Forward to Jesus

So, Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.          

John 8:31-36

Hello Church Family, this is Pastor Phil!

I learned a life lesson years ago when I was struggling so hard to make a major life change and I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. I kept feeling like I was leaving something, and I was, both the good parts and the bad parts of the experience, but I didn’t want to feel like I was making the change because I was running from something. Probably, a character fault in me, but I have been known to be stubborn to a fault. I just couldn’t bear with the idea of walking away; it went against my nature. A very wise pastor who was mentoring me at the time turned my perspective on its head. He helped me to see that in reality the reasons I was leaving were not because I was trying to leave something but because I was going towards something. Going towards something necessitates change and leaving things behind but it’s not the primary reason for the change. Going towards something is. 

So, this has become a rule in my life whenever I’m contemplating a change. I never want to be going away from something but going towards something. 

Our Gospel reading today has this almost bizarre conversation between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders about freedom and what real freedom actually means. Jesus is rightly accusing the religious leaders of being slaves. They retort that they are children of Abraham and have never been slaves of anyone. The reason this statement is so bizarre is that one of the pivotal moments in Jewish history was their slavery in Egypt in YHWH’s rescue of them in Exodus taking the people to the promised land. Slavery and freedom are the whole point of the Passover meal they shared in every year. These were the religious leaders of the Jewish people in the Jerusalem temple and they had the blindness and the audacity to say they had never been slaves of anyone. This blindness led to their greater blindness to the slavery that Jesus was really talking about. Slavery to sin. This slavery to sin starts with a broken relationship with God, trusting self and not trusting God, and it leads to the visible sins like arrogance, greed, pride, and avarice. 

In the conversation they were looking back to what they thought made them special and gave them special privilege in God’s eyes, being children of Abraham and Jewish, but Jesus wanted them to let go of that false image, let go of their pride which was holding them in bondage to sin and to look forward to Jesus and where God was leading them to with Him. 

Fast forward in time about 1500 years when a young Catholic monk was hammering what is called the 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. The institution of the Roman Catholic Church had very much lost its way. It had stopped looking forward to Jesus and was always looking back. Looking back to its power, to its authority in this world, to its riches and wealth and because it was always looking back to what they felt made them special and privileged, they had stopped looking forward to Jesus and where Jesus was leading them to. Looking back really held them in bondage to sin and they did everything they could to hold on to that past, including hurting the people of God by telling them lies just to get money from them. When Martin Luther posted those 95 Theses on the church door starting the Protestant Reformation, he was calling the Roman Catholic Church to stop looking back to what was holding them in bondage to sin and to once again look forward to Jesus and where God was leading them to be with Him. 

Fast forward to our own lives. It is very easy for us to hold on to the past and what is behind us. Sometimes it is the things that we have lost along the way. The people in our lives, the positions in our lives, pride and prideful thoughts of the past, even the painful past parts of our lives. We can’t get anywhere looking back too hard because we can’t see the walls we’re running into ahead of us. Looking too hard behind us holds us tightly in bondage. 

For the good things in the past, continuing to walk forward often feels like we are abandoning or forgetting those people and places. If we just hold on to the past, then they won’t be gone. But life does move on and holding on doesn’t work, it just makes us feel stuck. Looking forward and moving forward isn’t abandoning the past but it is honoring the past, the people and the places, and building upon their legacy into the future. 

For the bad things in the past, it often feels like we are still held by them, habits and hurts, and they won’t let go and sometimes we don’t know what to do with ourselves if we didn’t have it in our lives. Unfortunately, we can get used to hurtful things as well. We can get so caught up in trying to stop or let go of the hurt that we forget to look forward to where we are trying to go. Moving forward by definition moves the hurtful things in the past behind us. 

Most importantly we look forward with Jesus because Jesus is our future. Yes, Jesus is our past through his life, death and resurrection on the cross. Yes, Jesus is our present living in that forgiveness earned for us on the cross and Jesus everyday with us through faith, here and now. But I think we forget sometimes that yes Jesus is our future. Jesus is our prize and our goal. Life eternally with Him and all the saints is where He is leading us too. When we keep our eyes fixed upon Jesus our future, it makes our path today so much clearer. 

To serve God as a pastor was a call on my life I felt since I was very, very young. I didn’t know everything that would and could entail, but I felt it in my life. Of the different things that God used to place that call upon my heart was my first pastor, Pastor Buck. He was a bear of a man, at least to little me, and every Sunday he would always give me a big bear hug and scratch my teddy bear’s head. For me, that was my earliest thought of what it meant to be a pastor and it still defines the role for me today. Because I had that in my life so early on, that future was a guide for me. It’s not that I didn’t make stupid choices in life but knowing where I was going made clear many choices in my life. Those choices would fit into two categories, is this compatible with my future or not. That was it and if it wasn’t I could let it go of it because I was moving forward towards my goal. 

For every Christian, the same is true. Jesus is our future. Life with Him and all of the Saints is prepared for us. Knowing where we are going makes clear our choices of today. Those same choices fit into two categories, is this compatible with my future with Jesus or not. That’s it. If it’s not, we can learn to let go of it and keep moving forward. 

Close with a verse from Hebrews 12 that exemplifies this thought. 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.

Jesus is our future. We move forward together towards Him. 

Published by philipmcclelland.org

​I am a recovering burned out workaholic​ who forgot I couldn't change the world. From the ashes of that not only have I found a peace from God that I never knew but a focus on what matters, God, family and loving my neighbor as God has loved me. My burning out experiences really drive my writing and how much I want to share all of the good God has worked through the hurt I've experienced. Currently I serve a great little parish in Northern Ohio with my wonderful family and our furry farm of five dogs, four cats and the oddball handful of fish. You can find me at www.philipmcclelland.org.

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