Colossians 3:2 (NIV)
Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
Brent walked past the familiar park where he’d often visit and sit in close proximity to five or six old men who had erected an old foldout card table to play chess. It had become an ever-increasing fascination to watch the old men play for hours on end. Although it had been distracting him from his studies at the seminary he attended some 300 yards from the park, something kept driving his regular visits to the chess masters that would begin playing early in the morning.; often they’d still be playing until late into the afternoon.
The weekend had passed and Brent had racked up over forty chess matches -- routinely won in short order with people playing over the Internet. His reputable father, the distinguished surgeon Dr. William Wisor, felt Brent could use his brainpower to become the great financial success he’d boast about every time Brent would come home on a long weekend or for the holidays.
His father had gotten Brent involved in chess when he was only four year’s old. His father seemed to take an almost morbid joy in beating his son repeatedly in chess matches after dinner, when Brent began high school. If Brent had heard his father ask him this rhetorical question once, he’d heard it a thousand times after yet another systematic game won by “Doc Dad”, as Brent good-humouredly called his father when around his friends. “Son, where‘s your focus?“
Brent’s friends couldn't tolerate his dad’s pretentious mannerisms and the smugness he transparently evidenced when they were asked to come over to supposedly learn how to think. Invariably, all it involved was Brent playing his father in three matches of chess and his friend’s observing him lose to his insolent father’s arrogant self-adornment.
“I’d love to see your dad get his butt stomped by someone in chess someday,” Kenny told Brent a few days later.
Since that time, Kenny remained Brent’s best friend and had chosen the same path Brent had and was even his roommate at the seminary.
Kenny entered their small but neat dorm room and to his surprise, saw Brent sitting on his bed. Normally, at this time of day, Kenny would bet his limited banking account on Brent’s whereabouts -- down at the park watching the old men playing chess. Today, he watched Brent cry tears of anger in their dorm room as he restlessly manipulated a chess pawn in his right hand with his left hand covering his eyes.
“What’s up Brent?” Kenny asked as he softly shut the door behind him.
“My dad is what’s up! I can’t stand him and he’s my dad,” Brent shouted through resentment wrought tears. Kenny sat down on his side of the room while bracing his elbows on his knees.
“My perfect father called the Dean’s Office and they gave him my grades! Doctor dad called me and said that my 3.65 wasn't good enough and threatened to take me out of here and that he’d make me go back home and attend another school with a different major,” Brent continued as he heatedly threw the pawn against the cement block wall.
“What are you goin’ to do now?” Kenny asked.
“Leave me alone Kenny. Just let me pray and calm down, okay?” Brent answered as he stood up and walked over to their small window that over-looked the park.
“No problem man,” Kenny softly uttered as he grabbed his backpack and shut the door behind him.
Brent meditated for about 30 minutes and picked up the slightly cracked pawn and headed down to the park to watch the remaining two old men finish their chess game. Brent thought his facial displays of his earlier felt anger were gone, but one of the old men could tell something was wrong.
“Son?” the old man asked, “come over here and tell me what’s on your mind.”
He looked like a gentle grandfather from a Norman Rockwell painting and so Brent couldn't find it in himself to refuse his offer.
“Hi sir, my name is Brent and I go to school up on the hill.”
The old man smiled and asked him to pull up a lawn chair that was near the card table.
“I’ve seen you down here before Mr. Brent,” the old man replied with a chuckle in his voice.
“I take it you like chess?” Brent pulled the lawn chair in a bit closer before replying, “Yes sir, I love chess but I can’t stand my dad.”
The old man glanced over and caught his gaze.
“Well, that doesn't sound good at all. Why do you dislike your daddy, if you don’t mind me asking?” Quickly it came out: “My dad’s always putting me down and thinks he’s better than everyone else is. He is mad at me because I have a ‘B’ in one of my classes.”
The old man chuckled again before he asked Brent an odd question that seemed to come from left field. “You play your dad in chess, don’t you? He’s insecure and beats up on people he knows he can beat up on and you’re sick of it.”
Amazed, Brent listened on: “Your dad feels good when he wins, but has no joy in his life. Brent, your father needs you!” the old man finally ended.
“How did you know so much?” Brent exclaimed.
“And what do you mean, my dad needs me? He needs no one but himself!”
The old man patted Brent’s hand and stated confidently, “Your dad needs to be humbled. I know you are confused, but I know your dad fairly well. I’m a retired professor from the seminary and your father assisted Dr. Walters some seven-years ago when I had double bypass surgery. Your daddy was cocky then, and hasn’t learned much has he?” the old man finally ended with his eyes flattened upon Brent’s face.
Brent had never heard someone speak with such conviction and more astoundingly, with more accuracy. “No, no sir,” he spoke with bewilderment.
“So what do I do now, Mr....?”
“Just call me ’Preach’ my friend," the old man answered with a big grin on his face.
“I believe I could beat your father blindfolded, but it’s important he gain respect for you because longevity doesn't mean legitimacy.”
“What’s that mean?” Brent inquired.
“It means that your daddy knows how to get to a patient’s heart, but you can help him learn to emotionally open his own. There are many old fogies my age who can learn from many a young heart bent towards heaven.”
“Understood Preach -- anything else?” Preach pushed his glasses up on the bridge on his nose and continued.
“This is what I want you to do Brent. You go home in a week or so for Thanksgiving, so play him a whole lot and remember to smile each time he beats you. The most important question you need to answer about your daddy is what grabs his attention the most.”
Hardly puzzled, Brent stated without a moment’s pause, “Money, money, money! Seriously, that’s all he thinks about Preach,” he sternly lamented.
“Okay then, you’re on your way to a win and it‘s not you who will be the only winner; God will win that wandering lone sheep of the 99 already secure in his fold. Do you see what I’m getting at Brent?”
Brent knew the scripture he was referring to and immediately nodded affirmatively.
“Again, remember to smile each time he beats you.”
“Well, I will do what you say but I don’t know where this is going.”
“Just do it Brent, and when you come back to school, bring one of your best friends down here and let me know what you found out about your dad’s play.”
While Brent was home over Thanksgiving, he did as Preach asked. “Good game dad!” Brent would happily remark after his father would win each of about four games they’d play each night after dinner. His father was taken back by Brent’s easygoing nature and one evening, his even-tempered son’s smile finally unnerved him and his play.
“Son, why are so relaxed? Don’t you want to be a winner at anything in . . . ”
His father stopped in mid-sentence as he watched his cheerful son move his bishop smoothly over in direct alignment with his King.
“Checkmate dad," Brent calmly informed his panic-stricken father.
“Hold on here Brent! What did you do here? His father questioned desperately.
Brent remained calm and asked his father to look at him in the eyes.
“Dad, it’s very simple what I just did. I beat you. And you know what? I am a winner in life just to answer your question. And one more thing dad.”
Brent leaned forward with his jaw resting in both of his hands with the continued kind smile on his face. His father nervously looked at his watch and irritably responded, “Yes, yes, yes, go on!”
“Dad, you seem so, well anyway, my only question, and you don’t have to answer is, where’s was your focus dad?”
Brent leaned slightly in the wooden kitchen chair and folded his arms across his chest. His father’s irritability almost pitifully turned into a look of despondence and he did, remarkably, answer Brent’s question he himself had so often asked.
“Brent, my focus was on the peace of mind you had after you’d lose to me.”
His dad wiped the first tears from his eyes that Brent had ever seen from his cocky, or maybe not-so-cocky anymore, father.
“Son, I've got money but I’m desperately miserable. You've had a calmness about you son, that I've always wondered about and I guess that is what I was really asking when I’d inquire about where your focus was.”
Brent got up from the kitchen table and walked over to his dad and hugged him tightly as his father melted in tears -- crying like even Brent’s mother had never seen her husband of 24 years weep.
“Dad, the peace I've had comes but from one place and if you’d like to have it, I’ll be more than happy to show you where you can find it.”
His father looked up and said nothing but simply shook his head, indicating his willingness to discover this peace his son had had for so many years.
Brent’s father called and cancelled his appointments for the upcoming Monday, as he wanted to go to the seminary and find this elusive peace and joy.
“Why are you stopping here Brent? The school is up the hill a bit,” his father asked curiously. “I know dad. I want you to meet a friend of mine--his name is Preach.”
As they walked up to the old foldout card table, Preach glanced up quickly and directed his attention equally as quick back to his chess match.
“Nice to meet you, Dr. Wisor. I've been talking to your son and he thinks the world of you.”
Brent’s father was more than confused upon hearing this and remarked, “Hi Preach. Well, it seems Brent’s bragging about me probably isn't deserved.”
Before Dr. Wisor could say anything else, Preach replied, “Dr. Wisor, I didn't say a single word about your son bragging on you. I said he sure seems to think the world of you as I recall,” Preach finished with his eyes steadied on the chessboard.
“Hi there Preach,” Brent inserted, “looks like you’re getting ready to lose the first game I've ever with this one.“
Preach looked up at Brent and then turned his attention to Dr. Wisor with a gentle smile on his face.
“I suppose I am going to lose this one Brent, but it doesn't bother me any. You see my friend, my focus wasn’t on the game, but on meeting your dad and so I made what some folks would call a mistake.”
“Checkmate,” Preach’s chess partner evenly informed anyone within listening range. Preach smiled at the old man sitting across from him, shook his hand, and directed his attention back to Dr. Wisor.
“God has an uncanny ability in getting our focus back on him, and sometimes he’ll use failure to get us back on track. Remember that if you've learned from losing, it wasn't a loss.” Brent’s father began to wipe his eyes again as he smiled his first genuine smile in over 20 years.
The remainder of the day was spent at the park and Brent’s father lost every game he played against Preach, and loved every minute of it.
Where is your focus?
Dear Lord, we pray today that our focus would be up on You. Help us not let the things of this world take our focus. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.