by Linda Troxell
“With the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day.” ~ 2 Peter 3:8.
Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. ~ Psalm 90:2
The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time out of the serpent’s reach. ~ Revelation 12:14
Would I Recognize the Lord?
Last night I saw a stranger on my street. And in the cold, he had no winter clothes. The rain was pouring down upon him As the temperature dropped low. I had no way of knowing his intention; So, I was afraid to reach out to him. But God stopped me in my tracks to say, “You know to walk away would be a sin.” This might be someone’s father. Or maybe he’s a grieving mother’s son. You can know nothing of his journey But as Christians, we show grace to everyone. There was no question of what I should do. For, after all, was I not a Christian? My Savior said what we offer to a stranger At that moment, we give equally to Him. What would I have done if this was Jesus? Would I recognize him as my Lord? Or would I stand still, paralyzed With my spiritual vision blurred? That was a question I could not answer, So, I chose to give this stranger grace. And in the gratitude, he gave back to me I saw my Savior’s smiling face. This good deed cost me nothing. And I gave much less than I got. For maybe this stranger wasn’t Jesus, But he was still a cherished son of God!
Among Christians, there is a question we all love to ask. Will we recognize Jesus when He returns? We don’t know when He will return, so we can’t be prepared to recognize Him. For example, if we knew the day of His return, we could watch for a bearded man with multitudes following Him on that day. But seriously, the Bible tells us nothing concrete about when Jesus will return to earth. However, even if there was a time of His return stated in the Bible, chances are we wouldn’t understand it anyway. You might have noticed that God’s orientation to time is nothing like ours. According to Peter, “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day.” 2 Peter 3:8.
The Bible refers to time in many ways for which the modern reader has no comparison. Sometimes the language is clear enough to guess its meaning; others are too strange to even imagine. Take everlasting to everlasting as an example. We can assume it means forever or outside of time: Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. –Psalm 90:2 However, others are not so easy to figure out. Perhaps the most confusing reference to time comes in a book of the Bible famous for being confusing; Revelations. Revelations 12:14 says that a woman would be taken care of for “a time, times and half a time.” I can’t even guess what that might mean. The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time out of the serpent’s reach. Revelation 12:14
Some Christian theologians say that God lives outside of time, and others say He doesn’t live outside of time, nor is He bound by time. I see this as a distinction without a difference. In reality, I think we know nothing about how God experiences if He experiences it at all. But the symbolic way He talks about time in the Bible convinces me that if the Bible told us when Jesus will return, we probably wouldn’t understand it.
Despite all that, according to the Bible, when Jesus returns, there will be no mistaking that it’s Him. It will be noisy and confusing and draw everyone’s attention. He will come on the clouds in glory with angels at His side blowing loud trumpets. And He will be visible to everyone. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. ~ Matthew 24:27 and 30-31
While questions about the return of Jesus are interesting, I have a different question. How is it possible that those living with and walking with Jesus did not recognize Him as the Son of God? Why did the Pharisees and the Sadducees refuse to believe in Him after seeing Him perform miracles or hearing credible reports about His miracles? He raised people from the dead, after all. And thinking about that has led me to an even larger question. I would be more interested to learn if we would recognize Jesus if He came to us in modern times? Not if He returned in modern times, but if He appeared for the first time as He did to the ancient world, would we recognize Him as the Son of God?
I know of a young couple who were members of a certain Christian church and the darlings of the congregation. It is hard not to adore young people who are in love and devoted to one another. It was taken for granted that these two would definitely marry one another when it was time. The church ladies doted on them and fussed over them every week.
On one Sunday, the couple was not in their usual seats. And then they missed 3 or 4 Sundays after that. The whole congregation wondered what might have happened to them. And the ladies were wringing their hands in worry. “I wonder what’s wrong?” They wondered. “Should we call them? “Just to make sure everything is all right, of course.” They asked one another. “I hope they haven’t broken up.” As worried church ladies often do, they began to talk among themselves. They wanted to pray for the couple, but how could they pray when they didn’t know what to pray for? This, then, led them to more speculation about what the problem might be. The ladies weren’t gossiping, of course; they were only trying to decide how to best pray for the couple. They only wanted to help.
After about a month, the young couple returned to the church and announced they had been married. Some church ladies asked many intrusive questions about the wedding while expressing disappointment that they could not plan or attend it. The young, newly married couple did their best to guard their privacy by fending off the most intrusive questions. They explained that only their parents attended the wedding. At that moment, the gossip started in earnest. This time, there was no question that the ladies were engaged in the kind of gossip we dress up as suggestions or requests for prayer.
A few months passed, and the couple didn’t miss a Sunday. Then, one Sunday, they came to church, and it was clear that the young girl was pregnant. No one was surprised. It had all been talked about in the gossip. But the church ladies feigned surprise as right away they began to count. Again, it shocked no one when they concluded that she had been pregnant before the wedding. But these good Christian ladies were scandalized. Suddenly, this young couple, whom the ladies had adored, was a bad influence on other young people in the church. The ladies were disgusted to know the couple had not remained sexually pure. Now, the gossip turned to what should be done about this immoral behavior.
The story got around the whole church within a week or two, and everyone gave their opinion. They suggested that they shouldn’t be allowed to stay in the church. After all, did we want influences like this around our children and grandchildren? It wasn’t long before the congregation realized the question was moot. The young couple was no longer coming to church on Sundays. They had heard the gossip too.
Would we know Jesus if he came among us now? Or would we shame his mother until she left the church before he was born?
He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit?” ~ Luke 6:39
[G]od sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings you who are highly favored! he Lord is with you.” [T]he angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will overshadow you. o the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. ~ Luke 1:26-35.
A friend of mine once told me about attending a small and very conservative church with a stagnant congregation for a short time. She said she didn’t enjoy the services because she didn’t feel free to be herself. The members had clear expectations for what one should wear, how long or short one’s hair should be, at what age, and which friends one should have.
The elders and church members were concerned because they could not build up their youth ministry. The elders were taking turns leading the youth group each Sunday, but that was not sustainable. The only young people who attended were those too young to have a preference and those forced by their parents to attend. As soon as a kid felt they could say no to their parents, they did. So, the youth ministry was shrinking rather than growing.
These kids were not rebelling against church. Many of them had found other churches with youth ministries where they were comfortable, they attended without complaint. Finally, the elders decided they needed to hire a youth pastor who had experience working with kids and knew what they liked. They were confident this would help to grow the church’s youth ministry.
After a long period of searching, they hired someone whose experience with kids was long and solid. He had worked as a middle school teacher before he changed careers to become a youth pastor. He went into ministry, he said, because he had seen such a need for an adolescent ministry while teaching. So, he quit teaching and went to seminary. He was the ideal youth pastor, someone who had experience with kids and really liked them and who was young enough for the kids to accept.
The new pastor was given a budget and free rein to do whatever it would take to draw kids to the church. After about 6 months, the young people’s attendance more than doubled. And he was attracting kids in the challenging age group of 12-18. This is prime time for kids to hate church. But he succeeded in that age group, and even some kids who had defected to other churches returned. The elders were thrilled with the turnaround and often sang their young pastor’s praises.
One Sunday, the elders announced they would observe the youth ministry the following week. They extended an invitation to anyone interested in joining. They would attend both youth groups, the Sunday group, and the Wednesday mid-week group, to see the kids in their element. Everyone was very excited to see the magic the pastor had done in creating such a vital youth ministry. The elders assured the young pastor that they understood that the kids would not be authentic or at their best knowing they were being watched. It turned out that the authenticity of the youth was not the issue.
If anything, the kids were too authentic. This was the first time the elders had visited the youth meeting room since turning the new youth minister loose with his budget. What they saw now nearly brought them to their knees. The walls of the room had all been painted black. The kids decorated every square inch with graffiti art using neon paint and rap music played at decibels that hurt the elder’s ears. My friend told me that the looks on the faces of the elders were priceless. And they later would say that many of the kids looked, “Like characters, I wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley.”
The kids weren’t unruly; they were in small groups, all taking turns reading scripture and sharing their thoughts about each verse. Each group had a note-taker. The pastor roamed between the groups. He listened, encouraged, answered questions, and joked with the kids. And everyone participated. The pastor’s plan was to bring the groups back together in a large group before they were dismissed. The note-takers would read what each group member had shared in the small groups, and the group would discuss the similarities and differences in how the verses were understood. The pastor understood the power of kids learning from one another from his teaching days. Knowing that kids paid attention to their peers more than to any adult, he wanted them all to hear what their peers had to say.
Anyone familiar with youth knows how impressive it is for someone to persuade a room full of 12-18 years old to read the Bible and talk about it. It’s nothing short of magic. Unfortunately, the elders disagreed. They focused on how the room looked, “Like some drug-crazed crack den,” and on what the kids looked like, “Like inmates that had been bussed in from juvenile hall,” and the music, “That’s not music it is just drums and filthy lyrics.” (All of the rap was the G rated versions), They completely missed, or perhaps ignored, that the kids were reading and studying the Bible. They could not have
The elders called an emergency board meeting for the very next day. My friend said she didn’t know exactly what they told the board. But whatever it was, they decided not to check it out for themselves. Despite his magic with the church youth, the pastor was fired. He was told that his program did not reflect the church’s values. They said the congregation did not want that element (sinners?) brought into the church to corrupt their youth. And he was told that the music he allowed was terribly inappropriate for church.
So, after 6 months of attracting kids and increasing the program to more than twice what it had ever been, He was fired. The congregation consulted, and the pastor wasn’t allowed to revamp the program. Essentially, he was fired for bringing sinners into the church. That’s akin to firing a doctor for paying too much attention to sick people?
Would we know Him if Jesus came among us now? r would we throw Him out of church for ministering to sinners?
“I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” Luke 5:32
Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” ~ Luke 5:27-32
The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. n the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” [W]hen they kept on questioning him He straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her. ~ John 8:3-5 and 7
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. or, in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. ~ Matthew 7:1-2
Father, we are all broken, and our natures are sinful. It seems the enemy has fertile ground in all sinners, for he knows that, to one degree or another, we are all judgmental, and we all gossip.
Lord, we start out with good intentions. But when we aren’t Mindful, we cross that fine line between caring and gossiping. And we know that the enemy is there, ready to pounce and encourage us to talk about parts of people’s lives that are none of our business. Lord, we need your help recognizing when we have crossed a line. Please, Holy Spirit, convict us right away. And Lord, we all need the courage to call one another on our sinfulness. But Lord, we need your help learning how to do so lovingly and not in judgment. Because we cannot forget that in James 5:19-20 the Bible tells us that anyone who sees a brother or sister wander from the truth, they should gently bring them back. Because turning a sinner from his or her sins saves their life. We ask, Lord, that you help us to protect one another from death by following the example of Jesus in turning each other back to His ways. We exalt you, Lord, and we want to serve you well; please help us to do so. We pray this in the holy name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Points for Pondering or Prayer
Have you ever been in a situation in church when you felt you were being judged and you felt uncomfortable in church? Write about what happened and how you felt.
Have you ever been the one doing the judging or the gossiping in church and had someone call it to your attention, lovingly or not? Write a bit about how it happened, how you felt about being confronted, and how you repented. In the church, we are all Christians seeking to be remade in the image of the Lord. So what do you think drives us to be judgmental and gossip about others? Write about what you believe drives our judgment and gossip.
Linda Troxell is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who lives in a small town in Southern California where she writes devotionals and poetry to post on her personal blog. For over twenty years, she worked to help men and women struggling with substance abuse and adolescent boys in group homes struggling with family difficulties. She is now retired and spends most of her time doing what she loves best, writing about the Lord, and spending time with her grandchildren.