Waiting for Christmas

From ages past no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who works for those who wait for him. Isaiah 64:4

I hate waiting.

I am the sort of person that when I stand in a grocery store, I mark my place of where I am visually so that I can time whether I picked the fastest cashier to check out with or not. I suspect you probably don’t enjoy waiting either. We live in a cultural moment that is allergic to waiting.

However, one of the most deepening soul-exercises I’ve learned over the years is the discipline of waiting. And the season of Advent is about waiting. Waiting for the transcendent God of the universe to enter time and space and put things to rights. As Tolkien has said, “To make everything sad come untrue.”

If you’re a follower of Jesus, you are someone who lives as an advent person in an instant-everything-world. And waiting teaches us to hope in God even in the moments when the world seems uncertain and we don’t have a whole lot of confidence in ourselves.

Almost twenty years ago my wife and I were rebuilding our marriage. It was summertime and I had sent her and our three young boys to spend four weeks here in Colorado with her parents and family. I stayed in the Seattle area to work.

We made plans to meet in Idaho, just outside of Yellowstone, and I would take them back to the Northwest. We had turned the corner in our relationship towards healing and the anticipation of seeing each other was beyond words.

As I drove through the winding roads of the mountains of Idaho towards the campground, my heart began to beat faster, and my foot got heavier on the gas pedal. A song came on the radio that reminded me of my love for her and I had to pull over to the side of the road because I couldn’t see through the tears in my eyes.

Eventually, I saw the motorhome that held my family and I pulled into their rented space in the KOA campground. I got out of the car and knocked on the door. Someone looked out the window and yelled, “It’s dad!” I opened the outside door and could hear my young boys squealing with excitement.

Then Lynette appeared in the door opening. The only thing separating me from the bride of my youth was a screen door, but it was locked. Lynette struggled to unlock it…her passion to get to me was so intense I thought one of two things were about to happen:

One, she was going to start cussing.

Second, she was going to rip that screen door off its hinges.

Finally, the screen door released and out she came, threw her arms around my neck, kissed my face, bawled so much that she smeared snot all over my shirt.

What does waiting do to you? It increases the intensity of desire for the one you are waiting for. It enlarges our hearts. It deepens our capacity to love. It widens our souls and what our souls were designed for: Love for God and love for one another. Waiting on Jesus to come close does the same to our souls. It opens up caverns of space in our soul for the good Lord to come and abide inside us.

Perhaps it would be good during this season of Christmas music, tinsel, and peanut brittle for you to do business with the reality that perhaps the deep longings of your life that you are waiting for might ultimately be met in Jesus of Nazareth.

My grandfather used to say to me when I would work with him, “Boy, don’t just sit there, do something.” But I’ve learned over the years that more often than not I need to slow down and attend to God. I need to examine my motives and my heart. I need to sit with my deep longings and laments.

There is a stanza in Mary Oliver’s poem Such Silence that says,

I sat on the bench, waiting for something.
An angel, perhaps.
Or dancers with the legs of goats.
No, I didn’t see either. But only, I think, because
I didn’t stay long enough.

This Christmas don’t be content to race from event to event. Don’t be content to live with all the distraction and the noise and the glitter. Slow down, quiet down and expand your capacity to experience Jesus in the deep places in your soul. Don’t just do something, sit there.

If you sit long enough, you might be surprised at who shows up.

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Homeless Jesus

Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me. – Jesus

A new religious statue in the town of Davidson, N.C., is unlike anything you might see in church.

The statue depicts Jesus as a vagrant sleeping on a park bench. St. Alban’s Episcopal Church installed the homeless Jesus statue on its property in the middle of an upscale neighborhood filled with well-kept townhomes.

Jesus is huddled under a blanket with his face and hands obscured; only the crucifixion wounds on his uncovered feet give him away.

The reaction was immediate. Some loved it; some didn’t.

“One woman from the neighborhood actually called police the first time she drove by,” says David Boraks, editor of DavidsonNews.net. “She thought it was an actual homeless person.”

That’s right. Somebody called the cops on Jesus.

“Another neighbor, who lives a couple of doors down from the church, wrote us a letter to the editor saying it creeps him out,” Boraks added.

Some neighbors feel that it’s an insulting depiction of the son of God, and that what appears to be a hobo curled up on a bench demeans the neighborhood.

It’s hard for us to recognize Jesus when Jesus shows up dressed as the poor or migrant workers from Honduras trying to seek asylum in this country.

Scripture insists that experiencing God’s transforming grace in your life will lead to expressing God’s compassion in radical ways with everything that you have and everything that you are.

Why is that so?

Because of the essence of the Christian story. You see the very center of the Christian story, is the story of God becoming poor for us. Jesus himself would become hungry, thirsty, naked, and poor on a Roman cross for you, me, and the whole world.

The gospel tells us that you and I, in all the ways that matter— spiritually and morally—are desperately impoverished and yet at infinite cost to himself, God gives us grace. God extends us compassion when we could not hope to deserve it.

When that good news gets into the depth of who you are; when you are appropriately scandalized by the gospel of God’s grace, you will become the kind of person that naturally lives to extend compassion to everyone that you are around.

Jesus says do you want to grow as my follower? Here is how you do it: get close to someone in need. When you are around the least of these, whenever you get near somebody who needs friendship, welcome, compassion, and help— whenever you make the choice to be generous—Jesus says you are on Holy Ground.

Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy tells a fascinating story called Where Love, God Is. It is the story of a cobbler named Martin. Martin is someone who experienced deep tragedy. That tragedy grows him hard and cynical. He begins to be quite depressed. He drinks vodka like its water. But one day he happens upon a Bible and begins to read the Gospels. His life is turned upside down. Peace and joy flood his life.

One evening after Martin had finished his days’ work, he sits by the fire in the living room with his glasses drooping on his nose reading a place in the gospels when he falls asleep. And he has a vision in which Jesus comes to him in a dream and he says, “Martin, tomorrow look for me in the street for I will come and visit you there.”

The next morning Martin wakes up excited that today he is going to meet Jesus Christ himself. He stationed himself by the window in his house early in the morning. Down the street comes an old man from his town named Stepanich who has shoes that are worn full of holes. He can’t pay to have his shoes repaired. And so, Martin simply invites him in from the cold. He repairs his shoes for him. He spends some time with an old man who’s who lives much of his life quite lonely. Then he sends him on his way.

Later in the morning, he spots a woman who has a baby and she’s poorly dressed for the winter wind. So he invites her into his home. He gives her some of the cabbage soup that he had been making for his lunch. He gives her his cloak to wrap the baby in and then eventually he sends her on her way on her way.

And then in the afternoon as he is again sitting by his window, he spots an old woman who’s selling apple’s out of a cart when a teenager sneaks up on her and steals an apple and tries to run off. But the old woman being spry, grabs a tuft of the boy’s hair and she’s screaming at him and threatening to call the police. So, Martin runs out of his home. He separates the woman from the boy. He calms the woman down. He pays her for her apple. He gives that apple to the boy. He makes the boy apologize to the old woman and he gets them to befriend one another.

He goes back into his home and makes himself dinner. Then as he’s sitting by the fire, he remembers his dream and wonders where Jesus was and why Jesus did not come to visit him as he promised.

After supper he decides to read the Bible again. Here is how Tolstoy tells the story:

He intended to open the book at the very place where he had yesterday put a piece of leather as a mark, but it happened to open at another place; and the moment Martin opened the Testament, he recollected his last night’s dream. And as soon as he remembered it, it seemed as though he heard someone stepping about behind him. Martin looked around, and saw—there, in the dark corner, it seemed as though people were standing: he was at a loss to know who they were. And a voice whispered in his ear, “Martin—ah, Martin! Did you not recognize me?”

“Who?” uttered Martin.

“Me,” replied the voice. “It is I,” and Stepanich stepped forth from the dark corner; he smiled, and like a little cloud faded away, and soon vanished.

“And this is I,” said the voice. From the dark corner stepped forth the woman with her child: the woman smiled, the child laughed, and they also vanished.

“And this is I,” continued the voice; both the old woman and the boy with the apple stepped forward; both smiled and vanished.

Martin’s soul rejoiced: he crossed himself, put on his eyeglasses, and began to read the Gospel where it happened to open. On the upper part of the page he read:

“For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in.”

And on the lower part of the page he read this:

“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25).

And Martin understood that his dream did not deceive him; that the Savior really called upon him that day, and that he really received Him.

Friends, this is the good news. Jesus has become the least of these for us. May we welcome him deeply into our lives. You will meet him in your life this week dressed as the least of these.

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Shameless Hospitality

I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. Luke 11:8

This story arises from a world in which hospitality was a serious thing. A guest could arrive at someone’s house no matter the time of day or night and expect to receive at least one unbroken loaf of bread when they arrive. Regardless of if they arrived unannounced. Regardless of what hour of the night they arrived.

Women in families often baked bread together in common courtyards. And so, in a small town everyone would know who had a spare loaf of bread at the end of the day.

Jesus is picturing a moment in which someone arrives at your doorstep and you’re out of bread for the day. So, you go to a friend’s house, who you know has a leftover loaf or two, and then bang on the door until they turn the light on and come and see what you want.

The word “persistence” in Luke 11:8 in the NRSV and “boldness” in the NIV in Greek can be translated “Shamelessness.”

Jesus is saying if we’re decent enough to help a neighbor banging on the door in the middle of the night, standing on our front porch in their pajamas, how much more will the God who is your true Friend answer you when come to Him and trust and in faith.

So, Jesus says be shameless in your prayers.

I want to invite you to take Jesus up on his invitation here.

As your pastor of three and a half years now, I want to invite you to join me in praying shameless and large prayers to our faithful Friend. You know everyone wants their church to grow. Everyone.

A pastor who says he is satisfied preaching to empty pews, lies about other things.

But I am not going to lead you into a marketing campaign to grow our church. We will not try to attract more people through slick programs or even shorter sermons. But here is what I am calling you to join me in doing: Would you pray that God expands our ministry here at Mountain Heights Baptist Church in whatever way He chooses to bring our way?

Demographically, we are a mature congregation. I don’t apologize for that to anyone. We are uniquely positioned at our stage of life to be a place of restoration and hope to those prodigals who are wandering and wondering. There will come a day when they will ponder where they can go when they are in their pigpen—may they think of us.

There are ministry leaders from around the state and country that need a place to come and be restored back to life. Why can’t they come here to beautiful Buena Vista and spend time with a seasoned pastor like me and sweet people like you and be loved back to life; refreshed to go back to their ministry and impact the kingdom of God for the next generation?

Christian leaders are in trouble. And when the leaders are in trouble the Church is in trouble. Our culture, both inside and outside the church is grinding down Christian leaders.

According to Thabiti Anyabwile one of the pastors of Anacostia River Church in Southeast DC, in an article he wrote for the website 9Marks back in 2014:

50% of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years.

1 out of every 10 ministers will actually retire as a minister in some form.

4,000 new churches begin each year and 7,000 churches close.

Over 1,700 pastors left the ministry every month last year.

Over 1,300 pastors were terminated by the local church each month, many without cause.

What if part of our calling here at Mountain Heights Baptist Church were to partner with Lynette and I to offer Soul Care and Restoration to Christian leaders and their families early and often?

In the early 90’s on a large game preserve in South Africa, the rangers began to notice that white rhinoceroses were being killed by much larger animals. Turns out the killers were adolescent bull elephants. These elephants had been orphaned and were left on the reserve to fend for themselves. In the wild, the males herd together and the older and much larger bulls keep the younger bulls in check. Without the older bulls to model adult elephant behavior and the gravitas to challenge the younger bulls—they were doing great damage.

I believe that many younger pastors need an older pastor—a seasoned pastor, a tough old pastor, a scarred old bull—to come alongside them and “be” with them. Lynette and have felt this calling for quite some time and we are wondering if God might be extending that call to our local church to partner with us in ministering to ministers.

We may not have very many children running around our facility on Sundays, but if this church could take up the call to rescue and restore ministry leaders from around the state and country as one of the major themes of our ministry, think of the scores of children that may be won for the sake of the Kingdom.

Would you join us in voicing a bold, persistent, and shameless prayer about Soul Care for Ministry Leaders that might be a part of our calling here at Mountain Heights Baptist Church?

Christian leaders are at risk, but we are not a people without hope. We have the time-tested disciplines of the Church that are simply waiting to be re-introduced into a modern age. I sense that the younger generations of pastors are very eager to learn from older leaders who value their souls, whether they know it now or not. We have the presence of the Holy Spirit, we have the energized dynamic of resurrection power, and we have wounded healers limping around who are willing to serve Jesus by serving pastors.

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. Proverbs 13:20.

african-elephants-ivory-tusks-615

Old bulls walking with young bulls.

That’s me on the left.

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Forgiveness is Hope

Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. Matthew 18:21-35

At 2:15 in the afternoon on March 28, 2010, Conor McBride, a tall, sandy-haired 19-year-old wearing jeans, a T-shirt and New Balance sneakers, walked into the Tallahassee Police Department and approached the desk in the main lobby. Gina Maddox, the officer on duty, noticed that he looked upset and asked him how she could help. “You need to arrest me,” McBride answered. “I just shot my fiancée in the head.” When Maddox, taken aback, didn’t respond right away, McBride added, “This is not a joke.”

He had indeed, in a fit of rage, gunned down his fiancée, Ann Grosmaire, and she would die from her injuries days later. The Grosmaire family story was told in a long-form piece in the New York Times from several years ago called, Can Forgiveness Play a Role in Criminal Justice?

The article describes the scene,

That night, Andy Grosmaire, Ann’s father, stood beside his daughter’s bed in the intensive-care unit of Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. The room was silent except for the rhythmic whoosh of the ventilator keeping her alive. Ann had some brainstem function, the doctors said, and although her parents, who are practicing Catholics, held out hope, it was clear to Andy that unless God did “wondrous things,” Ann would not survive her injuries. Ann’s mother, Kate, had gone home to try to get some sleep, so Andy was alone in the room, praying fervently over his daughter, “just listening,” he says, “for that first word that may come out.”

Ann’s face was covered in bandages, and she was intubated and unconscious, but Andy felt her say, “Forgive him.” His response was immediate. “No,” he said out loud. “No way. It’s impossible.” But Andy kept hearing his daughter’s voice: “Forgive him. Forgive him.”

Andy Grosmaire knew what all of us know: forgiveness is hard.

Jesus taught that the same spiritual apparatus that gives forgiveness away is the one that actually receives soul-forgiveness. It is the same spiritual valve. If it is closed off towards others, then it is an indication that it was never open to receive from God.

The Forgiveness Principle: Forgiven people, forgive. And they only forgive others to the degree in which they have been forgiven.

To refuse to forgive someone is to allow resentment to build up in the soul. I can’t remember who said it, but it is so true, “Resentment is the poison we swallow, while we hope the other person dies.”

But when your soul has been ravished by God’s forgiveness, you are on the hunt for those who need to be forgiven. True Christians are world-class forgivers. We are the gold-standard for mercy.

Desmond Tutu from South Africa spent his life trying to get white and black South Africans to forgive one another said, “You and I have no future without forgiveness.”

Every time we take a step to begin to forgive, we are living the Jesus-rhythm of dying, rising, giving, and receiving God’s outlandish forgiveness ever more deeply into the depths of our life.

Never mistake forgetting for forgiving.

Forgiveness has nothing to do with forgetting. It’s easy to become confused.  The Bible teaches that God is able to forgive and forget.

For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”  Jeremiah 31:34

Notice that it never says that we are to do the same. We can’t. Only He can. One reason why God can forget is that there is nothing he needs to learn by remembering. There’re tons of important information that we can learn by remembering, even though we may not want to remember.

Does God forget the way we forget when we can’t remember where we left our keys?  No.  God does not have amnesia—to say God forgets is to say that he feels about us the way he would feel if he had forgotten.

Author Lewis Smedes reminds us,

 You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well.

That’s why remembering, not forgetting, is the key to forgiveness. Forgiving does not mean forgetting.  It’s draining the past of its power to hurt us.

Be willing to take a step to forgive one more time.

Forgiveness always begins with a decision. It is an act of the will, even though we may not “feel like it” at the moment. I decide to work towards releasing you from the “debt” you “owe” me.

Often even after we have decided to forgive someone, the painful emotions rise up again and make us want to send an invoice on the relational debt.

Is Jesus saying that we only have to forgive 77 times? Then on the 78th time they hurt us we can bloody their nose? No. As often as I think of you and feel pain, I re-release you from your debt. The point is for a follower of Jesus you place no deadline on the willingness to offer somebody pardon.

It’s a journey, it’s not a moment. And the deeper the hurt, the longer the road. Jesus invites us simply to be willing to do it one more time to do one more time.

Eventually, Andy Grosmaire was willing to take that one more time step. He processed his rage, his grief, his sadness—and in the end he chose to take a step to forgive.

This is what the writer of that article says about his own journey. He says “Ann’s parents strive to model their lives on Jesus and forgiveness is deep in their creed. Andy says, “I realized it was not just my daughter Ann asking me to forgive her killer. It was Jesus Christ,” Andy recalls. and I hadn’t said no to him before, and I wasn’t going to start then. I felt just a wave of joy and I told Anne in that hospital room, “I’ll do it.”

This is somebody whose life has been marked by the outlandish forgiveness of God.

So, friends may you experience God’s forgiveness deep in your being and may you extend it because you and I have no future without forgiveness.

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Banquet for the Broken

In the ancient world there was reciprocity when it came to dinner invitations. It was an occasion of social importance and power. You figured out pretty quickly your standing in the community on whether or not you were invited to a dinner party or not.

I apologize in advance for any trauma this might cause any of you, but do you remember going to Junior High lunch for the first time?

Our school at Westcliffe, Colorado, where I went to Junior High, was so small that the we ate in the same room and time as with the High Schoolers. One of the oddities and rites of passage in that place was if you got a roll, a brownie, or a sugar cookie the High School boys would steal it off your tray as you walked by. So, one of the tactics we developed was as soon as the roll or brownie was put on your tray, you picked it up and licked so that everyone would see.

As a part of the orientation, wouldn’t it have been helpful if there a heads up about the gluttonary practices of High School boys and we had been able to see a seating chart depicting where it was safe to sit and where it might be socially dangerous?  Because where you sit in a junior high lunchroom matters.

The Creator-God is about to throw a world-wide feast of grace for broken people, but there will be a great reversal regarding the guest list.  The singular dynamic of the life of people who follow Him is humility.

People who live to puff themselves up, will end up flat on their faces. But people who are humbled by God will be transformed to more than what they were before. A relationship with Jesus transforms us and exalts us by humbling us.

It’s the Jesus Way.

Despicable me and despicable you— with our hurts, habits and hang-ups, our pasts, our presents, our weirdness and our neurosis—we get a seat of honor at the dinner table of the Living God of the Universe all because that same God humbled Himself and came into this broken world as a baby named Jesus.

The one being in the entire cosmic universe who had no reason to humble Himself because He is perfect beyond comprehension, humbled himself to be born to poor peasant parents, worked as a calloused-handed carpenter in a backwater town in a no-name country and then began to go around from village to village inviting broken, wounded, misfit people to a great banquet.

Many people that I know spend vast amounts of energy, resources, and time to try to validate to someone that they belong; that they matter and are significant. So many people end up exhausting themselves elbowing their way to the table.

The good news about Jesus means that you can be honest with yourself and God that you are not Okay, but God welcomes you to the feast of love and grace anyway.  He makes you a very important person, though you bring nothing to the table for Him.

If you feel like you are on the outside of the family of God, you are invited to God’s Table.  You don’t have to wait until you feel Okay about yourself to come to the table of grace. Or you don’t have to wait until you have your act together.  In fact, the messier you are the better it is.

But for some of you are already at the Table of Grace, but you have forgotten your table manners. Many people sitting at Jesus’ salvation table are still exhausting themselves, trying to earn the approval of bosses, peers and critics—that they don’t even like—and they are killing themselves along the way.

If you are a follower of Jesus, you don’t have to prove to anyone anything about your value.

I spent the first 20 years of my adulthood mostly trying to prove that I was valuable to God. Then when I lost it all and was at the bottom, God came to me and said, “Are you hungry? Wanna come to dinner?”  I said, “I got nothing to offer you in exchange for the privilege of sitting at the table.” And He said, “That is what qualifies you to come. Besides, your place at the feast has already been paid for.”

And so has yours, friend.

So has yours.

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No Turning Back

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Matthew 13:44

Church Curmudgeon

The common impression that folks in our culture have of a Christian is that we are against a lot of fun things. Most of us are engaged in what the media has called “The Culture War.”  Word on the street is that we Christ-followers are angry, very angry. We are judgmental.

They think we are joyless.

That impression is not unearned. We come by it honestly.

But Jesus’ little story about the hidden treasure exposes that as a shallow caricature. It demonstrates worth life is Christian is a matter of infinite joy.

I like what Dallas Willard says about this,

“The Kingdom of God is present wherever what God wants done is done. It is the range of God’s effective will. The Kingdom of God is spatial and timeless — it is a wonderful place to be and to live and it is eternal. The kingdom of God is all around you. That is the meaning of the phrase, ‘The kingdom of the heavens.”

Doesn’t that sound good?

Thirty-seven years ago last spring, I met my first wife on a blind date as she was graduating college in Shawnee, Oklahoma. The date went well. I asked her if she would like to go out on a second date the coming weekend.

She said no.

Said she had a party to go to. Said it was an engagement party for her roommate. Wondered if I wanted to go to the party with her. Let me get this straight, you want me to go to a party of strangers, a party of choir people who belong to fraternities and sororities, who wear their sweaters tied around their necks like a bunch of preppies using them as superhero capes?

What is the Kingdom of God like? It’s like an introverted, rule-breaking, mountain-raised, red-necked, recluse guy who wanted a second date with a tall, long-legged blond so badly that he went to a nerdy engagement party for someone he didn’t know and certainly didn’t like.

What is the Kingdom of God like? It’s like a Lotto ticket that pays off. It’s like getting a letter from Ed McMahan that says you actually did win the publisher’s clearing house sweepstakes of 8.7 million dollars.

What is the Kingdom of God like?

“Like a man named Jed, a poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed, then one day he was shootin at some food, up through the ground came a bubblin crude. Oil that is, black gold, Texas Tea.”

What is the Kingdom of God like? When people finally understand what’s at stake—they want this more than anything they have ever wanted in their life. And they exchanged the plan they had for their lives for access to this Kingdom with great joy.

If you think about it, Jesus actually goes on to live out the details of this parable. Jesus will be delivered up to death. His body would be sewn into the cold hard earth. Jesus coming out that cold, dark grave on the third day infuses us with life! God would welcome us into his family.

The message of Jesus’ little story is that the God of the universe is glad to give everything to have you. And when that infinite love, when that expansive staggering love is at the center of your life, it is worth giving everything for.

Is it worth it? My personal answer is yes! Not because it is easy. Not even because it is the right thing to do. It is worth it because He is worth it—and we aren’t home yet.

He is worthy of every prayer.
He is worthy of every act of obedience.
He is worthy of every temptation ever resisted.
He is worthy of every song of worship ever sung.
He is worthy of every tear of repentance ever shed.
He is worthy of every ounce of labor ever expended.
He is worthy of my life.
He is worthy.

Life with God, life in the Kingdom of the heavens, is worth giving everything you have. Because you get Jesus.

Even when living as a follower of Jesus puts you out of step with neighbors or colleagues or friends. It is worth it. Even in the moments when your future seems uncertain and it’s hard to trust God—it is worth it.

Even in the moments when you feel all too small and all too ordinary. Why? Because you get Jesus, because you get God, you get infinite joy now.

Jesus tells us this life pricey but is precious it will cost everything, and it will be the best deal you’ve ever had.

At the end of the Council of Elrond in Fellowship of the Ring, there’s a moment in which the two main Hobbit characters, Frodo and Sam, realize they will undertake a quest in which they will endure more loss than they can even imagine.

Tolkien describes Frodo feeling all sorts of nostalgia for his family and friends that he’s leaving behind—all sorts of longing to simply go back to the quiet of the Shire where he’s from and enjoy a simple, predictable life—life that’s not risky, dangerous, and holds no dread for him.

Then almost to his own surprise, Frodo raises his voice in the middle of this circle of people and says:

‘I will go, he said, though I do not know the way.’

This is exactly what we can do when we see the staggering love of God in Jesus. When we see God spending everything to have us.

I will follow, even though I don’t know the way.

Even though I feel little and ordinary, even though it be costly, even though it feels like putting a part of my life to death. I will follow, though I don’t know the way.

When I was a kid there was a song we sang at church camp after e.v.e.r.y. service.

I have decided to follow Jesus;
No turning back, no turning back.

Tho’ none go with me, I still will follow;
No turning back, no turning back.

My cross I’ll carry till I see Jesus;
No turning back, No turning back.

The world behind me, the cross before me;
No turning back, no turning back.

You can say this because Jesus has spent everything for you and did so in his joy.

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Tell it Slant

To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God. Mark 4:11

Would it surprise you that Jesus liked to tell secrets? Not exactly how many of us imagine gentle Jesus, meek and mild. And yet everyone loves to be told a secret. That is why gossip is so attractive.

Do you see that phrase kingdom of God? Jesus says there is a secret to be discovered about the idea of the Kingdom of God. The original hearers of this phrase were very familiar with it and understood it to mean that there was going to come a time when someone would come and lead the nation of Israel back into the golden age again. They wanted him to hold rallies, get T-shirts and ball caps that said, “Make Israel Great Again.”

They were looking for a military hero or strong leader that would kick out their oppressors, Rome, and give the people freedom again.

If you spend much time in the New Testament, you read over and over again that Jesus announces that he is that long-awaited coming King—but not the king for which they were looking. And he does it repeatedly through acts of secrecy.

Many times in the New Testament, He would heal someone and then tell the people not to tell anyone. He would cast out a demon and command the restored man to not tell anyone. Or someone would do the math and figure out that he is the Messiah and he would shhhh them. This happens over and over again, until one event—the cross.

The cross is the open secret of how God acts to make the world right again. The cross is the singular event that makes possible for you and me to enter into a flourishing life on this good earth. This is the punch line to the devil’s joke. This is the surprising twist.

Virtually everyone in those days was looking for a man who come along and they could make a king to solve all of their problems; but the God and King of the universe became a man. While they were waiting for someone to come along and fight a battle to throw off their foreign oppressor, Jesus gave himself up for those who loved him and the enemies who hated him.

And by his body being sewn into the rocky hard-pan of a garbage heap outside of Jerusalem, Jesus wins a victory over even older, and darker enemies than Rome—sin and death. We can’t understand God or life—without the cross of Jesus at the very center of it. This is the mystery that Jesus will make your life into a miracle harvest.

The invitation from Jesus is to live life the way he lived life. To apprentice ourselves to Jesus and live his pattern of life. And, as my father used to preach when I was a kid, we dare not enter that life lightly because it eventually led Jesus to die on a cross.

Are you willing for follow Jesus that far? The amazing thing is that when we follow our story-telling rabbi all the way to the cross, we find that what looked like a cul-de-sac is really a highway to a flourishing life.

Jesus said in the Gospel of John,

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, the night before Jesus was to go to the cross, He was facing infinite suffering and cosmic abandonment—He was going to pay the penalty for our sins. And the very thought of that shocked Jesus so powerfully that He fell to the ground and began to sweat drops of blood, he looked up to heaven and plead, “Is there any other way?”

And the answer from heaven was, “My life cannot be released into them unless you become a seed, die and go into the ground.” And He did! He became voluntarily weak for us. And that is the secret of the kingdom; the power of the Word is the weakness of the Lord.

When you see Him doing that for you and the beauty of His weakness and that comes deep into your life…that will change you.

I love the way Emily Dickinson describes what Jesus does for us in statements about the mystery of His kingdom.

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

This is what Jesus is with these cryptic statements and hangs willingly on a cross for me and you. He is bringing us God’s truth but bringing it in way that catches us off guard. He is bringing us truth but bringing it to us slant.

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