WHAT TO EXPECT IF YOU MEET JESUS TODAY

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Part 1: The Offer

Simon was at the end of a long, fruitless shift. He and his buddies had forfeited a night’s sleep to go fishing, but the tilapia weren’t biting. The final clean up and sluice down of their gear was almost complete. Most of the nets were hanging out on their frames to dry. Shafts of sunlight were slipping over the crags of the lake’s eastern hills warming the fishermen’s backs. Simon was thinking only of bed when he heard the bustle of shopkeepers and their morning patrons moving toward the shore. One voice stood out among the rest and Simon looked up to see whose it was. He knew everyone in these parts, and he’d never seen this tall stranger who seemed to draw such a crowd.

What…?” Simon stifled a surprised grunt as the stranger, still talking, moved toward the two scows resting onshore. He boosted himself onto the gunwales of one of them, swung his legs over the side and sat down on, continuing to speak. It was Simon’s boat.

Simon took a step closer, not only in defense of his property, but to hear what this man was saying. As he did, the man’s gaze fell directly on Simon.

“Put out into deep water,” he directed Simon, “and let down the nets for a catch.”

Really?” thought Simon. “He doesn’t know we’ve been fishing all night with no success. We’re tired. The good nets are clean and drying; only the old ragtag nets are left in the transom. There isn’t a breath of wind so it will mean rowing. Doesn’t he know we’re done fishing for the day?” Simon was not in the mood to be told what to do.

But Simon and his buddies found themselves agreeing, and rowed out to the deep parts, leaving the crowds on the shore. And there, in the middle of the lake Jesus gave them a taste of what meeting Him means. Ragtag nets were barely tossed to sink below the surface when they were full of writhing, thrashing, flippers and fins. Hundreds of them.

The men’s reaction must have been awestruck, open-mouthed fear because Jesus told them, ”Don’t be afraid.”

He also told them, in a way, that they were done fishing – not just for the day, but forever. He had a higher calling for them. Those fish could go to the people onshore, but from then on, Simon and his buddies would be fishers of men and women, if they agreed.

What did that mean to Simon and Andrew, James and John, the first disciples that met Jesus? Maybe more relevantly, what does it mean to us, to you and me who live here and now, two thousand years later? Do we meet Jesus too?

I believe the answer is yes. The theme of everything we read in the Bible points to this one truth: Jesus is a man for all people and all times. He meets every one of us. Every person gets at least one chance to hear His offer and respond. You do and I do. It may not be at a Middle East lakeside setting, but He will come into your world, call you away and make you an offer. Then it’s up to you to decide: stay with the status quo, do your own thing and forever wonder what it would have been like to follow Him, or say with some fear, ‘yes’.

Jesus, meet us today. Help us put aside our fear long enough to hear your offer and recognize it as our hearts’ true longing. Boats, nets and fish aside, help us follow You.

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ESCAPE AND STAND

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          The most thrilling adventure stories always seem to include two key elements: an exciting escape and a bold stand. Louie Zamperini’s life is no exception. Unbroken, the story of his life and the movie soon to be released, tells the tale of repeated escapes and stands. We thrill to those kinds of stories. We are excited, intoxicated and exhilarated by them, because they tell us a core truth about this life. We are in a battle for survival – every one of us.

“Be careful,” Jesus warns, “or your hearts will be weighted down…”

That’s true, we agree. Life should be fun, shouldn’t it?

“Be careful or your hearts will be weighted down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.” He’s talking about the end of life.

“For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth,” He adds. He’s very inclusive. No one escapes his own mortality. No one is immune to facing her own precarious adventure story.

“Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36). There it is: escape and stand.

The way He talks, our triumph is not certain. There are dangers about that can inundate us, weigh us down, engulf, besiege and overwhelm us. He even cites for us the three areas that are sure traps to our ultimate goal of survival.

One trap is ‘dissipation’. Let’s use the word decadence instead. Jesus is talking about our fascination with self and the trinkets we use to prop up that self. We overeat, over-primp, over-earn and overspend. Our obsession with making ourselves feel good and look good is actually at the expense of our real selves.

“Set your hearts on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God,” the Apostle Paul counsels us. Hearts set on things below eventually become weighted down. Jesus wants more for us — much more. We know the phrase, ‘reach for the stars’; Jesus is saying, ‘reach for me’. The heart that reaches for Him is on the right path.

Another trap is ‘drunkenness’. Let’s use the word desensitization. Jesus is talking about our tendency to use various means to dull our sensitivity to His voice. Drunkenness pictures for us the use of alcohol to block out the sensations of real life – but we have other ways of doing that too. We become preoccupied with the loud to block out the quiet. Loud boasting, loud music, loud schedules – they all desensitize us to the still soft voice of God who wants to speak to our hearts.

The third trap is ‘anxiety’. Lets keep the word anxiety because we know it fits us like a glove, a grasping, squeezing iron glove that crushes our inner peace and steals our joy. The tensions, worries and fears of this life are not peripheral concerns. Jesus says they are powerful enough to rob us of our ability to escape and stand up to our life’s quest.

There is a solution to anxiety, drunkenness and dissipation. It’s faith — not faith in the ethereal notion of faith, but faith in Jesus as the sole means to our successful escape from what He calls perishing. Faith in Jesus is also the only means of our being able to stand before Him some day, beyond this life and world, in confidence of His love and acceptance.

So, watch and pray, He ends up saying. Be alert. Keep lines of communication open with Him. Avoid the traps this world holds for those who are careless. He wants every one of us to have stories to tell some day of our escape and our stand.

(Photo Credit: “A321 sunspots 09.26.2014 (15359237736)” by sebastien lebrigand from crépy en valois, FRANCE – A321 sunspots 09.26.2014. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A321_sunspots_09.26.2014_(15359237736).jpg#/media/File:A321_sunspots_09.26.2014_(15359237736).jpg)

NEW WAY OF SEEING

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With a sinking feeling I eased the car into the left turn lane and slowed down to a stop, waiting for the advanced left turn light to go green. I saw the man pacing on the cement meridian dividing the lane from oncoming traffic, and grimaced – it was a panhandler. It’s not uncommon to see the homeless in the big city, but in our rural town it used to be a rarity. Yet, as our town has grown, so have the number of homeless.

I wince internally when I have to wait in a left turn lane while a panhandler paces by my window. It brings up so many questions. Do I make eye contact or not? Do I nod my head or shake it? Do I dig into my purse or keep a tight grip on the steering wheel praying for the light to turn green?

“What,” I wonder “is the right thing to do?”

Ever felt that way?

Jesus has a similar encounter (Luke 18:35-43). He is traveling south from Galilee on foot. He has been on the road for several days, and has attracted a crowd, as usual. He is heading for Jerusalem to keep a very important appointment. The Passover is imminent and He knows it will be His last; He knows His time has come to do for the world what He has ultimately come to do. He is a man on a mission, focused and single-minded in getting to Jerusalem to accomplish His task.

But just outside of Jerusalem, on the outskirts of the sleepy little town of Jericho, He has to pull into a left-turn lane of sorts. And there sitting by the roadside is a blind man begging. Neither Jesus nor the blind man can see each other because crowds of people are flanking Jesus as He walks along. But the blind man senses the commotion. He hears the crowd jostling by him and he asks the crowd what is happening.

“Jesus of Nazareth is passing by,” someone answers.

It is one of those moments in life when everything slows down as the mind races through every option and comes up with one imperative: Act now or forever regret the lost opportunity.

“Jesus, Son of David,” the blind man suddenly calls from the roadside. “Have mercy on me!” Will Jesus hear him or will his voice be drowned in the sea of travellers who surround Him? Will Jesus turn to him or move away avoiding eye contact with the beggar on the fringes?

“Jesus, Son of David,” he repeats, shouting desperately now.

Jesus stops. He scans the roadside looking for that one voice. He sets aside His Jerusalem-bound agenda, for a social nobody, and in that moment communicates something very important for every follower of His: nobody is a nobody; everyone has intrinsic value – everyone is worth stopping for and inquiring into. Every life is precious.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus kindly asks the man who is brought to Him. This question reveals Jesus’ deep respect for the blind man’s humanity. He wants to know what this man values. He invites the man to verbalize what is it that he believes Jesus alone can do for him.

“I want to see,” he replies. It’s plain. It’s simple. It’s everything to the blind man.

“Receive your sight,” Jesus responds, and in a flash the man sees.

Looking deep into the man’s now-seeing eyes, Jesus commends him, “Your faith has healed you.” You and I did this together, Jesus is saying. I have the power and you have the faith. Faith pleases God immensely, and you have displayed this beautifully. It’s scandalous, but it’s true.

I’m not sure I know the solution to the panhandler on the meridian in my town. But now I know what Jesus thinks of him; He loves him, values him immensely, and wants to express that through me. That’s the framework for my new way of seeing the man on the fringes of my town. I have my list of things to do, all very important. But nothing is more important in Jesus’ eyes than pleasing the Father – and acts of faith do that. Instead of seeing an obstacle, I think I see an opportunity.

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons; Alex Proimos)

WHO NEEDS CHURCH? Conclusion

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Serve It

 At the beginning of this little series of ramblings we began to explore the phrase, “You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” We’ve been delving into its premise to see if it is reliable because people who claim to be Christians also have a high ethic for living purposeful, truth-integrated lives.

Our habit of abbreviating concepts has led to calling the building Christians meet in as ‘the church’, and the worship services we organize as simply ‘church’. So the proposition that Christians don’t need to ‘go to church’ suggests that we don’t need to worship together — that it’s a dispensable, nonessential optional activity.

But as we’ve begun to discover that the Church is a living thriving organism made up of every Christ-follower on earth, we’re learning that each of us has an essential role in the Church. We are members of a Body where each supporting ligament, every organ and limb, is necessary to the Body. We must love each other, bring spiritual food to each other, help each other dress in garments of virtue, and assist each other in keeping a healthy work-rest rhythm.

The final argument in favour of the Christian’s innate connection to the Church is the call to serve it. It’s hard to serve a Body you never meet with, interact with or identify with.

The Apostle Paul describes it this way: “Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness – the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints…this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:24-27)

Now that is saying a lot. Let’s dissect it a little and see if it reinforces what we’ve been saying about the Church.

The Church is a unit, known since His resurrection as Christ’s Body on earth. There is implied here a connection between those who belong to Christ. The spiritual health of one is dependent upon the spiritual health of all.

The servant-nature of Christ toward the Church involved Him suffering the greatest affliction possible – perfect Man dying for imperfect mankind. As imitators of Christ, we are called to serve one another, which at times will entail an element of suffering.

Serving one another results in embracing the amazing mystery God designed for needy people like us: Christ, the soul of the Body, actually lives within each member.

Service to the Body was not intended to be the sole job of pastors. Pastoring is one role; others are encouraging, teaching, maintaining peace, wrestling in prayer, showing hospitality, practical helps and a host of other roles. There is room for everyone in the Body to serve. In fact, when even one Christian fails to serve, the Body lacks.

The amazing thing is that when it is running as it should, there is nothing on this earth that reminds us more of Christ than His Body of believers, the Church. So the question is not, ‘Why do I need to go to church?’ but rather ‘Where would I rather be than fully integrated in the Body of Christ?’ There is always room for one more.

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Biswarup Ganguly)

WHO NEEDS CHURCH? Part 4

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Work It and Rest It

Rhythm — We thrive on it. The toe-tapping beat of a tune is the rhythm of music; the inhaling and exhaling of air through our lungs is the rhythm of breathing; and the daily cycle of waking and sleeping is the circadian rhythm of living. Without the contrast that rhythm provides, we would be unable to benefit from the essential strengths of each rhythmic extreme. The rests and pauses between the notes of a song call attention to the musical sounds that follow each moment of silence.

As we look at the Church – the people of God that have been portrayed as the Body of Christ – we see a particular and important rhythm it is designed to practice: the rhythm of work and rest.

The author of the letter to the Hebrews speaks of this rhythm as a primary distinguishing mark in the lives of believers and their community in the Body. He is not referring to the nine-to-five employment of labour followed by evenings and weekends of leisure. He’s talking about a different work-rest rhythm the Body of Christ is called to adopt. It is the working and resting rhythm of faith.

RESTING. “Now we who have believed enter that rest…” (Heb. 4:3). “There remains then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his” (Heb.4: 9,10). The author is speaking to cultural Jewish people who understood the work-rest rhythm of the historical account of creation. God worked for six days, then rested. He uses this rhythm to picture a contrast between the striving, do-it-yourself labour of those who have tried to gain peace with God through their own good works. To rest is to relinquish our self-made attempts and accept by faith the saving work of Jesus. He alone was able to work to secure for us a recovered relationship with God. We must rest in that.

We members of the Body of Christ are called to rest in the saving work of Jesus, and also to encourage the other members of the Body to remember this rest. It is so easy to forget. It is so easy to begin thinking our church-going routines, our devoted study of the Bible, and our feverish acts of charity in the community are securing for us a relationship with God. We can help each other remember to rest in Christ with an encouraging word, by recalling the truths in God’s Word that speak to this rest, and by promoting spiritual retreat.

WORKING. “Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God” (Heb. 6:7). The author of Hebrews goes on to illustrate the Body’s role of work by picturing agricultural land. He is saying that the Church acts as an environment for producing rich resources. The Apostle Paul describes those resources as fruit produced in and through the lives of believers: the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Jesus also uses the same working analogy of our lives as crop-producing fields in a parable called the Sower and the Seed (Luke 7:4-15). He summarizes, “The seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” The work of the Body of Christ is to absorb Christ’s words and persevere in obeying them. Every member of the Church knows that only the indwelling Spirit can accomplish this work. It is He who waters the soil of our lives with His love, nourishes us with the nutrients of His truth, and produces a great crop of blessing with His grace.

It’s all about rhythm. We rest and we work; Christ somehow takes this motley mixture of introverts and extroverts, musicians and theologians, men and women, and makes us His Church – a living, breathing, organic Body of believers. Who needs Church? All who rest in Christ’s work, and work by His Spirit. It’s rhythm.

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons: Bob Embleton)

WHO NEEDS CHURCH, PART 3

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Called to be Clothed

Our closets are full. Maybe not yours or mine in particular, but as a culture our closets are full. We in the Western world spend trillions of dollars every year supporting the clothing and textile industry. But it’s not all about keeping warm or cool in deference to the environment around us. A great deal of it has to do with fashion, and fashion is popular for one primary reason: identity. We dress ourselves to communicate who we are or want to be at the core. Fashion conveys worldview. We can be chic or casual; vintage or versatile; funky, racy or Indy. We speak volumes without a word by how we dress.

So when we think about the Church, which is often referred to as the Body of Christ, we may want to think about how, figuratively speaking, it dresses. What identity does the Church bestow on believers, and how important is it to us as members and as individuals?

“Strip off the old”, charges Paul in his letter to believers in Colosse who were learning how to be the Body of Christ rather than the minions of any one of the thousands of Greek gods and goddesses.

“Rid yourselves of the rancid garments of lust and greed, anger, slander, lying and twisted morality”. These garments sully and taint the wearer. But Christ has done something for the Body that she could not do for herself. He has made her clean; the stain of rebellion has been scoured and disinfected spotless. The old clothes must go. There is no place for them in her new identity. She must put on something fresh and new. It says everything about her.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves,” instructs Paul. “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” He adds forgiveness to the list and then summarizes the new clothing style in words reminiscent of Jesus’ vision statement we keep hearing.

“Over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” This clothing is not mismatched with cloying jackets covering angry, seething undergarments. It’s one unified and integrated style tied together under the label “LOVE”.

We cannot wash ourselves nor can we provide these clothes for ourselves. Both are out of our reach. But Jesus makes them available to us within the Church. He washes each of us by His cleansing forgiveness when we come to Him in humble submission, and He provides the new garments by His indwelling Holy Spirit.

But we have to dress each day. We don’t wake miraculously decked out in the new finery. We have to make a conscious choice to embrace compassion and kindness rather than slipping back into the familiar garb of criticism and sharp-tongued responses. We must choose humility and patience rather than pride and anxiety.

This is where the Church can help one another. We can be there for each other, helping slide arms into sleeves, feet into pant legs, and tying that belt of love around the waist. We are a Body designed to lovingly care for each other and we will get further in the dressing process if we come together rather than remain separate. We have a new identity and it’s time to dress for it. We are called to be clothed.