Though we ourselves can be victims of broken promises given and received, God is the ultimate promise keeper that will never fail His children nor forget His promises to them.
I remember as a child being told “never make a promise you can’t keep.” Maybe you remember this as well. Even as adults this statement holds true and I have learned this the hard way. Maybe this is why we are encouraged in the Bible to allow our Yes be our Yes and our No be our No?
When it comes to promises, they are literally everywhere when I read the Bible. They cover nearly every aspect of life and even the after-life. God is not hesitant about making promises. He made them to Israel, Kings, shepherds, the Church, and to his disciples.
Biblical scholar Evereck Storms counted these promises and found 8,810 promises. Almost 8000 of those were from God to man. Books like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel have over 1000 promises each. Almost every verse in Psalm 37 contains a promise.
But do you know what I find the most amazing? It is not the number of promises in the bible. It is that He always keeps the promises He speaks. He too lives by that rule about not making a promise He can’t keep with the caveat that He fulfills that which He promises.
For many all of this is not much of a source of encouragement. I understand why. Some of us have been to hell and back. Some have lost a spouse. We’ve lost a child. We were let go from a job, divorced, hurt by a best friend, and more. Things happened that we felt promised by God ought not to happen. The only challenge is—we are never promised a life free of difficulty or comfortable. I wish that were the case. But it just isn’t. If it were, there would be no need for the return of Christ.
Often times our emotional responses to hardship and suffering paint an image and theology of God that leads us to believe that the promises found in the Bible will forever remain in the Bible with no impact on those of us living today. When this happens—the enemy wins. The reality is that even though our perception of God may change; the nature of God doesn’t. In His very nature He is the great promise keeper. The faithful one. He is Abba.
If we find ourselves losing our ability to live with trust and belief in Him what happens over time is a slow decay where part of our core identity as Jesus followers is lost. We go from children of big faith and trust (a hallmark of early Christianity) to people of cynicism and doubt.
Believe it or not the disciples found themselves here at times as well. The twelve disciples of Jesus were raised on stories involving the promise keeping God. But for so long these disciples were living under the harsh oppression of Rome. Surely during their pain and sorrow wrought by the hand of their oppressors they themselves had to wonder about where this “promise keeping” God was.
I know you’ve been there. I’ve been there. But I have learned that though the deserts seem vast and dry seasons long—He is still here ready to restore faith and trust wanting to see the dry bones of our stale faith come back to life as we re-encounter His faithfulness.
In Matthew 14:12-21 Jesus does the unthinkable. Upon having compassion on the masses who have no food He blesses and distributes two fish and five loaves of bread. What is most amazing about this story is that in doing so Jesus showed those weathered and weary disciples that the promise keeping God was still among them. While their logic struggled to keep up, Jesus took what little they had and multiplied it to their astonishment. In doing so I believe He restored faith and trust in God for those present.
I encourage you to read the story on your own. As you do pay attention to one word that is used in v. 17. It is the word “only.” As they reply to Jesus that they only have two fish and five loaves Jesus says, “bring them to me.”
Our God is not the God of “ducks in a row.” He is the God of “fishes and loaves.” No matter how little you possess God is ready to show you that He is still the great promise keeper. All He asks is that you surrender the “only” you possess. In the areas that you have lost hope or trust—I pray they come back to life within you. I am confident at one time or another God has spoken or promised things to you about your life and future. If not many come to mind the issue is not a matter of God speaking. It is a matter of His children listening.
If it is hard to listen or even pray; if you are concerned because of your weak faith, weary heart and mind, little resources, or any thing else just remember the words of Jesus in Matthew: “Come to me all who are weary and tired and I will give you rest…”
To the degree you surrender full control and heart, to that same degree you will see the faithfulness of God in new and exciting ways. The result will be a firm conviction that God is the ultimate promise keeper that will never fail His children nor forget His promises to them.
23 But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. 24 Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. 25 He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor. -John 12:23-26
Gardening, Growth, and the Bible
I love gardening. I love witnessing things grow. To me it is still one of the greatest mysteries. You take a seemingly “dead” looking seed—dry and shriveled up—seeming to be at the end of its rope. You put it in good soil. Surround it with good nutrients. Shower it with the rains from above. And then it happens. A little shoot climbing through the soil seeking to make a name for itself. No matter what kind of plant it is–it usually begins the same—a tiny blade climbing through the soil. How it happens is still a mystery. Science can explain the many variables, but it cannot explain what activates the seed to bring the growth and to bear fruit.
This topic is near and dear to the heart of God. Most analogies found within the Bible often refer in one way or another to agriculture and the seasons of planting, growing, and harvesting. Whether it be Mark 4:26-29 or Luke 8—seed planting and growing is everywhere. Especially within the words of Jesus. Why is this important?
In Death Comes Life
Because in gardening there is a fundamental truth tht applies to all of life: in death comes life. In the verse above Jesus likens His own life to a grain of wheat which falls to the ground seemingly dead and yet goes into the soil and multiplies or bears fruit—which refers to His own resurrection. But Jesus decides to take it one step further and turn it around on His listeners then, as well as you and I. He takes the “death to life” principle he is living out and reveals this is in fact the life-pattern you and I were meant to live.
This understanding of going from “death to life” is foundational to the Christian faith. So foundational that the author of Hebrews explains it as being “elementary.” She or he states, “Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God…” You get the vibe from this statement that from the very beginning they were instructed to leave behind the things which are dead within them and embrace newness of life in Christ. To cut ties with the actions which multiply sin and darkness within us and embrace new habits, desires, and disciplines which move us into maturity and growth in the love and truth of God. This would be that same pattern of living; from death to life.
But when you read the verse from John above do you notice how Jesus describes His own death? He says that “the hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.” He did not use the phrase “to die” or “to be crucified.” Instead he chose this phrase “be glorified.” Jesus saw that in death God can still be glorified. God was supremely glorified when Jesus went to the cross, died, and resurrected. I think for a Christ follower this conviction would be common sense. But remember how Jesus turned the gardening analogy around on you and I? That if we lose our lives we will truly find them? The same can then be said that when we choose to die to our own ways and desires and live for Him—we are glorifying Christ within us.
What in Us Must Die?
This is the beautiful mystery of Christianity. We follow Jesus and in return experience the principle of death unto new life—if of course we allow the process to take place. What if the seed were to say to the gardener, “I do not want to be planted into the ground. I want to stay on the tree where I am. I do not want to fall into the soil and grow!” How ridiculous would this be? But the thing is we do this on a daily basis. We seek to cling to the trees we are planted on currently. The trees of bitterness, unforgiveness, sin, etc.
Logically, the next question for ourselves then is, “what in us needs to die in order for growth and maturity to take root?” Is it gossip or slander? Is it addiction to alcohol, drugs, pain meds, or approval of others? Is it pornography which poisons the mind and pollutes the heart? Perhaps it’s the love of money and possessions? Racism, prejudice, and/ or bigotry? Whatever it may be… it’s a dead work which is halting your growth. You must die in order to find life. You must call those things out within yourself and say, “Enough is enough” so that God is able to deposit within you something in its place. Something which brings true and everlasting joy, purpose, and hope.
Jesus says in John 15:8, “This is to My Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” As followers of Jesus we are destined to bear fruit. We are destined to grow and multiply like healthy seeds planted in good soil.
But remember, to bear fruit a seed needs to what? It needs to die. Yes, its difficult. Yes, its painful. Yes, it’s a journey. But it’s the only way to leave a legacy for Christ. Isn’t that what you desire?
The alternative path is apathy. You do not want apathy. Apathy is the precursor to spiritual death where there is no hope of new life. You know full well you were created for so much more. Why settle? You’re bored. I understand. I have been there. But even in the pain of the wilderness and spiritual boredom we have to enter the door of death before we can walk the halls of newness of life. A newness best described as a daily living and breathing relationship with God where you are being used on the front lines for His glory loving and serving through the power of His Holy Spirit. It is impossible to have both.
A Haunting Question for the Jesus Follower
One more thing. Do you notice what Jesus says in verse 26? He says, “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also.” The context of this verse is the Kingdom of God and the life to come. But the Holy Spirit brought this to life to me last week through a question. Jesus says the phrase “where I am” here. The question He gave me was:
“Is Jesus with you where you are or are you with Jesus where He is?”
Of course, we could say both. But think about it. Is Jesus at our level consoling us in our continual haphazard efforts in growing but often choosing death? Or are we where he is which is the other side of “death to life” scenario. Grace abounds. We will never have it right all the time. But with everything we have in us, let us fight for new life. I want to be where Jesus is. I want to be driven by the Holy Spirit vs. continually consoled.
But to get to that place… I and we must die to ourselves and find new life in Him by trusting that His death and resurrection has freed us from everything which seeks to kill and destroy us.
What needs to die within you so that His life can resurrect you?
It happens to the best of us. We began with passion, wonder, and mystery. We began with innocence, naiveté, and a splash of recklessness. And then, after a period of time, it happens. The zeal we once possessed in following Jesus and living a righteous life begins to take a turn.
Zeal turns into lethargy. A mind rocked by the freedom of grace grows bored. The heart-melting truth of God’s love becomes abstractThe stories of Jesus healing as well as the miracles of the apostles would fuel our passion and desire to see a move of God in our day.
This maybe is not how your story began with Christ. Maybe you have never experienced this kind of wonder or zeal or recklessness that myself and many others possessed. To be fair we were also ill-educated, often arrogant, and somewhat pharisetical. But hey, we really loved Jesus. Regardless, no matter what our journey has looked like the chances are we will find ourselves meandering a path of mundane Christianity at times.
An Old Journal
Earlier today I sat down with a journal from 16 years ago. I am growing old now. Yes I know 34 may not be old to some of you but in looking at my journal from 16 years ago I sure felt old. Or maybe it was when I stood up after reading it for a while? Regardless, 16 years is a long time. I came to a page that talked about my desperation for God and how I am empty without him. What is crazier is I remember writing it. It was at a table outside at Starbucks, on the right side of the outter wall.
I will be honest. After reading it I felt that sense of “where has this been?” I then began to do my usual self-defeating talk where I heap guilt and condemnation on myself for not having the wonder and joy I was reading about! “Noah, cmon! Where’s the passion? Where’s the joy?!?
But then I got out some more recent journals from the shelf and reflected on where my own journey has taken me. Through this the Spirit of God reminded me that though my joy may not be the same as it once was all those years ago, it has grown in unique ways. In that moment, I needed that reminder. Maybe you do as well.
We Have Options
We all have a few options before us as we reflect on our own journey in following Jesus. We can look backwards and remember the days of old with a longing to go back. Back to the passion we once knew and held on to. Or we can say no to this option and choose to stay in the lethergy, cynicism, and any other emotion that usually accompanies life experience, new seasons, dissapointments, and so on.
Or you can do what I believe is most beneficial. You can appreciate the past, acknowledge the challenges of the present, and embrace the journey you have been on.
You are a weathered follower of Jesus. You have been around the block long enough to know things don’t always end great. Your good intentions do not always amount to a happy ending. You might not get your reward until the other side. Not everyone will always be kind to you or walk with you–even if they claim to follow Jesus. In fact, following Jesus itself was never meant to guarentee any “smooth sailing” on this side of eternity. That is something this “Weathered Jesus Follower” struggled to realize over the years.
These and many other lessons we learn. But in the end we should take all of it and allow it to add character and depth to our faith. We then position ourselves to be able to be used by God with our children, grandchildren, and others younger than us who are beginning as infants in Christ. If we stay lethargic and cynical chances are we will be a stumbling block in front of those with fresh passion. But if we embrace our weathered nature we will then be able to guide and lead the next generation.
One more thing. I am writing this post while at a desk made of barn wood from the 1920’s I had made a few years ago. It has the circular saw marks still in it from the old saw mill. It has nails still protruding out which have been ground down to soft metal. There are divers and curves and edges that are uneven. I have never seen a more beautiful desk. It isnt pristine, new, or naieve. Its weatherd. Its beautiful.
I encourage you to embrace where you have walked. The challenges and difficulties can lead you to new places of wisdom and depth. Don’t allow yourself to forget the wonder of Jesus. If you have, I have great news. The Apostle Paul says that it is possible to have a complete renewal of the mind. The Holy Spirit can do just that. Read the Scriptures with fresh eyes. Pray and allow the Lord to restore your heart to be able to feel his warmth and tough again.
He won’t restore the passion or joy of 16 years ago. Instead he will dig new and deeper wells of revelation and love which will bring forth a new passion that has been weathered by the realities and challenges of a life of following Jesus. Because in the end–lets be real– Kendal Jackson will always taste better then Welch’s.
Day in. Day out. He sat there. His knees bruised, and elbows covered in blood stained patches. His knees wouldn’t function like others because since birth he had a genetic defect which caused him to be paralyzed from the waist down. He would use his arms and elbows to maneuver himself to sit upright the best he could. He possessed no friendships or kin to assist him. This was how he lived his daily life. However, there was one day that was different.
As the bright sun rose that morning he gathered his few belongings. A cloth mat. Moth eaten satchel. Stale pieces of bread. With everything he had he made his typical slow crawl to his corner. Though it was a small space to call his own, it was his home. He had nothing and no one—only his corner. He passed the time dreaming of what it would be like to walk and run. To be included and valued like everyone else.
Each day he faced the same routine in this little spot next to the largest church in the city. His morning began with the religious folks passing by conveniently ignoring his plight. Perched high on their thrones of ego and vanity they would throw boulders of judgement and pebbles of slander.If he was lucky someone would throw a gift. It would come in the form of a faint and sporadic sound of metal clanging in his basket. Coins crashing against other coins as they are dropped by one who possessed empathy, compassion, or guilt. For this pathetic man it was the sound of hope, bread, or at the least—an apple. On this particular morning that sound was rarely heard.
Desperation Sets In
As the day went on, he was desperately searching for anyone who would help him. Finally, he saw a man walking into the church from a distance. There were two. The other was coming behind him. They looked different than the others. Their demeanor was pleasant but intently serious at the same time. It was the one who led the way that locked eyes with the beggar. Seeing this was his moment to get his attention he began to frantically yell to him. The man, not hearing him the first time, finally heard him the second time as the beggar reached a fever pitch scream.
“Sir!! Please! Look at my situation. Look at my body. Please… oh please. Will you give me something, so I can eat?”
It was at this time the second man who was walking with him caught up. They stopped their procession into the church and stood there as the crowds continued to pass by. The first man looked into the eyes of the one he traveled with. With a sort of unspoken gesture, they both knew they wanted to give something to this beggar.
The man slowly takes in his hopeless situation. He looks at his swollen and ragged knees. He pulls his arm back to see his bloody elbows. The beggar, feeling pain from his hand touching his arm, pulls him away revealing his deformed and crooked fingers. The man then looks past him to see the few positions he clings to as his own.
An Unexpected Gift
With an uncanny and firm face he says to him,
“Listen, I do not have any more dollars or coins which you would expect. I don’t have the common gift you seek each week from all of these people walking past us. But what I do have—I will freely give to you.”
The beggar—confused and intrigued—grabbed his hand. The man then said,
“By the authority given to me by Jesus of Nazareth, who is the chosen One, rise up and stand here next to me.”
The beggar was unsure what to do. He had never heard of this king who possessed such authority to heal someone. But he couldn’t deny the undefinable emotion coursing through his mind and body. Something was happening. He allowed the tension of the man’s hand in his to pull him to his feet. Crying out in pain and fear he slowly arose from the dust. The man held his shoulders smiling and telling him,
“You can stand! Come on! We will help you!”
It was then he felt the deformity from within his body leave. His knees strengthened. His ankles gave him support. Tears began to stream down his face. Not only his but the other two as well. Each of them realized in that moment they experienced something no human mind could explain. All they knew is that it was good and God had just done something among them.
The man was healed. He was no longer a stigma in the society of his day. He was no longer forced to bleed from his elbows and knees. To declare this new reality to the religious elite he burst the doors of the church wide open and danced his way through the aisles. Interrupting the liturgy and teaching he smiled and locked eyes with each self-righteous individual who elevated themselves above him. It was gloriously and appropriately petty. They were unsure what to do or say. They were speechless and dumbfounded. Marveled and angry. For they recognized this poor wretched one they were so busy ignoring.
A Life Beautifully Interrupted
The man and his companion gave a gift that morning on their way to the Church. It was a gift of healing. They restored value to someone who was ignored day in and day out. They restored someone’s dignity. The means by which they gave this gift was an authority and power they could not call their own. It came from Another. They didn’t wake up with this goal in mind. They weren’t seeking to find someone to heal that day. They were simply keeping their prayer committment with fellow Jews. But their routine, their route, their pathway was beautifully interrupted. I wonder how many beautiful interruptions await us? Are we even willing to be interrupted?
Three truths from a retelling of Acts 3.1-12:
Value and Worth before Dollars and Coins.
Give the gift of value and worth before dollars and coins. This is not either/or. This is both/and. People in need have deep layers of shame and humiliation. Restore their hope and heart first by sharing your life and listening to theirs. Learn from them, value them, and honor them. From a place of shared interdependence and restored hearts—give tangibly.
The two men, Peter and John, did not wake up with the intent to restore this beggar’s entire life. They simply walked. But what undergirded their walk that morning was the notion that their life was not their own. They were simply empty containers willing to be filled with the power and goodness of God and at a moments notice were ready to give that which was not theirs and in turn experienced a powerful move of God.
Be Bold, Be Brave, Be Jesus.
The same Spirit who healed this beggar through the boldness of Peter and John is within all of us who follow Jesus and seek to be filled with His Spirit. Do not worry when or how someone will be healed. Be obedient in prayer and boldness. It isn’t your job to heal. Its only your job to give what is within you. So be bold and be brave. You are living for an audience of One. May Jesus say of us, “You gave what you had so that others might find me. You were willing to be beautifully interrupted for my sake.”
Lord, give us more of your Spirit. So that we might have eyes to see people in need. Upon seeing people in need all around us give us the words to say as well as the boldness to get out of the way so your Spirit can work through us. May we be open to the spontaneous surprises of our day—bringing Jesus, hope, and love to all we come into contact with. We repent of being those who conveniently ignore the outcast, “annoying,” the difficult, the inconvenient, and all else who are equally deserving of your healing and wholeness which only come through you. Please burst the bubbles and routines of our daily lives so that we might be beautifully interrupted. In your name, Amen.
The most studied man in all of history. He is known throughout the world. His sayings are prevalent. His identity is debated constantly. And he still, after all these centuries, seems to be the most offensive individual to the masses. He both offends me with his love, comforts me with his encouragement, and disturbs me with his actions.
My journey of appreciation and admiration for this man began in April of 2002. I began to follow him with everything I had. I changed my entire life because of what I read in the pages of Scripture about his life. I saw that he lived a radical life of love and purpose and I knew that was the life for me. I knew that in the end it cost him everything and even still I would tell myself—there is no better way to leave this earth than to die for humanity. And so off I went.
I am currently a pastor of a church in Canton, OH. We are not a large church. We have faced an onslaught of challenges symptomatic of the state of Western Cultural Christianity. Where personalities are followed, commitment wanes, and when it gets tough—the church will bolt. It is extremely common with many of my seminary friends as well. In fact, this is the life of many Evangelical churches.
But through it all my wife and I have been obedient to the voice of God—even when it costs us. That has been what we are most proud of: our obedience. We like to remind ourselves that in the end we won’t stand before “people.” We will stand before Jesus. He desires us to create an environment with members, agendas, and leaders that reflect the core ethics of the Gospel. We aim to please him; not people. And so, we sleep very well at night. But through all these hard and trying years of ministry I/ we follow Jesus with the utmost passion. Michelle more so than myself. She outdoes me at every turn in her pursuit of living the “Jesus life.”
Like many, my beginning phase of following Jesus consisted of many shallow and immature understandings of what his sayings actually meant. I would use them as weapons against the “sinner” and I would stand with my nose down at many. I was the epitome of arrogance and pride. I continued like this for some time. My faith and religion were confined to a very legalistic and rigid approach to Christianity. Jesus for me was the strict judge who weighed my every thought and action. The problem was that my understanding of him as a whole was lopsided.
The lens in which I viewed Jesus for many years was confined to the theological Christ; not the historical Jesus. While yes, I am sure we could debate all day regarding the separation or unity of these two—it is extremely important we allow ourselves as Christians to look at Jesus as the Jewish reformer he was. It was when I began to understand this side of Jesus that the pretentious pharisaical part of me began to fall by the way side. And what I began to see with fresh eyes was a revolutionary man who inspired me more than any other.
My journey in studying the Historical Jesus began in Seminary and hasn’t stopped since. I have grown to be both passionate and obsessive in understanding who he was so that I might live his life even more. In fact, donating half of my liver is 100% because of this man and how he inspires me to live. Through the Spirit of God, I have been able to do a descent job in emulating his life. I am still a ragamuffin—full of sin, missteps, and brokenness. But each day is closer to living his life.
In the coming weeks I will blog a few posts regarding Jesus as the radical reformer he was. Of course, we could go on and on regarding the divinity side of Jesus as we understand in our faith. It is however the historical part of this man that I believe the church would be wise in revisiting. For in the discovery of Jesus as the 1stcentury reformer we find the rule of life he beckons all of us to follow. A life that is conformed to the ethics and standards of the heart of Yahweh. More on this in the future. For this post however, I want to bring to the forefront an aspect of his life which is similar to many others of his day. An aspect that can be alarming to some and comforting to others. That yes Jesus was truly one of a kind—however he also hailed from a long line of similar reformers with the same agenda—reform Judaism!
John the Baptist and Jesus both are only the beginning of a series of prophets who bring about eschatological hope. They bring attention to the reign of God and his impending judgment and kingdom. Thus Jesus preaches, “Repent for the Kingdom is near.” As a rule, these reformers were regarded by political authorities as a threat to the status quo as well as a danger to society. They were continually sought after to be executed and tortured. Following John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth there were many other “sign prophets” like them.
In 36CE there was a “Samaritan prophet” who promised a crowd of people that he would point on Gerizim the missing vessels of the temple that Moses had buried. He brought his disciples. Unfortunately, Pilate was also there and massacred all of them. (Antt. 18, 85-87)
There was a man named Theudas who persuaded a crowd to follow him with their possessions to the Jordan River. It was there that he said he would part the waters and they would cross with dry feet. Again, there was a blood bath and it ended bad. (Antt. 20, 97-99)
In 52-60CE there were also numerous “anonymous” prophets who called on their followers to come with them into the desert. It was there they would see many signs and wonders. You guessed it… blood bath. (Antt. 20, 167)
During this same era there was an Egyptian prophet who came and called individuals to follow him and he took them to the Mt of Olives. It was here that he promised the walls of Jerusalem would come crumbling down just as it happened in the Old Testament. (Antt. 20, 169-172; BJ 2, 261-263)
In 60-62 CE there was a prophet who came on the scene and promised redemption and an end to the evils if people followed him into the wilderness. The romans put down this movement violently. (Antt. 20, 188)
In 62-64 CE there was a man named Jesus son of Ananias who came from the country to Jerusalem with the message of judgment upon Jerusalem, the temple, and the people. This is very similar to the prophecy of Jesus who had said not one stone would be left standing in regard to the temple in Mark 14.
Josephus, the Jewish historian, gives us great detail regarding these individuals and the manner in which they lived. Even before the time of Jesus we see individuals similar to both John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth. What was their aim? To radically reform Judaism from within. With Rome coming in and occupying the territory, it brought serious challenges to the uniqueness of the Jewish people. While some wanted to make peace and accommodate this new culture pouring in (Hellenization) there were many others who wanted to stand against this cultural wave.
There were others (the sign prophets) who wanted neither. Their effort was to radically reform Judaism to an entirely new standard. They longed to see it realign with the true intents of the heart of God as they understood. While of course this is an extremely simplified version of how this plays out; I believe it still hits it on the head. Jesus was a Jewish man ministering within Judaism longing to see Israel return to its place of being a light to the nations. In order to do so, both Jesus and John the Baptist understood radical reformations within the Second Temple era needed to take place. The parables, aphorisms, and actions of Jesus fall right in line with many others from his era—before and after. And so as we can see, the human side of Jesus is full of many unique aspects we do not often hear about.
Let us remember that as Christians what matters most is not what we know or can recite about this man. What matters most is the degree in which we appropriate the ethics and passions of this 1stcentury reformer into our modern day living. Because I can promise you this… the church and Christianity as a whole needs desperate reform. It is time to return to the dangerous and volatile ethics of this Jewish Rabbi. As we continue down this path we will see there really is a difference of the two. We have the Historical Jesus and the Theological Christ. A difference that, for me, has nurtured true joy and inexpressible freedom in faith like I never thought was possible.
More on this and the Historicity of Jesus next time.
We had just completed our first lap on our floor. With each aching step—slower than a snails pace—my mind began to swirl. “God this is hard. I am in serious pain. How long is this journey going to be? Is this child going to make it and do well? Is my mother going to be OK?” It was only day three.
My routine in the hospital was pretty simple. Each day began the same. Around 3:00 or 4:00am I would be awoken for vitals and meds. It was hard to go fall back asleep, so I would usually stare at the ceiling and then decide I would get up and go on a walk with the help of a nurse. Then it would be back to my chair and then eventually back to the bed when I felt the need to spice it up. This process would repeat itself throughout the day mixed in with some Dr visits, reading, and mindless staring out the window at the Cleveland skyline. Bedtime was uneventful. Find the best position to sleep. When you find it… don’t you dare move. Take lots of meds. Get your nightly blood thinner shot and try to sleep off the pain.
But that day three morning was something. We came to my favorite spot on the floor. It was a window that looked outside. I loved going to it during my walk and watching the cars and everyone outside. Granted I was only in there for three days but at this point but my body felt like I had been steam rolled by a semi-truck. People and nature watching took my mind off of what I was feeling.
But during that morning’s routine I broke down. As Michelle and I stood at the window—one hand on the glass and the other grasping my IV pole—I sobbed. I couldn’t control it. Alarmed, Michelle asked what was wrong. All I could utter was, “It’s just so much… everything is hitting me. Hard.” I knew this moment would come. I am sure it will return at a later date.
Everything Set In…
What was hitting me was a wide array of emotions. There were the emotions of worry involving my mother. Which haven’t left. The emotions of wondering how the recipient was doing. I felt an odd mixture of humility, shame, and guilt watching Michelle and my nurses do literally everything for me. I went into the hospital as healthy as I could ever be. But in just a few short days I was experiencing something physically and mentally I was ill prepared for. Sure, I had knowledge, testimonies, and reading material. Nothing really prepares you to have a surgery like this.
The picture on the left was taken the night before. The picture on the right was a few days later. The bandage is covering a hole in which a drainage tube went up into the area where my liver was cut.
But there was something else that caused me to break down the morning of the third day outside of concern and worry. In that moment I was also overwhelmed with the reality of sacrificial love. The love that motivated our decision had finally set in. It went from talk to now something I see in the mirror, feel in my body, and it was costing me so much in that moment.
I had done interviews before this surgery. I had talked with Fox News out of NYC about “love” as the core motivator. I talked with a reporter from the local news about how common sense this decision was; because of “love.” A local newspaper wanted to do a story when they caught wind of everything and so we did. There too I explained that all of this was coming from a desire to “love” well—just as I would assume Jesus would.
But here is what I realized. We can use this word “love” quite easily. We can speak of a love for a friend, spouse, or God. But to bring costly action into the statements of our love; well it ceases to be just “love” at that point. It now becomes a love with some added adjectives: compassionate and sacrificial. That kind of love will almost always leave a mark.
It could be a mark that you bear on your body. It could be a mark that scars your soul. A mark that stays with you forever. Regardless, it is usually a mark that results from you loving sacrificially—with everything you have.
How did Jesus love?
I was asked a question by a reporter off the record before the surgery. “How is it that you are able to easily accept this kind of pain and struggle for someone you don’t even know?” Quickly I responded, “Didn’t Jesus? Wasn’t he reckless with his love? Wasn’t he driven by compassion and sacrifice for those he didn’t know?” Awkwardly, his response was, “I guess so.”
I really love Jesus. He is everything to me. I love him not only for how my life has changed because of him. But mainly for his example of costly love. The bleeding heart of Jesus was open to all those who were (are) lost, in anguish, in guilt. Thirsty for life, for love, for acceptance. He came to heal, to save, to free from bondage, to give rest, to empower—so that each one might know they are valued and honored. That’s how Jesus loved. It wasn’t easy and it was costly. So costly that his end was marked with torture and rutheless exectution.
While in recovery I have been prompted to study two areas: the life of Jesus and His desire for his church. Thus far In my study of the book of Luke I have realized a few simple things about his life. With this costly love in mind (the kind of love that is sure to leave a mark), Jesus was fully present to each person he encountered. He received more fully the pain of every person he came across. Strangers. Neighbors. Enemies. Family. Friends.
He took that pain and suffered with them in solidarity. He touched the deepest need in each person. Whether it be a cry for love, value, acceptance, vulnerability, or intimacy—he met each need. How? By demonstrating compassion. Grace. Mercy. Patience. Forgiveness. Kindness. By demonstrating sacrificial and costly love.
Jesus didn’t express this kind of love for the hell of it. He did it to demonstrate how Yahweh desires his children to live. It was the forging of a new way in how to love and welcome the poor and befriend the powerless, the strangers, and enemies.
Make no mistake. His followers were watching. They saw how Jesus lived—simply and poorly—open to each moment and each situation. Always open to the will of His heavenly Father. They saw how he was motivated. It wasn’t by a codified law or concrete set of legalistic expressions of righteousness. They knew. It was a motivation of costly love which came from above. A love the world had not known and was most definitely not prepared for.
Jesus the Agitator…
Jesus disturbed and agitated those who found him too radical, utopian, and unrealistic. Sadly, for those of us who love radically, we often hear these same accusations.
They would say,
“How can one give up wealth and share with the poor?”
“How can one renounce violence?”
“How can one love one’s enemies?”
“How can one live without security and money?”
“How can one become like a little child full of faith?”
“How can one eat his flesh and drink his blood?”
“How can one live in solidarity with sinners, rejects, and the broken?”
Those who questioned and wanted understanding were those who could not fit his ways and teachings into their own ideas and thus refused to trust him. As a result, they turned away. They found it impossible, unreasonable, and downright dangerous to accept the newness of his message. As I said in a previous post—Jesus was a badass in the purest sense of the word. He didn’t care what the “Righteous Monopoly” said.
As a result, his exression of love was costly. It left many marks in his young life. It was so costly that he even broke down in tears one lonely night in a garden. Perhaps then too Jesus was realizing just how costly this love was about to be.
Make no mistake. In no way could I equate my action with His. Ever. For goodness sake, he is Jesus who was crucified and tortured. I am a sinner saved by the glorious grace of God. I am nothing special nor of value. Only Christ within me.
However, the motivation of love is the same. Not only for me in giving a portion of my liver to a stranger but for all who would seek to love sacrificially. It will cost us like it cost him. It will hit us like a right hook out of nowhere as we fully realize just how costly and painful it will be and we just might be driven to tears. All of us at one time or another will have that opportunity in front of us. But what kind of love will we choose?
The Pain We Feel…
I beg you do not run from the pain this radical kind of love will bring. Pain is not the ultimate evil to be shunned. Neither is suffering. We must not flee it or be overcome by it. Those who flee pain flee people and opportunities. In fact, I believe Jesus invites us to accept pain. Nay, embrace it. To walk with it and even more to discover that it can be transformed by love into sacrament—a gift that brings life and enables new depths of love that is more akin to the love of God vs. the love of Man. Famed author and creator of Le’ Arche Jean Vanier dedicated his entire life to this kind of love. Much of what I have written here echos his teaching and example.
And when its all said and done… if your transition into a life of love that is compassion-driven, painful, and sacrificial—if that love bears marks upon you… be proud. Maybe take a picture with it so you don’t forget. Those are marks that will stay with you forever reminding you that you did your best to love like Jesus. And as you can see… that’s the only kind of love that can truly change the world.
Choose Compassionate and Sacrificial Love…
In conclusion I leave you with this: be compassionate. The world has enough hate, anger, and malice. What the world needs is compassionate love. A compassion that is best described by a beloved Dutch Priest named Henri Nouwen:
“Compassion is not a stooping down of the privileged to the level of those without privilege below. Neither is it a reaching down a hand from those above to the unhappy ones below. Nor a friendly gesture of pity to those who haven’t “made it.” Quite the opposite. Compassion goes and lives among people and in places where suffering and pain lives. God’s compassion is total, absolute, unlimited, and unbounded. It is the compassion of those who go to the forgotten corners of the earth and stay there until they are sure that not a single eye is still crying. It is the compassion of a God who doesn’t simply act like a servant, but whose behavior of service is the direct expression of his divinity.”
Let’s do that and do it well. With no regrets.
And if it causes pain, leaves a scar across your stomach, or a mark on your heart.
If leaves you weary, broken, and tired…run down and even taken advantage of to an extent.
If you are told you are utopian, unbiblical, naïve, or reckless in your attempts to love like Jesus…