The cover image for today’s blog post is actually a puzzle. It’s a puzzle of a picture of a bison in the shape of a bison. Isn’t that cool! Shirley and I worked on it for a couple of weeks on and off.
Why a bison, you ask? Thanks for asking…
My Pastoral Ministry Story
So, back in 1994, I was called to be Sr. Pastor of a wonderful church in Maryland. In many ways, the first two years were your typical “pastoral honeymoon.”
But in one major way, those first two years were also the typical “pastoral nightmare.” There were three couples in the church who were led to Christ and discipled in Christ by the former Sr. Pastor and his wife. As you can imagine, those six people loved the former pastor and his wife. As you also might be able to imagine, nothing Shirley or I ever did ever measured up in the minds of these three couples. We were not like the former pastor and his wife. The comparisons, complaints, and criticisms were just about non-stop.
Shirley and I tried to remind ourselves of our identity in Christ. We sought to “live for an audience of One.” We attempted to encourage ourselves by the fact that we had the full support of the elders and by the fact that the church, by God’s grace, had doubled in size.
And yet…the constant dripping of those comparisons, complaints, and criticisms… It was difficult not to be discouraged to the point of exhaustion.
My Bison Story: Brought Back from the Brink of Extinction
So…we went on a three week vacation. The best vacation of our lives—out west, with our kids. It was, as Marie described it at the time, “Won-der-fulllll!”
And while out west, we kept hearing the story of the American bison—hounded and hunted to near extinction. But they came back. Back from the dead. Resurrected!
About mid-vacation, I decided that the bison was now my “go-to animal!” That day I started collecting bison. Cheap ones. Nice ones. Pictures. Models. Big ones. Little ones. Clay ones. Felt ones. The picture to the side is just a very small sampler of some of my bison collection.
Whenever I’m feeling defeated, I take a look at my bison collection. Then I’m reminded that:
God resurrects dead things. God is in the business of bringing souls back from extinction.
So that’s why we ordered a bison puzzle in the shape of a bison. Eventually we’re going to shellac it, frame it, and hang it. For now, it’s sitting on a folding table while we decide how to shellac it without ruining the table, or how to move it without ruining the puzzle. (We didn’t think this through very well, did we?)
Since the bison taught our family such a great lesson about Christ’s resurrection power, I thought I’d share three more lessons I learned while puzzling over the bison puzzle…
Bison Lesson # 1: God Sees and Weaves the Tapestry of Our Lives—Romans 8:28-39
If you look closely at the bison puzzle pic, you’ll detect that the bison has within it a tapestry of a myriad of other pictures. There are smaller bison in there. You’ll see Buffalo Bill Cody. You’ll spot mountain lions and bears and horses and cowboys…
Let me tell you, with this oddly-shaped, over 1,000-piece puzzle, there were times we were clueless what piece could possibly fill a missing whole. We literally tried every piece and nothing worked—at least not the first time we tried it. We could not figure out the flow, the organization, the tapestry of this puzzle.
That’s just like the tapestry of our lives. Our lives, from our shrunken earthly perspectives, seem like a jumble of unrelated puzzle pieces. As I like to say when I am training counselors:
“When our lives stink, our perspectives shrink.”
We just can’t see the sense of life from our limited earthly perspective.
It’s only when we back up and look up and then look down from God’s eternal, heavenly perspective that we can even begin to understand the handiwork of the Infinite Weaver who is weaving a beautiful tapestry out of the puzzle pieces of our lives. It is not trite to say, “God works all things together for our good.” It is biblical. It is eternal. It is a statement of faith to believe that God is at work—even when we feel on the brink of extinction!
Bison Lesson # 2: The Hole in Our Wholeness…Until Heaven—Revelation 7:15-17
Most people who do puzzles start with the outer edge. You get the border and work inward. That was a touch more difficult with this crazily-shaped bison puzzle. But we tried nonetheless. But we were missing an outside piece for the longest time. In doing puzzles, we’ve often said, “We must have lost a piece,” only to eventually find it right with all the other pieces.
This time, we were eventually sure we had lost a piece. We got done to 50 pieces, 40 pieces, 30, 20, 10, 1, and still we were missing that one outside piece. Take a look at the close-up to the side.
It was sad. We were sad. All our work and we were missing that one piece. We tore the living room upside down. Checked the vacuum. Looked, hunted, searched, and searched some more.
Finally, we gave up. We told ourselves we would use some puzzle-like cardboard material, cut and shape it, and paint it, and create our own final puzzle piece. And, I was planning on calling the company to see what it would cost for them to ship us that one missing piece (this was serious stuff!).
As wonderful as the bison puzzle process was and as many lessons as we have learned from the bison, we were also reminded of another lesson—the lesson of the hole in our wholeness. That missing puzzle piece reminded us that some hurts, some wounds, some losses, are not finally healed until that final day when God will wipe away all our tears and fears, all our hurts and hang-ups. Until that day:
Some holes are not made whole until the All-Holy One heals us eternally.
Bison Lesson # 3: God’s Love Is Relentless!—Luke 15:3-32
You say, “Wait a second, one puzzle pic has a piece missing, but the other puzzle pic has every piece present and accounted for! Did you make that fake piece already, Bob and Shirley?”
Nope. For a looonnnngggg time that one piece was missing. Yep, 1 piece out of over 1,000 pieces. But which one had the focus of our attention? That’s right, the 1.
And like the story of the 1 lost sheep, Shirley and I searched and searched and searched until we found that missing piece.
The Shepherd never forsakes His lost sheep. God’s love is relentless. The Good Shepherd leaves the 99 or the 999 and searches after the 1 lost sheep until He finds it! And when He finds it, He celebrates!
When Shirley (of course it was Shirley who found it—she is sooo tenacious!) finally found that piece (in the crevice in the middle of the folding table where we were puzzling), we celebrated!
But you know, we were glad it was missing for so long, because that missing piece—near extinction—taught us some more bison life lessons.
Join the Conversation
When have you felt on the brink of extinction? How can recalling the bison—and Christ’s resurrection power—help you come back from the brink?
Which of the 3 bison life lessons most resonate with you and your heart?