Dots and lines.
Of all the lessons and sermons I've shared with students over the past 30 years, more remember dots and lines more than anything else I've said.
Of course, like most things, this thought is not original with me. I heard Tommy Oakes talk about dots and lines at a National Student Conference almost 20 years ago.
Dots and lines are concepts from geometry. If I remember what Miss Tucker taught us back in 1974-75, they are defined something like this:
- A dot (or point) is a zero dimensional figure. It is just a point on a plane. It doesn't go anywhere.
- A line is a two-dimensional object that has no endpoints and continues on forever along a plane. It is formed of infinite points.
Life is made up of dots and lines. Things that are just here and now and things that go on forever. The key to life is to know the difference and invest in lines, not dots.
Jesus put it this way:
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Matthew 6:19-21
Most of what our culture (and the people in our lives) considers important are dots. Possessions. Financial security. Degrees. Grades. Houses. Cars. Championships. But if we pour our life into these things, we will be disappointed. Most students on our campus will be disappointed. They will get degrees and not get jobs or hate them when they do. They will succeed in the classroom and fail in their marriages. Their bank accounts will rise, but their children will fail. They will be popular this weekend but lonely in ten years.
Many are like Calvin, the kid in the comic strips a few years ago. One day at the table, Calvin told his mom, "I've decided to save all the snot I sneeze and donate it to hospitals for mucous transfusions."
We live in a world full of people who are investing their lives in things that are no more important and no more lasting than a jar full of snot.
Compare that to Jesus. He invested in people. He pursued his Father's priorities. Through acts of compassion, he demonstrated God's love to those in need. He sacrificed for the sake of advancing the Kingdom and purpose of God.
Our culture, friends, and family - and even our churches - fight against this. We are entrenched in investing in dots. We are emotionally attached to our dots. We have measured success and significance and security by dots for too long.
This is one of those areas where following Jesus goes against the real values of both our society and much of our religious culture.
What we choose to value, we will invest in. If we value dots, we will invest in dots. And the reward is now. It's temporary. And it is a waste of what God has given us.
If we value the line, in things that are eternal - people and the Kingdom of God - we will invest in the line. And that will be eternal.
The words that Jim Elliot wrote more than 50 years ago still ring true: “That man is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”