It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Efrem Smith uses motivational speaking, comedy, and preaching to equip people for a life of transformation. He is the Superintendent of the Pacific Southwest Conference for the Evangelical Covenant Church, and an Itinerant Speaker with Kingdom Building Ministries. He is a graduate of Saint John’s University and Luther Theological Seminary, and the author of Raising Up Young Heroes and The Hip-Hop Church. He and his family live in the Bay Area of California.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (September 1, 2010)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
My pastor friend Darrell once told me a story that has given me a new vision for living the Christian life. Not long ago Darrell took his son to the zoo and became intrigued with an animal known as the African impala. It just so happened that a female staffer from the zoo was standing near the enclosure giving background information on the impala, so he stopped to listen. I must be honest and say that at that point in my life the only thing I knew about an impala was that Chevrolet made them. As I said, Darrell is my friend. He could tell my thoughts of Chevy automobiles were distracting me from really listening to his story. But he’s also a pastor, so he put his hand on my shoulder to regain my attention.
The zookeeper told Darrell and his son some interesting facts about the impala. She said this animal has the ability to jump thirteen feet high in the air from a standing position. this allows the impala to escape predators that try to sneak up on it from behind. The impala has the ability to jump not only up but also out—thirty feet out. An impala’s back is like a shock absorber, which is crucial since the animal’s leaps are like explosions. Impalas can reach maximum running speeds of close to sixty miles per hour. Again, a
natural survival skill. But it was what the woman said next that really caught Darrell’s attention. “Notice that even though the impala has the ability to jump thirteen feet high and thirty feet out, the African
impalas are contained here at the zoo by a three-foot wall!”
This grabbed my attention too. “Stop right there! How is it that an animal with the ability to jump thirteen feet high and thirty feet out can be contained by a three-foot wall?” I asked. Darrell went on to explain that when the impalas are young, they are taught they can’t jump over the three-foot wall. Zoo personnel do this by emphasizing a weakness of the adults. An adult impala is hesitant to use its ability to jump if it is unable to see where it’s going to land. the inability to see the end of the jump somehow hinders the impala from something it is naturally able to do. I’m a pastor too, like Darrell, so let me put it this way: the inability to live by faith keeps the impala from doing what God created it to do, what it was
born to do. It grows up to become an adult with the ability to jump into freedom, to live out its purpose, but it won’t because it doesn’t believe it can. Darrell finished his story there and said, “Anytime you want to use that in a sermon, feel free.” I’ve been connecting that story to every sermon ever since.
The Christian life in so many ways is about a series of jumps that can take us higher and further into a life of intimacy with and identity in Christ. The Christian life is about the love relationship that God desires to have with us, so that we become His beloved, advancing the Kingdom of God on earth. And on many days this involves taking leaps of faith into the unknown.
From my pastoral point of view, I look around today and see believers all across the land behind three-foot walls. Like African impalas, they’ve been taught one thing or another, many times things completely unscriptural, that keeps them from jumping into the life God wants for them.
For example, maybe they’re taught early on that Christianity is a bunch of rules, and if you don’t follow the rules, God doesn’t love you. I know for a fact that this has kept more than one Christian from ever knowing the freedom of jumping into an intimate relationship with God. Or maybe some people were warned not to learn about spiritual gifts. As a result, they have never taken the leap into knowing their spiritual gifts and God-given mission to advance the Kingdom of heaven on earth.
All that explosive God-potential just sitting behind a three-foot wall.
I think about the life of Peter in the gospel of John as a picture of this. In the first chapter, Andrew, Peter’s brother, brings him to meet Jesus:
One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He found first his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which translated means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). John 1:40–42
Peter had to make a decision to take the jump of following Jesus without fully knowing where this jump would end. Yet these jumps into the unknown are the key to freedom in Christ and our ability to advance the Kingdom of God on earth. Peter had to deal with some three-foot walls in making the initial decision to follow Jesus. Maybe his three-foot wall was leaving his fishing business behind. Or maybe it was dealing with what his friends and other family members would think of him for following one
who proclaimed to be the Son of God. Whatever the specifics, it’s clear Peter had to deal with a three-foot wall of some kind in making his initial jump. When we make the decision to follow Christ, we have to deal with a three-foot wall of some kind too.
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12–13
We may not be able to see what’s on the other side of the wall, but we know one thing: God is there. We are, by faith, jumping into God’s love! We can’t see God, but we hear His voice on the other side calling us into love, forgiveness, and freedom.
Though freedom waits for us on the other side, the walls around us can be overwhelming. Three-foot walls often feel more like skyscrapers. This is one reason why we must be loving and patient with people who have not yet come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior. We don’t know what they’ve been through.
We don’t know the multiple walls they may be facing as they consider this faith jump. Evangelism today must be loving, gentle, patient, and in some cases very slow. Some people may take the jump into God’s love at events or on a Sunday morning through an experience of corporate worship; but I believe most
will make the jump only after coming to trust a community of believers over time. It took time for the three-foot walls to be built, and it will take time to take the risk of that initial jump. This first jump into the Christian life is not easy. Maybe it was the same for Peter.
But this initial jump was not the only one that Peter had to make. The impala does not have the ability to jump only once in its life. The impala has the ability to jump over and over again, each time experiencing the liberation that it brings. Peter had many other occasions where he had to decide to jump.
The story is told of Peter and the rest of the disciples on a boat waiting for Jesus. Out of nowhere, Jesus approached them, walking on the water. Peter looked, wondering if it was truly Jesus approaching them in this miraculous way. Jesus called to Peter to come out onto the water himself. Right there, Peter had
a decision to make: Jump or don’t jump. He had already made the initial jump to follow Jesus; now he had to decide whether to say yes to an invitation that most would say was impossible. It’s one thing to follow a man; it’s quite another to jump out of a boat and walk on water.
On another occasion, Jesus was presenting a hard teaching about His identity and the cost of following Him. Many people began to turn away. Peter was faced with another jumping opportunity:
As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.” John 6:66–69
When given the opportunity to go to a deeper place of understanding with God, will you take the jump? Even if the teaching presents challenges and issues that seem impossible to take on in daily living? Jumping is seldom easy. Sometimes it even feels like the more you jump, the harder the next jump is.
About a year ago, I took a trip to El Salvador through a partnership with Compassion International and Kingdom Building Ministries. We visited many of the Compassion International projects that are run in partnership with local churches. As part of a team of itinerant speakers with Kingdom Building Ministries, I connect my messages on Kingdom laborship and advancement with the Kingdom values
of compassion, justice, and mercy. The ministries of Compassion International that seek to advance God’s Kingdom and deal with poverty through child sponsorship are a great expression of this.
On our last day in El Salvador, we went zip-lining. I had never zip-lined in my life, and I have to say that I was dealing with a lot of fear. One of the other itinerant speakers, Adrian Dupree, seemed really excited about the chance. I told him I wasn’t going to do it, but he insisted: “Efrem, you need to face your fears.” After a lot of prayer and encouragement from both Compassion International and Kingdom Building staff, I decided to take the jump.
Zip-lining is traveling down a cable while in the air from one point to another. It’s like coming down a mountain on a ski-lift chair except there’s no chair—it’s just you, holding on to a cable rigging.
Our zip-lining adventure took us up in the mountains, four hundred feet above the ground. As we traveled up the mountain by truck, I became very nervous. I didn’t know what was on the other
side of this experience. We finally stopped to put on our gear and then hiked farther up the mountain to get to the proper elevation. Remember now, I was doing this for the first time.
The instructors gave us directions for zip-lining—how to go, how to slow down, and how to stop. They also showed us how to initially get ourselves hooked on to the cable that would take us down the mountain. To get attached, you literally jump up and connect to the cable. When I stopped thinking about how high up I was and focused more on jumping up and getting connected, facing my fears
was a little easier. It didn’t take away my fears, but it made it more manageable. Since I am a pastor, the spiritual comparisons were racing through my head. In our relationship with God, it’s not just about making a jump; it’s about trusting the One we’re connected to, even though we can’t always see the destination. The key is to abide in God through Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit:
So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” John 8:31–32
I want to go back to Peter for a moment. As I look at his life and faith, I see three jumps that were defining for Peter. Even though the Christian life is made up of multiple jumps, these three were vital for
Peter. I believe they are for you and me as well:
1. The jump into the beloved self
2. The jump into the beloved church
3. The jump into the beloved world
The Beloved Self
Everything begins somewhere. For Peter, everything began when Jesus said, “Follow Me.” I don’t believe Peter understood all that invitation meant, but he made the decision to take that initial jump. From there he kept on following, even when many turned away. Peter’s jump took him to a moment of denying Jesus (John 18:16–27), but that moment was later redeemed. The resurrected Christ made sure Peter knew His forgiveness and grace and love (John 21:15–17). Through time and trial, Peter learned what it means to be the beloved of God. What about you? Do you live like you believe God loves you?
The Beloved Church
The beloved self overflows into the beloved church. Peter began to see this when he preached on the day of Pentecost and became a leader in the first Christ-centered community. He had no idea where all this would lead.
What does it look like to live in community with others? I’m not talking about just showing up for church on Sunday but actually living the Christian life with others and being willing to be held accountable. Now that is a major jump!
I served as the senior pastor of a church that is intentionally evangelical, multicultural, and urban. This type of church is rare in the United States of America. Race and class still can be very challenging issues in our society, so for a church like this one to be healthy and missional takes people willing to make the jump to build relationships and trust with people who are different from them; in other words, jumping from “God loves me” to “God loves us.” The three-foot walls in this case could be fear, ignorance, prejudice, and past hurts. Taking the jumps over the long haul to be a reconciling gathering is essential to being the beloved church.
The Beloved World
But it doesn’t stop with the church. In Acts 11, Peter was given a vision that challenged him to jump further and higher into the beloved world. Peter had no idea where taking the gospel message to the Gentiles would land him, but he took the leap.
This jump is about understanding and acting on how God has uniquely designed us to advance His Kingdom; in other words, jumping from “God loves us” to “God so loved the world.” It’s about becoming a vehicle of compassion, mercy, justice, and truth.
My “beloved” language comes from the vision of civil rights leader and pastor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who spoke often of “the beloved community”—a community of peace, love, reconciliation, and justice. But the origin of the civil rights movement came not from the speeches of Dr. King but from the jump of a woman named Rosa Parks.
Ms. Parks refused to go to the back of a bus and give up the seat she was sitting in for a white person. She ignited a movement by taking that jump. She had no idea where it would land. There was something Rosa Parks believed in: that God loved her, regardless of what the segregated South thought at the time. Her jump was based on seeing herself beyond how she was seen by those of the dominant racial group. She took the jump into the new self, a self that could live equally with whites and have equal access to all open seats on a bus. She sat still and jumped into the pursuit of the beloved self.
Rosa Parks’s courage spilled over into the churches. But the people needed a leader, someone to take the jump and organize and strategize for the many. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. took that leap. His jump resulted in a movement that hit the streets through bus boycotts, lunch-counter sit-ins, and freedom marches. This was a going public, jumping into the beloved world, the very transforming of society.
Ms. Parks and Dr. King had no idea where their jumps would end. Dr. King’s cost him his life. But our world is so much better for it. Every faith jump you take has a risk factor, including the possibility of losing your life in order to find that faith.
But think about the alternatives: A world full of African impalas behind three-foot walls. Fishermen invited to become something more but don’t because they’re afraid. Pastors who might never experience the thrill of a zip-line. Or men and women forced to the back of the bus or the back of living. Jumping is the difference between a limited life and a liberated life, between just getting by and going further and higher.
What about you—are you ready to jump?
©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. Jump by Efrem Smith. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.