It’s one of my favorite points in a movie, book or just any gripping story. The tension is high, there’s smoke in the air, wounded friends and tragedy are all around; there’s a terrible choice to be made. In movies, the moment takes about fifteen seconds. In real life, though, it takes much longer and it’s much, much harder. In real life, you don’t think you have what you need, there’s no A-list actor to rescue everyone, no guarantee that you’ll survive this peril and there’s no sequel-in-the-making to assure you of a positive future. No. In real life, often the moments of greatest potential come disguised as normal. Sometimes they even come looking like pure disasters.
Picture the moment in the garden where Jesus was arrested. For the disciples, their lives had changed. They had experienced God in a way like never before! ; Jesus had loved them, healed them, shown them the way to God! He had raised life from death in front of their eyes, and in many ways, given them reason to hope again. Now, here they were, faced with the prospect of losing Jesus. How hard that must have been! How conflicted they must have felt! The mob came with swords and clubs, they came with anger and hatred for the One that the disciples knew as being (at least) a man from God. What would they do? What could they do? Their minds were surely racing, their hearts pounding, their fears creeping up to say “see, I told you it was too good to be true.” What would they do?
For the disciples, they missed the moment. They didn’t see from the perspective we are privileged to hold. They had no idea that a week later they would wish they’d stayed awake (Mk. 14:32-42). They couldn’t see that fighting is not the answer to confusion (Mk. 14:46-47). They couldn’t tell that giving up and running away would not make them feel better (Mk. 14:51-52). No, the disciples couldn’t see from outside their moment, this most crucial of moments in history. They couldn’t see. Can you see? What is happening in your life right now that is tempting you to despair? Or slink back into sleep (depression, despair or apathy)? What is going on in your life that makes you want to pull back and lick your wounds and give in to the pessimistic whisper that says we knew this would happen; nothing is as good as it seems! What is going on in your world that makes you want to fight with all your strength to hurt the people who are coming against you? What is tempting you to just throw in the towel and say “I YIELD!” That may very well be the moment of your life where you need to begin to wonder: terrible things are happening right now. Is this a crucial moment for me?
Denzel Washington used to be a no-name, Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, all the James Bonds, Robin Hoods and every other major hero; they were once nobody. Their names were NOT synonymous with adventure, death-defying moves, happy endings, amazing shooting or daring rescues. Once, they were journalism students, hurting children, the new kid at school and just average guys. What changed? They were written into stories where a hero stepped up, assessed the situation and his valor, sacrifice or willingness to do the impossible won the day. Now, these men (though merely actors who are paid to behave like they’re someone else) are thought of as heroes. Gladys Aylward was just a silly girl who would never be a missionary – for many years. Or so she was perceived. She was that until the moment came where she stood looking a hundred orphan children in the face. What thoughts flooded her mind and heart? No Lord, not this. Not me. I’m not married. I’m not good with children. I’m not here to be a mom, I’m here to be a missionary. How will I feed these kids? I can’t make bread and fish multiply, Jesus! What am I supposed to do with this? Well, about a hundred children have God to thank that Gladys didn’t step up to the hard situation and back down. She didn’t feel the fear of difficulty washing over her and turn and run. No, when faced with the impossible, she did the impossible. But (and this is so important) she didn’t know she was doing something that would later appear impossible. No! Moved with compassion, Gladys Aylward stepped up and entered into the moment that faced her. She took her confidence in God that had been building for years, and applied it to the situation. She said “I’ll try” and took the children. Later, it was obvious that God was with her, but at the time, Gladys just knew she couldn’t leave the children to starve and die alone. She stepped up and entered into the moment facing her.
Jesus stepped up and entered into the moment. Smoke rose that night as the armed mob’s torches burned with angry fire. Friends failed him on all sides; even sleeping through his hardest hour yet! Tension filled the air as a former follower approached Jesus; not with handcuffs or a fist but a kiss. What did Jesus do? He stepped up to the moment and stepped into the difficulty. This was an incredible moment but Jesus, moved with compassion, did the unthinkable; he reached out to tenderly care for one of the people who had come to hurt him.
“And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched his ear and healed him.” ~Luke 22:50-51
How can you step up? The moment may be upon you right now. Maybe you’re facing the moment of decision and things are falling apart around you. Maybe there are people or circumstances that are rising up against you. Maybe there’s a hundred mouths to feed (or just 4, or even 2) and you have no idea where the food’s gonna come from. Maybe you are at your end and you believed God was moving but now it seems like things are just the same as they always have been. Step up. Take the first step. You see that the situation feels impossible, step up to it and look at it as an opportunity to put into action all that you’ve said you believed about God. You think he’s kind and just in the face of opposition? Be kind and just in the face of opposition and find God’s strength energizing you to do it. You think God can do the impossible? Take a step towards being the instrument of a miracle as you do what makes the least sense, and love the people who are hurting you. Find a way to step up into the fray because when you do, you prove the legitimacy of something; not that you’re so cool or a superhero. No, when you risk everything and step into the hard, you prove that God is worth pursuing and standing for Him, even when nothing else makes sense.
Stay In It
“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that
before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” ~Isaiah 53:7
Starting a thing is easier than finishing it. Ecclesiastes says “better is the end of a thing than its beginning.” There’s a big difference between hero action movies (with their seven minute happy endings) and real life; real life goes on. The battle isn’t over when the good guy saves the princess on the boat in the middle of the ocean. You ever think about that? Yeah, yeah, kiss kiss, sunset, sunset; still have to get home, dude! And now there’s no captain of the ship! So, unless you took some crash-course in cruise-liner sailing in night school, you’re gonna have to keep up the hero bit for about seven more days as you sail that boat to harbor! No, movies aren’t like real life; real life is much more complex and much more rewarding but the truth is; it’s much harder too. In real life, when terrible things are happening, the first decision isn’t the last one. We have to stay faithful through the end of the matter.
Jesus didn’t just heal the servant’s ear and cue theme music and roll credits. No, in fact, Jesus’ time to shine brightest in hardship was still to come. The mob captured him, he was mocked, beaten, whipped and made to carry the timber for his own cross and then he was nailed to the cross. Finally, Jesus was stabbed with a Roman spear and through the hardship he didn’t ever lash out at his captors.
Jesus stepped up.
Jesus stayed in it.
How can you stay in the hard moments you’re facing? Not just giving a nod to the difficulty and smiling at the ones hurting you, but really entering in? How can you stay in the hardship and shine for Jesus? Who can you love -despite their hurts they’ve caused you or are causing? Who can you consistently embrace, even to the point of praying for them or otherwise being an agent of help and healing for them, as your part of standing for God and embracing the moment you’re facing?
Got wants heroes. God is making heroes but the path to the heroic in God’s Kingdom is not laden with swords, horseback chases and insane archery shots that rescue the innocent from the hangman’s noose. The godly ones who become heroes do so by extending themselves in love, sacrificially giving during times of extreme difficulty. It’s when we’re hurt most, we’re confused most, we’re most pressed, crushed, persecuted, afflicted and sorrowful that our standing for Christ shines the brightest. See the moment, step up to the moment, stay in it for the long haul and then help.
Await the Glorious
“[Let us look] to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” ~Hebrews 12:2
Jesus was no fool. He did not give up his life for the sake of making a few Roman soldiers scratch their heads and say “hmm, never seen anyone die with a smile on his face.” He didn’t give up his life so that people would have a story to tell. Jesus didn’t endure the cross so that we’d have a cool holiday to celebrate. Jesus died, Jesus endured the death he died in the way he did for joy! Jesus looked ahead to the joy of many things:
-His own resurrection and the accompanying display of the power and glory of God
-satisfaction of the righteous requirements of God for the sin of the world
-vindication of the character of God
-the joy of bringing many to salvation
-the joy of fellowship with redeemed people
-the joy of unity in the Church
-the joy of one lost sinner who repents
For us, our sacrifice does not bring salvation of our souls. Still there is joy that we can anticipate:
-the joy of faithfulness to Christ and dependence on His strength in the moment
-the joy of loving people in the way and pattern of Jesus Christ
-the joy of our example leading to someone’s new pursuit of Christ
-the joy of breaking the cycles of hatred and injury with grace and love
Terrible things are happening right now, all over the place. And if they’re not happening in your life right now, be thankful, but anticipate difficulty to come at some point. What’s worse is that sometimes terrible things happen from places and in ways that we never expected. Sometimes even at the hands of godly people. Jesus could have tucked-tail and withdrawn when the chief priests came for him at night in the garden. He could have just watched the servant writhe in agony as he considered life without hearing in one ear. Jesus could have called angels to fight for him and freed himself from the mob, from Pilate and from the Cross; but he didn’t. No, instead of withdrawing, Jesus stepped forward in love. Instead of watching, he moved in love towards the one who hurt him. Instead of stepping outside the hard circumstance he was in, Jesus acted in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. In doing so, he laid down his life and brought life to many others. How might you righteously lay down your life (your hopes, your idea of what is best, your vision of how things ought to be) and actively love others so that God can do through you what is so desperately needed by those around you?
Today, you have a choice. The bad guy is getting away. He’s got the gold, the girl, and the whole world thinks you committed the crime he’s escaping. You have one bullet in the chamber. ; On the movie screen, that bullet is made of lead. In life, it’s made of you. How will you spend yourself? If you aim well, and make the right choice, the hero wins and all righteous people rejoice. Make the wrong choice and another day goes by where the bad guy gets away with murder and the good guy looks like a chump. My prayer is that you and I will choose righteousness and in us and through us, Jesus will rule the day.