Choosing Sides

I’ve noticed something in my journey as a Jesus lover. It’s been over two years since He called me back to Himself, took my hand, and began leading me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. At the beginning, He loved me so tenderly, so thoroughly, so completely, washing away years and years of neglect and abuse, of lies and actions based on those lies. He cleaned me up, set me on my feet, and gave me His own robe of righteousness. I am so thankful! I needed every minute of His tender mercy and grace, every tear wiped, every shuddering breath calmed by His overwhelming presence. I still need it every day. I need Him every day.

But there’s been a shift recently. I can’t pinpoint when it began exactly, or what prompted it, but there has been a dawning realization that I’ve had it all wrong. My perception was skewed, and He is gracious and loving enough to clue me in on it. Because He wants me to mature and grow in Him, and to be able to worship Him in spirit and in truth. Because He wants me to take new steps, new directions, go deeper into Him, and I need to learn how to see Him for real. Isn’t He marvelous? That He loves me that much, enough to correct my misperceptions and errors, just blows my mind.

This new direction may have been sparked by two independent messages I heard some time back. They explained something that had always troubled me in the Bible, found in Joshua, the end of chapter 5. In this scene, Joshua and the Israelites are camped out by the river Jordan, waiting for go time to take down Jericho. Joshua is out away from the camp and encounters Someone. His first question, prompted I’m sure by the thought of the upcoming battle, was asking if the Someone was friend or foe. Was He for Joshua and the Israelites, or for their enemies. The response Joshua received is what has always troubled me. Not in a “I’m not sure if I can believe this Bible stuff” way, but in a “I don’t really understand” kind of way. The response was “neither.” The Visitor was not declaring Himself friend or foe.

Looking at that from my perspective, I would have wondered, “well, can I trust you? Do I need to guard myself with you? Are you here to undermine our purpose and safety, or are you here to encourage us?” All valid questions, and ones we ask ourselves, at least subconsciously, every time we meet someone new. Are you someone I can trust? Are you on my side?

The response always left me a little unsettled. I’ve read the account many times, and each time I’ve come away a little unsatisfied. I get it from Joshua’s point of view. And had I been in Joshua’s sandals, I would have been unsettled and unsatisfied with the answer. But Joshua wasn’t. The full response (in the NASB translation) was, “No; rather I indeed come now as captain of the hose of the LORD.” To me, that was a non sequitur…it didn’t answer the question. If I were Joshua, I would have wondered, “well what does that mean?” But Joshua’s response was to fall to the ground in reverence and worship. He obviously saw something I didn’t.

I understand now that the Someone Joshua met was Jesus…a Christophany. Having met Jesus, at least on a limited basis, I understand Joshua’s response of worship. But it still didn’t answer the niggling questions in the back of my mind.

I’ve said before, and will say again, that we are a very self-centered race. All of us are. Everything we see, hear, taste, smell, and touch is encountered from our own perspective. How does it affect us, how does it impact us, what does it mean for us. Is this good or bad for us. We hear someone speak and their words are filtered through our perspective. Do you ever wonder if conversations are like two people from different planets, each speaking in their own language and hearing in their own language, and nothing that is understood has actually been said? Depending on how thick your filters are, it’s a wonder anything is ever actually grasped. But I digress…

We approach everything from our own perspectives, don’t we? It’s kind of hard not to…it’s how I see the world, how I experience the world, how I understand the world. All filtered through my perspective. We paint others with the brush of our experience and understand everything they say and do through that painting. It causes a great deal of miscommunication and misunderstanding, questioning of motives and purpose, of truth and lie.

What happens when we look at God’s Word that way? And we do…we can’t help it, at least at first. We experience God’s Word the same way we experience any and everything else…through the lens of our perspective. Thankfully, God’s Word is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword. (That in itself is mind-boggling when I really think about it.) Isaiah says that His word “will not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please.” Having encountered the Living Word, I can attest. It’s magnificent.

Back to the point, though…

My loving Father has been leading me towards a paradigm shift, a total change of perspective. I catch it now and then and operate out of it for a moment or two, but the shift hasn’t fully taken hold because I slide back into what is accepted and normal. I had to look up the word “paradigm” because I didn’t want to use it wrong, and it led me to another word that I also had to look up…archetypal. In “Melissa” terms, it’s the foundational operating system, it’s the prototype that everything else is based on. So this paradigm that I’ve operated under all my life, and which I see so many operating under, is that we want God on our side. We want to know we can trust Him, that He’s working for us and in us and through us, that He’s got our backs so to speak.

There’s so much out there that fits in that mold. So many sermons, words of encouragement, even garments with the sentiment “Jesus has my back.” I see social media posts showing a young girl dressed in battle gear with a lion behind her. I see posts quoting “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” and using that to encourage us to keep going.

You may want to argue with me right now. Trust me, I’ve had all the arguments in my head. But once seen it can’t be unseen, and I’m learning to be grateful for the change in perspective. It goes along with the answer to the prayer I prayed when He first brought me back to Himself: throw away everything I think I know about You, and show me who You really are.

I’ve written before how we put God in a box, how we limit Him to what we can understand and explain, how we put Him in a corner and only allow Him out when we need Him. What I’m writing about now, what I’m discovering now, falls in that same line of thought.

The paradigm shift is this: It is not Jesus on my side, it is me on His side.

We have two choices in this life, two options for how we operate: we are either for Him or against Him. What He has been showing me, and hammering home over and over again, is that I need to choose to be on His side, and stop expecting or desiring Him to be on mine.

That’s what Joshua understood, what I failed to grasp. When the Person he encountered answered “No; rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the Lord,” He was informing Joshua that Joshua didn’t have a side. He wasn’t coming as friend or foe to Joshua, He was stating that His is the side, His is the glory, His is the honor, and laying down the line in the sand for Joshua to decide if he would be on God’s side.

Do I have the power of the fullness of the Godhead bodily behind me, within me? Absolutely. But that power is to enable me to make the hard choices to follow Jesus, to do what He calls me to do. To turn fully away from the world and its pleasures and temptations and take up my cross daily and follow Him. It’s not my kingdom, it is His. It’s not my glory, it is His. It’s not my battle, it is His.

Can I do all things through Christ who strengthens me? Yes. But that verse is talking about the secret of being content in whatever circumstance I find myself. It’s not about starting a new job, reaching your financial goals, gaining new friends, getting through your family’s get-together, or any of the other myriad situations for which the verse is used. It’s about learning who’s side you’re on. It’s about learning that things and stuff and people and pleasures have nothing to do with the joy and peace of serving God.

God has given me a life to live. I’m going to mess it up and get it wrong and make mistakes and get myself in some pretty awkward situations. I’m one of His stupid kids sometimes. But at the end of the day, it’s not what I’ve gained or lost, it’s not who I’ve impressed or insulted, it’s that I’ve lived out my purpose. And my purpose is to bring honor and glory to Jesus the Christ. Period.

He’s not on my side, I’m on His. I’ve chosen. I’ve made my choice. I’m going to go about it wrong and mess it up, but He is faithful to remind me just who’s side I’m on and give me the grace and mercy to try again. As I walk through my days, each action I take, each word I speak, each thought I think tells the story of who’s side I’m on.

What would happen if this generation were to step over to His side? What would happen if we stopped striving to get ahead in life, stopped making decisions based on what’s best for us, and instead made decisions on what’s best for the Kingdom of God? What would happen if an entire generation of Jesus followers actually followed Him? Meaning, stayed behind Him and stepped where He stepped and did what He did? Instead of trying to get out in front and go where we think is best?

See the thing is, Jesus is going to do what He’s going to do. He showed us that when He walked on this earth. No matter what even His closest friends tried to get Him to do, He had a purpose and a plan, and He was going to see it through. It insulted people and enraged them, it confused them and disappointed them. But He had His plan, and He wasn’t concerned with what everyone else wanted Him to do or thought He should do.

He’s still doing that. Oddly enough, the God of the Universe, the One who breathed out stars and calls the earth His footstool, is going to continue His ultimate plan and purpose, whether we agree or not. Whether we get on board or not. Whether we go our own way or follow Him, He will continue what He set in motion millennia ago and bring it to His predetermined conclusion. (And if you’re wondering what that might be, read Revelation.)

Our choice is whether we get on His side or not. He’s given us very clear instructions for how to get on His side. It’s very simple, but it isn’t easy. And contrary to what is most comfortable to believe, it’s not so that you will have an easy life. You will face opposition. You will be caught up in battles. Sometimes what you’re battling is nothing more or less than yourself.

Changing your mindset to be in line with God’s will lose you friends, money, and comfort. But God will give you the power to do all things through the strength of Christ our Savior, who did the hard things Himself. Who turned His back on accepted norms, rituals, religion, and tradition, and showed us the way of the Kingdom. And Christ had joy unspeakable and full of glory. He was at peace because He was doing His Father’s will. He will give us His joy and His peace. He will remove the heart of stone from our chests and replace it with a heart of flesh. What blessings there are in following Christ!

But we have to choose to follow Him. We have to choose His side and remember that we don’t have one. It’s not Him on our side, its us on His.

Choose sides.

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