The Long Way

“God’s riches, wisdom, and knowledge are so deep! 
They are as mysterious as his judgments, and they are as hard to track as his paths!”
Romans 11:33 (Common English Bible)
The Long Way is a midtempo country ballad written and recorded by American country music singer Brett Eldredge. Matthew Rogers co-wrote the song. Eldredge says that the song is “a look into what I want to find in love.”[i]Careful attention to the lyrics reveals how someone can get to know their partner on a deeper level by paying attention to the particulars and nuances of their life; by learning deeply about their history and hometown. Eldredge says that he co-wrote the song with Rogers during a time when he was looking for true love. Matthew Rogers was engaged to be married during the writing and the circumstances of the two writers inspired the romantic lyrics.
Here, in his letter to the Christian Church in Rome, the Apostle Paul shares that he has taken The Long Way in his deep desire to know God: “God’s riches, wisdom, and knowledge are so deep! They are as mysterious as his judgments, and they are as hard to track as his paths!” (Romans 11:33). Paul has sought “to track” God’s paths, to explore deeply all he can discover about God. Paul longs to bathe in as much detail of God’s backstory as possible; God’s riches, God’s wisdom, God’s knowledge, and God’s judgments. Paul wants it all. Paul has come to a deeper knowledge of God in the person of Jesus Christ and that knowledge – and personal experience of Jesus on the road to Damascus – has changed him. Paul dearly loves and constantly delights in his “heavenly Father” made real to earth in Jesus.
The Long Way is a song that I wish I had written. I have downloaded the song and listen to it during my morning runs. “Take me the long way around your town. Were you the queen with the silver crown? I want the secrets you keep, the shine underneath. Of the diamond I think I just found. Take me the long way around.” As I approach the thirty-first anniversary of marriage to my wife, Grace, I can’t seem to discover enough about her. Grace is a diamond that I was fortunate enough to stumble upon so many years ago and my love for her seems to grow more expansive each day. Gladly, I take The Long Way in searching for the riches that makes her the woman she is. I don’t want to miss anything.
Paul doesn’t want to miss anything about his Lord. In a world where we don’t have meaningful conversations anymore with those we love, distracted by this and that, Paul invites us to slow down. Put away the mobile phones and the iPads and social media platforms and listen to God in the Holy Scriptures, The Bible. Permit your mind – and heart – to take The Long Way to discover again this great and beautiful God we see in Jesus Christ. Once we have, our hearts will sing along with Brett Eldredge, “Didn’t think tonight when I walked in, I’d be falling for somewhere I’ve never been.”

[i] Kelly Brickey, “Brett Eldredge Gets Vulnerable About Love in ‘The Long Way.’” (Sounds Like Nashville:SpinMedia, August 11, 2017).

No Place Available

“She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.”
 Luke 2:7 (Common English Bible)
     No single incident in Jesus’ life captures more powerfully, and clearly, his reception here on earth: “there was no place for them.” In only moments prior to his birth, the words were spoken, “no place.” In his life, there would be no place in people’s hearts for a meaningful relationship with him. During his ministry, there would be no place for his teachings in the minds of those who heard him. In the synagogue, there would be no place for his prophetic message.  As Harry Emerson Fosdick once observed, “inhospitality was the central tragedy of Jesus’ life.”i
     Today, this remains a difficulty for Jesus, finding a place in our lives. It has been suggested that atheism – the denial of God’s existence – is not the major enemy of Christianity. The major enemy of the Christian faith is the inhospitality of those who will say that they believe in Jesus. Belief is important. It is the beginning place of a vital, life-giving faith. But belief without hospitality, belief without making a place for Jesus in one’s life, results in the suffocation of faith. Faith is nourished and grows in strength by an ongoing, daily relationship with Jesus. Neglect any relationship, fail to make a place for those who love you, and the consequence is the loss of that relationship. 
     Some will say that the difficulty is simply overcrowded lives. We have become increasingly busy and there is little “place in our life” left over at the end of the day. Few will question how busy we have become. That would be difficult to debate. The question that presses is, “Busy doing what?” What occupies the place of those hours that we are awake? We find places for the things we really care about. We may say that there is no place for Jesus in our life today. And then we say the same thing tomorrow. We then discover that weeks have passed without any meaningful time with God and God’s Word in the Bible. What is inescapable is that we gave our time to matters for which we cared more deeply than Jesus.
     Tonight is Christmas Eve. What we recall tonight is the birth of the Christ child. Most people know that, believers and unbelievers. But there is something else that happens on this night, something that we would do well not to forget. For the first time, the words, “there is no place” is spoken. There is no place in the guestroom for the family of Jesus Christ; no place for Jesus to be born. Someone once wisely said, “You can’t un-ring the bell.” Well, there is nothing we can do about those words spoken so long ago, “there is no place.” But tonight, as we remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus, we can answer for ourselves, “Will there be a place for Jesus in our life?”

ͥ Harry Emerson Fosdick, “Hospitality to the Highest”, Riverside Sermons (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958), 275. 

The Weight of Guilt

The following is from Doug Hood\’s Heart & Soul, Vol. 2.
“Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, 
and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. 
And you will find rest for yourselves.”
Matthew 11: 28, 29 (Common English Bible)
     During my recent trip to the Holy Land I saw a donkey carrying a heavy load, with heaving sides and hanging its head, it’s strength almost spent. It appeared as though this animal was ready to sink. Certainly, Jesus saw something similar. A master teacher, Jesus would take what was familiar to the people of his day, point to it, and then make use of it as an object lesson for opening-up the great truths of God’s presence and work. A donkey, struggling hard under the weight of a heavy load, may be the object lesson here in these few sentences of Matthew’s Gospel.
     There are moments in our life when we know the burden of that donkey. We struggle hard, carry heavy loads and our bodies – and spirit – become weary. Our strength is not equal to the weight. We feel as though we will sink under it all. It is precisely at that moment, the moment we fear that we will collapse, that Jesus promises “rest.” There is an intense force and allure to this gracious promise.  When our own strength has been spent, Jesus shows-up. And our gigantic weight, whatever it may be, is made manageable once again.
     I am convinced that of the scattered army of things that weigh heavily upon the human heart, none is greater than guilt. There is no exhaustion like the exhaustion created by guilt. It marshals our best efforts to defeat it only to exact a terrible drain upon our energies, dragging many into hopelessness and despair. What I am now certain of is that there is only one hope for those sinking beneath the crushing weight of guilt. It is found in the infinite power of divine forgiveness, the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.
     Jesus’ invitation is, “Come to me.” So rest is to be gained by finding Christ. Pay attention to Christ long enough and what will be discovered is that Christ himself found rest in his heavenly Father. What’s more, that rest he found was sought each day. Jesus never was content to live on stale grace from his Father. It was sought fresh each day. So that is our example. Christ wants his gift of “rest” to be a daily find; something we seek from him each day. And that is how it is to be retained, seeking it day after day. Christ’s desire is that life will be a prolonged spiritual quest, seeking Christ and knowing Christ more fully each day. It will be then that the weight of guilt is removed and rest is found.

Christmas Confidence

The following is from Doug Hood\’s Heart & Soul, Vol. 2

“But right now, we don’t see everything under their control yet. However, we do see the one who was made lower in order than the angels for a little while – it’s Jesus!”
 Portions of Hebrews 2:8, 9 (Common English Bible)
     This Christmas season finds us rather bewildered, facing confusion, uncertainty and fear. The world seems dangerously out of control and political leaders have failed to offer a neat formula that can solve our problems or allay our anxiety. We seem a long way from the promise of Isaiah that instruments of war will become farming equipment. But as Christmas draws near, Hebrews reminds us of a man who lived in a world not unlike our own, and yet, carried with him hope and confidence – Jesus Christ. Specifically, Hebrews tells us that we may not yet see everything “under control” but we do see Jesus!
     Harry Emerson Fosdick once commented that in pointing to Jesus, Hebrews does not seek to distract us from realistic facts to a beautiful ideal; Hebrews is simply turning our attention from one set of facts to another fact. Jesus is a fact. He lived and his life left an indelible imprint upon the world. Some may question the nature of Jesus, may question the identity of Jesus as anything more than a mortal, but few question that Jesus lived. Yet, women and men of faith accept Jesus as more; accept, as fact, that Jesus is God’s decisive interruption in history to bring all things “under control”. Jesus is a towering, challenging, revealing fact that casts a whole new outlook on the present groaning of life today.
     In this season of Advent – a season of anticipation – those faithful to the Lordship of Jesus see something tremendous occurring in the midst of the daily news: they see the emergence of a disruptive force that will overcome the wild, uncivilized and uncontrolled powers that tear at the world. In the birth of Jesus, God announces that the forces of darkness now have reason to tremble. No, we do not yet see all things “under control” – far from it – but we do see Jesus! And that means that God is on the move.

     Our world today is one where fear seems to grow unchecked and uncertainty enlarges upon our consciousness. But God has come in Jesus to change the whole complexion of the world. What is required is that we open ourselves to Jesus in a manner that he can get at us and live in us so that he shapes our thoughts and behavior. One person of faith after another, opening their hearts and minds to receive the transforming power of God, makes all the difference in the world. That is our Christmas confidence.

The School of Christ

“Learn from me.”
Matthew 11:29 (Common English Bible)
Building disciples of Jesus Christ – people, who voluntarily submit to the Lordship of Christ that results in the decision to learn from Christ, follow his example and participate in his ministry – is the will of God. This is God’s ideal purpose. It is this purpose that believers attach themselves in baptism. The difficulty for some believers is that they haven’t employed a helpful method to advance in the school of Christ. Their study is disorderly and usually results in failure. They rarely seem to rise above the rudiments of the spiritual journey and remain disillusioned by their lack of spiritual progress. Jesus’ own life and ministry provides help; provides the secret of learning that, when applied to our discipleship to Christ, produces fruit in the striving toward spiritual maturity.
If, then, we would learn of Christ, we must begin with the words he spoke. The twelve disciples who followed Jesus throughout his three-year ministry heard his words spoken to them. Today, those who follow Christ have those spoken words recorded in the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. So, we begin where the original twelve disciples began; we Read the words of Jesus. With the spirit of inquisitiveness, we read deeply the words of Jesus, alert to those qualities and values that shaped his character and revealed his laser-like focus on being useful to God. There is simply no substitute for reading Christ’s words if we are to pass from stage to stage in the school of Christ.
Then let us pause sufficiently to Reflect on what we have read. Knowledge of Jesus’ words without application is inadequate. The object here is to grasp the light of Christ’s teaching and cast it before our footsteps. Christ’s teaching to the disciples was always followed by a measure of explanation, challenging the disciples to apply the ideals and principals to immediate life. We don’t ask nearly enough of those questions that move us from one step to another in our forward march in the school of Christ. Today we are helped by many fine devotionals and scholarly commentaries that probe deeply into the meaning and practical application of Jesus’ words. Select a trusted devotional guide for processing the truth of Christ’s teaching and it’s usefulness for our lives.
Respond! We shall never really know Christ, as he desires to be known, until we begin to respond to what we have grasped of his teaching. Until Christ’s teaching becomes instruction for daily practice, our lives remain unchanged. We study a musical instrument so that we may enjoy the music that we bring from it. We study another language to enrich our knowledge, enjoyment and appreciation of another culture. A musical instrument never played and another language never spoken has no effect upon our lives. Similarly, only in our obedient response to Jesus’ teachings does the beauty of our Savior’s instruction grow upon our lives. Read, Reflect and Respond. This is Jesus’ method for advancing in The School of Christ.