comparison trap.

By comparing myself to those around me, I’m subtly and sometime not so subtly seeking to justify my actions.  I want to look good.  I want to know that I’m better than someone else.  I want to feel that I’m on the right track. But that kind of comparison is not going help me at all.

The only comparison you and I need to be doing is with God our Creator.   And we always come up short.  As Jesus said in Matthew 5 verse 48, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Now that’s a real problem.

But as I’m united to Jesus by faith, I meet the standards God has set for us.  Not because I’m so great but because Jesus is. He did meet the standard of perfection and at the cross  he took the penalty I deserve for my failures.

Comparing myself to God – that’s humbling as I look to Jesus’ work on the cross.

Comparing myself to others – that’s really rubbish.

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