“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24–25 ESV)
The Christian lives bi-focally: looking to both the present life and future life. It is bi-focal in that the riches of God’s grace are experienced presently and into the eternal future, the near and the far things. Were Christ to throw out the present and turn the Christian life into a merely future reality we would become cynical and cold. If we were to conceive of the hope in only present terms we would curate a life obsessed with the sophisticated ways to embrace everything while blessing nothing, again cynical and cold. When Jesus says to deny yourself he is telling people to live presently in light of future realities. The future is so grand that it bleeds into the present. For the Christian, the Biblical future reworks present relationships. Instead of our desperate need to consume we are driven to bless. Having lost our last lives, we find our lives at last. This movement, from consume to bless, is simply the way the Christian grows up.
Every year I love the smell of that moment before the first snow. That first snow changes everything. But right before it snows the world is quieter, fuller, like beauty is about the burst forth from the dam. And you can smell it too. Well I’m going to ruin the romance for you. It isn’t the snow you smell, exactly. The dry winter air hardens mucous around your olfactory receptors, a rise in humidity just before snow loosens that mucous and increases your ability to smell - it becomes more acute allowing you to smell things more substantively - fires in the distance, your beautiful life, whatever. You associate that sharpness of smell to the snow. It is the reality before the reality that changes everything.
If the Christian future is generous with healing and mercy and joy, if it is populated by unity and diversity, justice and peace. If it is the miracle of everything changing, the first snow, then the present smells as if it is about to snow. The Christian practices the present generosity of the rich future. The Christian lives with found money, in friendship and hospitality, in forgiveness. Scandalously liberal friendship is offered without payment because you are rich in future friendship. To follow Jesus in our living is to follow the ideal picture of this future-enriched present life. His first miracle turns water to good wine. He greets the disciples after his resurrection with cooked fish on the shore of the sea of Galilee. He shares a meal as his last act of hospitality before he is arrested. He forgives liberally, he receives just about anyone, he pursues justice and mercy. He is a healer. He works hard and excellently. Carve out room for the gospel in relationships by loving and being humane. What Jesus does is take used up things, profaned things, common things, and makes them holy. He went all the way to Jerusalem where the prophet was without honor, every square foot he walked was common by unbelief, and he preached there. And when Jesus preached holiness peeked out from darkness in the newly opened ears of the deaf and the long-worthless, endlessly searching eyes of the blind. They searched, unknowingly, for him.
The future of God's love for you unrolls in endless waves of light, healing, and joy. Your eyes cannot possibly see farther. The blessed future means that suddenly everything in your present life is imbued with new meaning. You are a son and daughter of the King. He is bringing a kingdom to reign forever. Your work, whatever it is, can no longer end in fruitlessness! You are free to work, free to hope, free to dream like crazy on this side of things because what follows is well beyond what you can possibly imagine. So go. Follow the Christ wherever he takes you. Follow him into the broken world, the dry world, the world where black children and police officers meet deadly in dark alleys, where lives break down, where people are alone, follow Jesus there and be the church and love wildly, forgive wildly, hope wildly, because it’s about to snow, I promise you. You can smell it.