When you were young, what did you want to be?
I wanted to be a fireman, and then an astronaut, and then I wanted to fly F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jets.
All of those things were possibilities in my mind.
They say you can be whatever you want... And to a certain degree that's true. But only US fighter pilots get to be astronauts, and only US citizens get to become US fighter pilots. So, no, I couldn't be whatever I wanted.
BUT, I did have a whole stack of potential.
Your life as a child is very wide and very shallow. You can have any number of possible selves, but none of them will be very developed.
As you grow older, your range of available possible selves becomes more and more narrow, but more and more deep.
Who you are becomes more evident.
Who you will have relationships with becomes more real.
Where you travel in the world deepens.
The books you read, and adventures you take, and education you undergo... These all narrow your possible selves "set".
And this can sometimes be depressing.
To realise I wouldn't become an astronaut was a little upsetting.
And often we can get caught up in all the possibilities that are no longer possible.
And when we get caught up like that, we miss the beauty of the depth that is being formed.
So by all means, "keep your options open", but in so doing, PLEASE don't let your potential only ever remain as potential.
Because there is no more sad tale, in my humble opinion, than a life lived in pursuit of possibility that forever remains unrealised.
Pick something, pick someone, pick somewhere, and fully invest, fully commit. Do whatever it takes.
Sometimes we don't commit because we fear reaching a dead end. "but what if I pick the wrong path, the wrong job, the wrong partner, the wrong instrument".
I've come to see, that in Jesus Christ, there are no dead ends.
You see, all things are being made new. And that includes you.
When Jesus said "I have come that you may live life in all it's fullness", he really wasn't kidding. The only way that your potential will truly be realised, is when you commit to live as Jesus did.
His life was the ultimate "hero" story, the ultimate example of a "good life".
When he said "I am the way, the truth, and the life." He wasn't kidding. To live a life of truth and grace, is to fully realise your humanity. And to fully realise your potential.
Then he goes and says something like "and all these things I've done, you will do even greater".
I am reminded of Michael Jordan, who was speaking to all the kids that during the phase wanted to "be like Mike", and he said "don't be like Mike, be better than Mike."
I'm not sure that it would be possible to be better than Jesus, but he's told us we should do "even greater".
So, all that potential, don't let it die as potential, let it become realised, and in so doing, you will do the "even greater". That's what you were born for. That's why you were made so masterfully.
Go get it.
There’s a flood coming.
"Noah did everything God commanded him."
When the floods come, you want to be the one who has built an Ark, according to God’s commands.
Regardless of how stupid you feel like building it is. Regardless of how unnecessary it seems.
A boat in a desert?
CS Lewis once said “If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.” The pursuit of comfort, and/or happiness is daft, because ultimately it is meaningless, it takes no effort to survive being happy, no planning to make it through. You don't need to influence your world when life is going well. Just lap it up, and be grateful and express that gratitude. If you are happy, great.
I would love that none should have to experience the type of storm that floods your whole world.
But there is a flood coming.
And it could wipe out your whole world.
So, what are you building?
What structures do you have in life that could survive a complete upheaval?
A loss of employment. The death of a parent, or a spouse or, most horrendously, a child. A terminal diagnosis. A house-fire. A car crash. A work-interrupting injury. These are all floods.
These events have been called "biographical disruptions".
They mess up your story.
You are no longer going where you thought you were going.
The words will become jumbled.
We love twists when we're watching a movie.
But we hate twists when they happen to us.
And so when the flood comes, you better have built an Ark.
If you have, a whole new world of promise will open up. You'll float. You ride the waves.
If not... That, as they say, will be all she wrote.
I personally, have found a wonderful "Ark" (allow me the metaphorical stretch) in the death and resurrection of Jesus. There is a flood coming to all of us, that we have labelled death. None escape this flood.
But I've made a choice to spend my life building an ark, according to His commands.
In so doing, I trust confidently and hopefully that when the flood comes, I can come out the other side into a whole new world of promise.
A new creation.
A new heaven, and a new earth.
Wanna build an ark with me?
It feels good to live in a walled city.
Of course that may not mean literal walls, the walls could be "social fabric" or "economic trust" or "military alliance".
But walls bring a sense of safety. Being tucked in at night, feeling the weight of the blankets, just feels right (unless there's 1000% humidity).
But we aren't made to live within walls. We are made for the wild. We are made to enter the fray, plunge into the dark forest, slay the dragon (or be eaten in our attempt), shoot for the stars, plumb the depths. There is life in adventure, and there should be adventure in life.
You've possibly heard it said "Ships are safe in the harbour, but that's not what they were built for". I love that thought. You were made to push the frontiers, to tame the 7 seas, to establish routes of passage and trade.
Often we feel the need to "wall our city" because we are inhabiting the most obvious places and someone else might wanna poach your stuff and take it for themselves.
After Isaac repeats some of the journey his father Abraham took (including pretending his wife was his sister), it came time for him to settle somewhere - Genesis 26 tells us this story.
Whenever he tries to set up camp, his first need is water. So he goes about digging some wells. The first few times, he tries to re-dig wells that his father had dug previously (it would have made sense and saved some effort), but he is received with resistance from the locals.
So he goes on to a further place, an open expanse of wilderness, that he ends up calling Rehoboth - or Wide Open Spaces - and digs his own well. He forges his own path.
It's great to live out of wisdom learned from your father, but if you just to stay within the territory he has already developed, you will inevitably meet with resistance.
So, go somewhere new, find a wide open space, that maybe even looks a little wild and untamed, and dig your own well.
You see water changes things. Water brings the possibility of sustained life, and developing new life.
Isaac in fact is so blessed that in the first year of his time in Rehoboth, he harvests 100 fold, imagine an investment with a 10,000% ROI... You'd be in there like a flash.
And so maybe the 100 fold ROIs are in land that is previously unexplored and undeveloped.
Go get it.
We are familiar, in this day and age, with contracts.
Contracts are agreements by which we outline the terms of our separation. i.e. if you don't uphold your side of the deal, I will be free to part ways. Don't pay me, I'm gone. Don't do the work, you ain't getting paid.
Covenants are different.
To be in covenant with someone is to say "regardless of whether you live up to your end of the deal or not, I will not cut myself off from you".
This is a scary thing. This takes trust. This takes people at their word when we know they are (just like us) full of snakes. Betrayers occupied the lowest levels of Hell as according to Dante's Inferno.
But, if we cannot live with trust, life can be hell.
Life can be unsteady.
Life can be cynical and sceptical and ugly.
The opportunity, therefore, is to make covenants with people, with our eyes wide open. I am going to assume that in the span of our time together, you will let me down and I will let you down.
But I will not bail.
I will not run away.
I will not "flush that relationship down the dunny".
I am in this for the long haul, and no matter how many snakes you throw at me, I am committed to helping you slay those snakes. And I am going to spend more time focussing on the log in my own eye, than the speck in yours.
I will do my best to slay my own snakes, and rebuke my own demons, and overcome my own shortcomings and sins, so that you do not have to.
This is my commitment to you.
And, I believe, this is love.
The love that we can only share because He first loved us (1 John 4:19)
I think that through the years, I have encountered large decisions, time and again, and each time I tend to consider the worst case scenario.
I thought this was wise, for after all who wouldn't "first sit down and count the cost".
And failure (even now) appears to me to be the highest cost of them all.
But what is the ultimate failure?
Do we allow ourselves to truely face the worst case scenario?
Or do we only construct just enough "worst case" to justify never giving it a go?
Because it would appear to me, that the worst outcome that any decision could lead to is death. Death of yourself, sure, but also perhaps death of others?
And so fear dictates that we change our course of action.
And yet in Christ, there appears to be a unique set of circumstances...
With the words of Paul in his 1st letter to the corinthians, this is laid out, in chapter 15:42-44 It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies.
And so, with the promise of resurrection for those who are in Christ, death is no longer a valid "worst case scenario". Because ultimately, there are no dead ends... Not even in the grave.
And so therefore, what is the worst case scenario?
In the story of the Talents, Jesus gives us the answer...
The worst case scenario is to do nothing. To bury what we have been given in the ground, least we mess it up. To that servant comes a casting out into the darkness. That, is truly a worst case scenario.
So the question is simple?
What have you buried? What has been entrusted to you that you are doing nothing with?
Is it because of fear? If so, in Christ, find the freedom that comes in knowing there are no dead ends.
Is it because you're just lazy? Well... that question might be a bit stinging, but, get out and do something ;)
For here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to take you out of these countries, gather you from all over, and bring you back to your own land. I’ll pour pure water over you and scrub you clean. I’ll give you a new heart, put a new spirit in you. I’ll remove the stone heart from your body and replace it with a heart that’s God-willed, not self-willed. I’ll put my Spirit in you and make it possible for you to do what I tell you and live by my commands. You’ll once again live in the land I gave your ancestors. You’ll be my people! I’ll be your God!
From the perspective of the Hebrew prophets, the only true redemption for humanity can come through the total renewal of the human heart.
From Moses, they hold to the hope that “The Lord your God will change your heart and the hearts of all your descendants so that you will love him with all your heart and soul and so you may live!"
When Ezekiel writes the words above, the reality of a heart transplant is a few years away from being a reality.
In biblical Hebrew, the heart is where we feel feelings, think thoughts, and make choices motivated by our desires.
This aspect of humanity was corrupted from the moment that the serpent convinced Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. In so doing, humanity gained knowledge of that which was a) unknown and b) asked of us by God to be left to Him.
Interestingly, the serpent has been variously represented throughout mythology, and in a couple of instances - The Medusa and The Basilisk - those who engage with the snake are turned to stone. This turning to stone was analogous to "freezing" as in the "Fight, Flight or Freeze" reflex
When presented with knowledge of the unknown, humans tend to fight, flight, but most commonly, freeze. In gaining the knowledge of Good and Evil, humanity (amongst other things) learns about this place called "Tomorrow".
And Tomorrow is a scary place. Who knows what Tomorrow looks like. And so we get anxious. Anxiety concerns what might happen, not reality. And so we freeze. We turn to stone. We become unable to move or think.
When we turn to stone, we can't feel feelings, we can't think thoughts, we can't dream dreams, and we can't make any choices motivated by our desires. These are all issues of "the heart".
And so the intention of Yahweh as expressed by the array of authors throughout the Old Testament scriptures is an issue of the heart.
A heart transplant.
Stone for flesh.
As Paul writes "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come."
And when the heart of stone is replaced, tomorrow does not need to be scary. Anxiety no longer has a home. Trust is restored.
Jesus unpacks this for us in his sermon on the mount. I'll leave it to him to wrap this up.
"If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.
Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen colour and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.
If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.
Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes."
Fire is inevitable. Fire is terrifying. Fire is awful. Fire is necessary. Fire is refining. Fire is renewing. Fire is energy.
At some stage in our lives, we seem to inevitably experience circumstances that feel like fire, like our whole world may burn to the ground.
We do everything we can to control the flames.
To put them out.
To extinguish them.
To prevent them from ever coming.
I was recently watching a YouTube video from Dr Jordan Peterson, and in it, he shared that in the areas of the US that were prone to forest fires, efforts and strategies were put in place to prevent them.
However, when trees die, they leave deadwood.
Forest fires "clean house" by burning up the deadwood, and allowing for regeneration.
In our efforts to totally prevent forest fires, deadwood was allowed to accumulate.
Eventually, in spite of man's best efforts, lightning strikes and a fire rages.
Because so much deadwood had been allowed to accumulate, the fire raged with such intensity that it scorched the earth down below the topsoil, and as a result, nothing was able to re-grow. That which could have been a forest fire bringing renewal turned into a fire that completely consumed the forest.
He posited that, in avoiding life's fires, we allow so much deadwood to accumulate in ourselves that eventually, when the inevitable fire hits, it completely consumes us. As such, it may be that we are better off embracing smaller fires every so often, whereby the deadwood in our lives can be burned away and renewal can take place.
What is the deadwood in our hearts that we could allow to be burned away?
There are pictures here of the phoenix. Pictures of resurrection. Pictures of Christ.
Throughout scripture (both Old testament and New), we see that the fire that the Almighty brings to our lives is not a forest fire, but a Refiner's fire.
Proverbs 17:3 says "The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts."
We see that He is a refiner's fire, and that makes a huge difference. A refiner's fire does not destroy everything in it's path like a forest fire. A refiner's fire does not consume everything entirely like the fire of an incinerator.
A refiner's fire refines.
It melts down the bar of silver or gold, separates out the impurities that ruin its value, burns them up, and leaves the silver and gold intact.
And yet, in 1 Corinthians we read (3:12-15) "The quality of materials used by anyone building on this foundation (Jesus) will soon be made apparent, whether it has been built with gold, silver, and costly stones, or wood, hay, and straw. Their work will soon become evident, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by blazing fire! And the fire will test and prove the workmanship of each builder. If his work stands the test of fire, he will be rewarded. If his work is consumed by the fire, he will suffer great loss. Yet he himself will barely escape destruction, like one being rescued out of a burning house.
What are you building with?
Has the deadwood cluttered up?
Maybe a voluntary burn off might be in order. Perhaps a "spring clean", lest the fire consumes completely.
"Let me make this clear: A single grain of wheat will never be more than a single grain of wheat unless it drops into the ground and dies (myta). Because then it sprouts and produces (mytya) a great harvest of wheat—all because one grain died"
Jesus gives us an amazing seed here. A seed that was perhaps known in part, and yet was completely without a frame of reference.
Resurrection. What? I mean sure, it's true for plants but people don't come back to life...
We see in time that the seed is indeed his own life.
The Aramaic that Jesus uses contains an interesting wordplay with “it dies” (myta) and “it produces” (mytya).
When we view death, we often see an end. Final. Done. Over. Dead end.
When Jesus saw death, he saw no dead ends.
He saw new life.
He saw production.
He saw regeneration.
He saw all things being made new.
In Him, we can also see that there are no dead ends.
We can see new life.
We can see production.
We can see regeneration.
We can see all things being made new.
Can you see it?