Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Living Outside the Box


Amanda Wilson shares this -- Catholic priest, author and theologian, Henri Nouwen was a person whose heart was willing to serve the Lord. And as a world-renown Catholic educator and teacher he had a great deal of success in encouraging others in their faith. Yet one day, he believed God called him to leave that and become a house parent in the Le Arche community, an organization that gives homes to mentally and physically handicapped children. So he did. He left the world of the popular speaker and entered a home where none of the people he was ‘father’ to knew of his fame and success. Believing that he would be serving them, Nouwen soon found that the shoe was on the other foot. When Nouwen came into a room he saw the faces of the children light up. Each day he was greeted with smiles and hugs, openly involved in the sorrows and success of the children, and generally made to feel like a valuable part of the community. Before long, Nouwen found himself in the deepest pit of depression that he had ever experienced. In the face of the profound love and acceptance that these handicapped children had given him, Nouwen’s reliance on his ability to dazzle with knowledge crumbled and the loss was devastating. Yet it was in this breaking point that Nouwen experienced the unconditional love of God at the very core of his being and he understood that God can and does use the handicapped and wounded to do His will. Out of that experience came the wonderful book, The Wounded Healer, which ends with the statement that “the wound which causes us to suffer now will be revealed to us later as the place where God made his new creation in us most intimately known.” Someone has said, “Faith is not believing that God can -- it is knowing that He will. Faith is deaf to doubt, dumb to discouragement, blind to impossibilities and knows nothing but success in God.”

In Luke 7:1-10, we find a centurion who, although he is a Gentile, understands who Christ was and is. The story is significant because it is a Gentile who exercises this faith and this would be of special interest to Theophilus, the Gentile to whom this account is addressed. Only twice in all of Scripture is Jesus said to “marvel” or be amazed. The other time is when He begins His public ministry in his hometown of Nazareth, and he is rejected by his fellow Jews – “he was amazed by their lack of faith.” (Mark 6:6, Luke 4:14-30). The centurion has a faith that is more perceptive and sensitive than anything Jesus has witnessed in Israel. What could be more horrible than to amaze the Son of God with one’s lack of faith? What could be more thrilling than to amaze Him with one’s faith? This centurion has amazing faith! What we need to consider is, “Why was Jesus so amazed?” What are the characteristics that make this man’s faith so amazing?

The first characteristic is that it causes this man to love across all barriers (vv. 1-2). Jesus has just completed the teaching known as “The Sermon on the Mount.” Now He enters into Capernaum, a city on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. While Jesus is in Capernaum, he is approached by representatives of a Roman Centurion. Centurions are commonplace in the Roman Empire. They are equivalent in rank to a modern-day army captain and normally in command of 100 soldiers. This particular centurion has a servant who is ill. Matthew, in his account of this incident (8:6), uses a term that represents this person as a young child. Whoever this young man is, Luke…whom you will remember is a doctor…says that he “is sick and ready to die.” If you have ever known a loved one that was at death’s door, then you know this centurion’s awful sense of helplessness. We are told that this man loved Israel, even though it is not the land of his birth. It is also evident that this man cares deeply about his young servant, which is very out of the ordinary, socially. He crosses racial and ethnic barriers when he, as a Gentile, appeals to a Jew for help. This man loves people who are not just like himself.

The second characteristic of his amazing faith is that it causes him to be excited and active in the work of God (vv. 3-4). We need to understand that the Jewish elders had little love for the Romans in general and Roman soldiers in particular. This man must have been a very unique individual for the elders to be willing to approach Jesus on his behalf. The elders not only bring the man’s request but they vouch for their Gentile friend. They argue that he is a man of integrity and he was well liked by the Jews, and worthy of Jesus’ help. Verse three says, “The elders, when they approach Jesus say, ‘For he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue.’” This man has given substantially to the building of a house of worship. (Gentile worshipers were barred from the Temple in Jerusalem but not so with the synagogue, the synagogue was a place where even a Gentile could come and listen to the word of God being taught.) So during the time and place that this centurion lives, a significant way that God “spreads His light” is the synagogue system. The man uses his money, his reputation and his influence to build a synagogue. This centurion consciously chooses to participate. He enthusiastically involves himself in what is most apparent that God is doing. This story will be continued. 

Michael McCartney shares this – “Before anyone can ever be convinced of the value of involvement and mutuality, that person must come to terms with the consequences of isolationism. The fact is -- we need each other. The other side of the coin is axiomatic: Without each other, unhealthy and unhappy things happen to us. Studies and psychological analyses strongly suggest that individuals cannot function effectively without deep links to others. Continuously meaningful and secure bonds are essential or we risk losing our humanity. Even though it is easy to buy into the selfish lifestyle and opt for isolationism instead of involvement, the consequences are bitter and inescapable. That’s why the simple, profound counsel of Solomon remains so needed: ‘Two are better than one…” Swimming with the current of today’s “me-ism” mindset has a way of eclipsing the contrasting light of Scripture. The truth is whether you want to admit it or not we need each other and we need friends to die for.

This involvement in other’s lives is something that the centurion grasped. It reveals his love and wisdom which are beyond reason. He seems to understand, "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that” (Luke 6:32-33)…even though there would seem to be no reasonable way that he could understand. As we remember the example of this centurion I must ask, What is it that God is doing that you are excited about? What is it that matters to you that you are enthusiastically giving yourself to? I believe these are very significant questions. All of us to some extent are aware of what God is doing in the world. There is no such thing as living by great faith while accepting the status quo…it isn’t going to happen. I want to close with this -- “To laugh is to risk appearing the fool. To weep is to risk appearing sentimental. To reach out for another is to risk involvement. To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self. To place your ideas and your dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss. To love is to risk not being loved in return. To live is to risk dying. To hope is to risk despair. To try is to risk failure. But risks must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing. The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, and is nothing. They may avoid suffering and sorrow but they cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love or live. Charmed by their attitudes they are a slave, they have forfeited their freedom. Only a person who risks is free.” Anonymous

Blessings, Don

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