This past weekend, I was given a reminder of something that I know already: I have been blessed with a pretty wonderful family. Case in point: on Saturday alone, Ed turned in arguably his best race of his running career, Emma scored in the ribbon category and Charlie won (to him) the coveted Trail Walking trophy in the Adaptive Riding competition at the County Fair. “Hardware” was being collected copiously that day in two different counties by Martin kids.
So, I’ve taken nearly 1,200 words to state what most of you already know or could have told me much fewer: I am very fortunate to be surrounded by such good company. But it’s good to be reminded of these things because the response can only be gratitude for the small circle of love that you find yourself a part of.
My name is Jeff and I'm a pastor of a small, local, Christian fellowship
It's a wonderful thing to love your work; to know that when you do it you are doing something that you were born to do. I am so fortunate to be both. I don't say I am the best at what I do. God knows that are so many others who do it better. But I do feel fairly lucky to be called by such a good God to do work I can only do with his help, to be loved by a beautiful woman, and to have a workshop where I can work my craft. These musings of mine are part of that work.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
So ends the life of a man who truly lived a life set apart. His birth was foretold by Gabriel the archangel and when still in utero, he recognized his Lord though he, too, was still within his mother’s womb when she had come to visit her kinswoman, Elizabeth. True to the angel’s words, when he came of age he embarked on the ministry foretold of him hundreds of years before by the prophet Isaiah. He tirelessly prepared people for the coming of the One who would “take away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). For a season, the whole country as it were turned out to see this strange “Robinson Crusoe”-like figure living in the desert places. When Jesus finally did begin to reveal himself, John pointed him out to those who ultimately would cease being his disciples and become those of Jesus. “A man can only receive what is given him from heaven,” he would reply to those who wondered why he wasn’t upset at those who chose to leave his ranks to join the following of Jesus. “He must increase and I must decrease” (see John 1).
But as astute as John was he, too, was confounded by the purpose of Jesus when he did not begin to do the things John expected him to do. While sitting in prison for (presumably) calling the king on the carpet for his illicit affair with his sister-in-law, John sends a delegation to ask Jesus (in so many words) “Was I wrong? Aren’t you the one who is sent to establish God’s kingdom?” (Matthew 11). Jesus makes his inquiry a teaching point. “John is a most godly man and the greatest and last of the great prophets and yet, those who “get it” – who understand what the kingdom is really all about – are greater than John the Baptizer. You are blessed if you are get this point.”
And so here sits Zachariah and Elizabeth’s son, sitting in cell for being unafraid to stand up to the king wondering if he has indeed fulfilled what his mission had been, if somehow he had let God down or missed that which he was born to do. And then one night, quite suddenly he is dragged from his cell and executed for reasons that are, in the scope of things, quite trivial. Herodias, in her best impression of “Lady Macbeth”, wanted to settle a score and when her daughter dances the Dance of the Seven Veils and Herod and his court are all agog at her, she finds a way to do it. So dies he whom Jesus referred to as “the greatest of all who have ever been born of a woman.”
This past winter I read (for the first time in its entirety) Foxe’s Book of Martyrs followed up by VOM’s Jesus Freaks. I’d like to hope that if it was ever called upon me to die for the faith that first, I would be found faithful and second, I would know that I was dying for “the Cause.” Like so many of the faithful witnesses that have gone before us, I would hope to say something on the level of those brave words uttered by Daniel’s friends before King Nebuchadnezzar: “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (3:17-18). But what if you meet your demise simply because there was a glitch in the paperwork? I mean, it’s one thing to go to your death Sydney Carton-style knowing that it is a “…far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest than I go to, than I have ever known” but it’s quite another to be martyred because a king in a drunken moment is embarrassed to lose face with his guests and against his better judgment orders your execution.
I think of Jeremiah who though he was invited to live in relative comfort in Babylon after the fall of Jerusalem chose to remain with people who never listened to him in the first place. According to tradition, he died in Egypt – the very place he was adamant that the remnant should not return to. I think of Paul alone languishing in the Maritima prison dictating his last letter out (2 Timothy) before meeting his demise. “Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me” (2 Tim 4:9-11). I’m only speculating here, but I wonder if the rigors of his circumstances even caused the indefatigable Paul to second guess his plight in weaker moments. Did I do that which I was asked to do? Is God unhappy with me? Is this how it ends? Preach righteousness and the glory of the kingdom and then die for what amounts ultimately for silly reasons?
And maybe that is one of the things that can be gleaned from John’s story. Some of us will die in worthy causes – a soldier bravely manning his post so that members of his company may gain higher ground, a preacher refusing to fold in the face of public pressure to recant. But many of us do and may suffer or perish at the petty whims of the powers that be. But God knows our heart and in the end, we can only do what we can do with what we have been given to do and trust our lives to Him reminding ourselves that we walk by faith not by sight.
Brennan Manning puts it this way,
The truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ does not rise and fall on the issues of corrupt clergy,
the exploitation of the poor, the stinginess of multinationals, or the irrational fanaticism of modern dictatorship. It deserves to be accepted or rejected for what it is: an answer to the most fundamental questions a person may ask: Is life absurd or does it have a purpose? Jesus replies that only do our lives have a purpose but God has directly intervened in human affairs to make abundantly clear what that purpose is. What is the nature of Ultimate Reality? Jesus responds that the Really Real is generous, forgiving, saving love. In the end, will life triumph over death? With unshaken confidence Jesus answers, The kingdom of My Father cannot be overcome, even by death. In the end everything will be all right. Nothing can harm you permanently; no loss is lasting, no defeat more than transitory, no disappointment is conclusive. Suffering, failure, loneliness, sorrow, discouragement, and death will be part of your journey, but the kingdom of God will conquer these horrors. No evil can resist grace forever.
The Ragamuffin Gospel, Pp. 199-200
May God find we who trust in Him equally mad as the one Jesus referred to as he who was not surpassed by any in history regardless of what circumstances ultimately result in our own death.