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God Was Here, and I was Out to Lunch
By JAMES W. MOORE
Dimensions for LivingCopyright © 2001 Dimensions for Living
All rights reserved.
Don't Miss ...
The Call to Discipleship
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Scripture: Mark 1:16-20
This is a true story, but one that may make you say, "Only in California." Larry Walters was a thirty-something truck driver who lived in Los Angeles. He lived in one of those neighborhoods where all of the houses looked alike, and where each of the yards was surrounded by a chain-link fence. Every Saturday afternoon, Larry had a ritual. He would sit in a lawn chair, sip a cool beverage, and just relax for a couple of hours. This is what he would do every Saturday afternoon in his backyard.
One Saturday, however, Larry got a bright idea. He decided that he would tie some helium balloons to his lawn chair, enough to float himself about one hundred feet or so over his neighbors' yards. It should be noted at this point that Larry was not an aeronautics engineer. Therefore, he didn't really know how many helium balloons it would take to elevate him to the desired height of one hundred feet.
So Larry purchased forty-five weather balloons and filled them with helium. Then he packed some sandwiches, prepared his cool beverage, and took along a BB gun so that he could shoot out one or more of the balloons if he got too high. Next, with the help of his neighbors, he tied the balloons to his lawn chair. (Let me digress just long enough to say: "Don't try this at home!")
At the appropriate signal, the neighbors let go of the ropes that tethered the "balloon-chair." Larry immediately rocketed up to 11,000 feet! No kidding! He was so shocked and so frightened, that he never got a chance to shoot any of the balloons out with his BB gun; instead, he was too busy holding on to the lawn chair.
Larry was first spotted by a DC-10 pilot flying into Los Angeles International Airport; he had zipped up into one of the busiest flight patterns in the world. The DC-10 pilot radioed the tower that there was a man on a lawn chair at 11,000 feet, and that he had a gun! Planes were immediately rerouted around the spot where Larry was floating. Rescue craft were sent up, and eventually they got Larry safely back down to the ground with his lawn chair. He was, of course, quickly surrounded by reporters who had rushed out to get the story on this bizarre (even for California) event. Reporters asked Larry, "Were you scared?"
"No," Larry said.
"Would you do it again?"
"Well, why did you do it in the first place?"
Larry replied, "Well—you can't just sit there!"
Now, strange as it may seem, when I first heard the story of Larry's big adventure that Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles, it made me think of the first chapter of Mark, where Jesus came to Simon, Andrew, James, and John at the seashore and called them to be his disciples. In effect, Jesus said to them: Don't just sit there doing the same old things, performing the same old rituals, living the same old life. Break out of the drudgery! Do something good—exciting—come and follow me!
Please don't misunderstand me. I am not applauding Larry and his lawn chair and helium balloons. Obviously, that was a dangerous and crazy thing to do. He could have been killed. He could have caused all kinds of problems, and in fact, he did. He could have hurt someone else. Indeed, his exploits that day could have produced a major calamity. But even though he went about it the wrong way, what is significant to notice here is this: There was something stirring deep down inside of Larry, telling him that just sitting there was not enough. There is more to life than just sitting there.
This is precisely the way Simon, Andrew, James, and John must have been feeling that day when Jesus walked into their lives. They were suffering under Roman oppression, with Roman soldiers swaggering about, barking commands that must be obeyed "or else." They were working hard as fishermen, but much of the fruit of their labor was going to pay Roman taxes. And on top of that, the Temple authorities were giving them a rough time and demanding more and more of their resources. Life was a difficult grind for them. They were "going through the motions," but they felt defeated and apathetic and hopeless. They felt bored and trapped in this vicious cycle and could see no way out. Let me ask you something. Have you ever felt that way? Do you feel that way right now?
A businessman checked into a hotel late one night. He decided that he would stop in the lounge for a few minutes before going up to his room. Later that night, he called the front desk and asked, "What time will the lounge be opened in the morning?" The night clerk answered, "9:00 A.M." About an hour later, the man called again with the same question: "What time will the lounge be opened in the morning?" Again the clerk said, "9:00 A.M." The man called a third time, and a fourth, and every hour throughout the night. Each time the night clerk would answer: "9:00 A.M."
At 7:00 A.M. the hotel manager arrived, and the night clerk reported that everything had gone all right, except for this crazy man who kept calling the desk every hour asking what time the lounge would open. Just then the phone rang again. This time, the manager took the call. Sure enough, it was the same businessman, calling again with the same question about what time the lounge would open. The manager said, "Look here! The night clerk tells me that you have been a nuisance all night long, asking the same question. I am telling you for the last time, the lounge will be open at 9:00 A.M. You can't get in 'til then." To which the businessman replied, "Get in? I don't want to get in, I want to get out!"
In our world today, a lot of people feel trapped like that, and sadly they think that all they can do is just sit there. Psychologists tell us that as long as we live, there are two kinds of desires working within us, battling for our allegiance. One is the desire to give up and quit on life, to throw in the towel and congeal into some final self. The other is the desire to keep on moving forward, to keep on striving, to keep on learning, to keep on growing. And this is the calling of every Christian. This is the desire that keeps us young in spirit and beautifully alive. We must be constantly on guard against congealing. Or in other words, "You can't just sit there!"
This is clearly what the call to discipleship is all about—that it's not enough to just sit there, that the key to life is to stand up and follow Jesus. Frederick Buechner, in his book Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC ([New York: Harper & Row, 1973], p. 62], expressed it so well as he described those early disciples.
The first ministers were the twelve disciples. There is no evidence that Jesus chose them because they were brighter or nicer than other people. In fact the New Testament record suggests that they were continually missing the point, jockeying for position, and when the chips were down, interested in nothing so much as saving their own skins. Their sole qualification seemed to have been their initial willingness to rise to their feet when Jesus said, "Follow me."
Their song was not so much "Lord, We Are Able,' as it was "Lord, We Are Available."
Now, what we learn from Simon, Andrew, James, and John is this: If you want to be available to follow Christ and to serve him and to be his disciple, you can't just "sit there." Let me show you what I mean with three thoughts.
First of All, Don't Just Sit There in Defeat
Before Jesus came along, that is exactly what those early disciples were doing. They felt defeated. I mean, what could they do? They didn't have the power to take on the Roman army. They didn't have the power to take on the Temple authorities. So they just wallowed in a spirit of defeat until Jesus came and delivered them.
Phillip Childs, a pastor with Parakletos Ministries in Decatur, Georgia, tells an intriguing story about a class of fourth graders in a public elementary school. The children were hard at work. The ten-year-old students were furiously writing, filling their pages with a list of "I Cant's": "I can't kick the soccer ball past second base." "I can't do long division with more than three numbers." "I can't get Debbie to like me." Their pages were full, and they showed no signs of letting up.
Every student was writing his or her "I Can't" list. The teacher was also doing the same: "I can't get John's mother to come for a teacher conference." "I can't get my daughter to put gas in the car." "I can't get Alan to use words rather than fists." Why were they dwelling on the negative instead of writing the more positive "I Can" statements? Soon, the answer came.
The teacher stood up and said, "Okay, children, let's do it!" The children ran forward and put all of their "I Can't" lists into a shoe box. The teacher then grabbed a shovel and the shoe box and marched outside. The students followed close behind. They walked to the farthest corner of the school yard, and, one by one, they all took turns with the shovel. They were digging a grave!
When the grave was ready, thirty-one ten-year-olds stood there as their teacher placed the shoe box at the bottom of the hole. They covered it with dirt, and then the teacher said, "Boys and girls, please join hands and bow your heads." They did, and the teacher gave the eulogy.
Friends, we are gathered here today to honor the memory of "I Can't." While he was here with us on earth he touched the lives of everyone, some more than others. We have provided "I Can't" with a final resting place and a headstone that contains his epitaph. He is survived by his brothers and sisters, "I Can," "I Will," and "I'm Going to Right Away." They are not as well known as their famous relative and are certainly not as strong and powerful yet. Perhaps some day, with your help, they will make an even bigger mark on the world. May "I Can't" rest in peace and may everyone present pick up their lives and move forward in his absence. Amen. (Phillip B. Childs, "The I Can't Funeral," North Texas United Methodist Reporter 31 [January 22, 1999]: 1)
What a great moment this was. These students would never forget this. But they weren't through yet. The group went back to the classroom and had cookies and popcorn and fruit juice. The teacher cut a large tombstone from brown paper. She wrote the words "I Can't" at the top and "Rest in Peace" at the bottom, and then she wrote the date. She hung the tombstone on the bulletin board for the rest of the year, and on those rare occasions when a student would feel defeated and say "I can't," the teacher would simply point to the "Rest in Peace" sign. The student would then remember that "I Can't" was dead and buried, and he or she would then resolve to try harder.
Jesus would like this story, I believe, because that is what he was saying to those first disciples: "You can do it." I will help you. Don't just sit there in defeat. Come on now. Get up and follow me." The apostle Paul would probably like this story too, because one of his most famous quotes says it all: "I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13).
The point is clear: The choice is ours. We can wallow in defeat, feel sorry for ourselves, and say, "We can't do anything about the complex problems that surround us"; or we can hear the call of Jesus and respond with courage and optimism and faith. To those early disciples long ago, and to you and me here and now, Jesus is saying, "Don't just sit there in defeat! Get up and come and follow me! You can do it. I will help you,"
That's number one: Don't just sit there in defeat.
Second, Don't Just Sit There in Apathy
There's an old Smothers Brothers routine in which Tom seems worried. His brother, Dick, says to him, "What's the matter, Tom? You seem despondent."
"I am," replies Tom. "I'm worried about the state of American society."
"Well, what bothers you? Are you worried about poverty in our nation?" says Dick. "No, that doesn't bother me," replies Tom.
"I see—Well, are you concerned about the danger of nuclear war?"
"No, that doesn't bother me."
"Are you upset about the use of drugs among our youth?"
"No, that doesn't bother me," says Tom.
"Well then," says Dick, "if you're not bothered by poverty, or war, or drugs, what are you worried about?"
And Tom responds: "I'm worried about our apathy!"
Well, Tom Smothers, in his unique way, may well have put his finger on one of the big problems of our time: apathy! This was also a big problem in Jesus' time. People felt down and out, with nowhere to turn, and so many of them just quit on life.
That is precisely what apathy is—it's quitting on life; it's just giving up and throwing in the towel, A punster friend of mine told me this week about the apathetic owl, who "just doesn't give a hoot anymore!" To be apathetic is to be uncaring, unconcerned, unexcited, unmoved, and untouched. It is the opposite of faith and hope, the opposite of love and commitment.
Last fall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a series of unusual messages appeared on billboards and buses. The agency in charge of the advertising campaign said that an anonymous donor was footing the bill. The messages were reported to be messages from God, and they caused quite a stir in town.
Here are some of the messages:
"Let's meet at my house Sunday before the game." (signed) God "
"C'mon over and bring the kids." (signed) God "
"What part of 'Thou Shalt Not' didn't you understand?" (signed) God "
"We need to talk." (signed) God
"Keep using my name in vain and I'll make rush hour longer." (signed] God
"Loved the wedding; invite me to the marriage." (signed] God
"I love you—I love you—1 love you." (signed) God
"Will the road you're now on get you to my place?" (signed] God
"Follow me." (signed) God
"Big hang theory? You have got to he kidding!" (signed] God
"My way is the highway." (signed) God
"You think it's hot here7." (signed) God
"Tell the kids I love them." (signed) God
"Have you read my No. 1 best-seller? There will be a test." [signed) God
"That 'love your neighbor' thing—I meant it!" (signed) God
That anonymous donor who put those messages up was trying in his own way to tell us what the New Testament says: "Don't just sit there in defeat and in apathy, get up and follow Jesus. You can do it! He will help you!"
Third and Finally, Don't Just Sit There in Indecision
There is an old joke that came out of the former Soviet Union many years ago about a Russian who stood on the street corner in Moscow and shouted, "Down with Khrushchev!" He was arrested on the spot and sent to prison for ten years. While he was in prison, he had a change of heart and came to see Nikita Khrushchev in a different light. The only problem was that while he had been in prison, the times had changed, and Khrushchev had been deposed, kicked out of office, and publicly denounced.
When the man was released, he went back to that same street corner in Moscow. He wanted to give a public testimony to his rehabilitation. This time, he shouted, "Hooray for Khrushchev!" and promptly got ten more years in prison, which only goes to show that "timing is everything!"
And this is one of the key things to notice in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus said, "Follow me," and immediately Simon, Andrew, James, and John dropped everything and followed him.
The question for us today is this: When is the best time to decide—to make up our minds—to follow Jesus? The answer is, Right now! Don't just sit there in defeat, in apathy, in indecision. The time is now. This is your moment. Get up now and follow Jesus. You can do it. He will help you. God is here, nearer than breathing, and God is calling you. Don't miss the call to discipleship!CHAPTER 2
Don't Miss ...
The Spirit of Christ
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Scripture: Matthew 5:13-16
A friend recently sent me a story about a mother who was preparing pancakes for her two sonsone Saturday morning. Kevin and Ryan just loved pancakes. In fact, they loved their mom's pancakes so much that on this particular Saturday morning they began to argue (as brothers will do) over who would get the first pancake. Five-year-old Kevin and three-year-old Ryan were not only fussing; they were also pushing and shoving, trying, each one, to be first in line and get the first pancake.
Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson, so she said, "Boys, boys! Calm down! I want to ask you a question. If Jesus were here with us this morning, what do you think he would say?" No answer. "Well," she continued, "I'll tell you what he would say. He would say, 'Please let my brother have the first pancake; I can wait.'"
In reply, five-year-old Kevin said, "Great idea, Mom!" and then he turned to his younger brother and said, "Ryan, you be Jesus!"
Excerpted from God Was Here, and I was Out to Lunch by JAMES W. MOORE. Copyright © 2001 Dimensions for Living. Excerpted by permission of Dimensions for Living.
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