One day a professor entered the classroom, and asked his students to prepare for a surprise test. They all waited anxiously at their desk for the exam to begin. The professor handed out the exams with the text facing down, as usual. Once he had handed them all out, he asked the class to turn over the papers. To everyone’s surprise, there were no questions – just a black dot in the center of the white sheet of paper.  The professor seeing the expression on everyone’s faces, told them the following: “I want you to write about what you see there.”  The students, confused, got started on the inexplicable task.  At the end of the class, the professor took all the papers and started reading each one of them out loud, in front of all the students. All of them with no exception, defined the black dot, trying to explain its position in the centre of the sheet.  After all had been read, the classroom silent, the professor started to explain: “Im not going to grade you.  I just wanted to give you something to think about. No one wrote about the white part of the paper.  Everyone focused on the black dot – and the same happens in our lives.  We have a white piece of paper to observe and enjoy, but we always focus on the dark spots.  Our life is a gift given to us with love and care, and we always have reasons to celebrate – nature renewing itself, our friends around us, the job that provides our livelihood, the miracles we see.  However, we insist on focusing on the dark spot – the health issues, the lack of money, the complicated relationship with a family member, the  disappointment with a friend.  The dark spots are very small when compared to everything we have in our lives, but they are the ones that pollute our mind.  But if we are not careful, what is all too-often true in the secular, can also become true in the spiritual.  Let me explain:

For those of a conservative bent, there is a lot to like about a church like Wingham Baptist:

(the  old- time Bible is used… the great hymns are sung … the attire  is modest … the music is conservative … the leadership is male… there is a Sunday school, a church school and a prayer meeting … a stand is taken against social drinking, joining the ministerial association and ecumenical evangelism … a six-day creation week is believed and Calvinism is not believed … salvation is by grace alone and once-saved/always saved is taught… and on the list goes.)  To use the analogy, there is a lot of large white to see.

But for those of a conservative bent, now and then, there will be something for someone to dislike.

(a song sung … a story told … a special shown … a version cited…and so on.) To use the analogy, there will be a little black speck sometime for someone.

So the decision has to be made – What am I going to concentrate my vision on?  Will my eyes be so taken up with the large white area that the tiny black speck is hardly noticed by me at all?  Or will my eyes be so taken up with the tiny black speck that I am totally oblivious to the large white area all around it?  And if it is the latter, that is when I am in danger of making a “speck”-tacle of myself.  Unfortunately, in my near fifty years of pastoral ministry, I have seen more than one person take a magnifying glass and turn a little “speck” into a big reason as to why they cannot ultimately fellowship.

So I have found the following to be true in life:

The story is told of a traveler who came upon an old farmer hoeing in his field beside the road. Eager to rest his feet, the wanderer hailed the countryman, who seemed happy enough to straighten his back and talk for a moment.  “What sort of people live in the next town?” asked the stranger.  “What were the people like where you’ve come from?” replied the farmer, answering the question with another question.  “They were a bad lot. Troublemakers all, and lazy, too. The  most selfish people in the world, and not a one of them to be trusted. I’m happy to be leaving the scoundrels.”  “Is that so?” replied the old farmer. “Well, I’m afraid that you’ll find the same sort in the next town.”  Disappointed, the traveler trudged on his way, and the farmer returned to his work.  Some time later another stranger, coming from the same direction, hailed the farmer, and they stopped to talk. “What sort of people live in the next town?” he asked.  “What were the people like where you’ve come from?” replied the farmer once again. “They were the best people in the world. Hard working, honest, and friendly. I’m sorry to be leaving them.”  “Fear not,” said the farmer. “You’ll find the same sort in the next town.”

The bottom line?  As my old mentor, Dr. E.S. Kerr taught us at Bible college, “Gentlemen, when you go to church; go there to bless and to be a blessing.”