Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Actors on the Stage of Life

John 5:9-11; 16; 18 "At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10and so the Jews said to the man healed, 'It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.'11But he replied, 'The Man who made me well said to me, 'Pick up your mat and walk''…16So because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted Him…18For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill Him"

I have spent a great deal of my life in the church. The first 18 years of my life as a preachers kid, the last 23 years as either a volunteer or a Youth Pastor. When you work as a part of the "inside bunch" in the church, you see and hear things that the average church attendee doesn't. You see the human side of some of the great leaders of the local church, and the picture isn't always pretty. I was a Youth Pastor in one church where it took 5 board meetings before the elders finally and reluctantly gave our Junior High kids permission to splatter-paint their youth room. It was as if the walls of the church building were sacred. In fact, there are far too many who have a higher regard for the church building than they do for those who walk through the doors of the church. The hair on the back of their neck stands up when they see a child spill some of his drink or drop some cookie crumbs. They mumble under their breath when they see a spot on the carpet where someone spilt some coffee. Please don't misunderstand me here. I'm all for taking good care of the church building. I'm pretty particular about the church building looking its best, but the church building is just that, a building. I don't believe there is anything sacred about it, and far too frequently we are more concerned with the "sanctuary" of the church building, than we are with the sanctuary that God Himself indwells, the people! To be honest we often times can't see the forest through the trees.

Guess what, this has been a problem through the ages. Jesus dealt with it in His day as well. Check out John 5: 10 and following. Here's a man who had been an invalid for 38 years. He has an encounter with Jesus, is healed, and obediently picks up his mat and walks. His first encounter with the spiritual leaders brings, not rejoicing at his miraculous healing, but criticism at the heavy load he is carrying on the Sabbath. Kinda makes you feel warm all over doesn't it? Later, when they found out that Jesus had healed this man on the Sabbath, they plotted how they might put Jesus to death. Chances are, much of the community held these leaders in high regard, obediently followed their directives. Even this former invalid was careful to report back to them the identity of the Man who healed him as soon as he could identify Him. Not because of any feelings he had toward Jesus, but probably because these were his spiritual leaders. While on the outside these men looked pure and undefiled, on the inside they were covered with filth. Jesus was never fooled by their outward appearance. He saw their heart.

While it may look like I am seeking to influence you to be hesitant to trust the spiritual leaders around you, let me say that is not the case. Though I will be quick to add, you should never blindly follow anyone. The Apostle Paul put it best in 1 Corinthians 11:1 When he said; "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." Jesus is the due north we are to set our spiritual compass by. What I am trying to influence you to do is to look at your own heart. Do any of us really have the ability to influence anyone else to change? Not really, but we do have the ability to change ourselves. Just as Jesus saw the heart of those spiritual leaders that day, He sees our heart as well. Nothing is hidden from His eyes. What is it He sees when He peers into the depths of your heart? Now let me be quick to add something else at this point. I am also not trying to riddle all of us with guilt here. I understand that none of us will ever be able to fully measure up what God desires. However, that should most certainly be our pursuit, and, I believe, we should be able to identify progress in that journey. If those things are not clear, then perhaps the guilt is deserved.

What I am trying to do here, is to ask each of us to look at our own hearts. I don't know about you, but I happen to be a very good actor. Not the type that wins an academy award. There are no awards I know of for the type of acting at which I excel. Much of my life has been spent acting on a stage, a stage called life. I have fooled thousands over the years. Please understand, I'm not at all bragging here, but I was the one most moms wanted to marry their daughters. I was polite, kind, never missed church. I went to Bible college and studied to be a pastor. Everywhere I went I sought to be a leader and I succeeded. I was a very good athlete, was good looking by the worlds standards (still am!). I could stand in front of large crowd and deliver a message that could have them laughing one minute, and crying the next, but I want to be brutally honest here, a great deal of that time, I was acting. What the crowd saw, was not the reality of what and who I actually was, and while I may have fooled them, I never fooled God. He saw the condition of my heart, and what He saw wasn't at all pretty. As a result, a very important part of my world came crumbling down around me. What I needed was repentance, yet even with my feet covered in the rubble from what had crumbled around me, I still didn't want to repent. I have since repented, but you know, not a day goes by that I still don't battle putting on a performance for the stage called life. Chances are, that will be a never-ending battle. That is a part of my life I will have to daily nail to the cross.

What about you? When God peers into the depths of your heart, what does He see? Is the journey your on, one that is pleasing to Him, or are you heading down a path that breaks the heart of the One who was nailed to a cross for you? Take it from one who has been knee deep in unnecessary rubble, don't wait for the building to crumble, change now while you still can. The spiritual leaders Jesus battled eventually bowed low before Him, unfortunately, most bowed too late. Don't put it off another minute, because you may not have another minute, bow now!

Living on the stage of life,

Jim

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