You never know what you will see or hear on campus. As I made my way to the car to drive home, several groups of high-school students made their way to the dining hall. The season of summer camps had begun. Each group, some the first time away from home, clung to their companionships like a drowning man to a remnant of wood that once was the ship from which they had been cast. Afloat now in a vast ocean of unknowns, their only hope was the meager breadth of wood to which they clung – those few people that had traveled with them from their beginning. It is no wonder that as they converse and carry on, they must adhere to something which gives them strength of spirit, an inner encouragement.
So, it was no surprise to hear a small group of young men repeating a saying that would repeat itself ad nauseam if said correctly. Now, I don’t keep up with the latest memes or gaming nuances – they themselves never end. Yet, whatever they were repeating was entertaining enough, and garnering them enough attention, that they loudly spoke as if orating a masterpiece of knowledge.
Passing by and hearing them made me wonder something, which in a sense, was a judgment but not one of intent. Instead, it made my heart sad that such brilliant minds might otherwise have memorized something which the world needed – something which contained a thought or phrase which, if spoken to the passerby, might give them a sense of hope. Yes, what if they had memorized a scripture long enough to challenge their mental faculties yet, spoke a message to the world that as they walked, they professed their belief in God? What if they merely quoted the twenty-third Psalm? Would those whom they randomly encountered be blessed all the more?
As their voices faded into the hum of the campus life, a butterfly drifted past me, landing on a flower, one amongst the many in the landscaped bed. How precious, yet, blessed was the sight, so much so that it caused me to stop and think. Did not those young voices mesmerized by their own abilities not give one a sense of hope. Like that butterfly finding that one flower amongst so many, could not one person reach one in that group, and through that one individual reach the others, giving them something to cling to? Like that piece of driftwood lost at sea, they could find something that would not only keep them afloat but save their life as well. For if one person speaking to one of them, could it not change the minds of more? If they can memorize that useless phrase, what if they someday met someone that gave them a different, uplifting passage that would not only allow them to show off their mental status but, more importantly, give light to the world about them? Have I not encountered the very thing Jesus espoused to his followers, “The fields are white ready to harvest, but the laborers are few?”
Think about those before you today, and speak as if God has given you a platform to share His message, not one of inane repetitiveness, but of truth and light. Be not of this world, but rather, seek Him first, and all else will fall into place.
Driving in the predawn hours along the winding road that leads through the mountains, the cold gray light of dawn ages everything. Outbuildings and barns appear centuries old, if not close to it in reality. Then the aged fence row, that corner where the rusted barbed-wire is intertwined with honeysuckle vines, comes into view. The wood of the posts, rough-hewn from trees long forgotten, now cracks long furrowed brows of age, leaning one against the other for bracing or sheer moral support. To the passerby, the entirety of the corner is a jumble of vines, rusty wire, and weathered wood. But if one were to stop and breathe in the scene, they would find something much more profound.
Having sweated and bled over many a length of ancient wire such as this in my farming days, corners like this one were all too familiar. There, in that forgotten end of the pasture, a strength from nature’s own would begin to recompense into another form – honeysuckle and briars would interweave themselves into that ancient wood making a formidable foe, one relying upon the other for support. In this scene of decay and unfettered growth, one could find a sense of need, a feeling of caring for those that need us to be there for them, day in and day out.
As the campus begins to breathe new life, students returning with parents in tow, each seeking a new future, there again is that feeling – a dependency of need, one for the other. Yet, beyond that wild vine growing unabated, there is the aged support. We can all look in the mirror and realize we aren’t the spring chicken we once were. Those lines, those furrowed brows tell a story of worry and woe, some far greater than others. Although they show signs of wear, even if there is strength in their core, the façade is one that we cannot deny. No amount of makeup or plastic surgery can dismiss the truth. Time does not lie. So, as the youth’s vibrancy evolves from a sleeping landscape into a living being, those with memories of yore become the support for those entering this new world.
In the eyes of the young, thoughts of gray hair and being old are only distant shores, places to cross in some far-off future. For now, they are immortal in their youthful minds. To mention the mere thought of eternity or mortality becomes simply a nuance, a fairytale from whence more exuberant adventure stories can evolve. For in their gaming worlds, you might die, but you quickly regenerate, return to life once again through some superpower. Unlike those weathered locust posts on our fence line, whose demise is slow but perpetual, the young adult only knows of a never-ending repeating cycle of death and regeneration in their make-believe worlds of social media and online games. Their bodies try to mimic this feat, with some pushing the boundaries beyond what is mortal. In the end, their fate can be predicted by those who recognize such patterns of ill-advised decisions. Yet, for one to believe, one must almost always find out first-hand.
As Jesus spoke to his disciples, they listened and heard every word. Yet, again, for one to believe, sometimes a person must feel the pain of reality before learning sinks in. But like those unruly briars, those disciples’ paths were not retaining the preaching of the Christ, but rather, went off into directions that were inconsequential, of no use. It wasn’t until that day when their leader finally hung on an aged, weathered cross, its furrows deep from years of persisting in the elements, now filling with the blood of Christ. Like the veins of a new being, the wood comes alive as the slain Savior above slowly dies a painful death. His life ebbs as the tree now part of an unbelievable, unfathomable, cataclysmic event unfolds before the eyes of the multitude of haters. Those who persecuted Jesus could not understand how God could come to earth in the flesh as a man. God incarnate was against their law. They despised him from the beginning and sought to take his life only because he spoke the truth. “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.”
As those disciples watched in horror as their Savior, the Son of God, died on the cross, they felt their support slowly eroding, being torn from their grasp. It was too late to turn back and rescind any doubts. It was too late to take back those moments when they questioned his deity. As the bracing of that ancient corner of the pasture was being ripped out, those sweet-smelling vines shredded from the grasp of that olden wood; likewise, their hearts wept bitter tears of pain as his leaving was becoming a reality.
In the darkest, coldest, bitter nights on a college campus in the lonely corner of a dormitory, often near the latter stages of a semester, students begin to realize how they had mistaken that loving support of their parents or caretakers. Those helpful suggestions from that caring professor come back to haunt them as they face the magnitude of their decisions. Suddenly gone are all those bravado moments of fleeting joy, the inescapable memories of ridiculous expectations of what they thought they were in the light of what they really would become. Those pleasures of the flesh have vanished, and with them, their supposed friends.
So too, those disciples began to retrace all the words which Jesus had said to them. Those many parables and warnings of his imminent death suddenly roared back like a tidal wave of humility and soul-sucking regret until they ran from the scene of Golgotha. Their hearts were breaking as their chests pounded from lack of oxygen, racing down the mountain hoping to flee all that had transpired. But too soon, as do those students who come to college for all the wrong reasons, all find that there is a day of reckoning.
But Jesus told his followers that even though he would leave them, he would send a comforter. “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever.”
As those students often forget, when they leave home, they sometimes try to leave everything, including all they had been taught in growing up, there is an answer to their darkness. Like those disciples that ran and hid, there would be an answer. Although it wouldn’t be there the following day, the answer would begin to manifest itself three days later when Christ would arise from the dead. However, it wasn’t until he ascended to heaven that what he had predicted came true. For there in that upper room in Jerusalem where they hid from authorities, they finally received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Christ had finally been glorified, the mission had been completed, and now, the Comforter had been sent to be with them until their dying days.
Likewise, those who find darkness overpowering their world don’t have to give up. While their academic or perceived future may have to be redirected or cut short, it is not the end. Those dark, lonely nights when the realization hits home, it is then that we pray somewhere, somehow, they either remember those lessons learned from their childhood in Sunday School, or that somehow, they have heard there is hope in Christ Jesus. Although it may seem as if life is over when those grades begin to slip and those grandiose aspirations begin to fade, all is not lost. There is something much more precious in life that awaits if only we seek it. For God doesn’t make us love him but instead wants us to choose him. It is our option, not our mandate. We can carry on living our lives trying to make it on our own, but in the end, we can never work our way into heaven. It is by God’s grace that we don’t receive what we are due, an eternity in hell. It is by His saving Grace, through the sacrifice of the blood of the pure lamb of God, his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, that we can have the hope of life eternal.
For now, the fence row sits in the shadow of the mountain. That corner continues to stand as the ivy and honeysuckle continue to weave their network of hope around those ancient weathered beams of support. Like the threads of our existence, that rusted wire slowly erodes, but together, wire, wood, and vine continue to withstand the forces of this world as long as possible. The bend of the fence row stood long before my time and will likely continue to do so long after I’m gone. We are only here for a brief moment in time when compared to eternity. It is up to us to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. For as old as the story may be, its truth is more vital today than ever before, for it is not of our own hopes and desires but comes from the ultimate woven being, God, the Father, and the Holy Spirit.
Seek God, search him with all your heart, and you will find Him. Knock, and the door shall be opened. For it is by His saving grace that we have the hope of life eternal.
Early one morning, as my car’s headlights weaved around one mountain curve after another, a song on the radio caught my attention. The pleasing melody, like the pre-dawn somberness, melded together, finding its way into my soul. As I listened, the words began to speak to me.
They were fishermen, ordinary simple men. A lot like you, a lot like me. They were fishermen; Jesus chose to follow him Go cast your nets out on the sea. Go cast your nets out on the sea.
Men of few possessions, not men of wealth or fame. Had no education, no titles by their name. Yet it was they who answered and left to go with him When Jesus said, I call you to be fishers of men.
Arriving early on campus, there is a calming tranquility that permeates the early morning darkness. Students sparsely ramble about, some seeking food from the dining hall, others are trying to make it back to their dorms after pulling an all-nighter before that 8:00 AM class. The only sounds are from the facility’s crews that prepare each day like the day before – utility and garbage trucks making their rounds. To be here before the sun rises adds another sense of peace to a place that becomes a pulsating, vibrant community by mid-afternoon on warm sunny days. In this time of respite, there is room to breathe, air to think. Here, the ponderings of living begin to percolate into the consciousness, and the Lord begins to speak.
Once more, in this life, I find myself a college student (albeit part-time). There is a purpose for why I’m here. God’s plans are never our own. The thought of how and why seldom seem to leave the cusp of my thoughts. In so doing, I make it a point to remind myself of the “why.” At my age, one might be looking forward to retirement. But for some reason, God has made me different. I look at the short time I have remaining on this earth and feel the urgency to strive ever more to fulfill His purpose in the path He has set before me.
As a college student striving to fulfill one’s purpose, every day is an unending stream of information, tests, and trials through which one must struggle. We all should strive every day to make the most of whatever we do as if we are serving God and not those who write our paycheck or grading our tests. “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.” So it is with this in mind that I seek not to complain, not to panic when I feel inadequately prepared for an upcoming quiz, nor to worry about grades. No, my goal is to learn as much as possible with an eye to returning to the classroom, to someday teach once again – for that purpose, to be there for these students is what drives me onward. Those short three years when I served at the High School were a never-ending stream of caring, loving, and nurturing the students who had been placed into my care. Some of them still keep in touch, which warms my heart with each distant hello.
A career of working in the computer/network-based industry had provided me the basis for obtaining my current career position. The landing of that position was as much a testimony as to all the others before it – a story for another time. But before being the System Administrator here at App’s Computer Science department, there were many years in which my career interfaced with technologies and applications that are usually the end-point for someone attending college. My journey has somewhat physically been the reverse. Over time, all of those various computer architectures, operating systems, and protocol languages created in me a wealth of information – knowingly or not.
However, unlike those beginning disciples to whom Jesus called, my slate is not empty. Similarly, the students around me don’t have to wade through years of industry knowledge and similar-sounding acronyms, which now I’m being taught stand for something new. As those fishermen left their nets behind, they had an open mind and weren’t clouded by the teachings and intense studies, as were their counterparts who persecuted Jesus, the Pharisees. No, these were simple men. They were ordinary men who worked day-to-day to feed their families and provide for their community. They had no preconceived interpretations as did their counterparts but were open to the words which Jesus spoke.
In the Air Force Basic Training, we were taught to shoot an M16, the rifle of choice in the early ’80s. As the Training Instructor (TI) was going over the presentation, he clearly stated, “Raise your hand if you have ever hunted or learned to shoot a weapon at home.” Of course, over half the class raised their hands. He then continued, “Those of you who raised your hands will most likely not make Marksman.” Now, the word “Marksman” was a badge of honor to a young man. It meant that, even though you were merely an Air Force serviceman, you would have something to say to the world, “Hey, look at me, I’m a good shot with an M16.” Ribbons, which were the badges of honor to the entry-level airman, were much-coveted, so the more you could earn, the prouder your chest became.
The Sergeant went on to explain why he made such a deflating comment. “You see, when you learn to shoot at home, you develop your own style, your own habits begin to form. When we get out there on that shooting range, those old habits will be hard to break. Although we’ll show you the right way, those preconceived practices will hinder your ability to follow through with the new instruction, and as such, you will fail.” As much as I tried to listen and obey, I too fell short and missed Marksman by a few points. It was the same concept with those disciples whom Jesus had chosen. They were not encumbered with the wealth of knowledge that prevented the Pharisees from seeing who he was. Even if the Pharisees wanted to believe, they could not clear their minds enough to accept the mind-altering concepts Jesus delivered.
Take Nicodemus, for one. He was an esteemed leader of the Jews and one of the Sanhedrin, one of the highest orders of the Jewish Rabbinical Judges. He sought out Jesus at least one recorded evening after dark. Some speculate this was to protect himself from being caught with Christ so as not to tarnish his reputation. Others believe that it was because that most scholars of that time did most of their intense study after dark when the surrounding communities would become quieter and the air was cooler. Here, under the cover of night, the ruler of the Jews met with Jesus and struggled to understand how he, an old man, could be born again. “How can these things be,” Nicodemus asked Christ. Jesus responded with, “Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?” Nicodemus never became a disciple, but we know that he never gave up following the life of Jesus. He was even credited with contributing to the burial of Christ about a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes, demonstrating a verifiable act of love toward the Savior.
If you are blessed enough to reach advancing years in age, you can be afforded the opportunity to look back and marvel at the journey. In this reminiscent vein, you can see how God has often used not only yourself but also those around you. Myself, being a child from an impoverished farming family, there were never any dreams that could have manifested themselves into the life I now lead.
How many of you would have ever envisioned yourself being where you are now in life?
My family never lacked for anything, but we were not rich by Wall Street’s standards. Our bountiful living came from God’s providence, his creation, and the devotion that endured for generations. From that bedrock faith of my youth to the uncharted waters my footsteps find themselves upon today, there has and will always be that guiding light. As He has spoken to many so many times before, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.”
We are all made different. Our paths to life eternal are never the same. But we can take comfort in knowing that we don’t have to have credentials behind our name. We don’t have to have an extensive portfolio nor earthly wealth and fame to have a relationship with the Lord. All it takes is that we step down from our pedestals and open our minds so that we can receive the truth and the way to life eternal. In other words, we must wipe our slates clean and humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord. It is written in scripture, “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”
Jesus wasn’t looking for supermen when he found his disciples; he was only looking for one thing – simple men who would become fishers of men.
Yes, Jesus chose fishermen; they were a lot like you and a lot like me.