“There and Back Again – The Path” by Rick Shurtz

At Gateway Church in Austin, we began a new series called “There and Back Again.” Rick Shurtz, our teaching pastor and grow pastor shared the following insights:

The Hobbit was originally called There and Back Again, a story that chronicles the epic adventure of Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit who preferred looking at maps than leaving his house.

Many of us in recent months, have taken some extremely bold steps on the adventure of following Jesus, so you don’t need to be told again to go and do it. What we do need, though, is some honest dialogue about what this adventure of following Christ is TRULY like.

There is a comment of Dwalin’s in The Hobbit which is one of my favorites. He says to Bilbo: ‘Don’t be precise and don’t worry! You will have to manage without pocket-handkercheifs, and a good many other things before you get to the journey’s end.’

Bilbo’s lack of preparedness had nothing to do with the fact that he didn’t have a pocket-handkerchief. It had much more to do with the fact that he thought a lacking pocket-handkerchief was significant. His journey would take him places where the furtherest thing from his mind would be whether or not he had the needed amenities to wipe his nose. He would encounter real problems, real challenges.

Last week, I shared a bit of how over the past year or so, I’ve had a challenging time getting traction in my own walk with Christ. You might say, I’ve been a bit disillusioned. I haven’t wanted to be disillusioned. Those who know me well, know that’s not at all my disposition. I’m nothing close to a cynical person. I don’t even like cynicism. But as much as I’ve not wanted to be a bit disillusioned in my walk with Christ, I have been, and honestly, it’s been helpful to admit that rather than pretend it’s not true.

It’s also not helpful to wallow in it, though.

It is helpful to put it out in front, stare it down, and do business with it

Where we left off last week is the phrase from Habakkuk where God tells him ‘the righteous will live by faith’ (Habakkuk 2:4).

**In other words, those who follow Christ, they live, they have peace, they have joy, they have LIFE, you might say, not because they know what is going to happen in their lives, or because they like everything that happens in their lives, or because they understand everything that happens in their lives, but because they trust the God of their lives.**

They LIVE by faith in the God leading them down the path not by knowing what’s around the next corner, or by liking what’s around the next corner, or by even understanding what’s around the next corner.

There’s a great deal we must ENTRUST to God if we expect to truly LIVE.

We live by ENTRUSTING it all to a power and perspective greater than ourselves.

How do we truly trust God along this path?

Today is an anniversary in my family but not the kind of anniversary you want to have. A year ago this weekend is one of the reasons I have struggled this year.  After falling from the ladder of our son’s bunkbed and landing on the desk, my wife Deborah has total vision loss in her right eye. You wouldn’t know it by looking at her. Her eye looks perfectly normal, and you certainly wouldn’t know it by her spirit.

Now, Deborah and I will readily admit, there are countless people in the world who face greater challenges than we have faced this past year but this one has been significant.

I want to openly process several observations my wife and I have made over the past year. These observations may or may not relate to each other, but they’re observations from Scripture that have helped us on our path, as we have faced this challenge, and are helpful to process openly.

1. Following Christ may not make life easier. In fact, it may make life harder.

If we set an expectation that our coming to Christ will blow all storms out of our lives and blue sky days will continually follow, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. Hardship did not happen to Job because he was evil. You could make a much stronger case saying hardship happened to Job because he was good. God described him as ‘blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.’

Now, to be sure, there is a kind of hardship we bring upon ourselves, and we’ve all done it to one degree or another.

2. Hardship can breed needless insecurity.

**They say, ‘Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ Hardship does make you stronger, but it makes you weaker first.**

Weakness makes us vulnerable to lies.

We’re in the ER. My wife tells the doctor: ‘God can heal this, but if he doesn’t I’ll be okay.’ She did not say: ‘God can heal this, and if he doesn’t, he’s evil.’ That thought never crossed her mind.

Yes, this accident weakened us, and it weakened her, but by no means has it displayed weakness in my wife. This accident has displayed her strength of faith and her strength of character.

3. Following Christ only works if we truly mean it.

If the reality Scripture describes TRULY is REAL, then it all makes a great deal of sense.

Paul wrote this in a letter to his friends in Corinth:
‘If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith…If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied…. These things we teach about Christ, these are not just cute ideas. If they’re not true—or if they’re not reality—then what we’re doing here is complete foolishness.’ – 1 Corinthians 15:13-19, 31-32 NIV

Paul put his life on the line for a reason. He did so, because he was convinced there is more to life than ‘first we’re born, then we work, then we die.’ Paul not only taught this, but he lived it. Paul was in jail because he follows Christ. From jail he writes these words to his friends in Philippi:
‘Now I want you to know … that what has happened to me has served to advance the good news … it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ’. – Philippians 1:12-13

Now, either this man is crazy, or this man is aware of a reality that goes beyond the immediate here and now, and he has rooted his life in that reality.

My encouragement to any and every person is to give Christ a good, hard, serious look. Dig deep. Dive deep. Figure out what you TRULY believe, and if you are convinced, as I have been convinced, then my encouragement is to give Christ 100% of your life.

4. Theology matters.

Hosea wrote this: ‘my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. ‘ Hosea 4:6, NIV

Why? What’s the big deal?

How we think matters. Theology matters. Perspective matters.

Psalm 1 describes a blessed person. The person is said to live have lived a strong a fruit-filled life.
‘…his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.’ Psalm 1:2-3, NIV

**Yes, there is hardship and challenges, but when you drink deeply from the well of reality, you have the perspective that offers irreplaceable strength for this journey.**

5. We must fight for our lives.

We LIVE by faith, by trust. To maintain that trust, we must FIGHT for it.

What do I mean by fight for it?

I mean our perspective, our faith, our trust, it gets challenged daily, and I don’t even mean external challenges brought on by others. I mean our own internal challenges. The battles we face within.

Hardships push against us. Circumstances push against us. Difficulties push against us. What must we do?

Push back.

Our faith will be bent, but it must not break.

One of my favorite lines of all Scripture comes from Paul writing his friends in Corinth. Speaking of his own hardships he wrote: ‘We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair…’ – 2 Corinthians 4:8

These realities have challenged us, and at times are perplexing, but we have not, and we need not be despairing. I have  allowed myself to be perplexed, but there is a line where we dig in and say: ‘This far but not any farther. We will be perplexed, but we will not be in despair.’

We do that by marshalling what we know to be true, what we truly believe in the depths of our hearts, what we have been taught, and what we have discovered by digging deeply into the Scriptures.

This is the fight for our lives.

It is a fight for our faith, our trust, our depth of conviction.”

To listen or watch the entire message, go to www.gatewaychurch.com/podcast.


  • Margaret Feinberg

    love how you have a series after The Hobbit!

Free Consultation

If you're interested in a free 30-min consultation with me, simply fill out this form and I'll contact you!