When the road gets dark

Toward the beginning of September, I went for a walk on the narrow gravel road that runs by Safe Haven Farm. Since spring of this year, I’ve been walking about two miles almost every weekday. It’s a great way to clear the cobwebs out of my head, and I love to see the wheat growing.

As the summer progressed, though, the days got to be sweltering. So if I couldn’t walk in the morning, I waited until evening. That strategy works great in summertime because even at 9 p.m., there’s still enough light to see by. But all that changes in September. That’s when the days grow noticeably shorter. But I didn’t really think about that.

I left the house at 7:30 p.m. As I started down the road, I realized the sun had already set. But I didn’t think much of it. There was still plenty of light left. But in half an hour, as I was coming back toward the house, I realized just how dark it had gotten.

[su_pullquote]It’s easy to get scared in the dark. Fear and uncertainty can creep up on you without warning. [/su_pullquote]

We live in the middle of a wheat field. Like 640 acres of it. There are no streetlights. There are no neighborhood lights, because there isn’t a neighborhood. My house is the only inhabited house in a square mile.

And as I walked toward the yard light, the only visible light in the dusty evening, I started to hear skittering feet around me. Mosquitoes attacked in force, and I passed through thick curtains of gnats that stuck to my sweaty neck and crawled on the lenses of my glasses.

It’s easy to get scared in the dark. Fear and uncertainty can creep up on you without warning. The what-if scenarios can start whirling in your mind if you let them. In the middle of the prairie, in the dark on the central plains, you’re alone. And even if you have your phone, even if your phone has signal, that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to dial for help in time to prevent an animal attack.

But what are you going to do? Stop?

I could have stopped. I could have called for help. I could have refused to take another step until someone came to get me. But I’m not sure that would have solved the problem.

I was out in the dark on a country road, trying to get home. Stopping would have made me an easier target for whatever might have been out there. Waiting around would have only provided the mosquitoes an easier meal. So the only viable option was to keep walking.

And I mean, come on, that road hasn’t changed in the 20+ years I’ve lived on it. I’ve walked that road from the time I was 12 years old. My house has been in the same place for over 100 years, and it hasn’t moved. So it wasn’t like I could get lost. If I just kept walking straight, I’d get there eventually.

If something was going to attack me, I couldn’t stop it. So worrying about it wouldn’t do me any good. The best chance I had was just to get home. Realizing that, I calmed down. I could enjoy the cool air of the post-sunset evening. I could smell the dusty sweetness of the milo fields. I could smile at the crunch of gravel beneath my walking shoes.

And in 15 minutes, I reached the driveway at Safe Haven Farm. And everything was fine, although my legs were covered in mosquito bites, and it did take me a little while to get the gnats combed out of my hair.

What changed?

My situation didn’t. I was still stuck on the dirt road in the dark being eaten alive by bloodsuckers. What changed was how I chose to see my situation. I did what I could do, and I left the rest up to the Lord.

race-post-1We’re all stumbling around in the dark. Just admit it. None of us know where we’re going or where we’ll end up. We can make goals. We can have dreams. We can predict what the next ten years will be like, but nobody really knows.

Cancer strikes. Drunk drivers and drug overdoses steal our loved ones. The economy tanks, and the job we thought we couldn’t lose slips through our fingers. Nothing is certain. Or is it?

In the dark, in those moments when you can’t see where you’re going and unseen enemies are gnawing at your heels, you have to focus on what you know is true: God hasn’t changed, and the road is the same.

No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. Philippians 3:13-14

God is who He’s always been (Hebrews 13:8). You still get to Him the same way—through Jesus and Jesus alone (John 14:6). The road is straight. The path is clear. You know the way. It may be dark and scary, but the only viable option you have is to keep walking. Stopping won’t help. Going back won’t help. Just keep moving forward. You’ll get there eventually.

Do what you can. Let God take care of the rest. Run toward the future with open arms, and don’t be afraid.

Jesus on a billboard - Hays, KS

Who is Jesus?

The Christian community thinks they have a pretty good idea of who Jesus is. We must. We put up posters of Him all over churches. We post images of Him all over Facebook. We even paint billboards of Him by the side of the road so weary travelers will see and experience a life transformation by the compassion in His eyes.

I don’t intend to offend anyone. I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. And, sure, creepy billboards of a long-haired guy crawling around in a wheat field might appeal to someone. But how does that tell me who Jesus is?

Jesus on a billboard - Colby, KS

Jesus on a billboard – Colby, KS

Today’s verse is John 14:6.

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”

When I think about who Jesus is, this is usually the first verse that always comes to mind. This or John 11:25 where Christ is speaking to Martha at Lazarus’ grave, telling her that He is the resurrection and the life.

But have you ever tried to introduce someone so amazing you can’t express it in words? How do you introduce someone who Is?

It’s not something we can understand. The concept of being forever. I mean, we talk about eternal life and living for eternity, and that’s something we try to wrap our heads around. But what about the concept of always existing? Because God has always been. He is. He was. He will be. Jesus is the same.

When God introduced Himself to Moses in the burning bush (Exodus 3:14-15), Moses asked Him for His name. And this is what God told him:

God replied to Moses, “I Am Who I Am. Say this to the people of Israel: I Am has sent me to you.” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: Yahweh, the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you. This is my eternal name, my name to remember for all generations.

God is. Jesus is.

Neither of them used to be. They are. And even though they will be tomorrow, they still are today. The same as they were yesterday. The same God who spoke to Moses from a bush that was on fire but didn’t burn is the same God who put on flesh and came to earth and sacrificed Himself for us. That same God is the God who lives in those who believe in Him today.

I was talking with a friend earlier this week about the kind of life that Jesus lived when He walked Earth. It’s overwhelming to think about. Because Jesus is God. He was God then. He’s God now. So even as a Man walking around on Earth, He was God. He knew everything God knows. And that means, He knew every sin everyone around Him had ever committed and ever would commit. And He loved them anyway.

He knew why He was there. He was there to die for us. That was His entire purpose of coming to Earth. He came to seek and save those who are lost (Luke 19:10). And if it had been me, I don’t think I could have been gracious. I think I would have rubbed it in. I would have wanted to let people know — to make sure they understood the sacrifice I was going to have to make for them. But He didn’t do that. He loved people. He gave to people. He helped people. And He hung out with people who were broken, the dregs of society. The only people He showed no compassion to were the religious crowd who thought they were good enough on their own. Christ didn’t even waste His time with them.

So what does that mean for us?

To me, it means I need to take Him seriously. And it irritates me that the Christian culture is trying to represent Him in ways that are irrelevant. I guess I can appreciate a billboard with a Jesus-like figure painted on it. I guess I can recognize the need for black billboards with white letters claiming to be statements from God. I guess I can accept signs by the road that ask you if you’re ready to meet God when you die. Whatever. But those things wouldn’t mean anything to me if I didn’t already know Him.

I met Jesus when I was seven years old, and like any friendship, it’s grown over the years as I’ve learned who He is. But I can guarantee I didn’t come to know Him because I saw a billboard about Him. I came to know Him because people in my life introduced me to Him.

So, Christians, I think it’s time we stopped investing in creepy roadside billboards and got out into the community to meet people face to face. God is a face-to-face kind of person. He works through individuals. He always has, whether it was appearing to Abraham or Moses or Joshua or Gideon in the Old Testament or talking to the Samaritan Woman or to Zacchaeus or to Nicodemus.

And if you’re ever driving through Colby, KS, you need to seriously stop and look at this billboard. Because it is the creepiest thing you’ll ever see in your life. Just FYI.

The manger as an offensive weapon?

Christmas time is coming. It’s going to get here much sooner than we think, and in some ways I’m glad. It’s been a crazy year, and I’m looking forward to a break.

Christmas is such an interesting season because it’s the time in America when the whole country has an identity crisis. Everybody celebrates just about (except for some “Christians,” strangely enough) but nobody seems to remember what they are celebrating for. Most of the traditions are intact — the gift giving, the tree decorating, the house lights, the generosity, the songs — but nobody really thinks about why.

Probably because the why is offensive.

That all being said, I’m not one of those militant Merry-Christmasers who scorns people who choose to say “Happy Holidays!” instead of “Merry Christmas!” I do tend to shy away from Season’s Greetings because no holiday is about the solstice, but that’s my personal take on it. (I find it ironic that “Happy Holidays” is acceptable even though the etymology of the word holiday stems from the phrase “holy day” and was used to identify days devoted to God.)

People get offended about everything nowadays. So I don’t really understand why we all have to scramble to avoid it. People who are going to take offense to something and make a big stink about it will do it whether others try not to offend them or not. Some people thrive on being offended.  

And during this really strange time of year, it’s very interesting to me that the main source of offense in our culture is a little baby in a manger. Granted, here in the Wichita area, we don’t see as much trouble with it. Many folks display a nativity scene out of tradition without knowing what it means. And many folks don’t have a problem with it. Wichita is a very “tolerant” city for the most part. And everyone is fine with everyone else believing what they want to believe — until they start forcing their “truth” on everyone else.

Christmas Carols haven’t been outlawed yet, so that’s something. I get the sense that it’s coming, though. How much longer will the general public allow us to sing about worshipping Christ in their faces?

Honestly, though, the manger isn’t that scary anymore. Mainly because Christians themselves don’t really take it seriously. The only threat from a manger is if someone throws it at your head.

And while I don’t believe that Christians should be militant about these things, I do think we need to have some backbone. And I’m as guilty about this as anyone because I tend to be a people pleaser. But let’s get real, folks. Christmas is about Christ. We wouldn’t have Christmas without Christ. Without Christ, there would be the winter solstice and that’s it. And the only thing to celebrate there is that the days start getting longer again on the long trek to the vernal equinox.

And if people take offense to the little baby in the manger, how will they react to Jesus the God-Man? Because He isn’t a baby in a manger anymore. Many of us Christians want to keep Him there because as offensive as He was as an infant, as a Man who was also God, His offensiveness increased exponentially.

The baby in the manger has been reduced to a Precious Moments figurine set. But that baby in the manger grew up to communicate today’s verse in John 14:16.

6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.

Jesus — the only way to heaven, the only truth, the only life.

That is truly offensive to people who think they’re good enough already. Or to people who trust in men or men’s religions to get to heaven. Jesus rips the rug out from underneath them.

And while I don’t believe in militantly shoving this down people’s throats, this is the truth. Because the Bible — and history, if you really study it — will demonstrate that Jesus is who He said. Because no one else in history has made the claims that He made, which makes Him a lunatic or a liar otherwise. He was neither of those, so the only explanation is that He’s Lord.

But you can’t make people believe that. I can tell you all day long that my brother is the smartest person you’ve ever met, but until you meet him in person, you won’t really believe me. It’s the same with Christ. And if we really want people to know Jesus, Christians, we have to present Him as someone they want to know. But I’m not convinced that most people who say they believe in Christ really know him. Many Christians keep Him in the manger because as a baby, He’s not a threat.

As the God-Man, Jesus threatens people who say they believe in Him. He forces us outside what we are comfortable believing. He forces us beyond what we can wrap our heads around. He forces us to look Him in the face and really consider how we are living our lives because most of us are so caught up in the world, we don’t know what really matters. But in the end, even though we are forced to face the truth, it’s still our choice to believe it and it’s still our choice to live it.

So this Christmas season, what are you going to do with Jesus? Are you going to leave Him in the manger? Or are you going to accept the truth of what He says and Who He is?