The title is correct — The Menace, as in Dennis the Menace. Dennis has been showing up in newspapers all across America almost every day since May 12, 1951. While the world has drastically changed since he arrived, this little five-and-a-half-year-old kid has not changed a great deal. He came on the scene as a menace and he has pretty much remained that all through the years and throughout his neighborhood.
The fact is he almost always stays in trouble, but he’s such a cute kid and doesn’t seem to be a mean boy. He just gets into stuff he probably shouldn’t and sees life in a way that a five-year-old boy does, but he is a menace. If he is living in your home, which he may be, you will know at times you don’t know what to do with him.
Recently, in the daily one-frame cartoon, Dennis was talking to a neighbor and he said about his dog that was right next to him scratching, “He’s not itching for a fight. He’s got fleas.” Though I don’t read Dennis every day, I have never seen him when he didn’t have some profound look at what was going on around him, or when the others around him had a profound look at him.
It got me to thinking about the menaces that we put up with. We know of people who probably are a menace, and oftentimes the people we know see us as the menace. While I don’t think Dennis the Menace is a vicious or mean kid, at times he is almost innocent and at times you think he could do better than that. It’s not unusual for us to see folks at work or church or leaders or followers who are not in some interesting and unique way being a menace like Dennis. Let me just address three menaces that I see at times in the church: fights, fleas, and frustrations.
The first thing is the fights. Dennis is standing by his dog scratching away and points out to the neighbor, “He’s not itching for a fight.” While that may be true, there are times when some folks are just itching for a fight. In fact, their day will not be complete unless they find somebody that isn’t walking and talking, acting or reacting the way they think they ought and that makes it time to draw the line and get into it.
I know there are people who are just wired up that way. They live most of their lives with eyes squinted looking for some conspiracy, their lips poked out to let you know they are mad, and their fists balled up waiting for you to contradict them. They are itching for a fight. This scenario happens in almost every arena of life. It doesn’t matter if it’s sports or politics, church or the grocery store, somebody is not going to be happy about life and they are ready with their finger on a trigger.
It has always been that way. After three-and-a-half years of training, teaching, encouraging, and role modeling, Jesus heard His disciples get into an argument about who was the greatest. Can you imagine that discussion? Obviously, there was more than one candidate so there they are, almost in eyesight of the cross and getting into a fight about their supremacy.
Surely in the work of God there are times that the line ought to be drawn and we shouldn’t go any further, but even then it may be that you take your stand without hitting the person in the nose before they even know what happened. Fights do come and for the people of God, we need to remember that there are some things that are not worth fighting over. I think of how many churches where people get into a tiff about the way people dress. I’ve talked to people who were mad because people wear flip flops to church and others who got ticked off because somebody wore a tie to church. I know there are boundaries of good, appropriate dress but I would suggest to you that if the Lord Jesus Himself showed up in His first century garb, most all of us on whatever side we’re on would want to fuss and argue and fight.
I have spent decades in churches and loving the folks there who had different opinions about virtually everything you can think of. Still, they are the sheep of the Lord and our best days may not be when we draw swords and cut each other to bits. The Apostle Paul used a lot of ink and a good bit of parchment writing to churches that had fusses and squabbles and fights, but he didn’t praise them for it. He tried to help them to overcome the type of display that is anything but honoring to God.
Beyond just fights, there are people who apparently have fleas. Fleas are not sharks nor alligators. Fleas are a little bitty speck of an animal. Don’t fool yourself, though. They can bother your dog or cat and they can bother you. There are many of us who have gotten fleas. One of the interesting things about fleas is that you can tell when a dog has fleas and may never even see the flea. That’s true with people, too. They may be scratching and uneasy about something that has touched their lives and you don’t even know what it is, but you know something isn’t right and it may be a worrisome flea.
Some of the Lord’s fine sheep have fleas. You’ll see them itching and scratching about the length of the sermon or the loudness of the music, the temperature being too low or too high, too much emphasis on missions or not enough emphasis on missions. It’s not a deadly thing that’s happening, but just a flea and they are obviously uncomfortable about it touching their life. Bro. Dennis’ dog wasn’t itching for a fight; he just had fleas. It’s important for us to watch and see that those kind of things can happen to us, too.
The final thought to which I want you to give some consideration is frustrations. This isn’t about fighting and or fleas. It’s about some folks who may be in a scratching/itching mood having to do with pure life frustrations. We rarely know what’s going on in people’s lives. We may think we know, and yet we know very little. They may be dealing with frustrations you and I know nothing about but if we did, we would say, “Goodness, I understand why they act that way.”
It may be a frustration they are carrying even on their way into the worship center. It may be a migraine or a struggle over a missed opportunity. It may be the weather or a wayward child. Their frustration could be indebtedness or personal insecurities. It may be because of an upcoming appointment with the doctor or a meeting with the IRS. The list is endless of the things people are carrying in their hearts and with which they are frustrating their lives, and they may be sitting right there next to you down the pew. The point is that there are many frustrations all of us carry. Just as fights can be menacing and fleas can be irritating, frustrations can be overwhelming.
What do you do with all this stuff? We pray for one another, for sure. Beyond that, we can encourage one another to do what Scripture says: “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. (1 Peter 5:7). Cast all your care upon Him — the fights, fleas, and frustrations that may be in you and me, but also may be the uneasiness and the awkwardness, the ill feelings that we develop because somebody else has frustrations or fleas or are ready to fight. Even there, the all is all inclusive. Casting all of your care upon Him for He careth for you.
Dennis the Menace may show up and sit down on the pew just down from you this Sunday morning — or it may be you yourself in that role. Either way, be prepared.
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.