We had a great annual parish meeting yesterday. God blessed us beyond our numbers, efforts and plans in '08. There is impressive spiritual growth taking place through home Bible study groups, and I was dazzled as the out-going Senior Warden framed her remarks with words of Jesus, learned in her group. The amount of ministry going forth from Good Shepherd is way out of proportion to our modest membership and attendance. Despite all the financial woes of the world, we had the most abundant budget in parish history (including excellent performance by a bank-managed trust). It was an afternoon to glorify God, give thanks, and look hopefully and expectantly for "what's next."
Toward the end of the meeting, our new Senior Warden referred to me as "our fearless leader." I was immediately aware of the reality that I am anything but fearless.
My predisposition is to see the glass half empty, to be aware of all that could go wrong, to know why something can't be or shouldn't be tried, etc. etc. I won't go into all the psychodrama and speculation of why that might be so, except to say that Satan established his presence in my family of origin very early on and hasn't let go.
This painful awareness butted up against two positive, Christian counterpoints: 1) The Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul and 2) some recent comments by Bishop Bill Atwood, writing about the East African Revival. St. Paul and East African Christians tell us "Before and After" stories: "I lived life one way before I knew Jesus, and a new way after I came to know Him."
Before Jesus became personally real to me in Junior High School, my young life was a fog of fearful pessimism. Since entering a relationship with him , I have been blessed to lead a full life, marked wonderfully by risky and fruitful endeavors. These have been on public display in church life, but also in the intimate adventure of marriage and parenting. Without Christ, I would not have entered any of the joys I've known and shared with others.
I wish I could say that I was free of the fears and pessimism, but that aspect of who I am "in the flesh" will be with me for awhile. Like Paul in Philippians 3:12, I have to say "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me."
The most perceptive "before and after" comment about me came from the actor Efrem Zimbalest, Jr. He was an "8 o'clocker" at the parish where I met my wife. He was unique, in that he actually listened to early service sermons and would discuss them in detail at the church door.
One Sunday, he said, "Tim, you are a powerful communicator of joy, because I suspect it does not come easily to you."
Right on target. And the glory of it is that Jesus set me free to rejoice - to see goodness and beauty in a world I know to be wretchedly evil and ugly. Before Jesus, everything languished in shadow. But He is the light of life that shines, and the darkness cannot overcome Him. I give thanks that He chooses to shine on me.
I shared this testimony with the congregation as we ended yesterday's meeting. And I encouraged them, as I encourage you, reader, to take time and think on your "before and after" relationship with Jesus. We won't all have stories of turning from crime, addiction or other dramatic conversions, but if we take the time to look at our lives we can see that Jesus has changed us, and that He is the hopeful message we have to share.