A Path to . . . somewhere!

Greetings fellow traveler!

As most of you know, we have been in a “step out, not sure where we’re going“ mode since at least last spring. Even before we moved from Seattle, God had me thinking about this, talking with Him, and . . . taking pictures. Here is one I took while on a walk just north of Fort Casey on Whidbey SAMSUNGIsland: notice that the path is clear, a gate is open enough to walk through (but a car would need to wait), but the destination—where the path leads—is not visible. Maybe you feel like you are on a path like this, not at all certain where it will lead. I’m not speaking in an ultimate sense—I think most of you are part of God’s forever family; you know you will spend eternity with Jesus—but where you will live or work, maybe who you will marry, or how many (more) kids you will have (along with innumerable other details) are unknown to you. You might have a reply you give to some of these if asked, because you have learned that our culture definitely favors those who answer such questions with great certainty!

Don’t get me wrong, I think having “goals” and “making plans” are good, as long as we subject them to “if God wills . . ..” I don’t mean we say that as an excuse for not being reliable; I mean we should say it because we actually surrender our plans and goals to Him. I think surrender is the only authentic response if you really follow Jesus. As I was reading again this week in Eugene H. Peterson’s excellent book The Jesus Way I was reminded that, for many people (unfortunately even many within God’s family who live and think in the way of the world), following seems foolish. Think while you read:

            “When we follow Jesus, it means that we don’t know exactly what it means, at least in detail. We follow him, letting him pick the roads, set the timetables, tell us what we need to know but only when we need to know it. Caiaphas knew exactly what he wanted and where he was going, and he had a pretty good idea of how to get there. He was a master at getting what he wanted in religion. . . ..

              “When Jesus says ‘Follow me’ and we follow, we don’t know where we will go next or what we will do next. That is why we follow the one who does know.”

(The Jesus Way, p. 240)

 Peterson’s words suggest that, in truth, nobody knows where they will go next or what they will do next. Many people think their plans are certain, but they are mistaken. Some tragic examples arose in central California this week, I’ll share only one: two families had their lives plunge into inexpressible pain when one mom, making a right turn out of the elementary school driveway after dropping her children for the day, struck and killed a twelve year old on a bike as he approached the same driveway from her right. . . . Papa, bring your tangible presence, including empathetic visits from some of our brothers and sisters, to comfort those who ache because of death. But I don’t know the details. It could be that the parents in one or both of these hurting families are Jesus followers—which brings me to another point from Peterson:

“. . .Following Jesus is not a path to privilege. It is not a way to get what you want. It is not the inside track to a higher standard of living. In both Judaism and the church there have always been a lot of people who expect everything to turn out wonderfully when they commit themselves to God’s ways, worship faithfully, study their Bibles, witness to their friends, and give generously. But it is following Caiaphas that gets you that kind of life, not following Jesus. Jesus makes that explicit when he says, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross . . .’ (Matt. 16:24).”

(The Jesus Way, p. 229).

If you are struggling in the Way today, if life seems confusing or hard (or both), do not despair. It is possible to follow yet not have all the answers. Remember, even though “we don’t know where we will go next or what we will do next, . . . we follow the one who does know.”

Lord Jesus, please allow us to see and hear You in ways which Your Spirit will use to enable us to be good followers.

 

“Stay safe!” Really?

It is Labor Day here in the U.S., which doesn’t necessarily mean we celebrate (or even remember) the important role of “workers” in our society. For most people it is simply “another three day weekend”—complete with “sobriety checkpoints” and the oft-repeated encouragement “Stay safe!” Is that really an encouragement we should adopt? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for driving safely and being alert for those whose driving is erratic or dangerous. I even welcome prayers for “traveling mercies” and to “keep him safe on the road” when I drive. My con3114-danger-hazardous-area-do-not-entercern is for those who think “Stay safe” is part of the Way of Jesus!

I’m not sure exactly where this happened in our corporate thinking, but “safe” is not a good descriptor of the Jesus Way. Yet, much of what we do or encourage of others is focused in our “safety.” This thinking is very . . . motherly, but it is not Scriptural! Think about the life of Jesus, from the beginning it was fraught with danger! When His mother Mary was “great with child”—well into her ninth month–she had to travel for days on a donkey and give birth surrounded by animals. These were not ideal conditions for a healthy birth even in the first century. Before Jesus was two years old his family fled to Egypt to avoid slaughter (all the other little boys in Bethlehem were killed). During the three years of his public ministry He “escaped” several times from those who sought to kill him, often traveled to a different place (or to a remote place) because the religious leaders wanted him dead, and He repeatedly spoke to the twelve of how  He would be seized, beaten, killed, and in three days rise out from among the dead (we have no record of Him ever speaking of His crucifixion without also speaking of His resurrection). Imagine looking that Jesus in the eye and saying “Stay safe!” You’ve got to be kidding!

“Stay safe” was similarly foreign to His early followers—think of Peter and John before the Sanhedrin, where (after their release) they join with other believers and pray for boldness to continue speaking and acting; Stephen speaks boldly and is killed by stoning; Peter continues to speak and is jailed again (and released by an angel in response to prayer by the body) around the same time James the brother of John was killed with a sword at the command of Herod; and Paul “beaten three times with rods, imprisoned often, shipwrecked three times (before the one off Malta), in peril in the country, in peril in the city, in peril . . . often. “Stay safe?”

In fact, my thoughts went in this direction because of something Paul says, over in Acts 20:22 (while talking with the elders of the Church of Ephesus). He says the Spirit is “compelling” him to go to Jerusalem and telling him in every city that “bonds and afflictions” await him there. Sounds like Jesus. And, like Jesus, Paul says: “What matters most to me is to finish what God started; the job the Master Jesus gave me of letting everyone I meet know all about this incredibly extravagant generosity of God.” Such is the attitude produced by His Spirit in those who know they have already been crucified with Christ, whose life is not their own, and through whom the Risen Jesus lives. May it be true of me. I pray it will be true of you, too.

So, if you’ll be on the road today, drive safely. But in the balance of your life, follow Jesus, live in the Way of Jesus— speak when and what He wants you to speak, allow Him to touch those in need through your hands; embrace danger, boldly go where the Holy Spirit leads, fulfill the work the Master—King Jesus—has given you.

Enjoy Him. He enjoys you.

John