Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Way

“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins..”
--- Luke 1:76-77

If we are concerned about being a community focused towards being one, as God is one, then we should probably look think about what that community looks like. What characteristics should it have? What should define it? What is the way that you go about being involved in it?

The way is a really interesting term. The way that we do things is very important, it determines the results most of the time. The way that I hit a forehand determines whether it will go in or not. If I hit it hard and flat and swing low to high, chances are it will go long. But if I change the way I hit it (hard, topspin, low to high) then I can change the result. The way we go about things is crucial.

So if we want to be one, the way we do that must be clear. I mean, we could do trust-falls, group-building games, survivor on the beach, fire walks, but really, how well did that work in The Office? No, the way is defined for us through Scripture. Obviously, Jesus says that He is “the way and the truth and the life.” So if we look at the whole of Jesus’ life we’ll get a pretty good example of the way we are to become one, a community. But that’s a lot of Scripture to read in one night (four gospels). I want to point us instead to another character who had a lot to do with “the way.” We’ll see what we can learn from him in a condensed piece.

The other character that we want to look at is John the Baptist. Anyone know what his job description was? Anyone? Well, for those who don’t know, he was described as “preparing the way for the Lord.” In order to prepare “the way” he’d have to have a pretty good idea about it wouldn’t he? Well, that makes sense to me in any case.

Let’s look at a longer passage of Scripture, Luke 1:68-79. Let me set up the Scripture for a second (context is always important). Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, is singing a song for his new child. Zechariah had been deaf for the whole of the pregnancy after not believing God’s promise. Now his mouth had been opened, so he sang. And what he sang was a response to the people’s question: “What is this child going to be?” So the Scripture tells us that Zechariah prophesied this about John, the one who would prepare the way.

Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come and has redeemed his people.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.

Okay, so “the way” is all that stuff. Let’s break it down a bit for us. First, let’s look at the themes of what God does. God will “rescue us” and give us “salvation from our enemies.” Now, obviously, we don’t have the same kind of enemies that the Jewish people had when this was written. But the theme of God’s rescuing us or bring salvation is still true. It simply means that God will be with us, working for us in our troubles, in the problems that come against us, etc.

So what is John to do as he lives in the way, as he prepares the way? “And you, my child…will go on…to give his people the knowledge of salvation through forgiveness of their sins…” Okay, so John has a really interesting task. First he is supposed give the people “knowledge” of salvation. Can I take a second and help you understand the Jewish idea of knowledge? Well, I’m going to. The Jewish idea of knowledge implies experience. You have knowledge of carpentry after you’ve built a house. You have knowledge of the taste of honey after you’ve tasted it. It’s not a book knowledge; it’s not “oh, I’ve heard about that.” It’s an actual experience. So the theme of God working with us through out problems is part of the way, and John is asked to do the same thing. Help people experience salvation, or deliverance from their troubles.

How is he supposed to do it? (Can you tell yet that I love questions?) He is supposed to bring them this knowledge, this experience, through forgiving their sins. By letting them know that they need to come back to God, and if they do, their sins are forgotten. So this experience of salvation, of helping people out of hard times, and this forgiveness of sins, these are integral, important, necessary parts of “the way.”

Now let’s bring this back to us. To Bethany Christian tennis, for us as individuals, for us as one. If we are to be one as God is one, we must bring His characteristics to our community, his way. Helping people out of hard times and forgiving them is an essential part of his way. So we have to do this for one another.

We’ll get plenty of chances. Hard times and problems come all the time throughout a season. I can remember last year when Wes Klassen lost at New Prairie, and that was the clinching point, for them. Wes (not to pick on him, because I would have reacted the same way) was torn up and crying because he had just given it his all, and it hadn’t been enough. And we had lost. And he felt like it was on him. And that same thing will happen again this year.

What does a community of salvation do for this person? How does a community that is one react to this? How can they help Wes or the next person to experience this raw emotion out of this hard time?
Or what about forgiveness. Oh my goodness, anyone play much doubles? Now you understand why we need forgiveness in tennis. How many shots can my partner hit in the net before I punch them? But forgiveness is more than just looking past a partner’s bad shots, it might be looking past that partner’s annoying habits. Or past a teammate’s loud and obnoxious jokes. Or past a coach’s failure to help you as you had hoped. Forgiveness is remembering that we are one and moving past differences.

Two years ago we had a player on the team dirty up the van, throwing bits of paper, wrappers, etc. Nothing big. When we got back, I asked him to clean up the van with the others who had been throwing stuff. The others got to it, but this one did not. He insisted that I was wrong in asking him to clean up the van. So I stopped asking…I told him he was going to clean up the van. Then he flipped out, got in my face, yelled at me to be intimidating, told me he was going to punch me, etc, then stormed away.

How does a community that is one give forgiveness to a person who does this? What about if it is two teammates upset at each in a match? What about if someone makes a bad call during a challenge? How does we bring forgiveness to these situations?

The way of a community is helping one another and forgiveness. These questions simply begin the thought process. How dedicated will you be to being one? Will you be willing to help and forgive? What might that look like?

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