Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Peter and Telemachus - Men of Purpose

A few years ago a friend of mine did a devotional at a men’s breakfast. In that message he asked two questions:
1. Who is God to you?
2. What will you do for Him?

I came away from there asking myself those questions, and I came to realize that, for me, one is dependant on the other.
Who God is to me will determine, in the end, what I will do for Him.
It also begs another question: Who am I to God?
This latter question seems the easiest one to answer. He is pretty clear in His word about my importance to Him.
To God, I am worth His presence at the beginning, during every moment of my life, and at the end. To God, I am worth allowing into His home, His heart, His plans. To God, I am someone worth dying for, and dying with. I really have no desire to question why this is so; I’m just glad it is.
So I come back to the original questions in this context, and find a much richer answer.
I must first acknowledge that I cannot hope to match the devotion of God. I am human, and a sinner. I am imperfect, and can only gain perfection through Him anyway. I am an unfinished work, not yet ready for the gallery of finished products.
I have to look at history for examples of others whose devotion to Him was evident in their lives. Jesus’ disciple Peter is one of my favorites. Always rebellious, a storm waiting to be unleashed, his pride and anger showing their faces all through his time with Christ. Yet, with all his faults, all of which Christ was keenly aware, this uneducated fisherman is the only human to know what it was like to walk on water. He was the one to leave the other 11 disciples behind in the boat on a stormy sea as they watched in dumbfounded fascination while He went to meet their Lord on the water. His actions that day came about as a result of who God was to him. He acknowledged, for a little while at least, that Christ had authority over nature. For Christ he was willing to say, “If He says I can, then I know it’s true that I can walk on water.”
Who God was to him, led Peter to do what we see as impossible.
But there is another that I’d like to tell you about. His name was Telemachus.
So take my hand, and let us go back in time. Rest with me as we sit on a grassy hill overlooking a small settlement of monks. Watch with me as we see his story unfold.
Telemachus was a monk who lived in the hills somewhere in Asia Minor. He was content to tend the needs of his monastery, living a quiet life. In fact, we come upon him tending the garden, on his knees, dirt on his robe and hands. His is the life of the ascetic, serving God in a simple life with few needs. We see him sit back and wipe his brow with the back of his hand. He looks heavenward with a startled look on his face and frowns. “Rome?” he says aloud, though we hear no one else speak nor do we see anyone else near. “I know not why, but I will go.” He says.
He goes to his small, spartan room and gathers a few things. He stops at the kitchen to take food for his journey, and walks away from the life he has known comfortably for years. His journey to Rome is long, but God supplies him, and he arrives in good health, still unsure of the reason for his presence there. It is a time of festival, for the Romans are celebrating their victory over the Goths, and there are entertainers for the crowds and free bread being distributed throughout the city. Telemachus is swept along toward the coliseum, possibly unaware of what he is about to see. He finds himself amidst a sea of people, and though he did not intend to go there, he finds himself in the stands of the coliseum. He is unsure of what is about to occur, but he can feel the malevolent hunger of the crowd, and it fills him with foreboding. Here, put your hand against his chest, feel his heart thudding with anxiety. He still does not know why he is here, only that he must be.
Out on the sand of the arena two men walk out to stand before the emperor’s box. Raising their swords they offer the gladiator’s salute, “We who are about to die salute thee!”
With that they turn to face each other.
It is here, with horrifying clarity, that Telemachus understands the purpose of this stadium, and his purpose for being here. Feel his heart again. It’s alright; he is unaware of our presence. It beats slow and steady now. He knows his purpose. He will fulfill his call.
“In the name of Christ forbear!” he cries.
His lone voice is drowned out by the noise of the boisterous crowd.
He begins to run down the steps to the arena, yelling frantically “In the name of Christ forbear!”
He remains unnoticed as the crowd continues to focus on the unfolding spectacle in the sand.
He leaps the barrier to land in the arena, and runs across the sand to stand between the gladiators as they circle each other. Raising his hands he cries again, “In the name of Christ forbear!”
The fighters shove him aside trying to continue their fight. We can see some confusion on the faces in the crowd. They are not sure if this is part of the game or not. Some laugh at the little man in the worn robe, but others do not share the humor. Cries of “Kill him!”, and “Get him out of the way!” are heard.
Telemachus knows his purpose. He will not be put aside. He jumps in between the two fighters once again and cries, “In the name of Christ forbear!”
The gladiators react in their frustration and one of them thrusts his gladius through Telemachus’ chest, piercing his heart. For some reason the crowd that seconds before had demanded his death now sits in stunned silence. As Telemachus’ body slides off the sword and falls to the sand we can here him whisper, “In the name of Christ forbear….”, and so he dies.
It is said that the crowd left the coliseum in silence, and that this was the last gladiator event in the Roman arena.
Another account says that Telemachus died instead when the crowd stoned him to death for interrupting their sport. Both accounts are consistent in saying that he died on the sands of the arena, and that his death there led to the ending of the games.
In either event, we have seen how he was only one man standing against an entire society because God called him to do it.
Because God was Telemachus’ king, he was willing to give his life for Him.
Who God was to Telemachus determined what he did for Him.
One person can change the world.
It does not always happen in big ways. Not all of us will have a wide audience. In fact, most of the time we each change just a small part of our world, but each of us builds on the influence of the other, and often unknowingly contribute to the greater effect. We become a small part in a huge intricate latticework that God is constructing. The importance of our place in it can not be diminished for the simple reason that it is God who put us there. We fit where we fit because God is who He is to each of us, and He has made us each uniquely suited to the need we fill. Even our faults are incorporated into the greater picture. One of the greatest testimonies to the love of God is that He is able and willing to use and love us despite our greatest flaws.
Does this mean that we are to find a sword to fall on in order to honor His call on each of us? No, He has not called us all to do this, although there are those who will. I am called to be known as His child wherever I am. At work I must do my job diligently and well. At home I must treat my wife and children in the way He would have me treat them, with all the love, tenderness and respect I know how to give. I must be the same person out in the world as I am in the comfort of my church.
If God is the loving God to me that I know He is, then I must determine to show that love to all who know me, by loving them and protecting them in every way possible. Whether they know Him or not, they must know Him through me.
Peter and Telemachus were just two simple men, but look what God did with them once they understood their Purpose!
©Dan Bode 2003

Monday, October 5, 2009

Not Just a Dog

I had to have our dog put to sleep today.
I have been dreading this moment for a while now. We got her from friends several years ago, and they got her from the pound so we don’t know her exact age but she was somewhere around 16 years old. I watched her body fail gradually, and finally reached a point where I realized that she was still alive only because I didn’t want to let her go. I don’t think I really wanted to admit that I was that attached to her. I finally reached a point where watching her suffer was more than I could bear, and I finally gave up my selfishness.
Emma was with us for several years, and when we got her she fit right into our family. We had just gone through the loss of our previous dog when our friends, who had her then, moved to Texas. She filled the space left so empty from our loss, and gave us a connection to our now absent friends as well, providing more comfort than we had anticipated.
She was there to provide entertainment when she would do something that was probably a normal dog behavior, but left us laughing all the time. When we got our cat they would play together constantly and we would just sit back and watch the show. She was present when our grandchildren were in the house and walked the hall nervously when they would cry, much like a parent might do. She was always ready to play with anyone at anytime, and I never really did her justice in trying to keep up with her. She barked when there was something to bark at, but only then. She always insisted on checking in with me when I sat down in the living room as well. She would roam the floor first and look for any edible treasures the kids had dropped first, and then come over and rest her head on my leg until I petted her for a while.
I suppose it was a combination of all these things that helped to form my attachment for her. Unconditional love and loyalty is so hard to come by in people that we find it more easily in animals who, once they bond with us, remain devoted to the best of their abilities. They don’t take into consideration the greater social, political, and moral implications of a relationship. They just know we like to see them at the door when we come home so they do it happily.
I understand that animals don’t fit into the whole structure of salvation, but they are part of God’s wonderful creation of which we are stewards and caretakers. A job, incidentally, that I believe we are failing miserably at. Animals often fill a void created by lack of human relationships, because we can ascribe any given attribute to that relationship. We don’t have to rely on feedback from the animal to improve the relationship, as with a human, to give that relationship more or less value, but we do have to provide for all their needs. I was responsible for every aspect of the relationship, but Emma was just being herself which was what we desired. Her presence fulfilled the need with no demands or expectations. She was happy to be around us. I realize as well that the value of the relationship with my dog originates with me. It is as valuable as I make it. My friend Cliff says that I should, “Think about what you learned from your dog.” It’s a good point, because I’m beginning to think that I would be better off treating people more like my dog treated me. I think God used her to give me life lessons which I will be learning for some time.
Because of all this letting her go was harder than I had anticipated. I watched as she struggled more and more each day to simply stand up. I realized at the end that I was really hoping that she would go on her own. I didn’t want the responsibility for deciding her life. I understand that in the case of humanity the responsibility for that choice can only be reasonably borne by God Himself. I am thankfully not adequate to that task. I could not bear that pain, for it is not in my power to offer anyone Heaven.
She walked into the house and kept stumbling as she walked across the floor. She came over to where I sat in the chair as was her custom, and laid her head on my leg a little more heavily than usual, and I knew. She was tired. It was time.

Some will say that she was just a dog. Just a pet. But she was more than that.
She was a present friend, and an unconditional comforter.
She will be missed.
©Dan Bode 2009