AT THE NAME OF JESUS

 In From Jim Lyon

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma weigh heavy on everyone’s heart. How to help? What to do? The scope of tragedy and devastation haunts anyone who is in touch with the news. In my world, Harvey descended on top of pleas for help from the Church of God in West Bengal India and in Bangladesh, in the wake of catastrophic flooding there, as well. This week, additional and unprecedented rains fell across the subcontinent, swamping 40,000,000 people, paralyzing with waste-deep water huge metros like Mumbai and Delhi. Church of God Disaster Relief, working with our Global Strategy staff in touch with South Asia, released thousands of dollars to help. And then came Harvey. The live news feeds of ocean-like interstate highways, families perched on rooftops, and the fate of the elderly in senior centers under water: the sum can dare even the deepest faith.

Let’s add North Korea and the precipice of cataclysmic war in the Pacific. Catastrophic. Cataclysmic. These are not terms of hyperbole; they are apt adjectives to describe the many challenges our world faces today.

Hurricane

In the meantime, we all cope day-to-day with the places we call home. We maintain our routines and climb tall mountains that, from time to time, surface on our way. A hospital visit. An accident. A friendship strained. Stress at work. Birthday parties. Runs to the supermarket. Choir practice. The youth group. Checking out at the end of the day to watch an episode of Blue Bloods. These are the rhythms of life in every season. I try and work out in the gym each day; that’s my groove. But even there, life can give us pause to wonder.

The twenty-something guy in the locker room at the YMCA last week was agitated. I walked by and found a bench in the sauna. Standing inside the door he said abruptly, “I’m tired of people always judging me. They don’t know where I’ve been or what I’ve done, but they think I’m this or that. Well, I’m not.” He stared at me, towel around his waist, eyes piercing blue. We were the only ones in the room; I wasn’t sure how to reply; I had never seen him before.

Pause. He stared at me some more. I have to say something, I thought to myself. “Sounds like you’ve met some rough water. Sorry about that.”

“One of these days, God is going to punish them for what they’ve done. So much sexual immorality—it’s everywhere. I’m trying to read books, keep walking straight ahead, not getting distracted by all that crap. But it’s everywhere. I hope God destroys them. All of them!” His hair was wound into a bun on the back of his head; his right hand began to fiddle with it as he continued, “Everywhere I go they try and get me, like I want to do that stuff with them. Even here at the Y! No way. I’m trying to get out of that. People are so messed up.”

Uhh. Ouch. My mind raced, imagining the injuries and temptations that troubled him so. This was not just your everyday, ordinary conversation after a workout in the gym. He was facing a storm. I wasn’t sure what to expect next; he stood between me and the way out, tense, on the edge. I prayed.

“What do you think about Jesus?” I asked, with a flat affect, trying to temper the emotions boiling over in his frustration, whatever their cause. “Jesus?” he replied quizzically. “Jesus is one of the Sons of God.”

“One of?” I asked back, “You do not think He is singular, the one and only?”

“No, he is one of us. He tried to show us how to live. But, look at this messed-up world. God will judge us all.” I’ve omitted the expletives.

“I believe Jesus is the one and only Son of God. In fact, I believe Jesus is God, the exact representation of God in human form. It is He who will judge and we know that today is a day of His favor, a day of forgiveness and grace, if we will accept it. His work on the cross and His resurrection make new life possible for me. And you, too. We’re all mess-ups at one time or another, but you have to see the face of Jesus to find the way forward, to know Him, understand Him, to surrender to Him.” I was drenched with sweat from my workout, still in my shirt and shorts, staring right back at him.

His expression so intense, fierce really, began to soften. He thought about this for a moment. But like a switch turned suddenly back on, he became angry again and, yet at the same time, flummoxed, as if he didn’t know what to do. “Jesus?” He looked at me again, “I can’t stay here and talk about Jesus; I’ve got to get out; I’m done.” He turned and left the room where we both stood and opened the door for the showers.

I didn’t move, processing what had just happened. Angry. Isolated. Frustrated. Confused. These are the words with which I would describe him. But, when Jesus entered the conversation, there was a moment—ever so brief—where life began to grow, until it was discarded and the shadow returned. It’s hard for me to even articulate the spiritual temperature of the room, the odd sense that I had just met up with the darkness, but was protected by the light. I marveled at the power of the Name. Jesus is not just a word. It is no ordinary name or concept. To speak Jesus is to speak Heaven’s power. It is no small thing to pray in Jesus’ name.

I’m discovering that when I make Jesus the subject, things begin to clear up. When I speak Jesus into a conversation, trains of thought are redirected toward life. Sometimes, the mention of Jesus creates a division—there are some people and places that are repelled by Him. In other cases, the mention of Jesus bridges the divide, as canyons of misunderstanding are overcome and troubled histories are laid to rest in the common company of our Lord. Sometimes, in moments of complete despair, the name Jesus turns my heart toward hope. In moments of laughter and life, the mention of Jesus brings a certain blessing and shared joy. When stumped by what someone else has said or done, the name of Jesus gives me encouragement and grace.

Do you ever walk into the gospels as if walking into a film? Can you sense Jesus close by, as you read about Him at the seashore of Galilee? Can you imagine the sound of His voice? Over the din of a howling wind and wave? The touch of His hand? The grace and startling love breathed from His physical presence? Did He smile just then? Did Jesus just glance over at me and nod with a grin? Did He actually sit with me and listen, even as I wasn’t sure what to say? Is He running with me to find shelter in the rain storm? Is He enjoying the quiet of a blue sky on the hill above the lake, with me? Is He with me? Am I in His company?  s He really alive? Can I be like Him? Yes.

During the last year, I’ve developed the custom of sitting quietly behind the steering wheel of my car, before moving the transmission into drive and looking over to the passenger seat, talking out loud to Jesus. “Ride with me, Lord—and may I ride with you.” Sometimes, I turn to the news on the radio next; often I just keep talking, as if Jesus was materially in the seat next to me, riding shotgun. It’s been extraordinary, really, in the year I have been doing this, how my drive time has become soul-time. I’ve started noticing things, people, places, driven by for years, but now in stark relief. I pray for them. I ask for them. I thank God for them.

Sometimes, I sit outside, in the dark, beside my house, and talk to Him. The Spirit is prompting me, I think, to become ever so more conscious of the Lord’s living presence. Perhaps this is a sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, the prayer without ceasing of the New Testament, the constant communion of this one small soul and the Maker of the universe, disclosed in His Son. It is so easy to slip and allow other things to crowd Jesus out of my car, or conversation, or routines.

But, even when I slip, I am increasingly prone to reach right back for His hand. I want to speak life. I want to breathe life. I want to bring life.  Everywhere I walk. And, I am watching that reality come to life as I speak Jesus, as I more and more sense Him nearby. He calls the best out of me. He forgives me. He is patient and gracious with me. He dreams with me. He weeps with me. He lives with me.

I believe the Church of God is, in so many places, on this same journey. Yes, there are some troubled, confused, and frustrated friends in the Movement. But, the name of Jesus is being spoken authentically and His Spirit is clothing more and more of our tribe. We are a Jesus people. Jesus followers.

Wherever we are: in the locker room at the Y, in our cars, at the supermarket, in dialogue with one another, at home, at work, at school, on vacation, always and everywhere, may we be the people known for bringing Jesus with us. And, if we know He is with us, we cannot help but be more holy and healthy.

I want to be the Jesus guy. The one people remember because he seemed to bring Jesus into the room, into the mix. When the hurricane strikes, when the floodwaters rise. When the sky is clear, when laughter is the language of the day. In the locker room. Whatever and wherever. I’m watching for the young man at the Y, hoping for another chance to talk. I’m praying he’ll fall into Jesus’ arms, too. And, I’m ready to give to provide relief for our brothers and sisters suffering in the storm. For Jesus’ sake. To be like Him.

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