It is the characteristic excellence of the strong man that he can bring momentous issues to the fore and make a decision about them. The weak are always forced to decide between alternatives they have not chosen themselves. Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The breaking of a wave cannot explain the whole sea. Vladimir Nabokov

When I was about eleven years old, we made our first trip as a family out to Delaware which we continue even to this day. It was a remarkable and magical vacation for me. It was the first time I tasted salt water taffy. The first time I went clamming and crabbing. And most importantly, the first time I swam in the ocean. I will never forget that summer and I will tell you one of the reasons why. When it came to vacations, we had a tradition in our family. On long trips, my mom would take me to Kroger and I could get a mess of magazines or books, which she hoped would keep me busy on the long car ride. I remember vividly what I chose the day before we left on that trip. I got a bunch of books on sharks and shark attacks.

We lived just south of Chicago and I think by the time we had made it through Ohio, I had read each book—cover to cover—all four of them. When we reached Delaware, I fell in love with the ocean—I had never seen it before and I couldn’t wait to jump in. Each day of the vacation that week, that’s where you find me—swimming in its waters. On one of our last days, I became more courageous and I swam out further into it than I ever had before. I felt like being a little dangerous and wanted to see how far out I could swim without scaring me out of my wits. When I reached the farthest reaches, well beyond other swimmers, I began treading in the water, floating around, and enjoying one of my last days of vacation. I was probably a good twenty yards away from the nearest swimmer. The sun was high in the sky and warm on my face and I felt great…

Until I noticed something odd. As I looked down the entire beach front, everyone was getting out of the water. I immediately wondered what was going on. As I was treading water, I heard words which I will never forget. The lifeguard shouted through his megaphone, “Everyone out of the water; everyone out of the water; SHARKS! SHARKS!” I had never heard more frightening words. I turned around and sure enough, swimming out near a tanker further out were about a dozen fins. Immediately, I swam toward the shore as fast as I could. There was only one problem—all I could think about was all of those shark attack stories I had read. I knew everything about sharks. I knew how they attacked, who they attacked, and when they attacked. At that very moment, my single thought was this—a shark’s favorite meal were adventurous boys from Illinois! I kept pumping my arms; kicking my legs; and flaying away as fast as I could in that cool salt water. Finally, without a scratch on me, I crawled up onto shore. Just then, standing above me was the lifeguard and into his megaphone he yelled, “False alarm. Just dolphins.” After that, I decided it was best just to make sandcastles and didn’t go swimming the rest of that vacation. Here is a truth I learned that day—sometimes, things aren’t what they seem.

And sometimes people aren’t what they seem.

This takes us to our next point about who believers are. Typically, believers want to have it their way; they want to lead two different lives. They try to have their cake and eat it too; believers try to see if they can pull off living the new and old life at the same time. But it never works. Again, in the book of Revelation, in his words to the church of Laodicea, Jesus shares with us the description of one who has been a dedicated believer too long: “I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking. You’re not cold, you’re not hot—far better to be either cold or hot! You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit. You brag, ‘I’m rich, I’ve got it made, I need nothing from anyone,’ oblivious that in fact you’re a pitiful, blind beggar, threadbare and homeless.” (Revelation 3:15-17, The Message)

Ouch! That’s what I love about the Bible, it always tells it like it is. Believers are neither this or that; they try to be all things. Again, this was Judas: he tried to remain friends with those who hated Jesus and those who were also his closest confidants—the disciples. He tried to be spiritual and carnal at the same time. In the same day, Judas most likely would have lunch with the Pharisees and then go have dinner with Jesus and the disciples. Judas was sitting there nodding in agreement with Jesus when he was on the mountain teaching the throngs of people, and then later that evening nodding again, but this time, with his friends from previous days. Most of the time, Judas was doing his own thing and when it was convenient, he would do the Jesus’ thing. There was little consistency in his life and perhaps at times, he would see the truth in Jesus’ words, but in the next moment, he was off doing his own thing, finding his own way in life. Simply put, Judas was a fraud and this type of living cost him his life, literally hanging on the limb of a tree when he took his own life.

Going back to our theological primer in an earlier chapter, in this world there are two kingdoms vying with one another. This is a simple fact. Again, as Bob Dylan wrote, you are either in one camp or in the other. This is not a both/and question; it is an either/or one. Either you are with Jesus, or you are not with Jesus. These are his own words. You cannot sit on the fence. Jesus emphatically joins the question by saying: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” (Matthew 12:30) Every day you get up you have to decide, am I with Jesus or not?

If you think about it, it was always a misnomer to call Judas a disciple or follower of Jesus. Perhaps for a time he was, a very brief time, but like the seed that fell on stony ground Judas sprouted up, but only for a brief moment (Matthew 13:1-23). This is exactly why it is so very important to continually move deeper with Jesus. Every day we need to let him further into our lives, to let him invade every inch of our being, let him control each and every matter. And this is why this is so important—all of this is for our benefit any way. I have learned in my life so well that when I stay close to him, everything is good, no matter what the situation or circumstance. This is why I am certain that when he continues to pull me back, when I begin to stray from him, it’s for my good, not his. It’s for me, first and foremost, and it is because of this tremendous concern that he has for me that he will never let me go.

In: Friend to Jesus
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