A Perilous Postponement

“I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say goodbye to those in my house.”
Luke 9:61 (Common English Bible)
     Here is someone who experienced an impulse of faith, an impulse that disclosed the beauty of following Jesus as Lord. Perhaps it was something in the words Jesus spoke. Perhaps it was something about the manner and spirit of Jesus that was captivating. Or perhaps it was the evidence that there was something extraordinary about the quality of life experienced by others following Jesus. Whatever the cause, here is someone who’s conscience and heart was aroused such that they experienced an impulse which urged an immediate decision to follow Jesus. But, obedience to the impulse is delayed, “but first let me say goodbye to those in my house.”
     Jesus says, “No.” It is unacceptable to Jesus that an impulse to follow may be delayed by anything, even if it is simply to say goodbye to loved ones. Does that appear harsh? Doesn’t it seem inconsiderate, even severe, that Jesus rejects this reasonable request to say goodbye? It may seem so. Yet, is it harsh for someone to grab a child quickly – and with considerable force – and draw them away from a car traveling in the child’s path? Or would this be viewed as an act of love? The emphasis of Jesus’ response is love.
     Our Lord knows that postponement meant the very real possibility of destruction, that if obedience to a sacred impulse to follow Jesus is deferred to another time there may be no impulse to obey. Isn’t it a common experience that at one moment we may experience a deep craving for something, like ice cream, and at another moment it is gone? And so underneath Jesus’ rebuke is the awful concern that a sacred impulse delayed is a sacred impulse lost.
     If an impulse promises more value to life than a scoop of ice cream then it must be converted into action immediately. There must be no period of delay or resting. If a life-giving impulse is not converted into immediate action there is no achievement. The only way to keep such an impulse sweet is to change it into an act immediately. It is then that it’s gracious influence is experienced into eternity.
     Jesus is offering life, life in following Him. An impulse to accept this invitation in the present moment may be lost in the next. It is perilous to wait. Such a postponement may result in the destruction of our life with God. “Follow Me” must not be answered with, “I will follow You” but with, “I will follow You now.”


What Is Faith?

“Faith is the reality of what we hope for,
the proof of what we don’t see.”
Hebrews 11:1 (Common English Bible)
     I am often surprised how few people really understand the notion of faith. Frequently I hear someone seeking to comfort another by saying, “You need to have faith.” Or, perhaps, I hear someone ask, “Do you have faith?” But this kind of talk about faith isn’t in our Bible. The Bible never speaks of faith as something that we get. Faith simply isn’t our doing.
     Look again at what Paul says about faith here in Hebrews, “Faith is the reality of what we hope for.” This isn’t wishful thinking or a striving to get something that we don’t possess. We don’t possess faith; we are possessed by it.
     Faith is a pure gift from God. Often the “faith” difficulty isn’t that we don’t possess it but that a relationship with God has been so neglected that the gift is no longer noticed. Take love as an example. When we are “in love” with another we don’t seek to obtain love or ask for an assurance, we simply know that it is there by the quality of the relationship. We are “possessed” by the love of another. Similarly, Hebrews teaches us that it is in the quality of a relationship with God that we are “possessed” by faith. It is an unmistakable reality. Just as the knowledge of someone’s love for us is often intangible, so the knowledge of God’s good desire for us is often intangible.
     This understanding of faith is one that provides confidence that come what may, God is with us. Gone is wishful thinking. The faith spoken of here becomes our proof that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. We don’t know the future but we know who holds the future. And that frees us from fear of the unknown.


Hope for a Splintered Church

“All the fullness of deity lives in Christ’s body.
And you have been filled by Him, who is the head of every ruler and authority.”
Colossians 2:9, 10 (Common English Bible)
     Every serious Christian today, aware of the struggle for building authentic disciples of Jesus in the present generation, must be troubled by the spectacle of a splintered church. Anyone well acquainted with the teaching of Jesus knows that the present divisions of the church are not His will. The prayer of our Lord in John’s Gospel is, “that they may all be one – so that the world may believe that you have sent Me.” The Apostle Paul advances the same in his first letter to the Corinthian Church, “Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement that there be no divisions among you.” Divisions simply distract the church from its primary purpose of mobilizing people for the mission of Christ.
     The theological divisions of the church are troubling. If we are concerned about this situation, as we ought to be, how is the church to proceed? The Apostle Paul suggests here, in these two sentences, that we seek our separated sisters and brothers not in the valleys of the doctrines that divide but on the mountaintop of a common confession that “All the fullness of deity lives in Christ’s body.” Affirming with renewed vigor this common confession can heal the theological divides that plague the church. It is living into the conviction that good Christians sometimes disagree but are held together in one confession that Jesus is Lord.
     Naturally, this is accomplished when we silence the questioning of our sisters and brothers as to the sincerity of their faith. Such questioning only exacerbates the hurtful divisions. What is better is reclaiming our theological center that professes that the Church in every age needs continual reforming by the spirit of the living Christ. It is being deeply persuaded that there is still more truth to be revealed. From this juncture we may discover that our theological debates, which can often be fierce, can be transformed into a conversation where each of us strives to really hear one another, and hear another point of view.   
     Faith is not assenting to a set of propositions, or following a religious code. Faith is trusting Christ with our lives, as we would trust a friend with our most precious possession. Any hope for a splintered church will not be by abandoning our deepest convictions, nor an apathetic tolerance of another point of view. Rather our hope will be found in a firmer grasp that in Christ, and Christ alone, will our differences be reconciled. As we pursue a deeper intimacy with one another – in the midst of our differences – the church may well arrive at a deeper intimacy with God.

Before the Darkness Falls

“As long as you have the light, 
believe in the light so that you might become people whose lives are determined by the light.”
John 12:36 (Common English Bible)
     “As long as you have the light.” Jesus urges those who follow Him to take advantage of the light while it is present. The brilliance of the light is not constant; the illumination that provides clarity comes in intervals in the midst of grey moments and the dark nights of life. In the moments of light we have a glimpse of God’s presence and the certainty of God’s power and work. These are the moments when God’s Kingdom is traced with vivid colors and God’s purposes seem clear. In these moments Jesus asks that we believe – or live into – the light so that our lives are changed. The light does not always remain. So take advantage of the moment when the light shines.
      Recently my wife and I spent a few days of vacation on Sanibel Island. The first night I was restless. When the bedside clock shared with me that it was now midnight and sleep still was far away I left the bed for a walk on the beach. After nearly a half-hour of walking, clouds rolled over the moon and the well-lit beach became very dark. In the darkness I could not find my way to the path that led back to the hotel. For a moment I considered the possibility that I would remain on the beach until morning light and Grace would come looking for me. It was not a preferable situation nor was it a frightening one. I felt safe on this resort beach.
     I sat on the beach prepared to wait out the dark of the night. After about twenty minutes the clouds moved past the moon and the shore was lit-up once again. Not only was the beach once again visible in the moon-light but also evident was the movement across the sky of more clouds that would again hide the moon. In the few minutes I had the light, I quickly sought-out the path that would take me back to my room. I took advantage of the light while it was present.
     As it is in the realm of nature so it is with the soul. We have moments in our walk with Jesus where the brilliance of our faith cast a certain light upon the path before us. Each step is a deliberate one; a confident one. We are privileged to have the way before us clear. We have the light! In these moments our faith is given a glimpse into the mysterious work of God in our lives. These are the moments that Jesus urges us to direct our lives according to God’s purposes for us. For the light will not always remain and darkness will once again prevail.
       We never know when a concealing cloud cover will hide God from us. Sickness, estrangement from loved ones, betrayal by a friend or financial difficulties all move into our lives from time to time. Each of them has the capacity to envelope our lives in darkness. Jesus asks that we direct our way while there is light – “believe in the light.” The light gives opportunity to direct our bearings, and by this find our way through our ever changing days, particularly after the darkness has come.