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The Journey of 1000 Miles

(chapter excerpt from the book in progress “Jesusland”)

So there’s a saying. “The journey of 1000 miles begins with the first step.” The encouragement here is that even though there are long endeavors, the spiritual kind, the physical kind, the emotional kind… you get the gist… those long journeys have to begin somewhere. There seemly has to be a moment where things change from being NOT on the journey to being ON the journey. According to this maxim, the journey officially begins when you take that first important step.

However, the saying is wrong!

“Uh oh” you’re thinking right now. Here we go. The author is trying to make a little name for himself by going against the accepted maxim. He’s trying to shake things up. Why can’t he just let this delightful piece of corporate encouragement go untouched. I should just take the advice Charles Dickens gave in the opening stave of A Christmas Carol when he declares, “But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for.”

However, I can’t because the saying is wrong!

That is not to say it’s UNTRUE. To be more precise I would change my proclamation from “the saying is wrong” to “it is a mistranslation”. You see, the saying is quite literally an ancient Chinese quote from the Tao Te Ching commonly attributed to philosopher Lao Tzu somewhere between the 4th and 6th century. A closer translation wouldn’t be “with the first step” but rather “The journey or 1000 miles begins between your feet”.

BETWEEN… YOUR… FEET!

Do you see the difference here? It’s a big one.

One says the journey begins when one takes the very first step. The other says the journey begins right where you are when you make the decision to start the journey. The journey of 1000 miles begins even BEFORE you take your first step. I begins right between your feet where you stand.

Or between your knees where you kneel.

Or on that spot of carpet that is soaked with your snot and tears as you lay prostrate in grief and repentance.

The question of the hour is one many ask. “How do I know I am saved? I mean… truly saved?” This is a very important question because this is not something that we want to leave up to chance. This isn’t something we want to find out after a life seeking God to finally get up to the Judgement Seat, have them open that great Lamb’s Book of Life and find out your name had been lightly penciled in, However due to some previously unknown loophole has been hard erased, leaving only the smudge marks and eraser droppings behind.

We imagine the horror of getting up to those glorious gates only to be told, “Kevin? Kevin who? I’m sorry. Depart from me. I never knew you!”

“But… but what about that night I spent crying out to you and…”

“No good, dude. I have no idea who you are.”

I remember clearly sitting in a chapel service in the 6th grade. All my Christian school classmates and I were glued to the message of the speaker (which I don’t have to tell you is an odd thing with a room full of 6th graders.) The speaker asked a question and then instructed for a show of hands in response.

“How many here know… really know… are absolutely CONVINCED they are going to go to heaven when they die? Raise your hands right now.”

Of course my hand would not move. No way would I be that arrogant to say assuredly. How could anyone? Yet then one of my classmates raised her hand. I couldn’t believe the pride! I couldn’t believe the audacity! I couldn’t…. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. How could she be so sure? How could she have no obvious doubt? Was it just pride? Was there something more?

There are two main problems that feed into our self-doubt about our citizenship into the Kingdom of God. The first being a general mistrust of our own convictions and motivations. The second is the seemly unending verses that act as if they contradict each other. Sure we have…

“…’Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ “ (Romans 10:13)

But we also have Jesus telling us…

“Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness!’ “ (Matthew 7:22-23)

We have…

“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

But also…

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14)

We have the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15 where the father comes running down the street to embrace the long lost rebellious son and cover him in hugs and robs and rings. But we also have the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25, all of who are waiting to be let into the wedding feast… where only the 5 properly prepared make it in, and the rest are cast off into the dark cold wastelands.

We have…

“This is good and pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4)

But also…

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. (Matthew 7:13)

And then the theologians get to work on it. They debate over the long tulip-stained fingers of Calvin to argue if we indeed have free will or if only those who are already predestined can be saved. We debate about if salvation can be lost once we have it, or if we have the ability to cast off the free gift of Christ… and then comes the debate of whether one was even saved in the first place!!!

And then enters the whitewashed pharisees and the false teachers and the wolves in sheep’s clothings, and the unfit servants, and those who put their hand to the plow and turned back, and the son who claimed he would work in the field but did now, and the unthankful healed leapers and of course the unfruitful soon to be cut down fig tree.

PHEW! I can see why so many of us struggle with that one question…

“How do I know if I’m truly saved?”

I would for our sake of argument however adjust the question. Here goes my unhallowed hands once more messing with what should not be messed with. However I feel the question here is really the wrong question. These little changes can mean big differences. It’s the same way “first step” and “between your feet” can be a world of difference. Here is the question I believe we should be asking.

“How do I know if I’m truly a citizen of the Kingdom of God?

Great question! I’m glad you asked!

So already in this book I have made known one of my favorite novels. It’s an allegory known as The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. If you haven’t read this, honestly… run, don’t walk and get yourself a copy. This book can wait. I’m not going anywhere. Let me know when you’re ready.

Done? Excellent. I want to talk about that opening scene. There is our protagonist walking around the City of Destruction. He use to be so happy there, but now there is this great colossal burden on his back that just will never leave his thoughts. His friends tell him to forget about it. His family tells him he has it good and don’t do anything extreme. His community tells him to be a good citizen and stop going around like the weight of the world is on his shoulders. However he can’t help it. It literally is.

And then he meets Evangelist. Evangelist has some even worse news for him. He tells him how that weight will not only pull him down in this world, but in the world to come. Then he tells him how everyone around him has that same weight and burden. Not so different than that ghost of Marley in the above mentioned A Christmas Carol telling Scrooge about the weight and length of the ponderous chain he himself has. (Good ol’ Marley, helping out Scrooge even though he’s dead as a doornail… or was it a coffinnail? I can’t remember).

So there’s Evangelist telling our poor protagonist bad news after bad news after bad news until he quite literally cries out “What must I do to be saved?”

Why, he must leave his citizenship in the Kingdom of Man, and seek a new one in the Kingdom of God!

Evangelist points to a gate on the horizon. It’s a gate that begins the pathway, although long, to a wonderful city; a CELESTIAL City. “Run” he tells Christian. Run for that gate. Run from the City of Destruction where you now live for it will be destroyed (you would think the name of the city would be a tip off). Run for that gate and never look back!

And so he runs. He ignores the cries of those around him begging him to return. He ignores their mocking or calling him an ignorant fool. He just runs.

We will leave him to the beginning of his journey of 1000 miles but will notice one last thing before this scene fades. We shall notice the words coming out of his mouth as he runs for that gate, and that path, and that cross in the distance. What is it he’s saying over and over again?

“Life! Eternal life!”

So lets ask this question… when did our protagonist begin his journey? When he reached the gates and started on the path? Yes. When he reached the cross and in repentance took on a new King and a new citizenship? Yes. Or was it when Evangelist said to run, and he turned his head to face the distant gate? Was it the moment he made that decision, “I think I’m going to run!” Also yes.

His journey of 1000 miles began the moment he made the decision.

That’s not to say it ended there.

I use to in my more snarky moments (and again with unhallowed hands messing with the wisdom of my elders) add on to this famous maxim. Sure the journey of 1000 miles may begin with the first step, however it doesn’t END till the 2 millionth step!” And yes, I did all the math on this. This is true of our faith journey too. After all, I feel the greatest salvation verse is when Jesus told the disciples…

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

Learning how to take up ones cross, and then taking up ones cross and then following Jesus, well that’s a journey of 1000 miles for sure. That’s the real crux of this conversation. That, in fact it the answer to the real question we should be asking. And that question is this…

“What is the will of God?”

I’m not changing topics here, my friends. I’m narrowing in on the true answer. You see, we often fear and shake over Jesus promising to many that their prophetic words, and demon-casting-out abilities and their healing ministries were just not enough. They weren’t even KNOWN by God (even if they were known by over 1.5 million Twitter followers!) So who IS known by God? Well, if you weren’t reading the verse before this, you missed the whole point of Jesus’ message,

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father in heaven”. (Matthew 7:21)

Who enters the Kingdom of Heaven? You do, where you submit to the will of the Father. And what is that will? That you be in relationship with Him. That you be loved by Him in the same way the father in that parable loved on his prodigal son. That you dwell in that love, in the same way Adam and Eve walked and talked with God in the cool of the day. That you stay in that love relationship, the same way the disciples did on the road to Emmaus when Jesus opened up all the scriptures to reveal that they were actually talking about him the whole time, and then he broke bread with them and then they KNEW WHO HE WAS.

It’s this Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7) where Jesus talked about that narrow gate, and the wolves in sheep’s clothing, and the tree and the fruit and talked about building a house on the rock, and then told us what the will of the Father was…

Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? So if you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:9-10)

And so how do we know we are saved? How do we know we are citizens of the Kingdom of God? How can we raise our hands in assurance that an eternity of living with our King is in our present and future? He tells us right there…

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7)

You see, those who don’t know Him here won’t know Him then. Those who know Him here will be known by Him there. He said over and over again,

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 4:17)

What is repenting but DECIDING to change your direction. DECIDING to begin the journey of 1000 miles. DECIDING to leave your citizenship in the Kingdom of Man behind and becoming one in the Kingdom of God.

But….

But…

But what if it doesn’t… I don’t know… stick?

Are those thoughts keeping you up at night? Really? Then this is my prayer for you…

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39)

So the answer to the question of “How do we know we are saved?” is the same one as asking when the protagonist Christian begin his epic journey to the Celestial City.

The moment he decided to take his first step.

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