Four Men Face God
|Posted by rjagilbert on May 20, 2020 at 10:15 PM|
Four men from the same community found themselves standing before God at the end of their lives.
God turned to the first and said, “Watch,” as the man’s life was played out like a movie. The men could clearly see God call this man to walk a hard and difficult path, but the man did not ever heed that call. Finally, God stopped the vision and asked, “I called you to follow me. Why didn’t you listen?”
The second man stepped forward and asked for his life to be shown. It was clear, from early on, that he had also been called, but unlike the first man, he had followed. The path was difficult, full of obstacles, often discouraging, and very lonely. By the end of his life, this man died feeling like a frustrated failure. Before God could say anything, the man asked, “I called out to you for help. Why didn’t You listen?”
God did not answer, but instead turned to the third man. It was clear, as his life was displayed, that he knew the other men and interacted with them in their church and their community. Images of the men praying together, meeting together, and talking together played out. Finally, God stopped the third man’s vision and pointed out the second man, always in the corner of sight, always frustrated or discouraged, always struggling in his walk. God asked the third person, “I called you to help him. Why didn’t you listen?”
Before anybody could respond, the fourth man came forward. “Show my life, Lord. I was a success!” Indeed, as his life played out, it was obvious that this man was successful in a great many things: leader of the men’s group, pastor in his church, then church planter and elder. Yet in all the images of this man earning glory and praise for his endeavors, God showed no pleasure. Instead, He told the fourth man, “I didn’t call you to do any of this. You just did it because you wanted to feel important.” Then he pointed into the shadows where the second man could be seen struggling to catch this leader’s eye, struggling to gain approval from the church board, struggling to gain listeners from a men’s group so blindly loyal to their pastor, and then, finally, persecuted and driven from the church by that same leadership.
Turning back to the fourth man, God asked, “Why didn’t you just get out of our way?”
Casting the Net on the Other Side
|Posted by rjagilbert on November 6, 2019 at 9:20 PM|
Jesus was walking beside the sea one morning when he came upon a weary fisherman in a boat not far from the shore.
“Have you caught anything?” Jesus asked the fisherman.
“Not a thing,” came the unhappy reply.
“Throw your net onto the other side of the boat,” Jesus offered helpfully.
The fisherman shrugged, scowled, and ignored him.
“No, seriously,” Jesus said, “Pull your net up and put it down on the other side of the boat.”
The fisherman gave the Son of God a long, cold stare, then replied. “With all due respect, I’ve been fishing all night. Every half-hour or so, somebody like you showed up and gave me encouraging words, telling me to ‘keep trying’ and then suggest that maybe I just needed to throw my net on the other side of my boat. The first few times, I thought maybe there was something to their suggestions, so I tried it. I pulled up my heavy nets, detangled them, and threw them out on the other side of the boat. Then I tried the front of the boat. Then the back of the boat. But each time I followed their suggestions, I still got nothing.”
“That is because they were not the Son of God,” Jesus said.
“Fair enough,” the fisherman noted. “But after a while, every time I’d tell them I’d already tried that, they started telling me I wasn’t trying hard enough. Or they told me my net wasn’t strong enough, or my skills at fishing aren’t good enough. But I’ve had enough success with my skills and my net and my resolve to know that their excuses were no more true than their promises of fish if I took their advice.”
“I am sorry about that,” Jesus said, “But I am Jesus.”
“That’s who they all claimed to speak for, too,” the fisherman countered. “The last couple of them got down-right abusive with their accusations. Saying I needed more faith or that I deserved to fail because of some secret sin.” He glared at Jesus. “I hate to say it, but thanks to your followers, I’m not very happy with you.”
“Well,” Jesus shrugged, “I am here now.” He motioned for the fisherman to pull in his nets. “This time, it will be different.”
The fisherman shook his head. “If you are the Son of God, I’m sure you will understand you’re too late to ask that of me.”
“It is never too late,” Jesus insisted. “No matter what you have done, you still matter to God.”
“Fine,” the fisherman said impatiently, “If you still think I matter…” He pointed into the water. “I’ve already proven myself. There is my net. It’s still waiting for you to prove yourself.”
As the Son of God opened his mouth to speak, the fisherman angrily cut him off. “Don’t tell me where to throw my net, Jesus. If you want a miracle this late in the game, you’re going to have to tell the fish where to swim.”
The Slave and his Master
|Posted by rjagilbert on January 13, 2013 at 12:40 AM|
The man was an Anglo, with the fairest of golden hair and the bluest of eyes. To Rome, he was only a barbarian, captured and taken far from his homeland to be sold as a lowly slave within the ancient Roman Empire.
There came to the marketplace that day a wealthy nobleman of Rome, who saw the pitiful wretch upon the auction block and felt the spirit of goodness stir within his heart. Right then and there he purchased the prisoner, though the price was quite high. Even as the bill of sale was being signed, the auctioneer spoke cruelly into the poor man’s ear, “You are a slave, and all of Rome knows it. There is no other life for you but to do as your master tells you.”
Hearing the merchant’s sneering words, the master turned to his purchase and spoke gently. “Climb into my wagon.” When the slave obeyed, the master clambered up beside him and drove them both home.
The first thing the noble Roman did upon arriving at his estate was to call for a great platter of food. Seating the newly purchased slave at his table in front of the meal, the master told him, “Eat, and grow strong.” The Anglo sighed with despair at his plight, but followed his new master’s command.
Then the master led the man to the bath house. “I want you to be clean,” he said kindly to the slave. “See my son here? I want you to look as handsome as he.” The slave followed his master’s orders, and soon looked as civilized as the rest of the household.
Seeing progress made, the master took his new slave into the library. He brought in his most learned of servants and instructed the slave, “I want you to learn. Listen to my friend, so that you may know as much of his teachings as you can.” Still hanging his head, the slave did as his master said.
As time passed, the slave grew strong, healthy, handsome, and educated. His master instructed him in all manners of administrating the vast estate around them. But the slave remained sad, with his head downcast in all that he did.
“What is it that saddens you, my friend?” the master asked.
“I am a slave,” the man said with despair. “There is no life for me but to do as my master tells me.”
Hearing the auctioneer’s words that for so long had caused the poor man’s sorrow, the master spoke. “Go,” he ordered. “Walk in the sun. Be happy and free. Find love and marry. I have taught you how to live well, and all I ask is that you keep to those teachings. Do not return to the life that brought you to me: the life of the slave.” As an afterthought, he added, “If any question the freedom by which you live, you must tell them that you are following your master’s orders, for they will not understand the freedom I have given you.”
Confused—yet emancipated—the Anglo set out to explore the world beyond his former master’s estate. But as soon as he ventured beyond the nobleman’s protection, the world set itself upon him with their harsh and cruel laws. The people of Rome saw only the man’s golden hair and bright, blue eyes, and they knew him only as a slave.
“You are only a slave!” They told him. “You cannot be free.”
“I am only following my master’s orders,” he insisted. Knowing who his master was, they at first let him go on his way. But soon more Romans found him, and again they tried to take him captive. “I am only following my master’s orders,” the freeman pleaded. But they did not know his master, nor his master’s wishes. They seized the man and carried him back to the marketplace to be sold again into slavery.
As the poor prisoner was set again upon the auction block, who should appear but his master? “Do you know me?” the nobleman asked the auctioneer. The answer was no. “Do you know this?” the master suddenly produced the old bill of sale with which he had first bought the captive so many years ago.
“I do,” the auctioneer bowed low. “It is the law of property, and it deeds this man to you. Take him away.”
With that, the master led the slave again from the marketplace. When they at last returned to the estate, the Anglo was again cleaned, dressed, and fed. Then the master spoke again to him. “I want you to be free as much as you do,” he said. “But the world does not know my freedom. I think of you as my child, but the world only knows you as my slave. My laws are not the world’s laws, and the world’s understanding is not my own.”
Then the master took the bill of sale out again, and set it in a prominent place upon his mantle for all to see. “When the world looks upon this, it sees proof that you are my slave. But when you look upon it, I want you to see that you are free. For as long as you belong to me, you are truly free. Someday I pray that the world will see you as I see you, but for now they will only know your freedom by the price I paid for you.”
The Tale of Monkey and Tiger
|Posted by rjagilbert on December 4, 2012 at 12:25 AM|
On their way to a great festival at the far side of the jungle, Monkey and Tiger found their path blocked by the low-hanging branches of a great tree. Monkey stooped low and quickly scurried beneath the obstruction, but Tiger would not. Tiger was king of the jungle, and he did not stoop. So out came his claws and he went to work. He clawed and he pushed and he broke the low branch in half so that he could continue unhindered along the path.
Soon Monkey and Tiger came to a huge boulder lying directly in their way. Monkey quickly stepped off the trail and clambered around the obstruction, but Tiger would not. Tiger was king of the jungle, and nothing would make him change his course. So he went to work. He bunched his muscles and strained his back and pushed as hard as he could. At last, the great boulder was rolled out of the way and the two were able to continue on their way.
After a while, the travelers came to the bottom of a great cliff. The trail ended abruptly at the bottom, and they could see that it continued again from the top high above. Monkey quickly scrambled on his hands and knees up the rocky cliffside, but Tiger would not follow. Tiger was king of the jungle, and he did not climb. He growled fiercely at the cliff, dug his claws deep into the dirt, and set to work pulling the trail down to meet him on the ground. But despite all his efforts, Tiger could not move the cliff out of his way. He heaved and he tugged and he clawed. He grunted and strained, but the cliff remained above him, and the trail did not move.
“Let’s go, Tiger,” called Monkey from the top of the cliff. “The festival begins at sunset. We will be late if we don’t hurry.”
Tiger called back, “Then I must stop the sun from setting!”
Monkey shook his head, “That is foolishness, Tiger. Just climb up here and we will be on our way.”
“I will not,” Tiger roared. “You must run ahead and tell the festival to wait for me.”
With that, Monkey ran ahead to the festival. Try as he might, he could not convince the others to wait for Tiger to finish moving the cliff. The festival began at sunset, and Tiger missed out.
The moral of this story? Sometimes the easiest solution is to change yourself.
God in a Cage
|Posted by rjagilbert on February 26, 2012 at 3:00 AM|
There once was a boy who found a mouse and named it God. He placed it in a cage and did everything he could to make God happy, but when morning came he awoke to find the cage door open and God gone. The little boy wept until his mother arrived.
“What is wrong?” asked his mother.
“God is dead,” the child announced.
“How can you tell?” she asked.
“Just look,” the boy pointed to his cage. “The cage is empty.”
“God is not dead,” mother said. “He is just not in your cage.” She looked around the room. “I can see signs that he has been busy all night in your bedroom. In fact, if you look around for him, I’m sure he’ll make himself known.”
“But he is not in my cage,” the boy lamented. “To me he is dead.”
“Stop looking for God in your cage,” mother chastised the youth. “He is free and alive. He could be anywhere, but you won’t find Him unless you look for Him.”
“Mother!” The boy suddenly shook his head with disgust. “You’ve become a pantheist!”
The Bible tells the story of Elijah standing on a mountain as God was about to pass by. First came a great windstorm that shook the mountain, then an earthquake, then a fire. But God was not in any of these impressive acts of nature.
Quantum Physicists have been searching for several decades now for the theoretical “God Particle” that, as they understand it, holds the entire universe together on the sub-atomic level. How foolish is it, though, to assume that the God they are looking for (be it the creator of the universe or an inanimate glue that holds it together) is a particle at all. What if God is not a particle? What if God is more than a particle? What if He is found in an energy field or a chronological measurement of time?
How arrogant it is to assume that God can only be found under the conditions and specifications man has laid out to find Him in! Are we not like the boy with the cage when we lay out our own expectations of what God is? Do we place a running-wheel of repetitive rituals out for Him and complain when He does not appreciate our effort? Do we lay out a shallow dish of praises and a transparent bottle of sacrificial gestures to encourage His favor toward us? Do we slam the cage shut once we feel we have God inside—determined to enclose Him within the confines of our own understanding?
Proverbs 3:5 tells us to trust in the Lord with all our heart, and to not lean on our own understanding. How many of us have limited God’s presence in our lives by setting His standards in accordance with our own understanding? Over and over again within scripture and in personal testimonies, we read about God’s hand being seen in the lives of men long before they turned to Him and asked for salvation. Could it be that God is always there, but we just don’t expect to find Him until we open our eyes and start looking? Could it be that the only real act of salvation is acceptance of something that has always been there—something as present and real and un-changing as the gravity, air, and light around us? Could it be that baptism, alter calls, and laying on of hands only announce to the subconscious to start paying attention to the gentle whisper that has been there since birth?
Imagine how the story of Elijah might have ended if he gave up and went home because his expectations of God did not match those of the gentle whisper that came to him up on that mountain. Have you ever done that? Have you put God in a cage? Are you so certain of what you are looking for in a God that the Creator of the Universe could pass you by without you ever recognizing His voice?
Elijah saw a windstorm, an earthquake, and a fire. What kind of grand manifestations might we mistake for God in this culture? My church sends our youth to annual Christian conferences where loud rock music, light-shows, and guest speakers tell them what God wants them to do with their lives; they come home inspired (temporarily) to follow the current pop-topic ministry. Is that God’s voice, or man’s? I have witnessed spectacular television specials hosted by lavishly dressed evangelists—seated on gold-plated thrones in splendid cathedrals—promising God’s prosperity in our lives. Is it really God’s will that we seek such things? My church hosts bible-studies and movie nights with video curriculum filled with action, drama, and emotionally gripping sound-tracks that can really encourage a man to want to do exactly what the writers of that video want them to. Once again, is this God speaking to our hearts, or man?
Adolf Hitler had a very successful propaganda machine working for him as he began building his power in the 1930s. How I wish more Christians could watch one of Hitler’s propaganda movies. How close it comes to modern “inspirational” Christian entertainment is disturbing. Lights, glamour, loud music, bonfires, banners, masses of people all seemingly coming together in unity. It is easy to see how such a man-made act of inspiration could lead some to think they hear God’s voice speaking to their heart. I know several youth members who felt like failures for falling away from what the guest speaker at last year’s conference told them was God’s plan for their lives. I know fathers who feel they failed their families because the steps to success imparted in the inspirational Men’s movie-night study did not work for them. I know how the impoverished family feels after watching an emotional short-film during the pastor’s sermon on faith offerings. I’m sure a lot of other Christians feel like failures for not living up to such splendid illusions.
Really, folks. Who is setting the expectations for God in our lives? When a rock concert tells us which direction God is going to take us, or when a movie makes us weep with conviction, or when a televangelist assures us that God wants to prosper our finances, is that not man’s expectations?
The God I know is an interruption. He does not play by man’s rules. He does not meet man’s expectations. When we lay down the terms in which God can manifest in our lives, we are just as much the fool as the physicist who overlooks every measurement that does not point to his already established theory of what he should be looking for. (If that sounds like a statement of circular reasoning, it is.) We do not limit God. We only limit our ability to see His hand in our lives and to hear His voice guiding us toward His will.
There are two kinds of sin in this world. Rebellion, and oblivion. We are just as guilty of turning our backs on God when we stop looking for Him as when we outright rebel against His laws. We can condemn those who kill, steal, and commit adultery, but if we remain ignorant of our Creator—or worse, if we create our own false idea of what God is, we are far more damned than those filthy, murderous heathens whom we scorn. Scientists, Christians, and the rest of us could learn from this proverb: Denial of Reality is the deadliest sin.