Slow Saturday afternoons provide space for spending time with some of my favorite people. My nieces and nephews hold a special place in my life and have been some of the best teachers and illustrations of God’s Word for me. I have often learned that some of the deepest lessons flow from these tiny teachers who go barefoot, carry blankets, and blow spit bubbles.
This past weekend, I crossed the desert of pollen behind my parents’ house and headed out to the basketball goal in the driveway. A few of my nieces and a nephew milled around on bicycles, content to carry on in circles for the rest of the afternoon. But when the basketball bounces the first time, all bets are off. The bikes dropped to the ground with a crunch in a cloud of yellow dust. It was time to play horsee, the traditional basketball game with a double e because we all need mercy by the end of these long games.
After several minutes of warming up with rebounding and passing, I finally had the ball and an open hoop. I dribbled, squared up, and shot. Much to the crowd’s disappointment, my high school legacy lived on as the ball bounced in and out and across the concrete. From somewhere behind the goal, I heard the tiniest, two-year-old voice chime, “You missed!”
My niece, Addie, was lounging on the base of the goal, hands tucked behind her head, commentating on the game. She was right. I had missed. And, in case you have never received a toddler’s correction or commentating, it is humbling. There is a measure of honesty that they are often willing to share that others of us fear—both to give and receive. But there she was, wearing only a diaper, smiling, content in her integrity.
After several minutes, the game began and our coach came off the sideline. Addie shuffled over, demanding to “shoot” the ball now and then, which was no more than throwing the ball at my knees. There was a wildness about the way that she played. She was serious and joyful, wasting no time and wondering with delight. One moment, she would chase down a rebound, crawling under vehicles to push the ball out. Other times, distracted by the game, I would feel a small warmth inside my palm and a voice say, “Spin me, Uncle Dunc!” as she persuaded me to dance. I had to. After all, when a voice that sweet commands my devotion and delight, I cannot resist.
As I spun my niece, I realized that this is a clear, but not perfect, illustration of the way in which we are called to walk with the Lord. When we come to the cross of Jesus in faith, trusting in his death and resurrection to make us right before God, eternal life begins. When Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life,” (John 5:24, NIV), he explained that eternal life is a present reality. In the same way that the people of God were led from bondage in Egypt to sojourn in the LORD’s presence on the way to the Promised Land, so we have been freed from the bondage of sin and death and now walk freely with him on our way into eternity. The great sin of God’s people on that pilgrimage was often disbelief in his promises which led to dissatisfaction in his person and disobedience to his precepts, or commands. God has called his people in every age to walk by grace through faith, trusting that a right relationship with him is the ultimate satisfaction for our sojourning souls.
Friend, I invite you to learn with me of God’s heart as seen through a messy two-year-old. First, let me tell you, with a lesser level of cuteness, that we have missed. Every one of us has missed the goal, the standard of holy perfection that God demands (see Romans 3:23). It is a sobering reality called sin with the real consequence of death (see Romans 6:23). And were God not to have intervened, we would be hopelessly, helplessly lost to die forever separated from his glorious, all-satisfying presence. But there is hope. God came near in the Person of his Son, Jesus. On the cross, Jesus settled the score of sin for all who would believe. And upon receiving his forgiveness, true life begins. He takes us by the hand and leads us, day-by-day, to delight in him on our journey home as we learn this truth from John Bunyan: “I was made to see, again and again, that God and my soul were friends by [Christ’s] blood.”
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