"What is God trying to tell us about the kingdom of heaven through Jesus' use of simile?" This question was posed after reviewing all the instances in Matthew where Jesus talks about the "kingdom of heaven."
Parables. Stories. People relate to stories. You can understand the point of a story without really having to put the moral into words. Kingdom of heaven. Something of great value. A little goes a long way? No. It takes time, but a small revelation of truth can effect a change in someone. But not a change, that doesn't convey the full gravity of the effect. A transformation. A restoration. A re-creation. Its counter-intuitive at times. It demands obedience. It requires forgiveness and grace. You must seek it. You must wait for it. A waiting that requires action and preparedness. Those who seek it will find it, bus even then it comes at a great price. But it is worth it. Oh, is it worth the price! People will be drawn into the kingdom by the truth and power of it's love. But it needs workers. It needs those of us who have been transformed by its grace to set our lives aside and say, "Here I am, send me." If not us, then who will go?
"In the last analysis all moments are key moments. Life itself is grace." - Frederick Buechner
I agree with Buechner. Well, about the key moments, but I don't understand what he means by life being grace. We receive grace daily, but saying life is grace is like saying life is redemption, or life is sanctification, or life is ... a noun? I don't like life being a noun. Life is a verb. Life is redeeming or life is growing or dying or life is loving. But what is the object? Life is redeeming what or loving what? Now it sounds like we're only describing and not defining life. The problem with nouns is that they're stationary, and describing, well, defining life as an abstract idea keeps it unrelatable. If we're defining and not describing life I like to call it a journey. Its a noun that is full of implied action, adventure, ups and downs, perils, and most importantly a mission. A journey is going somewhere. Grace is not. But along that journey all moments are key moments because they all change the experience and some may call for a change of course.
Some stories are meant to be told rather than written; they are far better heard than read. This is such a story. It was told to me by Frank Nantz.
Frank Nantz, a friend and member of the church I serve as pastor, is in battle with pancreatic cancer. As we sat together in a hospital room before his last surgery, he asked me to write this down. I wish you, the reader could hear Frank narrate this account in person. His Chesnee accent, his unique dialect, makes the telling far more delightful than I can ever achieve through the printed word. For that reason, I relate the story in the first person, as if Frank were telling it.
I worked for Foremost Dairies for twenty-one and a half years. I started out driving a milk truck. As a milkman, I developed a good relationship with all of my customers. My bosses, Happy Lister and Cotton Hobson recognized that I was a good worker. And I was a good worker, too, because I worked nearly eighteen hours a day. I like my customers, and I appreciated my job.
After a while, I was promoted to supervisor and then to sales manager. I enjoyed both of those jobs because I like working with people. Then one day, the company decided to send me to be a Plant Manager in Sylacauga, Alabama. I explained that I didn’t want to go to Sylacauga, Alabama, or to anywhere else thy might want to send me &mdash not Sylacauga, not Bristol, not Jacksonville, not Columbia. I wanted to stay in Spartanburg County. My wife had a good job as Director of the Social Services Department, and she didn’t want to leave. My two daughters attended school here, and they didn’t want to leave. My mother and father lived here, and they didn’t want us to leave. My mother-in-law and father-in-law lived near us in Spartanburg County, and they didn’t want us to leave them. At any one time, I may have fifty head of cattle on my big farm in the northern end of the county, which I refer to as a plantation. My cattle didn’t want me to leave either. When I told my company I wasn’t going to Sylacauga, Alabama, I was offered more money. I assured them that it wouldn’t be enough to get me to move.
Because of my refusal to move, Foremost Dairies sent me to Jacksonville, Florida, for an evaluation. I did not want to go. I saw no need for someone to evaluate me, but they wanted me to go. I went to Florida and met with Dr. Melvin Reid, Ph.D., whose office was on the top floor of the Gulf Life Building in Jacksonville. We met together for the better part of an afternoon and had an enjoyable conversation.
Dr. Reid gave me a test that must have had five hundred questions, some written and some oral. That test asked some of the silliest questions I have ever heard in all my life. He called it the Vipperman test. I do not know who that Vipperman fellow was, but he certainly came up with some crazy questions: Do you vomit at the sight of blood? Do dirty hands make you sick? Would you rather be an airplane pilot or a coal miner? Do you love your father more than your mother? Which do you love most, your brother or your sister?
I did well on many of the questions about current events. I read a lot, and I enjoyed answering those questions. Some of the questions were just plain ridiculous. One question, I believe it was Question Number 178, asked: If you found a bird with a broken wing, would it make you sad? I studied that question a few moments, and I decided to leave it blank.
After I finished the test, Dr. Melvin Reid, Ph. D., looked over my answers, then slid his glasses down to the end of his nose like an old maid schoolteacher and asked, “Mr. Nantz, why didn’t you answer Question Number 178?”
I explained that Question Number 178 did not give me enough information.
Dr. Reid looked down at his notes for several minutes before reading the question aloud, “If you found a bird with a broken wing, would it make you sad?” Then he asked, “Mr. Nantz, how much more information do you need?”
“I need to know what kind of bird you’re asking me about.”
“Mr. Nantz, can you please tell me why it matters?”
Dr. Melvin Reid, Ph.D., again slid those little glasses back down to the end of his nose, looked at me, and then studied his notes again. “Mr. Nantz, I want to hear your explanation. I’ve got all afternoon.”
So sitting there with Dr. Melvin Reid, Ph.D., at the top of the Gulf Life Building in Jacksonville, Florida, I explained about the bird with the broken wing.
“If you go to Cannon’s Camp Ground Road in Spartanburg, County, about where Mary Black Hospital is located, you can travel east and see bluebird boxes. Some are on fence posts; some are on telephone poles. If you turn left on Highway 110, just above Cowpens, and continue to the Spartanburg and Cherokee County line, you will arrive at my farm. I refer to it as a plantation. All along that stretch of road, I have put up bluebird boxes that I have built. I clean them out each winter and keep them fixed up each year. I refer to that road as the Frank Nantz Bluebird Trail.
“When you arrive at my 93-acre farm, you will se numerous bluebird boxes. If you travel west, back toward Cooley Springs along Highway 11, you will find even more bluebird boxes. All of those are my bluebird boxes, too. I refer to that stretch of road as the Frank Nantz Bluebird Trail Annex. Now, Dr. Reid, if I was walking my bluebird trail and found a little bluebird with a broken wing, I would pick that bird up in my hands. It would break my heart. I might even cry. If somebody said, ‘Frank, I can mend that little bluebird with a broken wing for fifty dollars. It’ll be as good as new.’ Dr. Reid, I would pay fifty dollars of my hard-earned money to see that bluebird healed.
“But, now, Dr. Reid, I have a bird dog, a fine pointer named Tonya. Two different men have offered me a thousand dollars for my bird dog, but I won’t sell her. I love to go quail hunting with Tonya. She can flush a covey of quail better than any dog I have seen. With my Model 12 Winchester pump shotgun, I have hit as many as five quail in one covey on the rise. You can ask my friend Bill Jeffords. He saw me do it. I will say, ‘Tonya, girl, you’ve got some work to do.’ That bird dog will find those quail and bring back each of those quail to me, one by one. I take those little dead birds and put them in the big pocket of my hunting jacket. If she fetches only four of those birds, I say, ‘Wait a minute, Tonya, girl. You’ve got some more work to do.’ Dr. Reid, my bird dog and I ramble through bramble briars and blackberry vines until we find that fifth quail. When Tonya brings it to me, if it is still alive and has only a broken wing, I hold that little bird in my right hand. Then, with my left hand I wring her neck and put her into that big pocket in my jacket with the other four. And Dr. Reid, I don’t feel one bit sad about that bird with a broken wing, because those quail will soon be my supper.”
Dr. Melvin Reid, Ph.D., looked over the top of those little glasses and said, “Mr. Nantz, I’ve been giving this test for almost forty years. I have never had such a lengthy discussion about Question Number 178. I feel sure I have had other hunters that took this test.”
“Yes, Dr. Reid, I’m satisfied you have, and you made liars out of all of them. They just gave you the answer they thought you wanted. But Dr. Reid, I don’t really care what your evaluation of me is. I’m going to leave here, and we will probably never see each other again. But, one thing you will know is that Frank Nantz told you the truth.”
In his play Hamlet, William Shakespeare wrote, “This above all: to thing own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
Jesus taught, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32).
My grandmother said, “The truth is a beautiful thing.” And it is.
Dr. Reid and Frank Nantz parted on pleasant terms. In his evaluation of Frank Nantz, Dr. Reid was complimentary. He made two recommendations to Foremost Dairies regarding Frank:
“Do not let this man leave your company. Do not send him to Sylacauga, Alabama, or anywhere else. Let him stay in Spartanburg County. His wife, his two daughters, his parents, his in-laws, and his fifty head of cattle all want him to stay. And while a few quail might like to see him go somewhere else, many more bluebirds want him to stay right where he is.”
Frank Nantz stayed in Spartanburg County, and I, for one, am better for it.
The previous was printed in Prime Years Magazine, April 2005, and was written by Kirk Neeley, pastor of Morningside Baptist Church in Spartanburg, SC where my grandparents were members. Frank Nantz was my grandmother's cousin, and sadly succumbed to the cancer not long after telling this story to Dr. Neely, and only a few months after the same cancer claimed the life of my grandfather. Frank, or as the family called him, "D.F.," was a stout Southern gentleman whose heart would rival a teddy bear of his same stature. Even though D.F. lived near my grandparents I don't have many memories of him, but his warm heart and generous spirit have left an indelible impression on me, as well as his suggestion to me once that I put butter on my slice of pound cake. Pure sublimity.