Category Archives: Walking with Jesus

Sunset

Rage Against the Dying of the Light

(A three-minute read)

All praise, honor and thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ.

If it weren’t for you, Lord, I could be dead. I could be in hell. I could be stuck on a roadside somewhere, trapped in my own devices. It was a near thing.

I can’t construct anything that holds in Your greatness. I can only build structures in which to trap myself. The things you build free me. The things I build entrap me.

This is a spiritual truth: my free will can capture my own heart and put it in bondage. I have the power at every moment to submit myself to slavery. Or I can let you unlock the cell and let me out. It’s always up to me.

I can march into Egypt at any time against your instruction, or stay in the promised land, where you will take care of me and meet my needs. Like a wayward child, my heart yearns for the things it wants. That modern mantra: ‘The heart wants what it wants.’ No enlightenment there. Only chains.

My heart turns its eyes only to its desires, and false promises it thinks will make me happy. They are all illusions, held out like gems that turn out to be paste.

Then you come along, as a parent, and you teach that my eyes wander, yet I can look toward something beyond my imagination. If I were to burn my own eyes out with a hot poker, I would still be able to see these things through the eyes of faith.

So, like a child I reach out, up. With my arms I capture nothing of you. You are untouchable. That’s the essence of holiness. I could as well have them amputated. With spiritual arms only can I reach for you. And now, blinded, I behold your splendor, and armless, I grasp your infinitude.

Your greatness is to be sought, run after. But my legs cannot keep up. They may as well be weak, atrophied, so I am condemned to sit in one place, unable to pick up my mat and walk. But in my spirit, I lace up with the shoes of the gospel of peace and they give my feet wings. Finally, I can move in the right direction. I am weightless now.

You have shown me gently, sweetly, that such things as I can see and grasp and follow – my own designs – are not to be desired. They will fade and disappear. They will always sell me short. They will ensnare me if I let them. But they are never big enough to capture you.

All praise, honor and thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ.

If you liked this essay, you might like this poem.

Old radios

My Stiff Neck

This is based on material developed for my memoir Masterpiece: A Love Story, but not used in the book. It is also part of a year-long focus on Reconciliation. (A four minute read)

Sometimes I get a stiff neck. Not my physical neck, but my spiritual neck. This stubbornness apparently wasn’t fully healed when I began following Jesus. I’ve learned that ending stubbornness is not a one-time deal. It’s a life-long challenge.

With my physical neck, if I hold my head in one position too long the muscles lock up and it becomes painful to move. It’s the same in my spiritual life.

As a lad, I often stayed at the neighbors’ dairy farm. We would all rise about five a.m. to milk the cows. The first thing to happen after the lights went on, even before the cows were led into their stanchions, was turning on the radio. It was a 1940s vintage RCA AM console radio with an analog tuner.

The tuning knob was on a spindle that had a cord tightly wound round it: when the knob moved, the cord moved and it moved the tuning element. There was an indicator that slid back and forth behind an opaque plastic rectangle with frequency markers painted on it, from 540 to 1600 khz, left to right.

The dial was at 830 – WCCO Radio, the same station that guided morning activity in our house, indeed in many tens of thousands of homes across Minnesota in the 1960s. I remember trying to retune that radio one day to another station for some Top 40 music. I turned and turned and turned that knob, and the tuner didn’t budge. It was locked up tight, and no longer moved.

My stiff neck can be just like that. My prideful ego can be just like that. It’s sometimes hard to tune from one frequency (let’s call it ‘The Pride Channel’) to another (‘The Humility Channel’) without pain or outside intervention. That was my experience all the years I pursued a sinful lifestyle. It was impossible for me to hear wise or sensible advice. I was tuned to the wrong channel.

That stiffness reappears in my occasional spiritual stubbornness today. Even though I now follow Jesus, I still become stiff-necked sometimes, to my detriment.

God often described Israel as being a ‘stiff-necked people’ – too much pride, and especially too much for too long.1 Just like me. They seemed to continually turn away from God’s best for them, choosing something inferior: Baal (sexual fertility rites); Moloch (child sacrifice); Astoreth, simultaneously the goddess of war and sexual love.

The ancient Israelites wanted to be like the peoples around them, so they adopted their gods. They did this so much for so long their world view became unhealthily distorted and then locked in place. They could no longer even hear the wisdom of their own prophets.

The same happened to me, earlier in life. By my early teens I was too often tuned to the wrong channel. By my late teens, I was unwilling to be tuned back at all. Like Lucifer, I was too taken with the sound of my own voice – my own veneer of intelligence and talent.2

Amazingly, I learned even from a creature as depraved as the devil. The truth he taught? When I turn away from God, that which turns my head becomes my master. The harder I turn, the more I am mastered, and the more difficult it becomes to turn back my stiff neck.

My answer to this today is simple: keep looking in the right direction and don’t be distracted by all the voices shouting ‘Hey! Over here!’ 3 Simple, yes, but not always easy. You may have noticed a recent four-week gap in publication here. I was busy looking in the wrong direction then and couldn’t be bothered to engage in this dialogue.

Happily, that season was short. Jesus always has the power to retune me, to reconcile me, when I cry out to Him with an open heart. He unlocks everything, even the stiffest of necks.

1. ‘But they did not obey or incline their ears, but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear nor receive instruction.’ – Jeremiah 17:23
2. ‘Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you have corrupted your wisdom by reason of your brightness; I cast you to the ground, I lay you before kings, that they may see you.’ – Ezekiel 28:17
3. ‘Ha ha! Made you look!’ – Satan

Photo by Skitterphoto via Pexels

Fruit on a naked branch

Fruit? Or Roots?

A three-minute read

Fruit is a big topic in Christian circles.

John the Baptist may have dined on locusts and wild honey, but he also knew a bit about fruit. He encouraged the religious leaders of his day to ‘bear fruit worthy of repentance,’ warning them that ‘every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’ 1

Jesus also used fruit metaphors. False prophets? You will know them by their fruit. Every good tree bears good fruit. But a corrupt tree bears evil fruit. Like John the Baptist, he warned that ‘every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore, by their fruit you will know them.’ 2

The Apostle Paul outlines the nature of this good fruit, produced by Holy Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control.3

But these fruits don’t prosper on their own.

Jesus likened Himself to a vine, and his disciples to branches. ‘He who remains in Me, and I in him bears much fruit’, He said. ‘For without Me you can do nothing.’ 4

So, now I know what the fruit is, and the ways in which it manifests in my life, through my relationship with the Holy Spirit. And since, without Jesus, I can do nothing, by myself I bear no fruit. I have nothing to do with it. Or do I?

I think I do. When I think about how I represent Jesus to others it’s easy to focus on the fruit, and neglect the roots. That’s the key to my part in the story.

A fruit tree only produces fruit if it has the right conditions. It needs to be planted in solid ground so the roots can hold it firmly in place. The soil needs to be good, so the nutrients are there.5 It also needs water to give it life. It needs light for photosynthesis so it can feed itself, and grow and flourish.

It also needs time. Only after these conditions have been in place consistently for some time will a tree produce fruit for others to enjoy.

Just like the tree, I’ll produce authentic ‘fruit’ only if my ‘roots’ are in the right place. I need to plant myself in God’s word – good soil. I need Holy Spirit to pour His living water into my own spirit as I listen to him each day. I need to surrender in obedience to Jesus, the light of the world, who guides me day by day with his easy yoke.

To produce fruit, I don’t need to focus on the fruit, but on the One who produces the fruit, after my roots are set in place.

I also don’t need to count the fruit, I trust that it will be there. And I have learned that it’s there to nourish others.

How are your roots? What kind of soil are they planted in?

From a teaching by Melanie Searle

1. Matthew 3:8, 10
2. Matthew 3:7:16-19
3. Galatians 5:22
4. John 15:5
5. Mark 4:20