Day 9: Lost and Found

Hi there! This post is part of a 31-Day writing adventure I’m embarking on. I’d love for you to join me and read along. You can find the introduction to the series, and a “Table of Contents” as each day goes live, right here. Thanks so much for dropping in!

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We are enjoying a yearly tradition of spending time with family at the beach this week and yesterday, I had the privilege of taking the Bear and my sweet nieceypoo on a little trip to the movies. My niece doesn’t live nearby, so I love soaking in her fun and vivacious personality when I get the chance to spend time with her.

We had about ten minutes before the movie was supposed to start, and I had a couple of quarters in my pocket so I decided to let the kids play the race car game they’d been pretending to play while I was getting snacks. After putting quarters into the machine, I quickly realized the Bear’s feet wouldn’t reach the peddles, and slipped into the seat with him in my lap so that he could steer while I pushed the pedals.

Watching the screen was nothing short of painful — I could see that we were about to slam into things and would do my best to slow down. We were very obviously in eighth place and I was trying to help catch up!! I occasionally tried to grab the wheel to help, which sometimes helped, but sometimes resulted in us flipping completely over or slamming into something and bursting into flames. It became obvious that I needed to let go, slow down, and just let the Bear go at his own pace, which was quite a test of will for me.

Attempting to let someone else drive but simultaneously trying to push the pedals immediately made me begin to think about how I interact with the Lord. I wondered if sometimes I try to push the pedals or grab the wheel and steer because I don’t like the course being set for me. Even though I absolutely want to whole-heartedly give my life to the Lord, I sometimes cling to the wheel for fear of what that could look like.


A missionary named Jim Elliot, who lived an incredible life for Jesus, traveling to unreached people groups to share the Gospel with them for the first time, once said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Jesus delivered this similarly challenging word to His followers: “If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.” {Matthew 10:39}

As I mentioned the other day, it is often a challenge to let go of something we’ve been clinging to for the sake of Jesus. He doesn’t promise we will be safe, but He does promise we will find eternal life with Him when this blip-on-the-map called our life on earth is over.

It is an unexpected paradox, like so many aspects of His glorious goodness, that clinging to something will cause you to lose it, but letting go of something will cause you to find it. Matthew Henry comments on it this way:

They who like not Christ on these terms, may leave him at their peril… It is very encouraging to think, that whatever we leave, or lose, or suffer for Christ, we do not make a hard bargain for ourselves. Whatever we part with for this pearl of price, we may comfort ourselves with this persuasion, that it is well worth what we give for it.

Is His glorious goodness good enough to leave everything for? Do you get itchy with the idea that God wants all of you — or wants the steering wheel and the pedals?

Can we chat about that more tomorrow?



The Cost of Discipleship, Numero Tres

So sorry this is so delayed in its arrival, dear friends and readers!  We have been sick sick sick — and it was a struggle to do more than make sure we all had food to eat the past few days. Please forgive me! We’ve finally made it to the last post of the Cost of Discipleship series from Luke 9! I hope you like the bite-sized portions. I don’t think you would’ve read it all if it wasn’t. I probably wouldn’t have written it either. Let’s press on!

So last, another person showed up and said, “Lord, I’ll follow You. Just let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” In some ways similar to the second person, this guy wanted to follow Jesus on his own terms. We might as well say, “Lord I want to follow you, as long as I can keep on beating my wife and getting snockered on the weekends,” or “Lord, I will follow you, but just don’t call me to share my faith with my neighbours. I don’t like that evangelism stuff.” Maybe even, “Lord, I will follow you, as long as it doesn’t involve me doing anything other than going to church on Sunday and cutting back on my cuss words.”

Photo credit to lapstrake @ Flickr

Horse Drawn Plow, Photo credit to lapstrake @ Flickr

Matthew Henry’s Commentary spells out the issues with this guy’s attitude really well:

First, he looked upon his following Christ as a melancholy, troublesome, dangerous thing; it was to him as if he were going to die and therefore he must take leave of all his friends, never to see them again, or never with any comfort; whereas, in following Christ, he might be more a comfort and blessing to them than if he had continued with them. I never would’ve picked up on this. Thanks, Mr. Henry!

Second, he seemed to have his worldly concerns more upon his heart than he ought to have, and than would consist with a close attendance to his duty as a follower of Christ. You probably picked up on that.

Third — seriously, I never would’ve thought of this — “he was willing to enter into a temptation from his purpose of following Christ. To go and bid them farewell that were at home at his house would be to expose himself to the strongest solicitations imaginable to alter his resolution; for they would all be against it, and would beg and pray that he would not leave them. Now it was presumption in him to thrust himself into such a temptation. Those that resolve to walk with their Maker, and follow their Redeemer, must resolve that they will not so much as parley with their tempter.” Wow. Enough said, methinks.

Jesus’ response to this is quite a rebuke. So what is this putting the hand to the plow and looking back stuff all about?  Let’s break it down. Plowing happens before sowing. If you don’t properly plow the soil — for example, if you’re trying to push the plow forward while looking behind you — you can imagine that you’ll make a mess of the field you’re working, and it will not be fit to be sown in. You won’t be fit to receive the ‘seed’ of the kingdom of God, plowing and looking back, if we consider our hearts the field in this analogy. Or, you aren’t fit to scatter the seed, or the Gospel, if (in a different analogy) you are the sower. If your purpose is to ‘be about’ the work of God, you need to ‘be about’ it. I think Henry concludes these considerations very well:

“Those who begin with the work of God must resolve to go on with it, or they will make nothing of it. Looking back inclines to drawing back, and drawing back is to perdition. Those are not fit for heaven who, having set their faces heavenward, face about. But he, and he only, that endures to the end, shall be saved.”

So if we tie all these lessons together, I think they meet in a pretty nifty conclusion: 1. You have a calling. 2. You should answer it. 3. You should answer the call of God, on His terms, under His conditions, in His timing.

The Cost of Discipleship is great. The path is narrow and there are few who find it. The road probably won’t be easy. (If it is, I have a feeling you’re on the wrong road.) But the reward is well worth it. To God be the Glory. Out of all of this, the Lord has been challenging me in my willingness to follow Him without looking back. That, too, is a story for another post — blessings as you continue your journey in the meantime!

Say Salmon Swim Upstream…Salmon Schwim Upstweam

One of my professors at the University of Edinburgh talked a lot about the significance of the narrative of the salmon. He thought it was sad that farm-raised salmon never get the chance to experience the narrative of the wild salmon — the true story of their destiny. Whether or not you would like to call it a narrative, the story of the salmon is really cool. There is actually a spot in Scotland where you can see them jumping up a waterfall and trying to make it upstream to spawn. While the story might be a complete nightmare if you have a lisp…it’s still a great stowy! You see, while most fish tend to go with the flow, the salmon start making their move upriver in the fall of the year, and when they feel they’ve found a good spot, they’ll lay their eggs. Often, they’ve gotten themselves so far upstream that by the time they’ve finished spawning, they’re in a high eddy where they can’t exactly get back downstream again. So they die there, but as their bodies decompose, they make the water extra-nourishing for the little eggy salmon waiting to be hatched. Their eggs are (hopefully mostly) safely kept there until it’s time to hatch, when they instinctively will begin the journey downstream to some more spacious waters, and the cycle will start over again.

There’s a beautiful spot at the Hermitage in Dunkeld where you can watch the salmon jump, and Mark took me there once a few years ago. It was amazing to see the fish trying to make it up this gushing waterfall, where they would honestly have to do a triple jump to make it to the top.  I don’t think I ever saw one make it, but it was really entertaining to watch them try! Ooooh he almost made it! Ouch that one just faceplanted into a rock! But the fact that they have that amazing story, which as far as I know is unlike any other, makes them unique and special, and maybe even extra tasty.

The story of the Woman at the Well is similar — and yesterday’s blog (heck, a thousand blogs) couldn’t fully cover it. Something else that was really significant about the story was that Jesus was totally swimming upstream throughout His interactions with the Samaritan woman. In His day, it was not common for Jews to speak to Samaritans — they didn’t even want to go near them. Instead of treating the Samaritans like fellow human beings, they treated them like the red-headed stepchildren of the faith — they thought they needed to be treated like rubbish and totally ostracized. The Jews and Samaritans were constantly squabbling and bickering. Many a Jew in Jesus’ day would rather die of thirst than ask a Samaritan … especially a woman .. and one of questionable character at that, to draw a drink of water.

There’s probably not a lot to be surprised about in her response — “Um…like…aren’t you a Jew? So…ugh…why are you asking me for water? You guys don’t normally even want to be seen on the same hillside as us.” Jesus told her that if she knew with whom she was speaking, she would be asking Him for a drink of living water. She liked that idea, until Jesus suggested that she bring her husband and come back. She tries to skirt her ‘issues’ by simply saying she doesn’t have a husband. Jesus reads her mail and says, “Yeah…you’ve already had five, and you’re not even married to the guy you’re with now.”

Instead of outright telling Jesus to get our of her sauce, she just changes the subject, by bringing up part of the argument that has been going on between the Jews and Samaritans for ages. But once again, Jesus is not caught up in the cultural dilemmas of the day. Here’s how Matthew Henry puts it:

Jesus did not try to convince her of her schismatical belief system’s faults, but her conversion came about because He showed her her own ignorance and immoralities, and her need of a Saviour.

Although there are a thousand sermons to be preached on this simple interaction, here’s the place I’m headed: Jesus was not caught up in the cultural customs of His day. And that meant He was free to engage anyone He wanted, anywhere He wanted — Jew or Samaritan, Mute or Leper, Tax Collector or Prostitute. What does that say for us? It says to me — pay attention to where the customs of your culture might take you. Those customs might lead you in a different direction, and on a different path from the one the Lord would have you take. Has your culture made you think the best place for a woman is in the home? Has your culture made you believe that people of a different ethnicity are incapable or intellectually inferior? Have the common customs of your locale made you think there are places you shouldn’t go or people you shouldn’t help? And more significant, has your culture perhaps convinced you that you don’t actually have to make Jesus your Lord, and you can still call yourself a Christian?

We should constantly challenge our ways of thinking in light of the Truth of the Gospel. The Truth is, we could perhaps consider ourselves salmon. And our true destiny is to live, contrary to our nature, in the call of God. Our true destiny is to swim upstream, and live, not according to our sinful nature, but according to the leading of the Holy Spirit, in obedience to God. And a life lived to God is a life lived upstream. If you are living in obedience to God, it is not likely that you will be doing the same thing as everyone around you. It is likely that the walk God has for you will be more of a challenge than a lazy afternoon ride on a raft headed with the current of the little stream He’s placed you in.

The cross is a heavy object. Carrying it is likely to bring you to places of resistance — places where it is difficult to lift this heavy object and bring it with you — places where it would be easier to turn back, to put it down, or to keep walking without it.  If you should decide to put it down, to go with the current, and to keep on as you always were, you might still be swimming, but you’ll be swimming in nets on the farm…and you’ll never brave the open waters to live out the story God has for you.

Take an opportunity to swim upstream today. And please let me know how it goes.

Clicking Ignore on Facebook OR What Not to Wear

Matthew 22. Parable of the Wedding Feast. Wow. Praise our amazing God — who saw it fit to speak in parables, so that those who desire to get their hands dirty and wrestle with understanding will find life and encouragement, and truth.

Jesus spoke this parable to the chief priests and the Pharisees. It was a stern warning against their self-righteousness. At this point, the ‘religious folk’ were already pretty ‘peeved’ at Jesus’ preaching, and were trying to figure out how to ‘lay hands on him’ (but not in a nice way). Seeing they may see and not perceive, And hearing they may hear and not understand; Lest they should turn, And their sins be forgiven them. (Mark 4:12 / Isaiah 6:9,10)

In the parable, Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like a king who arranged a marriage for his son and then sent out his servants to call the people who were invited to come, but the people weren’t willing to come. He sent out other servants, saying “Tell them it’s ready! Come to the wedding.” But the people who were invited made light of it and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his business. And the rest seized his servants, mistreated them, and killed them. When the king heard, he was really really ticked. He sent out his armies and destroyed the murderers and their city. Then he sent his servants out to the highways to invite as many as they found to the wedding. So they did gather together all whom they found, both bad and good, and the wedding hall was packed out for the par-tay.

Then the king came in to see the guests, and he saw a man there who didn’t have on a wedding garment. He was like, “Dude, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” And the guy was speechless. So the king said, “Handcuff him. Footcuff him. Take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Jesus ended all this by saying, “Many are called, but few are chosen.”

What inspired me to dig a little deeper into this was the realisation that I hadn’t the foggiest idea why that one dude got kicked out just because he wasn’t wearing the right thing. Like what if he was poor and couldn’t afford a wedding garment? Or what if he spilled something on it last week — they didn’t have oxiclean back then!  But my friends, there is so much to more to the story than just what not to wear!

In this parable, praise God, the feast is the Gospel. It is a continual feast of good things — forgiveness and pardon from sin, favour of God, peace of conscience, hope of eternal life. The King, God, provides this eternal feast for us, through Christ, and His work on the cross. The original invited guests — the Jews — RSVP’d “B.B.R.” “Busy Being Righteous.”

This is Jesus’ indictment against the religious folk of the day — they should’ve been rejoicing that the promised One had arrived, but they were too concerned about losing their power and status to believe Him. The prophets of old were unsuccessful in their continual invitations to the Jews to believe the Gospel. John the Baptist was unsuccessful, and so was Christ himself. They told the Jews the entertainment was almost ready — the kingdom of God was at hand. The apostles and ministers of the Gospel were even sent after the Resurrection, to tell them it was come, it was quite ready; and to persuade them to accept the invitation. The natural man neither discerns, nor desires, the things of the Spirit of God.

The invited guests made light of the invitation — “perhaps the messengers are making too big a deal out of it? It’s probably not all that great.” They could feast just as well at home. Multitudes perish for indifference. It’s kind of like they’d seen invitation after invitation in their Facebook inbox and they were like, “I’d rather just chill out at mi casa.” Clicking ‘ignore’ is missing the feast of all eternity.

So the businessfolk and the farmer folks rejected the invite, (let not your work distract you from the One thing that is needful) and the others — who would’ve been religious leaders, if they weren’t tradesmen — treated the King’s servants spitefully. Like Saul of Tarsus who became Paul, many have persecuted the messengers of God.  In speaking of the King’s armies, Jesus is prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem and the death of many many Jews at the hand of the Roman armies, 40 years after his time. That happened people!

Now here’s where the story gets really good for us — the invitation is extended to the Gentiles. And unless you’ve some Jewish heritage in your back pocket, this is good news for you! The Lord has extended the invitation to all, through Christ, to enjoy the goodness of the Gospel and right relationship with God. But what of the gent who pitches up in the wrong outfit? This is a warning we should definitely listen to. You or I might be just like him.

There are many professing Christians in the Church today. But when the King comes in, (when God returns in all His glory) He is a discerner of hearts, and He will know who belongs and who doesn’t. As Matthew Henry puts it, “How durst thou claim a share in gospel benefits, when thou hadst no regard to gospel rules? […] Despised sabbaths and abused sacraments must be reckoned for, and judgement taken out upon an action of waste against all those who received the grace of God in vain.”

Jesus is teaching the fear of the Lord. This man, afterwards, could not speak. He was convicted and without excuse. It will be better in the day of judgement for those who never heard about Jesus than for those who heard and did not take heed to follow Him and obey His commands.

So what the heck was this guy trying to wear to the feast? His own righteousness. He was trying to get into the feast on his own merit, in view of his good deeds and good works. Listen to Jesus, people! Your own good works are never going to be good enough for a holy God. Fear God and obey His commands! What TO wear: the righteousness that Christ lived out, and died to give you.

Many are called, but few are chosen:

Setting aside those who made light of the invitation, as well as those who make a profession of religion, but the temper of their spirits and the tenour of their conversation are a constant contradiction to it; setting aside the profane and the hypocritical, you’ll find that few, very few, are chosen … many are called to the feast, few chosen to garment — to salvation, by sanctification of the Spirit.

The Sermon in a Nutshell: Jesus often talked about people being really surprised in the judgement day. “Jesus we were pals! You know me! You’re my buddy — it says so on my t-shirt.” “Depart from me, I never knew you.” Your mission, should you choose to accept it, and your invitation, should you choose to receive it, is to accept the gift of salvation bought for you on the cross by Jesus, and then to begin to demonstrate that you understand the significance of the gift of Jesus by loving Jesus and obeying His commands. Jesus’ invitation is the only invitation you’ll ever receive to the feast that will last for eternity. Don’t click ‘ignore this invitation‘!!!


God Bless Me and My Bank Account

In Matthew 10, Jesus has a really special heart-to-heart with the disciples where He begins to tell them what they can expect in the future.  He specifically predicts trouble for them, but He also prescribes counsel and comfort in reference to the trouble they should expect. Although this might scare some folks away from following Him, this was a really cool thing for Jesus to do. Since they knew they were going to suffer for His Name, it wouldn’t be a surprise, after He was gone, when some big-time suffering began. Instead of being a shock to their faith, it would be confirmation of their faith: “Jesus said this was gonna happen, brothers, and here it is.”

Not only did He tell them they were going to suffer, but He got pretty specific about what this would look like.

  1. They should expect to be hated.
  2. They should expect to be apprehended and arraigned like criminals.
  3. They should expect to be put to death because of their faith.
  4. They should expect to be called awful things.
    Interesting side note on that point: (thanks to Matthew Henry) Satan’s sworn enemies are often represented as his friends, ie., the apostles were tearing down Satan’s kingdom, but they were called servants of Satan. At the same time, Satan’s sworn servants would be thought to be his enemies, while they are actually some of his best workers. Often those who paint him on other’s clothes have him reigning in their own hearts. Feels like a history lesson. At any rate, I found it an interesting observation.
  5. There will be division because of their faith.

What does all this mean? A few things come to mind: first, if you’re following Jesus, you are like a sheep among wolves. Jesus told you that already. Wicked men are like wolves, devouring and destroying is in their nature. God’s people are of a contrary nature and disposition, but they are exposed to the world, and easy prey. Jesus sends His children out into this world, but He will protect them, and bear them out, because He is the Good Shepherd over His flock.

Here comes the challenge. A lot of us — I might say especially in western society — are a lot like the disciples. The disciples thought Jesus was going to be kicking off a new kingdom on the earth, and that all his followers would be given wealth and power. Very appealing. They were expecting to be made princes in His kingdom, but Jesus was telling them they would be made prisoners.  Jesus said, (v. 34) “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” This sword imagery is prevalent throughout Scripture — He brings His followers His Word — the Sword of the Spirit spoken of in Ephesians 6, the only offensive weapon mentioned in our spiritual armor. We have this sword, this truth, to fight against the lies of this world, as Jesus fought against Satan with it (Luke 4:1-13) We fight the lies the enemies whispers to us with it…we use it to discern what’s really in the heart of a man (Heb 4:12).

Now, there’s not really a sword fight if there’s only one sword. The sword fighting against the children of God, is what Jesus spoke of here, the sword of persecution.  Those who don’t believe God’s word are cut to the heart by it (Acts 7:54) — they are tormented by the testimony of Christ’s witness (Rev 11:10). When two people are given the same information, and one believes and the other doesn’t, the faith of the one who believes and trusts condemns the one that doesn’t. There is no enmity like that of the persecutor, no resolve like that of the persecuted.

What’s the point of all this, Caroline? Jesus has warned us of the persecution we are very likely to receive if we follow Him. My concern is that many of us, in western society, are sharing a message of the Gospel that says God’s full intention, if you follow Him, is to make your health perfect, your life pretty, your bank account in top-shape, and maybe, if you’re extra blessed, you’ll even get a new car every year or two. If you do have those ‘blessings’, great…maybe. They might be the very thing that distracts you from truly following Jesus. And the pursuit of more of them — whether you have them or not — can be an even bigger distraction.

The question: Are we following Jesus so that He can make our lives super-duper happy clappy, or are we following Him because we believe He’s the Son of God, and we’re willing to fellowship in His sufferings in this world, walk through the challenge of persecution, and stand firm no matter what the consequences. I am sometimes afraid to speak to the people around me about Jesus because I don’t want to be persecuted for my faith. But God has given us a spirit of power, of love, of a sound mind, and an incredible weapon (which we need to sharpen) in order to live the kind of life Jesus came to show us. Praise the Lord for His mercy: we have all fallen short of the glory of God. Praise the Lord for His power: we can move forward, and look more like Jesus with the fresh opportunity that every day brings. So let’s step out of our box, get our eyes off our worries and our checkbooks, and trust the God who created us to supply our every need, while we follow after Him!

“The good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.” 2 Timothy 1:14