Does True Faith have a Plan B?
I grew up in suburbia twenty miles east of Los Angeles. The community was built in the mid-1950s, a pretty typical suburban development of the time. The neighborhood was cookie cutter houses, chosen from about five different floor plans. All of the houses used the same group of plants in the landscaping but they were arranged a little differently at each house. The kids all played together in the street a little like “Leave it to Beaver”.
When I was about eight years old one of the favorite activities was to catch bees. Now, as a parent, I call this type of activity, “childhood stupidity”. So, write it off to childhood stupidity, but catching bees was what we did. The neighborhood was filled with shrubs called, wax-leaf privets. They have dark green waxy leaves about an inch wide and two inches long. In the spring they produce dense clusters of very small white blossoms and the bees loved them. The neighbor across the street had a hedge made of wax-leaf privets; the perfect place to catch bees.
To catch bees you would take a milk bottle, yes milk came in glass bottles at the time. You would hold the bottle upside down and lower it over a bee humming about the blossom cluster. Once the bee realized that something was wrong, he would try to escape by flying up into the bottle. Then you quickly place the cardboard bottle cap over the opening to trap your prize.
The first bee is the easy one. We would repeat this process of opening the bottle and trapping a second bee without letting the first, rather angry bee, out. If you were good you could trap four or five bees in the same bottle.
Normally there were about three boys involved in this activity. We would egg each other on, or encourage one another, depending on your perspective. There was an element of competition and pride over who would push the envelope and do the dangerous thing of catching one more bee.
One day a couple of the neighbor boys came knocking on the door. They were all excited. As I came outside they said, ‘Mike caught a bee with his bare hands.” Okay, that had to be the ultimate accomplishment in bee catching. That was boyhood bravery.
As we were walking across the street I was overcome by a sudden wave of childhood stupidity. Was it bravery, courage, naivety, pride, or misplaced faith? I don’t know for sure but the boys assured me that Mike had accomplished this extreme act of bravery and he had not been stung. I believed them and I wasn’t about to be out done, so I confidently said, “I can do that.”
As the other boys watched in nervous anticipation, I boldly walked up to the hedge. I looked at them again and asked for reassurance, “Mike really caught a bee with his bare hands and was not stung?“ Mike said “yes”, and the other boys said, “Yes, I saw him.” So based on that testimony, I stepped up, cupped my hands and caught a bee WITH MY BARE HANDS. For a brief moment I could feel his wings buzz against the palms of my hands and his body bounce from side to side. The other boys looked on in amazement. Then it happened, the bee stung me. I jumped back and let go of the bee. My hand hurt, and tears began to roll down my face. I can’t remember for sure, but I think I went home for a while.
I was hurt and confused. How did Mike catch a bee with his bare hands and not get stung? Was he just lucky? My friends wouldn’t have lied to me. What really happened out there?
A few minutes later I went back outside and questioned my friends. “I thought you said that Mike caught a bee with his bare hands?” They all said that he had and that they had seen it with their own eyes. So I challenged Mike, “Do it again. Show me.” So Mike turned to the hedge, pulled the sleeves of his heavy sweater over his hands and nervously cupped a bee in his hands. He held it for about one second, then let it go and ran about ten feet away.
The childhood debate ensued. “That’s not bare hands.” “Yes, it is.” “No it isn’t, you pulled your sleeves over your hands.” “That’s sill bare hands. “ No, it isn’t.” “Yes, it is.” “I never said you couldn’t use your sleeves.” “That’s cheating!” “No, it isn’t.” “Yes, it is.” And on and on it went.
My friends had made a claim that I took to be true at face value. I believed that what was true for them could be true for me. I had faith, as misguided as it was, it was childhood faith. Based on their statements, I stepped out in faith (or pride), and I got stung. On closer examination, they didn’t believe their own claims. They said you could catch a bee with your bare hands, but they were unwilling to truly risk it. They hedged their bet. They covered themselves.
Last night I was giving a couple of young men a ride home. As we were driving I made a statement that sounded so good. It was one of those quotable statements that someone would post on Facebook. I said, “Real faith doesn’t have a back-up plan.” It was so easy to say, but as soon as the words cleared my lips I was struck by how good and noble it sounds, but how hard it is to do. Pastors and other Christians talk boldly about living by faith, but when it comes down to it we are formulating back-up plans. We are pulling the sleeves of our sweaters down over our hands. We say that we believe but we are going to protect ourselves so we don’t get stung.
In Matthew 6, Jesus says to not layup for yourself treasures on earth. Do we believe that enough to actually practice it, or do we not lay-up a lot of treasures. Or do we lay-up treasures but then claim that we really aren’t placing our confidence in them.
In the same passage Jesus said, 25 “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?
28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Elsewhere Jesus says, “pick-up your cross and follow me.” That is not just a willingness to die for Jesus. It is a following Jesus with no plan B. There is no turning back. No hedging your bets. No pulling down your sleeves to cover yourself.
The question is not what other people are doing. The questions are for me. Am I willing to risk it all and follow Him? Am I willing to move forward without a plan B, a safety net? I have seen how others do it. Theirs is limited faith, but what is mine? Am I willing to believe Jesus for what He said, the way He said it? Am I going to reach out in faith, and risk being stung? Risk the ridicule of those around me.
Can you really catch a bee with your bare hands? It is hard to do when you have been stung once; but this time the challenge doesn’t come from childhood friends, it comes from the Son of God. Do I believe Him? Is it child-like faith or childish stupidity? I think I will risk it again and go with faith.