I cruised along quite nicely through elementary school. Grades K-6 were only difficult in that I had to attend 3 different schools to pull off the feat. Green Hill Elementary School was just a couple of miles from my house and served as my entranceway into academia. The school was old and had all the charm of a classic structure that had seen better days. I went to this school from grades K-3rd. Chalkboards, ditto machines, old tile floors, a tiny basement lunchroom, an archaic looking gymnasium, and a cute little closet where you could buy pencils, papers, erasers for pencils, and folders in the morning before classes started, made up the facility housing our nation’s future. If you could somehow prove you were sick and close to death, a dear fellow named Fred manning the closet would also let you buy some Luden’s Wild Cherry cough drops, which all the kids loved and shared with each other. More than once I prayed that I, or one of my friends, would come down with an illness so bad that Fred would cave and allow the sell of drugs on school grounds. We all got excited when someone had a runny nose. Fred ran the supply closet with a demeanor not unlike General Patton. If he caught you lying about being sick to get the cough drops, you would be banned from all future purchases for a number of days, if not weeks. Being the big chicken and hypocrite that I am, I never had the guts to try and trick Fred…he was sharp…I simply encouraged others to do it. 🙂 Sadly, after 3rd the grade, Green Hill was destroyed by a fire. A quick solution was needed as my fourth grade year was coming into view. A decision was made to ship the Green Hill kids to a larger elementary school called Brickey Elementary. The plan was to keep the students from my school at Brickey temporarily while a new school was being built on the grounds where Green Hill once stood. I spent fourth and fifth grade at Brickey. The Green Hill kids did not join in with the Brickey kids much at all. We felt like lepers as the school “tolerated” us. I’m certain our presence greatly impacted everything for the faculty and staff at Brickey. The school leaders offered all the right words…but it was very easy to tell they could not wait for us to leave. After my fifth grade year, the new school had been built…now called, “Copper Ridge Elementary School.” I returned there for my 6th grade year in a beautiful new building. Our little group of 6th graders was the first “graduating class” of sorts from the shiny new building. Brickey was glad to see us go and we were thankful for the exodus. Through it all, my grades were ok and I was preparing to face the dreaded Halls Middle School.
Through 6th grade, I would have to read short stories, articles from newspapers and encyclopedias, and and an occasional chapter from a textbook. In 7th grade, that all changed. The new middle school teachers were vicious…maybe even Satanic. They wanted to us to start reading whole books. No…I’m not kidding. I’m talking cover-to-cover. I didn’t know a great deal about the Bible or systematic theology…but I was fairly certain teachers who made 7th graders read entire books had to be on heaven’s bad list. The jump from an article with 500 words or a chapter with a few pages to books with 300-400 pages about caused me to march on Washington. If only I had been able to get a fake ID and drivers license…but it was not to be. After a great deal of tears and evil chants, I came to the decision to start reading the books. I wasn’t happy about it. I was, hands down, one of the shortest 7th graders Halls had ever seen. I didn’t think the taller kids would have rallied behind me had I chosen to start a revolt. I raised my white flag of surrender…and caved.
In time, I began to mature a little bit. I stopped complaining and decided to plow forward. Thanks to some rather intense exchanges with my parents, who threatened everything from broccoli with every meal to a small handful of death threats, I began to grow up. Just about the time I had reached a peace with the Knox County Board of Education, a kid in one of my classes brought to school a tiny paperback book called CliffsNotes. I didn’t know what it was…so my curiosity compelled me to ask. The kid was nice and said it was a condensed summary of the book we were reading in English. I remember wondering if he was lying. He handed me the book…and sure enough, there was the title of the book in English class. The real book was a little over 300 pages…the CliffsNotes appeared to be about 40 pages. At first I thought it was cool…but then I got mad. While I would spend eons trying to get through the 300 pages, my buddy was going to be done with the book before sunset. It was truly awesome…and yet terribly unfair. My buddy told me that these CliffsNotes were available for just about every book a 7th grader would have to read. I sat there in awe of this guy…and hating him…at the same time. This was certainly not a stellar Christian moment for me. My buddy said, “it tells you the basics about the story and offers a few tips on the things you would need to know.” With the information in the clever little book, you could practically write a paper or pass a test. What was not to love?
Over the years, I have probably bought 1 or 2 CliffsNotes (ok…maybe 20-30…stop judging me) When a mountain of information can be reduced to a few pages by telling us what is essential, the angels start singing. Anyone and everyone can appreciate the value of a nice summary. For many, Christianity is “too much.” I have been in countless conversations over the years with people calling the Christian life difficult or too complicated. As I was studying this week for some other things, I found myself asking the question, “What would the CliffsNotes say about what Jesus has asked of us?” How could anyone summarize the mighty words of Jesus?
After seriously praying and searching the Scriptures, I found myself wanting to type up my own version of MarksNotes on the commands of Jesus. I hope Cliff doesn’t mind. (I think we would all agree MarksNotes sounds much cooler than CliffsNotes) I gladly offer this suggestion to those who struggle or get bogged down in the mire of trying to understand the Christian life. I offer this to those who think they could never study enough to learn it all. I’m going to do this with 2 phrases and 6 little words spoken by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.
For starters, the Christian life is a response to Christ’s invitation. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” The first 3 words capture the essence of what salvation truly is…coming to Jesus. Jesus’ “come to me” is a call to trust, follow, and learn from Him. Three little words…with oceans full of meaning. What an invitation! What a calling! Personal! Intimate! A promise of rest, an easy yoke, and a burden that is light! Start here.
But then Jesus would later offer us another 3 word phrase (in the KJV) prior to His ascension back to the Father. In Matthew 28:18b-20, Jesus gives His followers what we now call “The Great Commission.” The verses read, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go (ye) therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Starting with “Come to me” and moving on to “go (ye) therefore”…a sweet, simple picture begins to emerge. The phrases could practically be called the “bookends” of Christianity. We come to Christ and then He sends us out.
Obviously, there’s a great deal more for us all to learn. I’m thankful for God’s patience with us in matters like these. The phrases combine neatly enough to give us a sweet understanding of what the Christian life is all about. It’s important to understand they belong together. We cannot merely come to Christ and not go out. Nor can we go out in His name if we have not first come to Him. Not everyone needed the CliffsNotes while they were in school. Some folks simply read what was asked of them and completed the tasks at hand. But for some, the CliffsNotes were helpful. Many have told me over the years that they enjoyed reading the CliffsNotes before they read the actual book…they said it was easier to understand the bigger books. My prayer is that these little MarksNotes might be of help to you as a Christian living in an increasingly pagan setting. I’m also praying for those who might read this and realize they’ve never “come to Him.” He’s asked us to come to Him…to trust and follow Him…do it today. Start your journey with faith as you place your trust in Christ. What happens after that? Pretty straight forward stuff I think. A truly great commission provides us with instructions to “Go ye therefore”…We come to Him…and then we go out as our Lord has asked.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read this blog effort. I appreciate it! Blessings to all of you!