The Big Question
It’s a personal question, but it’s one that must be asked: What has it cost you to follow Jesus?
This past Sunday I had the privilege of preaching Luke 6.12-26. There Jesus considers those who are poor, hungry, weeping, and rejected as ‘blessed.’ They are to be happy. He even commands them to rejoice!
Why would that be blessed? Doesn’t all of human history testify to our striving as a race to get away from poverty, hunger, weeping, and rejection? Why should these people be happy?
Jesus answers: Theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Their future reward is greater in eternity which will never end. They will be comforted, they will laugh, they will be accepted. You see, it’s not the mere notion of poverty that Jesus prizes, but rather the reason for the poverty:
Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!
These people are not blessed because they have nothing; they’re blessed because following Jesus has cost them everything. See the difference? They valued Jesus so much and this world so little that they gave up this world and its passing comforts for the next world and its unfading riches.
What is the likelihood you’ll be at church on Sunday? 50%? 75%?
Recently, I heard an experienced urban minister reflecting on the reality that in most urban contexts, among most young Christians — even reformed evangelicals — church attendance peaks at around 2-3 Sundays per month.
Before you judge, honestly evaluate your own attendance over the past little while. I say that because for most of these young people, if you were to ask them, they would indicate that they are very committed. In their own perception, they are more likely to be there than not, whether or not the facts bear that out. Many think they are more faithful than they are.
That’s been on my mind today because I’ve been studying about Jesus. Here’s what I read:
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been raised, and he entered the synagogue as was his custom on the Sabbath day and he rose to read… (Luke 4.16)
Four little words stuck out to me. Did you catch them? ‘As was his custom.‘
If there are things we tend to not like as younger people, particularly younger evangelicals, it is commandments and customs. We don’t like to be told something is necessary. But if something is good, shouldn’t it be customary? If Jesus made it his custom to go and hear the reading and explanation of the law for the first 30 years of his life before beginning his ministry, shouldn’t that inform some of our customs?
I was further rebuked by this statement from Josephus:
‘He [Moses] appointed the Law to be the most excellent and necessary form of instruction, ordaining, not that it should be heard once for all or twice or on several occasions, but that every week men should desert their other occupations and assemble to listen to the Law and to obtain a thorough and accurate knowledge of it, a practice which all other legislators seem to have neglected’ (Ag. Ap. 2.17 §175).
To Test Us
It still amazes me how little the church of Christ can sometimes actually look like Christ. And I say that as a leader of the church, myself bearing the brunt of the blame.
The hypocritical media and self-appointed moral police of our city have brought a man before us who has been caught (on video) in sin. Death threats, drunken stupors, and binges of crack-cocaine — all from a man who should be an example and a leader. They have set this man in our midst. They are testing us, as a society now. It’s clear how the majority of our city feel. As a church, how will we respond to Mayor Rob Ford?
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford speaks from the podium at the cenotaph during a Remembrance Day service in Toronto on Monday. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)
The world knows that the righteous law of God condemns these things. They remind us of that and ask, ‘So what do you say?’ They say this to test us, that they might catch us in hypocrisy and discredit us. Are we a people of mercy or judgement? If we don’t draw a hard line now, how can we speak out against other moral issues facing our culture? But what are we to do when the matter is so clear that even the immoral are offended?
Leaked videos have proven it, blog commenters have spoken; can there be any doubt? What will we do with him?
Our Response to Date
Sadly, some Christians have prioritized politics over personal integrity. ‘He has good politics, even if his life is a disaster,’ we say. And we overlook how he has offended a Holy God and betrayed the City that vested trust in him.
Sadly, other Christians don’t look any different than the world. Here is a chance to stand with the world, rather than against it for a change. ‘We can show them that we’re not weird political conservatives with blinders on, we can see this is wrong too!’
But you know what’s missing in both of those responses? Jesus’ response.
I’m slowly learning that my heart is too easily affected by all the wrong things, yet it remains stubbornly hard precisely where I need it to be soft.
I’m slowly learning that after 32 years, I still don’t know myself nearly as well as I should.
I’m slowly learning that I don’t have nearly the platform with people that I once thought I did; an authoritative voice is earned over the long haul.
I’m slowly learning that the louder I speak on peripheral issues, the quieter my voice becomes when calling people to the centre.
I’m slowly learning that I’m not nearly the husband, dad, friend, pastor, or Christian that I thought I would be by now.
I’m slowly learning that what I want my life & ministry to be characterized by when I’m 74 needs to be what characterizes my life & ministry now.
I’m slowly learning that it is possible to idolize good things like unity and peace; and also that joy quickly turns to rage when those idols are toppled.
I’m slowly learning that very few people in the wold are called to be ‘the voice in the wilderness.’ Probably far fewer than evangelicalism — myself included — currently recognizes.
I’m slowly learning that praying for something doesn’t mean that I’m actually believing God can and will act.
So, today is beautiful. It’s warm, sunny, not oppressively hot… and perhaps best of all, it’s Friday. How awesome is that? I should be happy, right?
That’s what struck me today around lunch time as I was walking to the school to pick up one of my daughters: I should be very happy. But as I thought about the disposition of my heart I found something quite different: I was sad. I wasn’t depressed or angry, and I wasn’t ready to weep or break down. There was just a kind of low-grade sad, disappointed mindset that was colouring all my thoughts and interactions.
I didn’t know what else to do, so I began to question myself in the fashion of Psalm 42-43:
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. (Psalm 43.5)
What’s cool about this question is that it is actually drawing out the reasons for sadness, while at the same time challenging those reasons for sadness with timeless truth: God reigns, he saves, and I will praise him into the future. So in light of the truth that was (I’ve praised him before), the truth that is (he is still my salvation and my God), and the truth that will be (I will praise him again), are my reasons for sadness still justified?
This week someone sent me the following two excerpts from Spurgeon. My heart was blessed!
The combined effect was to freshly wow me with the wonderful thought of the bigness, awesomeness, and merciful kindness of Jesus. I pray to God that as I grow as a Christian I would grow even more in more wonder, awe, and love for Christ.
I want to be captivated by his majesty and his intimacy, his fellowship and his forgiveness, his goodness and his glory.
What about you? Is your Jesus this awesome?
See how red your guilt is. Mark the scarlet stain. If you were to wash your soul in the Atlantic Ocean, you might incarnadine every wave that washes all its shores, and yet the crimson spots of your transgression would still remain. But plunge into the “fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins,” and in an instant you are whiter than snow. Every speck, spot, and stain of sin is gone, and gone forever.
I bear my testimony that there is no joy to be found in all this world like that of sweet communion with Christ. I would barter all else there is of heaven for that. Indeed, that is heaven. As for the harps of gold and the streets like clear glass and the songs of seraphs and the shouts of the redeemed, one could very well give all these up, counting them as a drop in a bucket, if we might forever live in fellowship and communion with Jesus.
In his book, God’s Words, JI Packer recounts a time when he was provoked by a Jehovah’s Witness ‘heckler’ to defend the notion of the Trinity from the New Testament. Apparently the ‘heckler’ didn’t know who he was heckling.
Packer, in the moment, decided to follow a specific line of argumentation that is quick, and I believe, helpful. Even if it’s not an exhaustive defence, I believe it’s a faithful one that many could benefit from meditating on. Here it is: