Once upon a time, a small troop of people drudged along an uphill road, and found they’d arrived at their destination. They sought the Kingdom of God, and had reached the front gates.
Together they paused in silence, rapt in wonder, awe, worship, gratitude, and… honestly… fatigue, yet aglow with their sense of accomplishment. Most, but not all, were middle aged or older. Most were well dressed, some in ornate robes, others in business attire, some in Sunday best. There were both men and women.
An ancient man, apparently the porter, appeared outside the door and greeted the group cordially.
“Welcome to the Gates of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is wonderful to see all of you. Now, why have you come?”
At this, there was some milling about and muttering. None was quite sure what to say. Finally a man stepped forward and said, “Sir, we seek to enter. We have have traveled long hard roads, seeking to enter in to the Kingdom of God.”
The old gatekeeper nodded, “that’s marvelous. Well done. Now, good sir, why should I admit you? What is your qualification?”
The man pulled out a neat scroll and handed it forward. “I have sought this gate all my life. I have lived a righteous life, always doing right as I could. I’ve never lied or defrauded anyone. I fear God, and seek to obey His commandments with all my heart.”
The old man nodded approvingly, took the scroll, and said, “Well done, my son. You are very near indeed to the Kingdom.”
Turning to another petitioner, he asked the same questions. This man was mighty in worship leadership and had led thousands of believers in singing the praises and glory of God. He, too, was congratulated on his efforts and assured that he was very near.
The next was a woman who had spent her entire life in prayer and encouraging others to spend time with the Lord. She offered up all sufferings to the glory of God, and sought His will in all things. She had raised her children to fear and reverence God, and do what was right to honor Him. She too was congratulated, encouraged, and assured of her nearness.
This went on as one after another, everyone named their accomplishments and sacrifices in God’s name, and declared their honor and worship of Him. Each had done wonderful things, including one who had studied their whole life acquiring great academic honors and mastering all the sacred languages. He sought admittance through his efforts to teach the world of the wonders of the words of God. The last, or nearly last, conversation was with a mighty pastor who had built a magnificent cathedral, led many thousands to relationship with God, and trained many hundreds in their own lives of ministry and service. When asked why he had done all this, he said that Jesus was his Lord and his model, and he sought to live as Jesus had lived, in honor of God.
Everyone thought, “Ah, certainly THIS man… with all THAT to say…. all THAT he has done…. surely, this man, will pass through the gate.”
Yet, he received the same response, including the great approval and encouragement, from the Porter.
A quiet scuffing sound was heard from the back of the group, as a small child in quite nondescript clothing had turned around and began to shuffle back down the road away from the gate.
The Porter stepped forward, raised his cracked voice, and addressed the child. “You there!” as he stretched his arm towards the child and all the adults made way. (The wee one had been hidden at the back of the group where no one had seen.) The shuffling steps stopped, as the downcast figure slowly turned.
“Mm… me? Sir?” the child responded in a voice nearly too soft to hear.
The old man smiled warmly, “Yes, youngster. You. Why are you here?” The Porter’s eyes shone with friendly light as he encouraged the child to speak. “Don’t be afraid. Please tell me why you’ve come.”
“Well, sir. I came to find this gate, and to pass through into there, into the Kingdom.” The sibilant voice grew a bit, as the child’s eyes rose to meet his.
“Very good, little one. Why then, do you seem to want to leave before we’ve even spoken?”
The gaze and voice quickly dropped again. “Because I see now, I realize… I haven’t done any of the great things all these fine people have done. I have nothing to show you, good sir. I’m not even properly dressed, being a bit ragged and dusty like this. I have no business here. I’ll go quietly, sir.”
“Wait, little one. How did you find the path to here?”
“Oh, that. Well, sometimes, I seem to hear Jesus’ voice calling me, leading me. Sometimes I think I can see His footsteps, or I catch a glimpse of Him up ahead. I think I’ve heard Him call to me, saying ‘Follow Me’, and so, whenever I’ve thought I had the direction right, or I could see the steps, I’ve tried to follow. One day, I met up with all these people, who had maps and books and things. And together, here we are….”
“I see,” nodded the old Porter. “So you followed. Now, granted that you don’t yet have a big list of mighty deeds or works to show, tell me WHY you want to enter these doors? What do you hope to gain?”
The child was a long time before answering, but no one broke the silence. All the elders found themselves thinking about the question for themselves. What did they really seek, hoping to enter in?
Finally the child answered, “Sir, I just want to get in to find HIM. I’ve heard Him. I’ve seen Him from time to time. But I just want to find Him, grab Him, and… and… hug Him.”
At this, some of the elders repressed a snort. How silly did that sound? Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! The Great Majesty of All Creation. And here this child speaks of grabbing… and hugging… psh.
The Porter came close up to the child, dropped to one knee so they were face to face, and nearly whispered… “And why, child… Why do you so seek to hug Him that you’ve come all this way and dare even this?”
Tears welled as their eyes met, and the child whispered simply, “because, sir, I love Him. I don’t know very much. I haven’t done very much, certainly nothing great. I’ve just heard His voice, seen Him now and again, and I love Him. That’s why I’ve come.”
The old Porter hugged the child, as the great gate door dissolved. There, to the astonishment of all, stood Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Joyfully He laughed as He dropped to one knee with His arms wide open for the child.
“Finally! You’ve arrived! I’ve been waiting. Together we will see everything. I cannot wait to show you.” Jesus had lifted the child up in His arms with a mighty heave. If a little one could fly, that’s how it seemed as together they shared a moment of sheer joy unspeakable.
Turning to the others, the Lord said, “I am so glad you are ALL here. You are so very close. You have all done so well, My good and faithful servants. As soon as you are ready, come in and join Us. You lack only one thing…” and, carrying the child in His arms, He passed through the gate back into His Kingdom.
Astonished, all the elders were left standing with the Porter, who had gently arisen and strode back to his post. Everyone was reviewing these amazing events in their mind, pondering heavy to understand.
The eldest and wisest of the lot, suddenly smiled and nodded. He exchanged glances with the Porter, who realized that understanding had dawned. Quietly he walked up to the Porter and whispered in his ear. The Porter stood aside as he passed in.
Everyone left standing there wondered what he had understood, and what he had said.
So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and *said to them, “Peace be with you.” And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and *said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.”
But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus *came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He *said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus *said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” [John 20: 19-28]
I was recently in a conversation with a friend in advanced theological studies. It was pointed out that of the 14 student cohort moving through these studies in lockstep, 12 candidates do not believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. Bear in mind, this is a Christian Seminary, whose students are career tracked to senior pastorate, denominational administration, and seminary faculty.
I’ll admit, I was a bit stunned. My overwhelming feeling was confusion, interspersed with some anger, sadness, and a healthy dose of frustration. The idea of pastoring a Christian church, when deep in one’s heart of hearts lies the belief that Easter is a fraud, left me a bit at sea. I felt a need to respond in some way, and yet quite at a loss as to how.
What does one do, teach, say, or even blog when God’s sovereignty over death itself is not only questioned (which is a healthy academic exercise — questioning everything), but utterly rejected as morality fiction? So… my adrenaline ran free… I talked with some friends, I emailed some friends, and settled… nothing at all. Basically, I looked towards the heavens, spread my hands, and felt like an ecclesiastical Chicken Little running in circles crying “the sky is falling!”
The next day, when the adrenaline rush had waned, and the Lord got to get a word in edgeways over my frantic (unidirectional) prayer…. I thought He’d be upset alongside me, and suggest some massive prayer campaign for revival and faith among the collective church, etc., etc.
Imagine my surprise when, in a FAR more matter of fact manner than I’d have imagined possible, He just slid up alongside me at my chair and said, “Um, Little Monk? What’s the problem? I’ve been through this. You feel all akimbo to realize that some of My servants don’t believe in My physical resurrection. I’ve been there before, you know… Thomas traveled with Me all three years, hearing everything I said, seeing everything I did. He knew Lazarus. He was at the Last Supper and with us in the Garden. He knew ALL the other disciples, and he knew the women who reported My rising and what the angels told them.
“And nonetheless, knowing ALL of that and ALL of them, still… his mind could not accept, could not comprehend, the possibility that I had risen from the dead. How in the world can you judge these students, or anyone, for struggling to wrap their heads around such a possibility?
“How did I handle that situation? I met his need. He made a straight up, bald faced, statement of what it would take for him to believe I rose from the dead. He meant that, and I took him at his word. The next time I came, I saw him, bid peace to him, and invited him to put his fingers in My wounds and his fist in My side. As it turned out, he found that after all, he didn’t need to do that.
“But Thomas had to see for himself. He needed to have a personal affirming experience of Me, to believe in My resurrection. Many people are that way, many people are skeptical of claims. Thomas was My disciple and friend before his faith was strained this way, and he was among the full Apostles, spreading the gospel thousands of miles after that day. He set Me a test, I met that, and he served Me faithfully and mightily.
“Nothing has changed today. I have many servants who love Me, worship Me, follow Me, and yet (perhaps deep in their heart of hearts) cannot comprehend or accept My resurrection. If they will do the same thing Thomas did… if they will encounter Me and set me a condition by which We, they and I, can experience one another by which they will believe, I will meet that joyfully. Just as once I did for you, by the way.
“Invite such people to come apart for a time, come find Me, encounter Me, and let Me show them My risen self in some way they can accept. It is vastly more comfortable to have faith in what one sincerely believes. Now, it is much happier and easier for faith to come by hearing, and hearing by My word. But those who doubt and resolve those doubts, can certainly be among My most mighty servants.
“Don’t judge. Invite and encourage. I’m always ready to encounter. Be at peace.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
So there we are, Gentle Reader. A bit of a confession, I guess. The Lord is just so much more patient, calmer, so much less judgmental than I am. I keep thinking I’m growing up, but so often He reminds me of such simple things.
Grace to you, and to all of us, Gentle Reader! — The Little Monk
God I miss you my dear and forever sister…
Having been in church leadership roles, of varying degrees over the years, I’ve done a lot of pondering about who and what the church is.
I’ve been pondering about the health of the church. I only have life experience and mostly a relationship with The Father, Son and Holy Spirit as my back up on pondering, but it seems that the church is very click-ish.
Don’t misunderstand me, I like Christian friends. I enjoy fellowship with like-hearted people where we can lift each others arms and encourage each other to go for it or even to give that wonderful advice and help guide us in the right direction. It is so needed.
But what is that called? It’s relationship. RE-LA-TION-SHIP. Which is what we should have first in our life with God. Relationship. He has called us to a relationship with all three of the trinity. Not religion.
There is nothing wrong with going to or joining a local church and getting involved – I attend an awesome local church.
It’s so good and sweet…….. until it becomes a religion. Religion can smother us and before you know it you can not be relating to God or others.
I’ve seen so many ministries spend so much time counseling and helping hurting christians that it makes me wonder if we, perhaps, take those hours and invest in relationships and teaching and guiding others into a relationship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit then they can hear His voice and through the loving relationship of God get well and then……. drum roll please….. go out into the world and preach the gospel rather than spending years of counseling and never reach out to those who are lost. Are we using the time on this earth to touch others or are we just always trying to get well and invite others to our buildings instead of inviting them into a relationship with God?
Just something I’ve been pondering deeply for a while.
Cate B ❤️
For all of my brothers and sisters out there, don’t compromise your foundation. Be a Desmond Doss in a world of uncertainty…
It’s never easy to say goodbye to a dear friend, to a loving sister in Christ, and yet there are times when we must do just that. Like so many of you, I was shocked by the news that our sister and friend Susan Irene Fox passed away earlier this week; what does one say at such a time?
Susan’s writings here on WordPress were a blessing to all of us, both on her blog and on Church Set Free, and when you read those posts of hers it’s almost impossible to miss the love that fills each and every line. I recall when a group of us came together via Skype to discuss the establishment of the site, back in 2015. Susan was part of that group and more than anything else, she wanted it to be a place where anyone could go and experience the love of Christ without judgment or condemnation from any of us who participated. She wanted it to be a place where anyone could ask a question or post a comment without feeling out of place or inadequate; she wanted it to become a place where any Christian as well as any seeker could feel safe and secure.
In the months that followed, a bunch of us got together regularly on Skype to discuss not only the site, but life in general, and while I never met Susan face-to-face, I felt as though I got to know her. I’ll never forget her smile and her sense of humor, and her ability to treat everyone as an equal as a loved brother or sister.
It seems to me that Susan in so many ways personified what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
Many who read this may have known her longer than I did; many may have known her better than I. Yet I will be eternally grateful for the time I had for her to touch my life. In the final analysis, I know only one thing: Heaven is a much richer place today because Susan Irene Fox has come to stay for all eternity, and one day we will all be reunited there in the loving arms of Lord.