Seeing Beyond Ourselves

(This is a story I adapted from a version I found online. I could not find the original source.)

A man had a dream that he died and was standing before St. Peter at the pearly gates. “Welcome,” said St. Peter, “let me give you a tour of the facilities.”

They walked up to two huge doors that St. Peter opened for the man. “This banquet hallway is hell,” he said.

Inside was the largest, grandest hallway the man had ever seen. In this hallway was a table so long the man could not see where it ended. It seemed to stretch for miles and miles. This long table was set with the most mouth-watering and intoxicating spread of food the man had ever seen. It was all the man could do not to rush over to the table and begin sampling everything he saw.

Seated at this table were millions, if not billions, of people. And as he noticed the people, he finally became aware of the dull roar of this room. Everyone at this table was screaming in agony and in anger, swearing and cussing and banging their arms on the tables. As the man’s eyes adjusted, he came to realize that each man, woman, and child had iron casts on their arms, making it impossible to bend their arms at the elbow and get any food in their mouths.

Some people were throwing their arms against the table with all their might, trying to break the casts off. Others were gnawing at their casts with their teeth, desperate for some of the food. More than one was frothing at the mouth and looked half-mad.

“They will suffer like this for all of eternity,” explained St. Peter. “They are unable to physically die, and since they cannot eat they have a never-ending feeling of starving to death. It’s quite horrific. Now follow me quickly.” St. Peter opened the doors to his right, and the man gladly stepped out of hell.

At first glance this hallway looked identical to hell. Same long table, same amazing spread of foods, every seat occupied by a person with iron casts on their arms. But there was one difference that the man immediately noticed: this room was filled with entirely different sounds. Laughter, singing, and pleasant conversations were all the man could hear.

The man was confused by the happiness that was palpable in this room, until he finally noticed… the people in Heaven were using their locked arms to reach across the table and feed each other.

Have you ever served others?
What was the experience like?
Did you receive some kind of benefit in serving?
Were your eyes opened in any way as you served?

Dinner and A Lesson

Photo by dave.carswell

Once, a young man had the opportunity to go to lunch with a popular Christian leader he admired. The young man had anticipated the meeting for weeks leading up to the day, but as the meal progressed he found himself growing more and more disenfranchised by things the leader was saying and doing.

He was surprised to notice this Christian leader did not pray before eating and that some profanity was sprinkled into his conversation.

Finally, towards the end of the meal, he felt he must speak up and mention what was troubling him.

“Thank you for bringing those concerns to my attention,” the Christian leader said after a short pause. “But I must remind you that the things you find alarming are external and outward and not necessarily a reflection of the heart. Would you mind if I shared some observations I’ve made of you since we sat down, which by the way are commonly found in many good Christian people today?” he asked the young man.

“Certainly,” the young man said with a hint of nervousness.

“Since we sat down,” the Christian leader began, “you have not said one kind word to our waitress, not even smiled at her, or acknowledged in any way that she, too, is a person created in the image of God.

“Since we have sat down, you have mentioned story after story of how you serve God in your church, but you have not once acknowledged your personal need of Him, or expressed gratefulness for what He has done in your life, or praised Him for who He is.

“Since we have sat down, you have used all the current Christian buzz words, but you have not once mentioned concern for your neighbor, or the oppressed, or the poor. You have overtly shared how God has blessed you, but you have not cared to mention how you are in turn blessing those around you.

“You seem to understand quite well what it means to be a Christian, but I have not gotten the impression that you have spent much time with the Savior Himself.”

(Based on Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisee in Luke 11:37-44.)

Do you think we might have some things in common with the Pharisees of Jesus’ day?

Do you think we might care too much about some silly things while not caring enough about some of the most important things? What might those things be?

Why do we have a tendency to focus on the behaviors that come easily to us rather than opening ourselves up to God and allowing Him to perform “heart surgery” on us?

A Corporate Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, there was a promising start-up company. The CEO of this company was looking for investors, and a few people came forward who were willing to buy in. Nine months later the CEO asked for more investors, and several new people responded.

A year and a half later the company’s market value had skyrocketed, and the CEO wanted to expand again and asked for another round of investors. This time the CEO raised the needed capital so easily he actually had to turn some potential investors away.

Ten years later, the CEO called a business meeting of all the company’s investors. A couple hundred men and women from all across the country traveled to their common destination, wondering what this meeting was all about.

“This will come as quite a shock to many of you, but in three weeks our company will be absorbed into a large multi-corporation,” the CEO shared with the room of investors. “We are selling the company. We accomplished what we set out to do from the beginning, and our top analysts agree that in a few years there will be much less demand for the services we provide. In addition to that, our current market value has never been higher, and the board has decided it’s the right time to sell.”

“I want to thank you all for believing in us, some of you from the very outset, and I am extremely excited to tell you what I have decided to do when the board sells off our stocks: each and every investor will receive one billion dollars.”

Gasps and murmurs rippled through the crowd. There were mixed reactions. Most were speechless; their investment had not been that large, and they never imagined they could be billionaires. Others seemed confused, and a handful seemed upset.

One man stood up and addressed the CEO: “Hold on a second, I was one of your first investors. The risk I took was way bigger than those investors in the third wave. It’s not fair that they get the same as me. I deserve more.”

A woman near the man also stood and said, “With all due respect, I know I was one of your biggest backers. Why, I gave one-thousand percent more than some of these people! To only be getting one billion after twelve years of waiting… it’s not ethical. And I’m fairly certain it’s not legal. You’ll be hearing from my lawyers.”

“Please wait just a minute,” the CEO calmly said. “This might not seem ethical, but I assure you it is legal. The papers each of you signed when you made your investment had a clause clearly stating that I alone would have full discretion as to the parameters of paying back my investors. The only stipulation was you would receive back at least double your original investment, and I assure you that is the case for each of you.”

“It is fair. Who are you to say you deserve more and another deserves less? Do not forget, this has always been my company. The money you are receiving is due to my hard work, my ideas, my risks; there would be no payday if it was not for me.”

And so, many who felt like they themselves had given so much, were disappointed to only get back what they deemed little; while those who knew they had only given little, were overwhelmed with joy to be receiving so much.

(Based off of Jesus’ Parable of the Vineyard Workers, Matthew 20:1-16)

What do you think is the point of the story?

Do you ever find yourself comparing your Christian service and devotion to others’ and looking down on them?

Do you ever catch yourself acting like you deserve the blessings and grace of God?
Why do you think we can be like that?

What does Jesus mean when he says, “those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last”?

Painfully Worth It

Photo Credit Weisimel

Jesus once told a parable that went something like this:

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hiding in a field. Every day, hundreds of people walked by it, around it, even over it, completely oblivious to the riches right under their nose.

One day, a young woman stumbled upon it. At first, she didn’t realize exactly what she had found. As it slowly dawned on her, she became more and more excited, until finally she hid it again and hurried back home.

Over the next couple of days, she gathered up all her belongings and boxed them up. Some things were easy to part with, but she shed many tears as she said goodbye to nostalgic items from her childhood; clothes, shoes, belts, and more shoes from her closet; books, CDs, and movies; laptop, television, cell phone, mp3 player; furniture, appliances, even her car.

It took her several days to sell all her stuff, and in the process there were moments of doubt and uncertainty about her plan. When she moved back in with her parents and told her friends what she was doing, they could not understand. They tried to get her to change her mind, at least to hang onto some needed items, but she knew what she wanted. Her father forced her to see a psychiatrist, but afterwards the doctor acknowledged that she was in her right mind despite her behavior being so unusual.

“I can’t explain it,” she said to her family, “but it’s almost as if I have no real choice in the matter. Now that I know it is out there, the thought of it consumes my every waking moment. I don’t think I can live without it. And if this is the only way for me to get it, then this is what I will do. I believe it’s worth it.”

Three weeks after first finding the treasure, the young woman met with a real estate agent and joyfully signed her name to many papers. It was a long process, and she could hardly contain herself as she patiently signed over and over. Finally, she was done; she was shaking hands with the others in the room, and it was a done deal.

She rushed over to the field as quickly as possible. Her heart felt like it was going to explode as she crouched down, turning over the soil, and then… there it was! Sunlight glimmered off of the treasure.

It was hers! Fully and truly and forever, hers. An overwhelming feeling of joy and peace came over her as she realized her life would never be the same.

Based on Matthew 13:44.

Question: Why don’t we see our life with Christ as such a treasure?

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not

*Photo credit Audrey Augur

I come to God on my terms and on my merits. I perceive my standing before God to be based primarily on what I have or haven’t done. I decide whether or not I am worthy to approach God. I alone judge myself, and I do not take God or His Word into account in deciding my verdict.

I am one of two men. I am either full of pride or full of shame. I am prideful if in this moment I have a good track record of being good, disciplined or loving. On the other hand, I am ashamed if in this moment I am acutely aware of my inability to steer clear of sin and selfishness.

I come to God on my terms and on my merits… How foolish I am!

Contrast my modus operandi with the experience of the Prodigal Son and his older brother found in Luke 15. Both brothers learn a valuable lesson. The younger son discovers his poverty and inability to save himself. He comes to recognize his absolute need for his father, and he comes crawling back praying for mercy.

The older son is stunned by his father’s grace and mercy to the prodigal and cannot comprehend it. Why does his father not lavish love and attention like this on him? Of all people, he deserves it! He is full of pride and grows angry at the lack of “fairness.”

The Father’s love: One brother felt sure that he would never be able to earn it again; the other brother felt sure that he deserved it more than anyone else. Neither realized it was unconditional and not contingent upon either one of them.

Regarding you and I, God our Father has not moved. All this time, He has been standing at the edge of the driveway, looking up and down the street, waiting. And when I finally turn to Him and begin walking and He sees me, He comes running to me. I did not earn His love. I did not suddenly prove my worth. He made up His mind about me long ago; He’s just been waiting for me to realize it and come home.

As the writer of Hebrews tells us,

Dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.

Hebrews 10:19-23

The Boy on the Fence

*Photo credit Keith Maguire

Once upon a time, there was a little boy who sat on a fence. This fence was actually the little boy’s home. He had lived there with his family his whole life. And there were lots of other people who lived on the fence, too.

It really wasn’t a great place to live. It resembled a wide wall more than it did a traditional fence, but it was still confining and uncomfortable. However, all the boy had ever known was life on the fence, so he didn’t realize how silly it was to live there.

It was a safe place to live. A long time ago, a group of people had chosen to stay on the fence and live there in order to protect themselves and their families from the lands on either side of the fence.

You see, the fence stretched in either direction as far as the eye could see and separated two very different lands. One of the lands looked like it came right out of a postcard. The sun was always shining on the green, green grass, the blooming flowers, the birds in the trees filling the air with their music, and the bunny rabbits happily hopping through the fields.

Almost everyone who lived on the fence visited the sunny land from time to time. Most people were only gone for four or five hours, and occasionally some would be gone for a day or two. But they always came back to the fence.

The elders, who were the leaders and also the oldest people who lived on the fence, said that it was not wise or safe for anyone to ever visit the sunny land. While the others respected the elders, and even loved them, they didn’t really listen to them.

Once in a very great while, someone would leave the fence and not come back. When the people on the fence realized that the person was gone for good, they would not speak of that person again. And no one ever really talked about what they did over in the sunny land or what it was like.

This whole situation made the little boy very curious. He did not understand what made the sunny land unsafe; it looked harmless to him. And if it was unsafe, then why did everyone go there and come back unharmed? And why was it okay to visit the sunny land, but not okay to live there? And why didn’t anyone obey the elders’ command to stay on the fence?

The little boy was too young to climb down from the fence by himself, but he wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Someday, he told himself, he would explore the sunny land.