Remember God delivers, when your back is up against the wall or when you are caught in between the violent sea and a malicious army. When you cannot see the way out.
Remember, God will deliver.
When you have rejected the ways of the Lord and have chosen to go off the pathway. When you collected your inheritance and went out on your own, only to find out what happens when you fall flat on your face.
Remember, God will welcome you home.
When you sin. When you consciously reject the wisdom of God and others. When you wander from the goodness of the Lord. When you realize the stupidity of your ways.
Remember, God will run and embrace you as soon as you head back (read: repent) to the house of the Lord.
How easy we are to forget and how hard it is to make that U-turn. As Jesus once said, repent for the kingdom of God is at hand and believe in the good news.
Might we walk in this unbelievable good news.
Following Jesus will cost you something. It will cost you this: putting your whole life on a table and letting him remove certain things. Things that might be incredibly costly like your identity, vices, or library.
11 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12 so that when the handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, their diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them. 13 Then some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15 But the evil spirit said to them in reply, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” 16 Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered them all, and so overpowered them that they fled out of the house naked and wounded. 17 When this became known to all residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks, everyone was awestruck; and the name of the Lord Jesus was praised. 18 Also many of those who became believers confessed and disclosed their practices. 19 A number of those who practiced magic collected their books and burned them publicly; when the value of these books was calculated, it was found to come to fifty thousand silver coins. 20 So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.
Acts 19:11-20 (emphasis is mine)
Following Jesus will cost us something, even admitting the dark truth that is within our story. But friends, everything he removes he will replace with 10 times as much.
What might be the cost for you?
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
I Corinthians 9:25-27
I am in the beginning of my training regimen for the Avengers 1/2 Marathon at the Happiest Place on Earth. I must tell you, I’m sooooooo excited to run and high five the great Marvel superheroes that the Mouse now rules with an iron fist owns. I picture myself finishing with flare like Iron Man and raw strength like the Hulk.
However, as I’m starting to run regularly, I remember the days when I could run for quite some time and feel good about it. However, this time around, it seems like another emotion has taken hold. My perspective on training?
Well, friends, training sucks.
Training costs me something. It costs me through the stress of cardio and the soreness of my legs. It costs me in the hours I will put into it and the cost of saying no to certain food choices.
No wonder the Christian life has been compared to training as an athlete! Following Jesus is a lot like training for a race. We have to say no to certain activities in order to say yes to others. When we say ‘yes’ to Jesus, we say ‘yes’ to an abundance of life.
But it will cost us.
It will cost us if we choose to follow Jesus. If we follow Jesus the Messiah (whose only path to restoring our broken relationship was through the suffering of the cross), then we can bet that we too need to model this. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:16, the only path to reveling in God’s glory is through suffering.
Sorry Joel Osteen, following Jesus will cost us something and it will often remove the options of the standard American dream. Sometimes, God will call you to move from the house of your father like Abram or leave a profitable ministry like Jonah. Sometimes he will call us to stand as a prophet disregarded by everyone like Jeremiah. Sometimes we will even die before our dreams have been realized like Moses.
I have been confronted with this choice: Am I ready to give up certain things in my life? Am I ready to pay the cost of discipleship?
I have a confession for you all: I don’t think we can be authentic.
Even when we try to say we’re “being real” by swearing or being a total douche, our real self is buried deep under layer upon layer of choices, culture, and other environmental factors. I would argue that people who still claim to be authentic are not because they brush their teeth, comb their hair, and don’t shout out every single thought that comes to their mind. Well most people, anyways.
As Seth Godin wrote last month,
“Perhaps the only truly authentic version of you is just a few days old, lying in a crib, pooping in your pants.
“Ever since then, there’s been a cultural overlay, a series of choices, strategies from you and others about what it takes to succeed in this world (in your world).
“And so it’s all invented.
“When you tell me that it would be authentic for you to do x, y or z, my first reaction is that nothing you do is truly authentic, it’s all part of a long-term strategy for how you’ll make an impact in the world.
“I’ll grant you that it’s essential to be consistent, that people can tell when you shift your story and your work in response to whatever is happening around you, and particularly when you say whatever you need to say to get through the next cycle. But consistency is easier to talk about and measure than authenticity is.
“The question, then, is what’s the impact you seek to make, what are the changes you are working for? And how can you achieve that and still do work you’re proud of?”
It’s OK if you’re not authentic: just be honest.
Following Jesus, we will have moments of being uncool.*
The crowd is a fickle friend, and following it will often lead us down roads that are not in step with the Kingdom of God. Our thoughts and positions need to spring forth from faithfully following Scripture (with a measure of humility, see: When You’re Theologizing).
Following Jesus is countercultural and following him will require courage. Courage to speak truthfully. Courage to be winsome instead of a blustering bully. Sometimes, we will have to be fearless and resist the pressures of the crowds, choosing to fear God instead of a man or woman.
*some more than others
Have you ever been told by someone that you weren’t living a “victorious Christian life?” How about you need to claim certain promises or live by the philosophy of an author that start with O- and ends in -steen? The unfortunate news for these philosophizers is that the Christian life is not all marked by pleasant roads and pitstops. No, sometimes there is struggle.
Even Jesus had times of tremendous peace (think about the small revivals where he healed people in Galilee) and tremendous turbulence. Jesus dealt with pain and sorrow, and I don’t have to refer to the crucifixion to make this point. Jesus stood on a hill by Jerusalem and cried for the city to listen to their prophets and return to God. He wept on the road to Lazarus’ tomb. He no doubt suffered the sting of rejection by his family and neighbors in Nazareth!
In this life we will face both good and bad. The poet George Herbert puts it this way,I will complain, yet praise; I will bewail, approve: And all my sour-sweet days I will lament, and love.
Friends, if you have not suffered in some capacity, you will. But cling to the one who is well acquainted with sorrows, for he will strengthen your legs and lighten your weary load.
Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.
For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said,
“As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest,’”
although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said,
“They shall not enter my rest.”
Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”
For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.
Do you have a tough time leaving work behind? I find that I am so susceptible to the phrase “we are what we do” instead of we are because of what Jesus has done.
I admit, I listen to the lies of the enemy and buy its fiction that what I do is never enough.
I don’t pray enough, read the Bible enough, and don’t do enough. In short, I need to bite off more than I can chew!
Friends, we need a break.
We need to follow after God’s heart and God rests. He made us in image and he imaged for us in Genesis a life of creating good things and then resting on a Sabbath. Essentially he communicates: “do as I do”.
Here are a few things that I’ve uncovered lately:
How do you rest?
“Has it ever occurred to you that 100 pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which one must individually bow. So 100 worshipers meeting together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.”
I read in a past issue of Christianity Today regarding Christian ministry in a post-legalized marijuana America (see Ministry After Mary Jane). It’s worth considering that this law could come to a state near you (if it has not already) and we need to be ready for this issue.
The way I see it, everything might be made legal (to borrow from Paul’s rift in his I Corinthians) but not everything is helpful. I want to ask people why this is a need of theirs. Why should they light up in order to tune out? It might help dull the chronic pain of many, yet most (as the article muses) use it to dull personal and emotional pain.
I wonder, is pot smoking the easy way out of this world?
There is pain in life, there is suffering that comes through the pervasive (and perverse) affects of sin.
Yes, we have freedom in Christ. This freedom then leads to the service of others with care and attention, rejecting the easy way out. Within the American context of recreational marijuana use, is the use of pot helpful?
Is pot consumption the easy way out of the broken world? Are our non-pot smoking activities means of excessive escapism?
Ethical decisions, as Andy Crouch writes, are not made in a vacuum, instead they are made within the context of culture and history. Crouch writes,
“But alcoholic drinks do not function the same way in every culture. If you are Jewish, you are part of a community with a low propensity to alcoholism. And you are blessed with a rich history into which is woven the gift of wine, one of the glories of human beings’ cultivation of the world over millennia. If you are Russian, you are part of a community with a devastating, tragic history of addiction to vodka. What is permitted for a Christian in both cases may be the same. But what is helpful may be radically different.”
The marijuana plant is good. It is part of a world that was declared good by God, even if it is used to “tune out” from the painful world.
For those who are in Christ, let me pose this question. Does pot smoking (like any other free activity) enhance and sharpen the image bearing nature of the Kingdom, or does it substitute for a life lived openly (and honestly) before both God and our neighbors?
I asked this question last week, trying to process through a season of darkness. It seems as if this question reveals itself over and over again, and I was surprised to discover this question repeating itself in the pages of Scripture.
Let me ask you, how many people lived to see their dreams realized?
Did Moses enter into the Promised Land?
Did David ever see the construction of a temple?
Did Abraham ever see his descendants flourish?
It is true, there are stories where Joshua leads the people of Israel into the Promised Land. We do read that Solomon, David’s son, builds the temple too, and that even an elder of Israel, Simeon, sees Jesus before he dies. But for every great story of great triumph, there are so many stories of seeming defeat. For every conquering hero, there is a story that ends with hope among the shadows.
One thing that I’ve discovered is that not every road leads to immediate glory. Not every road leads into the promised land this side of glory. Some roads lead into chaos, while others lead through sorrow.
Don’t believe me? Look no further than the road Jesus took.
Even the road the Son of God travelled on went through capital punishment and shame. For the Son of Man, the cold grip of abandonment and shame appeared before the glorious, earth shaking event of the Resurrection.
I take great comfort in the knowledge that seeds sown in tears will be reaped with joy. For as the Son of Man was vindicated on Easter morning, so too will the follower of Jesus be vindicated at the Resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.