“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14
A friend of mine shared a story with me a few years ago that has stuck with me. At the time we were discussing some of our students and how they seem to get stuck and not able to move forward toward their goal. I kept commenting that even though they can see the path, because that path is new and unfamiliar they are more likely to do an about face and return to the familiar at the first sign of difficulty, it was maddening to see so many not achieve their goals when they were so close.
He told me a story about a little ambitious squirrel. One day he was standing by the side of the road looking off into the distance, he was hungry you see as there wasn’t much food on his side of the road. As he gazed across the vast paved expanse, he saw a huge tree full of acorns. It was like looking at the promised land…and yes, the grass really was greener.
So, this squirrel started across the road, he kept his eyes on the tree, on the acorns and steadily, he began making his way. Just when he had almost reached the other side, he heard a sound, and saw some lights in the distance, he paused and looked around, he took his eyes off the tree, off the acorns, and began looking back toward where he came. The noise got louder, and he got scared, and started to doubt his decision and his direction. He stood in the road paralyzed not knowing what to do as the sound got louder and the lights got brighter… should he continue on his path toward the unknown or should he quickly return to the familiar? The noise gets louder and louder and the lights brighter and brighter, the confused squirrel begins to wonder why he’s in the road, why he risked this danger, what was he thinking and quickly he begins to run back the way he came, without realizing how close he was to safety.
He runs frantically back across the road…but alas the distance is too great, and the squirrel doesn’t make it to safety before the car reaches him.
Moving toward the new is difficult, scary and just about anything in life coming at us can cause us to doubt. We must keep our eyes focused on Christ if we want to succeed. If we do that, if we put Him first then we will reach our destination.
Serious words…often they seem easier said than done.
Jesus asked us to put off the old, to stop living in the past, to move toward something new, to move toward Him. The Apostle Paul tells us, “throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.” Ephesians 4:22-24
So then, why do we keep reverting back to our old ways, doing what we’ve always done instead of moving toward Christ and all the love and freedom and healing He has to offer?
The million-dollar question right?
Short answer FEAR, I found an acronym that sums it up pretty well; False Evidence Appearing Real. We too easily listen to the lies of; it’s too hard, too far, I’m not good enough, I don’t deserve love, grace, forgiveness. The real evidence, the truth, is that Christ came to earth while we were still sinners to save us and reconcile us to God. Thankfully He didn’t wait until we were perfect, holy and healed (like that was going to happen without him). He came for you, me, everyone; that is the real evidence. Christ came to seek and save the lost, broken, sinful, disinherited, mournful, disenchanted and displaced. He came for each of us.
We don’t have to be scared, we don’t have to FEAR, we only need to have faith that God is who He says He is, not who we think He is. He keeps his promises, always and forever. All too often we give up and lose hope right as we approach the finish line, missing out on God’s blessing and favor.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2
Remember the squirrel, if he had just kept his eyes on the tree, kept moving forward, not only would he have made it to safety, he would have received all the abundance of blessing that was waiting for him.
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Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2
Driving home today from our family vacation, I thought I was going to grab a pillow and nap while the children were sleeping…that didn’t happen. So, I decided to work on my lesson plan for our Wednesday night bible study…yea that didn’t really happen either. So I sat there, half wanting to sleep, half watching the clouds roll in for yet another breathtaking monsoon storm over the desert and half (yes there are three halves in this story I don’t do math on Friday’s) feeling like I should do something productive, I see the words JESUS SAVES pained in huge 8′ tall letters on a billboard by the side of the freeway. Then further down the road a billboard advertising “The Cool Church”, and no its not referring to the temperature in the sanctuary.
I counted around half a dozen various signs along the freeway over the course of about two hours. There were even a couple of large empty train cars with Jesus name painted on the side of them.
This got me thinking, REALLY? This is how we proclaim our Savior to the world; billboards, hip messaging (can’t use the word cool twice in the same blog, that is not cool apparently), talking about our houses of worship as the newest cutting-edge option to hearing the gospel? What happened to being set apart? What happened to not conforming to this world? I get it, we want to stay relevant, we want to get the word out and a billboard on the side of the interstate with literally hundreds of thousands of people driving by each month, seems like a good way to do it…doesn’t it?
What happened to discipleship, what happened to authenticity, what has happened to genuine relationships? I think I need to state this is not a treatise on the evils of modern communication or technology, I love my smart phone and social media and being connected. Nor am I saying that billboards on the side of the road are a bad thing. We know from scripture that God can use anything, anyone and any mode of communication to spread the gospel and to further His kingdom.
I think it’s important to remember that real relationship begins face to face and person to person. Relationship is the way in which two or more people or organizations regard and behave toward each other. Relationship can’t happen outside of interpersonal interaction. I think kitschy signs are funny, and finding new ways to get the word out about who you are is fine. However, if we are not actually touching people where they are with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we are just words flying by at 65 mph.
The truth is Jesus didn’t write a bunch of scrolls and send them out to the masses asking for them to attend synagogue. He went to the people who needed him most. What seems to be a trend with some churches, as they experience attrition they advertise, doing whatever they can think of to ‘get their name out’, then hoping people will walk through their doors. Since when has our example ever been waiting for people to come through our door?
Jesus came to earth to save us, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me but raise them up at the last day.” John 6:38-39
Jesus came to us, just as he came to the woman at the well, the blind, the lame, the broken and the dead in body and spirit. Jesus came…He didn’t wait for us to figure out how to save ourselves and fix our brokenness (as if we could). He came and found us in the gutter, living in spiritual squalor and gave us His hand and pulled us out of the mud, and washed us white as wool.
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
He sent us out to make disciples of all nations…but here we sit waiting for people to walk through our doors.
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