By Logan Nicholson
One by one, the high school students disappeared through the cave wall. That mud-encrusted hole is tricky to negotiate. You have to work your way past obtrusive cave formations to reach it, search for foot and handholds that you can’t see, face claustrophobia, and then encounter the drop. Exploring beyond that hole wasn’t required, and yet they chose to go through, knowing only what we told them about the next room and understanding that my co-leader was willing to go through first.
“If you are up for a challenge you can go through the hole in the wall.”
“What’s in there?” they asked.
“You will have to find out for yourself, but it’s worth it.”
Hesitant and debating among themselves whether or not to try it, one stood up to declare, “I am going through;” then another, “I’m going with you!” Soon I stood with the last two, who had stated emphatically that they would not go through that hole.
The last courageous camper slithered out of sight and silence enshrouded the room where I stood with the two remaining campers. Then came a shifting of feet squishing in the mud.
“My feet are going to get stuck, and I won’t be able to make it out of here. It’s a good thing I didn’t go in there!” one of the young men rationalized. (The voices from the other side began to fade into the distance.) “They must be going a long way. Are they coming back this way?”
“What do you think?” I responded.
“I think they are coming back. It’s a good thing I didn’t go ‘cause then I would just have to come back. I just had surgery on my back, and I can’t re-injure it.”
“Wow! I didn’t know you had back surgery. What was wrong?” I asked knowing that I certainly would have seen it on his medical forms if this had been the case.
“Well it wasn’t really surgery, but the chiropractor said my back was injured and he fixed it, but he told me to avoid stuff like this for a while.”
I smiled to myself as the excuses continued to flow: He didn’t want to get his dad’s flashlight muddy. He thought there might be water, and he didn’t want to get wet. He could just find out from the others what it was like, and so on. In the midst of the excuses he stopped and said, “Fine, I’m going in!” but then his friend talked him out of it and the excuses started up again. I lost count after seventeen individual excuses.
Listening to this young man struggle, I knew that he was fully able to do what I had asked of him. I knew both the challenge and the reward that lay ahead, and I knew his excuses masked his choice not to step out in faith. He made excuses, successfully convincing himself that he really was not able to go through that hole. Excuses would have been unnecessary had he not already decided not to it.
I am convinced the Christian walk presents similar situations. There are many points along the journey where the road gets scary, the way looks difficult, and we have to make a choice. Will I be obedient to the Lord and let Him lead, or will I choose my own way? The only difference between the cave scenario and the choices we face is perhaps in degree. Our challenge may be much more risky but our reward much greater.
In Luke chapter 14, we hear a similar story about a man who sent out invitations to many for a great banquet. When the time for the banquet came, he sent for those invited and told them to “Come, for everything is now ready” (v. 17). One by one though, “they all alike began to make excuses” (v. 18). One just got married, another had to work, and still another needed to inspect a new purchase he had made. These excuses aren’t that different from those boys’ or from the ones you and I make.
How many opportunities to share the gospel have I missed, making excuses? “I might offend them,” or “I can live a good life, and that will be my witness.” How many opportunities to show hospitality have I passed up, with false claims? “My house is too dirty, and I didn’t plan anything for supper.” How many potential missionaries refused God’s calling. “I can be a missionary right here,” or “Someone else will do it.” How many believers never give money to support outreach? “I give to the church… sometimes,” or “I can’t afford it!” How many of us don’t visit the sick or teach the young or study their Bible? “That is the pastor’s job.” Or one of the easiest excuses of all, “I’m too busy.”
Excuses are no less than lies that we tell ourselves to justify avoiding what we don’t want to do. Excuses are lies that we tell others to preserve their perception of us. We use excuses to feel safe and comfortable when, in reality, they actually prevent us from experiencing and receiving the greatest reward—a life of adventure with Christ leading us.
The antidote to any lie is truth. The truth is that when God calls us to do something—no matter how impossible it seems to us or how many barriers we see in the path—we are without excuse because God has issued an invitation into something bigger and deeper and better than we could imagine, and He will make a way in what He calls us to.
“For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)
By Joel Bates
I leaned over and whispered into my son’s ear as the music started, “Isn’t it like magic?” He looked straight ahead eyes transfixed and nodded. It was his first time at the symphony, and for me it may as well have been because every time I get the rare pleasure of soaking up the music at the concert hall its like downloading spiritual clarity. Music can do that. We cannot see the sound waves or completely understand why it makes our heart want to leap out of our chest or even draw us to tears, yet the magic remains. In that moment it occurred to me that I almost missed it.
My wife’s middle name is “Noelle,” so at our house when the holidays roll in we roll out the red carpet. Up goes the tree, on go the ornaments, and out come the lights. But the most anticipated, highly to be praised holiday tradition for most of us is the advent calendar. We cut out last year’s Christmas cards and make them into advent post-it-notes that Julie and I (mostly Julie…. OK pretty much always Julie) write upon the advent activity for the coming day. I say most of us like this because not all of us always enjoy this activity. So, maybe it’s mostly me that doesn’t always enjoy this activity. But before you judge me as a scrooge hear me out. The holidays are already a very busy time. Can I get an amen? And to make matters worse, my wife’s birthday is smack dab in the middle of the season. And I’m a procrastinator, so you see why adding a list of extra things we have to do every day to celebrate advent is not always my absolute favorite idea, but I go along with it. Until it came to the idea of going to the symphony. It was on a Saturday. My day off. It was two hours away. I didn’t feel like driving. And I woke up that morning with the sinking feeling that something inconvenient was going to happen. And I for one feel that inconvenience is best dealt with from a la-z-boy chair in the comfort of one’s own living room. I certainly didn’t want to venture out in mid-December haphazardly throwing ourselves at the mercy of Murphy. A blizzard could blow in. The car might break down. What if we got all the way to the symphony and there were no more seats available? I actually had this discussion with my wife. She just smiled and said, “Yes, but isn’t it more likely that something good will happen?” It’s that kind of thinking that can get a chap killed! But I couldn’t argue against a person with the middle name “Noelle.” And the kids had already discovered the surprise.
Our trip to town was pleasant but I was on the lookout for trouble. The parking garage was even free, but I wouldn’t believe it and wandered around a bit looking for a sign that would tell me how much I owed. But there was no sign, just free parking. I had to admit that things were looking up when the guy standing in front of us in line enviously said we had the best seats in the house. As if I needed more convincing, from the moment the conductor’s wand struck sharply at the air signaling the musicians and the sound filled the hall with familiar Christmas splendor, I was relieved to discover that there was no place else I would have rather been. At the last after wooing us with the tones of the season, the conductor regaled the audience to join in singing a series of holiday carols. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any better I found myself with thousands of other concert-goers singing spiritual songs about the savior accompanied by a professional ensemble. I struggled to hold back the emotion as I took to heart the words I was singing, “Glory to God in the highest,” “Oh come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emanuel,” “Round yon virgin mother and child, holy infant so tender and mild,” and I stood there in heavenly peace.
As it turns out, something good did happen despite my best effort to avoid it. I am convinced that that is the way our God is. Without our involvement or input He sent his son. A child came as a perfect sacrifice, lived as a man and died for our sins completing a plan that would bring about good to all of mankind. It happened right under humanity’s nose in a simple stable on an obscure day. It just goes to show that good is alive and waiting for you. All you have to do is accept it. Let the peace of this holiday fill you with the hope that good is in season.
By Leah Fuller
I have a problem. Some might even call it an addiction. In college, I became hooked on adrenaline rushes. Now that I have matured some, I might say that I am addicted to new and exciting things. I love going on adventures to new places to explore, hike, climb, paddle, or learn new skills. Often I find myself becoming listless and bored if my life has too much routine to it. I collect new hobbies, too. Whether it’s learning pottery, how to play the mandolin, how to build an instrument from scratch, or learning to mountain bike, paddle whitewater, or rock climb, I enjoy learning new things! My mom once asked me why I didn’t just apply myself to one hobby and get really good at it. I didn’t have an answer at the time, but now I do. I value new and exciting experiences that keep me moving toward learning new things.
This longing for something new and exciting also pops up in my relationship with God. I’m on the lookout for God to speak something profound and life-changing, either for me or the groups I minister to. And when the response I get from Him is silence or something I’ve already taught or heard countless times before, I think God has stopped communicating with me. It’s the same message, and it easily feels mundane, repetitive, and sometimes just plain boring.
Perhaps God actually wants to meet us in normal, everyday life rather than in an exciting new adventure.
Don’t get me wrong here. Going to conferences and concerts, exploring new places, receiving a word from the Lord through prayer or a dream are all necessary and valuable ways that God speaks to us. And yet, I am beginning to learn that the deepest and most profound transformation occurs through what happens in normal, everyday life. Henri Nouwen in his book Life of the Beloved says that “Becoming the Beloved means letting the truth of our Belovedness become enfleshed in everything we think, say, or do…to become the Beloved in the commonplaces of my daily existence and, bit by bit, to close the gap that exists in the countless specific realities of everyday life.”
One day, not that long ago, I was praying with some co-workers for the ministry we were preparing to do that day. I asked for prayers to be inspired, noting that I had not felt very inspired with new insights for groups all summer. In short, I was complaining that God had not given me a new and exciting message to speak, and I was tired of the normal, everyday messages I had been using. One of my co-workers nodded in agreement and deep thought. After a moment, he looked me in the eye and said, “It requires us to die to ourselves to communicate the message God wants us to communicate, whether it’s new and fresh to us or not. And these students may not have heard that message before. It’s only old to you.” That hit me square between the eyes and caused me to pause in that place. Isn’t this what Paul was talking about in Galatians 2:20 when he said, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.”
In essence, God is doing the work of transforming my co-workers and me in the common places of day-to-day living. The process of becoming the Beloved is not always exciting or full of new adventures, realities, and victories. Instead, it is about training to live a normal, everyday life from a different space. This space is driven less by what I think I need and more by what I actually need to be loved, valued, and secure. It is driven by the beautiful, God-given desires planted and growing within me and comes more from a place of being than doing. It is the place of surrender, not grasping; the place of trusting, not understanding.
This different space can feel painful because it is counter-intuitive and opposite of what seems most natural and easy. It can feel absolutely disorienting…and yet it draws me in. I find myself more curious about what God is leading me toward, and the unknown in that is beginning to look more and more like a worthwhile adventure lived out day to day, not in the next new adventure or experience I dream about. God wants to meet me in this space, too, and this is the space where my deeper transformation is being molded as I surrender my desire for the new and exciting from God and settle into the grand adventure of learning to trust Him. letting Christ live in me in my normal, everyday life.
Are there some ways God is wanting to transform you in the midst of normal, everyday life? Perhaps as friends gather for a meal in your home, as you learn to love your spouse and children, in the people you encounter throughout your day, and as you go about your daily tasks at work? God is ready and wants to live in you in your normal, everyday life. Will you let Him?
Come along side us as we journey in and out of the wilderness, discovering our Creator in creation.