McLean Ministries - Clay & Mary McLean. Our vision is for the church to experience the fullness of Redemption through Christ in every phase of life.

PO BOX 2088, HICKORY, NC 28603


MY VERY IMPORTANT WORK (The ‘treasure box’ article)

I have a treasure box. I keep it in the ‘ministry archives’ (That is the over stuffed closet behind my desk.) It is not an object any thief would notice. There are no twinkling shiny things in it. There are lots of paper notes but not government issued- just love notes, and letters, and cards. They are worthless to the world and priceless to me. They were written by those who make up the fabric of my life. There are anniversary cards and letters from Mary written when we had to be apart. Father’s day cards from my children. Messages from close friends and family written either at times of congratulation or of unusual stress and difficulty. There are expressions of gratitude from people I do not personally know but who wanted to let us know that something we taught somewhere once helped save a marriage or restore a wayward son  or daughter. And more recently, there are e mails from people of long, long ago who tracked me down via the Internet who wanted me to know that even in the early and very dark days of my young adulthood, when my own life was a moral shambles of  confusion and shame, I somehow was used by God’s mercy to bless them anyway. My hands and heart tremble when I read these letters. For I know all to well (and yet still maybe not well enough) the huge responsibility that goes with instructing people in the Lord’s Name. (Let none  who seek you ever be put to shame because of me, Oh Lord….Psalm 69:6) No trophy hanging on my wall from some organization or diploma from any school could come close to being as powerful as the content of my cardboard treasure box. I pilfer through it on rare occasions when I’m especially drained and need to remember the real things.

     I turned to it a few days ago because I realized that slowly I had allowed my heart to become a bit hardened. We have a  government out of control and an economy sliding towards oblivion. Foolish and even dangerous false teaching is popularized by a thousand pseudo spiritual platforms leading people who knows where.  Christian leaders trade marriage partners like hobbies, and perversion is now an identity worthy of Big Brother’s protection according to the fairy dust makers in Washington. The enemies once at our gate are now within the gate and even controlling it. Rather than the blood of the Lam on our door post, we are drenched in the blood of innocents, and even for profit!!! War clouds are forming in the Middle East and the far East as well as Europe, while the average person seems to think it is all just another episode of the latest TV show.

     Yet in spite of the ongoing cultural amusement business carrying on full steam, the seedlings of people’s private poisons are erupting more and more. Corruption and instability long kept at bay by a now ever shrinking prosperity is oozing to the surface in families, churches, and businesses. Violence in our souls is pouring out in our streets.  

     There is no time to waste!!! Surely I need to address these issues, don’t I? I am failing as a watchman on the wall if I don’t sound the trumpet! I am responsible to shout the warning so I must keep focused on the battle. After all, it is incredibly important work, right?

     But in the midst of my very important writing here in the depths of my very important creative sanctuary Kira just had the audacity to enter in order to ask pawpaw to cut up her apple. My very important thinking which I turn into very important writing is now rudely interrupted by the sound of Holly’s three week old baby girl Mya, our number five grandchild. She can’t tolerate a dirty diaper for more than thirty seconds and that God given power of an infant to scream in ways that strike your spinal cord then run up your back to explode in your ears demanding immediate action is perfected in Mya when there is anything close to oozing touching her skin. Just as I was sure I had not been considered for the diaper job (I am usually not) and was turning back to my very important writing, Mary, who of all people should  know not to invade my sacred space while I am birthing prose that will save humanity, (or at least the Western world) calls down the hall  to reminds me I need to return a phone call.

     Men especially tend to seek so much of our sense of value from our work, and rightly so. God intended that to some degree. But when I can’t work, when my mind is stalemated by anger, grief, exhaustion, and overload, and I turn to my little treasure box for perspective, I do not find one of my great epistles there. I find little notes in crayon, little cards once carefully chosen and lovingly signed. These and others tiny items tell a much greater story than I could ever write. It is the story of how, in the day by day drudgery of living, a supernatural presence enters, riding on the back of the most simple and mundane objects. Another Perspective from Another World, yet within it the Power that made the worlds, condescends into our little messy ‘normal’ through the notes of a loved one, the crayons of a child, or a wife’s anniversary card. And these little objects somehow provide meaning where there has been bewilderment, and energy  where there was exhaustion. Joy overrides sorrow and awakens strength out of weakness. The angel Gabriel came to the prophet Daniel when he was exhausted to the point of fainting, and brought a message from God. Daniel said ‘He spoke, and I was strengthened.’  My angelic messengers came wearing pink flip flops and a diaper. I keep them recorded in my treasure box and every time I return to them I can also say “He spoke, and I was strengthened.’

     Now that the very important work I was trying to write has been edited by apples, diapers, and phone calls, I need you to forgive me for changing gears here. You will miss the vitally important document I was writing and you will instead be exposed to the core of what is crying up inside of me. I guess that is your loss?   

     I think of how many long demanding hours Tom Howard and I spent working on the music that had to get out because it was so important. But now I would give all those years of work in exchange for hearing Tom laugh again, or  to tell him again how I hate sushi because it tastes like dead fish and that a real American would be eating hamburgers and fries, or to discuss minor details of theology while re writing a violin line. I didn’t disregard little moments.’ I just didn’t give them the attention they deserved. Do we ever? The big important issues we were addressing were truly important. I don’t think we can help that can we? It is the nature of the passing of time. That is why the Psalmist wrote “teach us to number our days so that we can present to you a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90) or ‘make me to know my end and the measure of my days, that I may realize how frail I am’ (Psalm 39) We cannot discern what is important on our own. The Holy Spirit has to teach us as we go.

    So…now I will get up from my very important writing and cut up an apple. And maybe instead of feeling interrupted I will just be thankful a more qualified person is changing the diaper. (After all, a wise man knows what are and are not his gifts). And most of all, maybe I will show respectful appreciation to Mary for her gentle consistent ability to keep our life orderly instead of sighing loudly as a way of complaining that “I was busy. Can’t it wait.” Maybe I will learn to follow her example and show proper respect to the person waiting for my returning phone call. Maybe I will notice the sacredness of the ordinary instead of having an eruption over an  interruption. Because maybe a million years from now no one will remember or care what great work I did, but it may matter a great deal whether I learned to show respect, honor, and affection to my wife, my waiting children, or the stranger on the phone who may make a total change for the good because I did not view them as an interruption but as part of the meaning of it all. I mean, can you really picture anyone in the World to Come reading a Nightlight article? But there may be all sorts of treasure in the World to Come that was formed out of the raw material of loving care and true giving self sacrifice we expressed tin the “little things.”  Perspective is the rarest and  most valuable of gifts.

     There is a little known but excellent short story Tolkien wrote called “Leaf, by Niggle.” It’s the story of a painter who lived among every day mundane folks. Niggle was trying to paint a great enduring masterpiece, of a leaf. But his great work kept being interrupted by needs around him. He dutifully if not happily served the needs of his neighbors. But in one fateful event, a huge rain storm, his neighbor’s roof failed and his wife, who was already very ill, was being soaked. Niggle took his huge canvass upon which he was painting his masterpiece, and used it to patch his neighbor’s roof. In the process of saving them, he took cold and died. I am cutting short a really great nuanced  story which I hope you will read for yourself. But the wonderful conclusion is that when Niggle got to his heavenly Home he found a glorious multi dimensional portrait, layers upon layers of divine Reality, and down in the ‘corner’ of the ‘frame’ he saw written “Leaf, by Niggle.” Every self sacrificing action of loving service which to him took away from his very important work, was painting a heavenly masterpiece with Niggle’s name on it. Perspective. Very valuable.

     The power to see what is truly valuable in the  moment is most needed to be recognized in order to give things their proper due. It is a faculty beyond all earthly measure. We will always miss the vital if we are shrunken down inside our own little egos seeing only from our tiny uninspired viewpoint.

     So…what if you don’t have a treasure box? Or anything similar? Then maybe you could become the supplier of someone else’s box It is not hard to find someone not far from you that could greatly benefit from a note, a card, or a visit from you. The only way I ever found my way through certain times of great pain was to go to the saddest wing of the local hospital and look for a place to touch the pain of another. Sometimes it led nowhere, but just the effort seemed to raise me higher.

     Many who knew Dr. Robert Lindsay, the great pastor and scholar of Jerusalem, asked  him why he did not spend more time writing.  After all he had forgotten more valuable Hebraic revelation that many would ever learn. But Dr. Lindsay was too busy taking care of people, loving them, guiding them, teaching them. They are his books, his ‘epistles known and read of all men,’ to borrow from another Hebraic teacher.

     I don’t think God is looking for great men because there aren’t any, not really. I don’t think He is interested in our doing ‘great things.’ Because how would we measure what that is this side of Reality? He is only interested in our seeing the greatness of His Person and the greatness of His Grace towards us. Then in humility awakened in us by that vision we will learn to see the meaning in the moment, the treasure in the mundane all around us, and to treat life and those with whom we live it, with due respect. Somehow then we end up doing great things-at lest in the eyes of the only One Who matters.