Why You Can—and Should—Take That Risk

You will never know the faithfulness of God without the fear of God.

This phrase came to my mind in response to a verse I know and love, one that has sustained me through tumultuous times in the past.

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. -Isaiah 26:3 Continue reading

Faith is in the Gap*

You rush to the end of the line for the biggest roller coaster at the amusement park, elbowing your way in front of another pair of riders because getting behind those two additional people might possibly cause you to wait an extra ninety seconds when you finally reach the other end of the line. You look up: “Two-hour wait from this point.” One hundred and twenty minutes is a long time to compel your mind to focus on something—anything—other than this death-defying machine that will hurl you through space with your bare feet dangling below…then above…then beside you. You make friendly conversation with the people behind you and try to pretend that you didn’t accost them just so you could cut those seconds off your wait time.

That fluttering in your stomach
is not from lack of food…

After the interminable two hours leaves you with tired feet, back pain (if you’re over forty, like me), and a growling stomach, you finally arrive at the front gates. Brief images of Churchill Downs flash through your mind…or is it the cattle chutes at a slaughterhouse? You realize the fluttering in your stomach is not from lack of food. You irrationally forget that at least four million people were in front of you in that line and not one of them is now dead. Your hands grip the cow-herding bars. Your tongue stutters and you try to laugh it off. You put on your brave face because everyone around you already remembered to do that, and you don’t want to be the odd-man-out.

07-27 roller coaster (2)
(c) Carole Sparks Six Flags over Georgia

Even as you kick off your flip-flops, you know there is still time to back out. How can you be sure the mechanism will support you? Why should you trust the engineers and mechanics who built this contraption? What if your safety harness unlatches mid-barrel roll?  There’s the exit gate; you see it at the end of the platform. Shoes in one hand, cell phone in the other, you hesitate as you reach toward the cubbyhole. All the friendly encouragement in the world could not boost your confidence at this moment.

That is doubt—pure doubt in which you question the sanity not only of yourself but of those around you and those in authority over you. You mentally test the waters of justification and consider the ramifications of walking away even while you empty your hands and turn toward certain death . . . at least it feels like it.

Taking a deep breath, you step across that gap, an empty space between solid ground and steel girders. The seat grabs you, and before you realize what has happened, the safety harness is locked, the minimum-wage college-age ride attendant has “inspected” your latch (yeah, right), and you are moving.

You had to leave your justifications
and ramifications in that cubbyhole
with your spare change.

Now doubt has a new face. You are committed and your doubts, while still relevant, cannot affect your actions. Well, you could scream, but nothing would really change. You had to leave your justifications and ramifications in that cubbyhole with your spare change. The click-click-click of the up-hill climb sounds like a time bomb, and in the momentary hesitation at the top, you feel certain that you are facing death. You sit very still because any sudden movement will surely knock the entire chain of seats off the rail. Stopping the engines and returning to the platform is not an option.

Ninety seconds later, smile plastered to your face (along with a couple of small bugs), you coast back into the platform and tell the next row of risk-takers, “You’re gonna love it!”

Risk-taking always
involves doubt.

Risk-taking always involves doubt. That’s what makes it risky. The real choice was a simple one: Do you step across that open-air gap into the seat or do you walk away and never know, tattooing the doubts onto your soul forever? The act of faith transpired in that gap.

That sounds a little intense for an amusement park, I know.

Risk and doubt are just as much a part of the Christ-life as they are a day at the park…except the stakes are much greater. We’re talking about eternity here. Just like with the roller coaster, there is only one way to remove the doubts: experience. And the only way to get the experience is to commit despite the doubts. When you choose to follow Christ, you step across a gap into a new world of risk and adventure. Your doubts don’t simply vanish, but as you gain experience, they become calculable risks. And just like with the roller coaster, you are actually safe whether you recognize it or not.

Risk and doubt are as much a part of the Christ-life as they are a day at the park…except the stakes are greater. (click to tweet)

Do you like roller coasters? I love them and hate them, yet I continue to get in line. How does this imagery help you face the inevitable risks of the Christ-life? Please share with all of us in the comments below!

*not The Gap®, the clothing store

No seatbelts or safety harnesses here

Why is it that the closer we get to death, the more alive we feel?

Adrenaline junkies . . . cliff jumpers . . . sky divers . . . risk-takers of any sort.  It’s about getting so close to death that you truly grasp life.  You “get” what it means to be alive only because you are looking directly at death.  Even if you walk away with scrapes and bruises (or worse!), the experience puts a bounce in your step, a freshness in your outlook on life.

There is no such thing as ‘invigorating safety.’

For some of us, sitting at the top of the Ferris wheel, buckled in, feet dangling, seat swaying ever so slightly while new riders enter below is risk enough.  But for many, it takes fear-busting, intentionally dangerous situations before we let out that whoop of victory.  What victory, you say, in riding a roller coaster or bungi-jumping over a crocodile-infested African river (because I’ve done those things and, technically, both are quite safe–probably more safe than the Ferris wheel that is here today, gone tomorrow)?  What victory, really, in climbing a mountain that, though difficult, has been climbed many times before?  The victory over our fears and our physicality.

But then we ask ourselves why our spiritual lives are so dull and dry.  In 2 Corinthians 4:16, Paul says, Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  Look at this list of the challenges that Paul and his companions were facing (4:8-11):  hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted, struck down, given over to death.  They were taking God-ordained risks that didn’t involve seatbelts or safety harnesses, and they were walking away with far more than scrapes and bruises.  Yet they felt . . . invigorated.  Constantly dying to self (a mental thing) plus frequent encounters with actual death (a physical thing) didn’t discourage them.  In fact, those risks helped them stay fresh.  Bonhoeffer (in Metaxas’ book, pg. 463) wrote, “The idea that we could have avoided many of life’s difficulties if we had taken things more cautiously is too foolish to be entertained for a moment.”

When I was in college, I began evaluating my experiences for truth and understanding.  In the process, the Father gave me four “rules to live by”—personal things that aren’t in the Bible but fit with the principles of the Bible.  Here’s #3:  The greatest rewards are the result of the greatest risk.

In the spiritual realm, “risk reflects God’s value, not our valor” (John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life).  What is the best way to enliven your spiritual life in this new year?  Take a risk for His glory; do something inexplicable or out of your “comfort zone.”  I can’t say what that means for you, but I know exactly what it means for me.

Flat Earth Society

          From the ends of the earth I call to you,
          I call as my heart grows faint;
          lead me to the rock that is higher than I.  –Psalm 61:2

 

if the earth wasn’t round

I would have stretched myself flat

peering over the edge

grasping knuckles white with tension

toes dug in

until my eyes adjusted to the darkness

straining to see nothing there

 

if the earth wasn’t round

I would have walked on the high-wire edge

ankles wobbly

quads tight

traversing the tiniest pebble

like it was a boulder

 

because the earth isn’t round

I reached out for God to balance me

eyes locked ahead

heart whining

for a safer path

that doesn’t exist

 

if the earth wasn’t round

I would have surely fallen off by now

 

          You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds,
          God our Savior,
          the hope of all the ends of the earth
          and of the farthest seas.  –Psalm 65:5

 

Flat Earth Society – a poem based on Psalms (click to tweet)

Guilt in Freedom

or Freedom in Guilt . . . I’m not sure which fits better . . .

I recently watched a TV show called Elementary (S2e2) in which the lead character said, “There is nothing on this planet quite so toxic as guilt.”  It’s true, isn’t it?  Sometimes we let guilt over something in our pasts infest our hearts until we are powerless to live as God directs us.  This is not what God wants for any of us.  He also doesn’t want us to live in fear of present-day guilt, which is what I’ve been thinking about recently.

This guilt thing is not just a 20th/21st-century problem.  In Luke 11, Jesus criticized the Pharisees and so-called law experts for how they made faith . . . actually all of life . . . more difficult rather than easier.  They obscured Truth.  They blocked the “regular folk” from understanding, and they focused on the minutia of the law without seeing the spirit of it, which is justice and love.  He said, You give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God (Luke 11:42).  In other words, they laid the guilt on like hot tar:  thick and sticky.

Religion—any religion—makes life difficult, complicated, even onerous.  The Law declares us guilty, and justifiably so.  Religion places the burden of that guilt directly on our shoulders.  But Jesus makes men free (Jn 8:36, Gal 5:1).*  Eric Metaxas (in Bonhoeffer:  Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, 424-5) observes, “God wanted his beloved children to operate out of freedom and joy to do what was right and good, not out of fear of making a mistake.  . . .  To act freely could mean inadvertently doing wrong and incurring guilt.  . . .  But if one wished to live responsibly and fully, one would be willing to do so.”**  When we fully trust the Holy Spirit, we find incredible freedom as we come out from under the toxic burden of religion, but we risk two types of guilt being applied to us.

First, we may misinterpret His direction and thus fall outside His will.  This is what Metaxas was talking about.  It’s ‘guilt’ in the legal sense, as opposed to innocence.  When we, as believers, think of emotion or our relationship to the Holy Spirit, the better term is probably conviction, rather than guilt because these days, ‘guilt’ carries the connotation of condemnation.  Nevertheless, a right motive doesn’t actually excuse a wrong action.  Everything outside His will is sin, for which we would be judged if we hadn’t already been forgiven.***  But wouldn’t you rather over-respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit?  I would.  This is a ‘guilt’ I’m willing to risk, expecting it to come less and less frequently as I mature in Christ.

Second, we may be misunderstood (that’s a nice way to say “judged”) by those who cling to religious rules.****  We all know that we shouldn’t let other’s opinions deter us, but we’re not-yet-fully-sanctified.  Sometimes we still worry about what our mothers or our pastors or our Believing friends will think of our behavior when it falls outside the church culture norms.  Stop for a second and consider a part of the story that’s missing from that favorite Sunday School song:  Zacchaeus.  When Jesus went to Zacchaeus’ house, all the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner” (Luke 19:7).  Did you catch that?  They judged Jesus—JESUS!—for breaking social mores . . . for doing something that the other religious leaders would never dream of doing . . . for heeding God rather than man.  Kyle Idleman, author of not a fan, said, “If you follow Jesus, expect to find yourself being criticized by some of the religious people in your life.”  Yep.  There are worse things than being labeled a rebel.

I feel like this lifestyle leaves me plowing through ten-foot-high snow drifts with a Tonka truck.  Perhaps this is because I’m only beginning to understand it.  I’m so bound by culture and social opinion that freedom from guilt doesn’t feel so freeing just yet.  But I know this:  the reward resulting from this life of freedom is eternal life in the fullest sense of the term.  It’s eternal life now.  It’s the Kingdom lived out on earth.  And it’s worth it.

So let’s throw our arms open wide and embrace obedience, heedless of what others may think!

I had rather be among them who, in the actings of their love and affection unto Christ, do fall into some irregularities and excesses in the manner of expressing it…than among those who, professing themselves to be Christians, do almost disavow their having any thoughts of or affection unto the person of Christ.  -John Owen, quoted in Timothy Keller’s Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God

Digressions I left out for clarity’s sake:

*This is not a contradiction with the Slavery post I wrote earlier.  Our enslavement releases us to fully become what He has designed us to be . . . and you can’t get that any other way.

** This principle affects our parenting.  A child who thinks and really tries to do the right thing but misses it should not be punished like the child who acts carelessly. Metaxas’ book is GREAT, by the way!

***THIS is the answer to those who say they have the “freedom to sin”.  Ready-forgiveness releases us from inadvertent sins that may arise because we’re not-yet-fully-sanctified.  So for this reason, motive is important.

****Part of the beauty of this freedom is that we don’t have to remember a bunch of laws . . . and details of the laws . . . and exceptions to the laws . . . and interpretations of the laws . . . Need I go on?  Instead, the Holy Spirit leads us in a way that is always in sync with the Law—the spirit of the law, that is—and never outside the Law.  The Beatitudes are a good example of how this began.  Bonhoeffer (quoted in Metaxas’ book, pg. 83) said, “The Christian message is basically amoral and irreligious, paradoxical as that may sound.”  If Bonhoeffer’s statement intrigues you, I recommend Sacrilege, by Hugh Halter.