July 27, 2007

How could such a simple child’s game get me into so much trouble so often? Growing up in a small town in Idaho in the “BT” years (before television) required being creative in a child’s search for entertainment. There were always plenty of places to explore…farms, river banks, forests, old barns…and what better way was there to go exploring than to play “follow the leader?” My oldest brother, Donny, would lead (age carries such enormous responsibilities). Next in line would be my brother, Davy, younger than Donny by three years (second place carries the benefit of learning from the mistakes of the leader). Last (and always least) would come me, younger than Davy by four years and continually struggling to keep up with the longer legs of my older brothers (there is no glory in third place).
One day while exploring the farm of a family friend we came to a weed-infested irrigation ditch. Donny jumped over the ditch; Davy jumped over the ditch; and I (with a ton of determination and an ounce of size) jumped halfway over the ditch. Fortunately, the ditch had long been dry. Unfortunately, I landed on a nest of very angry hornets. Amazed at how high I could jump and startled by how loudly I could scream my brothers carried me to the farmhouse where mom and dad comforted their hurting third child, icing the world’s stings and hugging away the tears.
Another day while exploring a forest in which our family was camping, we came to a flowing brook. Protruding out of the water several feet apart were some large boulders forming a disjointed bridge across the stream. Donny bounced across the boulders and landed safely on the opposite bank. Davy followed close behind and was soon standing safely on the other side shouting encouragement for me to join them. And I (you guessed it) made it halfway across before slipping on a rock which had been sabotaged by the muddy shoes of my predecessors. Fortunately, the brook was only knee deep. Unfortunately, I fell head first and was thoroughly drenched with ice-cold water and covered with cuts and bruises. Again my brothers carried their screaming sibling to the camp site where mom and dad warmed me by the fire, bandaged my wounds, and buried the disgrace of their hurting third child in their hugs.
Near our modest home was a large elm tree in which my brothers had built a club house. Entry into the tree house required climbing up a series of wooden 2 x 4’s nailed to the trunk of the tree. When I announced I was old enough and it was time for me to join the club, the three of us headed for the tree to prepare for the initiation. Donny climbed into the tree house; Davy climbed into the tree house; and I (You’re way ahead of me, aren’t you?) climbed up halfway before succumbing to the inevitable outcome resulting from tiny fingers, short legs, and gravity. Fortunately, I was only about four feet off the ground when I fell. Unfortunately, I scraped against a 2 x 4 on the way down and opened up a large cut on my stomach. Once again Donny and Davy carried their bleeding, screaming brother home where mom and dad applied the first aid and the faithful love needed to heal their hurting third child.
Looking back on all the trials of being third in line, I’ve discovered a few profound axioms concerning our struggles to grow up which can be applied to individuals of any age as well as to churches of any size.

1. Make sure whoever you follow is heading in the right direction. Before following the crowd and lining up behind the latest charismatic author, dynamic speaker, or spiritual guru, spend some time comparing what is being espoused with what has already been laid down as the truth in God’s Word. Pay attention to the ones who have their focus on Jesus and ignore the others. Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ. – 1 Cor. 11:1.
2. Better yet, just follow the true leader, Christ Himself. Even though He may occasionally lead us into a nest of angry hornets (persecution), or through a stream of icy water (man-made or natural disasters), or allow us to fall from the tree house of our own sinful desires, He always has our best interests in mind, He promises never to leave us, and He will never lead us astray. If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. – Lk. 9:23. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith… — He. 12:2.
3. Make sure the course you choose to follow matches your stride (or the ministries you pursue match your gifts). But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. – 1Cor. 12:18-19. …let us run with endurance the race marked out for us. — He. 12:1.
4. Growing-up, maturing in Christ, and growing a ministry rarely progress according to our own time table. Growth is a God thing. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. – 1Cor. 3:6-7. …the whole body…grows as God causes it to grow. — Col. 2:19.
5. Growing-up, both physically and spiritually, is best when done within a loving, caring family. From him (Christ) the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. — Eph. 4:16.

I praise God for the spiritual leaders He provides for His Church. But I especially thank God for those special brothers and sisters in the Lord who encourage us to leap to new lengths of Christian service, to bridge the gaps in our spiritual understanding, and to reach for new heights of faith. I also praise Him for those spiritual siblings who lift us up and carry us back to the Father when we fall and who provide the healing hugs for all of God’s hurting children no matter what their birth order. Oh yes, and check this out. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first. — Mt. 19:30. Perhaps being in third place isn’t so bad after all.

Bill, a short-legged, highly beloved child of God

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