Living Without a B Plan

I would like to take a brief bit of your time today to sort of piggyback on last week’s blog: It’s Not Called Faith Until It’s Hard.  We wrapped up things, reiterating our main focus of the fact that faith is often times “hard”, yet we have been guilty many times of packaging the gospel in a more palatable fashion that harms more than helps.  The result has been massive attrition (some of which is natural), but that could be avoided at least partly by a presentation of the gospel that includes the costs associated should one give wholehearted alignment to it.  A case in point, and perhaps an addendum to our previous talk worth additional ponderance, comes from Peter himself.  A serious disciple of the Lord known for often getting it wrong, but who often got it “spot on” while the rest were simply trying to catch up.  Our text before us today captures this in a monumental way I believe.

Some Hard Pills to Swallow

Our story comes from John chapter 6, and particularly starting in verse 25, where Jesus begins relating the manna that was given to the Israelites in the wilderness as in fact “Himself”.  In other words, Jesus says He is the “bread of life” that in fact came down from heaven.  This of course starts an immediate ruckus among the crowd, with them first of all calling out his humble and unimpressive lineage from their perspective.  The additional gag reflex was in trying to get their arms and minds around Jesus asking them to “eat his flesh”.  And if that were not bad enough, Jesus seems to be commissioning them to drink some of his “blood” to wash it down with.  And as a result of this “hard teaching”, in verse 66 we find the words, “After this many of his disciples quit following him and did not accompany him any longer” (John 6:66 NET).  And I find it interesting to note here that there were many “disciples” that were following Him besides the 12, but it was at this point when the gospel and it’s “hardness” began to separate the men from the boys shall we say.  In fact, you can bet your bottom dollar part of this crowd that bailed as a result were also some of the same ones who later hollered “crucify him” and also chimed in “Give us Barabbas instead” assisting Pilate in deciding His fate.

But in light of this, understandably, Jesus looks out at the 12 and says these somber and profound words that I would suggest He is still asking today to those of us for whom the good confession we made before many witnesses is starting to lack any visible “benefit package”.  Additionally, for those of us who at a pivotal point in our walk begin to also wrestle with the things “hard to understand”, or in the navigation through times of difficulty that seem to have no current expiration date.  The stuff of which Jesus beckons us to not only file away until a later time of revelation, but to also embrace in patient waiting along with the more genteel admonitions that give us epiphanies of glorious light along the way.  And so He says to them, “You don’t want to go away too, do you”?  And I’m guessing at this particular instance you could have heard at least 12 pins drop!

Peter Graduates to Class 201

In fact, it is here that I envision all the disciples looking at each other, wondering who has the correct answer to this haunting question.  Or perhaps they in unison are contemplating whether there is even a right answer to give at this point.  Perhaps they were looking at each other much like you and I might do as schoolchildren when the Principal asks a suspicious looking group of us for an answer to a question that could incriminate the whole lot if answered incorrectly, and so no one lets out a peep; or else!  And yet Peter has already sifted this uncomfortableness through his own mind and heart proven by his epic response. For he has, if you will, already “burned all the ships” and “cashed in his chips”.  And his reply is captivating to say the least. Our text says, “Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom would we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God”.  And from my perspective, never have more profound words been uttered for our instruction to those of us trying to make it to second base on the oftentimes lonely narrow path of which we are embarking upon.  For Jesus’ question will continue to be one we also need to answer on the long trek homeward, and our needful repetitive answer will demand the basic tenets of Peter’s reply all over it.

A Flunky Disciple’s Pilgrimage

I concluded last week’s blog with a short video about the story behind the song I sung as a child, still wrestling then with what it meant to be a follower of Jesus and what that would look like in Mark Prince clothing.  And though I wouldn’t totally embrace the narrow path until the age of 27, I would spend the next 28 years afterwards learning what that continual decision would cost me personally.  And though I skinned my knee many times throughout that journey through my own spiritual clumsiness, by God’s grace I have been able to say, “I have decided to follow Jesus” and “though none go with me, still I will follow”.  In fact, that has often been the case in moving pictures so to speak.  For I have watched many of my friends who were once “brothers in arms” in the fight of faith on this narrow road become casualties of that same raging battle before my very sad blue eyes.  Men and women who because of trials, toils and snares and a variety of brokenness are those who finally call it quits and say, “enough already”.  For the road is much, much too difficult.  Those costs have also included God’s very own churchmen treating me as an outsider, part of the rebellion, or as someone simply unwilling to kiss their ecclesiastical ring.  A ring of whose glitter did not reflect the gold that had once been projected as a given.  It’s also cost beloved friends and family who both quietly and even boisterously conjured up spells given spiritual names for my demise.  Added to these were my own flaws being worked through cruciform necessities to drive my roots deep and wide and ready for a later more worthwhile rumble with the demons just outside my door.  And then not to be excluded were the loss of all things often unequally mixed with restoration and hope, along with “dark nights of the soul” that lasted more akin to days, weeks and years; along with dates with death to then be postponed until further notice.  And yet here I am, still talking about and walking with Jesus, albeit with a very distinctive limp.

The Decision to Abort Plan B

And as you guessed it, all of us face this same pivotal moment in our lives if we dare to dream about walking on the path of our Lord and what it might entail for us.  For there are a plethora of never-ending options alluring us to its beck and call, all the while making continual boasts of its cure to whatever currently ails us.  And yet sooner or later like Peter, and like the rest of any would be disciple who endeavors to embark on that self-same path, we’ll have to answer a difficult (yet with God’s grace and help) life altering question.  And the answer has only one reply once we have been beat up one too many times with the pleasures of sin for seasons, and man’s endless tirade of pragmatic plans that promise to lead us anywhere but a cross that will need to be carried.  And it is at that time as we stand watching the crowds teeter-tottering between this way and that, sifting through the vast array of best made plans, that we finally understand that He alone has the words of eternal life.  And then consequently resigning to the fact that in light of that stark and yet beautiful reality, there simply is nowhere else that we can go!  And when that happens; when we finally “fish and cut bait” for the last time, life without a B plan becomes the absolute safest place in the world we could possibly be; and one in which we finally begin to actually live!

Selah

I Can Never Be The Same

 

 

 

Forever Trying to Graduate from the Incredible Sinking Class!

A Willing, yet Gullible Spirit

 If there is one thing I know in the marathon called life on the narrow path, it is this: When Jesus said, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”, He was telling the sho’nuff truth yall.  Just saying.

Interestingly, he made that pronouncement when He was getting ready to have his life handed over to be brutally murdered while His best homies were found sleeping on the job.  Instead of praying, they were catching some Z’s!  Boy can I relate.  And consequently, if it wasn’t for the comfort of the disciple’s blunders as an exemplar of what “not to do” making me breathe a sigh of relief, I would have ditched this narrow path thing a long, long time ago.  Can I get an amen up in this joint?

Peter seemed to be the ringleader on this kind of shenanigans as a matter of fact.  You know, like when he got the brownie points for getting the right answer to the question, “Who do you say that I am” that Jesus asked the class rather pointedly.  Peter states with a shit-eating grin on his face (paraphrased), “Well, everyone knows Jesus that you of course are ‘The Christ, the Son of the Living God’” (in an operatic tone) as he then drops the mic!  Booya!  So, in essence, Peter gets the star for the day in class.  Two stars in fact.  But of course moments later, in what he thought was an equal star-worthy moment, as Jesus lays out the trajectory of his trip to Jerusalem and getting crucified plan, Peter has now received just enough accolades to instruct the teacher apparently.  So he basically looks at Jesus and says something like, “Never Jesus, ain’t gonna happen on my watch”! To which Jesus quickly deflates Peter’s balloon of a growing big head ego with something only your mama could get away with saying and your dignity to still remain intact.  He says, “Get Behind Me Satan! You are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s”.  So yeah, the Spirit is indeed willing, but…let’s not move the tassel to the left just yet for the one with the keys and all!

The Reality of Weakened Flesh

I mean when that happened, you would have thought he would have had that Deja vu moment right? I mean when the class that keeps most of us from ever graduating took place, you would think he would have at least had some cliff notes somewhere.  But no.  He is so eager to please, and yet complimentarily, is also so smitten with Jesus more than most at the same time to be sure.

But the scene is set for us.  Jesus, as he often does, goes to pray alone somewhere (subliminal alert to all flunky disciples like me).  And while He does, and since evidently doing other things rather than praying when Jesus does is more important, like for instance “fishing” (during a storm), they spot this figure on the water coming toward them.  And as they wipe their eyes and pinch each other to make sure this is real, the scene changes to a Stephen King novel come to the big screen, and they see dead people (wrong movie), or rather what looks like a ghost I mean.  Well we all know the story.  And Peter, simply trying to graduate with honors again, gets this bright idea that if that’s actually Jesus, which they now recognize it is, perhaps he will really show up the rest of these rag-tag fellows by walking right alongside Him and “be the man” once and for all.  And of course, as Jesus often does, he commends his effort and says, “Sure, come on down Pete”. 

And as the plot then thickens, Peter steps out of the boat and walks on the water to Jesus.  And by then, he must have been saying, “Jesus, I think I am now ready to teach the class on ‘How to Follow Jesus in Just Three Easy Steps’, and then join Enoch and Elijah for that chariot that awaits to escort me to heavenly bliss”.  So he’s walking, with that strut and all (on the water in a storm mind you), and then it happened as sure as the damn dew in the early morning, the text says that “he saw the strong wind and he became afraid”.  And I’m like, “No shit Sherlock”, welcome to the long line of flunkies who always have to repeat this same class!  And as the disciples collectively sing in the background “Never gonna get it, never gonna get it”, the comedy becomes all too hauntingly familiar and up close and personal. At least to those of us who can admit that the flesh cannot and will not EVER get the job done!  And all of a sudden, if we’re honest, we no longer hate Peter for his continual “sucking up”, and instead, we like him…a lot.

 The Audacity of Faith Called into Question

And so rather than over spiritualize this difficult lesson in faith, to be honest, I get a little miffed that Jesus says to Peter, “Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?”, don’t you?  Because it is at this point that I more identify with Peter here.  Truth serum injection alert!  I mean you and I get the picture.  It’s dark, there’s a storm, and the waves are about to engulf him, and all his posse is laughing and talking about his mama all at once!  Who wouldn’t’ be afraid?  Who wouldn’t call everything into question?  Who wouldn’t begin to sink under those circumstances?  Let’s do a go fund me right now!

Well the sanctimonious among us like kicking Peter types when they fall or drown most of the time.  Doesn’t really matter though.  From the safety of our current “non-storm” in our lives we say, “Dude, Jesus is with you, all you had to do is keep your eyes on Him and you would have been just fine man”.  And, they get a star for that.  I mean after all, it’s the truth.  Really it is.  But does it also not make you scratch your head and wonder, “If the Israelites, and all those jive turkeys in the New Testament saw the hand of God, and even God himself, and His only son actually “do” miracles in front of their faces, why can’t you and I just walk on the narrow path with our chest out like a boss man”?

I’ve often wondered that myself, especially, even today; perhaps like most of you.  But you don’t have to raise your hand or anything.  But just between us, here’s a newsflash: Life is fricking hard as Hell, with or without Jesus!  And it doesn’t matter whether he’s in the boat, out of the boat, all up in your grill, or whether he just finished calming whatever storm in your own life.  It just doesn’t matter.  Because first of all, whatever victory you did have, you have probably by now written off as coincidence or donated it to science.  Or, better yet, if it was the failure and the sinking and not the victory you experienced (more often than not by my terms), the rub is this: Sometimes even when Jesus is there for real, or by faith, we cannot for the life of us see Him anywhere!  Because after all, we are sinking!  And it’s not imaginary, it’s not our abnormal psychology kicking in, or our imaginary freakin friend.  Hell no, it is for real OK!  So let’s just call it out can we?

 The Other Side of Fear

George Addair is accredited with the famous quote, and one that I both love and hate because of its truthfulness and difficulty in actually carrying out.  He said, “Everything you have always wanted is on the other side of fear”.  Moment of silence please.  Let that sink in and breath slowly!  And in this case, the devil, or “Mr. Frenchy”, or whatever you desire to call him, specializes in fear.  It’s his favorite my precious.  And you guessed it.  He is behind all that blocks us from the way of “real” faith.  He keeps us petrified in fear, and his primary job it seems, is to lie to us; and just for kicks and giggles, I’m told he likes to steal, kill and destroy too!  Just watch the evening news and you’ll get it immediately.

Stephen King in fact, seems to also know, as in the case with the reboot of his recent films (parts 1 and 2) of IT from his earlier novel.  Now I don’t want to spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it.  But every one of the cast of characters, from the first movie to the one just released last week, has come from some depravity and fear in their life for which they feel that cannot ever escape.  Whether it be falling victim to an overprotective and hypochondriac mother; owning the guilt of a brother who was tragically murdered; caught up in the crutches of a pedophilic father; or as a fat kid who’ll probably never be kissed by the girl he loves; the song remains the same.  IT knows what they fear, and he can transform himself into whatever that is, with all the guilt to boot.  Ironically, he’s a clown, which kids (most) would normally trust and love, but IT is also the most hideous beast one can imagine with an evil bite! Or, if you’ll have it, he’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or for our purposes here, maybe even and angel of light!

But here’s the point, and I know it took me awhile to get here.  The charismatics, or perhaps we’ll call them “people of faith”, can teach us something here.  They’ve been teaching me a lot lately (though I’m very slow at this), as I still remain cautious, probably to a fault.  But the truth is, that Jesus and George Addair (not necessarily the same) are right.  Everything we want, everything God can and apparently wants to do both for us and in us, is on the other side of fear–which is the hardest class if you haven’t gotten it by now.  It’s the Mother lode I’m telling you.

Because you see, faith only comes through when you’re drowning, and there’s only one eyeball left on top of the water that anyone can see coming out of your nappy head!  It seems to only come then.  And it doesn’t matter whether you see Jesus like Peter did, or whether you can’t always see Him like you and me.  And it doesn’t matter if you’ve been there time and time again, and so you just think, “God, why don’t you stop picking on me while I’m dying over here.  And why then do you have the audacity to ask, ‘Why did you doubt’”?  What matters is simply this, as I’m sure Peter finally realized as that last bit of blood rushed to his head on his upside cross as he finally graduated the incredible sinking class: Faith only comes through once you die, or you drown, and not a moment before!  And the good news for us is, you don’t always have to die or drown, but you sure as Hell will feel like it and experience some of what it might feel like, time and time again.  Because after all, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things that are currently unseen—while you are drowning.  For in that moment, and only through the Spirit of God, faith speaks things that are currently not as if they actually are.  And no, Dale Carnegie is not getting ready to walk in.  And No, it’s not Norman Vincent Peale or Robert Schuller either.   But I will tell you this:  He that comes to God, must not only believe that He is God, but continually (every single day, while you are in fact drowning, I’m afraid), that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.  Because faith is a full contact sport my friend.  And getting your ass kicked from to time, and I mean like Mike Tyson, ear-biting ass kicked, is the only way we’ll ever graduate the incredible sinking class!

Selah