Some years ago, right after moving to a new congregation several members invited us to spend a couple of days white water rafting on the Ocoee River. I was a little frightened. In the nights leading up to the trip I had a reoccurring nightmare of being thrown out of the raft because I had “stepped” on the wrong toes.
It really was an amazing experience. During each trip down the river I would loose myself in the beauty of God‘s creation. The fellowship was so meaningful that all of my fears disappeared. That turned out to be a blessing, because on the last day of the trip I fell overboard. The shock of falling into the ice cold mountain water took my breath. It only took a few dozen sharp rocks to knock me back to my senses, and cause me to wonder how I was going to get out in one piece. As I turned toward the raft there was the most beautiful sight…hands were outstretched everywhere to help me back into the safety of the raft.
That image will follow me for the rest of my life simply because it reminds me of the beauty of God‘s church. Life is full of rapids. Just when you think that you are safe, you fall overboard. How wonderful it is to know that you are not overboard alone. In fact, Jesus reminds us in Matthew 28:20 that he will be with us always. He is not only with us through the power of the Holy Spirit, but also through the lives of our fellow Christians that surround us. Ephesians 4:25 emphasizes that we are all one body. Hebrews 10:25 tells us that we should “encourage one another” in life and worship. This love and support should extend beyond denominations, race and gender. We are all part of the church GOD created.
We may not always agree with each other. There may be times when we don‘t even like each other, but we are always expected to love and offer support to one another. This new year, let us not forget that we are all working toward the same goal…God‘s kingdom on earth. One of the most beautiful sights in the world is to see Christians overlooking differences to help one another get back into the boat. After all…we are all in the same boat together.
Early in our ministry things were tight for our family. My wife and I had both been working hard and rarely seeing one another. So one night we sent our children to their grandparents, and made reservations to celebrate our anniversary at a nice restaurant. It was something that we both looked forward to doing. Just before we left, a teenager from church walked up our driveway with tears in his eyes. His grandfather had died, and he simply wanted to be in our company. My wife and I spent the next several hours of our anniversary gladly playing monopoly with a grieving teenager.
It was a night of compassion and ministry. Occasionally I would remember it, and wonder how that young man’s life had turned out and if we had been of any influence. Last week, I received an email from that same young man after he had tracked us down. It seems that he had experienced some difficulties in life. He said that at one point when he was near the bottom, he remembered the last time he felt so low. It was the night when he wound up playing monopoly with a preacher and his wife who were all dressed up. He went on to describe an awaking of grace in his life as he remembered that he was loved. Eventually he found his way back to church. His note was not necessarily to reminisce, but to invite us to his ordination. He wanted to spend the rest of his life in ministry making others feel as loved as he felt that night so long ago.
Sometimes you never really know how much of a difference you are making in someone’s life. It can be discouraging to invest your time giving and doing and not see any dividends. In Matthew 13, Jesus tells the parable of the Sower. In it he describes a farmer scattering seeds on different types of ground, and how the condition of the soil either helps the seed grow or prevents its. In this parable Jesus reminds us that God’s grace is lavishly scattered, but the conditions of a person’s life and heart can become obstacles to that grace. Our role in life is to remove as many obstacles as we can from the lives around us with our love and service. God does the rest. Every act of service and love, no matter how small, becomes an investment in God’s kingdom…whether we see it or not.