Monday, September 21, 2009

Calling

"Calling"

Journey of Faith - Part One

Genesis 12:1-5 The Call of Abram

Matthew 4:18-22 Jesus Calls the First Disciples

It all started with a phone call. How many stories in our lives could be started with that sentence? Sure, it sounds like an entry in a contest for bad opening lines for short stories, but I bet there are a lot of experiences in this room that can be traced to some source, some cause, some reaction or response to the actions of someone or something else.

For me, it was a phone call from one of my sister’s friends. I was 19 and had taken my first part time youth ministry position. I felt called into youth ministry by God the year before, and I was just beginning that part of my journey. April was not someone I knew well, but she and my sister had been friends for some time. I’ll never forget it though. “How’s your ministry?” she said. I was a little bit stunned, and I didn’t know what to say. I think I responded with something snarky like, “Well, really it’s Jesus’ ministry.” She said she would pray for me, and I thanked her. I figured it was some weird Baptist thing. She’s probably still praying for me over that one. I think that was my first real mistake in terms of understanding what it means to be a Christian. Because I was so steeped in the idea that I am a forgiven sinner and only God is good, I allowed myself to believe that I was not really involved with what God was doing. That’s the big cop out we all face from time to time. If I could just get a sign! If I could just know what God is up to, and what it has to do with me. If I could just know why the person I love is hurting or why nothing seems to matter some times.

There is a website asking people what questions they would ask God if they could call God on the phone. Here are some of the contributions:

-Why do we need fleas? They seem completely unimportant...

-Seriously, can't you get rid of the diseases?

-I would ask Him what was my purpose in life.

-I wouldn't ask him anything. I would thank him for saving me and having mercy on my soul.

-I'd ask Him, “What one sentence could I say to make everyone believe in you?”

-I would ask, WHY? If he is all knowing, and can do anything, why didn't he prevent sin from happening in the first place?

-Why did you take my baby son from me, and turn me into something, I should never have become. Thanks for asking; I had to get that out.

Some of our questions are simply unanswerable, and that leaves us with an abiding dissatisfaction. Sometimes we just have to get that out, so that we can hear God calling to us, comforting us, and even suffering with us. I wonder, what can the disciples teach us about this?

Jesus is walking by the Sea of Galilee and sees these fishermen. They are the low life of society. They carve out a hard existence in Galilee, a place known for unrest and discontent. Who would these people be today? Where would Jesus go in Savannah to find disciples? Picture someone in your mind that meets the description I just gave you. See, the beauty of these guys is that no one can say, “I could never be as smart, successful, or Biblically literate as those guys.” What about the people you thought of a few minutes ago in Savannah? It’s hard not to make a value judgment on others sometimes, but that’s exactly what we do.

So Jesus says, “Follow me and I’ll make you fish for people.” And they quit their job and leave everything to follow Him. Wow. Now we get into some sticky stuff. Maybe they had nothing to loose. On second thought, James and John left their father, Zebadee in the boat! Does God want me to leave all that I have accumulated? Are we even comparing apples to apples here?

Maybe, but let’s look at the text. First off, what is Jesus doing? He’s proclaiming a gospel of repentance, of higher knowing, of turning your orientation from your own perspective to God’s. So, when he calls them, he is offering a relationship that makes it possible to do that. Not only that, the word for casting aside their nets is also used for setting aside sins. They are literally setting aside an old life to enter into a new one.

Wait, wait, wait…that’s all good and well for a few Galilean fisherman, but what about me? Am I supposed to quit school. or my job, or (heaven forbid) golf in order to wander around and tell people to repent? Maybe. Or maybe the opportunities you have in those places are the there for you to follow up on. I remember this kid in High School who I think was one of the bravest kids I ever met. He wasn’t an athlete, or a leader. He was rather mousy and shy, but every day at lunch he would sit at his table with a Bible next to him. Sometimes he would read to himself. He never said a word about it to anyone unless they asked. Funny thing is that hardly anyone would sit with him until all the other tables were full. The sad thing is that I didn’t sit with him either. Worse still, I have no idea who this kid was.

You know, the root of the word used for fisherman is the same as the root for salt. They were men of salt. Jesus called to them and said he would make them salt for men. Soon thereafter Jesus gives the sermon on the mount and calls for us to be as salt and light, two realities that can’t help but effect everything they come into contact with. None of us live in isolation. All of us have the ability to affect one person. We can’t do it alone, but through Christ we become (not can become – this is God’s choice and not our own) as salt and light.

So, how do we know when and where God is calling us? We know that God is offering us grace and forgiveness through Jesus and we want to respond, but how? I’d like to say there are three simple steps, but it’s not quite that easy. Faith is messier than that. Life is messier than that. I will tell you this, though. Step one is to set aside your nets. For a disciple of Christ, we have to know that repentance, turning away from ourselves and turning toward God, is a daily thing, sometimes we have to do it over and over in the same day. For we are not made perfect, but we are being perfected. We are perfectly forgiven, and we are free to follow Christ and join Him in the ministry of telling everyone about the freedom, and the healing, and the power over sin and death He offers us!

Once we have that down, there are a few aspects that I believe can guide us along the way. The first is a nudge, a gut feeling about something that is not quite right but could be and should be. The second is the recognition by others of gifts you have that might meet that need. And the third is that the opportunity avails itself. Now, we live in a culture that says, “If there is no door use the window; and if that does not work, make your own door.” That may be very practical, and sometimes even necessary, but it’s not good theology. For Jesus says, “Behold. I stand at the door, knocking.”

Now if that’s just too much to remember, Frederick Beuchner has a nice way of describing how you know that you are being called. He wrote, “The place God calls you to, is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep need are met.”

You know, phones aren’t what they used to be. We have so many more options these days. But the reality of a call is the same. You either respond or you don’t. So, People of the Way of Christ, Christians (or little representations of Christ, as it once meant), God is calling. Perhaps you are still mending your net, and you don’t consider yourself part of the community. Jesus is calling you into a relationship with him through this congregation. What is your answer? I’d love to hear about it after the service, as we join the journey of faith together. And to God be the glory, both now and always, Amen.

Impact

I was thinking the other day about a guy I knew in High School. He was one of the bravest people I've ever met. He wasn't an athlete or a class leader in any way. He was kind of mousy and shy. He sat alone at lunch with a Bible on the table next to him. Sometimes he would read to himself. He never talked about it to anyone who did not ask. He simply gave a silent, personal witness. The sad thing is that no one ever sat with him until all the other tables were full. I am ashamed to admit that I didn't sit with him either. Even worse, I don't even remember his name.

When Jesus calls his first disciples in Matt 4:18-22, they leave their fishing nets and follow him. They leave everything! Now, I'm not suggesting that we need to do the same. But I wonder, what do we need to set down in order to follow him? Not everyone can just drop everything. Not everyone can make a public witness as bold as reading scripture in the middle of a High School cafeteria. But everyone can have an impact on someone. Sure, we can have a silent witness of good works, but how is anyone to know why you do them?

The word impact has to do with the amount of force or pressure that is absorbed when two things collide. We can not live without having some impact on someone else. Life is a full contact sport. The question is not, "Will you impact someone?" it is "How will you impact someone?" Take some time today to think about your Christian witness (the way you impact others because of your faith). Faith is personal, but it is never private. A personal faith that does not impact your choices and relationships is like a seed you planted the never grew.

So, how will you impact someone for Christ today? Opportunities abound. Have fun with it!

Peace,
Zach

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What does forgive mean?

The other day Sam, my 3 yr. old son, did something that ended with him in time out. I don't even remember what he did, and it doesn't really matter at this point. Regarding the behavior of our children, we try to positively reinforce good behavior and deter bad behavior by limiting the options for it. Of course, most of you probably know that children can be quite creative, and you can not limit every negative experience. Nor should we. How else can you learn to walk without falling down a few times. When we punish bad behavior we try to make sure the consequences are clear beforehand and that the punishment fits the crime. We also try to make sure that they know what behaviors, attitudes, or actions they are being punished for, why these things are not good, and what a better choice might have been. After the punishment we are sure to affirm our love for them and our dissatisfaction with the offense. We want to make a clear distinction between being bad and doing something bad. God created us good. We are created in the image of God. Though we are an imperfect reflection, our essence is that of the Creator. I want my children to know this about themselves. It is through God's action of forgiveness that we become perfected. I want my children to know this too, and so we are careful to use the language of forgiveness. Not just, "It's OK." but really, "I forgive you."

This is the basis our philosophy and theology of parenting, and it is all based on scripture. Most fundamentally I would say that it comes from 1 John 4:10-11.

10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.Treva and I are far from perfect, and we do not hold true to these ideals every time. But we at least have a goal to strive toward. So, back to Sam in time out the other day. After we talked he said he was sorry, and I gave the standard line, "If you are sorry, you wont do it again. I love you, and I forgive you." We hugged, and the sweet, blessed child said, "Daddy, what does forgive mean?" I though for a second and said, "It means I love you no matter what." He responded, "No Daddy, it means you never give up!"

Well, glory be. I was stunned. "That's right, Sam. It means I'll never give up on you." Isn't that just the sum of the gospel of Jesus Christ? No wonder I have no idea what he did. I don't care what he did! What matters is that he got it, and he got it in a way I could never have given it to him. As far as the East is from the West, so far does Christ remove our transgressions from us.

Do we get that? This God who created and sustains all there is loves us enough to be vulnerable to our choices, loves us enough to allow us to suffer the consequences of our choices and those of others, loves us enough to keep separating the sin from the sinner even though we keep sinning. And when we get it, when we realize that this God will never give up on us, the God of all creation is overjoyed! This is not because of anything wonderful about us. It is because God's will and intention has been made complete. The knowledge of our forgiveness and the peace it brings is the completion of the meditation of God!

God will never give up on you. This is by no means a free pass, as though forgiveness equals permission. In fact it is quite the opposite. If our understanding of God's tenacity on our behalf is real, we cannot help but respond to the embrace we are offered by becoming the outstretched hand of God to someone else. Open your arms for love has come! God will never give up on you. So, in the words of Greg Allman:
Just step yourself outside and look up at the stars above,
go on downtown baby, find somebody to love.
Meanwhile I ain't wastin' time no more,
cause time goes by like pouring rain and much faster things.
May the Peace of Christ Be With You!