When Someone Takes You Where You Don’t Want To Go

The concept of being taken where we don’t want to go or being forced to do what we don’t want to do is anathema to those born and bred in the land of Stars and Stripes.  Although we might concede to that arrangement as a child with no current bargaining chips, to be sure our goal as we exit the tutelage of our mothers and fathers is to never, ever do so again.  The ability to choose what we want when we want, akin to a never-ending seafood buffet line, is something most of us have been burdened with since we first put our foot on the floor.  In fact, it’s really not that beneficial, though it is not my purpose to explore that outside of setting the stage for our talk today.  Yet I’m told by many from third-world countries that this is in stark antithesis to their everyday experience.   The ability to choose, or to perhaps “pull oneself up by their bootstraps” even, as a matter of choice, is a far-off and even grandiose idea.  For on the one hand too many options brings with it great confusion; and on the other, changing one’s “caste” so to speak is not only impossible for them, but somehow a disruption of some reincarnational destiny baked into their subconscious.  And even though this “I did it my way” philosophy seems to be the entitlement of those of us in the land of plenty, my “spidey-sense” tells me that we ought not get used to it all the way to four score and ten.  In fact, my dear friend and spiritual mentor Peter the Rock had a conversation with Jesus one day about this very thing.

Breakfast On the Beach

It was shortly after the resurrection, when the disciples gathered together with Jesus in Galilee, that Peter; perhaps reminiscent of previous days, decided they would rondavu for some good ole night-fishing.  And yet as is often the case, on this night, the fish weren’t willing to join the party, and so they caught nada, zilch!  Then in a flash, equally similar to those miraculous days before the crucifixion, Jesus, who now affectionally called them “children” (I really love that by the way), asks them to throw their net on the right side of the boat.  By this time of course, they have at least learned to do exactly as he says it seems, and faith having now taught them these valuable lessons, now yielded so many fish that they could not pull them all in.  And so it was, right before the fish fry, that Peter and the true love of his life were to have their most difficult, and at the same time transformational conversation.

It started out as John realizes that the guy who tells them to throw the net on the right side is of course the Lord (duh).  It is then that Peter ditches the fish cleaning duty and jumps into the sea in order to beat the rest of the gang to the shore where Jesus is already serving up a morning breakfast of fish and bread.  He then shoves a few more on the grill from the morning catch and invites the rag-tag fisherman turned disciples to join him for a sumptuous breakfast on the beach.  And our text tells us in John chapter 21, that though the disciples know it is the Lord, something inside tells them that he is different now in both the strangest and magnificent of ways that they cannot quite explain.

A Class We’d Like To Miss

And now, as is often the case, the conversation turns to Peter; perhaps somewhat still dejected and reluctant to offer much busy spiritual talk in the aftermath of his utter denial of the man he walked and talked with for three years of his life.  Jesus of course knows this, and so He asks him a rather pointed question as he often did when he says, “Do you love me more than these do”?  Peter’s normal tendency, as is still the case here, is to be the best in the class as he retorts “Yes, Lord, you know I love you”.  Peter figures they can now move on to other things, but Jesus is not ready to concede yet, as he asks him yet two more times if he loves him, adding the admonition to “feed or shepherd my sheep”.  And it is here that we see that Jesus seems to be giving him a hall pass for the utter denial at Jesus’ darkest hour, yet as Peter perhaps reluctantly accepts this, he also begins to feel that maybe Jesus is sticking in the knife further by asking him “3” times just as he denied Jesus in the same progression.  Yet what we find is that Jesus is doing nothing of the sort, but lovingly letting him know that He has not given up on him, but is yet again commissioning him to take up the towel and serve in the way of the Master, and to equally love and shepherd those like you and I, who need this broken shell of a man to lead us down our own broken and sometimes cruciform road.

And I mention cruciform because it is to be both Peter’s and our own in some form or fashion if we take seriously the call to love, to serve, to feed and to shepherd the stubborn sheep of God until He returns again.  You know…people like us.  Yet it is here that our lesson comes into clear view.  Jesus tells him ever so generally, yet prophetically nonetheless, that though in his reckless youth he has been used to calling the shots and marching to the beat of his own drum, that there will come a time when this will not be the case.  He reminds him that when he is old, he will be taken outside of his own will, and outside of the purposing of his own life, somewhere that he doesn’t want to go at all.  We are then told by Jesus in a somewhat cryptic form what church history seems to confirm–that Peter would suffer the same fate as his Master.  And yet, Jesus still says to him the same words, “Follow me”.

Can I Just Be Like John for Goodness Sakes?

But before we unpack this (and I’ve always been able to relate to Peter’s response here) he then turns and looks at his spiritual rival (John), and essentially asks Jesus, “Well, if I’m going to die like that, which I don’t even want to think about right now, then what about John boy here”?  And it is here that Jesus says to Peter something that I have often heard him similarly saying to me, and perhaps on your walk on the narrow path, you’ve heard it as well.  He tells him to quit worrying about John, Paul, George, or even Ringo for that matter, but gets right back to the most important issue at hand for us all.  And that is to answer the question correctly and most decisively whether or not we will accept the call to follow, though none go with us or not.  Because to be able to answer the question rightly is the only thing that really matters.  And Jesus is confronting Peter head on with this, even as he tells him that there will be a time when he will not call the damn shots at all, but will instead give up the ghost in the fight of faith.  And so there remains before us a similar and yet equally important reminder before we take another step, that whatever our lot in this life; whatever our achievement or not; our legacy or not; or inheritance we leave the ones we love or not, answering whether we have decided to simply follow is the watershed issue of our lives!

The Answer That Is Still Blowing In My Wind

It was September the 12th, 2019 when I wrote, Forever Trying to Graduate from the Incredible Sinking Class https://marknealprince.com/2019/09/12/forever-trying-to-graduate-from-the-incredible-sinking-class/ where again I attempted to instruct myself and others in the Petrine class of failures, hard knocks, and lessons we must learn if we are to walk on the narrow path Jesus is always guiding His own towards.  In my conclusion, my analysis was that sometimes, and even oftentimes in this life, it is not until we are truly sinking, and the one thing left visible of us out on that big ocean called life is one lone eyeball sending out one last S.O.S. right before we drown!  It is then, and many times only then, that faith comes in like a tsunami and yet actually saves us (even from ourselves) so we can finally be useful in the Kingdom of God, and so we can finally have the kind of sight that can actually guide us and others the rest of the way.

Now though I’m not Peter by a long shot, though in some ways we all are, on Friday, September the 13th, I was taken where I did not wish to go.  As I lay on the cold operating table still awake to the sights and sounds of men and women with masks deciding my fate, inserting long tubes into my heart to mend what I had for so long ignored was broken, I longed for someone to tell me it was finally over.  From the days hence, I’ve sought the Lord and waited like a dog longing for a long-lost bone for a word from Him.  And like Martha, and like Peter even, I am worrying about many things and wondering what is to yet to be made of my life in the grand kingdom story, or if I still have a shot like John and others seem to have.  I’m still waiting, and waiting for some epiphany, for some silver bullet, or perhaps a still small voice would be nice.  But there is one thing that keeps coming back like a resounding gong in my ear that I have a tendency to ignore due to its utter simplicity, since I too have heard it time and time again.  And like Peter, I’m a little perplexed and perhaps a little sad at its eternal repetition throughout my life, somehow waiting for something more.  Yet here it is again, and yet now it is so much sharper in my ear.  I hear him saying to me, “Mark, my dear, dear child, just follow me”!

Selah

 

 

 

 

Settling Into The Old Man’s Skin

I have had a hand full of people that actually care about me, start to look at me with an edge of concern lately.  In fact, I can almost feel them whispering to themselves as I walk by, secretly saying to themselves, “Is he O.K.”?

Changes

 And I understand that a little bit I guess.  After all, they see this once enthusiastic and extroverted guy transform into an introverted hermit type of fellow, and watch from afar as old blue eyes has been walking lately with a little less spring in his step.  I also refuse to “Grecian formula” things up, and so this increasingly graying beard, and once somewhat chiseled frame has started to show signs of budding atrophy–despite my still quasi-consistent attempts to keep everything from falling down altogether on a fat boy treadmill nearby.

They equally scratch their head as they see a chap who was once a movie aficionado grow increasingly frustrated at the morally inept and purposeless selection, and similarly irritated at Christian movie production attempts to “VidAngel” the unadulterated reality out of life that we all know and experience from day to day.  As a result, turning the “boob tube” off as my old man used to call it, often seems the correct order of the day.

These same people no doubt likewise stop to reflect on someone who is now almost positive that nothing good happens after 10:00 PM at night, and who would just as soon pass the time reading a good book or in finding an old empty church to sit and pray in, than to do just about anything else.  This is also the same person mind you who loves a huge mug of Belgium beer, or a glass of exquisite bourbon as much as anyone with half a pulse; and who puts an occasional premium cigar in the same category as filet mignon and a baked potato–hopelessly drowned in limitless butter and sour cream. To add to this complexity, this ever-evolving patriarch can occasionally be seen with the likes of Chicken little, and one of whom has correspondingly grown pretty damn sure that the sky is actually falling all around us.

A Delightful Paradox

Oh, and don’t get me wrong, I like to be around people (in small doses now I’m afraid) but am equally content with solitude that causes me to habitually reflect and write about the sky I just mentioned.  I also grow increasingly content with a mixture of both a holy sadness and an equal zest for what God has left for me and my beautiful bride in the days that lie ahead–despite not knowing heads or tails of its sure footing anymore.  And for sure, that has taken some reluctant getting used to.

In fact, I’ll go so far to say that I believe that this contrast I just described should be somewhat normal for those of us who are still faithfully pulling out eye-teeth in their pursuit of a God who often plays hard to get, and those who also grow increasingly wary of the endless “grasping for straws” for some eternal bliss in a home down here; when all the while we innately know that we were created for a city whose builder and maker is God.  And the truth is, I’m now actually OK with this beautiful contradiction. But it’s taken quite a country mile to get here into my skin.

Death and Taxes

I can remember hearing Billy Graham say one time something that I found rather profound.  He was asked that if he had it to do all over again what he would do different.  He mentioned several things, but the one that stuck with me, that did not make a lick of sense until recently, was when he said, “I would have prepared more for growing old”.  And this insightful thought has stayed with me ever since.  You see because the fact is, that one day, just as certain as April 15th, the grim reaper will come to do his bidding, and I’m convinced more than ever that preparing for this certainty is singularly what has the distinctive power to catapult us into living a more purposeful life, rather than stoking the continual restlessness of having not yet achieved a life of perfect ease and comfort—a rose garden of which God never promised to those of us who voluntarily still walk on the narrow path. But I think perhaps we have forgotten.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have done things in life to try and “get ahead”.  I’ve worked hard, pursued advanced degrees, tried to be the best at a thing or two. And in that quest, I have experienced some of the euphoria of accomplishment, and the equal sharing of the spoils that come with it.  I still pursue this, simply because I want to be as great as I can be with the talents I’ve been given.  And somehow, someway, I believe there’s a best-selling book somewhere in my repertoire that still causes me to not go gentle into that good night.  All the while, I am now equally comfortable with being a normal guy who has also abysmally failed, yet who simply loves his wife and family, and who makes at least a feeble attempt to walk on this broken road. All the while, I am in constant hope for the daily bread and wine given from a Father who loves to give good gifts to his children–even when the battle rages on for the true fallen sons of God to at last be revealed.

Settle Down and Settle In

In conclusion, the reason that I write this, is not to give those concerned more reason to fret about my current metamorphosis; nor do I wish to become an old man before my allotted time.  But what I do want to do, is to find a way to settle into this old man’s skin in such a way that enables me to offer hope and guidance to those who increasingly engross themselves in a never-ending discontentment from a life that they feel has passed them by, and instead embrace a life of child-like faith and trust in the one who has promised to never leave us or forsake us.  To continually walk hand in hand with the one who longs to give us peace and rest even in the valley of the shadow of our inevitable death, yet most readily in the daily grind of peaks and valleys, highs and lows, and the ever constant “in-betweens” and “still not yets”.  For this is the path for all who dare walk on this road less traveled, and I simply pray that you don’t have to become an old man before finally getting it into your skin.

Selah