My Grasp of the Truth—Warts and All
“They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm. (NIV)” 1 Timothy 1:7
It was probably one of the most profound ministry lessons I have every learned, and I learned it in the 2nd grade. There was a kid named Javier in my class. He wore gloves every day to school. They were the knitted kind—dark blue with a white star on the back of each hand and red zig-zags all over the rest of them. They stank like onions. There was a reason for that. His mother soaked them all night in onion juice and he had to wear them every day all day to get rid of his warts.
One day, we were playing football on the playground and Javier dove for the ball and landed in the grass full of stickers. He took off the gloves briefly to pull the stickers out. It was then that I caught a glance at his hands. They were covered with warts, but that’s not all I saw. I also saw that his fingernails were clipped straight across and cut low. I had never seen fingernails cut like that before.
A few days passed, and my good friend Billy was reaching into the recess equipment box and got his finger caught on the side of the box. It ripped his fingernail and he had to go to the nurse to get it taken care of. When he returned to class after recess, he showed me his finger. It was cut low and straight across just like Javier’s. I shook my head, “Oh no,” I said. “You’re going to get warts now. I saw Javier’s hands a few days ago and his nails were cut just like that.” I watched the blood drain out of my friend’s face. “Oh no!” he whimpered. I felt bad for him but I kind of liked it that he took me seriously. It validated my theory.
The next recess a fight broke out on the other side of the playground. I watched Billy and two others being dragged away by teachers towards the office. When everyone had cleared, there was Javier kneeling in the dirt holding on to two gloves ripped beyond recognition. Billy had to verify my story about the fingernail cuts. Now Billy was in trouble with the principal and I could hear Javier crying that he was going to get it when he got home because those where his only gloves. There was a tingling sensation in my tummy that seemed to say, “What if the warts had nothing to do with how his nails were cut?”
I got home from school that day and casually asked my mom if how someone cut their nails could make them get warts. I remember her smile and her exact words, “Oh, Darren, that’s so silly. Who told you that nonsense?” The earlier sting of conscience now became a harpoon. I had made connections that didn’t really exist. Decades later, I can now hypothesize that the nails might have been cut short like that to keep them from cutting or snagging the gloves. There may have actually been a connection between his nail trimming and the warts, but even if that were true I still didn’t have the whole picture. I came up with a simple answer to a very complex situation. The result was that people got hurt. Bottom line: thinking I knew the whole story didn’t mean I actually did. It was kind of like who Paul tells Timothy to be aware of around the church in I Timothy 1:7. “They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm. (NIV)”
When I look at the Scriptures and my job as a teller of the stories within, I am often haunted by the tear-streaked faces of both Javier and Billy. Am I preaching God’s truth or my take on what I think is true? For me, this becomes especially poignant in times of year like Easter and Christmas. I mean, don’t we have these stories down pat? Don’t we have it all figured out by now? How many times do we have to preach the same story from the same passages? Jesus came as a baby. Lived as a man. Died as a Lamb and was raised from the dead to be our High Priest. How many different ways can you try to get that simple story across? Yet, as literal as that story is, it is by far not simple. I cannot ever be lulled into believing that I see the whole picture no matter how familiar I am with the passages. And just because it makes sense in my head doesn’t mean I have it all figured out. I must daily admit that apart from God, I know nothing. When the wonder of it all is lost, then I should spend some time wondering where I got lost.
Prayer: Lord, keep us soft in spirit, vigilant in searching for Your truth, gentle in speech, and humble before both You and our congregations. Keep us needing you with every step, and surprise us with Your will and Word in our journey together. In Jesus name I pray, Amen
Pastor Darren Stroh
First Baptist Church of Lamar, CO