Tag Archives: Following

Turning in the Opposite Direction

Then Shekaniah son of Jehiel, one of the descendants of Elam, said to Ezra, “We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel. Ezra 10:2 (NIV)

The word repentance means to turn and go in an opposite direction. Those who repent of their actions are deciding they are no longer going to do those things, but will turn their lives in an opposite direction.

When I decided to follow Jesus there were a number of things from which I needed to repent. I needed to turn my life, my thoughts, and my actions around and to move in the opposite direction. To do so meant moving in a direction opposite of some people in my life with whom I had been close friends. It was a natural consequence of the repentance process. I couldn’t turn and move in an opposite direction and continue walking down the same old path with those friends at the same time.

There is a lot about this morning’s chapter with which I struggle to understand. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I believe that there are major cultural and historical differences that we scarcely understand today. But I do know this: Ezra and the exiles were experiencing a time of intense corporate confession and repentance. They had just returned, rebuilt the temple, and were trying to be the first of their people for an entire generation to re-establish a good relationship with God.

It was a season of intense repentance, and they recognized that they had allowed themselves to be greatly influenced by the culture and peoples around them. In today’s chapter, they are moving in the opposite direction, and they recognize that moving in the opposite direction necessitates separating themselves from those who have had negative spiritual influence on their lives. It is difficult to realize that this meant separation from their own family members, but I am also reminded that Jesus said sometimes the cost of following is leaving family behind.

Today, I am reminded that along our journey there are times in which, for our own spiritual health, we need to repent, to turn around, and to move in an opposite direction. I’m reminded that there is a cost associated with repentance, and I’m reminded that I can’t move in the opposite direction and keep moving in the same direction at the same time.

Following and Fear

Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the Lord, both the morning and evening sacrifices.
Ezra 3:3 (NIV)

Last night was family pizza and movie night. Taylor invited her friend Curtis over to join Suzanna, Wendy and me. Wendy made homemade pizza and breadsticks as we all gathered around the island in the kitchen to share in a glass of wine and conversation.

In the midst of the conversation Taylor recounted a significant point in her life as a teenager in which she made a conscious decision that she was going to follow Jesus. Hanging out with a couple of her best friends shortly thereafter, she explained to them her decision. She shared with them that she needed to start making some different life choices. Things that had been  producing spiritual death in her needed to pass away. She needed to choose into things that would be life giving.

As she spoke, it brought back similar memories for me. After I became a follower a Jesus, when I was still a very young man, there was a period of time in which my new found faith created an awkward fear in me. Those who knew me as one thing, were now going to experience me as another. Old things were passing away in me. New things were emerging. And, while I still loved my friends very much, I knew that I needed to change. Whenever Jesus called someone to follow, there was a requisite of leaving things behind and striking out on a path toward new things.

Perhaps it was Taylor’s story and my memories that resonated as I read this morning of the Hebrew exiles returning to their homes. The temple had been in ruins for years, so long that those living near could scarcely remember it being a center of worship. Now, a new thing was happening. Life was returning to a place of death. The worship of God was beginning once more and with it came that awkward fear of how their neighbors would react. And yet, they continued to obediently follow the plan.

I’ve learned along life’s journey that following Jesus sometimes means obediently following where He leads, despite my fears or my nagging concern about what others might think. On a few occasions, it has meant following Jesus down paths He was leading me despite even my fellow believers thinking me cracked and accusing me of going the wrong way.

Choosing Life requires making choices and moving my life in directions where increasing measures of Life will be found. This necessitates leaving behind parts of my life, and even people in my life, who are sucking the Life out of me. I do this not because I judge these other people as bad or evil. In fact, I have tremendous amounts of love for them. I do this because, in the moment, I am called to pursue Life. In doing so I ensure that I may someday have an over flowing abundance of Life; Life I might someday have a chance to share with those same loved ones from whom I needed to distance myself for a time.

photo : redvers via flickr

Chapter-a-Day Exodus 4

[Moses] said, "Oh, Master, please! Send somebody else!" Exodus 4:13 (MSG)

The most crucial tasks in life are rarely easy, and seldom do I feel confident and up to the challenge. The most crucial tasks come down to the realization that no one else is going to do it, and if it's going to be done, it's up to me to do what needs to be done.

I read through the chapters that tell the story of God calling Moses, and I'm struck by how honestly the story is told. Moses was no superhero and he certainly didn't believe in himself. In fact, Moses was reluctant to follow God, nor did he have a willing spirit.

Following God is not always an easy path. Even Jesus said the path to life is narrow, and the gate is small. Sometimes, it comes down to swallowing fear and taking that first step.