My cousin, Thad, was born with Down’s Syndrome. He was 6 months younger than me, so we grew up together. Those who knew Thad knew that what he lacked in cognitive abilities, he more than made up for with a heart as big as the sky. From my very first memories of Thad, he would light up a room with his presence, be the center of attention in any crowd, make everyone around him feel special, and all without trying to or even knowing that he was. People just loved Thad and he just loved people.
He could not read or write or spell. Every word that should not be spoken, but politely needed to be spelled, he spelled, “T-Y-E.” A conversation would take place about a persona-non-grata in the family, my father after my parents divorced for example, and Thad would whisper, “Mike, have you heard from T-Y-E?” We would be discussing Christmas presents and the coming of Santa Clause and Thad would look knowingly down at the little kids and say softly, “They still believe in T-Y-E.”
In spite of that, he had an uncanny ability to remember dates. You could ask any significant family date, including the birthdate of Elvis Pressley and the assassination of John Kennedy, and Thad would remember the date. He was the family Google calendar before Google ever invented a calendar. “Thad, what year did we live in Georgetown?” He would easily respond, “1966.” Or I would ask him about my grandparents’ anniversary. He would say, “November 11.” I asked, “Thad, when is Chonda’s birthday?” and he would very accurately say, “March 4, 1952.” (I can’t wait until she reads that one.)
One summer, when I was 14, (1967), my Aunt Ruth invited me to go to Florida with she and Thad so that I could keep him company and help look after him. We loaded in her beautiful, 1966 Robin Egg Blue Ford Fairlane, and headed from Sumter, South Carolina to St. Petersburg, Florida. About halfway, somewhere around Macon, Georgia, we stopped for the evening and checked into a motel. It had a swimming pool and Thad and I both couldn’t wait to hop in. We threw on our trunks and went running across the parking lot. The pool was deserted, crystal clear, and absolutely inviting. Thad waddled to the edge of the pavement, he was about 4’4” and weighed about 200 pounds at this time in his life. He stepped to the deep end of the pool, 8 feet, and jumped straight in.
Two important facts. I remind you of the sentence above, 4’4” and 200 pounds. Secondly, Thad can’t swim a lick. He hopped in right where it says 8 feet and sank like a rock to the bottom. There was nobody around. At this time in my life I weighed a whopping 88 pounds, (a condition that God has clearly healed me of, by the way), soaking wet, and I was not yet soaking wet. I jumped in and tried every lifesaving position that I knew, but couldn’t budge him. Finally, I took a deep breath, got completely under Thad, and with the aide of water buoyancy, just set him on my head and walked from the deep end to the shallow end of the pool. For the next 40 years, every time I would see Thad, he would say, “Thanks, Mike, for saving my life. August 15, 1967.”
Deuteronomy 12 is about jumping into the deep end. It is about going all in, completely selling out, being totally committed. It is about God saying, “If you are going to worship Me, it’s going to be ONLY Me and it’s going to be my way.” Verses 4-5 says, “You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, (the way of the original inhabitants of Canaan). But you are to seek the place the Lord your God will choose.” Moses says again in verse 8, “You are not to do as we do here today, everyone doing as they see fit.” He writes, “There (at that place that God has picked out), in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the Lord your God has blessed you.” God specifically says, “Your worship of Me is all about Me. My place. My way. My instructions.”
Now I don’t know all that I don’t know about that, but it does say a couple of things to me. First, God is God and I am not. I am far too quick to think I know best. I have this thing all figured out. I can determine what is right and what is wrong for me. Much of my worship, or better said, much of my following Him, is really about what is most enjoyable for me. That looks like me saying, “I don’t like the music at that church anymore. I’m going somewhere else.” Or, “I don’t agree with this tithe thing. I believe its what’s in your heart that counts.” Listen, I don’t profess to know all that God expects of me, but I do know that HE is the one who does the expecting. It is not based on what I like or don’t like, or what makes me happiest. God is God and I am not. He sets the rules and I do not. Paul says, “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus, to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10) I don’t see anything in that verse that makes me think I am in charge. God wants me all in, completely submerged, head first committed to being and doing what He wants me to be and do.
The second thing I see in this idea is that God is God and everything else is not. Sometimes my worship of Him, my following Him gets messed up because I want to do it my own way. Sometimes it gets messed up because I just start worshipping other things. My status in life, my desire to be comfortable, my acceptance by those around me, are a few things that come to mind. Not long ago we were making some decisions about the direction of ministry at Branches. I found myself totally forgetting to ask God what He wanted and instead worshipping at the altar of public opinion. Maybe if we do it this way, more people will like us, give money, and we will be good. Where did that god come from? I’m not sure but it isn’t what God had in mind when He said, “You must not worship the Lord your God in THEIR way.” Jesus says again, “If anyone wants to be my disciple, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)
Let’s pause for a minute here. What decisions are you making for 2018 that are more about what other people think than what God thinks? What habits have you picked up lately that are more about your pleasure than His? What relationships do you entertain, what bitterness do you hold on to, what selfishness to you demonstrate, that is really about YOU setting the rules instead of doing as God asks? Hey, I have answers to every one of those questions from my own walk. My desire is to jump in head first, let go of the stuff that I need to let go of, and to worship God “with my whole heart” in just the way He wants me to. And when I do that, I am blessed. Verse 7 again, ““There in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the Lord your God has blessed you.”
Thad’s birthday is in a few days. Thad passed away several years ago. He lived far past the normal life expectancy of Downs Syndrome babies born in 1954. All the way up to the end he was loved and loving. I had the privilege of preaching his funeral. The church was packed to standing room only. There were church dignitaries, government official, college professors, gospel music stars, people from all over the country. It was a time of incredibly funny and amazingly wonderful stories that people told about his life. We laughed and sang and listened to Elvis music, and when the service was over we went into the fellowship hall and ate fried chicken and potato salad. I think Thad stood on the edge of heaven and watched the whole thing. He probably named the birthdates of most of the people there. Then when it was over, I imagine he and Jesus ran across the golden parking lot and jumped head first into the deep end of the pool.