I recently had the good pleasure of attending my 30-year high school reunion. It was better than the 10th and the 20th reunions because classmates were less inclined to compete and compare. The 30 years of living provided the roller coaster of life’s ups and downs that tend to mature people. Who has the biggest house or the fastest car just doesn’t matter so much any more. It was a time of talking about kids going off to college and seeing baby pictures from the first wave of grandkids.
It was fascinating to see what some of my fellow East High classmates have been doing. Nate became a geophysicist who searched for oil deposits all over the world until he tired of the demands of supervising large crews of people and returned to western North Carolina where he started GQC – Good, Quick, and Cheap demolition services. Bill was a basketball-playing, hippie type who joined a cowboy church in New Mexico and became a missionary to East Africa. I’m sure both Bill and I would have been voted "most unlikely to become ministers" back in 1979.
Then there were Jim and Mike.
After 30 years, who has the
Big Jim was one of the most memorable characters in my class. He stands 6’ 5" and has a charismatic personality. His sense of humor and smooth-talking way with people have been a great asset for him. He plays a mean bass guitar and has the vocal range to sing cover music from any rock band of the ’70s. Jim worked in sales and management during the regular workday, but by night became a rock star in the clubs surrounding Chattanooga. When he became a father a little later in life than most of us East Highers did, he made the decision to give up the night club stage. He told me, "I am trying to do right."
Mike didn’t actually go to East High. He is one of those spouses who married into the class. Mike studied forestry in college and the possibility of work in Pisgah National Forest is what lured him to western North Carolina. He met and married Karen and therefore became permanently attached to the class of ’79. Mike eventually became a policeman and then a probation officer. He picked my brain about my story and my journey in ministry. He said he has seen his role in working with released prisoners as a type of ministry, explaining that he treats prisoners like people instead of like numbers, and through that act of respect conveys the love of Jesus. Mike sees God as an unconditional lover, and he is committed to sharing the gospel as good news.
Mike’s close relationship with God and the way that moves him to care for hurting people greatly encouraged me. But Jim, on the other hand, worried me. Surely God is calling his children to much more than a life of giving up rock-n-roll and performing at bars. I am not faulting Jim for taking stock of his life and considering what he wants for his child, but my prayer for him is to come to know the God who will abundantly enrich his life through a real and meaningful relationship, not a god who simply offers a list of rules demarking right and wrong behavior.
The Bible clearly indicates that we humans are not even capable of producing righteousness apart from Christ.
Jesus said, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). The entire chapter of John 15 addresses this shared life in Jesus—remain in him, abide in him, make your dwelling in him because he chooses to remain, abide and dwell in you. God is more interested in you and me knowing him, relying on him, and trusting him more than he is in our faltering efforts to live righteously. He is our righteousness; he is our life (Colossians 3:4).
It is not works that lead to relationship with Jesus; it is the relationship with Jesus that leads to good works. With Jesus abiding in you, you can treat released criminals as children of God living on this side of the cross. With Jesus dwelling in you, you are able to perform in bars and at rock-n-roll concerts (we are in the world, but not of the world).
So what can you do to make Jesus abide in you more? What can you give up to bring about a closer relationship?
The choice to create you, to die for you and live for you, and to love you in spite of your sins and shortcomings, was and is Jesus’ choice, not yours. He is faithful to you, he loves you completely and unconditionally, and he will never love you more nor less than he does at this exact moment.
My prayer for Big Jim is that he sees himself as the loved child instead of the estranged sinner, and that he will learn to focus not so much on what he needs to subtract from his life, but on Jesus as his ever-present life and righteousness.
I’m already looking forward to our 40th reunion and learning where the roller coaster of life will have taken us by then. One thing I know. Jesus is on that wild ride with us, and always will be.