A young man knocked on the door of a monastery with a large duck in his arms. His uncle, who happened to be one of the monks in the monastery, answered the knock. The nephew said to his uncle, “Here, Uncle, this is a gift for you and the others. Eat it in good health.” The uncle was very grateful. That night the duck was dressed and stuffed. The uncle and the other monks enjoyed a wonderful meal.
A few days later another knock came on the monastery door. The monk opened the door, and the man at the door said, “I am a friend of the nephew who brought you the duck. I have been a bit down on my luck lately, and I wonder if I might impose on you for a bite to eat. That night, he joined the monks for some warm duck soup.
Several days more went by. Another knock. “Hello, I am a friend of the friend of the nephew who brought the duck.” That night at dinner he was presented with a steaming hot bowl of water. He tasted it, looked up, and asked, “What’s this?” The monk replied, “Well, this is the soup of the soup of the duck that my nephew brought.”
Most of us are not satisfied with third-hand soup. Neither should we be satisfied with third, or even second-hand religion. Our Christianity needs to have the unmistakable marks of personal encounter with God. Too often it is more distant than that.
Bob Benson once emphasized that by pointing to the fact that too many artists paint someone else’s picture. He said, “We are not willing to take our palette and our paints and our brush and go to the mountains or the forest or the sea and labor until we have captured their beauty on our canvas. We only see their majesty through someone else’s eyes and with the strokes of their brush.”
That is a problem. Second-hand cars are fine, but second-hand religion is not.
Amos gave this account of first-hand religion: “I was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said, to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ Now then, hear the word of the Lord” (Amos 7:14-16).
Paul bore witness to his own encounter with God: “When God . . . was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man” (Gal. 1:15-16).
I thank God for all that we can learn of Him through others. We cannot stop there, however. We must have our own encounters with God. Second-hand experiences always lead to second-rate results. I challenge you to have first-hand experiences with God this week!