When Looking Ahead Is Actually Wrong

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There have been just a few times God has spoken directly to me in almost an audible way. His voice is quiet — so quiet I hear him with my heart instead of my ears, but his words echo through my whole chest and head. In that moment, I feel seen and known, and those reoccurring feelings that I’m alone get swallowed up.

There was that time in college I was thinking (again) about a boy, and He told me, “Yes, he’s great, but I am God. Focus on me.” I still remember the sidewalk under my feet, and my dorm ahead of me, and the darkness all around because it was night. And that moment truly recalibrated my focus for the rest of my years at the university. Truth was impressed upon my heart so deeply I carried it into my marriage with a different guy and have revisited it over and over.

I’m sure some of you hear that still, small Voice whispering from time to time — that same Voice that spoke the world into existence but still articulates into your tiny life.

Another time for me was just last week. I’m a dreamer, and I can’t help it. I long for redemption, and while I’m not necessarily an optimist, I’m not a pessimist either. I seem to always land on what could be, and I don’t drown in cynicism if my dream is not happening just yet. I love anticipation almost as much as what I’m longing for. Traveling is my happy place, and planning a trip brings me as much joy as embarking on the journey.

I sort of throw dares out to the world — “You think you can burden me with your brokenness?! Well, take this! I’m grasping for something better, and I’m convinced there’s more than what you have to offer, and there’s no way you’re going to crush me.” I do it a lot.

So last week, when I felt His echo in my heart again, His words took me by surprise: “Stop looking ahead and look around. Stop looking ahead, Christan, and look AROUND instead.”

I immediately stopped, and I knew it was my Rescuer, for what I had been dreaming about for a couple years clearly wasn’t going to come to fruition. But I was still looking ahead. I was still longing for something else, for something that absolutely wasn’t going to happen.

Have you been there? Has your dream died, but there you are still trying to resurrect it?

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live,” J.K. Rowling wrote. I’ve considered that phrase many times since my kids first read her books, but I still find myself looking ahead — in that wrong kind of way.

See, here’s what happens when I dare to stop looking ahead, and I look around instead: I still find purpose. I see brokenness and beauty, fear and hope, anxiety and trust. I remember again I was called to live in the tension, and I sit there for a while. My eyes are opened to all the work I still have to do in the communities God has placed me in, but almost more so, I re-see all He has to teach me through my present and those around me.

Are you there setting goals, striving and figuring out how to have meaning today? Are you admiring those who know what they want and are hurdling every obstacle in their way in order to move forward?

Friend, I know. I’m your companion wanting to gaze forward into what might be ahead. I’m there dreaming with you about fuller lives and a more significant identity and a purpose that quenches the thirst we can’t even describe. But I think we might need to turn our heads to the side.


Though Jesus wanted solitude, when He saw the crowds, He had compassion
on them
, and He healed the sick and the lame. Matthew 14:14

Though Christ was on a mission that afternoon to find quiet and rejuvenation and rest, when He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them.

He broke his forward gaze and looked around instead. And what He saw around Him became His ministry for that day. It happened time and time again —  like all His days on earth — His purpose seemed to find Him. And in His grace, He allowed His steps to be re-directed.


I think He offers the same to us: the richness (and comfort) of a purposeful life. Might we dare sit in the tension today and let His purposes find us? Might we bravely stop striving for self-created goals? I bet we’d learn a ton.

It’s different for all of us, for we’re scattered all over the world. Here in St. Louis, what has been simmering for weeks has erupted. London is dealing with more shock and more grief. The Caribbean and Texas and Florida are figuring out how to start re-building. California is sitting in ashes. And we’ve barely scratched the surface.

What do you see when you look around in your corner of the world? When you dare to let your steps be re-directed instead of marching forward toward those dreams?

Might the challenge to throw “off everything that hinders,” and to run “with perseverance the race marked out for us” actually include running to what we see when we look around instead of ahead? It’s time for me to stop reading Hebrews 12 through the lens of the American Dream or American Christianity. It’s time for me to stop making the Gospel about reaching and striving and becoming somebody.

And when I do, my goodness, I might see all I missed by only gazing ahead.

 

Photo by Andy Lee on Unsplash

Resurrection: Just the Right Time

Sunbeams

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise. Luke 24:1-7 


Remember how He told you?

Remember when He was walking the familiar, interacting with your world, He got very transparent and told you the horror that would unfold…

… and the victory we’d see over the unraveling and rebellion and grief?

It was all true. He was harmed for our infractions, tortured for our choices, pierced because we kept running away.

The path. The story. The game. The cross. The curtain. The tombContinue reading

Preparing for Easter (Saturday): The Borrowed Tomb

tombNow there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. Luke 23:50-52 

And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief.     Isaiah 53:9-10a ESV 


When He walked the earth and breathed our air, my Lord said He had nowhere to lay His head. And here in death, here He lays in a borrowed tomb. A man of means came forward to preserve my Savior’s dignity and lay Him to rest in the earth He Himself created before the start of time.

The mystery… it’s too much for me to understand, too much for me to reconcile.

The very God who wrote a love story at the beginning of time included His own suffering in the darkest chapter.

The very God who wrote a love story at the beginning of time included His own suffering in the darkest chapter.  

I look around, and I see myself reflected in the eyes of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I see their brokenness, and it mirrors mine.

I see the violence in my heart – an unkind thought, a judgment, an annoyance, a scorn. But my sweet Jesus – there was no violence in His hand, and none was found even in the deepest crevices of His heart where no one sees.

And I find myself deceived over and over again by a culture that clashes with the truth. I cringe as I hear myself speak error not only to others, but to myself, as I whisper doubt and end up believing lies. But my Rescuer, there was no deceit in His mouth. He spoke no wrong. He gave no empty threats, no empty promises.

But here He lay in that borrowed tomb after enduring my cross.

My Jesus, the Author of the greatest love story — He could have defeated and even prevented His own suffering. But He wrote chapter after chapter in which He Himself was misunderstood, and mocked, and tortured, and betrayed. And here He lay abandoned. Here he lay alone, crushed by the very story He wrote to save me.

And dare I ask Him why?! Dare I ask Him to interpret His mystery? His thoughts are not my thoughts, neither are His ways my ways. As the heavens are higher than this earth, higher than this cold, cold tomb, His ways are higher. His thoughts are higher. His story is much, much deeper and intricate than I could ever write.

So do I trust Him? When I am crushed, do I trust the God who wrote suffering into His own plot? When I choke on grief, do I surrender to the One who poured Himself out as an offering to mankind, spilling His grace everywhere?

Sweet Jesus, my Rescuer, my greatest Hope, I lean into the mystery I can’t understand. I collapse into your redemption plan. But I grieve as you lay there bruised and alone.

Preparing for Easter (Friday): The Temple Curtain

veil

44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. 47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” 48 And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. 49 And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things. Luke 23:44-47 


Jesus inhaled His last breath and exhaled grace. The sun hid, and hope was swallowed up by the dark.

Panicking, the crowd ran down Golgotha, but those next to the cross had nowhere to go. They had journeyed with their Friend to His death on Jerusalem’s outskirts, the city that had mocked and rejected Him. So how could it be a city for them ever again? They hadn’t brought lanterns, but truly, their souls felt darker than the path before them. They stumbled through the rocks and weeds, through the broken edges of a foot-worn path whose fragments reminded them of Jesus’s torn body.

From Golgotha’s height, this temple was in view — with all its rules and boundaries and religious ones hovering near the outside, hoping to get God’s favor.

And though Christ had breathed his last on the cross, God’s presence was now forever accessible. That intimidating curtain, that “no admittance” curtain separating God’s dwelling place in the temple was torn – literally torn – in two. The Lamb had been sacrificed, His blood had been spilled, and God violently ripped the veil of separation.

His fierce longing and love for His people could never be denied, and even the hardened Centurion who witnessed it all felt Truth move in his heart.

Maybe it feels safer for you to hover from a distance than witness the ripped curtain hanging with its shreds. Maybe the rules and checklists of the Law feel less risky to your desperate heart. Or, maybe the darkness is still shadowing your hope as you stumble along a fragmented path.

But, what’s redemption without the unraveling? What’s everlasting peace without the broken, uneven path leading us there?

Friend, this Rescue Plan is for you. This intense love proven on a cross is for you.

Can you feel His pursuit?

photo source | Jametlene Reskp

Preparing for Easter (Thursday): The Other Cross

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39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:39-43 


How did my life come to this? He was so scared. He had faced humiliation before — he had been beaten and exposed many times before today, his execution day. But the darkest fear ever now suffocated his heart as the criminal pushed himself upward to relieve his lungs.

On the edge of death, hanging on a cross, the uncertainty of what was ahead overwhelmed the perpetrator of crimes. All his pride throughout his lifetime couldn’t save him now. The method reserved for the lowest of criminals, crucifixion, stole any hope of purpose, any hope of redemption. His life was over, and he had nothing to offer society, nothing to offer his family, nothing to offer even himself.

He heard the mocking soldiers joke about the Man beside him, but their insults were nearly drowned by a weeping crowd. Who cries for a criminal?! There’s something different about this Man. His neighbor in death seemed to be in a different world, seemed to know something he didn’t. The angst of His face contrasted the divine of His countenance.

Maybe, just maybe, He really is the Christ. Intended as the soldiers’ joke, the criminal had nothing else to cling to. Nothing to lose.

“When you come into Your kingdom, please remember me.”

With no pride to hide behind and nothing to offer, the criminal spoke from his poverty, risking his last traces of dignity.

Even in His death, Jesus embraced those deemed irreparable by culture. He extended His grace to those who have nothing to offer Him. “Today, you will be with Me in Paradise. I see your lifetime of sin, and I see your desperate ache. I am reaching toward your helplessness and want to be in relationship with you for eternity.”

And friend, He’s reaching toward you, too. Those of you dancing between pride and shame, self-righteousness and brokenness, He’s reaching into your exhaustion to rescue and repair and restore and redeem. He walked the hill of Golgotha to His death for you. For me. For His Bride.