Andrew the Apostle

The following was written by Joshua for Telling the Stories that Matter.

“Come on, Peter,” Andrew called, “we have too much work to do to stay here any longer.” Andrew and Peter were on their way to the shore to continue fishing and working the sea. With net and boat, they ventured daily into a great terror–a sea where storms killed men and refused to supply fish and sustenance. In the first century, the waters could be a very risky and intimidating place to be. Yet, Andrew went there regularly to support himself and his family. But on the walk, that day, Andrew wanted to talk about the figure that he and Peter had been talking to, recently. Andrew was inspired and vivified by the presence and words of John and found himself spending more and more time out in the wilderness with the wild man who proclaimed a new and imminent Kingdom and baptized people for the remission of their sins. One day, Andrew had gone forward to John and been baptized because of his intense and growing passion for the Kingdom of God. Peter had heard Andrew say much about John but there was something different in his voice. Recently, another man had come and John had seemed to be gripped by the same rapturous amazement that so many of John’s audience felt in John’s presence. Then–much to John’s confusion–the man had requested to be baptized by John. John baptized the one he called “the Lamb of God” and “Jesus” but he insisted that Jesus should be baptizing John. Andrew had shaken his head in confusion and uneasiness but his heart had burned within him as he watched Jesus be baptized.There was something different about this one–this one that John said he had been preparing everybody for.

“Do you think this Jesus could be the one?” Andrew asked Peter while casting the nets over the side of the boat, “I mean…do you think this one could be the messiah?”Peter was about to respond when Andrew saw Jesus standing on the shore nearby. Jesus waved to them and indicated that they should come in as he had something to say. Andrew looked to Peter and noticed that Peter was already taking in the nets and preparing the boat to return to land. When they got there, Jesus was smiling at them and asked them how they were doing with their fishing. They responded but they were waiting to see what this potential messiah might say to confirm or deny their hopeful suspicions.

“Follow after me, Andrew and Peter, and I will make you a different kind of fisherman–a fisher of people.” Andrew’s heart jumped in his chest and he suddenly knew what his only response could be: yes. Peter soon followed and the two became apostles and members of “the Twelve.” They began following after Jesus and learning how to cast nets of words and actions that could catch people in them. They were learning to be what it was that Jesus called them to be. Andrew was, by no means, always faithful or given to believing but he continued to come back to the one that he had learned to trust. It was Andrew who said: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fishes: but what are these among so many?” His question is a question that so many of us ask in so many ways in our daily lives. What difference does a little help make when compared to such great need? When there are thousands dying every day from hunger, does my little bit of help do anything? When there are wars and rumors of wars surrounding us, does my stance for peace do anything? Jesus knew, however, that the little could be made to be sufficient and that it mattered deeply both for the giver and the recipient. It is this lesson that Andrew learned that day when he gathered in the fragments of fish and bread with awe written across his face.

Andrew would follow Jesus in mission after Jesus’ death and resurrection and become a missionary to people who had never heard the good news of mercy and grace for all sinners. He would preach a gospel that mattered even if the nets of the faith only gathered one person at a time. Over time, this meant that thousands came to know faith in and fellowship with Almighty God because of the faith of one fisherman. Years after Jesus’ death, Andrew also would be martyred. His final request was that his crucifixion should not mimic his Lord’s because he didn’t feel worthy even to die like his Lord.

Sunday Worship – Waking Up

The following was written by Joshua for Third Chance Ministries.

Some of the people involved with Grace and Main Fellowship–an intentional, missional, and Christian community in downtown Danville, Virginia–gather every Sunday night to worship and pray with each other. The worship is contemplative in nature. That is to say, they try to do more listening than speaking, and they try to vary their forms and habits from week to week while still taking comfort in the consistency of tradition and homespun liturgy. Usually, some of Grace and Main’s leaders will select a passage of scripture from the traditional passages assigned to a Sunday and build worship around that passage and any themes found therein.

On Sunday night, the passage selected was: Mark 13:24-37

“But in those days, after that suffering,

the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

We took time this First Sunday of Advent to to light our first Advent candle and to contemplate together what it means to anticipate Jesus’ return by looking to the past–how telling a story of what was can set our eyes on what will be.

We spent a while discussing the intricacies of this passage and others (Isaiah 64:1-9 and 1 Corinthians 1:3-9) and we raised the questions that rested on our hearts and minds.

But, eventually our prayers, thoughts, and worship fell upon the question: what does it means to be awake? We wondered aloud together about how we might not only “wake up” but how we might also “keep awake” in a world that so desperately wants us to rest comfortably in the status quo–in the “good enough.” We plotted together about holy mischief we might make in downtown Danville to help each of us (and our brothers and sisters) to wake up and stay awake.

Ultimately, the question boils down to one perplexing sentiment: how do we–a people who laud patience in others but don’t seek it for ourselves–learn truly to anticipate the coming of our Lord back to the world that is in such desperate need. In 2011, how do we join with the prophets of old to speak of a time when all shall be made right and just by telling stories of what has happened already in the midst of darkness and death.

Columban the Voluntary Refugee

The following was written by Joshua for Telling the Stories that Matter.

Columban was born in Nobber, Ireland–in the County of Meath–and grew into a competent and attractive young man.He was so attractive that women noticed him passing by through the towns and on the roads and began to seek him out. He became something of a local celebrity on account of his appearance and he was distressed by the steady decreases of his private life as more and more women sought him out to have him as their own. Columban received a piece of advice: flee from temptation so that you cannot succumb to it. In this advice, Columban saw hope and promise–he had always dreamed of becoming a monk and living a life of retreat and prayer and this path offered that opportunity.

So, Columban decided to flee from the temptations of an overly sexual existence and join a monastery. But, when he had packed his things and was headed to the door, his mother stopped him and begged him not to go. He insisted that he felt a call toward the monastic life but his mother refused to listen. She pleaded with him to stay again and again he insisted on following God’s call. In desperation, Colulmban’s mother laid down in the doorway to prevent her son from leaving. Columban struggled with what to do: should he concede to his mother’s wishes or should he follow the call he felt on his life. He looked at his mother and made his decision. He stepped over his dear mother and left her behind to follow after the calling God had placed on his life.

After some time as a monk and after he had become a noted speaker and counselor, he was appointed a missionary to a foreign land. The Roman empire had fallen only a few generations prior but the people of continental Europe still saw the outlying regions–such as Ireland–to be a barbarous place devoid of education or sense. The very idea of an Irish missionary to France was unthinkable to the French Christians–they were a people who sent missionaries not who received missionaries. Yet, this is where Columban and twelve others arrived. In France, they found a sickly and anemic Faith that subsisted on dead ritual and vague memories of spirituality. This was a mind bending experience for the Irish missionaries who knew that the Irish had received their faith from the world they now ministered to. They were bringing the faith that had been brought to them back to the ones who had sent it.They were met with a mixture of resistance and open arms. Many found the Irish spirituality to be an oasis in a dry and dusty land. There were many who ended up being guided by Columban to follow in the footsteps of Patrick who had been one of them (having been born in Roman Britain) but had gone to provide sustenance to the Irish who had enslaved him. In essence, Columban brought back spiritual sustenance to a people who had forgotten that they had stored it away in Ireland.

Eventually, they were met with resistance from local rulers and became enemies of the King of Burgundy. It seems that the Frankish bishops and leaders were uncomfortably with the Irish being in a seat of authority. They held on to their memories and nostalgia instead of drinking deeply from the cool waters Columban brought with him. They were forced to flee from their monastery and became voluntary refugees who lived by charity and good fortune. Eventually, they walked across the Alps to Milan and were received gladly.Columban would spend the remainder of his days far away from the formative places of his childhood in Ireland and in a land that God had called him to–regardless of the cost.

“the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England”

The following was written by Joshua for Telling the Stories that Matter.

C.S. Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland in 1898 to a middle class family doing what they could to get by. He had an older brother and a dog named Jacksie. When Lewis was only four years old Jacksie was hit by a car.In only a few days, the understandably and clearly disturbed Lewis insisted to his family that they call him Jacksie. His family resisted little Clive’s insistence because of how ridiculous it would sound to call their son after the name of the dead dog. Yet, Clive refused to answer to any other name and would go long stretches of time in silence as his parents called to him by the name “Clive.” Perhaps to humor him, they compromised and started calling him Jack. As is the way of things, the nickname stuck and soon everybody was calling him Jack by habit.

Jack spent the majority of his childhood and youth at various schools. These times had an incredibly formative role in the development of his personality and identity. He was a good student but suffered from various maladies and illnesses. Though he had been born into the Church of Ireland and baptized as an infant, he soon fell away from the faith at the age of 15. He would later describe himself as a boy furious at God for not existing. There was a deep and passionatehunger for the spiritual within Jack but he found it snuffed and crippled within the confines of the walls of the Church. So, he went looking for it in the occult and in Celtic and Norse mythology. He was unsatisfied in his findings but he was satisfied with the freedom to explore.

It was only after receiving his education at Oxford and becoming a professor, he began having regular conversations with J.R.R. Tolkien and a few otherfriends at the university. When they made overtures about the Christian faith he brushed them away by insisting that he was an atheist and had no desire to think of the Christian God he had never experienced. They were persistent in their kind conversations and he trusted them as friends–even if he refused them–but he still responded with the words of Lucretius: “Had God designed the world, it would not be a world so frail and faulty as we see.” Despite his rejections, his Christian friends continued to love him and socialize with him. He was not simply the target of their evangelistic machinery. Rather, he was their friend and because of their deep love, they could not help but mention the Faith that had changed their lives. Eventually, the persistent God that led Tolkien soon gripped Jack. Jack insisted that he came”kicking and screaming” into the Faith and later wrote about that night: “You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.” At the age of thirty-five, Jack found a home in the Faith. At first he only admitted theism but it was not long before he was won over to Christianity.

Lewis’ conversion is a story told by many Christians to this day because of the nature of it as the pursuit of a man by an unrelenting and loving God. Jack’s life had its share of suffering–from the abuses suffered as a child in boarding schools and his service and wounding in the British army during World War I to the death of his beloved wife (inspiration for perhaps his most beautifully personal book–A Grief Observed) and his own suffering with renal failure at the end. In spite of this suffering and pain, Lewis was never again persuaded to reject the God that had so eagerly pursued him. He wrote many books and articles that have been an inspiration to countless Christians for many years [note: my personal favorite is The Great Divorce]. Jack’s life was a life defined by flight and chase.He fled from the God he so desperately wanted. As he did, he looked over his shoulder to make sure God would follow.Eventually, he was caught once again by the God of his mother, father, and childhood.