Tuesday, March 5, 2013

I Am Convinced...

I am sure you noticed the title for this post did not end with a period (.), but rather with an ellipsis (…). This is because I have been pondering a thought for quite some time now, and I believe it is now time to hesitantly share it…while leaving some room for modification (hence the ellipsis). Here is the statement; it is harder to live for Jesus here in our culture than it is in other cultures. Of this reality I am convinced… 

Another reason I use an ellipsis instead of a period, is because my experience is in this culture. I have only read about following Jesus in other cultures; I have not experienced it. So allow me to cut to the chase again, phrased a bit differently, following Jesus is harder in our culture than in other cultures…

I have pondered this statement for a while for a variety of reasons. One reason is that it is one thing to ponder something, but it is another to put it out there for consumption. Quite often in my mind I think if my life does not reflect what I put out there, then what is my basis for making the statement? In other words; “practice what you preach”.

Granted, I am all for practicing what I preach. Yet we need to understand something; if someone highlights an issue or a problem, and for some reason their life does not match up to “the solution,” this does not mean the issue or problem is false or irrelevant. E.g., around 26,000 children will die today (and tomorrow, and the next day) from a lack of food or some other poverty-related issue. However, just because I am going to likely eat more than the bare minimum needed for survival on most days, and drive a car rather than walk to work, does not negate the reality that 26,000 children are going to die of preventable causes. In other words, just because I have not reduced the “stuff” in my life to what seems to be drastic measures (by our standards), this does not negate the truth of poverty devouring life on this earth. Truthfully, I think far too many Christians play the “Well yeah, but what are you doing about it?” card in order to somehow justify their lack of doing anything. Let us call that for what it is – sin.

OK, now back to why I am convinced it is harder to follow Jesus here than in other cultures. Simply stated, it is easy to know following Jesus is costly if a gun is pointed to your head for your professed belief (or a machete is being repeatedly lowered on your leg, or your house is being bombed, or your children are being targeted for death because the persecutors know they can no longer keep you silent by threatening merely your life), as you are given an option to repent. On the other hand, it is not so easy to tell following Jesus is costly when we are faced with upgrading to a nicer automobile (or home, or cable package, or brand of clothes) when what we have is honestly, and quite often, more than enough. 

On one hand, the above examples of “it is easy to tell” and “it is not so easy to tell” can easily be expounded. Yet on the other hand, we must not be fooled into thinking this applies only in the realm of materialism. However we cannot deny Jesus bluntly states “the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Mk4:19). No wonder Jesus told a guy to sell all he had and give it to the poor (Mk10:21). 

If you are still reading, let me briefly expand this difficulty in following Jesus in our culture beyond the realm of materialism. For example, in a culture where your very life depends on unity and harmony in the body it is likely “easier” to reconcile and forgive an offense. Yet in our culture, where one can just leave one church and go to the next, or choose not to talk and reconcile with someone because the stakes for unity and harmony do not seem so obvious, well then forgiveness and reconciliation are easily viewed as an option. Similarly, it is perhaps “easier” to be blinded to the reality of how our actions impact others here as well. Yet I recall Paul saying something about protecting the Unity the Spirit has gifted to The Church (Eph4:3), and Jesus saying the world will know we are His disciples by how we love one another (Jn13:34-35; cf. Jn17:20-23). Those do not sound like optional aspects of following Jesus. Indeed, they are not; we are only deceived into thinking they are. Let us again call that for what it is – sin.

We live in a culture that teaches us to be self-centered, not self-denying. We live in a culture that teaches us to be independent, not dependent on God for everything. We live in a culture that teaches us things are disposable, not a resource to be leveraged for the Kingdom. We live in a culture that tells us relationships are replaceable, not valuable and worth fighting to preserve. We live in a culture that tells us unity is important so long as it does not cost us anything, not to go to extreme measures to protect it. We live in a culture that teaches us to consume will bring ultimate happiness and fulfillment, not that it leads to addiction and emptiness. We live in a culture that teaches us so many things contrary to God’s desires are acceptable, the norm, or just the way our culture is so we may as well accept it.

I think many people seeking to follow Jesus struggle with things in this post…yet sadly I think many have been placated into at least a partial resignation to the way things are. Yeah, it is harder to follow Jesus here than in other cultures, of this I am more convinced… 
So, I turn to God in prayer; thankful for His grace...yet expressing my desire to respond to It more fully. I realize this is a battle I cannot win on my own; of that I am convinced.


Friday, March 1, 2013

Shoveling Snow & Lent [2]

As we concluded our time together pondering shoveling snow and Lent last time, I stated, “the reality of sin in our lives can and does lead to jarring impacts…So what is one to do?”. Well, we will consider what to do in a moment. Yet before we do that let me start with an analogy, which I hope will prove to be helpful. 

If 20” or so of snow falls in a 24 hour period, it will eventually have to be removed. If it is not, getting in and out of one’s driveway will prove to be hazardous, if not impossible. Indeed, the snow will need to be removed from the driveway, sidewalk, etc. Well, there is the option of letting nature take its course and allowing the snow to melt. Yet aside for the soon to be seen irony with that choice, let us simply acknowledge that will make getting around your place extremely difficult and treacherous for quite some time. In fact, many people could even get hurt in the process.

Since the snow needs removed, one has a few options, of which we will look at two. One option is to wait until it is all done snowing, at least as best as one can tell, and then remove all 20” of snow at once. Another option is to go out a few times during the snowstorm and remove smaller amounts; obviously this will include scooping snow more than once to finish the job.

Option one, shoveling 20” of snow at one time, is no small feat. Even for someone in good physical condition, it will take a lot of time and effort. In fact, one may need to stop a time or two while doing a driveway, sidewalk, and/or deck. Indeed, doing this much snow at once would likely seem to be a daunting and impossible task. One might even get frustrated and discouraged while doing it – especially if one were doing it alone.

In option two, lesser amounts of snow could be done at breaks in the day – especially if it were a true “snow day” (i.e., a day without normal work). One could scoop a few inches shortly after waking up, scoop some more upon returning from work late in the morning (or else risk getting stranded away from home), then go back out in the afternoon, and perhaps in the evening as well. To be certain, this will still take time and effort, but the overall time and effort will be less. Well, the time might be a bit more, but I doubt it. Yet for certain the strain on one’s back is much less in dealing with 3-6” of snow multiple times as opposed to 20” at once. In fact, you cannot manually scoop 20” of snow at once. Indeed, one would be forced to scoop their way down to the bottom; either straight down or by taking a layer, then doing another layer, and likely another layer (not to mention those difficult icy footprints and tire tracks on the bottom layer).

Now what does this have to do with sin? Actually, I would not be surprised if many of you already know where I am going with this. When it comes to sin in our lives we have two basic choices: a) let it pile up until something has to be done with it – usually because of some sort of consequence or difficulty one now faces, or b) deal with it as it occurs in one’s life. 

Simply stated, dealing with sin is difficult; there is always fallout – somewhere. What do I mean by fallout? I mean your sin never impacts only you…it impacts others around you as well. We can pretend it does not, but it always does (e.g., read the Bible).

I would like to expound on the above analogies and draw comparisons, but I think you all can do that. So, instead of that, I will give an example of “a” and “b” with a common sin that is often overlooked – anger.

Actually, I will not. Not this time at least. I will simply end by stating the fact; sin has to be dealt with – sooner or later.

It can “accumulate” in one’s life until it is “too big” and “too daunting” and therefore people feel defeated before they ever start to address it. This is option “a” above. Or, one can live a repentant life and deal with sin as they are convicted by the Holy Spirit (option “b”). To be certain, this still takes effort and is daunting at times…but it is much more manageable – not to mention godly.

Oh yes, there is also a “c” option, you know, the “irony” from the second paragraph of this post. This option is to do nothing and let nature run its course. Well, in the course of sin – it is death. Granted, for those “in Christ” things are different…but it certainly leads to a lot of frustration, a lack of fruit, in short – bondage to the forces of darkness. This should never be the option of a follower of Jesus. Yet sadly, and ironically, it is often chosen; sometimes by default, other times as a preference.

We will continue again – likely by showing options “a” and “b” in relation to anger. Who knows, maybe option “c” will be included, I do not know. Yet this I do know, Jesus came to ‘destroy' the works of the devil (1Jn3:8). Yes, take heart, Jesus has overcome the world! (cf. the Bible).