Choosing the Better Path

path_through_the_woodsProbably my favorite vacation activity is hiking through a forest. I love the way the trees and mossy floor soak up sounds, the cool of the shade, the anticipation of discovering what’s around the next bend.

Of course, there is an inherent danger of getting lost if you go too deeply into the woods. That’s why I also appreciate path markings or maps that tell us where our path leads and, if the path divides, which fork to take.

Our spiritual journey is similar. We don’t know what is ahead of us. We encounter many paths from which to choose. Unlike a forest hike, there’s no going back; we can’t re-trace our steps. We must move forward, knowing there is an end to the path, but not knowing exactly what we will find there.

Often when we think of being spiritually “lost,” we’re describing an ultimate destination: eternal punishment, separation from God. But in his book titled Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard makes this insightful observation : “We are not lost because we are going to wind up in the wrong place. We are going to end up in the wrong place because we are lost.” We have chosen the wrong path.

Which Path Do I Take?

Most people will choose their own paths, with no clear destination in mind. They follow the path that makes sense to them, the easy, wide path that’s easy to navigate. They know the path we call life will end, but they expect nothing at the end but a sheer drop into nothingness. A guide or a map seems too restrictive.

Others believe in something better at the end, but they follow a path of their own choosing, confident that somehow things will be all right. Still others have a clear picture of their destination, but they follow a false or blind leader who is just as lost as they are. Some may realize they’re lost but refuse to admit it because the path is so well-worn and well-known and so many others are on it.

When we follow Jesus as the Way, not only do we have a clear destination (John 14:1-4) but a trusted Guide to lead us; He’s been there before (Psalm 119:105, John 14:6). Even though His way is narrow and sometimes treacherous (Matthew 7:13,14), along the Way we receive and believe promises that motivate us to continue.

Though we have never seen Jesus in the flesh, we walk by faith in Him (2 Corinthians 5:5-7). He has promised He will be with us to the end (Matthew 28:18-20) and has sealed us with the Holy Spirit of promise (Ephesians 1:13); the Father knows which ones are His (2 Timothy 2:19). We are also blessed by the companionship of other Christians who love and care about us, warn us when we begin to take the wrong path, and pick us up when we stumble (Galatians 6:1-2).

The End of the Way

In his first letter (1:3-9), Peter describes the end of the path for those who have been “born to a living hope through the resurrection from the dead.” Their inheritance is “imperishable, undefiled, and will not fade away.” At the “revelation of Jesus Christ,” they will rejoice with inexpressible joy.

May we all very carefully examine the path we’re on, making sure we are following in the path of Christ and not an impostor. May we all realize the inexpressible joy of seeing Him in His glory.

Jesus Still Defends Us

Two incidents in Luke 5 illustrate not only Satan’s tactics but the way Jesus speaks up for His disciples.

The chapter begins with Jesus calling Peter, James, and John out of their vocations into his mission: to seek and save the lost (Luke 5:1-11; Luke 19:10).

Next, Luke records the healing of a man with leprosy and a paralytic and the calling of Levi the tax collector to follow Him.

This is when the Pharisees come in. And this is when they begin to attack Jesus, not directly, but through His disciples.

When they see Jesus and the disciples eating at a great banquet hosted by Levi, they come not to Jesus but to the disciples, grumbling, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and ‘sinners’? (v. 30) The Greek word for “grumbling” here means “to murmur, mutter, say anything against in a low tone,” indicating they mean their words for the disciples’ ears only .

Why complain to Jesus’ disciples? Because the Pharisees have seen Jesus’ power and don’t want to confront Him? Because the new disciples have little experience with being challenged?

Whatever the reason, Jesus answers the challenge: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

The Pharisees direct their next criticism directly to Jesus about His disciples: “The disciples of John often fast and offer prayers, the disciples of the Pharisees also do the same, but Yours eat and drink.” 5:33

Again, Jesus defends their actions. “Can you make the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.”

Two observations here: 1) The opponents of Christ attack Him through His disciples; 2) Jesus is aware of what is happening and steps in to defend His followers.

Is it any different today? When opponents of God attack His followers for alleged ignorance, for our unwillingness to follow society’s lead, for our stances on moral issues, we must ask ourselves: Is their problem with us, or with God?

First, we must be sure that we are indeed pursuing God’s cause and not our own political ambitions. If it is for God we live, then Paul in his eloquence gives us confidence.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?

…Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns?

Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. (Romans 8:31-34)

Satan is still attacking vulnerable disciples through criticism. And when he does, we tend to take it personally.

If we know His Word, Jesus is still in us and will defend us – much like He defended Himself from Satan’s temptations by reciting Old Testament Scripture (Luke 4:1-13).

As long as the Word of Christ is part of us, as long as we have access to Him through prayer, He will continue to answer on our behalf and protect us from evil. (Matthew 6:13).

“…the disciple whom Jesus loved…”

Although he was one of the characters in the book he wrote, he never mentioned himself by name. It is generally understood, however, that “the disciple whom Jesus loved” in the Gospel of John was the apostle himself.

In referring to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” was John saying that Jesus loved him more than the others? He certainly held a special place among the disciples. He was the one reclining next to Jesus at what we know as the Last Supper. As he was dying on the cross, Jesus entrusted his mother into John’s care. After the resurrection, John was the first apostle to look into the empty tomb. Then he was the first disciple on the fishing boat to recognize the risen Lord on the shore. At the end of his gospel, John identified himself not only as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” but as the one “who testifies to these things and wrote them down.” (John 13.23; 19.26, 27; 20.2; 21.7; 21.20, 24)

As I read the gospel of John, I don’t believe John saw himself as a favorite of Jesus. I believe John saw himself as special not because Jesus loved him best, but because Jesus loved him at all. He had been one of the “Sons of Thunder” who asked Jesus to destroy an unresponsive village. He and his brother James had had the audacity to ask for a special place in Jesus’ kingdom. But through his faith in Jesus, he later became “the elder” writing to his own disciples and the one who was chosen to pen Jesus’ last words in the book of Revelation. (Mark 3.17; Luke 9.54; 3 John 1; Revelation 1.1)

When John wrote that he was loved, he was expressing a gratitude for the special love that Jesus has for every one of his disciples, a tender spot in his heart for each one of his children. I am that disciple “whom Jesus loves.” And if you follow Jesus, then you can say with the same eternal gratitude and joy that John had that you are also that disciple “whom Jesus loves.”