Monday, October 15, 2012

I Don't Follow Jesus Because It's Easy

I have been a follower of Jesus as long as I can remember.  My parents did a wonderful job of teaching me about Him and modeling His values in many ways.  At the point where I could choose for myself what my life would be about, I followed His calling to make my life about service to him.  But I must admit, my calling has lead me into a career that is very comfortable.  There are, no doubt, incredible challenges that my family must face because of my service to God as an Army Chaplain.  We do not, however, face many of the challenges that others who dedicate their lives to his service face on a daily basis.  We live on a very comfortable salary, have housing provided for us, have virtually free health care, and have access to a plethora of benefits that come along to serving both God and Country.  We have been blessed beyond what I could have anticipated when we started this journey 8 years ago. 
Yesterday at Chapel I preached on the “Sermon on the Plain.”   It’s the lesser-studied version of Jesus’ teaching that Luke 6 recounts for us which carries many similar themes to Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount.  Luke has a special way of reminding us of just how Revolutionary Jesus’ message truly was and still is today.  Fully immersed in a world that values wealth, independence, competition, and pursuing self-interest—Jesus’ words rub me the wrong way.  Here’s a few excerpts that are exceptionally frustrating. 
Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied [by God].
But wow to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. 
But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.  If someone strikes you on the cheek, turn the other also.  If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt.  Give to everyone who asks you and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 
But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back… because He [God] is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Jesus shows us that the values of his kingdom are different from the values He holds.  Poor people are “blessed” by him because they don’t have wealth standing between them and God.  Remember the story of the Rich young ruler who wanted to know what he must do to inherit eternal life.  Jesus informs him that the cost of following him is to give up everything.  The young rich man leaves Jesus with sorrow because he was wealthy and didn’t want to part ways with all his stuff.  In Luke’s passage here, Jesus doesn’t say that rich people are sinning, He just recognizes the fact that the more we have, the harder it will become to follow God’s call when/if he asks us to give it all up.  The poor are blessed because they don’t have that barrier between them and following God’s call. 

Jesus also informs us that we have a duty to help those who are in need—to give, to bless, to pray for and to love.  That means that if we have the ability to help someone in need, we are called to do so without conditions.  I’m the type of person who loves to put conditions on my giving.  Jesus gives us no such right.  How frustrating.  Perhaps you’ve used the same excuses I’ve used hundreds of times to convince myself that I don’t have to give anything to someone who asks of me.  “I can’t give to everyone.”  “I only have so much to give if I still want to take care of my family.” “If I give him money, he’s just going to waste it.”  And my list goes on and on.  Jesus doesn’t put conditions on his imperatives.  It is not a “if…. then…..” statement.  Help those in need and give without expecting something back.  Why would Jesus ask this of us?

He says the reason behind his command is that’s how He works.  That’s how God works.  God is kind to the unjust and the wicked.  He sent his son to die for the world because he loved the world, fully knowing that many would never follow him.  If God knows that there are people who will never follow him, yet He still sacrificed his son for them, how much more should I be able to give without knowing the results of my giving, without putting conditions on my giving? 

If you want to see this lived out, look at Acts 4:32.  Luke shows us how the early church took this seriously and there was not a needy person among them. 

As if attacking my wallet wasn’t enough, Jesus moves up to my heart.  Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.  I don’t even want to be around people who hate me.  I’ll generally make an attempt to get along with everyone.  But occasionally there is that person who I’m just not going to get along with.  My reaction is to keep clear of them or interact as little as possible.  Jesus informs me that my attitude is not going to cut it in his kingdom.  Jesus calls us to give up our right to hate, to retaliate, to curse, and even to avoid people.  He doesn’t call us just to give them up though; he calls us to replace them with his opposite values.  To love enemies and do good to those who hate us. 

When we follow Jesus, we are volunteering to give up our earthly values and embrace the values of His kingdom.  If doing this seems crazy to you, you’re right.  It’s impossible for us to do.  To do this requires us to open our hearts to Him, be transformed by the Holy Spirit, and encouraged, helped and offered accountability by his followers who hold the same values (the Church).  I can’t do it on my own.  I need daily fellowship with Jesus and accountability from brothers and sisters to live this kind of life.  The great news is that we know how the story ends.   Spoiler alert, Jesus wins.  Since I know who is going to win, I am going to do what it takes to get my values and my life lined up with his.  It’s not easy, but I don’t follow Jesus because it’s easy.